Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Over the Fiscal Cliff with the AssPress

On a day when the AP embarrassed itself beyond measure with a bogus graph designed to scare us about Iranian nukes, is it piling on to point out that Ohlemacher's latest drivel on the budget is drivel?

Not until I get more hits than he gets newspapers! So lets take it line by bleeding line:

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's not just about taxes. There's another big obstacle to overcome as Congress and President Barack Obama work to skirt the fiscal cliff: deep divisions among Senate Democrats over whether to consider cuts to popular benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Much of the focus during negotiations seeking an alternative to $671 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts beginning in January has centered on whether Republicans would agree to raising taxes on the wealthy. Obama insists that tax increases on the wealthy must be part of any deal, even as White House officials concede that government benefit programs will have to be in the package too.

Move along, nothing to see here. A little dramatic language, but ho-hum.

But even if GOP lawmakers agree to raise taxes, there is no guarantee Democrats can come up with enough votes in the Senate to cut benefit programs — as Republicans are demanding.

Beep! This isn't about raising taxes - that's already law.  It's about whether to lower them. Reminder :THE FISCAL CLIFF IS A SET OF LAWS THAT REDUCE THE DEFICIT, THE PEOPLE MOST SCARED OF IT ARE THE SAME ONES THAT HAVE BEEN PLUGGING AUSTERITY. The second sentence makes no sense.  Let's continue. though leave out a few dull paragraphs because fair use, OK?

"Democrats like to pretend as though they're the great protectors of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "They make solemn pledges all the time about how they won't even entertain a discussion about reform. What they don't say is that ignoring these programs is the surest way to guarantee their collapse."

Shouldn't Stevorini mention whether McConnell was struck by a thunderbolt here? This is brazen hypocritical bushwah even by Senate Republican standards.For one thing - the Republicans have not proposed any Medicare changes for the Democrats to consider. When the Democrats have made cuts to giveaways to middlemen like Medicare C & D, or any other reforms, McConnell has screamed "The Democrats are cuttting Medicare!!"  But nope, Stevie lets it go.

There's a growing consensus among Senate Democrats and the White House that Social Security should be exempt from any deficit-reduction package. But some centrist Democrats in the Senate argue that fellow Democrats must be willing to consider cuts to Medicare and Medicaid in order to get concessions from Republicans on taxes.
"It has to be both — a significant revenue increase as well as spending cuts," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who is retiring as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said rising health care costs in Medicare and Medicaid are helping to drive future spending, making them an essential part of a long-term deficit-reduction package.

Mentioning that Baucus wife supports the family as a corporate lobbyist, which is where Conrad is about to cash in, might be a little more significant than the code word "centrist", no?

There follows a bunch of paragraphs designed to put a sleeper on anybody who's waded this deep, followed by Lady Macbeth, appearing as a hero:

"There hasn't been the slightest suggestion about what they're going to do about the real problems, and that's entitlements," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. "There's a certain cockiness that I've seen that is really astounding to me since we're basically in the same position we were before" the election.

Thunderbolts are too good for this clown. Does Ohlemacher mention Medicare Part D, or the Medicare surtax, or the simple fact that despite all the garbage Hatch has pushed, the Democrats have, in fact solidified the program, even as Hatch & McConnell undermined it?

Of course not. Once again, reading an Associated Press think piece leaves you significantly worse informed than if you'd left it alone.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The money it's about

Sportswriters like to remind their readers that when somebody says "It's not about the money", they're usually lying. Occasionally, a veteran hungry for a ring will sign for somewhat less than they could get elsewhere to have a shot/be with their friends/get away from some idiots, etc, but those cases are pretty rare.

Likewise, when you read about principles in legislative battles, you're getting the banal prolefeed.

Our go-to guy for banal prolefeed, Stephen Ohlemacher, has produced a characteristically useless roundup of what we're supposed to think is at stake in the current & endless budget struggles. No numbers, lots of conventional wisdom. Same old same old about Erskine-Bowles.

Lawmakers and the White House are working in a postelection session of Congress to reduce the sudden jolt of higher taxes and spending cuts and lay a framework for addressing the nation's long-term financial problems. But the two political parties are struggling to find common ground, especially on taxes and widely popular benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

So careful. So balanced. So useless. And this unspeakable tripe:

It's a familiar refrain — almost everyone acknowledges that money has to be cut, no one wants it to be theirs

There are a lot of reasons that coverage of budget issues is so bad. Innumerate reporters and editors. Owners and advertisers with thumbs on the scale. Class warfare so ugly that most people simply refuse to believe in it.

Another one is that economic discussion in the US is always about encouraging growth. For a lot of reasons I've talked myself blue about - energy, land, water, climate, developing nations taking sotheir share - growth is just about done. So we're down to fighting over shares. Between inequality, waste, and sheer deliberate cussedness, there's a huge amount of room in the US to make most people's life one heluva lot easier without growth. So that sort of thing is called SOCIALISM, and discussion - even about simple stuff, like drug prices, is verboten.

Alas, the macro that has been taught in the US since the first course has been about growth.  And still, there is complete denial of even the possibility that the party's over - Oooh! We'll make technological progress! Energy is most critical in transit. How is progress running in transportation? The last B-52 came off the line in 1962. The Air Force plans on retiring their B-52s by 2040.

And so, down to details of what's being fought over:

Medicare surtax - 3.8% on investment and 0.9% on earned income over $200,000 is about $20 billion a year, but hits a limited target, $40,000 or more on very rich people. If you're that rich, it isn't going to affect your consumption.

Social security privatization - This was the Great White Whale of financial advisors who can't do arithmetic. Get their hands on the biggest post of money, ever! Trouble was , when it got turned into legislation, there was one big mutual fund. Pretty soon it would control every corporation in the US. Tiger by the tail?

(Sure, it's absurdly literal, but any excuse to post Buck Owens is good enough for me)

So they content themselves with trying to steal the trust fund. Not getting far. In fact, with the payroll tax reduction in the last 2 years, general revenues have been transferred over to Social Security. Is that a good thing? It's over $90 billion a year, something like $1000/family over 90 million families, so that's been nice. Long term, though,it may increase the chance that Social Security gets thought of as a welfare program, which would make it vulnerable.

Medicare vouchers vs real insurance - the last 2 Republican budgets have had this trillion dollar elevation of theory over reality. The US, based on what we get & what we spend on health care, compared to what everybody else does, overspends by $1 trillion a year. It kills us on competitiveness as surely as it kills thousands of people every year.

The Democratic alternative takes a few steps in the right direction. The infamous $719 billion Medicare cuts are from the waste. Medical loss ratio minimums (which should get raised) are a pretty direct attack on the waste of insurance administration.
Preexisting conditions coverage, and dozens of other provisions of PPACA cut the fear factor. Do we hear about the real reasons for opposition?

Public education funding is another thing getting fought over. Not just university - now the scammers are moving in on secondary schools. Charter schools are big business, and truly scummy.

It's no accident that Charlie Pierce & Keith Olberman came out of sports reporting.

Friday, November 23, 2012

No lessons, no hugging (CRM,HPQ)

Soothsayers, mentalists and table knockeers have run the same scams for thousands of years, so maybe I should be less surprised that the exact same foolishness from the tech bubble is making a comeback.

To start with the one that everybody's already picking the bones of, Hewlett-Packard got suckered by a software firm called Autonomy. As John Hempton tells it, this one was pretty basic fraud:

There are lots of things to note - but I will limit myself to the simple (which I put in the Santangels presentation).

Sales were $870 million.

Receiveables were $330 million - which is four and a half months of receiveables.

Deferred revenue is $177 million - just over half of receiveables.

This is really perverse for a software company. Software companies sell stuff that is barely tangible - they sell it up front and for cash. They have very few receiveables.

They do however have an obligation to service that software for a long time after they sell it - so the unearned income is relatively large (usually a multiple of receiveables).

Autonomy was booking as income lots of cash it had not received (which is why the receiveables were large) and not booking any obligation to provide future services for that income.


One interesting thing about this is how many people missed:
HP Chief Executive Meg Whitman, who was a director at the company at the time of the deal, said the board had relied on accounting firm Deloitte for vetting Autonomy's financials and that KPMG was subsequently hired to audit Deloitte.
HP had many other advisers as well: boutique investment bank Perella Weinberg Partners to serve as its lead adviser, along with Barclays. The company's legal advisers included Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; Drinker Biddle & Reath; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which advised the board.
On Autonomy's side of the table were Frank Quattrone's Qatalyst Partners, which specializes in tech deals, as well as UBS, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. Slaughter & May and Morgan Lewis served as Autonomy's legal advisers on the deal.

& a little sting in the tail:

Multiple sources with knowledge of the HP-Autonomy transaction added that the big-name banks on Autonomy's side were brought in days before the final agreement was struck. These sources said the banks were brought on as favors for their long relationships with the companies, in a little-scrutinized Wall Street practice of crediting -- and paying -- investment banks that actually have little do with the deal.

So, moving along, we have a company called They have sales of $3 billion and a market cap of $22 billion. Their sales are increasing rapidly, margin high, so Cowabunga, right? Welllll - no. They actually lost money last year. Sales & marketing expense is rising even faster than revenue, and is now 52% of revenue. The company is picking & choosing expenses to claim profitability. I was ready to rant about that, but Tim Travis beat me to it:

Another big reason for the disconnect between GAAP and non-GAAP numbers is CRM's absurd accounting practices of eliminating stock compensation as an expense in the non-GAAP figures. This would be relevant for bond investors where the ability to pay off debt is all that matters, but for stock analysts, it is impossible to deny that stock compensation is an expense, and CRM's extremely liberal utilization of stock compensation is one of the worst examples that I have ever seen. Every quarter, shareholders are finding their ownership stakes reduced, and the reason why this doesn't cause outrage among the masses is that the stock has performed very well. Unimpressively, non-GAAP operating margins were 10% in the quarter, and while there were some charges that impacted results, CRM's farcical non-GAAP accounting doesn't even make the company look highly profitable on its "imaginary" basis.

I do have to admit they seem to have booked a proper amount of deferred revenue - so whatever is under the hood, it's not Autonomy. What is keeping it up? There are some hints about "institutional investors". There is certainly nothing obvious from the financials that would support the price. I'm going to file this away & keep a watch on. If anybody looks like they're going to acquire it....

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The War on Christmas never ends

The war on Christmas has always been a cold one. This may be the year the shooting finally breaks out. Certainly, the pro-Christmas forces have become more militarized.
Like the Wild Bunch, but without the dynamite in their saddlebags ready to explode, they ride out destroying all in their path.
This year, not content with the usual Christmas stuffing, they're out to promote Luke 2, 21-38.

This stuff is pernicious.

Not Luke Russert pernicious, I'll grant you, but still:

21 ¶ And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, Lev. 12.3 his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel Lk. 1.31 before he was conceived in the womb.
22 ¶ And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;
23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord; Ex. 13.2, 12 )
24 and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. Lev. 12.6-8
25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
28 then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word:
30 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
31 which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
32 a light to lighten the Gentiles, Is. 42.6 ; 49.6
and the glory of thy people Israel.
33 ¶ And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him.
34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
35 (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also;) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
36 ¶ And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phan'u-el, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity;
37 and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Already, they're dragging in a  woman who's been a professional widow for 84 years? Going to get rough, I tell you true.
Gird up for battle, minions!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sheila Burgess shall

be gone from her job soon. Promoting highway safety while being a really, really bad driver *isn't the path to a long career.

I suppose this will be a lesson in the importance of safe habits, and get more publicity than she could manage to generate in years of doing her job normally, etc etc --- GOD, I'm boring myself.

Anyhow, that's life in the big city. In a way a good idea to have civilians involved in agencies they interact with from the other side. And it's certainly better than for people to take the path from administrator to miscreant - a Madoff or Corzine can do a lot more damage than an unempowered crook.

All in all, not a big job, and not a big deal. I went through the Globe comments, expecting to find at least some good jokes. Nada. C'mon - if you can't laugh about somebody screwing up big time - with nobody else getting hurt, when can you laugh?

Like the cop in The Onion Field who was so hammered that when he flipped his car they had to talk him into getting out of the upside down cruiser because he was still driving.

Or the old guy who gets a call from his wife : I heard there's a madman on I95 driving the wrong way. "No, Martha - there's hundreds!"

* My entire life is arranged to avoid having to drive. Clean record; no skills.

Update: She's already been reassigned. Looks like The Boston Driver's Handbook will still not be used at the RMV.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Whiskey Tears in the AssDeans Beer

Bloomberg had a pretty good story today about Admin Bloat at Purdue & a few other places. A little weak on the numbers, but awesome on the storytelling:
J. Paul Robinson, chairman of Purdue University’s faculty senate, strode through the halls of a 10- story concrete-and-glass administrative tower.
“I have no idea what these people do,” said Robinson, waving his hand across a row of offices, his voice rising.

It's great to finally see faculty Proxmiring* the bureaucrats. All I can do is salute, and skip down to the meat:
Purdue has a $313,000-a-year acting provost and six vice and associate vice provosts, including a $198,000 chief diversity officer. It employs 16 deans and 11 vice presidents, among them a $253,000 marketing officer and a $433,000 business school chief.
And of course, a link to the classic 2010 Goldwater Report , a quick tour of a few other colleges, and back to the land of Pete:

Professors also question Purdue’s brand spending, led by Teri Lucie Thompson, a former insurance executive who is the school’s $253,000-a-year vice president for marketing and media and chief marketing officer.

A recent campaign played with Purdue’s nickname of “boilermakers,” or factory workers who made steel boilers in the heartland. The marketing department came up with the slogan: “We are Purdue. Makers, all. What we make moves the world forward.”
The athletic department also tried to make over Purdue Pete, the school’s mascot, a muscle-bound, hard-hatted boilermaker with a hammer. Last year, football fans gave a chilly reception to a softer-looking Pete, produced at a cost of $25,000.
“He was booed off the field,” said Charles Bouman, a Purdue professor of electrical and computer engineering.
Not counting the Pete makeover, which was killed after two days, the rebranding campaign cost $500,000. That figure included $300,000 for broader brand research, which will be used for as long as a decade, said Chris Sigurdson, assistant vice president for external relations. Purdue said it uses donations, not tax or tuition money, for marketing.

Let's face it - dropping a shot in a beer is just nasty. The Marquette Margaritas have a much easier branding issue. As far as marketing?

Every time a Dean, Provost or VP slot is eliminated, a kitten gets its wings.

*For the kidz, Proxmire was a senator who liked to cut research funds by picking out studies with funny titles and waving them around in public.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fun with the IRS. Also, Playmate Twins.

Anyone with minimal brain function and a pulse is aware that there are a lot of things in life that are all hat & no cattle. One of the latest arrivals in the long parade is the idea of nonprofits that will buy up debt - Cheap! & forgive it. The description of the plan in Nick Summers decent but credulous writeup should be enough to give away the game:

The group says it’s a 501(c)(4) organization, buying anonymous accounts that are bundled together, with little information about their owners.

OK. So they buy bundles of crap. Who benefits? Predatory collectors who've sifted through this and reduced it to people who are either dead or pretty convincingly don't really owe anything. Or banks, who couldn't otherwise dump it. And then, the purchasers ...  do nothing! Yes, it's a lot of noise & no teeth.

Megan McArdle followed on with a big bag of nothing. Felix Salmon raised the issue of : Just call it a gift. Which is sort of OK, except that gifts are personal, plus, if the "giver" only paid a nickel, how can they give a buck? (and of course, it ignores the fact that the whole thing is a sham.)

The real meat of What is a gift? is US vs Harris.

An old man gave about $1,000,000 to twin mistressses. (Yes, the girls shown above.
80s hair has not aged well. What can I say?)
2 cases where the IRS tried to tax them got combined and went all the way
to the Supremes before they said :OK, it's a gift. This precedent has a lot more application than you might think.

Tax law after the fold

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Yes, this thing is still on

Busy week. Nothing to say that 65 million people haven't already said.

So, Newton & the Counterfeiter

Be back soon enough.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Endless Reserves of Gullibility

Last week, I quoted a pasage that mentions Divination. It was part of 1 Samuel 15, basically a throwaway line condemning thought as a substitute for obedience. Didn't make too much sense, so I hunted down an explanation. Beyond the simple definition - any path to supernatural knowledge other than what GOD says, it got weird. After a screamingly bogus tale of a disturbed boy & a fortune teller doing a con that's older than the pyramids, Bob DeWaay skipped past the obvious & went straight to the absurd:

One might ask, “How can it be that this worked”? The answer is that Satan has good reasons to make it work. The spirits tormenting the child were doing what evil spirits delight to do. The fortune-teller is connected to real spiritual knowledge.
One might more reasonably ask : How could Bob DeWaay be such a sucker?

Turns out the answer is : He probably wasn't. He wrote that stuff with the usual coping mechanism of hack writers - real spirits.

Fifteen to twenty years ago, when New Age wackiness looked to be gaining a foothold, I was a regular reader of the Skeptical Inquirer. It was always pleasant to sit down in the library & read about the latest in scams. For some reason, Therapeutic Touch seemed especially egregious.

Between The Amazing Randi, the internet, & various other things, the secular scammers seem to be in retreat. Now, though, I'm finally seeing what should have been obvious : Big time religion & the small time scammers need each other. In the days of pagans, when every nation could have their own gods, it could be pretty relaxed. But once the One True God became the notion, there had to be an explanation for why That Other God had so many followers. Sure, most followers will happily & quietly go along without thinking about that problem, but there's usually a few who start thinking about it. So, the role of the Deceiver is cast.

Anyhow, I've been more interested in politics than psychics lately. Which leads back to the same place everyone else has gone lately : Romneyland, a dark lagoon on the backside of Fantasy Island.

Smiles, everyone... smiles!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Single Bars & Single Women

We all remember what the missions of this blog are, right? To stop the growth of tuition, and to solve the onrushing resource depletion crises that are set to make the 21st century worse than the 14th. Pay attention, people! OK, so it's time for a break from that. Let's give you what you came here for.

Looking at the stats, what was that? In the last day:

kate beckinsale ass 11
archie bunkers place porn gifs 3
va declaration of rights 3
encyclopedia brown solves them all 2
fighting against the tax collectors 2 2
hot college kids 2 kate beckinsale butt picture 2
legion of substitute heroes 2 letha weapons dp 2


Most of you were probably a bit disappointed. Maybe time to try something else. It's not like I have a lot to say about pubic hair removal. And the intersection of sex & Archie Bunker's place? Not going there, ever. Soooo...

Remember TV movies? Nowadays, that mostly means something arty on premium cable or a SyFy crapfest about a 2 headed shark.

Back in the days of 3 networks, there was always something in the disease of the week school, or with one of the holy trinity : Elizabeth Montgomery, Barbara Eden or Robert Vaughn. None of them were in the greatest TV movie ever

Single Bars & Single Women was released in 1984, when the networks were in the early stages of decline. As Keith Laumer would tell you (endlessly), decline can be a fun, fun time. What made the movie great? Sure, there was the music.

Mostly there was Shelley Hack

Also, the ever mediocre Tony Danza & Paul Michael GLaser. Christine Lahti, just because.
And, above all, there was Shelley's leather coat. I can't find a picture!  Bleg, bleg, bleg?