Microsoft and the ransomware attack

May 17th, 2017

Microsoft’s behaviour is outrageous. My next computer will be a Mac. Microsoft XP was an excellent operating system, one that I miss, but has now been made totally obsolete. I assume that Apple will continue to service its software for Mac without prohibitive charges. Read the rest of this entry »

basic income works

May 15th, 2017

The current issue of Boston Review, a bimonthly American political and literary magazine, contains a forum on “Work Inequality Basic Income”. Here are excerpts from an online essay that contains links to numerous studies of basic income experiments. My only complaint is the neglect of the effect of income tests, which amount to a large taxes on earnings, with a predictably negative impact on employment.

In my opinion, the main problem with basic income is that most often it is not universal. Means tests (the lack of universality) stigmatizes beneficiaries, increases administration costs, and discourages recipients from working for pay. Read the rest of this entry »

from Comey to Watergate

May 14th, 2017

Princeton historian Sean Wilentz predicts that Donald Trump will get away with his unprecedented firing of FBI Director James Comey. The current crisis differs from Watergate for a number of reasons, but especially because of the press. Read the rest of this entry »

The Economist interviews Donald Trump

May 13th, 2017

The Economist has deposited, online, a complete transcript of their interview with Donald Trump. Here is the part that refers to the question of Mr Trump’s release of his tax returns.

Mr President, can I just try you on a deal-making question? If you do need Democratic support for your tax plan, your ideal tax plan, and the price of that the Democrats say is for you to release your tax returns, would you do that?

I don’t know. That’s a very interesting question. I doubt it. I doubt it. Because they’re not going to…nobody cares about my tax return except for the reporters. Oh, at some point I’ll release them. Maybe I’ll release them after I’m finished because I’m very proud of them actually. I did a good job.

Hope Hicks [White House director of strategic communication]: Once the audit is over.

President Trump: I might release them after I’m out of office.


President Trump: By the way, so as you know I’m under routine audit, so they’re not going to be done. But you know, at a certain point, that’s something I will consider. But I would never consider it as part of a deal.

Right, got that.

I would never do it. That would be…I think that would be unfair to the deal. It would be disrespectful of the importance of this deal. Because the only people that find that important are the reporters.

Well, the Democrats say it’s important.

Well, don’t forget I got elected without it. Somebody said, “Oh but you have to do it,” I said, “Look where I am”. I was, you know, I was out front, I was asked that question, every debate, I said, you know, I’m under routine audit.

Mr Mnuchin: And the president’s financial disclosure has been longer than any…

President Trump: Plus my financial disclosure is 104 pages.

Ms Hicks: I think when people say that that makes it about the president and the politics versus the people, which is what we’re focused on.

President Trump: Right.

The Economist, “Transcript: Interview with Donald Trump“, 11 May 2017.

Read the full transcript at the link above, on trade, immigration and tax reform, and weep. The conversation took place on May 4th, 2017.


Hugh Thomas, R.I.P.

May 13th, 2017

British historian Hugh Thomas died May 6th, aged 85.

The best of Thomas’s many books — which ranged from The Suez Affair (1967), An Unfinished History of the World (1979) and The Conquest of Mexico (1993) to three novels — treated ideologically controversial subjects with impartiality in a sparkling style. The Spanish Civil War, published in 1961, was the first objective general study of the subject. A clandestine bestseller in Franco’s Spain, it became a colossal success after the general’s death, and helped unite Spaniards around a single historical account. It thereby made an important contribution to “reconciliation”, as Madrid acknowledged this week.

His 1,710 page Cuba: Or The Pursuit of Freedom (1998), with its wonderfully ambiguous sub-title, is equally indispensable. It locates the origin of Cuba’s turbulent modern history where it belongs: in 1762, with the English capture of Havana.

John Paul Rathbone, “Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, historian and Hispanist, 1931-2017“, Financial Times, 13 May 2017 (metered paywall).

Thomas was a member of the Labour Party until 1974, and sat as a Conservative in the House of Lords, before joining the Liberal Democrats in 1998. He is best known in the UK for his friendship with Margaret Thatcher.

Trump’s tax returns

May 13th, 2017

[W]hatever Donald Trump is hiding in his tax returns must be really explosive. Otherwise, why won’t he release them? ….

And yet he won’t. Why on Earth not? It makes no sense, zero, unless:

A. The man is a total fool; or

B. The actual returns contain information so damaging that he dare not release them under any circumstance.

And whatever else Donald Trump may be, I do not think he is a total fool.

Brett Arends, “What Trump is hiding in his tax returns must be explosive“, Market Watch, 13 May 2017.


With questions over Russia ties dominating the headlines again, the White House released a letter from the president’s lawyers, which said that their review of 10 years’ worth of Mr Trump’s tax returns showed no income from Russian sources, “with a few exceptions”.

Barney Jopson, Sam Fleming and Katrina Manson, “Defiant Trump courts Russia as calls for independent probe grow“, Financial Times, 13 May 2017 (metered paywall).

boardroom capitalism in Trump’s White House

May 12th, 2017

A leader in this week’s Economist magazine describes Donald Trump’s economic policies as “boardroom capitalism”, an approach “born of a mindset where deals have winners and losers and where canny negotiators confound abstract principles”. Read the rest of this entry »

the next Watergate?

May 11th, 2017

Elaine Kamarck, a political scientist at Brookings, has posted an interesting blog on the possible fallout from Trump’s sudden firing of the Director of the FBI. Read the rest of this entry »

elder poverty in Myanmar (Burma)

May 9th, 2017

Buddhist teachings have traditionally emphasised respect towards the elderly, and on the surface it seems like family structures are still strong, with 86 per cent of elderly folks reportedly living with family.

But cases of abuse and abandonment are on the rise, so much so that a law was enacted in December 2016 to address the issue. The law sets out to protect the rights, health and economic well-being of the elderly.

Daw Khin Ma Ma is one of the lawyers who worked on drafting the law, and she also runs a nursing home for the elderly who have been abused or abandoned. ….

[She said] “Poverty is at the centre of all this … if an elderly person suffers a stroke, they become a burden. The family still needs to make their living every day, children have to go to school. Who will take care of them?”

Some mentally-ill folks are simply driven somewhere and abandoned by the side of the road, unable to tell rescuers where they live.

Other times, seniors are found literally thrown into a rubbish pile, beaten and left for dead. “There have been so many terrible cases that strip off human dignity,” Daw Khin said. ….

Financially and administratively, the government is limited. Just last year, the Ministry of Social Welfare proposed a universal pension of 25,000 kyats (S$25) for citizens over 65, but had to cut back on its plans because of insufficient budget.

Eventually, it compromised on a monthly pension payout of 18,000 kyats (US$13) for seniors over 90 years of age. The average life expectancy in Myanmar is 67 years.

Lam Shushan and Ray Yeh, “Poverty forces families in Myanmar to ditch their elderly“, Channel NewsAsia, 21 April 2017.

HelpAge International, a London-based charity, is working in Myanmar to lower the age of eligibility for the universal pension. An earlier proposal was to set the age of eligibility at 100 years! HelpAge is active also in other aspects of the lives of older persons.

Through a programme called the Older People’s Self Help Group, HelpAge trains seniors to form a network of support for each other, which encourages them to keep active both economically and socially.

Widow Daw Hla Than, 75, makes a dollar or two for a massage that lasts as long her clients desire. (Photos and video: Lam Shushan and Ray Yeh)

Watch also the 5-minute video “Daw Hla’s story

after the French election

May 8th, 2017

Emmanuel Macron was victorious in the French presidential election, but now he must govern. This will not be easy.  As FT columnist Gideon Rachman warns, “The chances of failure are quite high.”

If Mr Macron succeeds, the forces of nationalism and political extremism — represented in France by his defeated opponent, Marine Le Pen — will suffer a setback around the world. But if he fails, populism, nationalism and protectionism will soon be resurgent.

For while Mr Macron can savour a crushing victory over Ms Le Pen, he also knows that 35 per cent of French voters have just voted for a far-right candidate. The cumulative vote for extremists of the far left and the far right in the first round of the presidential election was closer to 50 per cent. That means that almost half of French voters want to smash “the system”.

Gideon Rachman, “Why Emmanuel Macron matters to the whole world“, Financial Times, 8 May 2017 (gated paywall).