Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In with the new

Unite! You have nothing to lose, but your low skill job, so it's time to party;
What: 2014 Inauguration Ceremony for officials elected in the City of Seattle, including Socialist Alternative Councilmember Kshama Sawant
When: Monday, January 6, 3:30pm
Where: Seattle City Hall - 600 4th Ave - 1st Floor Lobby
(Facebook event here)
Facebook?  We thought socialists were supposed to be cool.

Out with the old folks

James Dean wouldn't have been caught dead on Facebook, as it isn't cool;
In a quarterly earnings call in October, Facebook chief financial officer David Ebersman acknowledged a decrease in daily usage by younger teens, although he insisted it was hard to measure how much younger users engage with Facebook. He also said Facebook remained “close to fully penetrated among teens in the U.S.”
But ...teenagers say they are cutting back on Facebook partly to get away from their parents, aunts, uncles and other family members. [University of London professor Daniel] Miller said the European Union study is also coming to that conclusion.
“Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives,” Miller wrote. “Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things. Instead, four new contenders for the crown have emerged: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp”
Miller said teens don’t seem to care about whether some nefarious government agency or Facebook itself is messing with their privacy rights. They just don’t want their parents to know what they’re doing.
Bold by HSIB.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Because that's where the money is

No, not a caper flick (starring Sean Connery as the evil genius?), but an actual Euro ATM robbery...and another, and....;
The thefts came to light in July after the lender involved noticed several its ATMs were being emptied despite their use of safes to protect the cash inside.
After surveillance was increased, the bank discovered the criminals were vandalising the machines to use the infected USB sticks.
Once the malware had been transferred they patched the holes up. This allowed the same machines to be targeted several times without the hack being discovered.
To activate the code at the time of their choosing the thieves typed in a 12-digit code that launched a special interface.
The masterminds even protected themselves against employee theft:
To counter this risk the software required the thief to enter a second code in response to numbers shown on the ATM's screen before they could release the money.
The correct response varied each time and the thief could only obtain the right code by phoning another gang member and telling them the numbers displayed.
If they did nothing the machine would return to its normal state after three minutes. 
Now, if they can patent their business plan, and take it public, they can make it really big.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Der Bus in Brazil

Safety first, and Auf Wiedersehen;
The last ever Volkswagen Kombi is set to role of the production line in Brazil after 64 years of continuous production.
The iconic camper van has been killed off by new safety regulations in the country which come into effect on 1 January 2014. It isn’t built anywhere else in the world. 

Miranda rights?

The BBC reminds us, reality bites, even when you blame it on Rio;
As the financial crisis in Cyprus has unfolded, every new development has been greeted by a chorus of analysts describing it as "unprecedented".
 Freezing all bank accounts, trying to make account holders pay for the clean-up, talk of nationalising the country's pension funds - all these things are pretty much unheard of in a modern European state.
But there is a part of the world where such events are all too familiar. Over the past few decades, South Americans have experienced all these trials and tribulations.
Brazil tried it;
In her first act, Zelia [Cardoso de Mello, named Finance Minister in 1990] went on national television to tell the country that all bank accounts were being frozen and that no-one could access more than 50,000 new cruzados in the currency of the time (a sum then worth about $1,250). 
With the predicted results;
The rest of account holders' money was untouchable for the next 18 months, by which time it was worth a great deal less, thanks to the very inflation that the move had been designed to reduce.
The plan did have some temporary success. Annual inflation declined from nearly 3,000% in 1990 to under 500% in 1991, but then it shot up again in subsequent years.  
Argentines, without means, did it;
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has had to seek creative solutions to her cash-strapped nation's problems.
In November 2008, she persuaded the Argentine Congress to pass a bill nationalising private pension schemes worth at least $23bn - a much larger sum than the one now at stake in Cyprus.
Which doesn't make the reality that inflation is, usually and most places, a monetary phenomenon, go away;
...the problems in Cyprus are part of a much larger crisis affecting the entire eurozone, caused by a "one-size-fits-all" currency regime that gives member nations no flexibility.
....Cyprus, which adopted the euro in 2008, has its monetary policy decided by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.
In contrast, Argentina has always kept its own currency, the peso. But under the Law of Convertibility, passed in 1991 and not abandoned until January 2002, its value was fixed at parity with the US dollar. 
No such thing as una comida gratis.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Never a Strict Separationist around...

when you need one to be interviewed by Mark Mardell of the BBC;
The Reverend Michael Minor....at Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Hernando, Mississippi, is pretty amazing. ....
He sees signing people up to Obamacare as a spiritual duty, a cure for his congregation's ills.
...."You hurt physically because you are not getting the check-ups and things you need. And then spiritually because you are wondering about your relationship with God.
"And if you are not careful, you are wondering how God let you get into this spot where you don't have coverage."
....So the pastor is what is known as a "navigator" for Obamacare - he gets federal funding to sign people up. [bold, by HSIB]
Perhaps Mr. Mardell is unaware of the First Amendment's supposed 'wall of separation between Church and State'.  But where are the tireless guardians of America's right duty to demand adherence to atheism;
[Michael] Newdow, a physician with a law degree, a five-year-old daughter and an axe to grind with monotheistic religion, decided he wasn't happy about students at his daughter's school standing to say the Pledge each morning. So he took the Sacramento school district to court, charging the Pledge violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, which dictates a strict separation between church and state.
It's even Dr. Newdow's own profession being invaded by the believers, yet he's silent (as far as we know).

Explotación es divertido

When it makes a Cuban physician think of the honey in Estados Unidos;
Over the last 12 months some 3,000 Cubans, mostly doctors, have arrived in the United States after deserting one of the Venezuelan government's social programs they staff. This accounts for a 60% increase as compared with 2012.
In 2012 there were about 5,000 refugee Cuban doctors and nurses in the United States coming from all over the world. Through December 1, 2013 this figure had surged to 8,000, 98% of them came from Venezuela.
These are estimates by Dr. Julio Cesar Alfonso, head of the South Florida group Solidarity Without Borders Inc. (SWB), which helps Cuban medical professionals who try to desert the medical programs Havana sells worldwide as "exports of services."
Probably because;
"Cuban doctors only get USD 300 a month, but the Venezuelan government pays the Castro regime around USD 6,000 per doctor, so individual doctors are paid less than 10% of what Cuba collects," Alfonso says. 
No one does Marxian exploitation as well as the Marxists.

Guess they did the math

Maybe while waiting for UPS to deliver their late Christmas packages, but A&E could hardly ignore these numbers;
For the week of Dec. 16-22, the channel averaged 1.5 million viewers, compared to 2 million for the week before, according to Nielsen figures.
During the week of Dec. 17-23 last year, a roughly comparable period to the post-Robertson flap week, the channel averaged 1.73 million viewers.
"Duck Dynasty" is the channel's highest-rated program and set a reality show record for cable with nearly 12 million viewers for its fourth-season debut this past summer.
Ratings talk,
so, GLAAD; walk.

Friday, December 27, 2013

You say it's your birthday

And your former subjects would like to forget you ever lived? We'll always have Venezuela;
The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, congratulated China on the 120th birthday of the founding father of the People's Republic of China, Mao Zedong.
"We congratulate China on Mao's 120th birthday, the Great Helmsman. He founded the Republic of China in 1949," Maduro twitted on Thursday.
Failing to mention that tens of millions of Chinese were to die violent deaths thanks to his taking power. But think of all the Spanish omelets yet to be made from broken eggs.

Qué lástima, señor Reich, No?

If inequality is to be decried, there is plenty of it in the socialist utopia of Fidel Castro. (Putting aside the unintended hilarity of AP's headline writers): 
Lack of customers dooms many Cuban businesses
No kidding? However, it's not that there wouldn't be customers if people were free to choose;
"There's not enough money circulating in the economy in the hands of everyday people," said Ted Henken, a professor of Latin American studies at Baruch College in New York and author of an upcoming book on private enterprise in Cuba. "You're all competing for the same customers, most of whom are poor and have very limited disposable income."
Economists have criticized the Cuban government for a series of measures to crack down on what it sees as illegal activities — including banning private movie cinemas, taxing the import of hard-to-get products in travelers' luggage, and banning the sale of imported clothing. But on Saturday, Castro came down firmly in favor of increased regulation, sternly warning entrepreneurs that "those pressuring us to move faster are moving us toward failure." 
There's no shortage of money for anyone not subject to the Castro brothers' constraints;
Still, not every entrepreneur is struggling.
High-end bars and glamorous new restaurants have become common in Havana, with shiny state tour buses disgorging photo-snapping travelers to sample lobster tail and filet mignon at upward of $20 a plate. Private rooms and homes that rent to foreigners can go for $25-$100 a night, less than most tourist hotels. Cubans with the means, and the business sense, to tap into the gravy train can do very well.
 Cubans with official permission from the ruling class, that is. Too bad Fidel didn't spend even 45 minutes with Milton Friedman, in the 1970s. Cuba's ordinary people might be as prosperous as those who lived under Pinochet.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bimby, chance of meatballs

Portugal's feeding itself better and cheaper thanks to German technology, says the WSJ's Patricia Kowsmann;
Bimby, a German-made cooking robot, has become an obsession in Western Europe's poorest country by promising to make cooking cheap and easy.
Bimby looks like a food-processor with a stainless-steel container and a steaming unit that weighs ingredients, chops, grates, blends, beats, mixes and cooks, all under the control of a timer that lets the cook step away from the kitchen until the food is ready.
....Vorwerk & Co., Bimby's manufacturer, has reported record sales in Portugal in each of the past three years, despite a $1,327 price that is nearly twice the monthly minimum wage. Last year the Portuguese bought more than 35,000 Bimbys, compared with 22,000 iPads priced above $700. According to Vorwerk's forecasts, 8% of the country's 3.7 million households will own a Bimby by the end of 2014.
Though apparently it will be zero percent of American homes, since, for some reason the nifty machine isn't sold here. Unless some economists notice it;
Erica Arimathea, an economist who quit her job a year ago to sell Bimbys full time, said men are equality enchanted with the robot. "Some are so obsessed they don't let their wives touch the machines," she said. "It's like a toy."
...."A Bimby basically pays for itself, and after that provides substantial savings that in this day and age are essential," said Ms. Arimathea, who at the end of her demonstrations sits down with her clients to discuss payment options. Ms. Arimathea said she had sold 94 Bimbys in 173 demonstrations.
Actually, she said, selling isn't quite what she does. "You don't buy a Bimby, you enter into a relationship with one," she said. 
Pace Sally Field in Punchline, is that something you ought to do with only a one year warranty.

Leave your broken heart in San Francisco

Over a half-century ago, two economists--who were each to later distinguish themselves by winning Nobel prizes--published a little pamphlet, Roofs or Ceilings, which begins by telling the story of housing the population of San Francisco in the wake of the disastrous earthquake of 1906. They note that in the San Francisco Chronicle there is no mention at all of a housing shortage, even though more than half of the city's stock of housing was destroyed. In fact, in the first edition of the paper published after the earthquake there were numerous classified advertisements offering dwellings for rent.

By 1946 the situation had changed. Both the population of San Francisco and the number of housing units had increased, but the same newspaper was reporting that the California state legislature was convened to address what the Governor declared as 'the most critical problem facing California'. Evidence being that only 4 advertisements appeared in the Chronicle offering apartments for rent (compared to 64 on the day after the 1906 earthquake).

Why the difference? Easy; in 1906 apartments were rationed by price fluctuation. In 1946 that method was illegal thanks to WWII's price controls. In 1906 people adjusted their behavior; economizing on space due to higher prices, and increasing space by new construction responding to higher prices. In 1946, laws prevented those adjustments.

Let's look in on the City by the Bay today;
Frank Hanes, a 25-year-old sous chef, moved to San Francisco from his native Vermont to pursue a career in cooking. He has been working at Aziza in the Richmond District for the last year, and both he and Aziza chef-owner Mourad Lahlou say it's been a match made in heaven.
But recently, Hanes gave Lahlou his notice. He's moving back to the other side of the country.
"I'm learning so much more here than I would on the East Coast. I've seen food I never even knew existed," Hanes said. "But my girlfriend and I have been looking for our own spot, and we couldn't even find a single-bedroom apartment."
Anyone surprised to learn that, due to housing activists, the city once again has rent control?  Added to which are California's land use regulations which place approximately 75% of the area in and around San Francisco out of bounds for development (and more housing units).

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Brady-Bundchen and a lump of self-parody for your Xmas stocking

A gushing story on Tommy and Gisele's new $14 million Manhattan apartment co-exists on the same online page as;
Now, some of the most influential voices in the food movement - including Monterey resident Schlosser, best-selling author Michael Pollan and pioneering Berkeley chef Alice Waters - are chiming in.
They are connecting the dots between different camps in the food movement by saying it's impossible to care about eating sustainably produced food when food service workers are not making sustainable wages.
....Labor leaders hope that hearing prominent food luminaries speak out will prompt kohlrabi munchers to support Big Mac preparers. California - where the minimum wage is the highest in the country and, by law, egg-laying chickens must be given room to spread their wings - would seem to be a likely place to find food industry unity.
"If people care about where their food comes from, they will care about the people who are preparing it," said Pete Castelli, executive director of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which has been helping to organize fast-food workers in Northern California.
Meaning that those fast food workers are grist for the mill of middle class professionals who earn six-figure incomes talking to naive newspaper reporters who respond well to cliches;
... the wage disparity between the executive suite and the kitchen is opening many eyes. McDonald's CEO earns $9,200 an hour, while the company's average line employee makes $7.73 an hour....
How many dollars per hour is Brady paid to throw passes (even incomplete ones), or his wife to strut down a runway? The answer to those questions has about as much relevance to the wages of low-skill labor as the compensation of MBAs with years of executive experience. Not to mention that Tom and Gisele haven't fed any of the downtrodden as effectively as the CEOs;
"Cheap food is baked into our economy or society," Pollan said. "But we've done this by cutting corners, by exploiting workers and by exploiting the land."
...."We live in a fast-food culture, and it's teaching us about how to live our lives: the idea that everything should be fast, cheap and easy," Waters said. "They want to sell this, and they don't want us to ask anything about it - just buy it and become imprisoned in that paradigm."
For years, Waters said she has been "preaching that food is precious. I really treasure the people who grow it, who take care of the animals, that work the land. All of those people who take care of my nourishment are my allies, and I want to pay them the highest amount." 
Which would make it more expensive for other low skill workers to feed themselves, but who cares about them? Well...the McDonald's CEO, for one.

Thousand Error Reich

Commemoration: 1973/2013
Milton and Augusto
Written by Robert Reich,
Directed by Joy Carlin
Monday, September 16, 2013

No doubt a fine time of self-congratulation was had by all, especially pretend economist Robert B. Reich. Though some didn't take the bait hook, line and sinker;

MILTON: Good evening, Augusto.
AUGUSTO: Good evening, Milton. How is our plan to enrich ourselves at the expense of society coming along?
MILTON: It is time to apply the Shock Doctrine to your country. We throw the nation into chaos so that from the ashes a new order in which our portfolios will be worth a lot more will arise.
AUGUSTO: "New order," Milt?
MILTON: Yes. A neoliberal empire which will stand, like a boot on the face of humanity, for 1,000 years.
AUGUSTO: But how will we fool people into thinking our plan is good for them?
MILTON: My Boys and I have the laid the groundwork. For years I have been preaching from the University of Chicago Department of Economics that people are rational, greed is good, and unfettered markets trickle wealth down to the poor
MILTON and AUGUSTO laugh loudly for several long moments.
MILTON: Right, what was I saying? Oh yes. Many other countries have fallen. Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design.
AUGUSTO: Wonderful, Milton. Let me get some blood diamonds from my office safe here so that I may pay you off.
AUGUSTO and MILTON clink glasses of brandy and chuckle.
Which, as we said, may play in Berkeley, but a little scholarship easily destroys the left-wing slanders;
INTERVIEWER: Of course Milton Friedman especially then became a kind of a kind of hated figure, didn't he? ....Why do you think people [hated] him?
AL HARBERGER: Well, it's a hard story there. The left wing of the world loved Allende. Allende was the first socialist elected in a Latin American country as I remember, that actually took office anyway, and he was the darling more of the European left than the American left, but we always in the United States had what we call radical student groups like SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] who took their cues from the European left, so these are the people for whom Milton Friedman then became a figure of hate. They organized demonstrations against him wherever he went, and this went on for a period of years, and I see nothing that he did to deserve that. (laughs) And he [faced it] with such courage and such strength of character, I marvel to this day at the way he took that.
And is still having to take it from his grave. Even from a reptilian (scholarly) non-entity like Robert Reich.

And to all a good night

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Prime example

Of the perverse incentives created when government pays the health care bills;
Prime is a fast-growing company that operates hospitals in five states. Its hospitals have reported that many Medicare patients were afflicted with unusual medical conditions, including acute heart failure, septicemia and kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition usually found in children during famines in Africa, a Center for Investigative Reporting analysis shows.
Billing for those conditions qualified Prime for bonus payments from Medicare worth millions of dollars, federal records show.
And also inflates its ratings--by Truven Health Analytics--for 'curing' its patients. However, Prime and Truven aren't the only ones with possibly questionable motives;
In testimony before a [California state] legislative committee in 2012, some former Prime employees contended that Dr. Prem Reddy, the chain's founder, had urged his staff to pad or "upcode" Medicare billings with exaggerated diagnoses to collect bonus payments.
Prime says its billings are accurate. It says the upcoding allegations were orchestrated by the Service Employees International Union, which was engaged in a Southern California labor dispute with PrimeFred Ortega, a spokesman for the hospital chain, accused the Center for Investigative Reporting of being a "surrogate" for the union.
In January, in an application to buy a Rhode Island hospital, Prime disclosed that the U.S. Justice Department is investigating its Medicare billings. The company said it expects to be exonerated.
Bold in the above by HSIB.

We'll always have Wiener schneekugeln

The originals, accept no substitutes (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama didn't, nor the makers of Citizen Kane);
My grandfathers invention of the Austrian Snowglobe has given much joy and delight to millions of people and now it is sought after by collectors all over the world. He proudly accepted a special award for his designs as a toymaker from Kaiser Franz Josef I.
Today, the tradition that my grandfather began is carried on from the same house in Vienna. Here, we produce the snowglobe completely by hand and like my grandfather`s creations, it makes no difference if we produce one or thousands of a style, each piece is as unique as a snowflake.
Erwin Perzy, III
Vienna, Austria

Father Frost is coming to Kiev

Bringing gifts to the Ukrainean gangsters ruling the country. Charles Wyplosz says, Not nice;
As the price to deter a westward move of Ukraine, Russia has made an offer that the Ukrainian president has found impossible to turn down, if he ever contemplated seriously tying his country to the EU. This is generally hailed as a master coup by President Putin and a great relief for President Yanukovych. In fact, this coup is likely to end in tears for both countries.
Sorta like an indulgent parent giving his wayward child an allowance, with no behavioral changes required;
It is not known what economic conditions Russia has requested but a safe bet is that there is none, only political conditions. Thus Russia has acted as a highly politicised IMF, in effect getting the IMF out of the picture and allowing Ukraine to carry on with its disastrous economic policies. To say the least, it is surprising that one of the Fund’s main shareholders, with its own seat on the Executive Board, so callously undermines the institution. Just imagine what would happen if other governments would offer loans without conditions to countries that are deeply mismanaged and refuse to change their ways as requested by the IMF. 
Just putting off the day of reckoning;
Deficit spending, heavy government interventions, graft and more will continue. This will further deteriorate the Ukrainian economy. Sooner or later, Ukraine will need more money. Russia will either have to provide another, possibly bigger loan, or let the shoe drop. If another loan is forthcoming, on account of Ukrainian compliance with the political conditions, yet another one will be needed further down the path, again and again. When Russia gets tired of this process, Ukraine will have no choice but to default on the Russian loans. This will be a blow to the Ukrainian economy and to Russia. There can be no happy end when one country helps another one defy basic economic management principles. 
It will end up without even a lump of coal.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Wonder if Kshama knows about this

Eric Hanushek of Stanford, along with three German economists, Guido Schwerdt, Simon Wiederhold, and Ludger Woessmann, have a new working paper out at the NBER (ungated version can be read here). Essentially finding that better education has lifted incomes wherever it's been allowed to be tried;

Which would seem to be a wiser thing to try for increasing the earnings of the low skilled worker, as opposed to passing higher minimum wage laws which will mostly make such jobs scarcer. However they caution;
...we find that returns to skills are systematically lower in countries with higher union density, stricter employment protection, and larger public-sector shares.
Three factors that are now driving the political push for raises to Seattle's minimum wage. We doubt it's a coincidence.

Dude, it's like, I'm a professional

 A Portland DEA agent has left his position to join a Seattle firm that invests in the marijuana industry, joining a small but emerging industry that projects to keep growing with legal pot in Colorado and Washington state.
Ten-year DEA veteran Patrick Moen made the jump to Privateer Holdings last month, The Oregonian reported (http://bit.ly/1cJqs4h ).
The 36-year-old lawyer spent his career busting up trafficking rings for drugs like meth and ecstasy. And he acknowledges that some of his former DEA colleagues are less than enthusiastic about his career choice.
But Moen says the opportunity was too good to pass on.
Nor was he the first;
Moen is the second DEA agent with Oregon ties to make the move to the marijuana industry.Paul Schmidt, who until 2010 served as the highest-ranking DEA agent in Oregon, now works as a medical marijuana business consultant.
Schmidt, 54, acknowledged that some former colleagues consider advising the medical marijuana industry a move to the "dark side." 
Which would tend to put a damper on the supply of DEA agents who want to switch sides, thereby raising the price for those who do.

He died without his Valenki on

Having armed the likes of the Khmer Rouge, Viet Cong, PLO and Hamas, and Fidel Castro's Africa Corps, among other humanitarians;
Lt. Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the arms designer credited by the Soviet Union with creating the AK-47, the first in a series of rifles and machine guns that would indelibly associate his name with modern war and become the most abundant firearms ever made, died on Monday in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtia republic, where he lived. He was 94.
....His role in the rifle’s creation, and the attention showered on him by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, carried him from conscription in the Red Army to senior positions in the Soviet arms-manufacturing bureaucracy and ultimately to six terms on the Supreme Soviet.
Tens of millions of Kalashnikov rifles have been manufactured. Their short barrels, steep front-sight posts and curved magazines made them a marker of conflict that has endured for decades. The weapons also became both Soviet and revolutionary symbols and widespread instruments of terrorism, child-soldiering and crime.

Beggar thy neighbor's kids

Ed Lazeer says economic growth is for those who think young;
The importance of youth is illustrated by the stark contrast between two neighboring countries, Japan and Korea. Using the GEM [Global Entrepreneurship Monitor] survey data, we found that Japan's rate of entrepreneurship (the proportion of individuals who own a business that they founded in the past 42 months) is just 1.5%. In Korea the rate is a much higher, 8%. The median age in Japan is 43; in Korea it is 34. The U.S., with an entrepreneurship rate of 4.4% and a median age of 36, is in the middle of the pack on both entrepreneurship rates and median age.
More surprisingly, our analysis of the GEM survey finds that a country with a population that is just three years younger—Brazil as compared with Argentina, for instance—has about 21% more entrepreneurship. For Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, cutting the median age by two years (like the difference between the younger U.S. and older U.K.) implies about a 10% increase in new business formation.
....If Japan, a rapidly aging country with famously prohibitive immigration laws, teaches us anything, it is this: If you want to avoid a "lost decade," open your doors to immigrants.
But don't expect to sell them a lot of health insurance policies.

D Day for the 'F' word

Flexibility, thy name is the politics of health insurance, if we can believe Elizabeth Williamson and Louise Radnofsky of the Wall Street Journal;
Monday is the final day for consumers to get new health coverage that takes effect when the new year arrives, leaving thousands of people racing to sign up in time—and health insurers trying to figure out whether the federal health law will work in the way they had hoped.
The number of Americans enrolling continues to fall short of the goals the Obama administration has laid out, which is a problem for the White House.
It also represents a problem for the insurance industry, which calculated that the prospect of millions of new customers brought their way by the Affordable Care Act and its coverage requirements would make up for any disruption that came along with the law. Karen Ignagni, the industry's top representative in Washington, spent the weekend managing the fallout after the administration overhauled its approach to people who buy coverage on the individual market.
This is what happens when business gets into a strange bed with a fellow who doesn't have a clue about business generally--'Profits eat up overhead'--nor insurance in particular (Barack Obama thinks he should have bought collision insurance on his $1,300 beater auto back in his community organizing heydays).

The two gal reporters tell the story of Karen Ignagni, the CEO of AHIP (American Health Insurance Plans), a lobbyist who has been maneuvering for years to make lemonade for her clients out of the Obamacare lemon.
In 2009, AHIP contributed some $100 million to fund U.S. Chamber of Commerce ads opposing an insurance overhaul, a contribution that didn't become public for a year, a period during which insurers trumpeted their commitment to a health-care overhaul.
The insurers also organized thousands of insurance-company employees to protest at congressional town-hall meetings across the nation. The protests made the nascent health overhaul a galvanizing force for the new tea-party movement.
When that failed they instead embraced the ACA, hoping they would enroll millions of new, younger, customers. Which isn't materializing, because the kids aren't signing up.
Having failed to kill the Affordable Care Actwhen it was being debated in Congress, AHIP members are now pushing, tweaking and giving a little in hopes of getting a bit more. If the law works as it was designed to, insurers would reap billions of dollars in new policies. If it doesn't, the industry—and Ms. Ignagni, its polished, richly paid representative—will share in the blame.
Did we mention today is the last day to enroll and have insurance for 2014.

Not whether you win or lose, but how you tweet the game

From the land of the $15 per hour minimum wannabes comes;
The Cardinals' 17-10 win in Seattle on Sunday kept their postseason hopes alive while snapping the Seahawks' 14-game home win streak. [Democrat State Representative Joe] Fitzgibbon's comment was posted shortly after the game.
"Losing a football game sucks," Fitzgibbon wrote. "Losing to a desert racist wasteland sucks a lot."
....Fitzgibbon is from Burien and represents the 34th Legislative District, which covers West Seattle, Burien and Vashon Island. 
His district also abuts SeaTac where an initiative barely passed in the last election requiring a minimum wage of $15 per hour. And is just south of Seattle where a city councilman last week declared;
"We're a strong caring city. Generally we do what needs to be done," [Nick] Licata said. "We got Elvis Presley to come here...I think we can get to a $15 minimum wage."
What needs to be done, apparently is keep your self-esteem elevated. Even when your team fails you.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Zug of war

They ain't just yodeling Dixie, but it's the same old tune of railroads, in Switzerland;
Less congestion on the streets, more seats on trains, half-hourly connections on main routes, expansion in all regions, better regulation of freight traffic – all this and much more is promised by a new bill known as FABI. Every canton is to get a slice of the action, worth CHF6.4 billion ($7.2 billion). 
“This is not a transport policy – it’s a wish list,” said rightwing Swiss People’s Party senator Ulrich Giezendanner, who also owns a trucking firm. “Every person added something in for their region. And this was sanctioned in parliament because people were fearful their region would end up with nothing.” 
Evi Allemann, a centre-left Social Democratic Party member of the House and president of the Transport and Environment Association, disagreed. “We have a railway network that has been built on the idea that all regions are well-connected,” she said. 
That's the problem, Evi; it's political connections that funnel the money, not the market. As Herr Giezendanner puts it later in the article;
“Consumers will foot the bill for what the politicians want,” criticised Giezendanner, who says he is not against regulating the financing of transport. “However, you have to know where the money is going to come from. In Switzerland, that is no longer clear.”
....Another criticism by Giezendanner is that roads generally get a raw deal. “You have to realise that 15% of traffic in Switzerland goes by rail and 85% uses the roads. But we’re only investing in rail. That means there won’t be enough money for road traffic,” he added.

15 into 14; it won't go

If it is true, as was said in the Chamber of Deputies at the time of the French Revolution, that more evil has been done by poor logicians than by evil men intentionally, Seattle might soon see the unskilled labor market become a black market thanks to some with less than rigorous logic skills;
Studies by the Economic Policy Institute show that a $15 minimum wage would directly affect workers and indirectly benefit an additional the public in general. That’s a lot of people, the majority of the workforce and their families who would be more able to buy cars, clothing and food from our nation’s businesses.
  • An objection to a significant wage increase is that it would force employers to shed workers. Yet the evidence points the other way: Workers earn more and spend more, increasing demand and helping businesses grow.
  • Critics of raising the minimum wage also say it will lead to more outsourcing and job loss. Yet virtually all of these low-wage jobs are service jobs that can neither be outsourced nor automated.
  • Raising the earnings of all American workers would provide all businesses with more customers with more to spend.  Seeing the as Henry Ford did would redirect our country toward a high-growth future that works for all. 
Of course workers can only earn more, and then spend more, if they can first get jobs. Workers who cannot produce $15 in value--as consumers see it--won't have jobs at all, and their incomes will drop to zero (unless they work off the books).

Also, service jobs CAN be outsourced and automated. Anyone seen an elevator operator lately, or noticed the self-check out lanes at Safeway?

Henry Ford was only able to raise his workers wages because he found ways to raise their productivity first, to a level that could support those wages. He wasn't forced to do it by legislation, but by his own self-interest; he wanted the most productive workers working for him, not his competitors. The market, operating without interference, produced those high wages.

What is truly hilarious--if we ignore the potential human tragedies should 15in2014 get its way--is that for support, Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center is cited. Apparently ignoring that institute's motto; Improving lives through market solutions.

Ukraineans with means did it

Bled the country for their own benefit, says Nauro F. Campos, which is what is behind the civil unrest in Kiev. The evil that socialist man did lives after;
  • The cause of these protests is in the extremely poor institutions that have taken root in Ukraine after the collapse of communism.
Similar to what happened thanks to Juan Peron;
Like Argentina ...Ukraine has enormous economic potential: decent infrastructure, an educated workforce, a diversified industrial structure, and abundant natural resources (not only hydrocarbons and minerals, but also productive agricultural land.) Yet, inclusive institutions have difficulty emerging not only because of substantial regional and linguistic differences...but also because of the entrenchment of powerful new economic elites that contributed to the lingering of the Soviet legacy. The press recently reported with excitement that during EuroMaidan [protests in Kiev] a statue of Lenin was toppled in downtown Kiev, and Soviet stars were taken out from the city hall’s façade. Astonishment failed to register as to how and why such symbols are still on display two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
(Bold by HSIB.)

Campos links to this blog post by Anders Aslund;
Ukraine’s well-known problems of corruption lie behind Ukraine’s last-minute demand for payment in return for association with the European Union. ....[I.e.] President Viktor Yanukovych’s absurd demand of €160 billion from the European Union in grants until 2017....
The Ukrainian government’s budget deficit of 6 percent of GDP or $11 billion is driven by what is commonly called the “Yanukovych family” siphoning big money from the state budget.
Which is accomplished in three ways;
1. Billions of dollars are extracted each year out of the State Tax Administration and the State Customs Committee. Some appears to be sheer embezzlement, some is in the form of bribes passed on to the top, and some comes from commissions demanded from value-added tax refunds for exporters. ....
2. Competitive bidding of large infrastructure projects, notably connected with the Euro 2012 Soccer Cup, has ceased. The government overpays for these projects by paying twice as much as it should. ....
3. The state oil and gas company Naftogaz buys 18 billion cubic meters of domestically produced natural gas each year at the ridiculously low price of $53 per 1000 cubic meters. ....permitting someone to make a fortune from reselling the gas to industrial customers for a price related to the Russian gas price of $410 per 1000 cubic meter.
Which appears to be the reason Vladmir Putin is offering to subsidize Ukraine, to keep it from going all EU on him. The Yanukovych Crime Family is going to sell Ukraine to the highest bidder, unless the people can stop it.

Bees aren't doing it

Got nuts? Ed Dolan says they're big business and you can put Cheerios in them;
In the late 1970s, Americans of all ages drank, on average, about one glass of milk a day. Thirty years later that was down to about two-thirds of a glass. And it is not just adults who are giving up on cow’s milk. Over the same period, children aged 2 to 12 years cut their daily milk intake from 1.7 glasses to 1.2.
At first, consumers turned to soy milk as their preferred dairy replacement. Recently, though, almond milk has been catching up. In another report, FoodNavigator-USA.com noted that soy milk sales fell in 2012 while almond milk sales grew 79%.
However, even The Fable of the Bees is subject to elasticity of demand;
A decreased availability of honeybees, essential for pollinating the almond crop, is a more worrisome threat. For several years now, bees have suffered from a mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD). Scientists have tracked several possible causes, including mites, microbes, pesticides, modern beekeeping practices, and even electromagnetic radiation. Relatively new pesticides called neonicotinoids are the latest suspects.
.... Beekeepers are losing some 30 percent of their hives each year. In response, they have doubled their usual fees.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Manlock up!

For Pajama Boy to unstick Big Bertha (Seatle's non-reversible boring machine--they've filled in the tunnel behind her already)?
"The contractor can create a space in front of the cutting head and the ground -- through proper means -- and then the workers would be able to look in front of the cutting head," said Matt Preedy, deputy program administrator for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program.
....One of the ways to get to that spot involves going through a manlock, or passageway between spaces of different air pressure. There are manlocks at the front of Bertha's bulkhead, Preedy said, which would allow workers to see what is stopping the 7,000-ton machine.
The problem is that the machine is tunneling through what used to be Elliott Bay, until  Seattle leveled one of its hills and dumped it into the water...and over whatever was already in the water;
"I really do hope it's something in a way unnatural because it's a more fun story that way," joked David B. Williams, a geologist and author who has studied the topography of Seattle.
Williams points out that the first settlers to the Emerald City used anything they could find -- sawdust, timber, even garbage -- to fill in the land around Elliott Bay.
"Anywhere you go in Pioneer Square, you're basically on 'made' land. You find old shoes, newspapers; there's a boat buried in downtown. So you name it -- it could be down there," Williams said.
Historic records show that a boat called The Windward ran aground on Whidbey Island and was towed into downtown Seattle, Williams said. The ship eventually became part of the landfill beneath city streets.
Speaking of 'unnatural', there is an eerie similarity to the problem Democrats are facing from the fallout--rather than landfill--from Obamacare; they forgot to look before they tunneled too, and also bumped into an obstruction (though F.A. Hayek warned us against it, as The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism). Now they're in jeopardy of losing control of the Senate;
Weeks of technical problems with the health insurance enrollment website and anxiety over insurance cancellations for millions of people have erased early advantages enjoyed by Democratic candidates Gary Peters in Michigan and Mark Udallin Colorado.
....Republicans need to pick up six seats to win the Senate in a midterm election year that typically hurts the party in the White House.
A victory in either Michigan or Colorado — both carried by Obama in 2012 and 2008 — would greatly boost their chances. Democrats already are defending Senate seats in seven states that Obama won, including three where incumbents are retiring.
Doing the math; far more people have had their health insurance plans canceled on them, than have signed up for Obamacare's preferred schemes. Ted Cruz's revenge?

Friday, December 20, 2013

He wears striped pants

Dennis Rodman practices basketball diplomacy, and finds he can get everyone to agree!
Rodman, wearing a pink button-down shirt and puffing on a cigar, watched as a couple of dozen local players took to the basketball court for the tryouts. After the session, he told the players that each of the 12 he chooses will get two new pairs of tennis shoes.
When asked why he liked basketball, North Korean player Kim Un Chol told Rodman he started playing the game because he was impressed by it on TV, and said he also wants to be good at the sport because it is a favorite of leader Kim and his late father, Kim Jong Il.
Rodman asked all the players if they felt the same way. They nodded in unison.
"I want you guys to do one thing for your leader," Rodman then told them. "It's his birthday. It's a very special, special day for the country."
Our bold, of course.

Seattle's political horticulture

A well known anecdote about Dorothy Parker (of the Algonquin Roundtable) was that, challenged to construct a sentence with the word 'horticulture' in it, she came up with, 'You can lead a...but, you can't make her think.'

Newly elected mayor Ed Murray announces that he's hep;
Seattle's incoming mayor announced Thursday that he would give a big task force of business, labor, government and academics four months to come up with a plan to raise the city's minimum wage.
Mayor-elect Ed Murray said his goal is to raise Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour, but he'll let the task force work out the details.
Seattle has become a flash point in a national debate over raising the minimum wage, even though Washington state already has the highest statewide minimum wage in the nation at $9.19 an hour.
Not to be out-pandered;
City Council Member Nick Licata expressed confidence the city will raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
"We're a strong caring city. Generally we do what needs to be done," Licata said. "We got Elvis Presley to come here...I think we can get to a $15 minimum wage."
He and others also compared the campaign to Washington's adoption of gay marriage, an effort for which Murray was a leader.
"A lot of things are possible," Sewant said. "For all the naysayers who think this can't be done in Seattle — marriage equality is a good example."
A good bad example of believing that wishful thinking will make it so. Or, if you call jobs from the vasty deep...will they come when you call them?

Unfortunately for low skilled Seattleites, it's likely be more than a ten year out to lunch.

Forget about Dostoievsky

Get the pet book of small crime and petulance, while they last;
In this [Montana] mountain town (pop. 39,000), police officers' duties extend beyond the daily rounds and reports. They provide fodder for one of the hottest books in town, "We Don't Make This Stuff Up: The Very Best of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle Police Reports."
....Police blotters, laying bare the foibles of the community, have become the focal point of several websites and books around the country. Here in Bozeman, the concept has really taken flight. In addition to the book, the newspaper, which has a news staff of 19, is now offering T-shirts and promoting its wares on a Facebook page that has more than 3,000 "likes." At bookstores and other shops in town, the books are stacked high and sometimes topped with a red or blue flashing light just like a police car.
"It has just become the fabric of Bozeman," said Nick Ehli, the paper's managing editor. The Chronicle brought in more than $100,000 from its first edition two years ago, selling more than 11,000 copies in three printings. "It's really taken on a life of its own." 
Read about;
... a man being dragged by sled dogs, a woman stuck in a carwash after the carwash doors froze shut and a man asking, "What do I do with two pimples near my eyes?"
...."Serious things do happen here, but there are also cows on the Interstate," says Mr. Ehli, the managing editor. 
Comic gold is where you find it.

Emily's list

She's checked it more than twice, and turns out that Mary Landrieu is naughty, not nice (for Louisiana's oil industry);
Through the auspices of JAZZ PAC, her [Senator Landrieu's] leadership political action committee, she has from 2006 to 2012 contributed some $380,000 to re-elect some of the most ardent Senate opponents of the oil and gas industry. One result is a bloc of liberal members who easily cancel out Ms. Landrieu's votes and guarantee the defeat of legislation designed to help Louisiana.
Which information comes from Emily Cornell, executive director of Keep Louisiana Working. Worse, she finds that Landrieu's PAC's money comes from the oil and gas companies themselves;
Ms. Landrieu has taken in more than $1 million in donations since 2004. Energy contributors include Marathon Oil,...Murphy Oil...Sunoco, Coastal Land & Drilling, and lobby firms that do work for energy companies. Ms. Landrieu repays that support by funneling their money into the campaigns of members who routinely vote to undermine Louisiana oil and gas.
An example: In March 2012, Ms. Landrieu's fellow Louisiana senator, Republican David Vitter, managed to get a vote on an amendment that would have implemented a 2008 offshore drilling plan to allow new oil and gas leases throughout the Outer Continental Shelf. Ms. Landrieu voted for the amendment.
But JAZZ PAC helped finance Democrats who defeated the Vitter amendment by 12 votes. Of the 48 Democrats who voted against Louisiana oil and gas that day, JAZZ PAC had contributed to 37 of them—more than $300,000 in total. 
Senator Landrieu is up for re-election in 2014.

Oh, about that 'austerity' complaint...

The U.S. economy grew at a healthy 4.1% annual rate in the third quarter, revised figures showed Friday, boosting hopes that the recovery is shifting into higher gear after years of sluggishness.
The Commerce Department previously pegged the annual growth rate from July through September at 3.6%. But new data indicated stronger gains in consumer and business spending over the summer.
Friday's new estimate showed gross domestic product, the broadest measure of all goods and services produced in the economy, expanding at the fastest pace since the fourth quarter of 2011 and the second-fastest since the recovery began in mid-2009.
Not exactly what Paul Krugman was expecting from sequestration, was it.