Monday, October 14, 2019

Why not Elizabeth Warren?

Elizabeth addition to having some ambiguity about whether Medicare for All is something she endorses...

• Says we need to “stand up to Assad”
• Supports the Venezuelan opposition
• Voted for and supports sanctions on Iran
• Voted to increase Trump’s military budget
• Says we need to “hold Assange accountable”
• Says supporting Israel is a “moral imperative”

Maybe they should also ask about her foreign policy ideas along with Medicare for all. She seems to be another Obama.

“Elizabeth Warren’s New Labor Plan Is Good. Bernie Sanders’ Is Better”
[Vice, via Naked Capitalism 10-7-19]

“Certainly, there is much for workers to celebrate in both Warren’s platform and what it says about the state of the American labor movement…. But declaring Warren’s labor plan “the most ambitious” of the 2020 campaign is a step too far. For all her talk of ‘big, structural change,’ Warren’s platform focuses on workers’ legal rights as individuals, rather than their rights as a collective. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ own labor plan, which issues a more fundamental challenge to the very essence of the American workplace by tackling at-will employment. The overwhelming majority of American workers are employed ‘at will,’ which means that they can be fired for basically any reason, regardless of performance on the job…. Sanders’s Workplace Democracy Plan, which he released in August , calls for the passage of ‘just cause’ legislation, which would prohibit employers from firing workers for anything other than their performance on the job. Warren’s plan leaves this fundamental imbalance untouched.”

Sunday, October 13, 2019


© by Mark Dempsey

One of my family members came to the end of her rope, living in her car in a cold out-of-state winter. She’s not evil, or an aggressive panhandler. In fact, she was employed as a bookkeeper until a DUI and other events prevented her from getting a job. Our family sent money, but she drank it up. She eventually found inexpensive housing, and Medicaid to treat the knock-on effects of her drinking. We believe she’s sober now, but can’t be certain. Meanwhile, the rest of the family attended Al-Anon meetings--Al Anon is AA for family members of alcoholics--and got something like a spiritual awakening as a consequence. I’d recommend Al Anon to anyone.

The U.S. currently has more vacant houses than homeless people, so homelessness exists as a matter of public policy, not some economic shortfall, or a moral failing of the homeless themselves. The U.S. epidemic of homelessness actually began when the Kennedy administration decided to close the large “One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoo’s-Nest” Federal institutions, substituting smaller, transitional housing within communities. In California, then-Governor Ronald Reagan also closed or scaled back funding for California’s large asylums besides cutting HUD’s affordable housing budget by 75% when he was president.

Then these government entities betrayed the mentally ill, not funding the transitional housing. Daniel Patrick Moynihan condemned it as the most shameful episode in his life of public service. Meanwhile, mentally ill people were effectively dumped on the streets. No, not all homeless are mentally ill, but this betrayal was a start for the problem.

Any population is going to have a certain portion of deviants, mental illness, and addiction. A recent Scientific American reports that deviants are a larger portion of families of the truly innovative and creative thinkers too, so the idea of simply eliminating them is counter-productive, never mind inhumane.

The real question is how we’re going to manage deviance. So far, sweeping the problem under the rug seems to be the preferred solution. My County Supervisor (Sue Frost) recently wrote to praise the effects of anti-camping ordinances, as though we can prevent mental illness and the financial abuse that evicts people from their homes by denying the victims whatever modest refuge they have managed to scrape together. This is not only heartless, it’s ineffective, and far more expensive than the actual remedies.

But the American cult of vengeance will have its pound of flesh, insisting with medieval logic that homeless people have deserved their punishment. Incarcerating people for the crime of poverty is commonplace now, too. With only five percent of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners, the U.S. leads the world in incarceration. In per-capita terms, that figure is seven times more than the demographically-identical Canadians. So...does Canada have seven times more crime than the U.S? Answer: no; about the same.

Incarceration is not a cure for addiction, either, nor does it “scare addicts straight.” Actual medical treatment (rehab) has much better outcomes and is about one seventh the cost of incarceration.

The U.S. leads the world in medieval thinking, dealing with our population’s illnesses by funding punishments rather than treatment. One has to ask who the real crazy people are here, the homeless or the upstanding citizens who believe punishment cures illness. What’s next, jail time for diabetes?

Several communities have discovered that it’s actually cheaper to provide homes for such people rather than to use police to evict them from their camps, and emergency rooms to treat their illnesses. Finland has actually reduced its homeless population significantly with this “housing first” policy. We can do it too. Let’s.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The real tortoise and hare...

From Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

By David Epstein

“...learning itself is best done slowly to accumulate lasting knowledge, even when that means performing poorly on tests of immediate progress. That is, the most effective learning looks inefficient; it looks like falling behind.” p.11

“ is difficult to accept that the best learning road is slow, and that doing poorly now is essential for better performance later. It is so deeply counterintuitive that it fools the learners themselves, both about their own progress and their teachers’ skill.” p.90

“A mind kept wide open will take something from every new experience.” p. 153

Epstein also recommends Robin Hogarth’s Educating Intuition

At the root of poverty: Government Austerity

© by Mark Dempsey

The lament that the poor have been getting poorer while the rich Hoover up all the wealth is a commonplace. (See Jeff vonKaenel's recent SN&R editorial, for one example) David Cay Johnston summarizes the situation this way: Since 1972, the bottom 90% have seen an increase in their real, median income of $59. If that were an inch on a bar graph, the top ten percent's increase would be a bar 141 feet high. The top 0.1% would have a bar five miles high.

Press attention has lately been focused on Elizabeth Warren's proposed wealth tax as a remedy--something that echoes Bernie Sanders' proposal of five years ago. But that is not the whole story, and there’s sure to be a fight about any tax increase.

A bigger problem is the way government spending has succumbed to the austerity bug over the past few decades. To appreciate how modest is our government’s spending, “in 2010 ...the average [government spending] for the world's 20 largest economies (in terms of GDP) was $16,110 per person. Norway and Sweden expended the most at $40,908 and $26,760 per capita respectively. The federal government of the United States spent $11,041 per person.” (Wikipedia, citing the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation as their sources). So the U.S. is roughly 32% below the average for large economies.

Counting government spending as a percentage of GDP, the U.S. ranks forty-fifth among nations, even without adjusting for its much larger military spending. For that, the U.S. spends 50% more than its nearest military rival, China, as a portion of GDP, but if one reduces calculated government spending by a modest 11% to make the U.S. comparable to other nations, our  government spends roughly the same portion of GDP as Namibia does. So there’s no need to wonder why U.S. infrastructure is third rate and third world.

The campaign to delegitimize collective action has been succeeding, in spades. Rather than the extremely modest, Namibia-like spending, most people believe the U.S. spends “like a drunken sailor,” but the truth is that spending, relative to the size of the U.S. economy, is not just modest, it is third-world modest.

And this has impacts throughout the economy. Not among the rich--they have private parks, schools, transportation, and so on. It’s the poor who suffer the most from a depleted public realm. For just one more example, Federal spending on higher education has declined 55% since 1972. No need to wonder why tuition has increased, and student debts now are second only to mortgages as a burden on the economy.

Perhaps most frustrating is the way our public policy makers say they cannot help the poor even as they shovel money out for bank bailouts ($16 - $29 trillion, says the Federal Reserve’s own audit for 2007-8) and wars in the Middle East ($3 - $7 trillion, says Nobel laureate economist Joe Stiglitz). The attack on social safety nets continues unabated, sending the clear message: “You poor people had better take whatever crappy job is on offer, or suffer the indignities of poverty, even homelessness and starvation.” Government spending on banks and wars indicates this is not only cruel, it’s unnecessary.

Monday, October 7, 2019

What Kind of Development Would Actually Improve Davis?

© by Mark Dempsey

The Davis Vanguard recently published Davis Teeters with an Unsustainable Economic and Fiscal Situation, describing the difficulty in getting sustainable, good development, and the good jobs that accompany it, in the nearby University town, Davis. There, elected officials and the voting public often reject development proposals from the city's largest employer, the University of California, and even those proposed by environmentally friendly developers like Mike Corbett.

As one consequence, residents often commute to nearby Sacramento and Woodland since they can't get good-paying local jobs. And those employed locally are often not paid enough to live in Davis, so they have to commute too. Just the traffic congestion generated by this arrangement is enough to make one question it, but it's clearly less-than-optimum in many respects.

To me, it looks like Davis public policy makers and voters have succumbed to the dark side of environmentalism, consistently choosing a mirage of sustainability over profitable, environmentally-friendly development. Limiting development as they have is not really a favor for the environment since everyone has to commute (and pollute), and, when done correctly, environmentally-friendly development can be more valuable, and even more profitable, than business as usual.

Environmentalists harm their own cause when they blindly oppose development. The worst say things like "let's just make this proposed development into a park." Developers could, but do not answer "OK, we'll make this parcel into a park, and your bank account into my retirement money..." to the environmentalists.

Primed by community meetings that seldom discuss costs and consequences, naive "environmentalists" making such one-sided requests is a commonplace. Perhaps the worst example I witnessed was a woman in a Sacramento County transportation planning meeting who asked the county to build a subway from near her suburban house to near her job downtown. It's an understatement to say a subway would be handy for her commute, but it would be prohibitively expensive.

To be economically feasible, transit requires enough riders be within a comfortable walk of the stops, proportional to the expense of the transit. Bus and light rail require at least 11 units per acre (a little more than duplexes), but a subway is not viable in neighborhoods with less than 30 units per acre (three story apartments). The woman lived in suburban Carmichael--a location that did not qualify for even viable, unsubsidized bus transit.

So how can Davis, and other cities, reconcile economics and environmental responsibility?

1. Revise the Civic Design Process - Zoning practice common throughout California designates parcels by use (residential, commercial, etc.), often decades in advance of actual development. California's cities could designate development intensity instead, and let the market sort out what use works when building actually occurs. This is called "form-based" (as opposed to "use-based") zoning. Hercules, California, and McKinney Texas among other towns employ this planning method, so Davis would not have to reinvent the wheel.

Form-based planning is simpler, and less prone to arbitrary changes (rezones). At the height of the housing bubble in 2004, 35,000 acres in the region were proposed for rezone. A plan that requires so many changes is barely a suggestion, not a plan. The arbitrary susceptibility to rezoning stokes voters' suspicions about development, and requires unnecessarily expensive revamps of infrastructure not suited to the final development intensity, too.

2. Quash Land Speculation - Land speculation is perhaps the sorest subject in all of California's civic design process. Speculators can purchase--or, more likely option--outlying agricultural land for a few thousand dollars an acre, then, once they receive the entitlement to develop it more intensely, sell it to builders for 50 - 100 times more than they paid for it. That 5,000% - 10,000% profit remains immune to even income tax, too, if they exchange that development-approved real estate for income-producing property.

This dynamic also means speculators try to develop the worst possible land--one example would be the floodplain called "North Natomas"--because it is even cheaper to purchase and consequently more profitable. Never mind the invitation to corruption this offers local governments, the final product of such speculation is often a less-than-desirable mess. North Natomas residents were recently informed they would have to pay even more to shore up the pre-Katrina levees that protect them from flooding, for just one example.

 Is there an alternative? Yes! In Germany, the developers have to sell the outlying land to the local government at the agricultural land price, then re-purchase it at the upzoned price. Not only does this discourage sprawling, commute-extending, edge-city development, it means all of that enormous profit--called the "unearned increment"--accrues to the benefit of the public, not the developers' bank accounts. And Germany has a very nice public realm, too. It has excellent infrastructure, free college tuition even for foreigners, and the arts budget for just the City of Berlin exceeds the National Endowment for the Arts for the United States of America.

So what kind of development should Davis encourage?

1. Include Social Justice - Social justice considerations should guide development. This means "inclusionary zoning" that requires builders to build low-cost housing as a certain percentage of their development. It also means building more compactly, at transit-friendy densities, since the same amount of land can house more people. The trouble with good development is that it tends to gentrify, removing lower income residents gradually, so policy makers must take care to avoid that.

2. Mandate Mixed-Use - In the nicest neighborhoods, one can go to work, shop or eat after walking or biking from one's residence. The idea of building sprawl (single use) is an environmental non-starter that mandates a) everyone must own an auto, and b) everyone must commute to every significant destination. Simply mixing commerce, offices and even light industry within residential areas cuts congestion, and when done properly can even cut vehicle miles traveled by one to two thirds.

3. Mandate Pedestrian- and Bicycle-Friendly Street design - Streets that invite all kinds of access--called "Complete Streets"--are now the standard for all new development in California. Davis can model how to integrate these into the community.

4. Start a Public Bank - It's common for half the cost of large projects to be financing, just as two thirds of mortgage payments are interest. With a public "Bank of Davis," this profit could be recycled into the community, rather than being sent to Wall Street. The state just authorized local and regional public banking, so such an institution could be a win for both innovative developers who cannot find financing from conventional sources, and for the City itself as an additional revenue stream.

In short, Davis needs to encourage and finance pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, mixed income neighborhoods. This means increasing the number of multi-family units, perhaps even building residences over retail in shopping centers, until it achieves transit friendly densities (11 units per acre or more).

What it does not mean is requiring builders and developers to give away the store. In fact, market acceptance for such development is very good. People pay premiums to live in such neighborhoods, and "Lifestyle Centers" that mix residences within shopping centers report as much as 50% more income per square foot as conventional, single-use commerce. This means builders would be building something valuable, not just something profitable.

One final note of caution: low-density, sprawling development is the epitome of what is unsustainable in civic design. It's more than twice as expensive to maintain its infrastructure compared to more compact development, and California's tax policy does nothing to help, since residential neighborhoods cannot pay enough in taxes to cover the expenses for their schools and infrastructure right now.

Davis has a unique opportunity to revise its development practices so that enlightened planning guides environmentally-friendly building. This could be a beacon of hope to the rest of the state. It would also set an example for how enlightened public policy can provide what is both profitable and environmentally sound.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Archimedes anticipates nearly two millenia

The following comes from The Archimedes Codex, a book about the discovery of an ancient manuscript from Archimedes--the guy whose "Eureka!" moment heralded the discovery of specific gravity.

The book itself reads like the real-life adventures of Indiana Jones, but it also recounts Archimedes' proof of how one calculates the area of a parabolic segment (the yellow that includes triangle ABC below) as a proportion of the triangle it encloses. The added lines are part of the proof.

Among other his other enterprises, Archimedes was the architect of the defenses of Syracuse, a rival to Rome who sided with Carthage. When the Romans finished off the Carthaginians, they came after Syracuse, a Greek colony off the "toe" of Italy's "boot." At first Archimedes' defenses were too much for them, but eventually, some Syracusan defenders got drunk, the Romans got in, and that was the end of Archimedes. A cautionary tale.

What’s remarkable about this proof is that Archimedes uses infinity -- something both outside the province of Greek mathematics, prefiguring calculus. Since Archimedes lived around 270 BC, it was quite the leap.

One more astonishing thing about this proof is that he uses no numbers. In fact, he had nothing like Arabic (actually Indian) numerals.

A few comments about the drawing:

The line CZ is a tangent to the parabola (sorry, primitive drawing tools make it appear otherwise).

K is the mid-point of AZ

B is the mid-point of DE

Triangle AKC is half the area of AZC

B is the mid-point of KC

Triangle ABC is half AKC

The above, together, means that triangle AZC is four times the area of ABC.

Since this is a parabola, any line drawn parallel to the axis of the parabola (BD), say MX repeats the proportion of the perpendicular. So MX is to OX as AC is to AX, or MX:OX::AC:AX.

More comments:

Extending line CB cuts MX at point N, and cuts ZA at point K. The segment KT is the same as KC. In other words, K is the mid-point of CT.

Archimedes then duplicated the random line segment OX in SH, suspending it at the mid point, T.

So, as MX is to OX, so AC to AX

Also as AC is to AX, so KC to KN

Combined: MX is to OX as KC to KN, and since K is a midpoint, MX is to OX as TK is to KN.

And since they are identical, whatever is true for OX is true for SH: MX is to SH as TK is to KN.

Imagine, then that MX and SH are on a balance, with its fulcrum at K. Both lines weigh something in proportion to their lengths, and are on that balance at their centers of gravity (the idea center of gravity was Archimedes’ discovery -- a prerequisite for all subsequent physics.... How else would we be able to calculate planetary orbits?). The idea of treating lines as physically weighty was another of Archimedes’ innovations.

Remember: MX:SH::TK:KN, so the ratio of weight between MX and SH is the ratio of their lengths. The ratio of lines to balance such weights on a fulcrum is the inverse ratio to their weights, so MX and SH will always balance with K as their fulcrum on line TN.

So the random line, MX, always balances its smaller section OX around the fulcrum K when that smaller segment is transposed so its center becomes point T. The ratios will change, but they will remain proportional.

In other words, each parallel inside the triangle AZC balances its respective section from the parabolic segment ABC (positioned at T) around fulcrum K.

Therefore, all parallel lines (an infinite number) inside AZC balance all sections of the parabolic segment at K.

In other words, the triangle AZC, as a whole, balances the parabolic segment ABC, as a whole, at fulcrum K, when suspended at its center of gravity, T.

Where is the center of gravity for triangle AZC? It’s one-third of the median line KC. Since 1/3 of KC is also one third of KT, the parabolic segment is three times as far from the fulcrum as is the triangle. Therefore, the triangle must be three times the weight of the parabolic segment, and the area of the triangle (AZC) must be three times the area of the parabolic segment.

Since ABC is 1/4 the size of AZC, the parabolic segment ABC is 4/3 the triangle ABC.

In other words: the area of the parabolic segment is four-thirds the area of the triangle it encloses.

Why not Elizabeth Warren?

Elizabeth addition to having some ambiguity about whether Medicare for All is something she endorses... • Says we need to “st...