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Archive for October 2018

At least they admit it (now): Economists reverse claims that $15 Seattle minimum wage hurt workers, admit it was largely beneficial

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One would, on the face of it, think that raising the minimum wage would help workers (more money). But if economists just go with the obvious, what does their job amount to? So they have to be counter-intuitive, which—oddly—is not always correct.

Barry Ritzholtz writes in Bloomberg:

The dire warnings about minimum-wage increases keep proving to be wrong. So much so that in a new paper, the authors behind an earlier study predicting a negative impact have all but recanted their initial conclusions. However, the authors still seem perplexed about why they went awry in the first place.

Seattle, like some other thriving West Coast cities, a few years ago passed an ordinance raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in a series of steps. The law was a partial response to rising income inequality and poverty in the city, which began its post-crisis economic boom well before the rest of the country.

The reaction was immediate, strident — and deeply wrong. The increase was an “economic death wish” that was going to tank the expansion and kill jobs, according to the sages at conservative think tanks. The warnings were as unambiguous as they were specific: Expect restaurants to close in significant numbers and unemployment to rise, all because of this foolish attempt to raise living standards.

Those ideologically opposed to mandated minimum-wage increases freaked out when a Seattle pizza parlor closed. Meanwhile, they ignored data showing Seattle-area employment in the restaurant industry on the rise. The critics even blamed Seattle’s minimum wage law for unemployment in suburbs not covered by Seattle’s laws. Despite their dire forecasts, not only were new restaurants not closing, they were in fact opening; employment in food services and drinking establishments has soared, as the chart [above] shows.

Alas, if only the critics has done their homework first, instead of using scare tactics.

Much of the hand-wringing was based upon a deeply flawed University of Washington study. As we noted in 2017, the study’s fatal flaw was that its analysis excluded large multistate businesses with more than one location. When thinking about the impact of raising minimum wages, one can’t simply omit most of the biggest minimum-wage employers in the region, such as McDonald’s and other fast-food chains, or Wal-Mart and other major retailers. These are the very employers that were the main target of the minimum-wage law; indeed, the law established an even higher minimum wage of $15.45 an hour for companies with 500 or more employees.

There were two other glaring defects in the first study that are worth mentioning. The first is that its findings contradicted the vast majority research on minimum wages. As was demonstrated back in 1994 by economists Alan Krueger and David Card, modest, gradual wage increases have not been shown to reduce employment or hours worked in any significant way. Ignoring that body of research without a very good reason made the initial University of Washington study questionable at best.

Second, there potentially is a problem with having a lead researcher — economist Jacob Vigdor, whose affiliations among others include the right-leaning Manhattan Institute — whose impartiality is open to question. I don’t wish to suggest people cannot have opinions, but researchers need to be open-minded. This especially true in fields like economics and public policy, where belief systems and political affiliations can have an outsized impact on objectivity.

Now of course, we should consider the argument that Seattle’s economic growth has been so strong that it overwhelms any negative effects from the higher minimum wage. No one should ignore that possibility and we will be among the first to acknowledge that this could be the case. We may never know for sure, because in economics you don’t get a chance to run control experiments; you only have the facts at hand.

But we can’t emphasize enough just how wrong many of the initial analyses of the wage increase have been. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful force. If your ideology includes the belief that all government attempts at raising living standards are doomed, then of courseyou are going to be against mandated minimum wages. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 9:09 pm

I just learned about Spoon Lady

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Daily life, Music, Video

“I live among the neo-Nazis in eastern Germany. And it’s terrifying”

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A report in the Guardian from a person who understandably remains anonymous:

Media coverage of racist riots in the east German city of Chemnitz earlier this year showed just the tip of the iceberg: what lurks beneath the surface remains hidden.

I’m a university student and an antifascism activist living in Saxony, not far from Chemnitz. For a long time I underestimated the extent of rightwing extremism in Germany. Before I moved to this area a few years ago I didn’t know Saxony, and took antifascism for granted. I’d never come across “real” Nazis or violent racists.

I grew up in Berlin, I’m the child of a metropolis where it is normal not to be white or have a German name. My French grandfather fought for the Allied air force – that’s how my father came to Germany. My mother, a German, was born in West Berlin, that western enclave in the middle of the German Democratic Republic, a refuge for “alternative” people, punks and conscientious objectors.

For a long time I told myself that the east-west divide didn’t concern me. I was born after the Berlin Wall came down. But when I moved to the east, I started thinking more deeply about my western upbringing. I also tried to dispel my prejudices and started thinking more critically about how Germany handled reunification.

I want to stand up against discrimination everywhere and at any time, but in these small towns that can be hard, and exhausting. You’d think Germany’s history would be enough to ensure that fascism and nationalism are denied even the slightest encouragement. That should matter to everyone, shouldn’t it? Unfortunately that’s not how things are.

When the far right Pegida movement suddenly appeared, with crowds of up to 20,000 people marching through Dresden chanting Islamophobic and racist slogans, there was an initial sense of shock among the public. But soon enough the media discourse swerved, and there were voices saying we should try to understand those among the protesters who were “of good will”. Pegida held similar rallies in many other cities and they were largely met with a degree of complacency. Then came talk in the press of the “asylum question” as a problem, and the need for a cap on refugee numbers. Pegida was given yet another boost.

Next came Alternative für Deutschland, a new party in the political landscape, Eurosceptic, xenophobic, nationalist. Panic spread among mainstream parties as they lost voters, and “the asylum issue” became the pivotal issue in the 2017 general election. Asylum law was tightened. As a counter-reaction, some groups organised themselves to demonstrate the “wilkommenskultur” or “welcome culture”. Refugees were greeted in Munich with tea and biscuits. People began to take action against discrimination. And the media loved showing images of Germans reacting to a crisis with love and harmony.

But what remained largely unnoticed were the attacks on foreigners and asylum hostels. More than 4,000 have occurred since 2015, some involving the use of molotov cocktails, baseball bats, and with armed neo-Nazis even raiding children’s rooms. In 2016, an average of 10 hate crimes each day against migrants was officially registered.

What does that mean for daily life in the places where these attacks happened? To take the full measure of it, you have to live here. There’s the conversation at the bakery where an old woman complains about the “bad” foreigners, and the woman serving her agrees. There’s the conductor on the tramway who deliberately checks only the tickets of the black passengers. And there are the attacks on leftwing cultural projects or community centres – stones thrown, beatings, the violence you experience when you try to get involved. And there’s the passivity of the so-called civilian population – locals who stand by when a black person is beaten up in the town centre. Racist, fascist normality sets in.

Youth centres and social workers are rare. People who try to act against far-right groups by launching “alternative” projects live dangerously, in daily confrontation with hatred. You struggle to set up a school workshop against extremism, and have to look hard to find people who would even consider this kind of work in rural areas. After all, who wants to live in a Nazi village? Those with German passports can choose to stay away from these towns where car tyres get punctured and homes are subjected to arson attacks just because some people don’t like who you are, where you come from, or what your political position is. But not everyone can leave easily. Asylum seekers have a residency obligation if they want to receive benefits or work permits.

The towns and villages that have a Nazi problem form a seemingly endless list now. It doesn’t stop at Chemnitz or Dresden. Looking at Europe more generally, it’s clear that fascism must be fought at a grassroots level – and that means being there, physically. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. Is it coming to the US as well?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 8:42 pm

Social Media Is Making the World a Better Place. Quit Griping About It.

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Kevin Drum has an interesting take (and that’s his heading):

Frank Bruni expresses today what I think is a common opinion:

Nora Ephron once wrote a brilliant essay about the trajectory of her and many other people’s infatuations with email, from the thrill of discovering this speedy new way of keeping in touch to the hell of not being able to turn it off. I’ve come to feel that way about the whole of the internet.

What a glittering dream of expanded knowledge and enhanced connection it was at the start. What a nightmare of manipulated biases and metastasized hate it has turned into. Before he allegedly began mailing pipe bombs to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others, Cesar Sayoc found encouragement online — maybe not in the form of explosives instructions, but in the sense that he could scream his resentments in a theater that did the opposite of repudiating them. It echoed them back. It validated and cultivated them. It took something dark and colored it darker still.

….I don’t know exactly how we square free speech and free expression — which are paramount — with a better policing of the internet, but I’m certain that we need to approach that challenge with more urgency than we have mustered so far. Democracy is at stake. So are lives.

I realize that this might not be the most opportune moment to persuade you otherwise, but I’d like to offer a far different take.

I once wrote that the internet makes smart people smarter and dumb people dumber. Likewise, it might very well make good people better and bad people worse. But on average, that doesn’t mean the world is a worse place. So why does it seem so much worse?

That’s pretty easy: the internet boasts an immediacy that allows it to pack a bigger punch than any previous medium. But this is hardly something new. Newspapers packed a bigger punch than the gossipmonger who appeared in your village every few weeks. Radio was more powerful than newspapers. TV was more powerful than radio. And social media is more powerful than TV.

Contrary to common opinion, however, this has little to do with the nature of these mediums. Sure, they’ve become more visceral over time: first words, then pictures, then voice, then moving images, and finally all of that packaged together and delivered with the power of gossip from a trusted friend. But what’s really different is how much time we spend on them—and by this I mean the time we spend on news, not crossword puzzles or Gilligan’s Island. We are addicted to our smartphones, and that means we spend far more time absorbing news than we used to with TV or radio. There’s the news we actively seek out. There’s the news we get after acccidentally clicking on something else. And then, just to make sure we don’t miss one single thing, there’s the news that’s forced on us because we’ve set up our smartphones to buzz and beep at us when something happens.

Does all this mean that there’s more news than ever before? Of course not. Does it mean that there seems to be more news than ever before? Oh my, yes.

And that brings me circuitously to my point: broadly speaking, the world is not worse than it used to be. We simply see far more of its dark corners than we used to, and we see them in the most visceral possible way: live, in color, and with caustic commentary. Human nature being what it is, it’s hardly surprising that we end up thinking the world is getting worse.

Instead, though, consider a different possibility: the world is roughly the same as it’s always been, but we see the bad parts more frequently and more intensely than ever before. What has that produced?

Well, sure, it helped produce Donald Trump. There’s a downside to everything. But what it’s also produced is far more awareness of all those dark corners of the world. And while that may be depressing as hell, that awareness in turn has produced #MeToo. It’s produced #BlackLivesMatter. It’s produced a rebellion among the young. It’s produced the #Resistance. It’s produced more awareness of extreme weather events. It’s produced an entire genre of journalism, the health care horror story, that in turn has produced a growing acceptance that we need something better.

I could go on, but the point I want to make is simple:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 11:44 am

DOJ investigation of Zinke follows possible administration efforts to thwart probe

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Miranda Green reports in the Hill:

he Interior Department’s internal watchdog referred its investigation of Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Department of Justice (DOJ) more than two weeks ago, just days before it was announced that Interior would be getting a Trump political appointee to replace its acting inspector general, two sources confirmed to The Hill.

Ben Carson, head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), told his staff on Oct. 12 that Suzanne Tufts would be leaving HUD to replace Interior’s longtime acting inspector general (IG) Mary Kendall — after the watchdog referred its probe to DOJ, according to two government sources with knowledge of the timeline.

One source described the timing as “incredibly circumspect” and raised questions about whether the plan to have Tufts fill a position traditionally occupied by a career staffer was in reaction to the investigation that was referred to DOJ.

“That is exactly what we were concerned about two weeks ago,” said Elizabeth Hempowicz, director of policy at the Project on Government Oversight.

“The IG office is not only in charge of investigating the secretary but keeping the entire agency kind of in check. The movement of a political appointee with no oversight experience into that role kinda makes it look like that move was to stymie that investigation or keep an eye on what was going on internally.”

Tufts would have overseen all investigations at Interior, including at least four known open investigations into Zinke, and she would have been authorized to end investigations that were already underway. The watchdog’s investigations, once referred to DOJ, remain ongoing, meaning Tufts would have had some influence over the one sent to DOJ shortly before her move was announced.

The specific nature of the investigation into Zinke, referred to the DOJ and reported this week, has not been made public.

A week after Carson emailed staff about Tufts’s planned departure, HUD announced that she was not joining Interior and had instead resigned. The housing agency chalked it up to a miscommunication.

Zinke said this week he was unaware of the DOJ investigation and has not been contacted for it. In a statement Tuesday, his lawyer said in a statement, “The Secretary has done nothing wrong.”

DOJ is not commenting on the matter. HUD and the Interior Department did not immediately respond on Wednesday to requests for comment from The Hill.

Earlier this month Interior’s Office of Inspector General released a report that said Zinke had violated department travel policies by bringing his family members in government-owned vehicles. The investigation also said Zinke and his wife brought a Park Police security detail on a vacation, costing more than $25,000, though there was no policy prohibiting it. After investigators started looking into the issue, Interior changed the travel policy to allow family members on official trips.

Other investigations the IG is looking into include a real estate deal Zinke was reportedly poised to benefit from financially that’s backed by the chairman of oil services giant Halliburton in the secretary’s hometown of Whitefish, Mont., and a decision Zinke made last year to not approve a casino project in Connecticut following heavy lobbying from competing casino giant MGM.

IG is required to establish legal grounds for a case, criminal or civil, before referring matters to the DOJ. The watchdog is also required to refer cases to DOJ when it has reasonable grounds to believe there is a violation of federal criminal law. DOJ is not obligated to take up every case it receives. . .

Continue reading.

This election is important. If the Democrats hold a majority of the House, Zinke’s conduct can be investigated through hearings. The GOP House members do not take their responsibilities seriously.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 8:20 am

A suitable shave for Hallowe’en: Organism 46-B

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Organism 46-B:

Organism 46-B was an enormous 33ft (10m) long, 14-tentacled squid-like creature which lived in Lake Vostok, a subglacial lake located under two miles of ice beneath Vostok Station in the Antarctic. The animal had limbs which were animate and aggressive even after amputation, could release a toxin into the water to immobilise its prey from a distance of up to 150 feet, displayed an astonishing degree of shapeshifting, and showed a considerable degree of both hostility and intelligence.

An imaginary dreadful creature is just right, and the soap and its fragrance are excellent: “Scent Notes of burnt sugar – bitter orange – brandy – Hedione – tobacco absolute – benzoin resin – ambergris.” An unusal fragrance, but very pleasant.

Mr Pomp made a terrific lather, and my RazoRock stainless Mambe delivered a perfect shave. A splash of Organism 46-B aftershave, and I’m ready for the day (and evening).

 

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2018 at 8:15 am

Posted in Shaving

Can pot save the pumpkin farm?

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Damian Paletta reports in the Washington Post:

John Muller steered his tractor left onto Main Street, four Atlantic Giant pumpkins in tow, and thousands of people at the pumpkin parade screamed with delight.

But there were many others, spread throughout the festival that day, who feared the famous farmer had led the city down an uncertain path, demanding changes that couldn’t be undone and attempting to enrich himself in the process.

They are determined to stop “Farmer John,” even if it means putting him — and his pumpkin patch — out of business.

On Nov. 6, residents of this small, coastal city will vote on whether Muller, 72, can use a section of his 21-acre farm to grow thousands of young marijuana plants.

Muller and his wife, Eda, said they need this revenue to save their property, Daylight Farms. If voters don’t approve Measure GG, the Mullers could be forced to sell everything before next year’s harvest.

“If that doesn’t pass, there won’t be a pumpkin farm,” Eda Muller told critics at a recent city council meeting, muttering under her breath, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

U.S. farmers last year harvested 2 billion pounds of pumpkins, many of which were later carved into spooky or silly faces for Halloween. The economics behind these Jack-o’-lanterns can be as messy as their gunky guts, though, with everything hanging on six weeks of sales. But these and other iconic American holiday symbols exist in an often overlooked economy with hidden pressures and pain.

For California farmers — many struggling like the Mullers — the state’s legalization of marijuana has offered the prospect of raising a lucrative crop that could keep them on their land. They must first win the approval of their communities, and the debate dividing Half Moon Bay has also paralyzed other parts of the state.

Local governments, particularly in remote rural areas, are deciding whether cannabis should be treated like any other crop or banned, out of concern that it could lead to crime and other unwanted social change. Calaveras County, for instance, allowed the cultivation of cannabis, collecting millions of dollars of taxes, only to backtrack. Now growers are suing.

Here in Half Moon Bay, 130 miles west, John Muller’s plans are straining the entire city, pitting neighbor against neighbor, past against future. The choice is about more than farming and economics, reaching into the community’s sense of values. Voters must decide whether to welcome commercial cannabis inside their community and help the farm or stand firm against marijuana and possibly smash the Mullers’ pumpkin business.

In a city that calls itself the World Pumpkin Capital, losing the Mullers’ pumpkins could be a devastating turn of events. Their iconic roadside plot draws wealthy visitors from San Francisco and Silicon Valley for more than a month each autumn.

And the Mullers are the only local farmers who have shown the ability to raise Atlantic Giants, pumpkins that can gain 40 pounds each day and grow to the size of small cars. These orange boulders give the city a connection to its agricultural past, something many residents are scrambling to protect.

Some competitors have boosted revenue by adding haunted houses, hayrides, and corn mazes to their farms, but the Mullers have eschewed such agritourism, describing themselves as purists.

Giant-pumpkin farmers, though, are known for being secretive and wily, and many residents don’t trust the Mullers’ motives despite their increasingly desperate pleas.

Opening Half Moon Bay to commercial cannabis could change the city forever, they worry, normalizing pot for teenagers, luring outside investors with nefarious motives, and drawing federal scrutiny upon farm laborers, many of whom are undocumented Mexican workers.

“To say there are no other crops that a farmer could grow in Half Moon Bay is ridiculous,” said Virginia Turezyn, who works at a business advisory firm and is running for city council on the same ballot as Measure GG. “They could grow Brussels sprouts. They can grow other stuff. . . . Everybody thinks [cannabis] is a cure-all and a panacea, but I’ve read tons of research that highlights tons of negative implications for the community, for crime, for youth and for the stench.”

Eda’s father, Al Adreveno, purchased Daylight Farms in the 1950s, growing flowers for buyers in San Francisco, just 30 miles away. He built glass greenhouses to protect some of the plants, a decision that is central to November’s vote.

His daughter Eda married John, a Vietnam War veteran, in 1969, and they went to work in the family flower business. Adreveno served three terms on the city council and four years as mayor.

During one of those stints, Adreveno challenged the leaders of another pumpkin town, Circleville, Ohio, to a weigh-off. The California community put up the biggest plant, and it has proclaimed its pumpkin dominance ever since.

The family’s flower business relied on the San Francisco market, and they lost roughly 25 percent of their customers by the mid-1990s because of the AIDS crisis. California flower growers were also becoming crowded out by foreign competition.

In the late 1990s, the Mullers pivoted to pumpkins as a way to save their farm. This quickly made them local legends, in part because the Mullers moved in when others were moving out.

In 2008, San Mateo County growers raised pumpkins on 263 acres. By 2017, pumpkins grew on just 167 acres. There were fewer pumpkin farms but still plenty of buyers, particularly each October during Half Moon Bay’s Art & Pumpkin Festival, a two-day celebration that can draw 200,000 people, clog roads for miles and raise millions of dollars for nonprofit groups and vendors.

Pumpkins, which local farmers call “punkins,” are difficult to grow profitably on a small farm. They must be farmed on different plots every two to three years, or they can become diseased. Seeds are planted after Mother’s Day in May, and harvest comes four or five months later. Buyers typically want pumpkins only during a six-week stretch, leading up to Halloween. That puts enormous pressure on growers to cash in during a small window.

The Mullers grow 60 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and squash, including Cinderellas, Fairytales and Tonda Padanas. They plant 80,000 seeds each spring, and each seed can produce up to four pumpkins. Harvest takes one month, and then the pumpkins are sold at a plot called Farmer John’s Pumpkins on the Pacific Coast Highway, where visitors can see the ocean peeking across a crest of trees.

Muller has always been more than just a farmer, though. In 2008, he served his first of two terms as mayor, helping steer the beleaguered city away from bankruptcy. He also served in other local government posts and advised the U.S. Agriculture Department during the Reagan administration.

At his pumpkin patch, he’s a dusty blur, working as greeter, cashier, wheelbarrow pusher and parking director. He’s five-and-a-half feet tall and wears a deep tan on his face from farm work.

On a recent Friday, he was constantly in motion, sporting torn green coveralls and a sweat-stained hat, hugging visitors and pulling wagons and directing people to a tepee past the hay bales.

He looked at times joyful and at times exhausted, saying he had been up at 4 a.m. discussing the farm’s future with Eda. The Mullers still care for Adreveno, now 95, and his wife, who is 90.

“The family estate is dwindling — we’ll have to make some very, very life-altering decisions,” he said. “We worked hard all our lives, but our little bodies are slowing down a bit.”

A lifelong Republican, John Muller voted against the statewide measure in 2016 that legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults. He was an outlier in Half Moon Bay, where 69 percent of voters backed it.

Shortly after that vote, Muller was approached by Eric Hollister, a chef and acquaintance from the local farmers market. Hollister wanted to refurbish the Mullers’ dilapidated greenhouses, grow cannabis “starts” — young, non-flowered plants — and market the products to individual consumers and other commercial growers.

The Mullers were strapped for cash. Health care for Eda’s mother was nearing $10,000 a month. Hollister said he planned to pay the Mullers nearly $1 million a year in rental fees and spend around $3 million rehabbing the greenhouses, which they would still own. Hollister said he could sell between 100,000 and 150,000 plants a month, grown in 65,000 square feet of greenhouse space. Each plant would fetch between $5 and $10, perhaps more.

Because the plants would be “starts,” they wouldn’t have an intense odor and could not be immediately used as recreational marijuana. For struggling pumpkin farmers, Hollister’s offer made it appear their financial rescue was imminent. And it nearly was. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2018 at 8:41 pm

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