HOMES are the primary form of wealth for most Americans. Since the housing bubble burst in 2006, the wealth of American homeowners has fallen by some $9 trillion, or nearly 40 percent. In the 12 months ending in June, house values fell by more than $1 trillion, or 8 percent. That sharp fall in wealth means less consumer spending, leading to less business production and fewer jobs.

But for political reasons, both the Obama administration and Republican leaders in Congress have resisted the only real solution: permanently reducing the mortgage debt hanging over America. The resistance is understandable. Voters don’t want their tax dollars used to help some homeowners who could afford to pay their mortgages but choose not to because they can default instead, and simply walk away. And voters don’t want to provide any more help to the banks that made loans that have gone sour.

But failure to act means that further declines in home prices will continue, preventing the rise in consumer spending needed for recovery. As costly as it will be to permanently write down mortgages, it will be even costlier to do nothing and run the risk of another recession.


October 13, 2011  

The latest victim of climate change could well be something we all take for granted. It is delicious, ubiquitous, and most people cannot think of dessert without it. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) recently released a report that states that chocolate will soon become a luxury item that a few can afford.

Various reports in the past have been leading up to this same fact. Unsustainable cultivation and labor practices in West Africa (where most cocoa is grown) are often cited as reasons for decline in chocolate production.


October 11, 2011  

Urbanized Film Trailer (by swissdots)

October 10, 2011  

A new survey from IBM has confirmed what city managers, travelers and commuters already know from everyday experience: finding a parking space in a big city can be a frustrating and sometimes futile chore. And the problem isn’t confined to the U.S. — it’s an issue around the world.

More than half of drivers among 8,000 commuters in 20 cities worldwide said during the past year they gave up at least once when looking for a parking space, and one-fourth of them admitted they had argued with someone about a parking spot. New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago each were represented by 400 commuters in the survey.

This fresh data could validate the need for investment in “smart parking” infrastructure and the projects that are already under way in several big U.S. cities.

The survey found that more than 30 percent of a city’s traffic is caused by drivers searching for a parking spot. This inefficiency leads to more carbon emissions discharged by vehicles (a pollution and climate issue), and can cost businesses and city services money (an economic issue).

In New York City alone, 29 percent of commuters said they spend 20 minutes on average looking for a parking spot and 10 percent spend more than 40 minutes, according to the survey.


October 5, 2011  

“I would trade the mortgage interest deduction for a top tax rate of 25 percent,” said David G. Kittle of Investors Mortgage Asset Recovery Co. at the ULI Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing’s Policy Symposium. Panelists agreed on one result of the housing crisis: reduced public confidence in homeownership as a vehicle for building wealth.


October 4, 2011  

iW Exclusive: “Being Elmo” Trailer (by indieWIRE)


Red, White & Blueprints: Documentary Teaser Trailer (by savingcities)

October 2, 2011  

TEDxCopenhagen - Mikael Colville-Andersen - Why We Shouldn’t Bike with a Helmet (by TEDxTalks)

September 28, 2011  

A police official stepped up to Occupy Wall Street protesters in a corral, unleashed pepper spray, and just walked off.



Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our decisions? (by TEDtalksDirector)

September 26, 2011  

When it comes to achievement, does it matter if a student and a teacher are the same race? And if so, how much? That’s the essential question posed by a trio of economists in a new working paper, the first to test whether minority instructors have a positive effect on the academic achievement of minority students at the college level.

Their results indicate an emphatic yes, and may hold a partial solution (although a tricky one to enact) to one of the most persistent and vexing problems facing the U.S. education system: the achievement gap between non-minority and minority students. Less than than one-fifth of African-Americans, and less than one-eighth of Latinos between 25 and 29 years-old have a college degree. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 9.6% of full-time instructional faculty at U.S. colleges are black, Latino or Native American. And yet, these groups make up a third of the college-age population.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper uses detailed administrative data from one of the largest community colleges in the United States to quantify the extent to which academic performance depends on students being of similar race or ethnicity to their instructors. To address the concern of endogenous sorting, we use both student and classroom fixed effects and focus on those with limited course enrollment options. We also compare sensitivity in the results from using within versus across section instructor type variation. Given the computational complexity of the 2-way fixed effects model with a large set of fixed effects we rely on numerical algorithms that exploit the particular structure of the model’s normal equations. We find that the performance gap in terms of class dropout and pass rates between white and minority students falls by roughly half when taught by a minority instructor. In models that allow for a full set of ethnic and racial interactions between students and instructors, we find African-American students perform particularly better when taught by African-American instructors.

From a sample of 30,000 students in nearly 21,000 classes, the authors find that the minority achievement gap shrinks in classes taken with underrepresented minority instructors. While minority students are overall more likely to drop a course, less likely to pass a course, and less likely to have a grade of at least a B, these gaps decrease by 2.9 percentage points, 2.8 percentage points, and 3.2  percentage points respectively when assigned to an instructor of similar minority type.

These effects represent roughly  half of the total gaps in classroom outcomes between white and underrepresented minority students. The benefits are largest among black students being taught by black instructors. The class dropout rate relative to whites is 6 percentage points lower for black students when taught by a black  instructor.

So, in theory, according to these results, we could wipe out a sizeable portion of the minority student achievement gap by hiring more minority instructors. Easier said than done of course. And, as the authors point out, any policy with that explicit aim would likely have negative consequences, since students appear to react positively when matched to instructors of a similar race, but negatively when not.


TEDx1000Lakes - Chuck Marohn - The important difference between a road and a street (by TEDxTalks)


Barack Obama turns out to be just another drug warrior.

It is not hard to see how critics of the war on drugs got the impression that Barack Obama was sympathetic to their cause. Throughout his public life as an author, law professor, and politician, Obama has said and done things that suggested he was not a run-of-the-mill drug warrior. In his 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father, the future president talked candidly about his own youthful drug use, in sharp contrast with the Democrat who then occupied the White House and the Republican who succeeded him. As an Illinois state senator in 2001, he criticized excessively harsh drug sentences and sponsored a bill that allowed nonviolent, low-level offenders to enter court-supervised treatment instead of going to jail, saying “we can’t continue to incarcerate ourselves out of the drug crisis.”


September 19, 2011  

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