Monday, October 28, 2013

Voting - Last-minute donors are buying "stock at 52-week high"

De Blasio and Early Supporters, Brooklyn. Photo by JT Marlin.
Crains Insider has an inform-ative story by Andrew Hawkins about real estate developers resignedly writing checks, for the max allowable, to mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio -- even though it is late, one week before the election and de Blasio is a shoo-in with a 45-percentage-point spread between him and Joe Lhota.

What impressed me most about the article was a campaign contributor's acknowledging that late giving to a candidate was not buying much, that it was like "buying a stock at its 52-week high", as opposed to important early volunteering and money that paid for de Blasio's advertising campaign. The EMILY in "Emily's List" stands for "Early Money Is Like Yeast."

Both labor unions and real estate contributors mostly put their early bets on Christine Quinn or Bill Thompson. Polls as of February showed Quinn ahead three to one, with de Blasio just one percentage point behind Thompson, and I noted that de Blasio had the advantage of incumbency. But then Anthony Weiner shot into first place, showing that enthusiasm for front-runners Quinn and Thompson was weak. So when Weiner's campaign faded, de Blasio's ad featuring Dante Blasio and his Afro provided the boost for de Blasio to take Weiner's place in the lead. After de Blasio won the Democratic primary outright, it became clear that Joe Lhota was battling against a huge spread in the polls. Lhota's attack ad on crime got nothing for him, as de Blasio added five percentage points to his lead. So the campaign cash is now flooding in to de Blasio's campaign.

The final debate between de Blasio and Lhota is on Wednesday evening (sandwiched between the anniversary of Sandy on Tuesday and Halloween on Thursday) from 7 to 8 pm on NBC-TV.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Women Gulf War Vets Doing Better Finding Jobs, Men Not

During the last year - higher rate of
unemployment of male vets.
Based on data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning, more jobs are being found by male veterans who did not serve in wartime and by male non-veterans. But those who served are not having such luck. Their unemployment rates during the last year have been rising for every period of service.

Dear Reader -

This is cross-posted from the Warriors-Families blogsite, a Beta Site for the Warrior Family Foundation. The WFF is now:
  • Creating its official (alpha) site at 
  • Initiating some informational events starting November 14 in New York City. 
To provide us with feedback and be added to our list of invitees for various events, please contact me at

John Tepper Marlin 
Chief Economist and Beta Blogsite Manager
Warrior Family Foundation.


The good news is that unemployment rates are lower among male vets than the non-veteran population, although (1) this is not true for the youngest vets, the Gulf War II cohort, and (2) some part of the explanation is not such good news, i.e., the portion of veterans whose service-related disabilities have forced them out of the labor force.

During the past year, the unemployment rate of wartime male veterans has increased for every period of service. It has declined from 6 percent to 5.1 percent for male veterans of non-wartime service. It has also declined for non-veterans.

Unemployment Rate % - Men Vets by Service
vs. Non-Vets (BLS Table A-5)
Veteran status, service period



VETERANS, 18 years and over

Gulf War-era II veterans

Gulf War-era I veterans

World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam-era veterans

Veterans of other service periods

NONVETERANS, 18 years and over

Source: BLS Household Survey for September 2013, released October 22, 2013.

Women vets from both Gulf Wars, and
those who did not serve in wartime, and
non-veteran women, have all been finding
more jobs during the last year. Older women vets
have not.
Female veterans below a certain age are faring much better. For those who served in either of the two Gulf War period, their unemployment rates have come down substantially during the past year. Those who served in Gulf War I are particularly fortunate, with an unemployment rate that fell from 19.9 percent to 11.6 percent. The improvement is also true for women vets who did not serve in wartime, and for non-veterans.

However, older women vets who served in WWII or the Korean or Vietnam wars have not seen the same improvement in their job-seeking success. Their unemployment rate rose slightly.

Unemployment Rate % - Women Vets by Service 
vs. Non-Vets (BLS Table A-5)
Veteran status, service period
VETERANS, 18 years and over13.2 7.5 -5.7
Gulf War-era II veterans19.911.6 -8.3
Gulf War-era I veterans15.9 4.3-11.6
World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam-era veterans 5.0 5.5  0.5
Veterans of other service periods 7.2 6.6  -0.6
NONVETERANS, 18 years and over 7.3 6.5 -0.8

Source: BLS Household Survey for September 2013, released October 22, 2013.

Monday, October 21, 2013

De Blasio v. Lhota - The Issues, 2 weeks before Election

At the Harvard Club of New York yesterday, two surrogates for the mayoral candidates battled it out. Both were Democrats, and both are crossovers from other candidates, selected by the two campaigns.

Senator Brad Hoylman
Senator Brad Hoylman. Speaking for Bill de Blasio was NY State Senator Brad M. Hoylman, a 1989 Rhodes Scholar from West Virginia who went on to Harvard Law School after receiving his M.Phil. from Oxford. Hoylman is a past President of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, picking up Sen. Tom Duane's seat when Duane resigned. Hoylman previously served as Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the New York City Partnership. Hoylman supported Christine Quinn in the Primary, and is supporting de Blasio as the choice of the Democratic Party in New York City.

Randy M. Mastro, Esq.
Mr. Randy Mastro. Mastro is 11 years senior to Hoylman based on college graduation and is a New York City native. Mastro supported both Thompson and Lhota in the two party primaries, although he identifies himself as a Democrat. He is co-chair of Gibson Dunn’s Litigation Practice Group, named “The Litigation Department of the Year” by the American Lawyer. Comments from peer reviews: Mastro “deserves an Academy Award” for “bringing a sense of drama and theater to his courtroom appearances.” “You REALLY don’t want to meet him in a lighted courtroom." In 1994-1998, Mr. Mastro served as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s Chief of Staff and then Deputy Mayor for Operations. He oversaw all of the City’s operating agencies and budget, and served as the Mayor’s chief liaison with elected officials. Previously, in 1985-1989, Mr. Mastro served as Assistant U.S. Attorney and Deputy Chief of the Civil Division. He graduated cum laude from Yale College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he was the school’s moot court champion. Mr. Mastro served as law clerk to Justice Alan B. Handler of the New Jersey Supreme Court. In 1982-1985, he was a litigation associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. He chaired two New York City Charter Revision Commissions.

The Issues

The following issues are in the order they were brought up at the Q&A session after the two surrogates for de Blasio and Lhota made introductory remarks.  Some of the arguments below showed more sophistication than the exchange in the NY Times at the end of August.

Charter Schools.  Hoylman - Mr. de Blasio is on record as wanting to charge the charter schools rent for use of the public schools. Charter schools disrupt the public schools they operate in sometimes, and some of them take bathrooms, for example, out of commission for the public school students. They take resources away from public schools. Mastro - Mr. Lhota wants to double the number of charter schools. Bill de Blasio shows lack of support for the charter schools experiment.

The Debt and the Budget.  Hoylman - Mayor de Blasio would meet the City's fiscal obligations; he has to balance the budget. Mastro - Would de Blasio be able to look the unions in the eye after they have worked to elect him? Lhota could be tougher because he owes the unions nothing. Bloomberg has just kicked the union issue down the road. Right now they have zero increases. When the percentages are written in, there will be a huge retroactive budget increase, which means less money for other services or higher taxes.

Climate Change (Hoylman Scores Big).  The environmental questions were about siting of a marine transfer station on the upper west side and the mayor's position on fracking.  Hoylman - It's time that Manhattan took on some of the burden of its own garbage - for too long garbage has been trucked to Staten Island and the other outer boroughs. On fracking, we need a study to investigate the safety of the process and in the meantime we need a moratorium. Mastro - There are limits to what a mayor can do for the environment. Bloomberg has certainly been in the vanguard, with new bike paths and parks and riverfront amenities. However, a marine transfer station next to Asphalt Green would affect the ability of poor kids to use the sports amenities in this area. On fracking, a "study" is a euphemism for doing nothing. Cuomo did the studies. Lhota won't feed voters with euphemisms. He is a straight talker. Besides, fracking is an upstate issue, isn't going to happen in NYC.  Hoylman - Upstate issue? Where, Mr. Mastro, do you think New York City's water comes from? We need a mayor who understands this, and respects upstate water if only because we drink it. We have enough natural gas to carry us through another look at what fracking is doing to our water table.

Sandinistas. Someone asked a leading question about de Blasio's support of the Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua many years ago. Hoylman - His visit to Nicaragua shows his concern with equality. He is still concerned with inequality in the United States and the fact that it is growing. It speaks to Bill de Blasio's character. Mastro - Yes, it speaks to de Blasio's character.

NYPD "Stop and Frisk" Policies (Mastro Scores).  Will your candidate abandon successful stop-and-frisk procedures because of the new court finding against it? Hoylman - a Federal judge says that the stop and frisk procedures need to be fixed. Mastro - Stop and frisk is perfectly constitutional.Giuliani's  NYPD did it. Now a federal judge wants to run the NYPD? Bill de Blasio says he won't appeal? It looks like we are going to go back to the days of consent decrees. But we are also going to have an independent inspector. And police officers are now subject to law suits if they make the wrong call on an arrest. Hoylman -  Mr. de Blasio supported the program that New York City was preparing to monitor the stop-and-frisk procedure. It might have obviated the need for the federal judge's decision. Mastro - Why is he saying he won't appeal the decision, when NYC has its own inspector? Why another? Why isn't he saying - This is my city and I don't need a judge trying to second-guess me and my police chief?  Hoylman - de Blasio would work with the judge. [Update: Mayor Bloomberg's appeal was heard and at he end of October the appellate court transferred the case to another judge, on the basis that the federal judge on the case had engaged in misconduct.]

Should We Worry That NYC Will Be Democrats All Round?  Hoylman - No. Equality of parties doesn't guarantee anything. The New York State Senate is balanced and the deadlock means nothing gets done. The last Democratic mayor was 20 years ago, before the Internet was invented. Mastro - We don't want deadlock but it is helpful to have tension. It generates debate. I am concerned that we have made so much progress since the 1990-1992 era that we forget what it was like when the Democrats had complete control.

Afterwards I joined a few people from the audience for dinner. I figured they were three-to-one Republicans. None of them appeared to be involved, or likely to be involved, in the election beyond voting. Two of them asked questions that were critical of de Blasio. I asked them why they weren't going to put their money or time behind Lhota.

"Too late. It's a done deal. What, a 50 percentage point lead, in the polls? We will have to live with Mayor de Blasio for four years." They drowned their sorrows, the Democrats celebrated, and the Harvard Club got some unexpected bar revenue on a Sunday evening...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

ART BIZ | Vito DeVito, East Hampton

Vito DeVito (L) and John Tepper Marlin, before a
 DeVito painting. Photo by Alice Tepper Marlin.
I go to a lot of art exhibits at Ashawagh Hall in downtown Springs, East Hampton, where Old Stone Highway meets Springs Fireplace Road.

Good reason: Ashawagh Hall has some good exhibits and I track them.

Real reason: I pass by Ashawagh (Indian name for a crossroad) Hall several times a day when I am here.

This evening Alice and I popped in on a one-man show by Vito DeVito, a New York City native who lives in Sagaponack except for summers when he is in Norway, Maine. I like one-man shows. Only one artist to interview if I am blogging, and I get to know the person.

DeVito is not just an artist. He is an artist-entrepreneur. The reason most artists are "struggling" financially, even "starving"–is that they don't understand some key commercial aspects of their business. The worst of all situations is where artists are (in the words of Catholic doctrine) "invincibly ignorant"–they don't want to know what steps they could take to be commercially successful because it would compromise their artistic creativity. Quietum non movere.

Vito DeVito is an artist that I can't visualize being unsuccessful. He exudes self-confidence and busy-ness and customer engagement. In addition:
  •  His art comes out of his own passion for creative work and his own love of nature. It's clear in everything he does. His fish and duck paintings look right when in motion and when still.
  • He paints nature against recognizable local backdrops -- a big plus when it comes to making a sale.
  • His backdrops are in the Town of East Hampton and for the past 25 years also in Maine, where he and his family have spent their summers. 
  • Like Picasso, he reinvents himself so that he has different things to sell. He is a sculptor -- I love his group of birds -- as well as a painter. He has been trying out etchings -- not all as glamorous as his paintings -- and in BFF (his dog) he has tried to glam up the etchings by hand-coloring the dog's collar in red. I would like to see more of the hand-colored etchings.
  • He sends out his framing to DeVito Framers in another room of his house. If it is raining he doesn't take the day off, he gets to work in his framing studio.
  • The giclees of his paintings are done by DeVito Facsimiles Ltd. His Artist's Proofs have low numbers and one gets a sense of confidence from him that he handles the numbering rigorously so that collectors don't have to worry about a flood of new giclees or prints. 
  • He knows how to sell to people most likely to buy, for the homes or offices of the well-to-do. Not many nudes in the exhibition -- I only saw one, called "Illicit Love" (not as good a painting, I thought, as his ducks). Corporate and family buyers prefer scenes of hunting, fishing, landscape, scenes from nature. He is in a lot of corporate collections.
  • He knows about stratifying his market. He has made a bronze sculpture for $6,000, oils for around $3,000, giclees for $500, etchings for less than that. There is something for everyone.
  • He has found a way to get paid up front, commissioned on demand, not only for portraits but for hunting scenes and ducks and fish. He works with hunting-and-fishing magazines and nonprofit organizations that ask him for specific animals or scenes and then they sell limited-edition lithographs or giclees.
  • For most of the past 19 years he has received annual commissions from Duck Unlimited to do a Duck-of-the-Year. His work is in the collections of celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Billy Joel, Christie Brinkley, Mario Cuomo, John Zuccotti and Alfonse D'Amato. 
"The Power Below" painted for the Safari Club International.  
Photo by JT Marlin.
Here's an example of how Vito DeVito leverages his art. Those animals in the oil painting at left are thundering towards us. They appear to be wildebeeste in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro, so this is a recognizable scene in Kenya or Tanzania. The price tag on this is about  $3,000.

This is a strong painting, definitely conveying a threat as the beasts head toward you. A good macho painting for an executive's office. It says: "Lead, follow, or get out of the way!" It is also nicely framed. But should you need that $3,000 to put toward your daughter's tuition, DeVito has an option for you.

"The Power Below", numbered giclée. Photo by JT Marlin.
For one-sixth of the cost of the original oil painting, you can get a numbered and framed giclée of the painting. It's even hard to tell the difference between the giclee and the painting from an distance of a few feet.

Customer is happy. Artist is happier. Best he can get for an oil (based on posted prices) is about $5,000. But if he sells out a series of 100 giclées at $500 each, he can make $50,000. With the help of associations and  magazines, it is also easier to sell prints than original art work.

Vito DeVito is a 1975 graduate of Seton Hall University, which would place his 60th birthday in the near vicinity. He has a wife Laurie, a daughter Emma Ann and a son Drew. More about him at Contact him to order something at

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Friday, October 18, 2013

UNIONS | Oct. 18–First American Trade Unions, 1648

Shoemakers at work.
Today in 1648, Boston shoemakers and "coopers" (barrel-makers) formed what are considered the first American trade unions.

The colonies had till then failed to import the English tradition of guilds, whereby craftsmen would band together to establish prices, quality standards, apprentice programs and charitable programs. The guilds in England also supported members who had retired or were beset by health or other challenges.

But these two 1648 quasi-guilds were limited to ensuring quality. The Massachusetts General Court prohibited "The Company of Shoomakers" from offering educational or charitable programs, or from fixing prices or settling disputes. 

More than a century later, the independence shown by the Boston shoemakers surfaced, as one of them has been credited with starting the Boston Tea Party.

The Philadelphia carpenter's union, formed some years after 1648, was more aggressive on behalf of its workers, and its printers and shoemakers were also aggressive at an early stage in the city's history. According to the History of Trade Unionism in the United States by Perlman and Selig: “The earliest recorded genuine labor strike in America, in 1786, was over wages paid to Philadelphia printers, who ‘turned out’ to demand a minimum wage of $6 per week." The second strike on record, in 1791, was also in Philadelphia, by house carpenters who struck for a ten-hour day.

In 1796 local shoemakers in Philadelphia organized the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers (shoemakers working with Cordovan leather). Three years later the organization staged a 10-week, successful strike for higher wages, the first strike in the newcounry sanctioned by a union.

JOE LHOTA | Why Is NYC Deaf to Tough-on-Crime Tune?

Giuliani Endorses Lhota
Rudy Giuliani in 1993 and 1997 campaigned brilliantly on the issue of public safety, picking up on a theme that Richard Nixon hammered at, mashing up student protests with a rise in crime to argue that lawlessness was undermining New York City.

I was the Chief Economist for the New York City Comptroller's Office for the entire eight years of Giuliani's mayoralty. I remember leaning forward with anticipation when a reporter struggled to get Giuliani to move on from"law 'n order" to his economic-development strategy.

Rudy replied something like this: "As long as corporations are moving out of New York City because of crime, as long as property values are threatened by crime in the streets, my economic-development strategy is to reduce crime." So there.

This tough-on-crime electoral strategy worked from the 1960s through the 1990s. It worked for Nixon, for Ronald Reagan, for George H. W. Bush, and for hundreds of candidates in state and local elections. Even a supposedly liberal Republican like Nelson Rockefeller signed onto a draconian drug law.

The conservative mantra was:
  • Liberal police chiefs would not let the cops do their jobs.
  • Liberal judges would let criminals back onto the street.
  • Liberal parole boards would grant parole too easily.  
Joe Lhota saw how this worked for Giuliani. He is piping the same tune. But this time, no one is dancing, or joining in, or even listening. De Blasio continues to ride high in the polls despite Lhota's soft-on-crime ads.

Why isn't the music working any more? Lhota has a new attack ad suggesting that de Blasio would bring New York City back to the high-crime days of the 1960s and 1970s. De Blasio spokesman Dan Levitan said:
Lhota is right that we can’t go back. We shouldn’t return to the days when Republicans like Giuliani used fear tactics to divide New Yorkers against each other.
Well, here are pieces of a counter-mantra that might explain New York City's deafness to the issue:
  • Crime is down in New York City and everywhere in the United States. There are lots of explanations. Here's one I like: The civil rights movement of the 1960s has calmed down groups in the cities that were hostile to the police.Having a black president surely helps establish that the country offers opportunities for black citizens.
  • Police work has gotten better in NYC and all over the country. Cops are being managed more efficiently. Crimes are tracked minute by minute and are analyzed. Task forces are sent to hot spots. 
  • Tough on crime means more people in prison, which is costly.  Three percent of the American population is behind bars or on parole and probation – U.S. prisons hold 20 percent of all the people incarcerated in the world. Conservatives and libertarians are increasingly about the cost of this. Legislators are showing rare unanimity on this topic. In 1994, Newt Gingrich's Contract with America promised to put more people in prison. But now he is concerned about the huge costs of the large prison population, "in dollars and lost human potential".  
  • Some rehabilitation programs work. There are some successful programs to prepare ex-offenders for return to the workforce. The 2012 Republican platform called for prisons to "attempt to rehabilitate and institute proven prisoner reentry systems to reduce recidivism and future victimization."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

NYC | Protecting against Future Hurricanes

NYC from POV of a Hurricane Heading North.
My Chelsea friend Bob Trentlyon, former publisher of our neighborhood newspaper, this week sent me his latest thoughts on the New York Bight.

The Bight is the large area of water encompassed within the two arms of Long Island and the New Jersey Coast, which make an angle slightly more obtuse than 90 degrees (see map at right).

As Trentlyon says:
These two arms ... have helped guide major storms to New York City, whether Northeasters or hurricanes, that have traveled north on the gulf stream from the Caribbean. Storms have descended on NYC since the last ice age. They have become fiercer and more frequent. NYC, located between Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean is practically defenseless. 
Trentlyon passes along a long list (prepared by John Rentoff) of serious hurricanes that have swept down on New York since the year before the founding of Harvard College:
August 1635, August 1638, October 1723, August 1788, September 1815, September 1821, November 1861, September 1869, September 1874, August 1879, September 1882, August 1893, October 1894, September 1904, September 1938 Long Island Express, September 1944 Great Atlantic Hurricane, August 1954 Carol, September 1960 Donna, August 1976 Belle, September 1985 Gloria, 28 August 1991 Bob, 16 September 1999 Floyd, 27-28 August 2011 Irene, 28-29 October 2012 Sandy. 
What lessons does Trentlyon have for us?

  • Don't build on the flood plain. Build on higher ground away from the shoreline. Much of NYC is high enough above the water level not to be affected for a very long time, possibly forever. However, he says, the waterfront is extremely vulnerable.
  • Protect Manhattan. Trentlyon thinks "it would be smart to protect much of Manhattan, Brooklyn and parts of Queens by building a five-mile storm surge barrier from the Rockaways to Sandy Hook." He also favors a smaller surge barrier at Throgs Neck to protect from flooding and storm surges in the East River.
  • He thinks that closing off the entryways when storm surges or flooding threaten makes a lot more sense than building endless miles of walls.

Earlier reports by Trentlyon are here and here.

I hope that Bill de Blasio, once he is elected Mayor, will obtain the advice of the Army Corps of Engineers and local environmental experts to build on the hurricane planning of the Mayor Bloomberg to consider carefully the most cost-effective way of  reducing the risks to NYC of future hurricanes.

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CRUZ | Dems Should Give Him an Award

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
I hereby nominate Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for a Prize for Outstanding Service to the Democratic Party.

Surely he has done more for the Democrats than anyone else alive.
  • Would de Blasio be so far ahead of Lhota in New York City's mayoral race without Cruz?
  • Would Cory Booker have won his Senate spot so "handily" in New Jersey without Cruz?
  • Gallup shows unfavorable view of GOP at all-time high of 62%. It shows favorable view at an all-time low of 28%. We have to thank Ted Cruz.
You may ask: What about Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995-96? Didn't he help the Democrats just as much by shutting down the government? It was longer then, 27 days (in two parts) vs. 16 days.

Trillion-Dollar Coin
But no. Gingrich only put in play Bill Clinton's budget. By adding in the debt ceiling Cruz has called into question Uncle Sam's constitutional obligation to pay U.S. debts.

Also, Gingrich did not cause such divisiveness in his own party, which should pay continuing dividends to the Democrats. Gallup shows hardly a blip in GOP favorability ratings during that period.

Cruz absolutely deserves the prize. I recommend the award be a facsimile of the Trillion Dollar Coin, which was considered as a way around the debt ceiling. The Treasury would mint it as permitted under FDR's gold legislation of 1933-34 as subsequently interpreted and amended, and the Fed would take it in as an asset, with a trillion-dollar liability to the Treasury per coin.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

BOARD OF ELECTIONS | What's the Matter?

The mechanical voting machines, rescued
from storage.
The New York Times recently devoted an editorial - "Mismanaging the Vote" to the shortcomings of the "slow, often loony" Board of Elections in New York City.

The Times says the Board seems to operate on the basis of who you know rather than what you know.

Here are three highlights of what is wrong with the Board of Elections.

Shocker #1: Return of the zombie voting machines (see photo). These huge monsters from the Jurassic era were brought back out of storage for the Mayoral Primary because the Board of Elections could not figure out how to enable in time the optical paper-ballot system authorized in 2010, even though we had a run-through in 2012.

Shocker #2: A $13 million runoff election for a $2.3 million office. The runoff was for one NYC-wide office, Public Advocate, with an annual budget of a little over $2 million. The cost of the runoff was reported as $13 million, or about $100 per actual voter since only a tiny percentage of NYC residents bothered to vote. But the true cost of the runoff was much higher, when we include: (1) The cost in time and productivity to all the people who turned out for a needless election, (2) The cost of the extended campaign. (3) The systemic cost to the future of democracy of wearying the huge electorate with an runoff for a tiny office.

Board of Elections proposed
paper ballot for Nov. 5 NYC
Shocker #3: The Board of Elections typeface tempest. Chester Soria reported in the Gotham Gazette Friday that the Board of Elections is at sea over problems with increasing the size of the typeface on the November ballot from an illegible 6 points to an illegible 8 points (see photo). ("Normal" type faces are 10-12 points.) The typeface trauma took over most of the most recent Board of Elections meeting. The board’s ballot coordinator told the Board of Elections of the dilemma: (1) The ballots had to be ready by October 2 to meet election law deadlines. (2) But approval awaited Corporation Counsel consent because treating voters in different districts differently might be illegal. The crisis is a symptom of a disease -- creeping growth of both multiple languages being added to ballots and additional choices offered to voters. These developments have stressed the optical scanning system purchased from Election Systems & Software, a Nebraska-based company. Ballots shown during the meeting were for 60 Queens polling sites with English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and (new) Bengali translations on the same ballot. A solution proposed at the meeting was... multiple ballot pages! The commissioners decided on a conference call Thursday and put off a decision. The Board will reveal its deliberations at the earliest at its next public hearing on Oct. 15. (Update – the six-point typeface will be used on November 5 – so much for legibility.)

This is indeed madness, with no method in it. Guiding principles are conspicuously missing. Here are some ideas, none of them brand new, and some of which may require a Charter Revision Commission to implement:

1. Short, Simple Ballots, Please. KISS. These complicated, illegible ballots are out of control. (a) There is a tradeoff in legibility for the goal of putting multiple languages on the ballot. The Board of Elections could issue translations into multiple languages for local newspapers and bloggers and post them and mail them. (Why just five languages on the ballot? NYC is home to 800 languages.) The ballot itself should operate on the principle – keep it simple, stupid. (b) The "short ballot" movement, which had a strong representation in New York City in the first half of the 20th Century in the form of the National Municipal League, argued for a ballot offering candidates for a single office at each level of government and against slates of committees, which are impossible for the ordinary citizen to evaluate properly.

Sample Instant 
Runoff Ballot.
2. Use Instant-Runoff Ballots. There is an easy solution to wasteful runoff elections: an instant runoff. Voters rank candidates by order of preference. If no candidate passes the minimum threshold (in NYC, 40%) to win an election, the votes of the last-place finisher are redistributed according to preferences on the ballots. This step is repeated until a candidate crosses the threshold.  Instant runoff voting is already used in local elections in London, England; Wellington, New Zealand; Minneapolis and St. Paul,Minn.; San Francisco, Oakland and San Leandro, Calif.; and Cambridge, Mass. After the general election next month, the City Council should have hearings on this idea and the Board of Elections should come up with a plan.

3. Make the Board of Elections Accountable. The Board of Elections must be redesigned and made more professional. It could be headed someone appointed jointly by the Mayor, Comptroller, City Council Speaker and one of the Borough Presidents selected from them as their spokesperson, in a procedure similar to the selection of the head of the Independent Budget Office.

4. End Party-Based Primaries for Local Elections. End party-based primaries and party identification on the ballot. Primary elections should be non-partisan, although political clubs and party organizations can continue to endorse, petition for, and campaign for candidates. Nonpartisan primaries would encourage more New Yorkers to vote and would ensure that a maximum number of people decide who will be the top officials. A 2003 proposal recommended that the top two vote-getters in a Primary be the candidates for Mayor in the general election.

5. Eliminate the Public Advocate Starting in 2018 or 2022. New Yorkers are lucky that Bill de Blasio is a more promising mayoral candidate than we have any right to expect, coming from the Public Advocate's office, with a budget whittled down so much over the years that it does not provide sufficiently relevant experience for being Mayor. The Public Advocate has a big incentive to run for Mayor or Comptroller because the Public Advocate's office requires few decisions that create opposition. Make plans to scrub the office... or give it something real to do. If there is a vacancy in the Mayoralty, the Council Speaker or the Comptroller could become interim Mayor until a special election.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

YELLEN | Perfect Choice for Fed

Janet Yellen, President Obama's
nominee for Fed Chair
The appointment of Janet Yellen is perfect because she is pragmatic, eyes on the data, and concerned about unemployment as well as inflation. She is not one of those central bankers who consider the unemployment problem to be a secondary concern.

Also, because she is a woman, we won't be hearing so many complaints about "100 years of patriarchy at the Fed".

While the Phillips Curve has given way in academic circles to the concept of a non-accelerating-inflation rate of unemployment (the NAIRU), the two desirables of low inflation and low unemployment remain the twin objectives of the Fed, with low inflation being the traditional central bank goal and a low-unemployment goal having been added by the Employment Act of 1946.

Inflation appears to be under control, so the "doves" on the Federal Open Market Committee believe that it is not yet time to "taper" the Quantitative Easing program that has been designed to encourage economic growth. The idea is to keep long-term interest rates low by providing a ready secondary market for long-term Treasuries, thereby lowering yields on all long-term instruments and providing inexpensive capital for job-creation.

In a fine interview a few hours ago on Charlie Rose, Professor Yellen emphasized that the Federal Reserve is working on behalf of all Americans. The implication of that is that containing inflation satisfies the concerns of those who hold debt, i.e., wealthier Americans. Unemployment, however, is more prevalent among poorer people and it creates poverty.

That, in a word, is why the doves tend to be liberal Democrats and the "inflation hawks" tend to be more banker-oriented. Yellen is close to Bernanke on this spectrum, but more dovish than Bernanke has appeared to be recently in his effort to preserve consensus.

The target rate for interest rates continues to be near the zero bound because inflation is coming in below the 2 percent target that Chairman Bernanke announced at the beginning of 2012. Right now 6.5 percent still appears to be the target unemployment rate, and we are not there yet, although we lack the September number because of the government shutdown. By the standards of the targets, based on the data, Janet Yellen is in the right place on the dove-hawk perch.

A few critics from the left note that she did not oppose the 1999 takedown of the Glass-Steagall Act, but then neither did Senator Schumer and other key Democrats. No one fully foresaw how things would play out through 2008. It was the London Economist that in 1999 observed correctly that if the investment banking (and other non-bank financial) foxes were allowed to mingle with the banks, the investment banks – or preferably the entire financial system including the investment banks – should be regulated. For more on this period, see this post from 2008.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

JUSTICE | Teenagers in Prison? Bad for the Economy

About 71,000 teenagers are incarcerated (2010 data), i.e., 2.3 per thousand teenagers (10-19). The USA spends $6 billion a year keeping juveniles in prison. The average direct cost of keeping a teenager in prison is $88,000 per year.

When teenagers are put in prison, two effects follow:
  • They are less likely to finish high school.
  • They are more likely to return to incarceration as an adult - recidivism is high.
So a community that is tough on its teenagers and is quick to incarcerate is likely to be a community where fewer high school students graduate and more adults are in prison. This is a dual drag on their economy.

Alternatives to incarceration for offenses by teenagers reduce the effects described above. These alternatives include
  • Electronic monitoring.
  • Well-enforced curfews. (As in Illinois.)
The authors of the above research, Anna Aizer and Joseph Doyle, Jr., do not place a value on the deterrent effect of incarceration, because recent evidence suggests that this effect is weak.

The research is in NBER Working Paper #19102, available from

Saturday, October 5, 2013

NYC | Money > 2:1 for de Blasio

Bill de Blasio with an early campaigner. Photo
 by JT Marlin.
Once it was clear that Bill de Blasio had come from way behind to be the favorite in the NYC mayoral primary, the conventional wisdom was that de Blasio for Mayor would be a hard sell to the NYC establishment and that business money would flow to his opponent, Joe Lhota.

That seemed to be the pattern for the first two weeks after the primary on September 10. Lhota raised more money than de Blasio during that period. It wasn't clear where the Thompson and Quinn votes would go. A report came out saying that one-quarter or more of the Quinn votes would go to Lhota.

But two things happened next:

(1) By September 24, polls were out from the NY Times/Siena College and Quinnipiac pollsters that both gave de Blasio a three-to-one advantage. If Quinn votes were going to Lhota, they were thin on the ground.

(2) During the next two weeks, de Blasio has been raising more than twice as much as Lhota, as the table below shows.

de Blasio    Lhota
Dem, GOP primaries, 9/10 $6,800K $3,800K
First 2 weeks after primary $153K $156K
Since polls showed 3-1 deB $635K $280K
Source: NYC Campaign Finance Board filings

The latest poll in October shows deBlasio's advantage has climbed to 3.5 to one. Lhota has become a long shot. De Blasio's campaign team and consultants, having pulled off an upset, are not likely to be caught napping in the short campaign before the general election.

The wild card will be the independent messages from donors to Citizens United-type campaign funds trying to influence the election without having to reveal their identity. While these messages are a potential menace to any candidate, they are less targeted because they are prohibited from engaging in "express advocacy" for a client against another candidate -- and they are therefore likely to be less effective than direct campaign messages.

CONGRESS | House leaders reassure furloughed feds

Not about the money.
Oct. 5, 2013–It's the 2014 Federal Fiscal Year.

The House today unanimously passed a bill to ensure that the 800,000 furloughed Federal workers will be paid retroactively for the time they are not working, since Monday night, during the government shutdown.

Senate leaders indicate they are likely to pass the bill.

What a relief for Federal workers.

So, Mr. Boehner, it's not actually about the money?!

Who knew?

Um... so it is really about... ?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

NYC | $ per Vote–de Blasio Lowest, $24

Bill de Blasio is the most efficient campaign spender so far this year, based on figures provided by Sam Roberts on p. A20 of today's New York Times, supplemented by my own historical investigation.

De Blasio spent $24 per vote (the same amount that Peter Minuit paid the Lenape or Canarsee Indians in goods for all of Manhattan, Battery not included) to campaign for the Democratic nomination for Mayor from the office of Public Advocate.

Thompson, two-time former City Comptroller, spent $36 per vote. Quinn spent $60 per vote. The Democrats were all more efficient in their spending than the Republicans, except for Anthony Weiner.

$ Million
$ per Vote
de Blasio
Bloomberg, 2009
Lauder, 1989

John Catsimatidis now outranks Ronald Lauder on spending per vote. Catsimatidis may be the biggest NYC mayoral campaign spender in history based on results, $419 per vote.

Ronald Lauder's 1989 primary campaign, costing $352 per vote, was at the time described as the most expensive campaign per vote in U.S. history.

The high cost of Mayor Bloomberg's 2009 campaign is also clear from this table - $174 per vote, $102 million total - 15 times the total amount that Bill de Blasio spent becoming the Democratic nominee for Mayor this year.

But Linda McMahon spent $454 per vote in the 2010 Connecticut GOP primary for U.S. Senate. She won it but then lost the general election with spending of $95 per vote - the most spent in any state or local general election in 2010.

In New York State, the most costly primary was the $3.1 million battle between Chris Cox and Randy Altschuler in NY District 1. Altschuler won, spending $191 per vote (Cox spent $195 per vote), but went on to lose to incumbent Tim Bishop, spending another $2 million for a $23-per-vote cost in the general election.

The success of the de Blasio primary campaign, if followed up by similar success in the faceoff with Lhota next month, will boost the already-strong credentials of de Blasio's campaign consultants -
  • John de Cecato of AKPD Message and Media, founded by David Axelrod (de Cecato prepared the famous ad featuring Dante and his Afro). 
  • Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, which did the polling for the de Blasio campaign. 
  • Joe Rospars of Blue State Digital, the people who were brought together for the Howard Dean campaign in 2004, got behind Barack Obama in 2008 and signed up 13 million supporters for him online, raising $500 million via Quick Donate.
Of course, the campaign consultants should not get all the credit for the success of the candidate. Some of that should go to Mr. de Blasio himself, his Wellesley College wife Chirlane McCray, and their two impressive children.