Tuesday assorted links


8. Interesting that the author tries to exonerate Michigan's governor for malfeasance that happened on his watch in a city governed indirectly by him by blaming, of all people, Detroit. The author insinuates inside knowledge of the negotiations between Flint and Detroit when he really has none. I have avoided passing judgement on this situation but this article is shamefully partisan hackery.

From the looks of it Benny, you passed judgment on this a long time ago.


""of all people, Detroit."""

You make it sound like Detroit is not part of this issue. Detroit was the place Flint was getting its water from so its part of the facts in this situation.

Not really, Flint terminated its contract with Detroit and pumped water from the river without adequately treating it. Flint did not wish to negotiate a 2 year contract for water or switch back to Detroit water once the problem was initially discovered.

Hmm, that's one way of putting it. Seems like Flint did not wish to negotiate a 2 year contract at the rates Detroit was asking, but right now you seem to be the one "insinuat[ing] inside knowledge of the negotiations between Flint and Detroit." Do you have such knowledge?

I am fairly certain that, given the information that is out there, Flint would have been happy to continue the existing contract at some rate until their other plan was finished. Do you dispute that?

Actually, I do:


It seems that in 2014 Flint's manager issued a termination letter to Detroit. That is hardly a "negotiation". Indeed, your insinuation that negotiations involve no compromise at all suggests mendacity in your argument.

Benny - Did you actually read the letter? It is hardly a termination letter from Flint's manager. He is simply declining whatever offer (unspecified, so who know's at what price, for how long, etc.) Detroit had on the table to continue to supply water after termination, and asking for information on Detroit's interest in supplying water for the scenarios outlined in the bullet points at the end. Certainly impossible, without more details, to determine if there ever was a reasonable offer on the table.

We know that there was because the emergency manager said so: http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/03/flint_emergency_manager_calls.html

Do you think the total cost of this water fuck up is less than 12 million a year?

My point stands. You have no idea if, last March, given what was known at the time, Detroit's proposal was reasonable. To say it seems reasonable given what is now known is silly.

So basically you're saying that Flint should have accepted whatever offer Detroit made, however unreasonable, because they should have known in advance that they weren't competent enough to supply their own water, and that it was totally ok for Detroit to bend Flint over a barrel, because obviously, when your neighbor is in a bind, you should try to extract as much money as possible from them.

Ah but the problem was first identified months earlier: http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/10/general_motors_wont_use_flint.html

What you seem to be saying is that negotiations were impossible because of Detroit intransigence, but offer no evidence. Same as the blog author. And while the plan to use river water would have saved money had it been treated properly, it also would have been wise to switch back to Detroit water once a problem was identified.

No Benny. Can you read with comprehension? I am saying that there is no way, based on the information presented, of determining whether Detroit was intransigent, or the city was intransigent.

The water line servicing Flint needed repair, but Detroit could not borrow and spend and default to pay for the work. So, the cost of the work was being billed to Flint, along with the higher rates Detroit was charging all its customers. If Flint entered into a 50 year contract, the cost of the investment in the water line could have been financed with a revenue bond, though the credit rating was low making the rate high. The governor could have had the state issue the bonds to get a lower rate for the bonds.

But let's say the Detroit water system was sold to the bond holders with them allowed to set the rates. Would a private water supplier subsidize the water for Flint and lose money, or would they raise rates to earn 10% or more return on the billions in debt they gave up in exchange for the water company assets?

The reason for a lot of the debt associated with Detroit is they did not want to raise rates for such services as water or raise taxes. They were competing with surrounding cities who had new infrastructure built with Federal subsidies and cheap credit and thus did not need to charge high rates or high taxes to pay for city infrastructure that was new.

Unfortunately, the cities Detroit and Flint competed with over the past half century now face aging infrastructure in need of repair, but these cities did not charge for depreciation and put the money in capital reserve funds to pay for the decay that happened due to a half century of use.

Widmer, then how come so many people are asserting, without evidence, that Detroit had them over a barrel? I have produced evidence that, upon learning of the foul water, the city had an option to switch back to Detroit for 12 million and declined. Seems like a penny wise pound foolish decision.

I'm not faulting the initial decision to break with Detroit water and use river water in the interim. But that doesn't necessarily make Detroit to blame moreso than either emergency manager, the governor, the city council, the water department, etc. In fact it seems they are less so to blame. Isn't charging the most rates you can get something that corporations are supposed to do?

That article is probably right in that there were likely a series of screw ups that occurred to cause this mess. And obviously we should focus most on fixing it now.
But he completely sidesteps the idea of individual accountability for people in charge--which is how you prevent these types of disasters--as if it's childish to bring up.

True. One thing that isn't being reported is what happened that the city didn't adequately treat the river water? That is the first part. Why isn't the blog author hammering this issue when that is what caused the crisis. Insufficiently treated water from Flint.

The second part is the cover up, because General Motors reported a problem with Flint water and switched their plants back to Detroit water long before this became a crisis. How did no one in municipal government notice?

I agree that the author doesn't place enough blame on the city manager (even if his version of the story is 100% correct).

However, it is far from clear that his narrative of what happened is wrong.

Partisan, yes. Hackery? Unclear.

The article is too kind to Michigan's governor for giving, in it's own words, "important cabinet-level jobs to people who help you politically ".
But that doesn't exonerate Detroit for being spoiled pissy assholes by trying to extort money from Flint for the interim water they needed.

Interesting that the author tries to exonerate Michigan’s governor for malfeasance that happened on his watch

Since when are state governors responsible for municipal water authorities?

The article suggests that the state-level water quality authority, which was run by the governor's appointee, juked the stats and told Flint to cover up the negative test results. It's hard to tell how far up the chain of command knowledge of the problem went, but it's not unfair to blame the boss for appointing the people who are running the agency.

Read a little more. Snyder was involved. If state government isn't supposed to help resolve collective action problems between cities, who is? And you expect the bankrupt city of Detroit to not work towards maximizing its own revenue?

Snyder was involved.

Since when would Flint water quality test results land on the governor's desk?

Since when is the governor not responsible for reacting to justified complaints? Since when is he not reponsible for criminal malfeasance by a cabinet appointee.


Elected officials being asked to take responsibility for bad things their underlings did?

Must be a Republican.

Snyder should have feigned outrage and said he only learned about this from the papers.

Fair point. If he was a Democrat the press would totally be excusing this. Still doesn't mean he doesn't bear some responsibility though.

All the politicians involved failed in that they believed what experts told them, but it was the incompetence/dishonesty of the consulting firm that said getting water from the river was ok, that is to blame.


Early on the article complains that the head of DEQ, a cabinet position, was obviously unqualified.

"That’s what happens when you give important cabinet-level jobs to people who help you politically … but that’s another story."

Yes. Another story, because the head of DEQ was a Snyder appointee and we can't blame Snyder, because he is a Republican. Instead it's the staff, about whose political affiliation Branch speculates about in the absence of facts.

This is "what really happened?" Sounds more like an effort to minimize Snyder's responsibility.

#6 I'm not an economist, but...

1) Is there a big public debate about "productivity growth" in the UK and US? I don't think so. How often does the average American or Brit think about productivity? Really the author is describing differences in the economist/wonk discussion between the countries.

2) The second part of the article is largely based on the thesis "Why doesn't Germany increase public spending a lot, to be more similar to a whole bunch of countries that are doing worse than it is?" I don't find that hugely compelling.

Worrying about the satisfaction of the population is better for the populist. That means that low inflation and low unemployment are more important than productivity.

The CBO has confirmed that the deficit will always increase. The last few years seem to make it clear (as, incidentally, did the Clinton years) that the only way to reduce the deficit is through government shutdowns, both threatened and in fact. Yet there is a strange portion of the commentariat that seems to want something unattainable, deficit reduction without strife.

I'm ok with strife. 2013 was a good year. More gridlock please.

Bridges and roads should decay faster and help the economy by making trucking more expensive?

The deficit increased because taxes were cut yet again while not killing tens of thousands of construction jobs Jan 1, 2016. Or killing tens of thousands of jobs constructing weapons.


My takeaway from that report is that federal healthcare spending (Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare) is expected to grow 11% this year. That pretty much drives the increasing deficit, even in a growing economy. It seems obvious to me that we're going to need some entitlement cuts in the next 10 years. My vote would be to allow the federal government to negotiate rates with healthcare providers and manufacturers.

7. It always surprises me to read something targeting the general public that explains basic math.

What would be interesting is data similar to what we saw with okTrends: how well does ELO predict swiping? (One can compare to how well ELO predicts victory in chess, or in Warcraft, or so on.)

7. It's also quite telling that he's offended by the notion of being in "the upper end of average". Lake Wobegon effect, anyone?

I don't see why Merkel should catch all the blame for not solving the refugee crisis when nobody is pointing fingers at Obama for instigating and allowing the Syrian civil war to stew unresolved for 5 years. (And indeed continuing to insist that Assad must go, thereby prolonging the conflict).

We expected better from Merkel.

She did not have to try to solve it that way. Help them in place in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon. Most arriving in Germany are economic migrants. Most German people don't want an influx of Muslim males ( 73% are men according to the Economist), certainly not the women of Cologne. With the collapse of commodity prices, potentially 1 billion Africans want to move to Europe, they are piling up in Lybia, Algeria, Morocco

I don't disagree. My point is that some blame should be pointed at the Obama's administration's fecklessness, which helped create the Syrian situation. Merkel's just responding to the mess.

Yeah, evil Obama for failing to tell the world that only US citizens have a right to republican government because everyone else must be ruled by US puppet dictators and not blame the US for being killed by the dictators simply doing what is required by the US.

It is Obama's fault that Syrians petitioned their government for their god given liberty, because Obama told them they had god given liberty which was given only to US citizens.

Or is your point that the US Constitution gives the power to declare war only to the president, not to the Congress? That Obama calling on Congress to decide if the US should send US citizens to die in Syria in a US military invasion and occupation it's an invalid use of executive authority?

Newsflash: Nobody in Syria wants a "republican" government. There is not some sort of pro-democracy movement ready to take over if Assad leaves. If there ever was one in the first place, and we didn't just project our own fantasies on the Syrian uprising. if Assad goes, ISIS will take over and make Assad's regime look like a liberal paradise.

#8 is about right, except that it glosses over the endemic problems with Detroit Water & Sewer, which historically charged extremely high prices to suburban and exurban customers while neglecting infrastructure -- in part because of bad bureaucratic bloat and corruption (DWS was the agency that famously kept a horseshoer on staff for decades despite a total lack of horses) and also in part because half of its customers in the city of Detroit don't pay their bills. Finally resolving the dispute between city and suburbs over DWS was one of the big issues in the Detroit bankruptcy process. Lastly there's nothing wrong, in principle, with pulling drinking water from a SE Michigan river whose watershed includes a lot agricultural land. Here in Ann Arbor, most of the water comes from the Huron River, and the drinking water is fine and reasonably priced (we really dodged a bullet not being a DWS customer).

Adding alkali to water to lower pH is cheap in both capital assets and materials over the long term, but is not free. The governor appointed city manager did not want to spend money when he planned to use the equipment for two years until they connected to the new water infrastructure paid for by debt from a group of cities with better credit ratings than Flint.

Penny wise, pound foolish.

The city manager could probably have paid for all the equipment by donating his income as emergency manager.

"8. What really went wrong in Flint?"

There's blame on both sides, but the Governor should fire the political appointee in charge.

The Commissioner of Environmental Quality submitted his resignation on 29 December.

Thanks for the info. This sounds like the Governor has taken the correct action from his point of view. The new Commissioner should immediately start cleaning house and getting rid of the manager responsible for this mess.

6. "The economy grew by 1.7% in 2015, though in calender-adjusted terms — 2015 had more working days in Germany — it is just 1.5%."

Want to increase GDP? Eliminate holidays. Start with Christmas and Halloween. Be a big boost to the economy. Extending the normal working day to nine hours should grow the economy by 12 1/2%.

Can anyone tell me what is the random pattern of mating in humans against which we can make a meaningful study of "assortive mating"? Humans with similar genotypes and phenotypes are attracted to each other? This is the promise of the scientific method?

#3: I notice the moderator refers to the combatants as "Mr Scruton" and "Tyler," respectively. Now why is that?

There is no secular stagnation! Arstechnica reports that a company in New York is converting old payphones into wifi hotspot masturbation stations. You can sit behind a curtain for privacy.


Waiting for this to be revealed as parody.


Glad to live in the Netherlands. One hundred years old plumbing - we've got to go to a museum to see this. Or to England.

It would seem a good investment to have changed out the pipes long ago. Maybe after this with interest rates as low as they are many cities will replace all their lead and iron pipes.

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