Putin has not been seen in public for 8 days, long enough for many to wonder where he is, and for the Kremlin to deny rumors of illness. Here are things that suggest all is not well with Putin - or with the Russian establishment.
1. The Kremlin's claims that Putin was fine were accompanied by photographs from a meeting from the previous week, a fact that was promptly discovered.
It's hard to believe that Putin would permit such an easily falsifiable story if he were still firmly in charge.
2. When insisting that Putin is healthy, Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov appeared a bit unprofessional in an open shirt and no tie, in contrast to his normally highly professional appearance. He always looks cadaverous, but his manner was downcast and hesitant, as opposed to his normal confident manner.
as compared to:
3. The "Putin is dead" hashtag appears to be much more prevalent within Russia than without. If false, one would normally expect such a hashtag to be more common outside Russia, where there are many who would be happy to see Putin dead, than within Russia, where Putin is highly popular. However, those within Russia are closer to the situation and closer to any who know the truth.
4. There are reports from what appears to be a reasonably reliable news site that an announcement of Putin's death briefly appeared on Prime Minister Medvedev's web site.
If Putin is dead or incapacitated, how did it happen? If the hardliners had murdered Nemtsov and Putin in preparation for a coup, it's hard to believe they would wait over a week to take further action. Putin might have had a debilitating stroke, though the temporal proximity to the Nemtsov assassination seems a bit of a coincidence. Putin being assassinated in retaliation for the Nemtsov murder would also explain the temporary paralysis of the Russian leadership as they kept checking over their shoulders, though one would think that getting through Putin's personal security would be no easy task.
Of course, it's always possible - albeit unlikely - that European rumors are true that Putin went to Switzerland to be at the birth of a love child with his rumored girlfriend Alina Kabaeva. None of the possibilities seem especially likely, but it's hard to eliminate any of them as impossible. Even after Putin reappears - alive or dead - we may not know what actually happened.
When last I wrote on Greece, in 2012, there had just been elections that resulted in a change of power from the Panhellenic Socialist Movement - which had negotiated a government bailout and austerity package responsible for cutting the size of the Greek economy by one quarter - to New Democracy, which advocated a policy of growth through tax cuts.
Subsequent to the election, New Democracy was not immediately able to implement tax cuts, due to the focus on additional austerity measures - that is, budget cuts and tax increases - from the European Union. However, New Democracy was able to ensure that the additional austerity measures consisted of budget cuts, and not tax increases.
Without additional tax increases further dragging down the economy, and with very large government budget cuts, the Greek government posted a "primary budget surplus" - basically a surplus before interest payments - the next year, a year earlier than expected. With this success under its belt, New Democracy was able to negotiate a reduction in the Value Added Tax for hotels and restaurants from 23% to 13%.
The reduction in the VAT was equivalent to a price reduction of 8% across the board for hotels and restaurants. With Greece suddenly a much less expensive place to vacation, tourism surged. This resulted in a turnaround in Greece's economy, which in 2014 is now on track to become one of the fastest growing economies in the eurozone. This is the economy that, four years ago, was thought to be causing the entire eurozone to collapse.
This near miraculous turnaround shows, yet again, that cuts in government spending do not prevent economic growth, and that cuts in tax rates promote that growth. Hopefully policy makers everywhere are paying attention: if you want your economy to grow, cut government spending and cut tax rates.
I also hope the voters in Greece are paying attention to who brought off this miracle, for their own good.
Previous article on 2012 Greek elections:
Article on 2013 tax cuts:
Article on 2014 economic growth:
When I cite a news article, I almost never cite The New York Times. There is a reason for this. The reason is that New York Times articles are long, detailed, well written - and carefully crafted to present only one side of the story. In more plebeian sources, one sidedness is often easily detected, but in the New York Times, the level of detail and the writing skill are very effective in lulling the reader into thinking they are getting the whole story - when in fact they are getting only half the story, if that.
The most recent New York Times article I read, forwarded by a good friend, is a case in point. The article is on the finding of Denisovan DNA in 400,000 year old femurs in Spain, previously thought to be from ancestors of Neanderthals. Since the DNA is Denisovan rather than Neanderthal, they conclude that the fossils, instead of coming from a Neanderthal ancestor, instead indicate that Neanderthals later replaced the preexisting population of Denisovans. It's a pretty convincing argument, if all you read is that article from The New York Times.
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Economists have finally shown why the Great Depression continued for so long. It was government policy: specifically, FDR's policies that interfered with the free market, just as many of us suspected all along.
I was working late, when I heard repeated sniffling from upstairs. After a while I went to investigate, and sitting huddled on the top stair was Margaret, miserably sick with a cold. I sat a stair or two down to be closer to her level and hugged her, and she held me hard.
I got her to lie down on the couch in the back room by promising to sit with her, got some tissues for her, and sat next to her for a few minutes. Then, when it became clear that she just wanted my presence and not my active attention, and after getting her permission, I went downstairs to retrieve my laptop, and then came back up to continue my work sitting next to her.
Eventually her sniffles subsided and she managed to get to sleep. I couldn't make her cold go away, but at least I was able to make her less miserable.
I think that's what parenting is all about.
As expected, but contrary to press hysteria, Twinkies and other Hostess products are being manufactured again. Two private equity firms bought the rights to most of the snack products - and also bought four of their bakeries - and they will be available again at most outlets on Monday.
Those who followed the bankruptcy last November will remember that the proximate reason for Hostess's Chapter 7 liquidation was the refusal on the part of their bakers' union to accept a new contract imposed under Chapter 11 reorganization. The underlying cause, however, was more an issue of union work rules on the part of the Teamsters - rules that, for example, required different products to be delivered on different trucks, resulting in substantial inefficiency. Basically the bakers' union didn't want to pay for the inefficiency caused by the Teamsters.
The new Hostess doesn't employ truck drivers at all. Instead, they contract out delivery to third parties. Not only does this permit the third parties to be more efficient, but it permits Hostess to deliver to more than twice as many stores - obviously a substantial benefit to the company.
They do still employ bakers - two shifts of them, at the moment - but the lack of union rules facilitates plans to invest in the bakeries and make them more efficient. Those efficiencies have permitted Hostess to switch to higher quality ingredients - their ingredient costs are up 9% - and perhaps eventually to scale back to a single shift.
Ultimately this is a success story. Inefficient practices that accumulated during good times are being trimmed out in favor of more efficient practices, which will ultimately provide the consumer with a better value for the next business cycle. This illustrates why the economy needs a recession now and then: to work out inefficiencies that are unsustainable in the long run. Now if only we would manage the recessions to promote the necessary restructuring, instead of dragging them out by trying to preserve the status quo, we could get the bad times over with more quickly.
Hostess products available Monday:
More detail on how the new Hostess is organized:
Google+ is more featureful, yes. However, its problems with eventual consistency - which manifest as posts and comments disappearing and reappearing at random - are a major pain. I've commented on a few occasions to friends there that Google+ really needs user affinity to solve that.
Livejournal doesn't have those problems. As it turns out, that's because Livejournal has user affinity by cluster:
Okay, their clustering is a little primitive, as restores appear to require manual intervention. Google should just buy Livejournal, fix those implementation issues, and replace Google+ with it.
Yesterday Margaret wanted Redbones barbeque for dinner. We told her we couldn't afford restaurant food every day, but we could do it if we didn't go to the Dimsum restaurant today, which we often do on Saturdays. She agreed. My wife thought she would forget by today and throw a tantrum anyway when we refused to go to the Dimsum restaurant, but I thought she would remember.
Well, today she asked if we could go to Dimsum. We reminded her that she had agreed to skip it today. She didn't throw a tantrum; instead, after some minutes of thought, she said, "can we go to Mary Chung's" - a different kind of Chinese restaurant - "instead?"
I think I should have her handle all my negotiations from now on.
Last week I discussed Japan's lost decades, and how the underlying cause of their recession is that a larger proportion of economic output is being taken by retirees, leaving less to be provided as pay and thus as incentives for those not yet retired to work.
This effect hit Japan starting in 1990 because they had substantial population increases before and to some extent during World War II, unlike the U.S. The U.S. did, however, have a "baby boom" following World War II. Those baby boomers are just starting to retire now, and will continue to do so through 2030.
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