Friday, October 31, 2014

Average is Over: 25 Years since Morava River and Berlin Wall Collapsed

INK BOTTLE“But youth smiles without any reason. It is one of its chiefest charms.”
~ Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

James Burnham, a socialist, CIA agent, philosopher, and Cold Warrior, was a master analyst of oligarchy, in his day and ours... Double agent of ice & fire

       The November-December issue of World Literature Today, with a focus on 'After the Wall Fell: Dispatches from Central Europe 1989-2014', is now available, a decent chunk of it accessible online -- as is the entire World Literature in Review-reviews section. 

Czech out the new Foreign Affairs piece by Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman, and they argue that matters have gone strikingly well and are relatively normal.  Here is one excerpt:
Newspapers overflowed with accounts of soaring mortality amid the stress of transition. On average, however, life expectancy rose from 69 years in 1990 to 73 years in 2012. The speed of improvement was two thirds faster than in the communist 1980s. Russia’s life expectancy today, at 70.5, is higher than it has ever been. Infant mortality, already low, fell faster in percentage terms than in any other world region.
Eastern Europe is infamous for unhealthy binge drinking. However, average alcohol consumption fell between 1990 and 2010 from 7.9 to 7.6 liters of pure alcohol a year per resident aged over 14. There were exceptions — drinking rose in Russia and the Baltic states but even in Russia recorded consumption in 2010, 11.1 liters, was lower than that in Germany, France, Ireland, or Austria. (Of course, more drinking might escape the statisticians in the Slavic region.) Smoking among adult males was high – 42 percent on average but about the same as in Asia. In short almost all statistics suggest a dramatic improvement in the quality of life.
In short, almost all statistics suggest a dramatic improvement in the quality of life since 1989 for citizens of the average postcommunist country — an improvement that rivals and often exceeds those in other parts of the world.

Insta-glam: The Sydney schoolgirl whose beach selfies and bikini snaps are viewed by more than 50,000 followers... now she could make $750 on every post Instagrand Savy schoolgirl 50000 followers cashes selfies : Average is Over, Sydney beach bum edition.  And Bolivia legalizes child labor for ten year olds.

The Art of Nudging & Compliance

Joel Slemrod (Michigan), Brett Collins (IRS), Jeffrey Hoopes(Ohio State), Daniel Reck(Michigan) & Michael Sebastiani(IRS), Does Credit-Card Information Reporting Improve Small-Business Tax Compliance?

Third-party information has greatly decreased tax underreporting, but substantial underreporting persists where third-party information is not present.

Bloomberg:  Big-Money Untaxed Gifts Quadrupled as Rich Raced Congress, by Richard Rubin & Margaret Collins:

The wealthiest Americans poured $335 billion into tax-free gifts amid worries in 2012 that Congress would clamp down on the practice, according to data released today by the Internal Revenue Service.

Joel Slemrod (Michigan), Brett Collins (IRS), Jeffrey Hoopes (Ohio State), Daniel Reck (Michigan) & Michael Sebastiani (IRS), Does Credit-Card Information Reporting Improve Small-Business Tax Compliance?:

Human Nature behind power & money: devil is in detail

“Every culture has its monsters,” and Jason Diamond writes about the Headless Horseman and one of the oldest American horror stories for Electric Literature.

Beware of fake priests roaming around in cemeteries and columbaries   offering to perform prayers and blessings for the dead and soliciting money afterwards Beware of fake priests in cemeteries

Questions are being asked about a surge in branch membership in the state seat of Auburn ahead of a controversial preselection tipped to see the sitting member, former minister Barbara Perry, dumped as Labor's candidate in favour of local mayor Hicham Zraika. Mayor Hicham Zraikas and Auburn of branch stacking
Federal police are investigating a record number of human trafficking cases in Australia involving sex slavery, forced marriages and child brides Sex trafficking slavery forced marriage on the rise in australia
Colourful financier Ian Lazar  (Lender of Last Resort) has been charged over allegations he defrauded an elderly woman of her home after first seeing her on an episode of A Current Affair Financier Ian Lazar in the news re defrauding
Is it Lazar hitting back at ABC? It appears Ian Lazar might not be happy with Four Corners report on the ABC that painted him as, well, a white-collar crook who preys on the weak and powerless, boosted by his underworld connections. In a lengthy YouTube video posted on a website custom-made for the purpose of clearing his name (, someone claims almost everyone interviewed for the Four Corners expose is, themselves, corrupt. The domain information on who registered the site is private, so we can’t say for sure Lazar or his associates put it up. The website’s contact section links to an address in Hong Kong.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Amazon is like ISIS

American Lit’s Superagent Lets Loose

At the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, Andrew Wylie “call[ed] Amazon ‘the equivalent of ISIS,’ 50 Shades of Grey ‘one of the most embarrassing moments in Western culture,’ and self-publishing ‘the aesthetic equivalent of telling everyone who sings in the shower they deserve to be in La Scala’.”

The Myth of the Free Press

Chris Hedges – The Myth of the Free Press TruthDig (RR)

David Brunori on the inherently corrupt nature of corporate welfare tax incentives, like those so popular with Iowa politicians ($link)
David Brunori on the inherently corrupt nature of corporate welfare tax incentives, like those so popular with Iowa politicians ($link):

David Brunori, Yes, More Problems with Tax Incentives (Tax Analysts Blog):

People who have studied tax incentives know everything that’s wrong with them: They don’t work (companies choose where to locate for other reasons); they’re unfair (some companies get them, others don’t, and their benefits inure to the haves rather than the have-nots); they’re inefficient (government bureaucrats can’t make decisions better than the market). There are many more.

7 things the middle class can’t afford anymore USA Today (Chuck L). This is an amazing, as in depressing, list

Deep Undercover

Deep Undercover: Police Officer in UK Fathered a Child with an Activist as Part of an Investigation Earth Island Journal

Meet the Guy Who Prefers Falafel Over PwC (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

Stop taking selfies with bears, hikers warned Daily Mail (Li). Darwin Award futures

The war against taxes (and the unmarried)Cathy O’Neil. Dubious use of models

House Hit With What Appears To Be Sustained Cyberattack Huffington Post

`Words Kept Getting in the Way'

Dr. Johnson offers consolation: “Alas, Madam! How few books are there of which one can ever possibly arrive at the last page.” 

“Lips, let sour words go by and language end:
What is amiss plague and infection mend!

INK BOTTLE“If you have it, you don’t need to have anything else; and if you don’t have it, it doesn’t much matter what else you have. Some women, the few, have charm for all; and most have charm for one. But some have charm for none.”
~ J.M. Barrie, What Every Woman Knows
Some writers cast a magnetic field across the bookish world, attracting like-minded readers and fellow writers, and repelling others. Both services are useful.

“Media Dragon does not write for effect, or to enlarge his own claim to consideration. He writes what he thinks is true, however awkward it may be.” Phonies are rattled by truth...

“The vision, spare and authentic,
Of an intellect I now know
As savage, luminous, and just.” 

“For all that you appreciate
The underlay of the absurd
Beneath each surface, comedy
Of things as much as lacrimae
Rerum, I’d say your outlook is
--Although justified by log—
One that, to what I call my mind,
Appears inordinately bleak:
Nihilistic would be the word,
But that, against all evidence,
You celebrate what is, and God.” 

Sometimes words are stuffed to bursting, like fat sausages, with meanings. One pities (and envies – think of Shakespeare, Swift,et al.) those learning English as a second language. Take this passage from Cold River the coldest war river ...

Weeping at times, but mostly happy, the little village of a few hundred souls has a robust sense of humour. Vrbov's dual nature is evidenced by more than just the emotional tides of the people, for even the name of the place has a dual meaning: willow and boiling water. boiling water ...

“In shoeless corridors, the lights burn. How
  Isolated, like a fort, it is --
The headed paper, made for writing home
(If home existed) letters of exile: Now
Night comes on.  Waves fold behind villages.” 

States of Illusions

“The sun’s a thief and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea; the moon’s an arrant thief
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun;
The sea’s a thief whose liquid surge resolves

The moon into salt tears . . .” 
~ Nabakov as Media Dragon

There are two parts to an art heist such as this—stealing the object and then having a plan as to what to do with it afterward. It was in this second area that the scheme seemed stunted. The crime: Stealing a 299-year-old Stradivarius. The suspect: A hard-luck building manager who fancied himself a high-end art thief... Great Pretender

The maker of many mistakes in life, Borges like Imrich didn’t give reality much credence. When things went wrong, this is just an illusion - a figment of imagination

Great collections are idiosyncratic. Take the Wellcome: Jeremy Bentham’s skin, Napoleons toothbrush, Florence Nightingale’s moccasins... Jozef Imrich's signatures

It is also, in the thinking of writer, critic and mathematician Rudy Rucker, the first work of a literary movement he would name “transrealism” in his 1983 essay A Transrealist Manifesto. Three decades later, Rucker’s essay has as much relevance to contemporary literature as ever. But while Rucker was writing at a time when science fiction and mainstream literature appeared starkly divided, today the two are increasingly hard to separate. It seems that here in the early 21st century, the literary movement Rucker called for is finally reaching its fruition (transrealism first major literary movement 21st century)

Debut Spotlight: Lena Dunham anyone? Have you heard of her? Have you seen her in a magazine or on television. If any of you answered "no," then you probably don't own any magazines or televisions. Not That Kind of Girl is a book of essays inspired by Helen Gurley Brown's Having It All, except that it's directed at a new generation. Amazon's Brittany Pirozollo writes of the book, "In an era where twenty-something women are told how to think, where to work, who to date, and what to wear, it’s refreshing that a voice has broken the mold to empower women to do one thing—be yourself, flaws and all."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why World is Doomed: Starting Reinvention with creative destruction

The chief commentator of the Financial Times, Martin Wolf, calls the unleashing of the capital markets a "pact with the devil... sounds like a plot thought up by Jozef Imrich the young hero faces off against a mafia-like system of left and right extremes!

It isn't necessary, of course, to attend the London conference on "inclusive capitalism" to realize that industrialized countries have a problem. When Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, the West's liberal economic and social order seemed on the verge of an unstoppable march of triumph. Communism had failed, politicians worldwide were singing the praises of deregulated markets and US political scientist Francis Fukuyama was invoking the "end of history."
Politicians and business leaders everywhere are now calling for new growth initiatives, but the governments' arsenals are empty. The billions spent on economic stimulus packages following the financial crisis have created mountains of debt in most industrialized countries and they now lack funds for new spending programs.
Why Europe is doomed, in 3 paragraphs Washington Post

If there is a rock star among global bank analysts, it's Mike Mayo. The wiry financial expert loves loud ties and tightly cut suits, he can do 35 pull-ups at a time, and he likes it when people call him the "CEO killer."  He was in his late 20s when he arrived on Wall Street, a place he saw as symbolic of both the economic and the moral superiority of capitalism. "I always had this impression," says Mayo, "that the head of a bank would be the most ethical person and upstanding citizen possible." But when Mayo, a lending expert, worked for well-known players like UBS and Prudential Securities, he quickly learned that the glittering facades of the American financial industry concealed an abyss of lies and corruption
Head of a most ethical country in the collapsing world: Putin’s speech at the Valdai Club – full transcript Vineyard of the Saker (Scott)

Let the Democrats Rot Counterpunch

The class warfare of Halloween Cathy O’Neil. Lordie.

The Zombie System: How Capitalism Has Gone Off the Rails Der Spiegel (Jeff J). Would’t call this splits among the elite. More like cracks starting at the edge.

The Best Places to Be an Expat Wall Street Journal (Li). Almost certainly a list for rich expats.

Tendency shirtfronting irony

Recently, New York Fed President William Dudley gave a speech on remedying cultural problems in financial services firms, meaning the tendency of employees to loot them and leave the mess in taxpayers’ laps. It caught pretty much everyone by surprise because it contained two sensible and effective reform ideas, namely, that of putting compensation measures in place that would have the effect of rolling them a long way back towards the partnership model, as well as making it harder for bad apples to find happy homes in other firms.

Professor suspended from top university for giving off ‘negative vibes’ Telegraph. Lambert: “Privatizers hated him. He used sarcasm and irony!”

The soft touch behind nudge

INK BOTTLE“At some point in every encounter of a celebrity with a journalist the reader has to choose sides. (True, many are the instances in which it is difficult to choose, so closely are one’s antipathies divided.)”
~Joseph Epstein, Fred Astaire

Kiss n' Goodbye sign at Aalborg Airport a huge hit on social media

Kiss & Goodbye sign at drop off zone at Aalborg Airport in North Jutland, Denmarkl

Looking for a kiss that'll put your head in the clouds? Then visit Aalborg Airport!

Nudge-nudge. RT : Denmark takes a softer sweeter approach to airport traffic.

“The whole nudge idea is to say, look, there are all these small influences in the environment that influence our choices,” ~ Karsten Schmidt
In my 8 Step Guide to Building a Social Workplace I try and focus on just these kind of environmental factors, and explore 8 specific ones that you can influence to hopefully guide employees behaviours to something more social and collaborative.

The world of the absurd

INK BOTTLE“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
~George S. Patton, War as I Knew It
Sicily, for instance, employs 28,000 forestry police — more than Canada — and has 950 ambulance drivers who have no ambulances to drive.
More here on the general state of decline in Italy
While American universities debate whether “civility” is an appropriate way to evaluate faculty members, a British institution has faced intense criticism for punishing a faculty member for sighing, unfriendly body language and the use of irony.
…Docherty’s suspension was revealed by Times Higher Education, which reported that the university said he was undermining the authority of his department head (who has since stepped down) by making “ironic” comments during job interviews, sighing and using negative body language. The suspension had Docherty banned from contact with anyone on campus, and even from writing a book preface.

Despite occasional statements to the contrary, most political scientists have long known — going back at least to Philip Converse’s work in the 1960s, and probably farther to Walter Lippmann’s in the 1910s/1920s — that many Americans do not in fact show substantial ideological consistency across policy views, except among limited groups…The 20% of the adult population who are white voters with bachelor’s degrees show some degree of coherence when it comes to views on same-sex marriage and income redistribution.  But, when it comes to the 40% of the adult public who have one or none of these characteristics — including, for example, African Americans and Latinos without bachelor’s degrees and nonvoting whites without bachelor’s degrees — there is no tendency whatsoever for people who lean in a given direction on one of these issues to lean in the same direction on the other.  For the remaining 40% of the adult public, who have two but not three of these features (e.g., white voters without bachelor’s degrees), ideological coherence is barely measurable.

Emmanuel Carrère, Limonov, The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, A Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia.  Blends fiction, non-fiction, and occasional social science (was a non-corrupt transformation of the Soviet Union really possible?, Gaidar ultimately decided it wasn’t), but in terms of the subjective experience of the reader it is most like a novel.  Excellent and also entertaining.  I consider this a deep book about why liberalism will never quite win over human nature.  Here is an interesting Julian Barnes review, although in my opinion it is insufficiently appreciative.

Plants Know When They’re Being Eaten and They Don’t Appreciate it Inhabitat (furzy mouse). So now I have to feel guilty about eating plants? :-(

All You Need Is Love and Money (Guns & Germs)

All You Need Is Love and Money How romantic comedies shifted from the tux-wearing 1%, to the Meg-Ryan yuppie, to the hipster poverty line.
Economics in Hollywood romantic comedies, a history (secret revelations of what makes world tick & over history ....)

I agree with David Denby, *Fury* is one of the best war movies ever made, see it on the big screen.

Why won’t we watch Australian films?

David Denby, *Fury* is one of the best war movies ever made, see it on the big screen.

Most people would be overjoyed to receive one of the MacArthur Foundation’s annual “genius grants” – around half a million dollars, no strings attached – but when Jared Diamond won his, in 1985, it plunged him into a depression. At 47, he was an accomplished scholar, but in two almost comically obscure niches: the movement of sodium in the gallbladder and the birdlife of New Guinea. “What the MacArthur call said to me was, ‘Jared, people think highly of you, and they expect important things of you, and look what you’ve actually done with your career’,” Diamond says today. It was a painful thought for someone who recalled being told, by an admiring teacher at his Massachusetts school, that one day he would “unify the sciences and humanities”. Clearly, he needed a larger canvas. Even so, few could have predicted how large a canvas he would choose.

Atul Gawande has very good taste:
The author, most recently, of “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” is a great fan of Dr. Watson: “He is intelligent, observant and faithful, the way we want all doctors to be.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

How IRS Lawyers Contribute to Sound Tax Enforcement at Florida

William Wilkins, Chief Counsel for the Internal Revenue Service and Assistant General Counsel in the Department of the Treasury, presented How IRS Lawyers Contribute to Sound Tax Enforcement at Florida yesterday as part of its Graduate Tax Program Enrichment Speaker Series:

Wilkins characterized the IRS as the largest tax firm in the United States and addressed the challenges of administering federal tax laws in an era of increasing budgetary pressures and expanding demands 
The Obama Administration has engaged in what some have characterized as an “unprecedented use of executive power” not to enforce certain laws, including immigration laws, federal marijuana laws, and even parts of the Obama Administration’s own Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In response to this nonenforcement, commentators have begun asking what would have happened if a President Romney, or a future Republican President, decided not to enforce the tax laws. Could a President decide not to enforce the estate tax, the income tax with respect to millionaires, or the income tax for anyone who has already paid a specified percentage of income in taxes?

Forget the Bible, tax collectors are now the heroes of democracy

Ad the great Dr Gregory House puts it: “Everybody lies.” ... One explanation of this is the simple fact of human selfishness – we all want other people to pay for things.

It was refreshing to hear it being said so loud and clear: tax is good. Hooray for tax. Speaker after speaker made the same basic point. Taxation is not something imposed by some external alien “them” on some hard-done-by “us”. Taxation is all about the us: it is the way we organise ourselves as a society, it is the support we owe to each other – a tick in the box for the common good. So we ought to be proud of paying tax rather than being proud of the clever ways we invent of getting round it. But what political party had the guts to say such things? Has the Labour party finally found its bottle? Of course not. It wasn’t politicians at all. It was collection of vicars, NGO-types and an ex-archbishop at the launch of Christian Aid’s new report on taxation and morality. I know: Central Casting do-gooders, you might think. Easy for them to say.  Forget bible tax collectors are heroes of democracy

US IRS Commissioner Koskinen’s view of the revolving door:
So I’ve always said the best testimonial to a good place to work is people are forever coming in and trying to steal your people. And so I would be delighted to have young people come here for two or three years and some of them get recruited away because they were so good and the training is so good, because the more of that that happens, the more people are going to stand in line to get here. And as I say, the experience is, because it would be a great place to work, is the capture rate would be terrific.

 Howard Gleckman, Why Tax Lawyers and Tax Economists Can’t Communicate 

Note a 2011 essay in the American Sociological Review, by Delhey, Newton, and Welzel.  Most papers on trust work with general questionnaire responses, but those queries often conflate whether you trust the people you know, or the people who surround you, with whether you trust your government and other larger social institutions.  You can imagine for instance that a country could have strong interpersonal trust at the micro level but also lots of cynicism about its establishment power structures.

Specter of the tragic shooting John Newman (Janko Numenko)

Taxes are for the little people without connections. A sensational open letter to the top Treasury tax brass from an IRS attorney alleges that the agency routinely shuts off promising examinations of big well-connected taxpayers. From Raw Story 

The man convicted of murdering NSW Labor MP John Newman in Australia's first political assassination wants the High Court to quash his life sentence. Phuong Ngo was jailed for life without the possibility of parole or review in November 2001 for ordering the assassination of Mr Newman, his political rival in the Labor Party, in September 1994. Ngo asks high court to quash life sentence-for-assassination-of-john-newman-20141026-11bz5v.html
This year’s World Philosophy Day is one month away, on November 20th. From the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) website.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sovereign-debt relief and its aftermath: The 1930s & the 1990s

Sovereign-debt relief and its aftermath: The 1930s, the 1990s, the future? Carmen Reinhart, Christoph Trebesch, VoxEU. Aieee, throws gold standard regimes together with fiat regimes.

Wake Up, Europe George Soros, New York Review of Books

Suppression of debate in NZ – Rod Oram’s Sunday Star-Times column for October 19th, 2014 Facebook (RS). Odger cull! Let’s not forget that NZ is one of the “Five Eyes,” and so may be more central than may appear at first sight…

New Zealand’s GT Group in Romania, Moldova and the UK

I have never worked for and have no idea what the “Maharal Network” is until I read the rubbish you wrote on your blog post. This is absolute dreamy nonsense you have been pedalling for a long time including to some media.
- Cathy Odgers
Shady NZ shell company merchant GT Group’s global footprint just keeps growing, as do its links to the dreamy nonsense that is the “Maharal Network”.  In our latest global tour, let’s visit Romania and Moldova first, via Ukraine and New Zealand.
As we saw in a previous post, Angelique Elizabeth Lilley, housewife and improbable media mogul of Nelson, New Zealand, and also, minion of Ian Taylor of the notorious GT Group, briefly owned a piece of a dissident Ukrainian TV station. That transient ownership was part of the murky process by which apparent henchmen of the corrupt despot Yanukovych seized the TV station and turfed out the dissidents; not that it did Yanukovych much good, as we see now. The apparent henchman. Alexander Altman, didn’t do very well out of it either: in January 2014 the UK courts breached GT Group’s wall of secrecy and determined that Altman was the controlling mind behind the company skulduggery. He landed, in absentia, an 18 month sentence for contempt of court.