Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Alberta versus the CPP

This is Joseph.

Alberta is a province in Canada. It has about 10% of the population and about 15% of the GDP, driven by rich resources (Oil) and a fairly entrepreneurial culture for Canada. It's a cold prairie province so one might expect Canadians to retire to warmer parts of the country, but the vibrant economy makes it a net importer of young people. They are also gifted with a very right wing premier in power. 

Canada has a pension plan. Nine provinces contribute and the tenth province has their own plan, with an agreement to handle people who contribute to both and harmonized benefits. There are a limited number of reasons one might want to break out of the pack and have their own pension plan. One possibility is that they want to reduce risk by investing in non-Oil assets in case changing energy markets hurts the Alberta economy. But current plans are doing the opposite

The real reason is a report that suggests that Alberta could leave with 53% of the assets (on 10% of the population and 15% of the GDP). That is not a typo. The calculation, based on a "one neat trick reading of the legislation" is clearly absurd. A quick calculation showed:
For example, in Tombe’s analysis, a hypothetical situation in which Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta all withdrew from the CPP — three provinces! — would drain the plan of 128 per cent of its assets. And that doesn’t seem to add up.

Since money can't be invented from nowhere and, if the fund is really underfunded like that then all beneficiaries should share the cost of the underfunding , it is unclear what the point is. Is it to make it appear that the federal government is refusing to give Alberta its fair share of assets? All populist rhetoric, in other words. 

Or do they really think other provinces will be okay with raising taxes to replace the huge chunk of assets removed from the plan? The CPP brings in $34 billion per year. The difference between 15% of the CPP ($86 billion) and 53% is $248 billion, which is a large multiple of the income for every year. 

So this is simply absurd. But whether it has a chance of actually gaining a life of its own is another matter in these crazy times. 

P.S. And just in case you thought any of this was serious:

One wonders if perhaps Canada is meant to view this as a bargain, given that the report notes $334 billion is Alberta’s minimum entitlement; it could be $637 billion, eclipsing the entire fund!

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Not sure whether to go after Brooks for lying again about food prices or inappropriate agreggation

In case you hadn't heard about this (or had only heard the News Hour version), David Brooks has been catching some flack for this tweet.
Sometimes, Twitter can be a wonderful place to crowdsource a problem. In this case, how do you run up this tab at an airport Applebee's knock-off. It turns out that the food portion of the meal shown in Brooks' tweet cost him quite a bit less...
The restaurant confirmed that 80% of the tab was alcohol, which means that either Brooks has very expensive tastes in liquor (and the Newark Airport 1911 Smoke House Barbeque has a surprising selection of top shelf bourbons)  or he was really relaxed before his flight.

Burger special

The tweet generated so much buzz that Brooks had to address it on News Hour.

The "apology" (I'm sorry but the scare quotes are pretty much unavoidable) is prime Brooks, pretending the uproar was about unhealthy meals and class insensitivity, not about trying to pass off a big bar bill as a food inflation story. 

This is, of course, the same tired shtick that the man has been milking for decades, sweeping generalizations with erudite trappings and always a great show of concern and empathy for the less fortunate, the kind of smug noblesse oblige in sociological drag that places like the New York Times can't get enough of.

If long-time readers are getting a sense of déjà vu, it may be because we wrote pretty much this same column six years ago. Brooks launched his career by lying about restaurant tabs, so there's a nice sense of symmetry here.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

In his first draft, he took her to Red Lobster for chipped beef

David Brooks has gotten a lot of attention for this passage from a recent column:

I was braced by Reeves’s book, but after speaking with him a few times about it, I’ve come to think the structural barriers he emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

Surprisingly few of the commenters, however, have picked up on the overwhelming sense of déjà vu in the anecdote. One of Brooks early successes was an essay analyzing class differences in America based on things like where we ate and shopped. It was a hugely popular and influential piece, slightly marred by the fact that many of the most memorable illustrating examples were not true.

 Sasha Issenberg did the definitive take down.

There’s just one problem: Many of his generalizations are false. According to sales data, one of Goodwin’s strongest markets has been deep-Red McAllen, Texas. That’s probably not, however, QVC country. “I would guess our audience would skew toward Blue areas of the country,” says Doug Rose, the network’s vice president of merchandising and brand development. “Generally our audience is female suburban baby boomers, and our business skews towards affluent areas.” Rose’s standard PowerPoint presentation of the QVC brand includes a map of one zip code — Beverly Hills, 90210 — covered in little red dots that each represent one QVC customer address, to debunk “the myth that they’re all little old ladies in trailer parks eating bonbons all day.”

“Everything that people in my neighborhood do without motors, the people in Red America do with motors,” Brooks wrote. “When it comes to yard work, they have rider mowers; we have illegal aliens.” Actually, six of the top 10 states in terms of illegal-alien population are Red.

“We in the coastal metro Blue areas read more books,” Brooks asserted. A 2003 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater study of America’s most literate cities doesn’t necessarily agree. Among the study’s criteria was the presence of bookstores and libraries; 20 of the 30 most literate cities were in Red states.

“Very few of us,” Brooks wrote of his fellow Blue Americans, “could name even five NASCAR drivers, although stock-car races are the best-attended sporting events in the country.” He might want to take his name-recognition test to the streets of the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup Series’s highest-rated television markets — three of the top five were in Blue states. (Philadelphia was fifth nationally.)

As I made my journey, it became increasingly hard to believe that Brooks ever left his home. “On my journeys to Franklin County, I set a goal: I was going to spend $20 on a restaurant meal. But although I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu — steak au jus, ’slippery beef pot pie,’ or whatever — I always failed. I began asking people to direct me to the most-expensive places in town. They would send me to Red Lobster or Applebee’s,” he wrote. “I’d scan the menu and realize that I’d been beaten once again. I went through great vats of chipped beef and ’seafood delight’ trying to drop $20. I waded through enough surf-and-turfs and enough creamed corn to last a lifetime. I could not do it.”

Taking Brooks’s cue, I lunched at the Chambersburg Red Lobster and quickly realized that he could not have waded through much surf-and-turf at all. The “Steak and Lobster” combination with grilled center-cut New York strip is the most expensive thing on the menu. It costs $28.75. “Most of our checks are over $20,” said Becka, my waitress. “There are a lot of ways to spend over $20.”

The easiest way to spend over $20 on a meal in Franklin County is to visit the Mercersburg Inn, which boasts “turn-of-the-century elegance.” I had a $50 prix-fixe dinner, with an entrée of veal medallions, served with a lump-crab and artichoke tower, wild-rice pilaf and a sage-caper-cream sauce. Afterward, I asked the inn’s proprietors, Walt and Sandy Filkowski, if they had seen Brooks’s article. They laughed. After it was published in the Atlantic, the nearby Mercersburg Academy boarding school invited Brooks as part of its speaker series. He spent the night at the inn. “For breakfast I made a goat-cheese-and-sun-dried-tomato tart,” Sandy said. “He said he just wanted scrambled eggs.”

Issenberg's expose got plenty of attention and you might expect Brooks to shy away from dubious anecdotes about the dining habits of “the lower 80 percent.” We might even use this as a jumping off point for a critique of Brooks's character (a man who teaches a course entitled “humility” kind of opens himself up for that sort of thing), but that would be a rather petty exercise of questionable value.

The important question is not "what kind of man is David Brooks?" But "why does someone like David Brooks do so well in 21st-century American journalism?"

David Brooks has a long history of distorting events, omitting pertinent details, making convenient mistakes, and sometimes simply making shit up. The New York Times knew about all this when they hired him, but it didn't particularly bother them because David Brooks was and is the ideal conservative columnist for the paper.

This is because Brooks, better than anyone else, addresses the fundamental paradox of the New York Times political identity, that of a basically liberal paper with a legacy of class bigotry going back at least to the 19th century. Brooks writes thoughtful, literate, often elegant columns that let the readers feel bad, but in a good way, a way that never uncomfortably challenges deeply held beliefs.

There is something almost cute about Brooks' apparent belief that a mishmash of Food Network reruns and lifestyle porn constitute some kind of impenetrable cultural code. It's a bit like listening to second-graders who are convinced they've fooled the grownups when they speak in pig Latin. For the target audience, however, it is a nearly ideal message. It perfectly balances liberal guilt with a sense of class superiority.

To be fair, there are valid points here (as there are with almost all of Brooks' columns) -- Inequality and a lack of mobility are massive problems and the imbalance in education expenditure greatly exacerbates the issues. (I'm a bit more skeptical about the zoning explanation.) – though it's worth noting that the drivers of the great compression (highly progressive taxes, stronger social safety nets, substantial government investment in education, infrastructure and research) don't make much of an appearance.

Brooks is not some soulless hack like Bret Stephens, He is an intelligent, interesting, and in all probability, generally sincere writer. He is also a deeply flawed one, and those flaws and the way his employers react to them, are often highly informative.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Twelve years ago at the blog... pretty much the same conversation we're still having today

Side note. You should google Skaggs.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Joey Skaggs and Rick Perry

I remember an interview with the great prankster Joey Skaggs. Skaggs had a long history of getting major news outlets to report his over-the-top hoaxes as actual news, often scamming the same outlet multiple times. When asked how he managed to avoid running into the same reporters he explained that he would often see people who had covered previous hoaxes but they always had the same reaction: they would pause for a moment trying to place where they had seen him before then would shake it off and go on with the report. I don't have access to the interview, but if memory serves, Skaggs explained that they wanted to believe in the story and that was enough to make them put aside the first-hand experience that told them not to believe it.

I was thinking about Skaggs as I followed the press' eagerness to anoint Perry the GOP candidate for 2012. The press always gets worked up about these late entrants to weak fields. Pundits focus on strengths, downplay weaknesses and fill in the numerous blanks with the most positive possible outcomes. (You can also see this happening with Chris Christie). But I can't think of a case where a Republican entrant has actually jumped into the race (effectively) after the Ames Straw Poll and actually gotten the nomination.

I may be forgetting about an obvious example and even if I'm not it's possible that Perry will get the nomination and even the presidency, but given the recent turn in sentiment both with pundits and at least one (possibly unrepresentative) sample of GOP voters, it's clear that Perry was to a degree a Rorschach candidate.

Why did did so many reporters not anticipate the rough patch that new candidates always face when those initial unknowns are filled in? Why do journalists continue to consistently overrate the chances of entrants who jump in at the last minute? The same reason that the CNN crew didn't recognize Skaggs when he claimed to have written a program that would decide if O.J. Simpson was guilty, because they wanted to believe a good story.


Friday, September 22, 2023

Ten years ago at the blog -- the beginning of our "rich people can't shop" mega-thread part 1

 Friday, September 20, 2013

I know Ron Shaich's heart is in the right place, but...

I'm afraid I'm going to have to take a couple of shots at this:
Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich is spending a week trying to feed himself on $4.50 a day.
Shaich took the challenge to find out what it's like to live on food stamps. He's blogging about the experience on LinkedIn.

The average person on food stamps receives $4.50 per day in assistance, according to The New York Times.
When Shaich went shopping with his weekly budget of $31, he was surprised that he couldn't afford coffee, fruit, yogurt, or milk.

Shaich ended up settling on a daily breakfast of cereal without milk, a lunch of lentils and chickpeas, and a pasta dinner. He bought carrots to snack on in between meals. 
Instead of the intended message that being poor is hard, the takeaway is that rich people aren't very good with money. For starters, a competent shopper with a reasonable range of stores should be able to put together the meals and snacks described here for $3.00, maybe $3.50, certainly leaving enough in the budget for some milk for you cereal and a cup of coffee.

Wondering how he got his numbers I ducked into a Ralph's and checked some prices. (For those of you unfamiliar with the chain, Ralph's is the SoCal division of Krogers, not high end but generally more expensive than Wal-Mart which is generally more expensive than Food-4-Less which is generally more expensive that the 99 cents only stores.) The first thing I noticed was that he appears to have bought considerably more than a week's worth of food in some of his categories. When I looked at comparable boxes of cereal and pasta and bags of beans, I saw servings estimates totaling considerably more than seven. For instance, it appears that he bought 13 servings of lentils and 26 servings of chickpeas. Admittedly, suggested serving sizes can be somewhat unrealistic, but still...

More troubling than the shopping, though, is the meal planning. Shaich seems to know nothing about eating on the cheap. Consider the following from his blog:
I had already understood that coffee, pistachios and granola, staples in my normal diet, would easily blow the weekly budget. ... When I could afford something like cereal, it was of the “off-brand” variety, and won’t require a spoon, as I ended up leaving the milk at the register.
The parts about coffee and milk are particularly strange. House brand coffee costs about a nickel a serving and even many of the nicer brands will come in under ten or fifteen cents. For a quarter you can really go to town. The milk I checked was $1.79 for a half gallon. That's less than a quarter a serving (if you buy a gallon, it's less than twenty cents a serving).  Shaich describes doing without these things as a real hardship but doesn't seem to realize that they're in his budget.

This same lack of knowledge is probably one of the reasons why the menus presented here are so bad -- unappealing, nutritionally uneven, unsatisfying, and completely lacking variety (why eat the same thing every day?). With exception of dried beans and to a degree pasta (prepared foods are always borderline), all of the staples of budget cooking are missing. No potatoes, rice, oatmeal, chicken, eggs or my oft-neglected favorite, popcorn. Alton Brown once pointed out that the use of popcorn as a cold breakfast cereal predates corn flakes. That piece of information alone could have knocked a couple of dollars off of  Shaich's weekly budget.

Shaich's shopping list is filled with questionable to disastrous choices. An example of the latter would be spending more than ten percent of his weekly budget ($3.50) on cheese, a food which, though tasty, is not particularly filling or protein rich. To put this in context, Ralph's was selling name brand chicken for eighty-eight cents a pound and, though I didn't check the price of eggs there, I know that down the street at Trader Joe's a dozen extra large go for a buck eighty (and for two-fifty you can also get a bottle of the surprisingly good wine formerly known as "Two Buck Chuck"). Chicken and eggs are both remarkably versatile and can provide lots of protein for little money. Someone who runs a restaurant chain ought to know this.

I realize I'm being hard on the man but there's a bigger issue at stake. Shaich is the good twin to that jerk on TV insisting there's no hunger in America because you can buy a hamburger for a buck. Their intentions couldn't be more different but still both base their arguments on the same fallacies.

Hunger and food insecurity are not simply the result of a lack of cheap food. For an adult with a car, a decent kitchen, a good refrigerator, lots of time, good organizational skills and no special dietary needs, it is not only possible to eat a filling, nutritional diet on four dollars a day; it can even be fun for a while in much the same way that camping can be fun. (Try Googling "99 cents store gourmet.")

The fun goes away quickly, though, when conditions start deviating from that ideal. As with so many other aspects of poverty, eating on a microbudget is living on a butte -- every misstep can lead to a nasty fall. Shaich does hit on this concern: "When is my next meal? How much food is left in my cabinet? Will it get me through the week? What should I spend my remaining few dollars on? What would I eat if I had no budget at all?" Living on this kind of budget means constantly being one unlucky break away from disaster. A crushed carton of eggs, a gallon of milk gone bad, an unreliable refrigerator, or just a mistake in planning at the wrong time can leave parents going without food so that the kids can eat.

Even if the worst doesn't happen, it's a life of constant stress, the kind of stress we're now learning can have particularly devastating effects on kids and their ability to succeed academically and professionally.

It should be noted that Ron Shaich has done a great deal to address the problem of hunger and food insecurity in this country and he deserves a world of credit, but in this latest effort, he's simply not helping.


Thursday, September 21, 2023

Thursday Tweets -- "Lauren Boebert has perhaps shown a desire to reach across the aisle here."

In case this blog is your only source of news.

Boebert Appeared to Fondle Date’s Penis in Packed Theater as She Put His Hand on Her Breasts

Having a notorious Republican sex offender list recent Republican scandals may not be sending quite the message the GOP is shooting for.

Another Anti-LGBTQ candidate has some things she'd like to get off her chest.

More politics. The Democrats continue to have a nice run with special elections. We shouldn't read too much into that, but it probably does mean more than a poll taken fourteen months before an election.

A little over a year ago, the conventional wisdom was that Dobbs wouldn't have legs as a political issue. This is what you get for listening to David Brooks.

With the caveat that I've had concerns about Rolling Stone's journalism, this is interesting.

As we've said before, the more desperate Trump becomes, the greater more sacrifices he'll demand from the GOP.


 Or both. Almost certainly both.

The big guy remains good at Twitter.


Do we have to take him?

 Same with my home town in Arkansas. It amazes me how evangelicals have learned to to love Casinos.

The good news is that kids are smarter than most people realize.

Frum nails it.

And back to his old tricks.

Elon keeps busy.

Time for tech.

Fallout continues from the Mexican alien corpse hoax.

This does not go at all the way you expect.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The plan to briefly release the jinn from the bottle then ask him to go right back in without causing any trouble may have a subtle flaw.*

Sophia Bollag writing for the Chronicle:

SACRAMENTO — California on Thursday became the first state to officially call for a convention to add a gun control amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

California lawmakers called for the convention through a resolution that advocates for adding an amendment to raise the age to buy a gun in the U.S. to 21, mandate background checks for firearms buyers, impose a waiting period for gun purchases and ban assault weapons nationwide. Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed calling for a constitutional convention on gun control in June, and worked with lawmakers to pass it through the Legislature.

Such a convention could be triggered if two-thirds of state legislatures call for one. It would be the first constitutional convention since the Constitution was adopted in 1789.

Some liberals have criticized Newsom’s plan over concern it could open the Constitution to amendments from conservatives on other issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights. Newsom said he’s heard those concerns, but that he disagrees and believes gun control is too important not to push for a convention.

The resolution calls for a convention that would be limited to consideration of an amendment to regulate guns.

I'm sure nothing could go wrong. 

The good news is that this appears to be one of Newsom's flashy and purely symbolic attempts at building his personal brand (promising some future governor will ban gas cars) rather than one of Newsom's reckless and dangerous attempts at building his personal brand (handing out stimulus checks for inflation relief, marrying Kimberly Guilfoyle).


What I'm more afraid of is the idea of replacing the first woman of color to serve as vice-president with this empty suit.

 *Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index type 331