Archive for April, 2012

Like George Costanza, SS agents should ask: “Was that wrong?”

April 30, 2012

I wonder if the Secret Service agents caught playing in Colombia have considered using the “George Costanza Defense”?

In a classic Seinfeld episode, George was messing around with the office’s cleaning lady and she ratted him out to the boss.

The boss called George in for a “conversation”:

       click picture to view … transcript below
image

 

Mr. Lippman: It’s come to my attention that you and the cleaning woman have engaged in sexual intercourse on the desk in your office. Is that correct?

 
George Costanza: Who said that?

Mr. Lippman: She did.

George Costanza: Was that wrong?

Should I not have done that?

I tell you, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing is frowned upon…

You know, ‘cause I’ve worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you, people do that all the time.

Wonder if the Secret Service agents have tried George’s Costanza defense?

Might not work, but would at least generate some yuks.

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New wave education: TED goes to school …

April 30, 2012

Punch line: TED-Ed YouTube channel aims to woo teachers with its subject-specific short-video content and customizable tools. 

* * * * *
Excerpted from brandchannel.com “TED-Ed Aims to be a Teacher’s Pet

The TED-Ed YouTube channel’s short videos have garnered over 2.5 million views since it was launched in March.

Now, a newly-launched TED-ED website is TED’s latest delivery on its brand promise of “Ideas Worth Spreading;” a dynamic site with customizable tools for educators.

click for a video  overview of TED-Ed

image

Each short video (three to eight minutes) includes multiple choice quizzes, open-ended questions and a ‘Dig Deeper’ section. When a student answers incorrectly, a ‘Video Hint’ directs them to the point in the video with the correct answer. Teachers can browse content by subject with videos mapped via tagging to curricula taught in schools and access correlative materials that augment with the learning level.

“The new website is all about what teachers and students can do with those videos,” said TED-Ed’s Logan Smalley. “The goal of TED-Ed is for each great lesson to reach and motivate as many learners as possible. By putting this new technology to use, we hope to maximize time in class and give teachers an exciting tool for customizing – and encouraging – learning.”

“But the most innovative feature of the site is that educators can customize these elements using a new functionality called “flipping,”” notes the official press release. “When a video is flipped, the supplementary materials can be edited and the resulting lesson is rendered on a new and private web page. The creator of the lesson can then distribute it and track an individual student’s progress as they complete the assignment.”

Custom lesson plans receive a unique URL where teachers can track student’s viewing and responses and their plans can draw from any video on YouTube.

“Educators who have tested the site applaud it for its ease and intuitiveness, which, they say, will be especially useful for technology-shy teachers. “Some teachers are kind of afraid of videos,” says Jonathan Bergmann, a K-8 technology facilitator outside of Chicago. “They feel like technology is such a huge hurdle. I think this website will make it easier.” Bergmann, who is a pioneer of the flipped class movement, sees the TED-Ed site becoming an essential tool for outside-the-classroom learning.”

… “Our goal here is to offer teachers free tools in a way they will find empowering,” said TED Curator Chris Anderson of the TEDucation push. “Great teaching skills are never displaced by technology. On the contrary, they’re amplified by it.” …

Edit by KJM

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Winners & losers: Which industries are growing fastest? dying fastest?

April 27, 2012

According to IBIS World …

The 10 fastest growing industries in the U.S. are:

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… and the 10 fastest dying industries are:

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Thanks to Tags for feeding the lead

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It’s not a game! … Well, actually, it is,

April 27, 2012

TakeAway: SyFy is expecting to provide brands additional awareness by way of integrating a new online video game and TV show.

* * * * *
Excerpt from AdAge: “Syfy Already Pitching ‘Defiance,’ Coordinated TV Series and Video Game”

Syfy is pitching advertisers on integrations into “Defiance,” the coordinated TV series and multiplayer online game.

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“Defiance” centers on aliens and humans living together on Earth 30 years from now. The two species struggle to build a society amid devastation after an epic war.

The show and the game will influence each other and evolve together. If, for example, the game warns of an invasion, “then the show will reference that battle in the following episode.”

Starcom MediaVest Group says ” ‘Defiance’ is a groundbreaking paradigm that links both media [types] and allows brands to be more immersive than they could be as part of TV or a video game alone.”

Edited by ARK
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IRS: “Your mail is very important to us” … well, not really.

April 27, 2012

According to Business Week:

  • One in three people who call the IRS don’t get their calls answered
  • 10% of all mail sent to the IRS sits for at least 2 months before processing starts
  • Less than half of all people who write to the IRS get replies in less than 6 weeks 
  • 10% of all mail sent by the IRS never reaches the intended recipient.

Yipes !

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News Flash:Weekly jobless claims drop … say, what?

April 26, 2012

This is getting downright silly …

The first line of this morning’s BLS report on weekly jobless claims says:

In the week ending April 21, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 388,000, a decrease of 1,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 389,000.

Note the last couple of words:  “ … from the previous week’s revised figure”.

Hmmm.

Here’s the way CNBC decoded the report:

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped by 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

The prior week’s figure was revised up to 389,000 from the previously reported 386,000.

The four-week moving average for new claims, a closely followed measure of labor market trends, rose 6,250 to 381,750, its highest since the week that ended January 7.

Get it?

Last week, when claims were reported to have gone up, they were understated by 3,000.

Hmm.

Now, last month gets revised upward … and guess what?

This month is lower than last month.

So, Team O has a talking point: jobless claims are down.

They do think we’re stupid …

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Hybrid owners: “Been there, done that”

April 26, 2012

TakeAway: Recent study shows hybrid vehicles lack repeat purchasers.

* * * * *
Excerpt from AdAge: “Usually No Encore for Hybrid Buyers”

Only about one out of three hybrid vehicle owners chooses to buy another hybrid, according to a study by research firm Polk.

The good news for automakers is that a high percentage of the return buyers remain loyal to the brand, even if they don’t buy another hybrid.

In the case of hybrids, rising fuel prices, to more than $4 a gallon in some places, has so far had “little impact” on hybrid buying decisions, the report said.

“The lineup of alternate-drive vehicles aren’t appealing enough to consumers to give the segment the momentum it once anticipated.”

Edited by ARK

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“Tax morale” … why some folks don’t pay up.

April 26, 2012

Did you know that there’s a field of study devoted to the subject of how individuals make choices about paying taxes; it’s called “tax morale.”

According to BusinessWeek, the IRS studied the factors motivating taxpayers to comply with tax laws and concluded that the” fear of getting caught plays a much smaller role in keeping taxpayers honest than is commonly assumed.” They’re less inclined to dodge when they believe that their cheating creates national problems.

On the flip-side, when taxpayers learn that many people evade taxes, they are more likely to evade them, too. 

And, the IRS hired  social anthropologists to look more closely at the behavior of tax dodgers.

They divided evaders into eight categories of noncompliance.

  • Procedural noncompliants don’t pay taxes because IRS procedures are too complicated.
  • Asocial and habitual noncompliant taxpayers get a rush out of cheating.
  • Symbolic noncompliant taxpayers game the system out of principle.
  • Brokered noncompliants use accountants and lawyers to cheat
  • Some who don’t comply simply can’t afford their tax burden, or are too lazy to file.
  • Generational noncompliers think it’s normal not to pay taxes because people in their families didn’t pay.

The sociologists also found that there are towns in the U.S. inhabited by super-taxpayers who have high compliance rates in numbers and percentage of taxes due that are paid.

Now, the IRS is trying to identify the  super-tax-paying communities’ demographics to pinpoint what makes their residents so honest.

Among the hypotheses: an inspiring pastor, an immigrant community with values from the home country, or really good public schools.

Maybe they should test the locales’ water supply …

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John “The Plumber” Lovitz rants on Obamanomics… ouch!

April 25, 2012

Former SNL comedian John Lovitz voted for Obama in 2008.

Now, he’s expressing his disappointment in a very “colorful” way.

The essence of his rant goes to the core of what bothers many besieged taxpayers.

“I voted for the guy and I’m a Democrat.

First they say … ‘You can do anything you want. Go for it.’

So then you go for it, and then you make it, and everyone’s like, ‘F— you’ … give me half … no, that’s not enough, give me more than half.

This whole thing with Obama saying the rich don’t pay their taxes is f—ing bulls—.”

Worth listening to the whole thing … if you don’t mind a few bad words … and want a few yuks

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Carly goes leather: “No more Mr. Nice Guy”

April 25, 2012

TakeAway: T-Mobile reboots the its brand with an alter-ego of its well-known spokeswoman in the hopes of increasing trial.

* * * * *
Excerpt from AdAge:
“T-Mobile Talks Tough for Its Comeback, Vowing ‘No More Mr. Nice Girl’”

Carly who has starred in T-Mobile’s ads since 2010 and been dubbed by some a DVR-proof pitch personality, is trading her usual frocks for biker leather as the T-Mobile looks to halt mass subscriber defections.

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“The pending AT&T deal negatively impacted customer satisfaction and brand perception in 2011, which is why we believe it is time to reinvigorate the challenger strategy and to relaunch the brand,”

Despite its smaller budget, T-Mobile ads have seemed to cut through the clutter, thanks largely to Carly, the only current spokescharacter for a mobile carrier who’s easily recognizable.

Ads featuring biker Carly are intended to equate the brand with speed which is the single-biggest thing consumers are looking for in their next smartphone.

Speed?  Yeah, right/

Edited by ARK
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Private capital being unleashed on the residential housing market …. finally!

April 25, 2012

Way back in November 2008 —  in a post titled:  “Big Idea: Rallying private capital to stabilize housing prices.”  – I proposed a plan to resuscitate the residential housing market.

The essence of the plan (in 2008) was to:

  1. Eliminate ALL of the capital gains taxes on residential property that is bought from now until, say, December 31, 2010 and held for at least 18 months,
  2. Allow these “qualified residential properties”, if they are rented, to be depreciated for tax purposes at an aggressively accelerated rate (say, over 5 or 10 years) to generate high non-cash tax losses, and
  3. Allow ALL tax losses generated by these “qualified residential rental properties” to offset owners’ taxable ordinary income with no “passive loss’ limitations, thereby reducing their federal income tax liability.

At the time, I said “the positive results are practically guaranteed”.

Well, almost 4 years later, look what’s happening — even without the bold strokes that I suggested.

The NY Times reports that “Investors Are Looking to Buy Homes by the Thousands”.

Some deep-pocketed investors are betting that the residential real estate market is poised to explode.

With home prices down more than a third from their peak and the market swamped with foreclosures, large investors are salivating at the opportunity to buy perhaps thousands of homes at deep discounts and fill them with tenants.

There are close to 650,000 foreclosed properties sitting on the books of lenders.

An additional 710,000 are in the foreclosure process, and about 3.25 million borrowers are delinquent on their loans and in danger of losing their homes.

With so many families displaced from their homes by foreclosure, rental demand is rising. Others who might previously have bought are now unable to qualify for loans.

Investors believe the rental income can deliver returns well above those offered by Treasury securities or stock dividends.

At the same time, economists say, they could help areas hardest hit by the housing crash reach a bottom of the market.

Imagine if the movement had started 4 years ago.

And, imagine if the movement was boosted with the tax incentives,

It’s late, but not too late.

As I said before; “the positive results are practically guaranteed”.

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Do monkeys eat Pringles?

April 24, 2012

Excerpted from the NY Times When a Sugar High Isn’t Enough

Dr. John Kellogg — founder of the world’s largest cereal company had a simple  credo:  “Eat what the monkey eats …  simple food and not too much of it.”

Do monkeys eat Pringles?

Hope so because Kellogg is buying Pringles from Procter & Gamble in a $2.7 billion deal expected to close this summer.

Why?

For openers, Kellogg’s legacy brands (Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies) are under pressure from private labels and other breakfast convenience foods.

Note: Kellogg cranks out about 200 million pounds of private-label cereal a year.  

The real growth for Kellogg, as well as for packaged-food rivals like PepsiCo and its Frito-Lay division, is foreign markets and snacks.  That’s where Pringles comes in.

Kellogg’s CEO says that selling cereal and selling snacks are two entirely different skills.

What the company is buying with Pringles is not just a line of products that is already huge internationally, but a group of Procter & Gamble merchandisers with “the snack mind-set.” 

“When you’re talking about snacks … it’s about someone who came into the store to buy something else and hit a display and thinks, ‘Hey, I’d love to have a can of Pringles.’

With snacks, it’s much more intercepting the consumer in-store as opposed to getting on their shopping list.

It’s in-store merchandising.

It’s retail entertainment.

Whereas cereal is much more about the 30-second feel-good ad.” 

* * * * *
Nutrition note: According to  Robert H. Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco:

”People who consume sugar are more likely to overeat because “there are signals to the brain that tell you when you’ve had enough; sugar blocks them.

Eating calories from sugar will therefore lead you to consume more calories.”

 Thanks to DM for feeding the lead

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WSJ: Lab Mistakes Hobble Cancer Studies …

April 24, 2012

Punch line: Many scientists work has been undermined by the contamination and misidentification of cancer cell lines used in research labs around the world.

* * * * *
Excerpted from the WSJ

Cancer experts seeking to solve the problem have found that a fifth to a third or more of cancer cell lines tested were mistakenly identified —with researchers unwittingly studying the wrong cancers, slowing progress toward new treatments and wasting precious time and money.

In hundreds of documented cases that undermine a broad swath of research, cancer samples that were supposed to be one type of tumor have turned out to be another, through either careless laboratory handling, mislabeling or other mistakes.

These mix-ups are maddeningly difficult to pinpoint: an improperly sterilized pipette, a lab worker momentarily distracted, a misread label or a typo on a record sheet.

When seeking cancer treatment for a specific tumor, he said, such mistakes “are an utter waste of public money, charity money and time.”

“It may be causing drugs to be used which are inappropriate for that particular type of cancer.”

The problem is particularly damaging for research into such rare cancers as adenoid cystic carcinoma, which strikes 1,200 people in the U.S. each year. The lack of a good cell line slows research and few in the field have the time or resources to create new lines.

Seeking to solve the problem, a committee led by ATCC, a nonprofit group based in Manassas, Va., released guidelines this year to establish standards to authenticate cancer cell lines.

ATCC is working with the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, to establish a central repository and database of cell lines that have undergone genetic testing and whose origins can be verified.

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Some economic statistics that’ll ruin your day … and, maybe your week.

April 23, 2012

Mort Zuckerman — head of U.S. News, not the Mark Zuckerberg, the guy at Facebook — was an Obama supporter in 2008.

Suffice it to say that he’s disappointed with the President’s accomplishments re: the economy.

His article President Obama’s Economic Programs Have Failed is worth reading in its entirety.

Here are a couple of data points from it …

  • The pool of unemployed Americans is 15 million  — that’s roughly equal to the entire population of the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Arkansas, Iowa, and Oklahoma.
  • 25% of households include someone who is unemployed and looking for work.
  • Among the jobless, a staggering 42% of the unemployed are long-term unemployed, without jobs for six months or longer.
  • Since 2008, some 3 million people have dropped out of the job market. If they hadn’t, the unemployment rate would be about 10.8%.
  • So-called structural unemployment has risen from 5 percent before the crisis to close to 7% today …. if so, many lost jobs that cannot be restored by boosting demand.
  • Hiring today is at about 70% of the 2006 level … so, job seekers are only about one third as likely to find work as in 2006.
  • Layoff announcements have risen 18% from a year ago, and hiring plans have dropped 82%.
  • The U.S has lost 6 million blue-collar manufacturing jobs.
  • 70% of job openings have been in mostly low-wage sectors, including healthcare, leisure, hospitality, and retail.
  • Some 7.7 million workers are stuck in part-time jobs, with pay inadequate for entry into the middle class.
  • 67% of the meager employment growth rate has been in the 55 and older age cohort.
  • The jobless rate for workers ages 20 to 24 is over 13%; teenagers, 25%; Hispanic teenagers, 30.5%; and black teenagers, 37.9%.
  • People with a college education face unemployment rates of about 4.2; those with a certificate from a community college or at least some college coursework have a jobless rate of 7.5%.
  • People who did not finish high school have it worst at almost 13%.
  • Two thirds of our employment is concentrated in 6 million small and medium-size businesses.
  • The U.S. needs 1 million new businesses every year to keep us on the right track. Instead we have only about 400,000 firms starting up.
  • Real per capita disposable income — adjusted for inflation — is down to  $32,600 now versus $34,641 back in 2006.
  • The ratio of total household debt to after-tax earnings is 117% — down from last year’s peak peak of 131%, but is still above the pre-bubble rate of 70%.

Zuckerman concludes: We are still in an era of deleveraging, rising savings rates, home price deflation, and squeezed real income, all of which will continue to affect consumer spending.”

Have a nice day …

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Novel idea: Hulu promises advertisers that they’ll get what they pay for …

April 23, 2012

TakeAway: Hulu is challenging online advertising pricing by only charging for fully viewed ads.

* * * **
Excerpt from AdAge: “Hulu’s New Guarantee: Someone Watched Your (Whole) Ad”

Advertisers are generally charged when a beacon is fired as an ad begins playing. But Hulu is moving that notification to the end, meaning that and ad that isn’t completed won’t count.

“If you pay for a full impression, you will get an impression, full stop.”

The company said its completion rate for ads is 96% — extraordinarily high for online video, where the average completion rate is closer to 88% for long-form content and 54% for short clips.

“Vendors with greater video completion rates [see] greater brand lift and greater message recall.”

Though the move will cost Hulu some volume, the company’s idea is that it will be made up in higher rates resulting from competition for fewer available spots.

It also means advertisers get some partial impressions free, as a number of viewers will be exposed to a portion of the ad before they click away.

Edited by ARK

Remember the docs in the white lab coats standing behind Obama?

April 20, 2012

According to Forbes

Doctors, no fans of health insurance, are openly rooting that Obamacare will be struck down by SCOTUS, as appears to be the direction of things after last month’s oral arguments.

A recent poll by sermo.com, a physican’s website, revealed that 75 percent of doctors are against the health care law.

A survey by Deloitte, a major health consulting firm, found that 69 percent of physicians are “pessimistic about the future of medicine” because of the law.

My, oh my, how times have changed.

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Start up says “Our Razors are (expletive deleted) Great!”

April 20, 2012

TakeAway: A new start-up is using disruptive innovation to cut its way into the multi-billion dollar shaving industry.

* * * * *

Excerpt from WSJ: “A David and Gillette Story”

Dollar Shave Club, the e-commerce start-up, already developed a following for its quirky approach to hawking razors and blades for a $3 to $9 monthly fee.

It began with a YouTube video, in which founder rides on a forklift, plays tennis, and dances with a fuzzy bear. It’s already received some four million views.

The shaving industry market leaders have huge marketing budgets, deep consumer research and relationships with retailers that leave little room for newcomers.

What the start-ups have in their favor is technology. Companies with no marketing budget can command attention with free video and quickly build a following on services like Facebook and Twitter. Netflix have conditioned consumers to getting regular deliveries of the things they use by mail.

It is unclear whether those prices will prove low enough to lure users. By comparison, 15 Gillette Mach3 cartridges can be purchased for as low as $2.06 each on Amazon.com.

Edited by ARK

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Presidential “piggybacking” … your tax dollars at work (but only if you pay taxes)

April 19, 2012

In an earlier post “Government Gone Wild?”, I said:

If the President takes day trips on Air Force One to campaign, why shouldn’t GSA folks take day trips to Hawaii for ribbon cuttings?

A loyal, left-leaning reader (maybe now a former left-leaning reader) challenged the Homa Files fact-checkers as “just plain wrong” since:

The campaign reimburses the federal gov’t for the usage of Air Force One and costs associated with protection of the POTUS directly related to campaigning.

My immediate reply:

There is partial reimbursement …. the campaign pays for “incremental costs not related to official business” …. it’s not prorated …. when he gives a 30 minute Buffett Rule speech and does 3 hour long fund-raisers, the campaign doesn’t pay for 75% (or 85%) of the cost of the trip.

Just to sure, we doubled back on the facts.

Landed on a point-on article by ever right-wing ABC: Presidential Piggybacking: Obama Trips Combine Official, Political Business

The act of presidential piggybacking — coupling official duties, in this case a speech on the economy, with political fundraising — was not pioneered by Obama but is prominently on display this year.

The president’s jet-setting has raised the curiosity and questions from taxpayers about who bears the sky-high costs.

Official presidential travel has traditionally been paid for by taxpayers as part of executive branch operations, while political trips and events are to be covered by a candidate’s campaign committee.

On the occasions that they mix, the costs are to be split.

“Most presidents have doubled up on trips and said they followed the law, which is a complex formula no one really understands. At the end of the day the Federal Election Commission has not been abundantly clear about how the costs of mixed purpose travel should be paid for”

As a rule of thumb, an incumbent president’s campaign is expected to reimburse the government the cost of a first class commercial airline ticket for each person riding Air Force One to or from a political event.

But the amount doesn’t come close to covering the proportional operating cost of Air Force One, or the army of Secret Service agents, White House advance teams, the fleet of Air Force cargo planes transporting the presidential motorcade or the helicopters that often ferry the president from an airport to a remote site.

Air Force One alone cost $179,750 per flight hour in fiscal year 2012.

That figure includes fuel, flight consumables, depot level repairs, aircraft overhaul and engine overhaul. Pilot and airmen salaries are not included because they are paid regardless of the plane’s use.

On a recent three-day, three-state swing that included two official events and eight fundraisers, netting more than $8 million, incurred flight costs alone of $2.1 million, based on the Air Force figure and flight times gathered from press pool reports.

The Obama campaign has reimbursed more than $1.5 million for travel so far this election cycle, according to FEC records.

Read that last paragraph carefully.

80% of the “stops” of the cited trip were campaign-related.

And, just the cost of AF One were over $2 million.

So, you’d expect that the Obama Campaign would have picked up at least $1.6 million of the costs — just for AF one, just on this one trip.

But, according to ABC, the Campaign has only picked up $1.5 million in total, for the entire campaign cycle so far.

C’mon man.

I say to the GSA guys: Go cut some ribbons” … Why not?.

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Ride, Sally, ride …. Mustang’s coming back.

April 19, 2012

TakeAway: Ford’s Mustang brand is being refreshed to target Gen-Y consumers who have to taste the the freedom of driving.

* * * * *
Excerpt from WSJ: “Old Mustang Is Put Out to Pasture”

The Mustang today strongly hews to the look of the 1964 original. But Ford is working on radical makeover of its signature youth-market car, people familiar with Ford’s plans said.

The next generation would retain the shark-nosed grille and round headlights, but would look more like the new Ford Fusion.

The change is part of a bid to make the Mustang appeal to Generation Y, the roughly 80 million people who were born between 1980 and 1999. This demographic group is entering its peak car-buying years.

For Ford, Gen Y may prove a difficult target.

For many in this group, cars and driving just aren’t that cool in an era of iPads and Facebook.

A 2011 study by the University of Michigan found that just two-thirds of all 18-year-olds had driver’s licenses in 2008, down from 80% in 1983.

Edited by ARK

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The “Buffett Rule” that I want to see …

April 18, 2012

Two events this week got me thinking.

First, the Senate held the campaign-ploy vote on Obama’s Buffett Rule — intended to double capital gains tax rates on millionaires & billionaires”.

Then last nite, Buffett disclosed that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Consistent with the experience of several of my friends, Buffett says it’s not life-threatening, given the early detection and high success rate of treatments.  I wish him well … in our family, we take cancer very seriously.

That said, the events rekindled my thinking re: tax changes required to advance Buffett’s mission to “pay his fair share”. 

I got it !

 Simply stated:

Ken’s “Buffet Rule”

For purposes of estate taxation, estates shall be limited to a maximum deduction of $1 million for charitable donations. 

Now that Buffett has leveraged the tax laws to amass his $62 billion fortune, he advocates higher taxes for high-earners.

He’s suddenly amped about everybody paying their fair share.

Give me a break.

Let’s walk through Saint Warren’s personal “fair share” plan.

First, to the extent that any of Buffett’s wealth is in stocks with  “unrealized capital gains” … the the dough gets bequeathed at a “stepped-up basis”.

English translation: no capital gains get paid on his “unrealized gains” … ever !

Nice dodge, right? 

Ken’s Buffett Rule doesn’t fix that.

But, the  big daddy tax dodge is that  Buffett is bequeathing his estate to his buddy Bill Gates’ tax exempt foundation … part, I guess, to “give back to society” … but in large part to dodge estate taxes.

If his buddy Barack gets his way, estates will be taxed a minimum of 45%.

That means that Buffett dodges over $25 Billion in Federal estate taxes by channeling the estate to his buddy Gates.

Note: According to the Wash Post, Obama’s Buffett Rule is only projected (by Obama) to raise $46 billion over 10 years …  $4.6 billion annually … and most analysts think that number is a pipe dream.

So, Ken’s Buffett Rule would cop over half of Obama’s 10 year Buffet Rule tax haul, while isolating the tax to the man who won’t shut up about wanting pay his fair share … put YOUR money where your mouth is Warren.

Great idea, right?

P.S. For folks who worry about the collateral damage done to charities, the deduction limit can be raised to $1 billion per estate …. that would exclude practically every estate … except Buffett’s.

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Want your money? … Well, bump my phone.

April 18, 2012

Punch line: Never carry cash or a checkbook? Apple now makes paying back your friend even easier, with the application Bump Pay. Simply enter an amount and ‘bump’ iPhones.

Excerpted from psfk.com “Pay Your Friends Back By Bumping iPhones

* * * * *

image_thumbimage_thumb1

The popular content-transfer app Bump, has now released a new iOS app called Bump Pay.

The app allows users to exchange money by simply by entering the amount they wish to transfer and then just tapping their phones together.

Both users need to link the app to their existing PayPal accounts in order for the transaction to work.

“Bump Pay is interesting because of its novelty, which may spur trial, but being within arm’s reach of the person you’re paying back is not always convenient and will limit its usefulness.”

Bump Pay will initially be available on the iPhone only.

Edit by KJM

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Apple stock tumbling … You may be surprised how much YOU own !

April 17, 2012

Apple’s stock has lost about 9% of its value since hitting its most recent all-time high of $644, and is on a week-long skid.

Even if you don’t own any AAPL sahres outright, if you’re holding any mutual funds or ETFs, you probably own a boatload.

For example, if you’re holding the PowerShares QQQ (QQQ), you’re holding a big slice of Apple … 17.5% is in AAPL/

image

What’s the top holding in the SPDR S&P 500 (SPY)?

You guessed it, APPL …4.37% of the SPY

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Ditto for many of the most popular mutual funds.

For example, APPL is almost 10% of Fidelity’s Contrafund.

image

A couple of other biggies:

  • Fidelity Magellan (FMAGX) … top stock … 6.24%%
  • American Funds Growth Fund of Amer A (AGTHX) … top stock … 4.85%

You get the picture, right?

Two major takeaways:

First, If you’re holding any popular ETfs or mutual funds — individually or in, say, 401-Ks — then you probably own a bunch od Apple.

Even more important, so many big dogs — ETFs and mutual funds — are so heavily invested in Apple that, as Apple goes, so will the market.

I’m surprised that more hasn’t be written about about Apple’s influence on the total stock market.

You might want to start worrying

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What’s the difference between the “Buffett Rule” and the AMT?

April 17, 2012

Finished up my taxes this weekend …. OUCH.

Along with more than 30 million other taxpayers, I got caught by the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

There are about 130 million Fed tax filings each year … about half of them pay no Fed income taxes (or get a refundable credit) … that means that about half of all tax payers get hit with the AMT.  it only takes about $75,000 in income to make somebody a candidate for the AMT.

This year — in part because of the hoopla re: the Buffett Rule — I dug dig into the AMT calculations rather than just take Turbo Tax’s answer and run.

The bottom line — based on my dissection — is that the AMT requires that high earners pay about 28% on their ordinary taxable income — wages, interest, pensions, etc.

So, on ordinary taxable income the Obama-Buffett Rule (OBR) boosts the rate from 28% to 30%.

Big deal, right?

The real impact is what happens to capital gains and “qualified” dividends — which are currently capped at a 15% rate — even under the AMT.

Under the Obama-Buffett Rule, capital gains and qualified dividends would be taxed at 30% – a doubling of the current AMT rate.

Now, that is a big deal.

When you cut to to the chase, the Obama-Buffett Rule is simply a doubling of the capital gains tax rate — selectively applied to those people who earn most of the capital gains.

The OBR simply takes capital out of play from the private sector and transfers it to the government sector.

If you think that the government does a better job allocating capital than the free market, then you gotta love the Obama-Buffett Rule.

If you think the government uses capital less efficiently than the private sector, you gotta hate it.

Put me in the latter camp …

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Government gone wild?

April 16, 2012

The past week has been like a bad reality show: “Government gone wild“.

We’ve had — in chronological order –  the GSA scandal mocking government controls on spending, Demster Hilary Rosen whacking away at Ann Romney,  and the Secret Service “incident”.

Though I’m a b-school prof and I worked in the real world for a couple of decades, I don’t claim particular expertise in  management leadership or ororganizational behavior. 

That’s ok, because this one is so obvious …

Organizations observe their leaders – what they do, not what they say – and act accordingly.  Consider …

  • If the President wastes billions on shovel ready projects (“ha ha”), why should the GSA squeeze every dime?
  • If the President shovels billions to his bundlers (think Solyndra), why shouldn’t the GSA buy a couple of iPads for each other?
  • If the President takes day trips on Air Force One to campaign, why shouldn’t GSA folks take day trips to Hawaii for ribbon cuttings?
  • If the first lady parties with the girls inVegas,why shouldn’t the GSA party in Vegas? 
  • If the President mocks folks for their “guns and bibles”, why shouldn’t Hilary Rosen mock Ann Romney for “never working a day in her life”?
  • If the President has a constant stream of rock stars to the White House for private parties, why shouldn’t his Secret Service entourage have some party girls over every now and then?
  • If the President openly disrespects our higher institutions (think Supreme Court), why shouldn’t the Secret Service disrespect our higher institutions (think, the Presidency)?

Obama should take the last point most seriously.  He’s the role model and sets the tone for government employees.

Maybe, his “people” are just acting  the way he’s acting

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Polls: the ‘normal’ biases are back … whew!

April 16, 2012

A month ago — in a post titled  Head-scratching polling results — we pointed out:

… right-leaning FOX News has Obama +2 in approval, Rasmussen and Bloomberg — also usually a bit to the right — have him +1.

But, left-leaning Gallup has Obama down 7 points.

Far left-leaning CBS/NYT and ABC/Wash Post have him down 6 points and 4 points, respectively.

I thought those results were quite curious.

Well, I’m happy to report that the planets are back in alignment.

According to RCP, right-leaning Fox has Obama 6 points under water.

Left-leaning CNN, ABC, and Washington Post have him 5 to 6 points above water.

We’re back to the old normal … whew.

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Obama: A brand in search of a slogan …

April 13, 2012

Everyone knows that Barack Obama’s campaign slogan was “Hope & Change” in 2008.

But, according to left-leaning Politico:

No one seems to know what it will be for 2012.

The White House has been cycling through catchphrases since announcing his reelection bid a year ago:

  • Winning the Future
  • We Can’t Wait
  • An America Built to Last
  • An Economy Built to Last
  • A Fair Shot.

And, my favorite:

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2012 campaign bumper stickers …. game on

April 13, 2012

In case you were off the planet yesterday, Hillary Rosen — reportedly a DNC adviser –  dissed  Ann Romney (and millions of stay-at-home moms) that Mrs. Romney — a mother of 5 and cancer survivor — has no cred re: economic issues because she  “hasn’t worked a day in her life”.

Oops … stepped in it.

According to the Washington Post, Team Romney quickly seized the opening:

The Romney campaign’s quick reaction to Rosen’s comments — Ann Romney Twitter feed, Fox News hit, conference call — speak to an operation that is ready for the minute-by-minute battle that is modern presidential campaigning.

Romney’s operation won a measure of respect for their handling of the slipup by Rosen.

Already there’s a Romney  bumper sticker available for sale.

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Google Goggles … they ain’t your father’s Oakleys.

April 13, 2012

Punch line: Google encourages consumers to go hands free with a beta version of augmented reality glasses. With these wrap around, Star Trek-esc glasses, you can check the weather, look at maps, and take pictures.

* * * * *
Excerpted from “Google Launches Augmented Reality Glasses In Beta

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Google has began rolling out prototypes of their augmented reality glasses to employees through a somewhat secret initiative called Project Glass. The prototype, pictured above, is the company’s first venture into wearable computing. The wrap-around glasses feature a see-through lens that can stream everything from the weather to maps to text messages, in real-time. The glasses can record video, take pictures and the device sends and receives messages through voice commands …

The prototype model has debunked early rumors that the glasses would resemble a pair of Oakley Thumps, but this is just one of the many variations of the glasses in the works. There has also been speculation that the glasses would interfere with people’s daily life too much but according to the New York Times writer, Nick Bilton:

One person who had used the glasses said: ‘They let technology get out of your way. If I want to take a picture I don’t have to reach into my pocket and take out my phone; I just press a button at the top of the glasses and that’s it.

Edit by KJM

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Great moments in innovation: “Ice cold beer” … literally!

April 12, 2012

Punch line: Japanese beer company Kirin offers 30 minutes of ice-cold beer, with its new frozen foam.

 

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Excerpted from “Kirin Launches Beer With Frozen Foam To Keep Your Drink Cool

Japanese beer company Kirin has unveiled a new beer with frozen foam in the restaurants of Tokyo this month.

The variant, called “Ichiban Shibori Frozen Draft,” features cold Kirin beer topped with frozen beer foam created using a process called Frozen Agitation, wherein air is blown into the beer as it is stirred and chilled.

The foam is very cold at -5 degrees Celsius, which, according to Kirin, can help keep the beer below it ice-cold for roughly thirty minutes …

Ichiban Shibori Frozen Draft is available in Tokyo for a trial run and will be launched throughout Japan by May.

Edit by KJM

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Told you so: Companies emerge from recession more productive.

April 12, 2012

Way back in July 2009, we posted “Private sector jobs won’t be coming back any time soon”

Our logic was basic business:

First, you can’t let a good crisis go to waste, right?

Businesses always use tough economic times to clean house.

Fat builds in all organizations over time. In “normal” times, it’s difficult to get rid of dead wood. Employment laws – perhaps well-intended originally –- serve to protect slackers by making it cumbersome and difficult to fire anybody.

When the economic tide rolls out, companies have the air cover they need to resize and purge under-performers en masse.

The tendency is to cut deep. If some muscle gets pared too, so be it. It can be rehabilitated later.

In typical business cycles, employment is a so-called lagging indicator of an economic rebound. That is, when the economy starts to recover, jobs are usually added back very slowly.

Why?

Because businesses have a renewed zeal for productivity, they recommit to keeping the fat from building up again, and they want to be sure that the signs of better economic times aren’t false positives.

Fewer jobs will get added back than history would suggest, and those that get added back will materialize later than past patterns.

Businesses will add jobs as a last resort rather than trying to build capacity ahead of the economic growth curve.

Well, the WSJ has confirmed our prognosis in an article titled: Large Corporations Emerge from Recession Leaner, Stronger—and Hiring Overseas

Overall, the Journal found that S&P 500 companies have become more efficient — and more productive.

In 2007, the companies generated an average of $378,000 in revenue for every employee on their payrolls. Last year, that figure rose to $420,000

Such efficiency moves are essential for companies to be competitive.

But economists warn that improved efficiency and continued executive caution are slowing the recovery.

“What’s best for an individual firm may not be best for the overall economy,”

Yeah, but, you just can’t let a good crisis go to waste …

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Remember the funky ABA basketball? … Well, Team Obama tops it.

April 11, 2012

The American Basketball Association (ABA) was a professional basketball league founded in 1967.

To compete with the NBA, the league copped some top players (think Pistol Pete and Dr. J.) and introduced some game innovations, including the 3-point line and and a red, white and blue basketball.

Note: The ABA became defunct when it  merged with the NBA in 1976.

 

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Well, Team Obama has gone retro and “personalized: the ball.

When you play some hoops at the White House you get to play with an Obama ball.

And, I bet that for a statistically significant donation, you can bring one home for the kids.

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Re: the high cost of college … what if teachers taught more?

April 11, 2012

Chatted recently with a collegial friend on the high cost of colleges.

We honed in on the questions of whether faculty salaries were a large or small portion of a typical university’s cost structure and whether faculty teaching productivity (i.e. how many courses and students taught) had much of an effect on total educational costs.

Turns out that the issue was recently studied by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity  … with some blockbuster results:

“Recently released preliminary data from the University of Texas strongly suggest that the state of Texas could move towards making college more affordable by moderately increasing faculty emphasis on teaching.

Looking only at the UT Austin campus, if the 80 percent of the faculty with the lowest teaching loads were to teach just half as much as the 20 percent with the highest loads, and if the savings were dedicated to tuition reduction, tuition could be cut by more than half.

Moreover, other data suggest a strategy of reemphasizing the importance of the teaching function can be done without importantly reducing outside research funding or productivity.”                   

Hmmm … if teachers taught more, college costs would go down.

That’s a shocker …

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Uno’s intros 9-grain pizza crust … bet you can’t name the 9 grains!

April 10, 2012

Having spent 3 tours of duty in Chicago, I’m a deep dish pizza aficionado … and loyal to Uno’s — the best!

Well, last trip in, the server directed our attention to a new twist on the menu:

Nearly 70 years after inventing deep dish pizza, Uno’s introduced a new deep dish crust in honor of National Pizza Month.

Uno’s invented deep dish pizza in 1943 and this is another industry first: the nine-grain deep dish crust – which likely cannot be found anywhere else in the world..

Being a curious kinda guy, I asked the server to name the 9-grains.

She named 2 and took off to get the manager.

He named 2 more, but we were still 5 short.

We were talking about the incident at a fam get together this weekend.

The real-time iPhone-Google searches came up short.

But, a friend (and loyal Homa Files reader) dogged for the facts.

Best she could find: Some dude named Bob throws 10 grains in his whole grain hot cereal.

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Now, all we have to figure out is which grain didn’t make Uno’s cut.

Anybody know?

Thanks to MET for feeding the lead.

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Why the top 1%’s “individual” income has increased so sharply …

April 10, 2012

Interesting op-ed in the WSJ last Friday: “The Real Causes of Income Inequality”

Article’s conclusion: Yeah, the Top 1% have accrued a greater portion of income in the U.S., but not to worry, they still pay proportionately more taxes that in places like, say, France or Sweden.

And, from a strictly taxes-economics perspective, the disproportionate gain is traceable to 3 tax changes which boost economic efficiency:

1) Marginal tax rates for individuals were lowered below corporate tax rates, so new businesses formed as limited partnerships and S-Corps instead of C-Corps.

In 1986, before the top marginal tax rate was reduced to 28% from 50%, half of all businesses in America were organized as C-Corps and taxed as corporations.

By 2007, only 21% of businesses in America were taxed as corporations and 79% were organized as pass-through entities, with four million S-Corps and three million partnerships filing taxes as individuals.

Now,  a significant amount of what is now declared as personal income is actually income from businesses that are now taxed as individuals.

In 1986, just 5.6% of the income of top 1% filers came from business organizations filing as Sub-chapter S-Corps and partnerships.

By 2007, almost 19% of income declared on tax returns filed by the top 1% came from business income.

A significant amount of income that critics claim is going to John Q. Astor actually is being earned by Joe E. Brown & Sons hardware store.

2) Capital gains taxes were lowered, first under President Bill Clinton and then under President George W. Bush.

At a top tax rate of 28%, realized capital gains were 2.5% of GDP and made up 17.7% of the income of top 1% filers.

The percentage of the income of top 1% filers coming from capital gains grew to 26% in the 1997-2002 period and 28.1% during 2003-07.

By reducing the penalty for transferring capital from one investment to another, these lower tax rates increased the mobility of capital.

High-income taxpayers sold more assets, declared more income, and paid more taxes.

3) The tax rate on dividends was lowered,

Similarly, when the tax rate on dividends fell to 15% in 2003, dividend income for the top 1% grew 178% by 2007 to make up 5.6% of the income of these filers.

In 2007, immediately prior to the recession, capital gains and dividend income combined was equal to the amount of salary, bonus and exercised stock options earned by the average top 1% filer.

Lower tax rates made dividend-paying stocks more attractive to high-income investors and made dividend payouts more attractive for companies that would have previously retained those earnings or bought back their stock.

Capital trapped in companies with below-market rates of return was redeployed and the entire economy benefited.

* * * * *

So, if corporate tax rates are pushed own – as they should be to make the U.S. competitive in the global economy – then more businesses will incorporate as C-Corps and income will shift from the top 1% to corporations.

Hmmm.

And, if capital gains and dividend taxes are raised, then capital will become less mobile, and often locked in low return businesses.

Double hmmm.

Hope Team O read the op-ed.

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For Sale: Best-seller books … Price: $8 per kilo, hardcovers extra.

April 9, 2012

In one of my classes we study how books are priced.

Last fall, a team suggested that page count was a relevant criteria … that books with more pages should be priced higher than shorter books.

I summarily rejected the idea and joked at the team’s expense.

Well, the page has turned.

The team just returned from China and sent me me this picture.

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 Lo and behold, in China, they encountered book stores that sold books based on their weight.

A counterfeit version of the Steve Jobs biography (above) weighed in at 360 grams, and was priced by weight at 18 RMB ($2.85). Roughly 50 RMB ($8) per kilo.

The team tells me that all paperback books in that particular shop (located on Nanjing road, main street Shanghai) are sold at this rate; hardcovers are also priced  by the kilo but at a higher rate.

OK guys, you get the last laugh.

Thanks to Ash Kaluarachchi & Greg Berguig for feeding the lead

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‘Tis the season …

April 9, 2012

… or more precisely:  ‘tis the seasonality.

For a couple of months, we’ve been pointing out that something smelled fishy about the Fed’s employment reports.

Too much of the good news seemed to be directly tied to statistical tweaks of the the raw data called “seasonal adjustments”.

In fact, the Feds have been goosing the numbers up by more then they used to.

Well, now the Wash Post is even on the case.

The Post article — “Mild winter may have artificially inflated jobs data, economists fear“ –  suggests that we may have been underestimating the effect.

Economists are now saying that the mild winter has artificially inflated job growth.

Translation: The surge in hiring early in the year may not be as strong as it appeared.

The warm weather meant more jobs for construction workers and retail employees.

For economists, it means a statistical nightmare.

Typically, these bumps in demand are evened out through a process called seasonal adjustment.

That allows researchers to compare one month’s economic activity with the next for a more accurate picture of the nation’s health.

But this year’s weather was so abnormal that those models fell short, and economists are now scrambling to figure out how much of the growth over the past three months was simply due to a glitch in their systems.

“When the weather does not follow a normal seasonal pattern, then the seasonal adjustment cannot adjust for it.”

And that may help explain why recent data on jobs have looked rosier than actual economic growth would suggest.

Forecasts for the nation’s gross domestic product during the first quarter hover around 2 percent, a middling number at best.

Somewhere there is a disconnect, and Mother Nature is a valid scapegoat.

The labor market boost from the mild winter will eventually even itself out, though it may mean dips in job growth in coming months

Glad to see the mainstream media catching up with the Homa Files and its loyal readers …

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The unemployment rate went down … hmmm.

April 6, 2012

BLS Report says that 120,000 seasonally adjusted jobs were added in March … below February when 240,000 were added.

In February, the unemployment rate remained constant at 8.3% … it dropped in March to 8.2%.

How can that be?

Remember that the jobs growth comes from the “Institutions Survey” and the unemployment rate comes from the “Population Survey”.

From the “Population Survey”, seasonally adjusted employment actually declined by 31,000 – from 142.065 million to 142.034 million. (chart below)

So, how did the unemployment rate go down?

Simple.

The labor force participation rate continued to decline.

In February, 154.871 million were in the labor pool; in March there were 154.707 million … a drop of 164,000. (chart below)

Presto … the unemployment rate goes down.

If only more people were to get sufficiently discouraged that they’d stop looking for work, we’d have this unemployment problem nailed.

* * * * *

Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey

Civilian Employment Level

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Civilian Labor Force Level

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In the UK, it’s better to be fat than to be old.

April 6, 2012

Recent editorial in the UK’s  Telegraph pointed out that the National Health Service (NHS) discriminates against elderly folks … rationing their care by dealying or denying medical services.

According to the Telegraph, the elderly are displaced in the medical queue by overweight folks whose “conditions, though, are the direct result of bad habits, poor diet, and the wrong choices. These conditions range from obesity and diabetes to smoking-related diseases like emphesema.”

If a 20-stone, 30-something woman comes into hospital with a bad diabetic attack, does she deserve to be at the front of the queue or the back?

She has chosen to stuff her face with Mars bars and Coke, and is now suffering the consequences of her choice.

She cannot claim ignorance of the dangers of her diet: the Government has carpet-bombed us with health advice, from schools to GP practices.

Class no longer regulates access to healthy living: everyone who can watch the telly, let alone read the magazines, knows that a high-fat diet will make you look bad and feel worse.

So what?

The Telegraph’s view:

The septuagenarian who develops breast cancer has done nothing wrong – except grow old.

The NHS has to consider that there are deserving cases and undeserving ones.

Age should not be a barrier to optimum care; but bad habits should be.

As my personal odometer races forward, I gotta agree with the Telegraph.

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Mindreader: “I’m not picking up a signal”

April 6, 2012

According to the Journal of Commerce, the head of the General Services Administration (GSA) and top staff got pink slips for spending $800,000 on a Las Vegas conference.

U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL) sniffed out that “the tab even included a clown for entertainment” and huffed that “this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Boy, that’s for sure.

Riding lower on the conference iceberg was a mindreader, leading Rep. Mica to wonder “if the $3,200 mind reader told GSA officials that blowing more than $800,000 on a Vegas conference for a few hundred bureaucrats would get them fired?”

Silly question. 

Mindreaders read minds, they don’t tell fortunes.

Fortune tellers tell fortunes.

Maybe they should have hired a fortune teller …

* * * * *

P.S Yeah, the expenses sound a little high, but c’mon, man  … every conference I’ve ever been to has had some entertainment … and a mindreading act isn’t exactly el primo education.

Also, while I love to pick on gov’t waste, I’m told that the GSA does a pretty solid job.

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Cookin’ the books? … 2 numbers to watch when the BLS reports tomorrow.

April 5, 2012

Loyal readers know that I’m a bit skeptical re: the employment numbers that the BLS has been spitting out in recent months.

Two reasons: (1) Unemployment rates are diverging from the Gallup daily surveys, and (2) Seasonal adjustment factors are boosting the employment numbers.

First, the Gallup relationship …

Historically, Gallup’s mid-month unemployment rate has tracked closely to the BLS end-of-month rate.

Not so in February … Gallup reported 8% … BLS reported 8.2%.

Hmmm.

Gallup’s mid-month rate for March was 8.9%.

Let’s see what the BLS says tomorrow.

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* * * * *

The 2nd number to watch is the the seasonal adjustment adder.

For the prior10 years, the BLS has seasonally adjusted February employment numbers upward by 1.1423%.

Last month, they upped the raw numbers by 1.1688%.

That’s a big difference when floated into the unemployment rate calculation.

The prior 10 year adjustment factor for March has been .6209 %.

If the seasonal adder is higher than that tomorrow … be suspicious.

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* * * * *

My bet: the unemployment rate will magically hang at 8.3% … .6% below the Gallup number.

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3 pages, single-spaced … due Thursday noon.

April 5, 2012

On Monday, former Constitutional law prof and now President Obama, laid into the Supreme Court for even thinking about declaring ObamaCare unconstitutional — either in part or in total — saying he was “confident” the Court would not “take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

CBS News reports:

Overturning a law of course would not be unprecedented — since the Supreme Court since 1803 has asserted the power to strike down laws it interprets as unconstitutional.

And, in the escalating battle between the administration and the judiciary, a federal appeals court apparently is calling the president’s bluff — ordering the Justice Department to answer by Thursday whether the Obama Administration believes that the courts have the right to strike down a federal law, according to a lawyer who was in the courtroom.

An Appeals Court Judge asked a DOJ lawyer if she agreed that the judiciary could strike down an unconstitutional law.

The DOJ lawyer answered yes — and mentioned Marbury v. Madison, the landmark case that firmly established the principle of judicial review more than 200 years ago.

Now the part that I like.

The panel ordered the Justice Department to submit a three-page, single-spaced letter by noon Thursday addressing whether the Executive Branch believes courts have such power.

That’s a big difference between academia and the courts …  I always ask my students to double-space their homework.

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USA Today: “More CEOs plan to hire” … more than what?

April 4, 2012

Specifically, the headline said “More CEOs plan to hire as outlook brightens, survey says

The article said:

A growing number of chief executives at large U.S. companies say they are more optimistic about the economy and plan to step up hiring. The brighter view from the boardroom comes after the best three months of job growth in two years.

The Business Roundtable said Wednesday that a survey of its CEO members found that 42% expect to hire over the next six months. That’s up from 35% three months ago.

Wow.  Pretty good, right?

Being a trust & verify guy, I went to the Business Roundtable site to check the nums.

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Sure enough, 42% of the 128 surveyed CEOs said they expect that employment will go up.

And, that is up from the 35% who thought so last quarter.

But, apparently the reporter didn’t notice that 52% of CEOs expected employment to go up last year at this time.

In other words, less than half of CEOs now  think that employment will go up in the next 6 months.

Over half thought it would last year.

Hmmm.

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I spy a billboard … hint: look down.

April 4, 2012

Punch line:  Billboards are no longer larger than life.  Legoland goes against the grain and advertises its ‘Minibreaks’ using the nation’s smallest billboards – incorporating the iconic Lego blocks in its designs.

Excerpted from psfk.com “Tiny Billboards Made Of Blocks Advertise Legoland Vacation

* * * * *

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Advertising agency DLKW Lowe created this great poster campaign for Legoland Windsor, installing tiny Lego billboards around London and inviting passers-by to tweet #legolandminibreaks with a photo if they spotted one of them.

The agency shared a Google Map of their locations to help people find the miniature advertisements.

The nation’s smallest ever billboards promote different aspects of Legoland Minibreaks, including its resort packages, its new hotel, and the fact that kids go free.

Edit by KJM

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Noonan: The case for (and against) Barack Obama … then and now.

April 3, 2012

Flashback to October 31, 2008.

At the time, political observer Peggy Noonan gushed in the WSJ  about presidential candidate Barack Obama:

Obama and the Runaway Train The race, the case, a hope for grace.

Here’s the case for Barack Obama, in broad strokes:

He has within him the possibility to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy, which need changing;

His rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking;

His victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief.

He climbed steep stairs, born off the continent with no father to guide, a dreamy, abandoning mother, mixed race, no connections.

He rose with guts and gifts.

He is steady, calm, and … shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make.

Now, fast-forward to 2012 … last Friday in the WSJ:

Not-So-Smooth Operator

Obama increasingly comes across as devious and dishonest.

The level of dislike for the president has ratcheted up sharply the past few months.

What is happening is that the president is coming across more and more as a trimmer, as an operator who’s not operating in good faith.

And it’s his fault, too. As an increase in polarization is a bad thing, it’s a big fault.

The shift started on Jan. 20, with the mandate that agencies of the Catholic Church would have to provide birth-control services the church finds morally repugnant.

Faced with the blowback, the president offered a so-called accommodation that even its supporters recognized as devious.

Not ill-advised, devious. Then his operatives flooded the airwaves with dishonest — not wrongheaded, dishonest — charges that those who defend the church’s religious liberties are trying to take away your contraceptives.

Events of just the past 10 days have contributed to the shift.

There was the open-mic conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in which Mr. Obama pleaded for “space” and said he will have “more flexibility” in his negotiations once the election is over and those pesky voters have done their thing.

On tape it looked so bush-league, so faux-sophisticated.

It was all so . . . creepy.

Next, a boy of 17 is shot and killed under disputed and unclear circumstances. The whole issue is racially charged, emotions are high, and the only memorable words from the president’s response were,

“If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon.”

Suddenly there were death threats and tweeted addresses and congressmen in hoodies.

At the end of the day, the public reaction seemed to be: “Hey buddy, we don’t need you to personalize what is already too dramatic, it’s not about you.”

Now this week the Supreme Court arguments on ObamaCare, which have made that law look so hollow, so careless, that it amounts to a characterological indictment of the administration.

The constitutional law professor from the University of Chicago didn’t notice the centerpiece of his agenda was not constitutional? How did that happen?

The high court’s hearings gave off an overall air not of political misfeasance but malfeasance.

From the day Mr. Obama was sworn in, what was on the mind of the American people was financial calamity — unemployment, declining home values, foreclosures.

But the new president wasn’t thinking about that. All the books written about the creation of economic policy within his administration make clear the president and his aides didn’t know it was so bad, didn’t understand the depth of the crisis, didn’t have a sense of how long it would last.

He presided from his hermetically sealed inner circle, which operates with what seems an almost entirely abstract sense of America.

They know Chicago, the machine, the ethnic realities. They know Democratic Party politics. They know the books they’ve read, largely written by people like them — bright, credentialed, intellectually cloistered.

As a former president he’ll be quiet, detached, aloof.

He’d make speeches and write a memoir laced with a certain high-toned bitterness.

It was the Republicans’ fault. They didn’t want to work with him.

My, how times change …

>> Latest Posts

I’m not gaming, I’m helping fight HIV / AIDS …

April 3, 2012

TakeAway: South By South West Trend Alert: The use of gaming to leverage collective manpower to improve health, fundraise for charities, solve once unsolvable problems – such as, a retrovirus enzyme related to HIV / AIDS.

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Excerpted from psfk.com, “The Gaming-For-Good Trend [Need To Know: SXSWi]

…. Fueled by the ability to connect and gather players from across the world and motivate them to participate by injecting competitive aspects and rewards into structured play, games are growing up and being seen as agents of change.

The ability to scale enables these platforms to prompt positive action and overcome challenges on both an individual and societal level with implications for a growing number of areas from science and medicine to education and the environment.

Whether improving health, fundraising for charity or solving previously unsolvable problems, games are encouraging personal and social good …

Gamers Assist In Cracking The Aids Puzzle

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Fold.it is a web-based platform for collaborating on scientific research that allows gamers to compete against one another to design new proteins which could be used to help prevent or treat diseases like HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s and Cancer.

Developed by researchers at the US based University Of Washington, the platform asks online players to build 3D models of protein molecules online to earn points and status based off their problem solving abilities.

Researchers recently took advantage of the platform by inviting gamers to compete in configuring the structure of a retrovirus enzyme related to HIV/AIDS.

The resulting breakthrough in configuring the 3D structure of the protein in question took players just weeks though the puzzle had stumped scientists for years …

Edit by KJM

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Uh oh: Groupon forced to revise its financial results again.

April 2, 2012

To refresh you memory …

Prepping for its IPO, Groupon had to cut its reported revenue in half to satisfy questions from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Then, the company  IPO’d in November for $20 per share.   Last Friday the shares closed at $17.20.

What happened ?

Well first, according to the WSJ:

Groupon reported an unexpected loss of $37 million on revenue $506.5 million for its fourth quarter —  its first period as a public company.

The news triggered a selloff in the stock as investors had expected the company to post a profit.

To make matters worse, the loss was understated by $22.6 million … because auditors discovered that the company “ failed to set aside enough money for customer refunds.”

Oops.

Here’s the story:

Groupon offers discounted deals to its subscriber base, and then splits the value of the deal with the merchant that offered it.

For a $10 purchase at a sandwich shop, for example, Groupon might take $5 and give the rest to the merchant.

The company makes a point of telling users that refunds won’t be a hassle.

Groupon emphasizes something it calls “the Groupon Promise,” which means “if the experience using your Groupon ever lets you down, we’ll make it right or return your purchase.”

Groupon had more customers seeking refunds than it expected.

The company also said the higher rate of refunds has persisted in the first quarter ending March 31.

Also according to the WSJ: “The surprise announcement raised questions about the reliability of Groupon’s numbers.”

You think ?

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Anybody want to co-parent this kid with me?

April 2, 2012

TakeAway: According to South-By-South-West, the idea of bringing people together with similar interests and needs- ‘social pairing’ – is gaining in popularity. Applying this concept, Modamily is a private social network for people looking to co-parent a child in the US.

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Excerpted from psfk.com “The Social-Pairing Trend [Need To Know: SXSWi]”…

… People with similar interests, hobbies and needs have the opportunity to meet today through smart services that use a mix of social, location and demographic data to match profiles. Networks are looking at their member’s profiles on their site and across the social grid and linking people up based on interests, needs and location.

These systems facilitate tremendous efficiencies. People can connect in a way (and at a speed) that would previously have taken a great deal of time and effort.

Social Pairing is about getting people together. It fosters a feeling of community (geographic or activity based) and further collaboration could follow as a result.

Some examples:

Nextdoor Social Network Helps You Meet your Neighbors

  • KLM To Allow Passengers To Pick Plane Neighbors Based On Facebook, LinkedIn Data
  • Farmers’ Cooperative Pairs Up Singles To Share Leftover Food
  • Ticketmaster Lets You Choose Who To Sit Next To Using Facebook
  • Gobble Is A Marketplace For Home-Cooked Meals From Neighborhood Chefs
  • A Social Network To Build Coffee Shops To Foster Face-To-Face Conversation
  • An app Helps You Discover New Connections In Real-Time Based On Location

And, of course there’s Modamily which  bills itself as the “first community to facilitate introductions between responsible, like-minded adults committed to co-parenting a child.”

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Gotta think those kids will turn out just fine, right?

Edit by KJM

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