May 15, 2007

Out of my brain on the five fifteen

Sarah Morris, Mandalay Bay (Las Vegas), 1999

* Oversight: the Bush Administration way. excerpt:

"The White House's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has been an open joke ever since it was launched as a result of a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission's 2004 report. The panel was supposed to keep a sharp eye on the government's possible infringement on citizens' civil liberties. But it turns out that it's a bigger joke than people even realized.

"Yesterday, one of the board's five handpicked members, Lanny Davis, resigned. Davis, a former Clinton White House official, left over "administration attempts to control the panel’s agenda and edit its public statements."

"Now, we already knew that the board had virtually no power or independence. Here's how Justin described it last November:

The board can't demand documents; it can't force bureaucrats who actually implement the program -- and who might be aware of malfeasance -- to speak with them under oath. Instead, its sole and complete authority is to take the administration at its word.

"But apparently even this powerless watchdog was too much of a threat to the White House. According to The Washington Post, the White House 'made more than 200 revisions' to the board's annual report to Congress this April, some of them deletions of entire passages.

Like, for instance:

Davis charged that the White House sought to remove an extensive discussion of recent findings by the Justice Department’s inspector general of FBI abuses in the uses of so-called 'national security letters' to obtain personal data on U.S. citizens without a court order. He also charged that the White House counsel’s office wanted to strike language stating that the panel planned to investigate complaints from civil liberties groups that the Justice Department had improperly used a 'material witness statute' to lock up terror suspects for lengthy periods of time without charging them with any crimes.

"And the reason for striking the passage about the 'material witness statute'?

"Chairman Carol E. Dinkins told board members March 29 that the White House counsel's office had asked to delete the passage, fearing the revelation might inflame the ongoing political controversy over the administration's dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys.

"OK, so the White House deleted two passages. The first was a discussion of an already completed investigation, the results of which had already been made public. Presumably the White House didn't want to reopen old wounds. The second was spiked because it was inconvenient from a PR perspective. You get the picture."

* How cell phones help fishermen. excerpt:

"You are a fisherman off the coast of northern Kerala, a region in the south of India. Visiting your usual fishing ground, you bring in an unusually good catch of sardines. That means other fishermen in the area will probably have done well too, so there will be plenty of supply at the local beach market: prices will be low, and you may not even be able to sell your catch. Should you head for the usual market anyway, or should you go down the coast in the hope that fishermen in that area will not have done so well and your fish will fetch a better price? If you make the wrong choice you cannot visit another market because fuel is costly and each market is open for only a couple of hours before dawn—and it takes that long for your boat to putter from one to the next. Since fish are perishable, any that cannot be sold will have to be dumped into the sea.

"This, in a nutshell, was the situation facing Kerala's fishermen until 1997.
"But starting in 1997 mobile phones were introduced in Kerala. Since coverage spread gradually, this provided an ideal way to gauge the effect of mobile phones on the fishermen's behaviour, the price of fish, and the amount of waste. For many years, anecdotes have abounded about the ways in which mobile phones promote more efficient markets and encourage economic activity. One particularly popular tale is that of the fisherman who is able to call several nearby markets from his boat to establish where his catch will fetch the highest price. Mr Jensen's paper adds some numbers to the familiar stories and shows precisely how mobile phones support economic growth.

"As phone coverage spread between 1997 and 2000, fishermen started to buy phones and use them to call coastal markets while still at sea. (The area of coverage reaches 20-25km off the coast.) Instead of selling their fish at beach auctions, the fishermen would call around to find the best price. Dividing the coast into three regions, Mr Jensen found that the proportion of fishermen who ventured beyond their home markets to sell their catches jumped from zero to around 35% as soon as coverage became available in each region. At that point, no fish were wasted and the variation in prices fell dramatically. By the end of the study coverage was available in all three regions. Waste had been eliminated and the 'law of one price'—the idea that in an efficient market identical goods should cost the same—had come into effect, in the form of a single rate for sardines along the coast.

"This more efficient market benefited everyone. Fishermen's profits rose by 8% on average and consumer prices fell by 4% on average. Higher profits meant the phones typically paid for themselves within two months. And the benefits are enduring, rather than one-off. All of this, says Mr Jensen, shows the importance of the free flow of information to ensure that markets work efficiently. 'Information makes markets work, and markets improve welfare,' he concludes."

* John Phillips' Topanga Canyon, a great California country song about scoring from one's man.

* "Even in the valley of the shadow of death, two and two do not make six." -- Leo Tolstoy


Blogger Leafy Green said...

Nice song. When I lived in LA I would visit Topanga Canyon for the same that I'm a Mormon I have renounced all that, of course.

10:16 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home