Later On

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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

HUD suspends FHA mortage insurance rate cut an hour after Trump takes office

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So it begins. The White House website has already been scrubbed of references to climate change and equality.

Andrew Khouri reports in the LA Times:

An hour after Donald Trump assumed the presidency Friday, his administration indefinitely suspended a pending rate cut for mortgage insurance required for FHA-backed mortgages, which are popular with first-time home buyers and those with poor credit.

The move by the Department of Housing and Urban Development — one of the first acts of Trump’s administration — reversed a policy announced in the waning days of the Obama presidency that would have trimmed insurance premiums for typical borrowers by hundreds of dollars a year.

Some Republicans expressed concern that the rate cut could cost taxpayers if the loans started to go sour and the Federal Housing Administration was unable to cover the losses. The agency needed a $1.7-billion bailout from the U.S. Treasury in 2013 after it expanded its role last decade following the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.

The FHA does not issue loans, but instead insures mortgages and collects fees from borrowers to reimburse lenders in the case of default. Borrowers can qualify for an FHA-backed mortgage, with down payments as small as 3.5%, even with a credit score as low as 580, which could signal a past bankruptcy or debts sent to collection. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2017 at 3:36 pm

Women at Davos

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Katrin Bennhold reports in the NY Times:

Iris Bohnet navigates the narrow carpeted stairs to the wood-paneled hotel lobby balancing a smartphone, two bags and a winter coat the size of a duvet. It’s below freezing here. She’s been up for an hour already, checking emails and sending a quick note to her husband, who is looking after their two boys, but mostly, she admits, blow-drying her hair. This is her first observation of the day: Davos Woman gets less sleep than Davos Man because of her hair.

Ms. Bohnet studies gender inequality. A behavioral economist at the Harvard Kennedy School, she is one of about 600 female participants at this year’s World Economic Forum. There are about 2,400 men — that’s 80 percent of all participants. The gender imbalance here very much reflects the dearth of female leaders in the real world. As one female American executive put it: “Who do they think they are? The Senate?”

I was curious: What is it like to be Davos Woman for a day?

We step into the Davos dawn and start walking down the icy sidewalk. Ms. Bohnet’s first appointment is a breakfast panel on how to increase gender diversity in companies. She recently wrote a book on the subject and will be one of the speakers.

Ms. Bohnet arrived the day before and caught the end of the conference’s annual women’s reception. This is where female newcomers to Davos receive advice from the regulars — a sort of survivors’ guide for the 20 percent. Bring sturdy shoes. Expect long security lines. Don’t be intimidated, but if you are, don’t show it.

Judging from the stories here, Davos Man is still coming to terms with the presence of Davos Woman. High-powered women getting mistaken for the “plus one.” The confusion of men when they meet with female executives.

Ms. Bohnet knows the drill. This is her fourth year as Davos Woman. She is wearing sturdy shoes and carries her high heels in a spare bag.

There are quite a few men in the line at the Morosani Schweizerhof hotel. “That’s encouraging,” Ms. Bohnet whispers.

Have they all gotten up this early to learn about gender equality? We quickly discover that there is a finance breakfast scheduled for the same time.

Still, of the roughly 200 people who have come for the gender discussion, perhaps a third are men. And half of the speakers are women. This is good, in my thinking.

The first time I came to Davos, in 2002, it was pretty standard to have a panel with four middle-aged men. A “manel,” as women here call it.

The setup for the rare female speaker was often awkward. Microphones that interfered with earrings. Barstool-like chairs that made legs dangle, skirts ride up and high heels fall off.

Not today.

Over the next hour and a half, it almost seems as if the corporate world could be on the cusp of a gender revolution. Unilever and Mercer are using a gender-neutral assessment test to hire employees. SAP is using a big data tool to evaluate employees and job ads that avoid adjectives like “aggressive” and “competitive” that have been shown to put off women. The number of female managers has risen at all three companies.

This is all in Ms. Bohnet’s book, “What Works,” a blueprint for how to de-bias organizations rather than human beings. We are all biased, she explains. “Even if you have the best intentions, it’s hard to overcome your unconscious biases.”

Her favorite example is about the top orchestras in the United States, which began having auditions behind curtains in the 1970s. At the time only 5 percent of their musicians were women. Orchestra directors were confident that they did not need the curtain and that they had been choosing candidates purely on sound.

But with the curtain, the proportion of female musicians in American orchestras started to rise. It’s nearly 40 percent today. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article (but do read the whole thing):

McKinsey has done extensive research to prove that gender diversity is good for business. It recently piloted an algorithm built to recruit employees without bias. The formula picked more women.

“Wow,” Ms. Bohnet says. “After a morning like this, you really think something is happening.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2017 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

‘Let’s Care About Someone Who Does Not Belong to Our Tribe’

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In the Atlantic James Fallows has a column with some good regional news:

We could use a little positive news at the moment, right? Here you go:

Over the past three years we’re written a lot about Fresno in general, one of the unglamorous cities of California’s Central Valley that is fighting its way back as a tech and cultural center, and about Bitwise Industries in particular. Bitwise, which we wrote about here, here, and here, is one of several organizations around the country (like the Iron Yard in Greenville, S.C., and Radius and Epic and others in Erie, Pa.) that are pioneering the ideas of creating opportunities in left-behind areas; of expanding those opportunities to left-behind people; and meanwhile helping redevelop downtowns and bring a sense of pizzazz and possibility to their cities.

Yesterday in Fresno, Bitwise made another big announcement, of a physical expansion combined with a social and civic goal. The physical expansion was the steady growth of its business to several more historic downtown structures, including the Hotel Virginia and old warehouses.

Tim Sheehan’s story in the Fresno Bee about the announcement said: . . .

Continue reading. Photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2017 at 11:18 am

Permaculture farming and the future of food production

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An interesting post by Chris Newman:

I told a story a little while ago and received an interesting comment; here’s most of it:

Local food, organic food, “real” food produces less per unit of land farmed without a demonstrable improvement in nourishment. Do you really want to have to expand the amount of land in cultivation to feed the earth? Wholesale going “local” means having more limited diets. As long as this is limited to zealots and those who want to be accepted by their organic friends, and for whom the amount of their income spent on food is negligible, that’s great. It’s a lifestyle expense. But if you want to feed the prisons, the hospitals, the schools, and do it on a budget, this is an awful, awful approach.

He’s right, but just kinda.

Where he’s right: Organic farming, as it’s commonly imagined and implemented, does have higher costs, lower yields, and more resource requirements because of the lower yields. That’s because organic farming is little more than conventional farming with all the tools taken away. It’s a well-intended but insane way to farm, and it will kill us all if we decide this is the way to “fix” agriculture.


His response includes a number of assumptions, of which I will point out a few to discuss:

  1. He presumes the Organic Shahada: There is no Organic but Organic, and the USDA is his prophet. Or less controversially: Local = Real = Organic = Sustainable = Organic = Real = Local
  2. Methods for producing economically viable yields don’t exist outside of conventional, non-organic agriculture
  3. Going Local means more limited diets without improvements in quality
  4. “Budget” food produced by conventional agriculture reflect their real costs

Let’s address these in reverse order. . .

Continue reading.

I note again that the red herring of whether conventional crops are as “nourishing” as organic crops—that is, whether conventional crops provide less in the way of nutrients and micronutrients than do organic crops. In fact, the nutrient and micronutrient content of conventional and organic foods are much the same, as determined by the plant or animal’s own genetic make-up. The fact that conventional and organic foods have the same nutrient profile is taken as evidence that organic foods offer the same benefits as conventional foods—but that misses the point: Most people buy organic produce not because “organic” means more nourishment but because it means the food will have no pesticide residue. Pesticides are, of course, toxins, including some that are very powerful toxins and particularly affect the young, from in utero through early life. Conventional produce can (and generally does) include toxic residue from pesticides. And organic meat comes from animals not dosed with antibiotics—organic meat provides the same nutrients, but without the dangers posed by dosing animals with antibiotics.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) routinely lists the “Dirty Dozen” foods that have the highest pesticide residues (even after rinsing: all measurements are made after foods are thoroughly rinsed) and recommends that for those foods you purchase those grown using organic methods. (Strawberries always seem to top the list. It’s been years since I’ve had conventional strawberries since I always buy those organically.)

They also list the “Clean Fifteen,” those foods that, though grown using conventional methods, have negligible pesticide (i.e., toxic) residue after rinsing.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2017 at 10:35 am

City devastated by OxyContin use sues Purdue Pharma, claims drugmaker put profits over citizens’ welfare

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It’s pretty obvious that Purdue Pharma—along with many other pharmaceutical companies—is intensely concerned about profits and pretty much indifferent to patient welfare. (Martin Shkreli is the poster child for this, but he’s just the tip of the iceberg.) However, corporations in the US tend to escape any real punishment, generally just paying a fine that is a fraction of the profits realized—a cost of doing business seems to be how it’s treated.

Harriet Ryan reports in the LA Times:

A Washington city devastated by black-market OxyContin filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the painkillers’ manufacturer Thursday, alleging the company turned a blind eye to criminal trafficking of its pills to “reap large and obscene profits” and demanding it foot the bill for widespread opioid addiction in the community.

The suit by Everett, a city of 100,000 north of Seattle, was prompted by a Times investigation last year. The newspaper revealed that drugmaker Purdue Pharma had extensive evidence pointing to illegal trafficking across the nation, but in many cases, did not share it with law enforcement or cut off the flow of pills.

One Los Angeles ring monitored by Purdue and highlighted by The Times’ investigation supplied OxyContin to gang members and other criminals who were trafficking the drug to Everett. At the height of the problem, in 2010, OxyContin was a factor in more than half the crimes in Snohomish County, and it ignited a heroin epidemic that still grips the region, officials said.

In a complaint in state Superior Court, city lawyers accused Purdue of gross negligence, creating a public nuisance and other misconduct and said the company should pay costs of handling the opioid crisis — a figure that the mayor said could run tens of millions of dollars — as well as punitive damages.

“Purdue’s improper actions of placing profits over the welfare of the citizens of Everett have caused and will continue to cause substantial damages to Everett,” the lawyers wrote. “Purdue is liable for its intentional, reckless, and/or negligent misconduct and should not be allowed to evade responsibility for its callous and unconscionable practices.”

Purdue has been sued hundreds of times over the past 20 years over its marketing of OxyContin to doctors and the drug’s risk of addiction to patients, but Everett’s suit is the first to focus narrowly on what the company knew about criminal distribution of the painkiller. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2017 at 12:50 pm

Design and content considerations for fake news: What makes a meme succeed?

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Quite an interesting article by Scott Shane in the NY Times, giving the nuts and bolts of constructing a fake news story to make it succeed as a meme.

It was early fall, and Donald J. Trump, behind in the polls, seemed to be preparing a rationale in case a winner like him somehow managed to lose. “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” the Republican nominee told a riled-up crowd in Columbus, Ohio. He was hearing “more and more” about evidence of rigging, he added, leaving the details to his supporters’ imagination.

A few weeks later, Cameron Harris, a new college graduate with a fervent interest in Maryland Republican politics and a need for cash, sat down at the kitchen table in his apartment to fill in the details Mr. Trump had left out. In a dubious cyberart just coming into its prime, this bogus story would be his masterpiece.

Mr. Harris started by crafting the headline: “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.” It made sense, he figured, to locate this shocking discovery in the very city and state where Mr. Trump had highlighted his “rigged” meme.

“I had a theory when I sat down to write it,” recalled Mr. Harris, a 23-year-old former college quarterback and fraternity leader. “Given the severe distrust of the media among Trump supporters, anything that parroted Trump’s talking points people would click. Trump was saying ‘rigged election, rigged election.’ People were predisposed to believe Hillary Clinton could not win except by cheating.”

In a raucous election year defined by made-up stories, Mr. Harris was a home-grown, self-taught practitioner, a boutique operator with no ties to Russian spy agencies or Macedonian fabrication factories. As Mr. Trump takes office this week, the beneficiary of at least a modest electoral boost from a flood of fakery, Mr. Harris and his ersatz-news website,, make for an illuminating tale.

Contacted by a reporter who had discovered an electronic clue that revealed his secret authorship of, he was wary at first, chagrined to be unmasked.

“This topic is rather sensitive,” Mr. Harris said, noting that he was trying to build a political consulting business and needed to protect his reputation. But eventually he agreed to tell the story of his foray into fake news, a very part-time gig that he calculated paid him about $1,000 an hour in web advertising revenue. He seemed to regard his experience with a combination of guilt about having spread falsehoods and pride at doing it so skillfully. . .

Continue reading, and there’s lots more—I didn’t even get to the good part.

You may recall a previous post, in which a fake-news publisher observed:

When did you notice that fake news does best with Trump supporters?

Well, this isn’t just a Trump-supporter problem. This is a right-wing issue. Sarah Palin’s famous blasting of the lamestream media is kind of record and testament to the rise of these kinds of people. The post-fact era is what I would refer to it as. This isn’t something that started with Trump. This is something that’s been in the works for a while. His whole campaign was this thing of discrediting mainstream media sources, which is one of those dog whistles to his supporters. When we were coming up with headlines it’s always kind of about the red meat. Trump really got into the red meat. He knew who his base was. He knew how to feed them a constant diet of this red meat.

We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.

I think that is in effect saying that the liberal arts work.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 3:06 pm

DNC learns nothing: Business as usual, courting lobbyists and corporations

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Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

LABOR SECRETARY TOM PEREZ, one of the leading candidates for chair of the Democratic National Committee, has stumbled in recent days when asked about his position on money in politics.

Asked at a DNC forum in Phoenix last Saturday whether he will “revive President Obama’s ban on corporate donations to the DNC” and a ban on appointing lobbyists as party leaders, Perez demurred.

“It’s actually not that simple a question,” Perez responded, adding that such a move might have “unintended consequences.” Perez argued that such a ban might impact “union members who are lobbyists,” though the question explicitly only addressed corporate lobbyists.

Speaking to the Huffington Post, Perez has refused to clarify his position on resurrecting President Obama’s ban on lobbyist donations to the DNC, which was overturned by former DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., during Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency.

The only firm restriction on special-interest money Perez has announced is that he will not accept lobbyist donations for his own campaign committee formed to support his bid for DNC chair. But even this position has come under question.

The Intercept recently obtained a fundraiser invite for Team Tom, Perez’s DNC chair campaign committee, for an event on January 26 in Washington, D.C. The event invite clearly prohibits lobbyist money, but the host committee — the individuals sponsoring the event — included several federally registered lobbyists and individuals working in the lobbying industry.

One of the event’s sponsors, for instance, is Bryan Tackett, a lobbyist with the firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, who is registered to lobby on a number of issues, including on issues related to the overtime rules released by the Labor Department under Perez’s leadership.

Reached for comment, Tackett said, “As a private citizen, I support Tom Perez’s bid for DNC chair and I failed to inform his team of my background in lobbying. They have informed me of their policy to not accept lobbyist donations and I respect their decision.”

The Intercept also raised the issue with Perez’s campaign staff. Xochitl Hinojosa, Perez’s spokesperson, said: “There are currently no lobbyists hosting the happy hour or any finance events for Team Tom. If a lobbyists was on a previous invite, we removed them once we were made aware they were a lobbyist.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2017 at 9:58 am

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