Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Deflation Death Spiral

As Paul Krugman has warned us so many times, we are now entering a liquidity trap and an economist's greatest fear is being realized, the Christian Science Monitor points out. As home prices continue to decline, potential buyers put off purchases because they believe that by waiting they will get an even better deal. Home sales and the ancillary business activity that goes along with them, real estate, construction, furniture sales, landscaping all go into decline. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune weighs in on the local situation. We saw the boom. Now we're seeing the inevitable painful bust that follows. Just as government entities have no power to repeal the laws of physics, the feds cannot arbitrarily repeal those of economics. Misguided federal policies have created ongoing crises in major segments of the American economy, not only in housing and home ownership, but also in health care, finance and banking, and employment. How bad do things have to get before the citizens realize that crony capitalism and rent seeking are the problems, not free markets?

National Sports Center Velodrome

Season number 21 is underway at the National Sports Center Velodrome in Blaine, MN. Here's a short clip from season 20:

Met Mile

For horse players, Memorial Day means the Metropolitan Handicap or "Met Mile" at Belmont Park, the first race in New York's "Handicap Triple Crown" that also includes the Brooklyn Handicap and the Suburban Handicap. Only four horses in history have won all three races in one given year, the last being Fit to Fight in 1984. Unlike all but a few US tracks, Belmont's "Big Sandy" is configured for a one-turn mile, which makes it more of a dash than a route. This year's 118th edition of the race was made up of a competitive field of eleven older horses.

Initially, Nick Zito trainee Morning Line, winner of the Grade I Carter Handicap in April at Aqueduct was projected to be the favorite for the Met Mile but he developed a tenderness in one foot and his nomination was withdrawn. His absence made the race even more competitive. Only two of the entrants had failed to have a graded stakes victory on their resume'. Luke warm post-time 3-1 favorite Tizway, who had won the G-2 Kelso at Aqueduct in October, drew the outside 11 spot in the gate next to Florida-based Tackleberry, a 4-year-old carrying co-highweight of 120 lbs. and running with Lasix for the first time in his fourteenth race. Dogwood Stable's Aikenite, winner of the seven furlong Commonwealth at Keeneland and the Churchill Downs Handicap at the same distance in his two previous starts, was also to carry 120 lbs. from the fourth stall in the gate. Steve Asmussen's millionaire 5 year-old Haynesfield, winner of Belmont's Jockey Club Gold Cup in October was second in bettor preference in the eighth spot.

Soaring Empire, Stormy's Majesty, Rodman, Caixa Eletronica, Yawanna Twist, Ibboyee, and Kensei, all seasoned vets, made up the rest of the field.

When the gates opened it was no surprise to see the speedy Tackleberry scamper to the lead from the outside, closely tracked by the adjacent Tizway and rider Rajiv Maragh. These two set the pace through decent fractions of 23.17 for the first quarter mile, 45.57 for the half and a blistering 1:08.66 for the six furlongs. That was enough for Tackleberry, who rapidly faded, finishing 9th. Tizway kept driving for the wire, covering the mile in 1:32.90, a fraction off the track record and extending his lead over the field, with the exception of 36-1 longshot Rodman, who closed impressively to take second and make the trifecta a $2400 bonanza. Caixa Eletronica settled for third and Aikenite managed to salvage fouth.

Tizway is the product of a mating between two-time Breeder's Cup Classic winner and increasingly influential sire Tiznow and the Dayjur mare Bethany and was purchased at the 2006 Keeneland Sept. sale for $140,000. His Met Mile victory brings his lifetime total earnings to $909,274 and gives him an automatic berth in the Breeder's Cup Mile at Churchill Downs later this year plus $10,000 in expense money for the trip.

It's often said that the most difficult thing in the world to do is pick the horse that will finish SECOND in a race. Here is an example of that:

This ticket shows a little more prescience:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Denmark Strikes a Blow for Food Freedom

Marmite made illegal in Denmark
According to the marketing slogan it is a taste that you either love or hate. But Danes will no longer get the chance to make up their own minds on Marmite after the British delicacy was banned under food safety laws. The strongly flavoured dark brown spread made from brewer's yeast has joined Rice Crispies, Shreddies, Horlicks and Ovaltine prohibited in Denmark under legislation forbidding the sale of food products with added vitamins as threat to public health.
Many well known breakfast cereal and drink brands have already been banned or taken off supermarket shelves after Danish legislation in 2004 restricted foods fortified with extra vitamins or minerals.
But Marmite had escaped notice as an exotic import for a small number of ex-pats until the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration telephoned Abigail's, a Copenhagen shop selling British food, to ban the famous yeast spread.
"I don't eat it myself, I don't like it but Marmite was one of our best selling products. Not a day goes by without someone coming in and asking for it," said Marianne ├śrum, the shop owner.
"All the English people here are shaking their heads in disbelief and say that it is insane. I agree but it is the law. It's becoming impossible to run a business in this country. We are not allowed to do anything anymore. It is the way Denmark is going."
The shop has now started a "Bring back Marmite" campaign to overturn a ban that is seen as discriminating against Britons living and working Denmark.
Lyndsay Jensen, a Yorkshire born graphic designer working in Copenhagen, told the British ex-pat RedHerring.dk website, that Britons would carry on spreading Marmite on their toast, even if it meant smuggling it in to Denmark.
"They don't like it because it's foreign," she said. "But if they want to take my Marmite off me they'll have to wrench it from my cold dead hands."
The sale of any foodstuff with the "addition of vitamins, minerals and other substances" must be first approved by the Danish authorities after a health scare over their effect on children or pregnant women when combined with other foods with high vitamin levels.
A spokesman for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration said: "I cannot comment on the Marmite case because our expert is away until Thursday."

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Plot Thickens

The man shot and killed by Pima County SWAT officers was linked to a home-invasion crew, the attorney representing the officers said Thursday.
Attorney Michael Storie said authorities found rifles, handguns, body armor and a portion of a law-enforcement uniform inside the house where Jose Guerena was shot by officers serving a search warrant May 5.
"Everything they think they're going to find in there they find," Storie said in a news conference called a day after the Sheriff's Department complained that media reports on the incident spread misinformation and encouraged speculation about events surrounding the shooting. The Sheriff's Department said Wednesday that it would provide no details about the case to the public until the investigation is complete.
The search warrant and court documents showing what deputies were looking for and seized from Guerena's home have been sealed by a judge and are unavailable to the public.
Christopher Scileppi, who is representing the Guerena family, said nothing seized from Guerena's home was illegal and that Storie's statements were unsupported by facts and meant to discredit Guerena's character. Scileppi did not comment on the details of the case.
On Thursday afternoon, the Sheriff's Department declined to comment on what the attorneys said.
All statements made by Storie on Thursday morning came from the five SWAT officers he is representing, he said.
The five officers had "no choice but to shoot" when they breached the front door of the house in the 7100 block of South Redwater Drive and saw Guerena holding a rifle, Storie said. The home is on the southwest side, near South Wade and West Los Reales roads.
The house was targeted as part of an investigation into home invasions and drug rip-offs. The Guerena house was among homes that "were identified as locations where these activities were being carried out from."
No arrests have been made from any of the other homes where SWAT served search warrants, Storie said.
According to the SWAT members' statements, all law enforcement vehicles approaching Guerena's home had lights and sirens on and parked in the driveway, Storie said.
Guerena's wife, Vanessa, who was inside the house with their 4-year-old son, has said she did not see or hear lights and sirens and that Guerena thought they were being targeted for a home invasion, which is why her husband grabbed his AR-15 rifle and told her and their son to hide in a closet.
The raid took place about 9:30 a.m., and Guerena, 26, was asleep after working the graveyard shift at Asarco Mission Mine, Guerena's wife said.
Storie said that once the SWAT team parked outside the home, the lights and sirens were turned off. An officer banged on the door for about 45 seconds while identifying the team as police, he said.
After that, five SWAT members broke in the front door and saw Guerena holding a rifle at the end of a long hallway.
One officer began shooting after Guerena placed the rifle in front of him and said: "I've got something for you; I've got something for you guys," Storie said.
The other officers at the front door of the house also fired, striking Guerena.
All five SWAT members were shooting from just outside the home and never entered the house, Storie said.
After Guerena's wife and son came out of the house, officers sent in a robot, and that's when they saw Guerena had been shot and was unresponsive.
When asked why SWAT members did not rush in to render medical aid to Guerena, Storie said officers on scene "have to assume that there are other people with guns and that there are other people with body armor inside the residence."
He said officers could not conclude Guerena was incapacitated because he fell into a room after he was shot and officers could not see him from the doorway.
Based on a photograph of a large bloodstain inside the home, Scileppi said, Guerena fell down in clear view of the front door and officers could see him.
The SWAT officers fired 71 shots, striking Guerena 60 times.
The search warrant was not directed at any particular person, and Guerena's name was not mentioned, but it was targeting whoever might be inside the residence, Storie said.
If SWAT members had been let into the home, those inside "probably ... wouldn't have been arrested," Storie said.
While the SWAT team was at Guerena's home, another SWAT team was serving a search warrant in a nearby home as part of the same investigation, and Storie said a man showed up during the search and said, "You shot my relative."
Storie believes somebody called from inside Guerena's home and alerted family members to the shooting.
Scileppi said he would not comment on those allegations until he "has all the facts."
A portrait of Jesus Malverde, believed to be a "narco saint," was found under Guerena's bed, Storie said. He did not know if drugs were found in the home. Guerena's wife denies having them in her home.
According to Storie, several days before the shooting undercover officers in an unmarked car drove by Guerena's home to do surveillance, and 10 minutes after they drove by, they were alerted that their license plate had been run through the Motor Vehicle Division by someone they say followed the unmarked vehicle from Guerena's home. That was considered countersurveillance on law enforcement, Storie said.
Under the Federal Privacy Act, the MVD in Arizona cannot release information on a license plate to anyone other than to law enforcement.
Scileppi said it took two weeks for "the fourth version of the story" and these details to emerge because "they needed to put a story out that is going to protect them."
"Bottom line is they've had two weeks to construct a story, circle the wagons," Scileppi said.
Scileppi asked Storie and the Sheriff's Department to release more information about the incident. "The family wants to know the truth," he said.
Scileppi has partnered with Patrick Broom for this case. The five officers Storie is representing are from the Sahuarita, Marana and Oro Valley police departments, and two from the Sheriff's Department. The sheriff's SWAT team is made up of officers from different agencies

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SWAT Team Fires 71 Shots

The Arizona Daily Star describes an unpleasant event in Tucson:

The Pima County Regional SWAT team fired 71 shots in seven seconds at a Tucson man they say pointed a gun at officers serving a search warrant at his home.
Jose Guerena, 26, a former Marine who served in Iraq twice, was holding an AR-15 rifle when he was killed, but he never fired a shot, the Sheriff's Department said Monday after initially saying he had fired on officers during last week's raid.
Six days after Guerena was shot, few details about the investigation that brought the SWAT team to the southwest-side home Guerena shared with his wife and their two young sons are known. Guerena's role in the narcotics investigation is unclear and deputies would not comment on what was seized from his home.
Three other homes within a quarter of a mile from Guerena's house, were served search warrants related to the investigation that morning. The addresses and the names of people who live in the other homes have not been made public.
Vanessa Guerena says she heard noise outside their home about 9 a.m. Thursday and woke her husband who had just gone to bed after working a 12-hour shift at the Asarco Mine, she said. There were no sirens or shouts of "police," she said.
Guerena told his wife and son to hide inside a closet and he grabbed the AR-15 rifle, his wife said.
The department says SWAT members were clear when identifying themselves while entering the home.
"Tucson is notorious for home invasions and we didn't want to look like that," said Lt. Michael O'Connor of the Pima County Sheriff's Department. "We went lights and sirens and we absolutely did not do a 'no-knock' warrant."
When five SWAT members broke through the front door Guerena was crouched down pointing the gun at them, said O'Connor.
"The suspect said, 'I've got something for you,' when he saw them," O'Connor said. Guerena's wife denied he said that.
Deputies began shooting.
A deputy's bullet struck the side of the doorway, causing chips of wood to fall on his shield. That prompted some members of the team to think the deputy had been shot, O'Connor said.
The Sheriff's Department put in a call to Drexel Heights fire at 9:43 a.m. requesting assistance with a shooting. But crews were told to hold off.
Guerena was dead by the time they were allowed in the house, fire officials said.
Vanessa Guerena vividly remembers seeing her wounded husband.
"When I came out the officers dragged me through the kitchen and took me outside, and that's when I saw him laying there gasping for air," Vanessa Guerena said. "I kept begging the officers to call an ambulance that maybe he could make it and that my baby was still inside."
The little boy soon after walked out of the closet on his own. SWAT members took him outside to be with his mother.
"I never imagined I would lose him like that, he was badly injured but I never thought he could be killed by police after he served his country," Vanessa Guerena said.
The family's 5-year-old son was at school that morning and deputies say they thought Guerena's wife and his other child would also be gone when they entered the home.
Guerena says there were no drugs in their house.
Deputies said they seized a "large sum of money from another house" that morning. But they refused to say from which of the homes searched that morning they found narcotics, drug ledgers or drug paraphernalia. Court documents showing what was being sought and was found have not been made public. A computer check on Guerena revealed a couple of traffic tickets and no criminal history.
Guerena was a Tucson native and Flowing Wells High School graduate. He joined the U.S. Marines in 2002. He served two tours in Iraq in 2003 and 2005 as part of the Yuma-based MWSS-173 under direct supervision of Master Sgt. Leo Verdugo.
Verdugo was with Guerena's family Tuesday afternoon. He gave them a Marine Corps jacket and gloves to use at Guerena's burial.
"He was an excellent Marine, with a bright future ahead of him," Verdugo said.
"We had just bought a home and he was working graveyard shifts and overtime just to help pay the bills, we were just starting to make this house our home," Vanessa Guerena said.
"I know I can't have him back but I want justice. I want explanations for what happened," she said.

What does this all mean? Assuming that Guerena was indeed the object of the SWAT team operation, was this the best possible method of effecting his arrest? Even the most cursory investigation would have revealed that he was working at Asarco. Wouldn't it have been easier and safer to simply have stopped his car during his commute? Or arrest him as he left the mine? There's no difference now between the tactics of American law enforcement and that of the Gestapo or the NKVD. The police can arrive at any hour, for unknown reasons, without a warrant, murder someone in his own house, and keep the details of the event secret. This is terror by any definition.

Law enforcement personnel have managed to elevate themselves to a value far above the population that they are meant to protect. Their bodies are inviolate. An on-duty death requires national mourning. Buildings are named after them. Yet, should they kill an innocent citizen, do they then annually place flowers on the grave? Are memorial funds established by the police to educate their children? Of course not.

On May 19, the Arizona Daily Star adds this:

Unanswered SWAT raid questions demand answers - from Dupnik

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik answered almost nothing Wednesday in his "comment" on the SWAT-team shooting death of Jose Guerena.
To start with, Dupnik didn't actually step forward to explain anything about the shooting of Guerena, who was inside his home when officers arrived to serve a search warrant in a drug investigation.
Instead, Dupnik had a public information officer issue a press release that offered little insight.
It starts this way: "As a result of the need for information surrounding the shooting of Jose Guerena by members of the Pima Regional SWAT Team, the public has received misinformation and emotionally charged speculation."
And who gave the public that bad information? That would be Dupnik's department. At least be accountable enough to write a clear sentence that says the Sheriff's Department is to blame for the wrong information that now has citizens - in blogs, online comment boards and letters to the editor - engaging in "emotionally charged speculation." Not to mention asking legitimate questions.
We asked several yesterday in this space, and today we have more.
• The department originally said Guerena, a former Marine, fired on SWAT officers when they went to his house on May 5. It subsequently said he pointed an AR-15 rifle at them but had the safety on. SWAT team members fired 71 times and hit him 60.
How did the sheriff get that wrong?
• Why refuse to say what, if anything, drug-related was found in his house? If Guerena did deal drugs, his fellow criminals know the authorities might be on their trail. So what about this investigation is being protected by refusing to say what might have been found?
• Authorities said they expected Guerena to be home alone when they served the search warrant. Did they also know that he'd been a Marine and therefore was skilled in the use of a firearm and might well have one in his home?
Did they know that he had a job at the Asarco mine? If so, wouldn't it have been safer to serve the search warrant when they knew he would be at work? As it turned out, his wife said he was sleeping after working the graveyard shift when the SWAT team arrived at about 9:30 a.m.
• A sheriff's spokesman said earlier, before the department clammed up, that they expected Guerena's wife to be off to school with their two children. As it turned out, she and a 4-year-old son were home. Were authorities conducting surveillance on the house in the hours before the raid so they would know for certain who had come and gone that morning? It's fortunate that Mrs. Guerena and her child weren't also shot.
• Most of all, why hasn't the Sheriff's Department said that an outside law-enforcement agency will review its conduct?
Instead, Wednesday's press release said that the criminal investigation and one by the County Attorney's Office will precede "any administrative review of the actions of the officers involved in the shooting. By mutual agreement, that administrative review will include officials from the Pima County Sheriff's Department, the Marana Police Department, the Oro Valley Police Department and the Sahuarita Police Department. Each of these agencies had officers involved in the shooting as members of the Pima Regional SWAT Team."
Those agencies can review all they want, but there must be one done by an agency that wasn't involved.
We understand that SWAT team members risk their lives to go after dangerous bad guys. Perhaps Jose Guerena was one of them. If so, the Sheriff's Department should lay out its allegations. What we know now is that the 26-year-old former Marine, who served two tours in Iraq, had no criminal record.
We also know that police have tremendous power - even to enter a private home. Because law-enforcement has that awesome authority, citizens have the right to question its decision-making and actions.
Finally, we point out that Dupnik's refusal to answer questions himself in this case stands in stark contrast to his behavior after the Jan. 8 Tucson shootings. Step out, Mr. Dupnik, and explain what happened and why.
Arizona Daily Star