Monday, December 31, 2012

Mademoiselles regret

Along with tout le monde, that France abandoned the Franc for the Euro;
A la question "onze ans après l'introduction de l'euro, regrettez-vous le franc ?", quelque 62% des personnes interrogées répondent par l'affirmative avec un taux de 70% chez les femmes contre 54% chez les hommes.
Roughly; a recent poll shows that 70% of French women and 54% of men wish they were still paying with francs.  Later in the article, it says that 77% of employees regret the switch made 11 years ago to the Euro (contrary to only 41% of dastardly French management).

Ring out the old

In the NFL the next order of business is season ticket sales for 2013, and holding losing hands isn't tolerated.  Thus seven head coaches and five GMs are out of work in Monday's massacre, some of them having led their teams to success recently.  Count among them Chicago's Lovie Smith, Philly's Andy Reid, and Arizona's Ken Whisenhutt, each of whom took teams to the Super Bowl in the last decade.

And, the networks have a new batch of potential broadcasters available for next season.  All of whom will be paid the big bucks (as will the replacement coaches and GMs), because of the lack of security of employment.  The world will continue to spin on its axis.

Sueño imposible

Politicians the world over tremble as Spain's parliament reacts to public employees going on strike;
The Madrid assembly on Thursday approved the Fiscal and Administrative Measures Law, which paves the way for the privatization of healthcare in the region. 
Which didn't sit well with the minority;
Socialist deputy Antonio Carmona called for the resignation of health chief Javier Fernández-Lasquetty. “Privatizing healthcare isn’t efficiency; its business. [...] This isn’t a law, it is a scandal.”
Drawing an appropriate response;
Regional premier Ignacio González has faced a raft of protests and continued strikes over the privatization plan, but on Thursday accused public employees of “abusing” the right to strike. González said stoppages had cost the region 1.74 billion euros in 2012.
“If they wanted to, doctors could operate today on the patients that have their procedures postponed. Why do surgeons not operate?” he asked. “Because they don’t want to. So many strikes are cause for reflection on the part of citizens.”
Muy buena idea.

Jihadist, spare that tree!

Another unintended consequence of the Obama foreign policy;
The once-lush Cairo suburb of Heliopolis is noticeably less green than it was two years ago, before the Egyptian revolution. Our Observer tells us that both local authorities and residents have been cutting down trees haphazardly, and that due to a leadership void that has persisted since the revolution, there is nobody to turn to for help.
One Egyptian blogger writes;
These days, when you call the police to report a thief, they don’t care; they have bigger problems. [Crime surged in Egypt after the revolution]. So if you call them about someone cutting down a tree, they’ll just laugh at you. I called the environment ministry when I saw the local authorities cutting down perfectly healthy trees, but the ministry told me the trees were the property of the local government, so they couldn’t do anything. What we need, of course, are stronger environmental laws, but since Egypt is currently without a parliament, that seems to be a far-off dream. [Egypt currently lacks a law-making lower house of parliament; elections are to be held within two months].

Every day, we are losing more trees. People are busy with many problems here in Egypt: our struggling economy, our bitter politics. Nobody cares much about the environment right now. But if this continues, we’ll soon be living in an urban desert. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

N'est pas juste

A funny race, indeed when a socialist government can't catch a break from the judiciary;

France’s highest legal body, the Constitutional Council, announced on Saturday it was overturning the Socialist government’s flagship 75 percent income tax rate for high earners, marking an embarassing setback for President François Hollande.
Le problème étant;
The Constitutional Council announced it was overturning the 75 percent bracket on income over 1 million euros ($1.32million) because it was “excessive” and represented a “breach of equality of taxes.” 
Oui, vivre l'égalité!

Better than a pretend logician

David Zurawik's hissy fit over Chelsea Clinton's broadcasting career shows he isn't ready for prime time either;

In the Warren piece, for example, the pastor said he had a goal of losing 90 pounds and had already dropped 50.
“So, you’re over the 50 yard line,” she said.
No, that would only be like crossing the 50 yard line if a football field was 90 yards instead of 100 yards long. The fact that NBC left her response in suggests how bad the rest of her on-camera verbal interaction with Warren must have been. Or, maybe the producers have simply given up on making her look like she is in any way worthy of a network correspondent’s job.
We-thinks Zurawik's editors aren't exactly doing him any favors by leaving that silly criticism in.  As, 'over the 50 yard line,' is colloquially acceptable as, 'more than halfway there'.  Which 50 certainly is to a goal of 90.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Matt Taibbi; Pot, Kettle, Black Award Winner

The Rolling Stone correspondent thinks it's a big deal that former Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozillo said, in a legal proceeding, that he didn't know what 'verified income' meant.

Deposed in the landmark lawsuit between the monoline insurer MBIA and Countrywide/Bank of America, Mozilo professed not to know the difference between "verified" income and "stated" income. He also made some incredible remarks regarding his notorious "Friends of Angelo" lending program, in which, among others, political figures like North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd received Countrywide mortgages on highly advantageous terms just because they were tight with the CEO.
As chief of Countrywide, Mozilo headed the single most corrupt subprime mortgage lender in America during the period preceding the crisis. Charged with mass fraud and headed for trial in October of 2010, Mozilo and the SEC ultimately settled four days before opening arguments were set to begin in Los Angeles. Ultimately, Mozilo got away with no jail time, paying a $67.5 million settlement....
If we're going to mention Friends of Angelo, we'd think that they ought to include the ones most well positioned to really take advantage of that friendship; former HUD Secretaries, Henry Cisneros (speaking of someone who plead guilty to crimes, but avoided a prison sentence) and the current Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.

It was Cisneros who pressured Mozillo (and other Mortgage Bankers' Assn members) into lowering Countrywide's lending standards in the first place, all the way back in the early 1990s.  He did it by threatening to have the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 amended to include the lenders such as Countrywide, unless they voluntarily signed up for his Best Practices Initiative (the CRA in all but name).  At the time, Democrats controlled the Presidency and both houses of congress.

Which is an all too typical political tactic known as 'their hearts and minds will follow if you have them by the...'.  Cisneros resigned from HUD in 1997, and (surprise, surprise) went into the real estate business.  He formed a development company and partnered with KB Homes.  In 2001 he became a board member of...Countrywide Financial!

According to SEC records, Cisneros earned well over $5 million at Countrywide alone, before he resigned in 2007 after that company announced a loss of over $1 billion.  Largely due to policies forced upon Countrywide in the prior decade by HUD Sec'y Cisneros, and his successor Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo had continued in the same fashion as Cisneros, using HUD to pressure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into buying loans originated by Countrywide. Also increasing the limit on FHA loans made to risky borrowers.  Without that pressure from Cisneros and Cuomo it is unlikely the housing bubble would have developed in the first place.

Cuomos ambitions lay in politics, rather than as Cisneros' in real estate; he also used HUD's travel budget to allow himself to constantly visit New York on publicity stunts during his HUD tenure.  That perfectly suited his long range plan to run for the governorship in that state.

Not that the shenanigans of these two excuse the following mischief by George W. Bush's HUD Sec'y, Alphonso Jackson, who also was a good Friend of Angelo.  Funny that Matt Taibbi couldn't find space to mention any of these names in his article.

Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.

So said Stalin, according to his secretary, Boris Bazhanov (in his memoir).  Things haven't changed in Russia, as they still sacrifice little children to their political aims there;

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans.
The law is a reaction to the US Magnitsky Act, which blacklists Russian officials accused of rights abuses.
The death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 became a symbol of the fight against corruption in Russia, and soured relations between Russia and the US.
Given the history of Russia over the last century, we are not surprised, but what to make of this;
The US state department says it "deeply regrets" the passing of the law.
'The State Department'?  It has an opinion of its own? 

Not to mention that, Mr. Magnitsky, according to the BBC story, seems to have been murdered in prison after being incarcerated on trumped up charges after he embarrassed Russian officials by exposing their corruption;

Magnitsky represented London-based Hermitage Capital Management (HCM). He uncovered what he described as a web of corruption involving Russian tax officials, including the alleged theft of more than $200m (£125m).
After reporting it to the authorities, he was himself detained on suspicion of aiding tax evasion, and died in custody on 16 November 2009 at the age of 37.
US-born fund manager Bill Browder, who runs Hermitage Capital, spearheaded efforts in the US to put pressure on Russia over the Magnitsky case. Mr Browder was a major investor in Russia before Magnitsky's arrest.
One death is a tragedy, but thousands of orphans denied families to love them is only a statistic, in Putin's Russia.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cuba Libre

The Castros finally get el mensaje;

Cuba's drive to slash state payrolls and spur private-sector growth picked up surprising steam in 2012 as President Raul Castro moved ahead with reforms to the Soviet-style economy, according to figures unveiled recently with little hoopla.
The number of private or "non state" workers rose 23 percent in 2012, while state sector employment dropped 5.7 percent....
Just a few years ago, the state employed more than 85 percent of Cuba's labor force, but that is changing as the government battles heavy indebtedness, economic stagnation, poor retail services and pilfering.
Can Barack Obama be far behind?

Downtown, everything is waiting for you

And the lights are bright...thanks to Jeff Bezos, as even his lamest critics admit (i.e., The Seattle Times);

Amazon's breathtaking growth — it has moved into about 2.7 million square feet in South Lake Union and the Denny Triangle since spring 2010 — has spearheaded the downtown office market's recovery from record-high vacancy rates brought on by the recession and Washington Mutual's demise.
Richard Briscoe, a senior vice president at brokerage Kidder Mathews, calculates Amazon is responsible for about half the additional office space occupied citywide over the past three years.
The company's contrarian decision to locate downtown could spur more tech and Internet companies to move in from the suburbs, Downtown Seattle Association President Kate Joncas says.
Amazon's influence also extends beyond the office sector. Owners and developers of apartment buildings, condo towers, hotels and retail space are cashing in on the company's growth as well.
Not mentioned is that Bezos chose to start Amazon in Seattle because of the favorable tax laws in Washington state (no state income tax!). 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The answer, my friend, is not blowin' in the wind

So argues former Senator Phil Gramm, and we should stop wasting billions of dollars pretending it is;
Federal subsidies for new wind-power generation will end on Dec. 31 unless they are renewed by Congress. For the sake of our economy and the smooth operation of the energy market, Congress should let the subsidies lapse. They waste taxpayer money, subvert the allocation of capital, and generate a social cost many times the price tag of the subsides themselves.
Since 1992, the federal government has expended almost $24 billion to encourage investment in wind power through direct spending, tax breaks, R&D, loan guarantees and other federal support of electric power. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that a one-year extension of existing federal subsidies for wind power would cost taxpayers almost $12 billion.
As it is, wind power companies often have to pay utilities to take the power they produce.  The subsidies are so generous they can still make money;
The costs of wind subsidies are extraordinarily high—$52.48 per one million watt hours generated, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By contrast, the subsidies for generating the same amount of electricity from nuclear power are $3.10, from hydropower 84 cents, from coal 64 cents, and from natural gas 63 cents.
End the insanity  now!  We don't even have to huff and puff, just let the subsidies go over the cliff on New Year's Eve.

Economics for no dummies

 In God forsaken Eastern Montana they learn fast;
SIDNEY, Mont. — For most high-school seniors, a college degree is the surest path to a decent job and a stable future. But here in oil country, some are choosing the oil fields over universities, forgoing higher education for jobs with salaries that can start at $50,000 a year.
It is a lucrative but risky decision for any 18-year-old to make, one that could foreclose on their future if the frenzied pace of oil and gas drilling from here to North Dakota to Texas falters and work dries up. But with youth unemployment at 12 percent nationwide and college tuition soaring, students here on the snow-glazed plains of eastern Montana said they were ready to take their chances.
"I just figured, the oil field is here and I'd make the money while I could," said Tegan Sivertson, 19, who monitors pipelines for a gas company, sometimes working 15-hour days. "I didn't want to waste the money and go to school when I could make just as much."
 And, since they can take college level courses at a number of online sites, they can have the best of both worlds, if they so choose.  Which seems to be on the mind of at least one youngster;
Katorina Pippenger, a high-school senior in the tiny town of Bainville, Mont., said she makes $24 an hour as a cashier in nearby Williston, N.D., the epicenter of the boom. Her plan is to work for a few years after she graduates this spring, save up and flee. She likes the look of Denver. "I just want to make money and get out," she said.
Anyone who has ever spent time in Eastern Montana can appreciate the attitude.

La Tomatina

When it comes to food fights, this is one predicted over 235 years ago;
In every country it always is and must be the interest of the great body of the people to buy whatever they want of those who sell it cheapest. The proposition is so very manifest that it seems ridiculous to take any pains to prove it; nor could it ever have been called in question had not the interested sophistry of merchants and manufacturers confounded the common sense of mankind.
The interested sophistry in question comes via Florida, where some tomato growers have lots of reasons why Americans shouldn't have the right to buy the red stuff from those who will provide it at the lowest cost; 
Edward Beckman, president of Certified Greenhouse Farmers, a trade group for U.S. and Canadian growers, argues that conditions have changed.
The "current playing field is tilted completely against domestic interests, and we need to quickly address the unfair trade that exists," he said in a recent statement.

Reginald L. Brown, the president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, said the flood of Mexican tomatoes pushed the price so low last winter that the industry could not cover picking and packing costs.
"The U.S. industry has a right to defend itself," Brown said. 
To defend itself by quashing the right of 300 million Americans to buy tomatoes from whom they choose.  But, it turns out that there are some other commercial interests who aren't just sitting down and taking it;
Richard Fimbres, a member of the Tucson City Council ....wrote to President Obama last month, declaring that "we can't turn our back on the global economy now."
The reason is fresh Mexican tomatoes are big business in Arizona. Much of the $2 billion in business passes through the state, benefiting local importers and distributors.
But the benefits go beyond them. More than 370 businesses and trade groups — from small family-run importers on the Mexico border to Wal-Mart Stores — have written or signed letters to the Commerce Department in favor of continuing the deal.
Kevin Ahern, the chief executive of Ahern Agribusiness in San Diego, was among them. His company sells about $20 million a year in tomato seeds and transplants to Mexican farmers.
"Yes, Mexico produces their tomatoes on average at a lower cost than Florida; that's what we call competitive advantage," Ahern said in an email. Without the agreement to provide "stability to a volatile market, Mexican tomato acreage destined for U.S. markets will decline," he said, and that would damage his business.
While Florida growers contend the accord is hurting their business, the broader trade dynamics are generating business for other companies in the United States.
Which is what trade always does, just as Adam Smith explained to us back in 1776. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

We'll be down for Christmas

If only in our whims (if we're longshoremen);

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) overwhelmingly voted to reject what was described as the “last, best and final” contract proposal from three grain-handling companies, including Seattle export-terminal operator LD Commodities.
The outcome, announced Monday, could set the stage for a major labor dispute.
The grain companies — LD Commodities, Columbia Grain and United Grain — could seek to impose the contract and hire replacement workers.
Such a move likely would set off a wave of protests and create new uncertainties for the flow of wheat and other grains through Northwest ports.
The companies declined to reveal their next step.
Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton, who has been following this, finally reveals a 
little detail about what is at issue;

The rejected proposal called for the hourly wage for registered members to increase to between $34 and $36, with an additional $30 an hour for benefits, according to the grain exporters.
The companies said they want greater management discretion on a range of hiring and staffing decisions. They said they’ve held 34 days of meetings, including 11 facilitated by a federal labor mediator but remain millions of dollars apart on the question of labor costs. 
One doesn't have to ponder that long to realize that, in this economy with its abnormally high unemployment (and underemployment), there are literally legions of people who would love to take the grain terminal operators offer.  Nor that, at $66 per hour, it would be a miracle if there weren't millions of dollars at stake.

An attitude adjustment on someone's part is needed, and we just happen to have one on hand, thanks to economist Russ Roberts and his weekly EconTalk podcast.  Let's hear from business person Lisa Turner;
They talk about sustainable agriculture; and we say the first rule of sustainability is I've got to make enough money this year to do it again next year, or game over. And nobody wants to hear that part of 'sustainable.' 
Exactly.  Those grain terminal operators are just part of the food chain (in this case, literally).  Every dollar they pay out to operate their business has to be recovered by getting someone, somewhere to pay for it.  Which means those 'starving kids in China', people of a certain age were always being reminded of when they weren't being good members of the Clean Plate Club, who need the food for their plates.

To the ILWU, it's just another ox to gore, but to many it's the stuff of life.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Have a Merry Little Santa

Kris Kringle; Chick Magnet with a fat wallet; industry insider said pay for Santa's winter whirlwind schedule ranges from $6,000 to $30,000 — but ask a Santa, and he'll surely tell you the greatest presents he gets from giving others his bowl-full-of-jelly laugh are the smiles he creates each year.
Take Hall of Famer Tim Connaghan, aka Santa Hollywood;

He can be seen each year in the Hollywood Christmas Parade, and has also appeared on "The Tonight Show," "Dr. Phil," and commercials for Oreos, Target and others.
....Connaghan and his wife were watching "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," and who should appear, but Santa to the Stars5/8, Brady White. White's beard is insured with Lloyd's of London.
"Santa's driving around in a limousine, posing and this Santa makes $1,000 a day," Connaghan said.
"I got this pain in my rib. My wife was nudging me, and said being Santa may be a good retirement plan."
It was. Now, in addition to his paid work and many charity events, Connaghan represents a stable of 175 Santas and runs the International University of Santa Claus.
Nor is it only the kiddies who can be naughty; 
Santa do's and don'ts include no eating on the job. Always keep your hands visible. Mints are better than chewing gum for maintaining fresh breath. No flirting, because for some women, Santa is a chick magnet.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Red Roses for the Red

Blood red would be most appropriate, as some long for the good old days of purges, show trials, famine, terror (the Hollywood Ten's favorite national leader too);

Several hundred communists gathered on Moscow’s central Red Square to honor the memory of Stalin and lay flowers at his grave by the Kremlin wall. Tributes were led by the leader of the Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov with people carrying portraits of their idol along with red roses.
Various events to commemorate Stalin’s birthday have also been held on Friday in other Russian cities.
“The life of Joseph Stalin is an example of unselfish service to the people, the country and the party,” proclaimed senior KPRF member Andrey Zhidkov, addressing the crowd who gathered at Stalin’s bust in the city of Tambov. “[Stalin] left us a great state – the Soviet Union. Our task is to revive our socialist fatherland,” the party’s website cites him as saying. 
Stalin came to power in a “semiliterate country with a wooden plow” and turned it into a “united and powerful state possessing nuclear weapon,” stated communist Yelena Razumkina. According to the North Ossetian lawmaker, “the epoch of Lenin and Stalin will remain the unsurpassed peak of state and political development in the world.”

When there were fewer, but better Russians, as Ninotchka put it.  Though some of his victims thought otherwise, say Margarete Buber Neumann (who managed the feat of being imprisoned by both Stalin and Hitler, and lived to tell about it).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Somewhere, somehow, someone's gonna be...

...fired.  Not what Johnny Mercer had in mind, but the Iowa Supreme Court carries a different tune; that when an old immovable object like a wife is met;

A dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant that he found attractive simply because he and his wife viewed the woman as a threat to their marriage, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The court ruled 7-0 that bosses can fire employees they see as an "irresistible attraction," even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong.
Then it's like any other contractual agreement, and either party is free to end it.

We won one from the Gipper

Put a fork in it. The Easterlin Paradox (the belief that absolute improvement in one's economic well-being doesn't matter as much as one's comparative position); it's done.  Thanks to Nicholas Oulton of the London School of Economics.

In this stunning refutation of the common belief that the average Joe in America hasn't benefited much from the growth in GDP since the 1970s, he shows that infant mortality, life expectancy and, yes, even equality, improve with per capita household consumption.

Further, the real Golden Age of the post-war era was during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, if we look at the Levy Institute Measure of Economic Wellbeing (LIMEW);
The period 1959-72, supposedly the golden age of economic growth, was actually a comparatively poor one for households. And it was followed by a fall in living standards over 1972-82.
Far and away the best time for households was the period 1982-89, which coincides roughly with the Reagan administration. 
Which is pretty much what one would conclude by just looking around and noticing the improvement in living conditions for everyone over the last three decades.  Even given the recent unpleasantness in the economy.

In a nutshell, we have more stuff, so we live better, even if we have modest comparative incomes. Then comes the conclusion that refutes Easterlin;
After all, most consumer expenditure nowadays goes on products that were not available in 1800 and a lot goes on products not invented even by 1950. Today, only about 10% of the family budget goes on food – and even within the food basket, many items (such as microwave-ready chicken tikka masala, the UK’s national dish) were not available in 1800.
In summary, people’s choices between labour and leisure demonstrate that they value higher consumption in an absolute sense, not just a relative sense. So rising GDP per capita would be in accordance with people’s desires and preferences. Philosophers and social critics may object that the average person’s desires and preferences are trivial, ill informed and misguided (an attitude which can be traced back at least as far as Plato’s Republic). 
Which comes after the most amusing observation from Oulton;
...if people care mainly about their relative position, why has there been so much fuss about the financial crisis? After all, for most people in the UK, the drop in income has been (on this view) trivially small, no more than 8% – and at least initially, it fell disproportionately on the rich.
In fact, there is more griping about the rich now (when they're comparatively down and out) than ever.  Especially by the current occupant of the White House, and his party.

Friday, December 21, 2012

We'll always have Paris.

The right stuff; très fier, arrogant et parle français, but does he have a clue of what ye olde communistes have on him from the 1970s, when he should have been serving in the Navy, but was instead meeting with the Vietnamese Communists in Paris?

Now that he's nominated to be Sec'y of State, we doubt that any evidence of those meetings in the archives of former Communist countries (or still Communist North Korea) will not be reviewed, and analyzed for its uses if John Kerry is confirmed.

Would a Sec'y Kerry even be able to keep his stories straight;
SEN. KERRY: I still have the hat that he gave me, and I hope the guy would come out of the woodwork and say, "I'm the guy who went up with John Kerry. We delivered weapons to the Khmer Rouge on the coastline of Cambodia." 
And that was on Meet the Press in 2004!

I cudda been a reportah

But, the editors at the Seattle Times don't care if theirs actually do cover the waterfront, since Hal Bernton manages to write about an impending strike on the west coast, without divulging what is at issue;

The operators of four grain-export terminals in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, Wash., are involved in a tense contract dispute that by next week could bring a lockout at facilities that ship Washington wheat as well as Midwest corn and soybeans.
Hundreds of members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) have been working under an expired contract since Sept. 30.
On Friday they begin two days of voting on what a spokesman for the grain companies describes as a “last, best and final contract proposal.”
The union’s negotiating committee has unanimously recommended rejecting that offer.
Readers of the Times being on their own finding out what is actually in that contract. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Johnny Friendly keeps his promise

To return, and not forget, he said in On the Waterfront some six decades ago.  Guess what might cause a strike on East Coast ports soon;

At issue is management's demand to cap payments that are made to longshoremen based on the volume of containers they load and unload, estimated at about $15,000 a year per employee. That's in addition to the average ILA salary of $100,000 in wages, and more than $20,000 in benefits.
That would be the bribes agreed to back in the 1960s to get the longshoremen's union to agree to progress (i.e., use machines to unload cargo, rather than men).  Progress that has been used in every other industry to make ordinary people better off through efficiency improving technology.
Which is something of a problem for the newly re-elected President who claims to worry about the little guys;
A walkout would come on the heels of an eight-day strike that ended last week at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
"There hasn't been an East Coast strike since '77, but it's got people very worried," said Jon Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy for the National Federation of Retailers.
If there is a strike, President Obama can use his powers under the Taft Hartley Act to order the dock workers back to work. He refused to do that during the the LA/Long Beach strike, but those ports account for a smaller portion - 35% - of U.S. container shipping.
Ed Sands, a logistics analyst at consultant Procurian, said he believes that Obama will have no choice but to use Taft-Hartley, even if it risks angering his supporters in labor.
"It'd be very hard for him to defend workers making the sums that they make when they are shutting down a good chunk of the economy," he said.
We're betting he can rise to the occasion, and rationalize his support for organized the expense of the American consumer.

Main Street v. Peach Tree Lane

After all, tomorrow is another day, Wall Street, and for the right price they'll sit under the buttonwood tree with anyone else;
The New York Stock Exchange is being sold to a little-known rival in Atlanta for about $8 billion, ending more than two centuries of independence for the iconic Big Board.
As NYSE stockholder Peter Costa put it;

"The trading floor, while iconic, may seem to be an anachronism in this high-speed world of electronic this and electronic that, but it still survives because the customers that use the trading floor still see the added value of having some human intervention," Costa said in an email.
Costa, also an NYSE stockholder, said while that the premium that ICE was paying was not as high as he would have liked, it was "still fairly generous."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Good-bye, Columbus

Turns out that re-electing Barack Obama was bad for business.  The business of left-wing talk radio;
It is with great sadness I must inform WVKO’s listeners that once again, Progressive Talk will be silenced on the Columbus airwaves. Our one-year lease on the station is about to expire, and at this time there is no way that we can continue operating the station. So as of midnight on Sunday, December 16th, the new operators will be airing a gospel format on WVKO. Once again, we had a good run with the station, and we were happy to in some small way contribute to the success that the Democrats enjoyed in November. Unfortunately, it was not a two-way street, and lack of advertising support from the Obama campaign all the way down to local races ensured that we will be unable to continue into the new year. I put my time, money, heart and soul into doing what I believed to be important for the country, but those who benefited most from our efforts chose to spend their campaign dollars elsewhere. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice….Well, we can’t get fooled again. Also, a number of advertisers who supported the station in the past chose to turn their backs on us this time. I can’t say why, since they would not return our calls.
Well, what are you likely to be able to do for them soon?

The Shootists

The sun also rises in the east;
Hollywood’s power lunches have been filled in recent days with conversations about hypocrisy, according to people in the industry: Many of those who are liberal leaning and support gun control also make their livings selling violent images.
And when they can fake concern about that, they'll have it made.

Haven't we been here before?;
In the years leading up to John F. Hinckley Jr.'s attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, he became obsessed with the movie "Taxi Driver." Hinckley saw the movie at least fifteen times, read and re-read the book it was based upon, and bought the soundtrack to the film, listening to it for hours on end. Hinckley even began to model certain aspects of his life on the actions of the main characters. 
Which does make this look a little...hypocritical... from the NY Times story;

“What you hear from the industry is this: violence has always been a part of entertainment, back to Sophocles and Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe,” said Martin Kaplan, the director of the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment and society at the University of Southern California. “Why should modern entertainment deprive itself of a universal and timeless element of storytelling?’”
Mr. Kaplan continued, “Violence is both a moneymaker — audiences love it — and an artist’s tool. Of course, it can be gratuitous. For every Scorsese or Peckinpah, there’s a schlockmeister who’s only in it for the dough. 

 Because Taxi Driver was made by none other than, Martin Scorsese.

Martin...Aston Martin

Turns 100 next year, but will need investors if it wants to survive much longer;

“Even £150 million doesn’t go far,” [Professor David Bailey from Coventry University’s Business School] said. “Aston Martin has committed £500 million to new development, which could help them get a genuinely new platform to market. If you consider £400 million was spent getting the new Range Rover to market it shows the cost involved. Developing new cars is expensive.
“Companies like Aston Martin are becoming part of bigger groups – look at Ferrari with Fiat, Lamborghini and Porsche with Volkswagen and JLR with Tata.”
He added that an agreement with a bigger group would be advisable and a link-up with AMG would “make a lot of sense” but whatever the case Aston Martin’s dated Ford architecture and engines were in urgent need of replacement.
What's Auric Goldfinger up to?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Idée fixe

Or, is it oxymore, in French Polynesia;
French Polynesia and the Cook Islands this month created adjacent shark sanctuaries spanning 2.5 million square miles of ocean, a move that reflects a growing trend to protect sharks worldwide and more than doubles the area now off-limits to any shark fishing.
Shark sanctuaries! Pour les misérables.

Find a need...

Then promote yourself through a newspaper columnist (Seattle Times' Brier Dudley) as serving social justice.  Well, after all they are former politicians, and old habits die hard;

StepUp plans to offer prepaid, unlimited talk and text plans to low-income customers whose credit isn’t good enough for traditional plans. It will sell phones through thousands of mom-and-pop retailers in urban areas — places like ethnic groceries and electronics stores.
[Joe] Mallahan said the company will “serve low-income customers extraordinarily well and get them away from all their anxieties and all the nickel-and-diming they experience from the other brands.”
....“By that,” Mallahan said, “I mean if you can’t pay me this month, pay me for a week. If you’ve been with me for a while I’ll give you a grace period — I’ll give you four or five days to pay me — which is revolutionary in the prepaid space.”
This is more than political correctness.
It had better be, if it's going to pan out--which means it will have to generate profits for its investors.  So far, so sensible;
StepUp expects to have more than 1 million customers and annual sales of at least $500 million within two years. It sees a $45 billion market opportunity serving low-income buyers looking for unlimited wireless plans. 
Though the two men who once ran against each other for Mayor of Seattle, need to keep their focus;
[Former Seattle Mayor Greg] Nickels is the company’s vice president of community relations and regulatory affairs. His stature — including a stint as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors — adds name recognition and may help StepUp secure approval from the FCC and regional regulators.
Nickels said he’s going to figure out how his 35 years of experience in government “can add value in the private sector to this startup.”
....Neither plans to run for office again, though Nickels added that “you never say never.”
They realized late in their campaign battle that they shared the “social justice ethic” they say underlies StepUp.
At least they're not calling for a government program, or forcing already existing phone providers to subsidize low income users.  As that (perhaps) good-intention-paved road led to disaster in the 1990s with home lending.

But really guys, catch up on your reading.  It was in 1776 when we learned that people had their needs best served by profit seeking entrepreneurs looking out for themselves, not by those professing to serve social justice.

Mickey Mouse Opera

Spain's El Pais tells of the new opera based on Walt Disney, by Phillip Glass;  Misógino, racista, fascistoide, adúltero, megalómano....

Uncle Walt?  Que pasa?

Oh, it's every Hollywoodian's favorite myth; The Blacklist.  Disney truthfully documented to HUAC some Communists he'd employed (and who'd launched a destructive strike against his struggling animation studio in 1941).

Funny thing though, one of the most notorious of those Communists, Maurice Rapf (son of MGM co-founder Harry Rapf) worked as a writer for Disney (Song of the South, Cinderella), and enjoyed the experience.  Even though Disney knew (as did everyone in the movie industry) that Rapf was a 'radical'.

According to Rapf, in an interview in Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist, he liked his time at Disney better than anywhere else.  Even defending Walt from charges of anti-semitism (Rapf was Jewish).

Someone ought to do an opera (or even an honest movie) about the lives the Hollywood Communists ruined with their blacklists.  Maybe, how John Howard Lawson eventually drove the novelist Budd Schulberg (a childhood friend of Rapf's in Beverly Hills) to leave the Communist Party because of the ideological criticism of his best-seller, What Makes Sammy Run.

Or the snubs Elia Kazan suffered after his break with The Party.  Or how the previously mentioned Lawson forced Alfred Maltz to disavow his article, What Shall We Ask of Writers, in New Masses in 1946.  But, that would take some real artistic courage.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Greeks bearing kicks

When football teams need sponsors in Greece they don't discriminate, they'll take the money at the beginning and at the end of life.  First in Larissa, there's the brothel;

The team's coach, Yiannis Batziolas says there is nothing to be ashamed of, and that the game is full of far shadier sponsors.
"When you see that, in professional football, betting companies and alcohol are advertised, I think that's far more immoral," he says.
...."And I'm proud of the woman who owns this brothel, proud that she helps our dreams of playing football come true."
Next door in Trikala, it's the funeral home;
The funeral business is a tiny little shop in the centre of the city, piled high with artificial flowers and Orthodox Christian icons.
The young undertaker, Christos Panagiotou, says the idea of sponsorship came up over late-night drinks with friends from the team.
"At first the players thought it was a joke, but now they've got used to it," he says.
Let the games begin.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Showing a little too much ankle

Lands a California woman in prison for fraud;

A sex romp at a public park helped prosecutors convict a California woman of faking an ankle injury to collect workers' compensation payments, authorities said.
Modupe Adunni Martin, 29, was sentenced to nine months in jail on Thursday in San Mateo County after pleading no contest in October to felony workers compensation fraud.
Martin was caught on videotape in August 2009 throwing her crutches into a car and running in high heels to meet her boyfriend at a public park, where she took part in a sex act that doctors concluded she couldn't have done with an injured ankle, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.
Perhaps she can find work as an acrobat when she's let out. 

Barbarous relic

Afghanistan has had centuries of war, revolution, religious unrest, foreign soldiers occupying the land, and a newspaper is surprised to find an outflow of gold;

The cash and now the gold are most often taken to Dubai, where officials are known for asking few questions. Many wealthy Afghans park their money and families in the emirate, and gold dealers say more middle-class Afghans are sending money and gold — seen as a safeguard against economic ruin — to Dubai as talk of a postwar-economic collapse persists.
But given Dubai's reputation as a haven for laundered money, an Afghan official said the "obvious suspicion" is that at least some of the apparent growth in gold shipments to Dubai is tied to the myriad illicit activities that have come to define Afghanistan's economy.
There are also indications that Iran could be dipping into the Afghan gold trade. It is already buying up dollars and euros to circumvent U.S. and European sanctions, and it may be using gold for the same purpose.
Before officials can say whether the gold shipments are part of an illicit financial scheme, they first have to figure out how much gold is going out — or coming in.
It would be a mystery if gold wasn't being shipped out of this country. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tax the Nords!

Since, according to Daron Acemoglu, James A Robinson and Thierry Verdier, they're freeloading on the Americans doing the heavy lifting (not to mention benefiting from our military spending);
...the main implication of our theoretical framework is that we cannot all be like the Nordics! Indeed it is not an equilibrium choice for the cut-throat leader, the US, to become cuddly. As a matter of fact, given the institutional choices of other countries, if the cut-throat leader were to switch to such cuddly capitalism, this would reduce the growth rate of the entire world economy, discouraging the adoption of the more egalitarian reward structure. In contrast, followers are still happy to choose an institutional system associated to a more egalitarian reward structure. Indeed, this choice, though making them poorer, does not permanently reduce their growth rates, thanks to the positive technological externalities created by the cut-throat technology leader. This line of reasoning suggests therefore that in an interconnected world, it may be precisely the more cut-throat American society, with its extant inequalities, that makes possible the existence of more cuddly Nordic societies.
Isn't that what the Labor Theory of Value requires?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Suspicion confirmed

By an econometric analysis from Stefano Puddu and Andreas Wälchli; the Fed's Term Auction Facility provided needed liquidity to banks at a crucial time during the financial crisis...and the banks mostly used it prudently;
Between December 2007 and March 2010, the Fed auctioned a total of $3.81 trillion collateralised funds, with maturities of 28 or 84 days.
Which was needed because interbank lending had mostly dried up due to uncertainty.  Enter the lender of last resort;
Our findings highlight that all banks decrease their exposure in liquidity risk, but that banks that benefited from the programme decrease faster than others. The larger the amount of reserves received, the bigger the reduction in liquidity risk. In other words, TAF banks were able to more quickly adjust the structure of their debt maturity. 
Pretty much as the textbooks draw it up;
Our results highlight that:
  • Banks did not adopt moral hazard behaviors, at least in the sample period observed.
This result can be explained by the fact that despite the fact that TAF banks were not subject to additional controls by the Fed or any other regulator, these banks might have felt themselves ‘under scrutiny’ and might have reacted accordingly, in order to look better when reassessed later on;
  • The TAF programme provided the depository institutions with liquidity at the same time as a period of intensive restructuring on their liability side.
Therefore it is as if the TAF programme provided banks with extra time in order to adjust the exposures in their balance sheets. In this sense the Fed, through the TAF programme, acted as a lender of last resort, providing distressed banks with liquidity. 

Take Hinglish

Please.  The new lingua franca (why not mixaphor) is English with addition thanks to the internet;

Hinglish is a blend of Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and English and is so widespread that it's even being taught to British diplomats.
Mobile phone companies are also updating their apps to reflect its growing use.
In Hinglish, a co-brother is a brother-in-law; eve-teasing means sexual harassment; an emergency crew responding to a crisis might be described as 'airdashing', and somewhat confusing to football fans, a 'stadium' refers to a bald man with a fringe of hair. There's even a new concept of time - "pre-pone", the opposite of postpone, meaning "to bring something forward".

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vote: Are we in the 21st century?

New York can't be too careful about allowing the brave new world to intrude;

New York's taxi authority is to vote on whether or not the city's iconic yellow cabs should accept bookings via smartphone apps.
A plethora of apps, such as Uber and Hailo, have been released to help commuters track down available cabs.
But some taxi companies are concerned about the impact these apps could have on their business.
Taxi-hailing apps have been widely adopted in other cities around the world.
In New York, where taxi operators are highly regulated, several companies have written to the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) calling for plans to allow the use of the apps to be rejected.
We knew the invention of the wheel was a mixed blessing. Next, the customers will want to carry 20 oz. sodas!

Hitting the check-out stand

Norman Joseph Woodland who claimed to have written a few lines in the sand, and eventually sparked a revolution has died at 91;

Woodland worked with university classmate Bernard Silver to create the now ubiquitous thick-and-thin-line system in the 1940s.
The system was patented in the US in 1952, a patent that was later sold for just $15,000 (£9,300).
The modern-day barcode is estimated to be scanned more than five billion times every day.
....Woodland's efforts were years ahead of their time. It took 22 years for the invention to make its first appearance in a US shop - due to the fact the laser technology required to read the lines did not exist.
What this story doesn't tell is how, once the technology did come into existence, it was applied to retailing.  That happened because a young junior executive at AT&T in New York was given, in the late 1960s, as his first assignment, to find a way to make some money from the agriculture sector.

At the time, most grocery stores didn't even have business telephone lines.  They used a pay phone located in the store for their occasional communication needs.  Mostly the stores re-ordered by mail, after eye-balling their inventory (both on their shelves and the back rooms).

The control of that inventory being the major headache of everyone involved in the food distribution business.  The young executive realized that AT&T had the communications technology, and IBM the computers, to solve that problem.

Cooperation between those two mid-century corporate giants was not easy.  In part because of anti-trust concerns (which also delayed the automotive industry's adoption of this cost-saving measure).  But, in the end, the profit motive was strong enough to overcome inertia, and consumers all over the world benefit.