Regulation

Wizard of Lies

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Another film that shoots the lights out. HBO casts DeNiro as Bernie Madoff who plays the role brilliantly. It is a tragic tale. Not just to those that lost $65bn (although one would think if those that made $100s of millions one might expect they’d be a bit better at risk management) to a fraudster but more importantly the suicide of his eldest son and the death from cancer of his younger son before he passed. While one doesn’t feel any sympathy for Madoff it is a well portrayed rendition of how he created his Ponzi scheme and duped the regulators for so long. Madoff turns 80 on April 29.

Trudeau waves to an empty airfield?

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Canadian blogger Spencer Fernando reports,

During yet another foreign trip (this time to Peru for the Summit of the America’s), Justin Trudeau took a moment to wave to the adoring crowds as he boarded his airplane.

Trudeau often waves as he boards his airplane, and this time seemed no different.

Except, there was nobody there.

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Talk about a photo-op failure.

It was a great visual example of how Trudeau’s manipulatively-crafted image is empty at its core, based on appearances above substance.

Beyond these photos though, the real concern is the damage Justin Trudeau is doing when it comes to investment fleeing Canada. With the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion on life support, and people losing confidence in Canada as a place to do business, no amount of photo-ops can distract from the real economic consequences of Trudeau’s failed policies.”

Zucker feasted on your consent to be a sucker

Whatever the outcome of this hearing, much of the data collected was willingly offered by Facebook users. It was they who told people where they took vacation, the restaurant they ate or birthday they celebrated. It was they who adorned their avatar with a transparent French or rainbow flag as a back drop after another terrorist attack or to show support for same sex marriage. It was they who clicked the check box to agree to the “terms and conditions” immediately without reading it. Is that Zuckerberg’s fault? Questions however must be asked with respect to the ability to access microphones and cameras unbeknownst to users. How flagrantly was privacy law violated beyond that agreed by users?

For as much as Zuckerberg might look an evil violator of privacy laws (he may yet be proved to be so), if one wants real anonymity, social media is the last place to find it. It is doubtful anyone posts happy snaps on social media as a pure storage back up device. Many people crave attention and more than ever their self-actualisation stage in the ‘hierarchy of needs’ is driven by likes and shares rather than the Abraham Maslow’s original theorem of 75 years ago. The higher the ratio of “selfies” would probably be highly correlated to attention deficit disorder. Protesting the use of the data provided is a grossly naive assumption if not borderline negligent. Tucked away in the fine print of the words and conditions would surely have FB gaining their complete consent.

Ted Cruz took it to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on whether the social media giant ‘censors conservative’ news. He replied, “Silicon Valley is an extremely left-leaning place.While denying that he knows the political affiliations of the 15~20,000 staff who police content he said the group does its best to remove things that are considered hateful (e.g.hate speech, terrorism), hurtful or distasteful (e.g. nudity). It was brought to Zuckerberg’s attention that black conservatives (and Trump supporters) Diamond & Silk had their page blocked with 1.2 million followers on grounds of  “being unsafe to the community”. In any event, Zuckerberg deflected many of the questions in his testimony on grounds of the size of the organization but admitted not enough was done to police itself. Power corrupts…? Absolutely…?

Which brings the whole argument surrounding ‘free speech’ and social media sites exercising subjective political bias. It was only several years back that openly gay shock-jock Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter for causing ‘offence’ to a Ghostbusters actress. Yet what is offence? Where is the line drawn? What offends one might not offend another. However the censor would seemingly be able to use his or her subjective opinions, values and biases which makes it pretty clear what the outcome will be. President Trump learned that when a disgruntled Twitter employee temporarily suspended his account. Do not be surprised when we’re simply told to “get with the times” and accept the party line. Resistance is futile. It is the simplest way to shut down sensible debate.

Anyone active on social media is well aware of the risks of being targeted, trolled or attacked for expressing differing views. However do users require, much less want to submit to the machinations of the thought police? Shouldn’t they be free to choose what they view or pages they subscribe to? Indeed hate speech (not to be confused with difference of opinion) has no place but the majority of users are likely to be able to make that assessment without it having been arbitrarily made for them.

Then again, surely as a publicly listed corporation Facebook can decide what it wants to do with its site and let participants in the free market (who use it for no charge) decide for themselves that the obvious bias forces them to seek social media platforms elsewhere. Twitter share price was badly thumped for its blocking of certain groups and its share price is around 1/3rd the peak. It’s overall followers have fluctuated in the 316-330mn range since Q4 2016. The market works. It is taking Facebook’s shareprice to task on the grounds it will suffer for treating its users as mugs. Perhaps a look at activity post the hearings will show just how many mugs are still as active as before despite the threats to abandon the evil Zuck. The share price will respond accordingly.

It begs the question as to why a more conservative outfit hasn’t decided to make a Facebook equivalent which does not censor outside of clear violations of hate speech. Surely offering a replicated platform that didn’t censor free speech would be a massive winner. Users would also sign up to a simple (and SHORT) legal agreement that there is a risk of being offended and to commit to accepting it. Where clear violations of hate speech (e.g. threats of murder, terrorism etc.) are found such things can be reported to the authorities (with terms and conditions EXPLICITLY warning of such repucussions for violating easy to understand rules). Then again maybe Zuckerberg is right. Silicon Valley is indeed an extremely left-leaning [alt-left?] place! So this is why conservatives are behind the 8-ball on a free speech social media platform.

The sad reality is that social media is policed by the left and authorities seem keen to exploit the powers that provides. The examples are too many. Controversial conservatives have been blocked, banned and restricted for the most spurious of reasons. Diamond & Silk are hardly a danger to society. It is almost comical to think that.  Yet aren’t the subscription rates/followers of particular sites indicative of the ‘moods’ of people? Could it be that black, conservative and Trump supporter must be mutually exclusive terms in the eyes of the left’s identikit forcing the Facebook apparatchiks to enforce a subjective shutdown? If a public explanation was provided it would probably just say, “trust our objectivity’. Whaaaat?

At some stage if enough people feel they are being played around with they will choose of their own volition to leave and seek their social media thrills on other platforms. Or will they? It maybe too late. Blatant exploitation of social media by governments looks like an obvious trend. If we are only too willing to give up our data and cede any visibility of the inner circle’s terms of use of it we are on a slippery slope of our own making. Think about how your mobile device allows you to be tracked whenever and however. It can turn your camera or microphone on. It can triangulate your whereabouts anywhere across the world. What you’ve read, listened to and watched. Where are the privacy laws surrounding this? Is your local rep fighting in your corner? Probably not.

Could private conversations with a lawyer (client-attorney privilege) be bugged and used as evidence? Don’t laugh. As an aerospace analyst many moons ago, teams of specialists with anti-bugging devices trawled through the suites of the aircraft manufacturers’ chalets to ensure the opposition didn’t get wind of negotiations with airlines they were both competing to win large orders from. Illegal in the extreme but seemingly exercised by all parties. It was an unwritten rule.

However social media censorship hides deeper problems. It is also increasingly a tool to shut down debate and people like London Mayor Sadiq Khan has met with social media execs to collude on cracking down on ‘hate speech’. Surely policing spurious claims of hate speech is a lesser issue to the immediate threat faced by a capitol which saw its murder rate surpass that of New York. Not so. This is the dangerous turn in social media. Not whether our data is used for targeted advertising for cheap flights but used to pillory, interrogate and shut down innocents. After all social media has a half-life of infinity.

Take the controversial figure Tommy Robinson in England. The UK authorities and media wish us to believe he is an unhinged far right wing bigoted racist thug. Yet despite all of the times he has been jailed (for mostly trumped up charges), silenced and muzzled for publicising what he sees as a major problem in his community (i.e. radical Islam), the growth in followers continues to rise on his Facebook page (706,000). Maybe the authorities should keep tabs on them? Arrest them on suspicion of potentially causing hate crimes. Surely they are cut from the same cloth as Tommy? Afterall it is better to arrest a comedian for teaching a dog to do a Nazi salute to annoy his partner as it is less controversial to the state than tackling real issues. Perhaps authorities should pay attention to why Robinson’s following is so large? It is irrelevant whether one finds his viewpoints offensive or not, a majority of over half a million clearly don’t. He is no saint and would be the first to admit it. Still the authorities are trying everything to shut him down. Social media is being used as a watchdog.

Robinson has two best selling books –  ‘Enemy of the State’ and ‘Mohammad’s Koran: Why Muslims kill for Islam’. Is that not evidence that there are more people than the authorities would care to admit to that actually concur with his assessment? Maybe some want to read it out of curiosity? However when many of those same people see an undercover scoop done by the left leaning publicly funded Channel 4 on the inner workings of one of England’s most conservative mosques, praised by politicians as they true face of a peaceful religion. Even though the mosque had promised to clamp down on radical imams, the documentary revealed that despite assurances to government authorities, teachers still encourage students to believe that the only remedy for gays and apostates is to be killed. So maybe Robinson’s followers aren’t as fringe or minor in number as we would be made to believe? With the widespread outing of child grooming gangs across the UK, maybe Brits have had enough of the political hand wringing over politically correct discourse. The more the movement is pushed underground the harder it will be to stop vigilantism. We’ve already seen signs of it emerging. Think of the Guardian Angels in NY during the crime waves in the 1979.

What the Zuckerberg testimony brings to the surface is yet another example made clear to the public of the two tier dispensing of free speech. What worries the public more is that justice seems to be operating under the exact same framework. What the Channel 4 programme exposed with respect to blatant hate speech is incontrovertible. Yet will authorities arrest, charge and jail them as they would a Tommy Robinson? Not a chance. To encourage the murder of people that aren’t part of an ideology can’t be viewed as anything other than a willful threat.  Will the judiciary demand that scholars have their pages scrubbed from social media?

The shoes are on the wrong foot. Earlier this year, Austrian conservative Martin Sellner and his girlfriend Brittany Pettibone were arrested on arrival in the UK, detained and deported. Sellner for wanting to deliver a speech at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park (later delivered by Robinson) and Pettibone for wanting to interview Tommy Robinson (which he later conducted in Vienna). Neither look in the least bit dangerous. In this case, social media backfired on the state. In both cases, the public once again saw the double standards and the pervasive political posturing to beat the ‘controllable’ element into submission. Just as it is easier for the police to fine speeding motorists than actively pursue solid leads on catching grooming gangs the public rightly grows increasingly livid. Social media is being used more widely as a policing tool, with negative connotations. It isn’t just being used to foil terror plots but stomp on the rights of the average citizen.

Still there is some sympathy for Zuckerberg in that many people volunteered their information. If it was used in ways that violated ethical and more importantly legal rights it only goes to prove that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. To that end, can we really expect lawmakers to cramp their own style when Zuckerberg has only highlighted how powerful the information he possesses can be used to sucker us more than they already do. That is the real crime we are seemingly becoming powerless to stop. Talk about the real Big Brother!

Pregnancy shifts in Japan – synchronizing biological clocks

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With a population crisis like Japan has, one would hopefully encourage couples to be active to mitigate the problem. A private daycare company in Aichi Pref has lambasted one of the staff for getting pregnant before her turn! While we’ve heard of seniority based systems for remuneration, it is unbelievable to think that a company allowed staff to set up a pregnancy roster. The real downside would be if the couple before your turn had issues conceiving. In any event the insanity of such a policy shows how not even one’s private life choices are respected by some.

Racial bias in US school discipline? Some shocking correlations

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The GAO has published a 98 page report on discipline in US schools. In a perhaps somewhat irresponsible manner of formatting, it suggests that teachers seem to pick on particular races and disabilities for those reasons alone. It is as if teachers are pushing kids with wheelchairs uncontrollably down ramps. Yet, ‘disability’ of course includes mental problems which could range from anxiety to depression. 11.7% of students are classified with a disability. Yet delving deeply within the stats, of the 56 million K-12 students, 5.7% have been in detention, only 0.4% of the total have been referred to law enforcement, 0.3% have been expelled, 0.2% received corporal punishment and less than 0.1% have been arrested. In short, 99.6% of students stay out of ‘big’ trouble and 94.3% stay out of detention. Single parent households and poverty levels are highly correlated to discipline. Reporting the headlines of the GAO makes for shock and awe but had they reported the 0.X% stats it would deflate the rhetoric.

The NY Times article implied there must be some sort of unconscious bias as teachers were being bigoted bullies. Doesn’t the mainstream media defend the very same people as the last bastions of educational excellence against the tyranny of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. 80% of teachers are white. Although this has been on a long term decline.

If white students (K-12) represent 50.3% of the total is it fair to assume that they should hold an equal % of disciplinary actions? Do crime stats and incarceration rates reflect race based demographics anywhere in the world? In America, 24.7% of students are Hispanic and 15.5% are black. When it comes to higher levels of poverty, Hispanics are way under-represented in the disciplinary stats despite being higher proportions of the students. Whites are punished more or less in line with their population in that bracket.

In the interests of gender equality, why are girls, at 49% of all students punished at half the rate of boys? Unconscious bias or is it through our own experiences, women are far less likely to bring the wrath of teachers in class? A reasonably safe assumption to make.

Nearly half of all public school students went to schools where 50% or more of the students were low-income, and about a quarter went to schools where 75% or more of the students were low-income. Of the 11.5mn students in 75-100% low income backgrounds, 1 million spent time in out of school detention. Of the 9.9 million students in 0-25% low income schools, 217,000 spent time in out of school detention. 128,500 of those were white. Whites make up 78% of 0-25% low income school populations and only 16% of 75-100% low income schools. Therefore it stands to reason statistically that if students in less poverty stricken schools trigger fewer disciplinary issues, then the stats would naturally bear out such differences rather than it being pure racial profiling.

So it would appear that low income would impact the rates of delinquency. Referring to number of kids living with both parents/step-parent (according to a 2015 Pew Research Center study) in America we find:

Asian: 82%

White: 71%

Hispanic: 55%

Black: 31%

The GAO stats make clear that Asian kids get caught up in the least amount of disciplinary action both by absolute and percentage wise. Blacks the most, Hispanics second and whites 3rd. Could it be an inverse correlation? Psychological studies have shown boys seem to be more impacted by the lack of a father in the house than do girls. Children (especially boys) raised by single mothers are more likely to fare worse on a number of dimensions, including their school achievement, their social and emotional development, their health and their success in the labor market. They are at greater risk of parental abuse and neglect (especially from live-in boyfriends who are not their biological fathers), more likely to become teen parents and less likely to graduate from high school or college.

survey taken by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the US back in January of 1993 revealed poverty, alcoholism, student apathy and absenteeism were cited as big problems in secondary public schools. Lack of a parent was also high on the agenda.

The American Psychological Association, “poor (bottom 20 percent of all family incomes) students were five times more likely to drop out of high school than high-income (top 20 percent of all family incomes) students…Family poverty is associated with a number of adverse conditions — high mobility and homelessness; hunger and food insecurity; parents who are in jail or absent; domestic violence; drug abuse and other problems — known as “toxic stressors” because they are severe, sustained and not buffered by supportive relationships…Community poverty also matters. Some neighborhoods, particularly those with high concentrations of African-Americans, are communities of concentrated disadvantage with extremely high levels of joblessness, family instability, poor health, substance abuse, poverty, welfare dependency and crime

Broken homes and poverty are undoubtedly a big issue. The report said, “Besides lack of parent involvement, the school problems viewed as serious by at least 10 percent of public school teachers included student apathy, poverty, student absenteeism, student disrespect for teachers, parental alcoholism and/or drug abuse, and student tardiness. Behaviors and attitudes of students were more likely to be seen as problematic by teachers at the secondary level than by teachers at the elementary level. Parent alcoholism, on the other hand, was described as “serious” as often by elementary teachers as by secondary teachers and poverty was described as “serious” more often by elementary teachers.”

85% of kids likely to go to college or higher levels of education came from stable family backgrounds. 61% of kids likely to drop out before graduating high school are from broken homes. Sixty One Percent!

So before reading into it that teachers must be subconsciously racially profiling students in handing out punishment, perhaps the overwhelming weight of societal evidence points to far bigger problems that need addressing. Poverty, single parent households and a whole raft of issues need dealing before the government watchdog should report back racial bias at a top down level. According to the logic, perhaps teachers should be forced into student discipline quotas. That way (un)conscious bias won’t afflict teachers and whites can be punished in line with their demographically representation.

Let’s not forget that financial institutions have often been targeted for charging black customers higher interest rates on loans than whites. What they always fail to mention is that Asians pay even lower rates than both. That is the problem with selectivity in data without meaningfully looking at the broader picture. Just like the recent Florida school shooting where a look at what is going on in terms of school security over decades paints a different picture to what the mainstream narrative would want us to believe.

Multiple Job Holders in the US hits a record in Feb-18

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Since the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been keeping score, Americans with more than one job soared in Feb 2018 to the highest level seen in that month for a quarter century. March 2017 was also a record for that month in 24 years. One would expect when the economy is in the groove that people do not need to hold down multiple jobs to get by. On a percentage of the total labour force basis, multiple job holders in Feb 2018 have exceeded the level set in 2007 ahead of the GFC, or 5%.

However since the shake out of GFC, people holding down multiple jobs has continued to rise every year for the last 9. The previous record was only 5 years. Trends in disability payments and food stamps shows eerily similar trends since 2002.

SNAP (food stamp) recipients numbered as follows (working disability recipients in brackets, with cost outlays per annum)

1994: 27.47 million ( 6.381mn, cost $2.621bn)

1997: 22.58 million (6.998mn, cost $3.253bn)

2002: 19.10 million (8.109mn, cost $4.621bn)

2007: 26.32 million (9.858mn, cost $7.127bn)

2013: 47.67 million (12.156mn, cost $10.25bn)

2017: 42.20 million (Dec 2016 fig, 11.832mn, cost $10.316bn)

The Social Security Administration (SSA) highlights that back pain and musculoskeletal problems are 32.3% of disability claims, followed by mental illness at 26.3% (up from 19.2% in 2011) in 2016. This compares to 8.3% and 9.6% respectively in 1961. Half of claims in the 1960s came from heart attack/stroke and ‘other’ categories which made up only 17% of the 2016 figure.

Disabled beneficiaries aged 18–64 in current-payment status accounted for 4.7% of the population aged 18–64 in the United States. The states with the highest rates of disabled beneficiaries – 7%+ -were Alabama (SNAP benefits 17% of population), Arkansas (13%), Kentucky (15%), Maine (14%), Mississippi (18%), and West Virginia (19%). All above the national SNAP average of 13% and only Maine that voted Democrat in the 2016 election. Coincidence?

Could it be that more Americans are sick of living off more and more handouts? Seems plausible that Trump’s delivery to the White House was driven by these immutable trends – they want change to a system which they know can’t sustainably deliver forever like this. That is why tax breaks resonate. Why tariffs strike a chord. None-the-less maybe the uptick in multiple jobs is highlighting that things aren’t moving quickly enough.

Hot Air

Canadian Conservative politician, Robert Sopuck, tried to get the Minister for Environment, Catherine McKenna, to answer a simple question on how much the $50/ton carbon tax would lower CO2 emissions by. In true leftist ideological fashion, she rattled on about the pressing need to save the planet. He asked again – just wanting a number – which again fell on deaf ears. Surely had Trudeau’s cabinet properly assessed the financial and social impact it’d gladly be able to champion the ‘impact’ it was making on saving us. That ‘number’ would at least sound more convincing that there was method to the madness, rather than empty taxation with no benefit on limiting global warming. Talk about hot air.