Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Links to Drink By

Apple's iPhone is 5 years old today and in that short period of time it has changed the information ecosystem.  I wonder what Apple TV will do?

A recent court decision may pretty much end the building of any future coal-fired power plants. Natural gas is the likely winner.  Buy UNG?  Money quote:

 "The agency is also preparing to issue first-ever standards for carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants, which are likely to spur utilities to opt for cleaner natural-gas burning plants instead."


Stockton CA is bankrupt. Retirees are screwed. "My prediction is that retiree health care is cut. I wouldn't be surprised to see it cut to zero," says a bankruptcy attorney.  Is Illinois next? Watch out for Muni bonds.


Merkel is adamant that she will not bail out the PIIGs. "Not as long as I live." Could this be the bottom?  I wouldn't short this market.


Disclosure: I own AAPL and UNG, among other long positions. I have covered all shorts.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Yo-o-o-ouk!!!!!! UPDATE 6-27

One of the President's many commendable traits is the loyal ownership of his fandom of Chicago sports teams.  Yes, some booed and others were cheering "Yo-o-ouk", but regardless, I'm sure the president doesn't care. The White Sox have a goddam World Series to win and f**k any bitter Red Sox fans who have a beef.

Of course, whiney pants Mittens does have a beef. He issued a press released titled: "Whether it's bad baseball cracks or bad policy, President Obama is striking out."

Get a life.

UPDATE 6-27-2012:

From the Atlantic:  "As some wags pointed out, Romney has been much slower to articulate a position on immigration than on the [Youkilis] trade."

Monday, June 25, 2012


I watch almost no prime time TV (except baseball), so I consider this short video a Cliffs' Notes to popular culture. It informs as to where many of my co-workers and friends get their speech patterning.

This is enough banter to keep me away from television for another decade or so.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Catch-22: Affordable Care Act

"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
"And what difference does that make?" 
--Catch-22, Joseph Heller


The Supreme Court is deciding the fate of President Obama's flagship legislation on health care reform this weekend. Rumor has it that it's an all-or-none decision whereby the whole thing gets approved or it's tossed. I won't conjecture on the arithmetic except to say that four justices are pretty anti-Obama on most issues.

An attorney blogs at ScaryLawyerGuy about the problem with the ACA's mandate to buy health insurance:
The complication arises because the law, opponents say, affirmatively requires a person to buy health insurance even if they are not currently sick and may (in theory at least) never need it. In doing so, these opponents say, the government cannot force a person into a consumer market involuntarily. Indeed, this argument goes, this is the first time Congress has ever required citizens to enter the "stream of commerce" against their will. 
Alternatively, instead of using the Commerce clause the Obama administration could have exercised the federal government's broad powers to "tax and spend"-- the same power that allows the collection of Social Security and Unemployment insurance-- and would have solid legal footing because of the many precedents.

Why did the Obama administration choose the more precarious "purchase mandate" of the Commerce clause over the "tax and spend" avenue? SLG:
That answer is simple and can be summed up in one word - "politics." Democrats took the politically easier, but legally more challenging route because they did not want the dreaded three letter word T-A-X attached to this bill. Just another example of bad politics making bad law. Oh well, at least every legal scholar with a JD next to his/her name will be busy next week. 
I'll add that I'm sure part of the calculation was that passing the law-- any law-- was of paramount importance and plan to fight the legal battles later, hopefully after the 2012 election.  That timing didn't work out very well for President Obama because if the SCOTUS overturns the ACA his re-election will be jeopardized.

Of course overturning all of the ACA could be very unpopular since it would take millions of young adults off their parents health insurance and also might allow health insurers to put caps on lifetime benefits. These two popular clauses of the ACA mandate are in play and health insurers and the Supreme Court justices know it. In a masterstroke by the insurance industry, however, Forbes reports: 

UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest private health insurance company, has announced its intent to continue allowing parents to keep their kids under the age of 26 on their insurance policies...[and] [t]he company additionally intends to continue its ACA required policy of not placing lifetime caps on benefits, thus protecting insured customers from using up their coverage should they encounter a serious, long-lasting illness. 

Game. Set. Match.  This missive was put out for consumption by the Supreme Court justices to give them cover if and when they do overturn the ACA. This way they can easily call Obamacare unconstitutional and sleep well knowing that the two most popular clauses will be voluntarily kept in place.  It's a small price to pay for the insurance industry to destroy Obama's re-election chances.

Why might the ACA get nixed? Answer: Because the corporate overlords don't want it. 

The word "tax" has been so tainted by corporate-backed propaganda that the only way Obama's ACA could have passed Congress is by using a failed interpretation of the Commerce clause, but this is likely not to make it past the SCOTUS.


Video: Neon Trees, "Everybody Talks"

Sounds kinda like Stray Cats. From Provo, UT , so maybe Mormons are cooler than you think.

(h/t Josh Brown)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mars Rover

Jerry Coyne has some videos about "Curiosity", the Mars rover which is set to land in August.

Phenomenal feat of engineering. More here, and the comments are always enlightening although mostly by biologists.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rocks for brains

Joe the Dumber is running for Congress.

The world’s dumbest bank has the world’s dumbest bank customer.

America's bank. I'm so proud.

Question 1: If you successfully rob a bank of $1.5 million in small bills do you:

a) charter a boat to Paraguay or some other country with no US extradition treaty

b) hide it under your house and spend it slowly over the rest of your life

c) blow it all within hours at the nearest casino


Question 2: If you are in charge of computer security for one of the largest banks in the world, what would be the maximum daily withdrawal limit for a customer who has an average daily balance of $100?

a) $20

b) $50

c) $312,000

If you answered “c” to both questions, then you can ignore the rest of this story because you fully understand the rank ignorance of humanity and its institutions.

Apparently, a “glitch” at Bank of America allowed a retired auto worker to have unlimited ATM withdrawals over an 18 day period.  WTF?  It’s such a good thing we bailed out those bozos. They obviously are taking their fiduciary responsibilities very seriously.

It gets better. The moron takes this money and immediately plays it away-- all $1.5 million-- at Michigan casinos.  Immediately. 

My brain hurts.

Millionaire for a week, moron for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The merits of a strong federal government?

I don't always agree with Paul Krugman, but here I do (sort of):
Ask yourself, why does the dollar area — also known as the United States of America — more or less work, without the kind of severe regional crises now afflicting Europe? The answer is that we have a strong central government, and the activities of this government in effect provide automatic bailouts to states that get in trouble.
Consider, for example, what would be happening to Florida right now, in the aftermath of its huge housing bubble, if the state had to come up with the money for Social Security and Medicare out of its own suddenly reduced revenues. Luckily for Florida, Washington rather than Tallahassee is picking up the tab, which means that Florida is in effect receiving a bailout on a scale no European nation could dream of.
Or consider an older example, the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, which was largely a Texas affair. Taxpayers ended up paying a huge sum to clean up the mess — but the vast majority of those taxpayers were in states other than Texas. Again, the state received an automatic bailout on a scale inconceivable in modern Europe.
So Greece, although not without sin, is mainly in trouble thanks to the arrogance of European officials, mostly from richer countries, who convinced themselves that they could make a single currency work without a single government. And these same officials have made the situation even worse by insisting, in the teeth of the evidence, that all the currency’s troubles were caused by irresponsible behavior on the part of those Southern Europeans, and that everything would work out if only people were willing to suffer some more.
The caveat: Greece is not in trouble due to "the arrogance of European officials", they are in trouble due to the ineptitude of their own government which squandered the huge influx of foreign investment brought about by the Euro. Were all the problems due to Greek ineptitude? No, but they left themselves vulnerable and did not take responsibility.
This is the oily rag analogy writ large. If you leave open gas cans and oily rags laying about the garage you will likely bear no ill effects for months or even years, but one spark-- a real estate bubble a continent away-- and the conflagration can kill your family. Because foreign investors bought you gasoline and rags does not remove your responsibility to store them safely.
I get Krugman's point that strong central government can come to the rescue of peripheral players, but the alternate view is that perhaps the peripheral players should have less connection to each other in the first place. The savings and loan crisis of the 1980's would have been much smaller, or even non-existent, if the FDIC had not promised to backstop Neil Bush's Silverado "investments". Who would have given that criminal-- and all the other criminals who ran S&L's-- any hard-earned risk capital without that federal guarantee? Likewise, the Greeks would have been relatively spared if they had kept the drachma and instituted strong local regulations and tax collection.
Yes, everybody loves Marshal Dillon to ride in when the crisis occurs, but it seems that the mere prospect of a federal marshal being available allows officials to pay less attention to potential crises.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"The bloody corpse of democracy"

Corporate cronyism, deregulation, welfare for banksters...


Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks contributed more than half a million dollars on Scott Walker’s behalf. Fearful the United States might become “a socialistic ideological nation,” she’s an ardent foe of unions – and against, in her words, “taxing job creators.” True to her aversion to taxes, she paid none in 2010, despite being worth, according to “Forbes Magazine,” about $2.8 billion dollars. Before he launched his crusade against the collective bargaining rights of working people, Governor Walker held this conversation with Diane Hendricks.

DIANE HENDRICKS: Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state, and work on these Unions?


DIANE HENDRICKS: And become a right-to-work? What can we do to help you?

SCOTT WALKER: Well, we`re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is we`re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.

BILL MOYERS: And so he did. Walker also hauled in checks from the Texas oligarch Bob Perry for nearly half a million. Perry made his fortune in the home building business and is best known nationally for contributing four and a half million dollars to the Swift Boat campaign that smeared the Vietnam War record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry back in 2004.
Then there’s casino king Sheldon Adelson, who gave Scott Walker’s cause $250,000. Of course, that’s a drop in the old champagne bucket compared to the $21 million Adelson’s family gave to the super PAC that kept Newt Gingrich in the race long after the formaldehyde had been ordered. Adelson did not long mourn Gingrich’s passing, and is now giving as much as $10 million to the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future.

Next up on Scott Walker’s list of beneficent plutocrats: Rich DeVos, owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team and co-founder of the home products giant Amway, which, thanks to Republican leaders in Congress, once shared in a $19 million tax break after a million-dollar DeVos contribution to the Republican Party. He’s a long-time member of the secretive Council for National Policy, a who’s who of right-wing luminaries.

And Louis Moore Bacon, the billionaire founder of the hedge fund Moore Capital – which in 2010 was fined $25 million for attempted commodities manipulation. A big backer of Romney, he, too came to Walker’s aid in Wisconsin.

I could go on and name more, but you get the picture. These are the people who are helping to fund what the journalist Joe Hagan describes as a “tsunami of slime.”

(hat tip: Barry Ritholtz)



Quote of the Day:

"The truth is that there is an attempt to sow division that comes from the Devil."
      --  Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, commenting on the etiology of the Vatican leak scandal.

Fat ass selectively remembers history, advocates violence

Jonah Goldberg is hardly worth the wear and tear on my finger pads let alone the electrons that will die for this blog post, so I'll make it brief.

The fact that young people think socialism is better than capitalism. That’s proof of what social scientists call their stupidity and their ignorance. And that’s something that conservatives have to beat out of them. Either literally or figuratively as far as I’m concerned.
1. Was the 2008 bailout of Hank Paulsen's banker buddies not socialism? Advocated by old white men to save old white men?

2. If Goldberg wants to "literally" beat someone up, why pick on kids? I'm an old man. Bring it-- literally or figuratively.

The entire video:

Is this the Onion?

Unfortunately, no.

The text of St. Matthew runs as follows:
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 3)
  • Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. (Verse 4)
  • Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Verse 5)
  • Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. (Verse 6)
  • Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Verse 7)
  • Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. (Verse 8)
  • Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Verse 9)
  • Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 10)
  • Blessed are they who cold-cock some meat-head in a cage match, for they shall have balls of steel (The Forgotten Verse)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Modest Proposal to End Abortion

Finally, a practical solution that would work...and leave it to an ob/gyn to devise it.

Make men responsible every time they impregnate a woman. Dr Evan Evans' brief 3-page is summarized: 

  • Restrict elective abortion to the first 16 weeks.
  • Require DNA testing to determine paternity of all out-of-wedlock children, even aborted.
  • Require the father to establish a $50,000 trust fund to care for any out-of-wedlock child, even if adopted. If the child is aborted, the fund is used for sex education.
  • If the father can’t pay, he joins the military and uses his enlistment bonus and salary to pay.
  • No man can avoid paternity claiming “she seduced me,” or that she claimed she was on the pill, had her tubes tied, whatever.
  • Man under 18? His parents are responsible.

  • Send it to every legislator who feels compelled to limit women's reproductive rights.

    Evans, a retired Ogden OB/GYN, came by his disgust for abortion in a horrendous three-month stint in the pathology/obstetrics ward at Cook County Hospital in Chicago in the 1950s when he did his residency.
    Abortion was illegal but very common.
    Rich women went to Europe, or Mexico, or had a friendly doctor take care of them.Poor women had to seek local “help,” and many, bleeding from a botched or self-administered abortion, would show up at Cook County, “nearly dead. I’d give them a shot of morphine and complete the abortion, then transfuse them.”
    In that three months, “I completed a lot of back-door abortions.”
    More than 500, which works out to six a day, give or take. And he was just one doctor, in one hospital, and those were the survivors.
    When abortion was illegal, more than 100,000 women a year died from botched abortions.They will again if Roe v. Wade is overturned. That’s a hard fact abortion opponents, who claim they are saving lives, choose to ignore.
    Lose the fetus, or lose the mother? Evans says he once asked Utah’s Catholic bishop, “Which is the proper Christian murder?”
    You say neither? Funny thing, so does Evans.
    However unlikely this proposal has of ever becoming law, it absolutely is on the right track, and anyone who says they want to restrict abortion by any other means is just playing politics (IOW, they're full of shit.)
    He continues:
    “No boy would dare have sex without wearing three condoms,” he said, because one might break, and two can still leak.
    His law, he proudly says, would completely shut down abortion clinics.
    All pro-choice and pro-life forces need to do, he said, is “join forces and preach contraception and hold the boy responsible.
    We’d put them out of business because they’d have no business.”

    Monday, June 11, 2012

    Michael Lewis

    Moneyball and inefficient markets: the role of luck and that extra cookie.  It's worth 15 minutes, watch:


    Movie Review: Prometheus UPDATE 6-11

    Short review:  It sucked.

    One star, for the robotic c-section. Nice.

    Longer review:

    Sigmund's point is well-taken that if the Engineers had "impregnated" the earth with DNA 4 billion years ago then they would have evolved further away from their current phenotype as seen in the movie. Alternatively, if the impregnation happened within the last million years, as evidenced by the vegetative life on earth during the opening scene, then the writer is re-writing evolutionary history.

    Okay, I'll forgive all that. The greater point is that the movie sucked in nearly every other way as well. The special effects were prodigious-- the robot c-section was outstanding-- but the plot was tiresome. Unlike other sci-fi films it does not open any new and interesting thought processes. The old Star Trek series' were much more thought-provoking in addressing our existential threats, our collective hopes, our eternal angst, our complex social interactions, etc. 

    In Prometheus every character was fatally flawed either by lack of development or unrealistic and unbelievable actions.  Scientists were undisciplined, incompetent and superstitious, which is pretty much a mortal sin for any science fiction movie. If we can't see the scientists as worthwhile then why watch? How could such morons even get to this distant planet in the first place? 

    Okay, a trillion-dollar expedition into space with the aim of discovering the origin of man, the most important mission mankind has ever undertaken, and the 17 people hand-picked for it are the dumbest and most unlikable people planet Earth has to offer. Scientists don't behave like scientists. The captain of the ship seems strangely disinterested in his crew's peril. Characters do unbelievably stupid things seemingly without reason and thoroughly against what we know of their personalities through the meager amount of set-up we're given. 
    Then I realized the day after seeing the movie that the writer is the same as for TV's Lost. I would not have wasted 2 hours watching this trash if I had known. The plot was the same disjointed, gratuitous and lame garbage. A mess. 

    As DXM says: "In reference to all of these questions, I blame and kind of hate [Lost writer] Damon Lindelof. Despite its popularity, Lost was annoying metaphysical tripe that masqueraded as intellectualism -- and Lindelof seems to have brought the same ethos to Prometheus." 

    Or maybe Ridley Scott is getting demented to have bought into this crappy script.

    I agree with DXM up until the final paragraph of his review when he abstrusely says he is going to see the movie again (!)... just to see it in IMAX.


    I saw it in 2D and I'm thankful I didn't pay the extra $3.50 for 3D. Why on earth would anybody want to waste even more hard-earned coin on this trash?

    Aside from the c-section scene this thing is unwatchable.

    (h/t @GoodDoc01 for the DXM reference)

    UPDATE: 6-11-2012

    Cavalorn explores the religious symbolism in Prometheus, which may be correct or it may be over-reading the intent. Topics such as virgin births, creators, resurrection and self-sacrifice are hardly the sole property of Judeo-Christianity, and the project is named after a Greek mythic figure, so perhaps Ridley Scott is attempting some sort of neo-Neoplatonism.... This consideration actually just adds to my annoyance with the film.

    Thursday, June 07, 2012

    Teachers make too damn much money... least that is what Wisconsin voters seem to think. And maybe that's all there is to it.

    “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

    Scott Walker survived a governor recall election that probably was unwarranted and apparently unpopular.  Hyped as a lead-in to the November presidential stakes, the Democrats could barely muster a lukewarm endorsement of their candidate by Bill Clinton in the final days.

    The Democrats were outspent $34 million to $4 million as billionaires stepped up to support Walker-- huge money-- which bespeaks the importance placed on this theme of busting unions put on by national players.  But there is more to this story.

    I sense deep voter resentment of teachers who make good salaries-- maybe too good by community standards-- and have generous benefits. Additionally, the teachers' union has negotiated health benefits and directed contracts to the union-owned company, WEA. 

    All politics is local and maybe the Wisconsin thing is specific to Wisconsin teachers where grade school teachers can make $70K per year and retire at age 55 with health insurance for life. Maybe it's as simple as that and there is nothing of any national significance to see here.

    I admit that this video makes my skin crawl: an evangelical, anti-gay, politician on the ascendancy.  This triggered a visceral comment by me:  
    Yes, democracy is defined by huge moneyed interests convincing the unwashed masses that our society is broke while lobbyists and CEO's of companies-- which are the largest recipients of public welfare-- get hefty pay raises and tax cuts. And when Gov Walker is done negotiating away rights in Wisconsin I'm sure he'll have a sweet deal in the private sector as a pay-off for all his "hard work."
    Which triggered an eloquent counter-response from someone: 
    You are right. Democracy is having unions force all public employees to pay union dues that support candidates or recall elections whether the members agree or not. Democracy is having school districts unable to bid out contracts for health care and force them to buy over-priced plans run by (you guessed it) da' unions . Democracy is having teachers skip school to protest and then use fake doctors notes to get PAID FOR THE TIME OFF!!
    I may be one of the unwashed masses but our state is creating jobs, property taxes are down, teachers are getting merit raises (all while still making 22% more than their private business educational counterparts) and our "fake" deficit is now a surplus. I am sure Obama is working on ways to control the Lobbyists. 
    So perhaps I'm reading too much into the Wisconsin result. Sure lots of money has been spent by SuperPACs, which seems to have ominous implications, but similar legislation limiting public union influence has been struck down in Ohio and elsewhere, so a national trend Wisconsin does not make.

    We are all the unwashed masses, whether we are semi-skilled laborers delivering babies or middle managers keeping the lights turned on, we don't own the means of production and we survive at the whim of the manor lord.  Some, like Mr. Walker, are just more adept at toadying up to the lord by throwing the rest of us to the wolves.

    I guess I'd have more sympathy for Act 10 if the teachers hadn't acquiesced to most of the demands of the school boards and legislature, and I'd also be more sympathetic if the underlying game plan of the GOP were not to make "right-to-work" the norm everywhere. 

    I understand that the interests of labor unions are not necessarily in the general public interest. A more nuanced view comes from Doug Henwood:

     Despite a massive financial crisis and a dismal job market, approval of unions is close to an all-time low in the 75 years Gallup has been asking the question. A major reason for this is that twice as many people (68%) think that unions help mostly their members as think they help the broader population (34%). Amazingly, in Wisconsin, while only about 30% of union members voted for Walker, nearly half of those living in union households but not themselves union members voted for him (Union voters ≠ union households). In other words, apparently union members aren’t even able to convince their spouses that the things are worth all that much.

    A major reason for the perception that unions mostly help insiders is that it’s true. 

    Scott Walker is definitely riding the wave of this discontent, but don't think for a minute that it ends with teachers. Inexplicably, other public employees like police and firemen in Wisconsin barely broke a sweat as teachers got their tongues excised. Are teachers really that overpaid and hated? 

    If the GOP has their way, the race to the bottom will result in Wisconsin becoming Alabama where you have the "right-to-work'' on a assembly line for 20 years for $10.50 an hour, and when your back is broken the boss will cast you onto the public dole with no pension or health benefits...but we'll have 3% unemployment...yay!

    Henwood continues:

     Collective bargaining has mostly disappeared in the private sector, and now looks doomed in the public sector. There are something like 23 states with Republican governors and legislative majorities ready to imitate Walker who will be emboldened by his victory. And there are a lot of Dems ready to do a Walker Lite. If they don’t disappear, public sector unions will soon become powerless.

    That means that if unions ever want to turn things around—and I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that we’ll never have a better society without a reborn labor movement—they have to learn to operate in this new reality. Which means learning to act politically, to agitate on behalf of the entire working class and not just a privileged subset with membership cards.

    And it's no coincidence that wealth inequality is increasing. 

    Maybe we should all work for $10.50 an hour while bank CEO's and lobbyists get pay raises. 

    Tuesday, June 05, 2012

    Curt Schilling to stiff taxpayers

    Hall of Fame pitcher, small-government conservative mouthpiece, shill for Republican candidates, he of the bloody sock, none other than Curt Schilling asked Rhode Island taxpayers back a loan for $75 million...and you guessed it... He's defaulting.

     "Apparently smaller government, in Schilling's world, applies to other people, maybe city kids stuck in underperforming schools or disabled adults looking for help back and forth to medical appointments."

    Welfare for the rich. Again.

    I don't know who are more annoying, wealthy arrogant pricks who extol the virtues of independence and bootstraps only to hypocritically leave the rest of us with their mess, or the impoverished libertarians who willingly vote away all the entitlements to which they are entitled (because they paid for them) only to give tax money to wealthy arrogant pricks.