Monday, April 30, 2012

The SEC's Egan-Jones Witch Hunt

"Egan-Jones Ratings Company rates the credit worthiness of U.S. corporate debt issuers, and is wholly supported by investors to minimize the potential for conflicts of interest in accessing credit quality. On Dec. 21, 2007, the SEC granted Egan-Jones nationally recognized (NRSRO) status. Sean Egan appeared before Congress on October 22, 2008 and argued that issuers of complex securities "shopped" for ratings which resulted in a race to the bottom in terms of credit transparency. Rather than "beat up Moody's and S&P for behavior" they'd been financially motivated to pursue, the government needs to support a new business model paid for by investors, not issuers, he asserted. Egan-Jones on July 16, 2011, became the first agency to cut its rating on the United States from AAA to AA+. And on April 16 2012, Egan- Jones downgraded the credit ranking of the United States for the second time from AA+ (Excellent) to AA (Very Good). Egan-Jones was also the first to downgrade WorldCom and Enron."  In other words, Egan Jones has been early, accurate, and ethical in issuing credit ratings - exactly what investors need.  From BBG's Jon Weil: "Egan, a lonely voice of reason who saw the financial crisis coming, has shown his larger competitors to be incompetent or compromised. So if you had told me back then that the SEC more than four years later would be accusing Egan and his firm of securities-law violations - but not any of the big 3 rating companies - there’s no way I would have believed you. That’s what happened this week, though."  The SEC has a) ignored Moody’s conscious decision to keep inflated ratings on complex notes, b) found that the Big 3 and four smaller NRSROs appeared to have some weaknesses with respect to their employee securities ownership policies and procedures (but has taken no action), and c) reached a settlement with another small credit ratings company, Lace Financial Corp., over allegations of misstatements in its application for SEC recognition, but has decided to lay charges against Egan-Jones on the same grounds.  "The way Congress and the SEC have rigged this game, nationally recognized credit raters are a unique species of opinion merchants, endowed with sweeping authority and special privileges. Institutional money managers often are required by law to abide by their judgments. The better approach would be to scrap the designation, so investors are encouraged to do their own homework, rather than use credit ratings mindlessly. Egan-Jones ... chose to play within the Big Three’s system, exposing itself to regulation and the whims of the SEC in exchange for the government’s imprimatur. Now it’s paying the price."  Sounds to me like a U.S. government witch-hunt.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Love-in": Welcome to the 60's!

The other day I used the term "love-in" in a conversation with my eldest daughter about some political gathering I'd read about, and she asked me what "that" meant. (Oh, how soon our vocabularies become archaic, like our minds.) "A love-in is a peaceful public gathering focused on meditation, love, music, and/or the use of psychedelic drugs. The term was coined by Los Angeles radio comedian Peter Bergman, who also hosted the first one in March or April 1967 (sources disagree) in Elysian Park. It has been interpreted in different ways by different organizations, but is often connected to protesting local, social or environmental issues. Such protests were often held in opposition to the Vietnam War." (Wikipedia)  Clearly, from the image of the old poster I found, it was held on March 26th.  To which I would add that the meaning of the term has been expanded over time through popular usage to include any gathering of supporters universally in agreement with some idea or concept, where no dissenting opinions are expressed, eg. "the Tea Partiers had a love-in last weekend with the National Rifle Association". Welcome to the 60's, KAT!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Canadian Health Care Work$!

A lucky little man came home from the hospital yesterday.  Born at 31 weeks, he received the best premature baby care in the world (in a Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at a university hospital) - for free.  "NICU stays for babies born between 32 and 34 weeks gestation average about $31,000, and babies who are born earlier than 32 weeks cost even more. For babies weighing between 501 and 750 grams, treatment costs average $89,564" (Cheryl Morrissette, About.com Guide, 1/17/2012)  This baby was lucky in a lot of ways (for example, the parents he chose), but one biggy has to be the fact he was born in Canada.  For all the crap heaped on "socialized medicine" south of the 49th parallel (the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world without a nationwide comprehensive public health care system), the publicly-funded Canadian system works very well, thank you.  Sure, you might have to wait for elective procedures, and yes, there are those who abuse the system, (and some minimal user fees should be instituted), but if you need acute care you get it in Canada - fast, and (did I mention?) free.  If I hear neo-cons south of the border trying to scare the U.S. public one more time by stating that a "bureaucrat" standing between you and your doctor is somehow worse than an insurance company doing so, I think I'll puke.  Health is not a right, and neither is health care, but no one should be bankrupted by medical conditions they have no control over.  Canada's system isn't perfect, but ask the family of this little guy and they'll tell you it's pretty damn good!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Vampire Squid Boss: Welcome to Our Lair

After almost 2 years of hiding from the press while every other investment bank CEO soldiered on, Goldman Sucks' Lloyd Blankfein decided on Wednesday to promote his warm, fuzzy side to CNBC (where he was given a pass) and later to Bloomberg TV (a slightly rougher ride).  Herewith, the latter interview with the man who was "doing God's work" (his words) selling "crap" (his employee's description) to GS clients - and then taking positions against them (for their own good, of course).  Note the absence of arrogance, except perhaps in his body language.  Oh, and Lloyd, I think you meant "prophylaxis" - not "prophylactics".
 Lloyd Blankfein interview

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Separation of Church and State

"happy human" Humanism symbol
I've decided that the separation of church and state is under assault in both Canada and the U.S., so from time to time I'll explore topics that relate to that issue.  I found the following recently.  Let's call it an introduction to secular humanism, a concept basic to the equality of religious and areligious citizens in my view.  "If you’ve rejected traditional religion (or were never religious to start), you may be asking, “Is that all there is?” It’s liberating to recognize that supernatural beings are human creations … that there’s no such thing as “spirit” … that people are undesigned, unintended, and responsible for themselves. But what’s next? For many, mere atheism (the absence of belief in gods and the supernatural) or agnosticism (the view that such questions cannot be answered) aren’t enough. Atheism and agnosticism are silent on larger questions of values and meaning. If Meaning in life is not ordained from on high, what small-m meanings can we work out among ourselves? If eternal life is an illusion, how can we make the most of our only lives? As social beings sharing a godless world, how should we coexist? For the questions that remain unanswered after we’ve cleared our minds of gods and souls and spirits, many atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and freethinkers turn to secular humanism." - from the home page of The Council For Secular Humanism, www.secularhumanism.org.  (Emphasis added.)  As you can see, I'm interested in how we, as individuals responsible for ourselves, can coexist with our fellow citizens who may believe some greater power is responsible for them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

U.S. Is Under Cyber Attack

"This much is clear: more nations are seeking to acquire cyber attack capabilities as a standard feature in their military planning. "There are no shells exploding or foreign militaries on our shores. But make no mistake: America is under attack by digital bombs," said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management, which he chairs. "China's cyber warfare capabilities and the espionage campaigns they have undertaken are the most prevalent of any nation state actor," said McCaul. He said that citizen hacker groups directed by China have engaged in "cyber espionage, established cyberwar military units, and laced U.S. infrastructure with logic bombs." He added that Russia now has the intent and the technological prowess to launch cyber attacks around the world. "We have been fortunate that up until this point, cyber attacks in our country have not caused a cataclysmic event that could bring physical harm to Americans. But that is not for a lack of effort on the part of those who mean to destroy our way of life," he said. "Every day nations and 'hacktivist' groups penetrate our public and private computer networks. The degradation of our national security and intellectual property from cyber theft threatens to weaken us where we have been historically strong: our ingenuity and creativity." One other worry that hasn't received as much attention is the prospect of collaboration between nations and non-state actors as attack tools become more widespread within the cybercrime black market. As their capabilities become "commoditized", the temptation for these politically motivated groups to use them will increase." (by Charles Cooper, Executive Editor at CNET News)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Alberta Election: Steady As She Goes?

The two possible headlines this morning coming out of Alberta's 2012 provincial election were "Alberta Still Crazy ..." or "Alberta Still Conservative ..." After All These Years.  Thank Buddha it's the latter after last night's blowout wherein Alison Redford's Progressive Conservatives trounced Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party, 62 seats to 17.  (8 seats went to various Lefties).  With Albertans already running Ottawa the need for us to "circle the wagons" against eastern interference was deemed temporarily unnecessary, resulting in a rare opportunity for Albertans to have a real election - or at least address the right-wing divorce proceedings that have been going on.  Steven Harper and others of "The Calgary School" ilk take note: the gutter tactics of the sanctimonious WRP did not go over well with Albertans.  We will still have a separation of church and state in this province, and in this nation.  With a voter turnout way over 50% (last provincial election it was a pitiful 41%), religious crazies have been repudiated by the electorate and the PCs given a new lease on life after nearly self-destructing over the past five years.  The WRP second place (first loser) status can be attributed to both racist, homophobic comments by a couple of nut-case loose cannons (how many more are there?) during the final weeks of the campaign, and the fact that 80% of people polled said they would consider (and followed through) voting "strategically", ie. for "anybody but the Wildrose Party".  Individual local candidates' attributes mattered less to voters than their party affiliation did this time around (Ted Morton, far-right PC leadership candidate, lost in Chestermere-Rockyview ironically because he didn't cross the floor after ideologically being a midwife to the WRP - yes, he's just as stupid as I thought), with some notable exceptions; the popular, effective Bridget Pastoor in Lethbridge East who changed her stripes from Liberal to PC still won, and in a bible-belt south that went almost 100% WRP.  The real stories from last night are threefold: 1. Alberta PCs, and the province itself, have taken a decisive step towards the center, 2. Albertans are in for a much more interesting Legislative Assembly, and 3. the pollsters who predicted a Wildrose majority right up until "the only poll that matters" need a new crystal ball!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Where Does Money Come From? Hmmm...

Answer:  "Whether paper cash or numbers on a computer screen, all money (except coins) is “evidence of debt”. Cash can be the familiar paper stuff, or it can be credit at a central bank used to settle accounts between banks. (“Credit cash” at the central bank is always convertible to “paper cash” upon demand.) Cash is created out of thin air by the central bank of a country. The central bank then uses this cash to buy interest-bearing public debt in the form of government bonds. Government debt is perpetual and thus interest paid on it is perpetual. A good definition of cash might be: "evidence of public debt on which taxpayers pay perpetual interest"Credit is everything that isn’t cash. Take for example your bank account. It tells you how much cash the bank OWES you, if you demand it. All those numbers in bank accounts are just “promises to pay cash”, nothing more than IOUs. However, we typically think of these bank IOUs as “money”. Little wonder. This "checkbook money", especially in electronic form, is much more convenient and secure than paper money. Thus we can transact all of our business with these promises to pay cash (IOUs) instead of cash itself. So, are there more promises to pay cash than there is cash to fulfill them? You bet. That is because banks usually make “loans” by promising - rather than providing - cash. With a base of “cash” usually much less than 8% of the total they “loan”, banks create their “promises”. How? Simple. You, the borrower, promise in writing to pay the bank X amount of money over time plus interest on the outstanding balance. Your promise is backed by collateral. Your promise to the bank is thus an ASSET to the bank. To balance its books, the bank creates a matching LIABILITY. The bank promises the borrower X amount of “cash” on demand. The “loan money” that the bank puts in the borrower’s account is not “cash”. It is an IOU. It need never be cash unless the borrower demands cash. And, because we accept these IOUs as money itself, and do almost all of our business trading these convenient and secure IOUs instead of inconvenient and risky cash, banks can safely issue many more IOU’s than there is cash to back them up. Perhaps the simplest and most "magical" feature of this system is "net" transactions. Only the net differences of transactions between banks need to be paid in cash. In theory, if all the banks are getting as much bank credit coming in as is being withdrawn, all the IOUs balance each other out at the end of the day leaving a net difference of zero. No cash required at all, from anyone! In practice, however, banks are competing. Winners can demand losers pay in cash. But that amount is still only a small proportion of the whole amount of credit issued. The exception to all this is coins. They don't begin as debt. The government Mint stamps them and the government sells them at face value to the banks, no returns. But coins are an insignificantly small part of today's money supply. The significant thing about coins is that most people’s understanding of money has not yet developed much beyond the idea of coins, simple "tokens of value". They fail to see how we have a money system based on "evidence of debt". The current system of “money” is, in truth, financial control by our so-called “creditors". The truth is that WE are the real creditors, because it is WE who produce the real value in the world, not the banks." (By Paul Grignon, the creator of MoneyasDebt)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

How To Delete Yourself From The Internet

(from CJNet.com's Seth Rosenblatt) "The online privacy software company Abine, which makes Do Not Track Plus, also offers a service called DeleteMe, which removes your data from numerous tracking sites and keeps it from coming back. In an unusual gesture, though, they've made public how to do for yourselfeverything that DeleteMe does. Here's my take on their advice. Be warned, though. The following are not easy instructions, and it's not because they're technically complex. They require a tenacity and wherewithal that is likely to either exhaust you, drive you borderline bonkers, or both.
Step 1: Prepare yourself: You're going to have to be polite. These instructions require patience for the antics of others and determination to get the job done. It's not a bad idea to get something inanimate to take your frustrations out on, because often getting your data successfully removed or changed will require the good faith of the person you're dealing with. Things are not likely to go your way the first time around.
Step 2: Aggressively track sites that aggressively track you. This is where the DeleteMe service comes in. They currently charge you $99 to un-track you from the tracking data clearinghouses, which in turn sell your data to others entities. You can follow Abine's list of services and do the deed yourself, and that means writing many e-mails, sending numerous faxes, and placing enough phone calls to make you wish for a time machine so you can go back to the 19th century to do violence unto Alexander Graham Bell. One thing that isn't clear from Abine's list is that most of these data aggregators will re-add you within a few months, so I recommend at least bi-annual checks to see if they've sucked up your data again. Be tenacious, be polite, and if this is important to you, stick with it until you get what you want. If you're concerned about privacy and people making connections between your birthday, your address, and your Social Security number, you owe it to yourself to perform at least one Web search for your name and see what comes up. You might be unpleasantly surprised.
Step 3: To protect your reputation, removal must be done from the source. To get Google, Bing, and other search engines to notice a change in information as it is presented on the Web, the original site hosting that information must change. It doesn't matter which site is the source. It could be Facebook, or a local blog, or a gaming forum. If it's showing up in search results, it has little to do with the search engine and everything to do with the site of origin. Once that site has changed, then you'll see a change in the search results. Getting something removed from a site is not a scientific process, even though you must be methodical about it. Ask politely, and as I noted above, you're likely to have to ask more than once and using more than one way to communicate. You likely will have to be a rake at the gates of Hell, but one that uses words like "please" and "thank you". Look for the name of a writer, or Web site manager, and if no contact information is listed, do a WhoIs search by typing "whois www.site-name.com". Be sure to include the quotes. That will tell you who registered the site, which is a good place to start on smaller Web sites. Look for phone numbers, e-mail, and fax numbers, and follow up your initial communication. Once you have a name, even if you can't find a phone number or e-mail, you can probably take an educated stab at one. Use a site like E-mail Format to help you out. And in your e-mail, be sure to explain clearly, concisely, and logically why your request ought to be honored. A willingness to compromise can get you better results, too. If, for example, your initial request to fully remove your name gets refused, see if asking to have your identity anonymized will work. And if one person at the site you've contacted keeps stalling you, see if there's another you can contact instead.
Step 4: Get Google to hustle on search engine changes. If you've been successful in changing a site, but Google is still showing the older version, you can use Google's URL Removal Tool to accelerate the process. Note that this will require a Google account, and that if you get Google to change, you're going to have to submit requests to other major search engines like Bing separately.
Step 5: Paint over the bad with good. In cases where you can't get the site to remove the content that's negatively affecting your reputation, you can create new, fresh, positive content to counteract it. The idea is that the Positive You will bury the Negative You. Rick Santorum is a great example of how this can work in reverse, and no, I'm not going to link to it for you. You can also use social-networking sites to bury bad news. From About.Me to Flickr to Twitter, social networks tend to rank highly in search results. By creating and maintaining accounts that use your real name, you can elevate the social networking results for your name and, ideally, drop the results you want to bury onto the second page of results. Since studies show that second-page results are viewed significantly less often than first-page, this could be a successful burying strategy. However, a key component of this is linking the networks, so be prepared to do far more social networking than you had been.
Step 6: Go (politely) nuclear. Get a lawyer. If you suspect something is actually defamatory, seek out legal advice. Gather your evidence, be polite and firm, and seek out someone who can guide you through the thorny legal thicket. This will also depend on your country -- England has much broader defamation and libel laws than the United States does -- and your budget.
There is no foolproof method for changing how you're presented on the Internet, whether looking at purely personally-identifiable data or the much more subjective presentation of your personal reputation. However, if these are concerns of yours, you're not alone out there, and these six steps will give you concrete actions you can take to reclaim your identity and repair how others see you."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mrs. Einstein: "I'm outta here!"

The Happy Couple
And what was Einstein like at home?  Domestic science was definitely left to his wife while he contemplated the universe.  "By 1914, Albert Einstein's marriage to his wife of 11 years, Mileva Marić, was fast deteriorating. Realising there was no hope for their relationship on a romantic level, Einstein proposed that they remain together for the sake of their children, but only if she agreed to the following list of conditions. Mileva accepted them, but to no avail. A few months later, she left her husband in Berlin and moved, with their sons, to Zurich. They eventually divorced in 1919, having lived apart for five years. (Source: Einstein: His Life and Universe) "a) You will make sure: that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order; that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room; that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only. b) You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego: my sitting at home with you; my going out or travelling with you. c) You will obey the following points in your relations with me: you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way; you will stop talking to me if I request it; you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it. d) You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior." (from ListsOfNote.com)  Hmmm ... he proposed the conditions, he worried about being reproached, and he worried about being belittled in front of his children?  I know, I know, it takes two to tangle.

Friday, April 20, 2012

SEC Porn: An Old Problem

This is news to me, but apparently it's from April 23 of 2010: "SEC Porn Problem: Officials Surfing Sites During Financial Crisis, Report Finds (by Jonathan Karl, Ki Mae Heussner, ABC News): A new government report obtained by ABC News has concluded that some senior employees spent hours on the agency's computers looking at porn sites as the financial crisis was unfolding. "These guys in the middle of a financial crisis are spending their time looking at prurient material on the internet," said Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland and former director of the Office of Economics at the U.S. International Trade Commission. "It's reckless, and indicates a contempt for the taxpayer and the taxpayer's interest in monitoring financial markets," Morici said. The investigation, conducted by the SEC's internal watchdog found 31 serious offenders during the past two and a half years. 17 of the alleged offenders were senior SEC officers whose salaries ranged from $100,000 to $222,000 per year. One senior attorney at SEC headquarters in Washington spent up to 8 hours a day accessing internet porn, according to the report, which has yet to be released. When he filled all the space on his government computer with pornographic images, he downloaded more to CDs and DVDs that accumulated in boxes in his offices. An SEC accountant attempted to access porn websites 1,800 times in a two-week period and had 600 pornographic images on her computer hard drive. Another SEC accountant used his SEC-issued computer to upload his own sexually explicit videos onto porn websites he joined. And another SEC accountant attempted to access porn sites 16,000 times in a single month. In one case, the report noted, an employee tried hundreds of times to access pornographic sites and was denied access. When he used a flash drive, he successfully bypassed the filter to visit a "significant number" of porn sites. The employee also said he deliberately disabled a filter in Google to access inappropriate sites. After management informed him that he would lose his job, the employee resigned. A similar SEC report for October 2008 to March 2009 said that a regional supervisor in Los Angeles accessed and attempted to access pornographic and sexually explicit web sites up to twice a day from his SEC computer during work hours. The report concluded that most of the cases began in 2008, just as the financial system began to collapse, and the problem hasn't stopped." (via Zero Hedge.com)  This old article makes me wonder: a) if the SEC has something to do with the virtual disappearance from the airwaves of Professor Morici, a no-holds-barred analyst of the financial crisis who I always enjoyed listening to.  (The only time he is heard from now is on photocopier advertisements.)  And: b) if I haven't been laying too much blame for the financial meltdown on Wall Street versus government regulators.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wild Race? Yes. Wildrose? No.

Wildrose planning personified.
The Alberta provincial election on April 23rd will be interesting - to say the least.  For the first time in a long time the 30-odd year reign of the Progressive Conservatives is actually threatened by the upstart Wildrose Alliance Church (oops!), er ...  Party, who presently lead every poll that matters.  Now don't get me wrong.  The PC's have certainly squandered their Natural Governing Party status Out Here over the past five years, and deserve a "slap upside the head", as my brother would say.  (NGP?  Albertans lurch from small "c" conservative party to small "c" conservative party so consistently that any smart liberal politician (PC leader Alison Redford, perhaps?) has by now realized that to have any chance of affecting policy you need to infiltrate the NGP Conservatives.)  However, it appears to this writer that these Wildrose Wackos need to be stopped.  (Funny how elections always seem to come down to the lesser of two evils, don't they?)  And these people are so "good" that they're evil.  To wit, from The National Post yesterday: "One of the first things (Wildrose leader) Danielle Smith will have to do if she pulls off a victory is haul out the media muzzle and firmly attach it to some of her members.  Ron Leech, the retired Calgary pastor who thinks he has an advantage over ethnics because he’s a white guy … muzzled. Allan Hunsberger, the fervent christian evangelical who thinks gays will burn in hell … muzzled. Wildrose is a party that began as a reaction to the view that the ruling PCs were no longer conservative enough. It follows that some of the more zealous inhabitants of the PC fringes would make the switch, and feel emboldened by the culture of the new party to express their views more freely than Ms. Smith might desire. Other than a few floor-crossers, a Wildrose government will be packed with rookie politicians inexperienced both in government and the perils of sharing their thoughts in public. Having imperfect members is not fatal to a party, but the leader’s handling of them is critical. Smith has been hesitant to take a tough stand on the issue while the campaign is still underway. She won’t long have that luxury if her credibility is to be maintained."  Religious crazies versus the status quo?  A global warming denier versus an investor in education?  A leader trying to buy our vote with royalty cheques (our own money) versus one who is serious about healthcare reform?  Are you kidding me?  I'll take the latter every time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kyle Bass: Worth Listening To

Kyle Bass is a guy that I sit up and listen to every chance I get, and you may want to as well (although emulating his driving might get you in trouble).  "J. Kyle Bass, an American hedge fund manager, is the Founder of Hayman Capital. He received extensive coverage in the financial press for profiting $590 million by short selling the sub-prime mortgage bond market (via CDO's), before that market crashed. Bass was born in Miami, where his father managed the Fontainebleau Hotel, and later the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau. He attended TCU on a diving and academic scholarship, and graduated with a BA in Business Administration. Bass began work with Bear Stearns’ brokerage firm in their Dallas office. He became senior managing director at 28, then left to run the Dallas office of Legg Mason, where he focused on the housing industry. Bass enjoyed risk-taking hobbies and, in 2002, raced a $200,000 Porsche from Manhattan to Los Angeles in the Gumball 3000 race. Ignoring speed limits and using a helicopter spotter, he won the rally’s “Hottest Wheels” award for once reaching 208 mph. After saving $33 million, Bass founded Hayman Capital in February 2006 as a "global special situation fund". Bass and his staff did months of research to find out which CDOs were composed of low quality mortgages. Beginning in mid-2006, Bass used leverage short-selling of $4 billion of subprime securities to the synthetic CDO market. By December 2007, a wave of foreclosures swept the US, and Bass was featured on Bloomberg TV as making a fortune “betting against the subprime borrower.” Hayman Capital leveraged $110 million into $700 million through this short sale play. In 2011 Bass was featured in Michael Lewis's best-selling book Boomerang for purchasing 20 million nickels ($1 million), saying that each 5 cent nickel is actually worth 6.8 cents. Also in 2011, Bass initiated a huge position in Greek and other European sovereign debt through credit default swaps. Media reports were that he could profit up to 650 times his investment should these countries default on their debt obligations." (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Less Tinkle in U.S. Change?

I dropped some American coins on the desk the other day, and was surprised at the almost nonmetallic sound they made.  It made me wonder what the intrinsic metal value of U.S. coins is these days.  As you peruse the following table from Coinflation.com, remember that the intrinsic value of paper money is zero, and that Canada is abolishing the penny because it is too expensive to make:

United States Circulating Coinage Intrinsic Value Table




This table does not reflect U.S. Mint production costs, but the pure base metal value that composes the coin. Calculations are based on coin weight, metal composition, and base metal prices. The "Metal % of Denomination" column represents the percentage of metal that comprises the denomination's purchasing power. A coin that is over 100% in this category has more base metal value than purchasing power.

Table based on April 13, 2012 closing base metal prices:
Copper $3.6520/lb  0.0891Zinc $0.9016/lb  0.0198Nickel $8.2523/lb  0.1522

DescriptionDenominationMetal ValueMetal % of Denomination
Lincoln Copper Cent Price1909-1982 Cent (95% copper) *


$0.01
$0.0240959


240.95%
Jefferson Nickel Price1946-2012 Nickel


$0.05
$0.0529330


105.86%
Lincoln Zinc Cent Value1982-2012 Cent (97.5% zinc) *


$0.01
$0.0053478


53.47%
Roosevelt Dime Value1965-2012 Dime


$0.10
$0.0201749


20.17%
Washington Quarter Value1965-2012 Quarter


$0.25
$0.0504392


20.17%
Kennedy Half Dollar Value1971-2012 Half Dollar


$0.50
$0.1008795


20.17%
Ike Dollar Value1971-1978 Eisenhower Dollar


$1.00
$0.2017600


20.17%
Susan B. Anthony Dollar Value1979-1981, 1999 SBA Dollar


$1.00
$0.0720563


7.20%
Sacajawea Dollar Value2000-2012 Sacagawea Dollar


$1.00
$0.0625127


6.25%
Presidential Dollar Value2007-2012 Presidential Dollar


$1.00
$0.0625127


6.25%

* The U.S. Mint issued both compositions in 1982; they can be differentiated by weight (3.11 g copper, 2.5 g zinc). The 1943 steel cent is not included in the table above. Also, a tin alloy is used in one cent pieces from 1864 until 1962, but that value isn't significant enough to calculate.

Base Metal Coin Calculator



Coin values not included above:  Jefferson Nickel1938-1942 Jefferson Nickel,  Buffalo Nickel1913-1938 Buffalo Nickel,  Indian Cent1864-1909 Indian Cent  

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Huguenots of Northeast Florida

"On May 1, 2012, Jacksonville will commemorate the 450th anniversary of French Huguenot Captain Jean Ribault’s arrival and the beginning of French history in Florida. On May 1, 1562, Ribault sailed into what we now call the St. Johns River, and named it The River of May. He met with the indigenous, Mocama-speaking Timucua Indians on the North side of the river and claimed the beautiful land for France by placing a stone onto the ground in her honor. The next French exploration occurred in 1564, Fort Caroline ("la Caroline") was built, and the “First Thanksgiving” took place on June 30 of the same year." (Commemorate 450 website)  "French Protestants were inspired by the writings of John Calvin in the 1530s, and they were called Huguenots by the 1560s. By the end of the 17th century, roughly 200,000 Huguenots had been driven from France during a series of religious persecutions. They relocated to Protestant nations in Europe, and also to the Dutch Cape Colony in present-day South Africa and the English 13 colonies of North America. Jean Ribault (1520-1565) was a French naval officer, navigator, and a colonizer of what would become the southeastern United States. He was a major figure in the French attempts to colonize Florida. Under Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, Ribault led an expedition to the New World in 1562 that founded the outpost of Charlesfort on Parris Island in present-day South Carolina. Two years later, he took over command of the French colony of Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville, FL. He and many of his followers were killed by Spanish soldiers near St. Augustine in 1565." (Wikipedia)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spiralling Beach Ball of Death

SBBOD, an Apple phenomenon, is particularly upsetting to new Mac users (like me).  Just when you want to use the OH2 search function to find that "Yucca Flats" drink recipe or some other such source of enlightenment, there it is - the dreaded SBBOD.  If the SBBOD appears briefly but frequently in your Web browser it's probably "related to issues with managing the browser cache or history. Browser responsiveness tends to decrease with time the longer a browser is open, the more Web pages that have been loaded, and the more Web pages that are open concurrently."  Possible solutions: A. Clear the browser cache. The following describes the procedure for Firefox and Safari (because OH2 appears prettiest in those two); for other browsers, consult the browser's Help link. Firefox: 1. Press Command-Shift-Delete. Choose Tools > Clear Recent History ... The Clear Recent History window opens. 2. Make the appropriate selections. 3. Click Clear Now.  Safari: 1. Do one of the following: Press the Command-Option-E keyboard shortcut. Choose Safari > Empty Cache ... A confirmation dialog opens. 2. Click Empty. B. If the problem persists, quit (Command-Q) and reopen the browser. The browser should perform nominally. C. Consider making the following changes to the browser's preferences, if extant: Increase the disk cache space for previously-visited Web pages. This will permit more Web pages to be cached, reducing the need to reload Web pages if the assigned cache is exhausted. Decrease the retention period for history entries. This will minimize browser effort in managing a large history file. I've also found that running MacKeeper before starting a session of browsing seems to deflate the SBBOD for awhile.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

White Slime, Advanced Meat Recovery, etc.

"advanced meat recovery"
By Lena Groeger at ProPublica: "Lean finely textured beef," aka "pink slime," sparked an uproar when the USDA bought 7 million pounds of the stuff for school lunches. But burger filler isn't the only way that meat packers maximize production. Mechanically Separated Meat ("white slime"): is a "paste-like and batter-like meat product" made by mechanically removing meat from animal bones. Carcasses are forced through "a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue." The remaining fragments (the USDA limits how many bits of bone are acceptable) are ground up into a paste and added to other processed meats. Manufacturers must always label "mechanically separated" pork, chicken or turkey on the ingredients list. According to the American Meat Institute, the product is no longer typically used in chicken nuggets (McDonald's has repeatedly claimed that its chicken nuggets only contain chicken breast meat). Mechanically separated beef was prohibited for use as human food in 2004 due to concerns that spinal tissue (potentially carrying mad cow disease) could get mixed into the meat. Mechanically separated poultry and pork are still allowed. Advanced Meat Recovery: Pieces of meat that have been scraped, shaved, or pressed off the bone by special machinery. Without grinding, crushing or pulverizing the bone itself, a machine removes edible tissue from beef and pork bones. If the resulting bits have more than 150 mg of calcium per 100 grams (indicating the presence of bones) they must be labeled "mechanically separated" meat. Otherwise it is labeled the same way as any other meat - such as "beef" or "ground pork." The USDA requires that the spinal cord be removed before processing the neck bones and backbones, so that pieces of the chord do not get mixed into the meat." Sources: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, The American Meat Institute.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Hunger Games Movie Review

Let me first say that I attended The Hunger Games movie with my wife, and there is no greater defender of the innocence of children and childhood than she, as those who know her will readily attest.  Repulsed by the idea of children fighting - let alone to the death in an arena broadcast nationwide - she was not comfortable with going to this flick at all.  (I could try to tell you that it was my suave, debonair delivery of a wholly logical explanation of the allegorical nature of this groundbreaking film that convinced her to go with me, but that would be a lie - I begged her to go.)  And I think it fair to say that she was pleasantly surprised, even enthusiastic about the movie, to the extent that she now wants to read the books.  So, ye of faint heart, don't let others' opinions keep you from seeing THG, especially if they haven't seen it themselves.  The film adaptation is deftly delivered, yet true to the first book of the trilogy in every detail - no small feat given the subject matter.  Gore is virtually non-existent (unlike many other movies I've seen), the moments of tenderness just right, and the action is, of course, non-stop.  The film has a refreshing mix of actors old and new.  The heroine is outstanding, her performance makes you wonder what the girl-next-door is actually capable of if push comes to shove.  Finally, the parallels between the haves and have-nots of Panem, and the 99%-and-1% of modern day America are hard to miss, right down to the we're-not-going-to-take-it-anymore social unrest scene that will surely lead into the sequel (no doubt already being written).  So if you haven't seen The Hunger Games yet, do yourself a favour tonight.  May the odds always be in your favour.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Vexatious Litigant List

"Vexatious litigation is legal action which is brought, regardless of its merits, solely to harass or subdue an adversary. It may take the form of a primary frivolous lawsuit or may be the repetitive, burdensome, and unwarranted filing of meritless motions in a matter which is otherwise a meritorious cause of action. Filing vexatious litigation is considered an abuse of the judicial process and may result in sanctions against the offender. A single action, even a frivolous one, is not enough to raise a litigant to the level of being declared vexatious, though repeated and severe instances by a single lawyer or firm can result in eventual disbarment. Some jurisdictions have a list of vexatious litigants: people who have repeatedly abused the legal system. Because lawyers could be disbarred for participating in the abuse, vexatious litigants are often unable to retain legal counsel, and therefore represent themselves in court. Those on the list are usually either forbidden from any further legal action or required to obtain prior permission from a senior judge before taking any legal action. The process by which a person is added to the list varies among jurisdictions." (Wikipedia)  It would be interesting to know who's on the list in Canada.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Big Screen HDTV a Boon to Traders

It must be a little scary being a TV anchor or commentator these day - for no other reason than you're in High Definition.  I have a couple of HDTV's, but they are modest in size, perhaps not pimped out the way they could be, and they certainly suffer from satellite reception issues at our mountainous location out here, so I never really noticed the stunningly beautiful detail HDTV can afford until watching a financial channel on my son-in-law's "big screen" yesterday in the city.  Sure the bad teeth, overdone makeup, crumpled suit - let alone things in the background like windows that could use a wash - immediately jump out at you,  And every nose hair, neck hair, and ear hair stands out as a beacon.  (Heaven help the guy who cuts himself shaving!)  But there's more.  The sadness in one anchor's eyes struck me (must have been a problem at home, or perhaps on the way to work).  And then there's the analyst who - while presenting his research firm's assessment of a company - somehow doesn't come across as 100% convinced himself.  Other details, like the comforting self-confidence of a certain Ms. F.H., came across too.  All really only noticeable on a BIG SCREEN HDTV.  It occurred to me that all this detail can add more than a little nuance to the investor's decision-making process on a particular stock.  That's good for us in TV land, but not necessarily for the people in front of the cameras.  I guess I'll have to blow out a wall in my study, dear, to accommodate a really big screen when I have time.  (And take note CNBC, Bloomberg, and BNN: I hereby refuse to be interviewed on camera - people already can read this ugly mug like a book without a big screen.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Written With Conviction


With lots of time on his hands to mull things over in jail, Conrad Black seems to have succinctly summed up a few cross-currents of the Canadian energy scene yesterday, in The National Post: " The oil sands must be developed, and a pipeline built either into the U.S. or to the West Coast to transport the oil to market. These projects must be managed with great care for the environment. But Canada’s manifest destiny as an energy exporter cannot be held hostage by eco-terrorists, nor by the economic growth of one Canadian region being stunted by the slovenly dependence of other regions on an artificially depreciated Canadian dollar. Intra-Canadian partisanship and regional rivalries must end at the border and the water’s edge. The antics of McGuinty, who has led Ontario from the commanding heights almost to the low-rent district of the Canadian economy, blaming the prosperity of Alberta for raising the value of the Canadian dollar and inconveniencing Ontario, is an outrage. The new federal NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, has been uttering something perilously close to the same inexcusable flimflam. Alberta, per capita, has done more than any other province to carry the cost of federalism, including oceanic largesse to Quebec. And all Canadians should rejoice at the prospect of Canada becoming a world energy giant, especially as it entails the prosperity of Newfoundland after centuries of economic struggle, and also the flowering of the hydroelectric wealth and technical sophistication of Quebec. To do otherwise would amount to contemptible regional back-biting, shaming to the higher traditions of the political parties of McGuinty, Charest, and Mulcair, and more reprehensible than churlish crabbing, in English or French, about bilingualism. Unfortunately, Pierre Trudeau, a principal conservator of Canada, is also in some measure, the father of this bad policy seed."  A penetrating glimpse into the obvious for most Albertans, but the fellow does have a way with words.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Castle Area Redux: Thin Edge of the Wedge

As a senior in high school I was what I call an "eco-freak".  I was perennially on the board of Pollution Control Southern Alberta, wrote endless letters to politicians and academics, and marched in demonstrations with an old gas mask on to make the point about toxic chemicals.  As an undergraduate chemistry major I ran Pollutant Analysis of the Oldman River (our data was later used to fine coal companies polluting the headwaters).  Ecology was my favourite subject.  Before my doctorate, I researched mercury pollution in the North Saskatchewan River under the auspices of the Faculty of Medicine's Department of Pharmacology.  And after graduation my new bride and I headed for the hills Out Here where we built a passive solar house - and washed, crushed, and saved our tin cans for months so we could recycle them in Lethbridge, 75 miles away, because no local recycling facility existed back then.  Most recently, I spent two years as a consultant on a CO2 sequestration project.  I am not pro-logging.  No one can accuse me of lacking "environmentalist" credentials.  (In fact, I believe most people are "environmentalists".  They may not realize it (or may even deny it because of the antics of radicals I call "eco-terrorists"), but deep down we all want to leave the planet a better place than we found it - my personal definition of the term.)  Why then do I find myself often at odds with local so-called "environmentalists"?  Is it because they protest everything everywhere all the time?  Is it because they do so supported in part by government grants (your tax dollars and mine)?  A case in point is the current furor over logging (duly advertised, approved, permitted, and supervised) in the Castle area of Southern Alberta.  Declaring the area a "Wildland Park" would apparently stop the logging but still allow other traditional uses of the current Forest Reserve according to those leading the charge.  But for how long?  Many of these same people are well-known to want nothing less than a Wilderness Park out there.  Only a massive effort twenty years ago before the Natural Resources Conservation Board allowed our local ski hill to finally become a viable entity in the face of steep opposition from these same folks.  But they never give up.  As soon as the ski hill tried to expand onto an area it had long leased from the province, it was taken to court over the need for a new Environmental Impact Assessment - when a very recent (and very expensive) one already existed from said NRCB hearings.  After losing that battle at the Alberta Court of Appeal, peace descended over the land - for a couple of months.  Their newest ploy was to have the province declare the existing Forest Reserve the "Andy Russell Wilderness Park", which would again have shut down everything and locked the gate on a popular recreational asset and economic generator.  Local politicians were nearly hoodwinked into writing letters of support for that initiative, unaware of the group's ultimate goal.  And it's the same with the current anti-logging issue, in my view.  The thin edge of the wedge.  First shut down logging.  Then random camping.  Quad and snowmobile use will be next.  And then the ski hill will be judged incompatible with wilderness.  And then what would happen to the local businesses and recreational pursuits these people claim to be trying to protect?  (photo credit: sierraclub.ca)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Whale Vomit Perfume Substitute Available

A lump of ambergris
"Perfume makers could soon replace whale vomit with fir tree extract, according to an article in Postmedia News by Gabrielle Tieman/Maxi Jonas/Reuters. Who knew? Whale vomit, a key ingredient in perfume, could be left out as researchers have isolated a fir tree compound that could replace the odd ingredient. Researchers at UBC identified a gene in balsam fir trees that could eliminate the need for ambergris, a strong perfume fixative created from a regurgitated mixture of seashells, fish bones and a sticky inner-stomach substance. Joerg Bohlmann, a professor at UBC and lead researcher, said enzymes found in the resin of tree bark were used to create a synthetic compound that replaces ambergris. “We are now able to create the compound,” said Bohlmann. “This would ensure that the animal is never hunted if the product cannot be found naturally and as well would protect the balsam fir from extinction.” The distinctly-scented ambergris - "bearing a musky, sweet earthy aroma" - clings to fabrics (B: does the term "upchuck" ring a bell here?), and is added to high-end perfumes to help the scent last longer on skin. Depending on the grading, a gram of ambergris can cost up to $50.” Bohlmann said although ambergris is collected by hand along the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (it hardens when regurgitated into seawater), its use in perfume is controversial. “This new compound would eliminate the fear of source depletion that is only slowly regenerated,” said Bohlmann. “Without fear of losing the plant life, plant-based products could eliminate animal-based products entirely.” The research will be published Friday in the Journal of Biological Chemistry."  All I want to know is who dreamt up the use of this stuff in perfume in the first place?  The rumour that each ounce of Chanel No. 5 (my personal fragrance favourite, on my wife of course) is derived from the sweat of nine whipped Abyssinian cats is no doubt spurious, but after the foregoing revelation a guy has to wonder.

Friday, April 6, 2012

America By The Numbers

The Big Apple
1.  66% of Americans are overweight.
2.  48% of Americans are either "low income" or living in poverty.
3.  $8,500 is spent on healthcare per person per year in the U.S.  The U.K. spends $3500.
4.  The average U.S. citizen drinks the equivalent of 600 sodas each year.
5.  25 million American adults are living with their parents.
6.  Over 14% of Americans have at least 10 credit cards.
7.  Over 52% of all children that live in Cleveland are living in poverty.
8.  The median price of a home in Detroit is now about $6000.
9.  Of the 313 million people in the U.S., 46 million are on food stamps.
10. The U.S. has a teen pregnancy rate of 22% - highest in the world.
11. The U.S. has the highest divorce rate on the globe.
12. More people have been diagnosed with mental disorders in the U.S. than in any other nation.
(from theeconomiccollapseblog.com)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The QuiBids Racket

"QuiBids.com is the largest penny auction website operating in the US. Penny auction websites attract people by promising big ticket items at unbelievably low prices - for example, QuiBids shows a new iPad, which retails at $499 for the most basic model, selling for $22.54. But this winning bid of $22.54 is misleading. You are only able to bid a single penny at any time during the auction. However, at QuiBids.com, you must purchase each 1 cent bid for 60 cents. So an iPad that retails for $499 but was won for 2,254 one cent bids (or $22.54) means that the iPad just sold for $1352.40. Though the person who wins the item usually has paid less than retail, citing $22.54 as the winning bid is extremely misleading. So is QuiBids a Scam? First of all, they require people to pay for the option to bid, but don’t allow them to bid in increments of their choosing. This means that QuiBids is forcing the price up. Second, on eBay the seller and buyer have the auction monitored by the website, which is the trusted third party. On QuiBids.com, there is no trusted third party. QuiBids is the seller and the auctioneer. It works in their favor - and their favor only - to drive the price up. Third, QuiBids attempts to redeem themselves by offering you the “By It Now” option, which is when you can take the total amount of your failed bids and apply that toward the retail price of the item you were bidding on. Say you bid $80 total on an iPod Nano that cost $150. For the remaining $70, Quibids will sell you a Nano. Well, $70 plus tax, fees, and shipping and handling. With the added “fees,” tax, and S&H, that Nano will cost you more than it would at Apple, and usually much more than it would at a Amazon.com or Target. Fourth, QuiBids is not an approved retailer of any major brand name products.  This means that if you get the item from them, the manufacturer warranty is void – if it breaks within the first 60 days, you will not be able to get it repaired or exchanged. If you have a problem within the first 30 days, QuiBids will refund the final auction price you paid, but not a single dime of the bids it took to win the auction. Stick to legitimate auction sites like eBay." (Reviewipedia)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Is There Really a "Market" These Days?

By definition, a "market" is a place where prices are agreed upon ("discovered") by the interaction of buyers and sellers. It follows that when either of those parties is absent, prices are set artificially. Buyers fled equity markets in the developed world after the financial meltdown of 2008, having only gradually gotten their nerve back after the 2000 "dot-com" stock crash. After being devastated twice in one decade (and this time by unethical if not criminal behaviour, not some "new normal" of earning-less dot-coms), it appears many investors haven't come back this time. Stock market "volume" (shares traded) is dismally low, despite historically low interest rates courtesy of Ben Bernanke - which among other "benefits"should be forcing mom and pop investors back into the market to get some yield, any yield, on their nest eggs (what's left of them). It hasn't worked. In fact, volume continues to get worse, even as stock indexes recently surpassed their 2008 highs. This begs two questions: 1) if individual investors are buying bonds, real estate, guaranteed term deposits, Treasuries, or keeping their money in savings accounts (or under the mattress) paying little or no interest, ie. buying anything but stocks, who are the buyers that keep pushing markets higher? And: 2) if prices are being set "artificially" due to a dearth of buyers, is this situation sustainable?  Yesterday, when the Fed's minutes from their last meeting were released and investors saw in writing what Bernanke had told them verbally last week (there will be no Quantitative Easing 3) the markets sold off sharply.  Was yesterday's skittishness a sign of just how fragile this market recovery really is - a market recovery sans buyers?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

In a recent article, The Economist noted: "Two forces make American laws too complex. One is hubris. Many lawmakers seem to believe that they can lay down rules to govern every eventuality. Examples range from the merely annoying (eg. a proposed code for nurseries in Colorado that specifies how many crayons each box must contain) to the delusional (eg. the conceit of Dodd-Frank that you can anticipate and ban every nasty trick financiers will dream up in the future). Far from preventing abuses, complexity creates loopholes that the shrewd can abuse with impunity. The other force that makes American laws complex is lobbying. The government’s drive to micromanage so many activities creates a huge incentive for interest groups to push for special favours. When a bill is hundreds of pages long, it is not hard for congressmen to slip in clauses that benefit their chums and campaign donors. The health-care bill included tons of favours for the pushy. Congress’s last, failed attempt to regulate greenhouse gases was even worse. Complexity costs money. Sarbanes-Oxley, a law aimed at preventing Enron-style frauds, has made it so difficult to list shares on an American stockmarket that firms increasingly look elsewhere or stay private. America’s share of initial public offerings fell from 67% in 2002 (when Sarbox passed) to 16% last year, despite some benign tweaks to the law. A study for the Small Business Administration, a government body, found that regulations in general add $10,585 in costs per employee. It’s a wonder the jobless rate isn’t even higher than it is."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Smarties Proven to Enhance Brain Power

Your humble scribe was never a big chocolate fan until I started spending a lot of time in Europe about twenty years ago, where chocolate is akin to fine wine, fine art, and fine cuisine.  I re-discovered "choco", as my grandson calls it, because it is portable, high-energy, and delicious when you're at high altitude all day in the Alps.  Needless to say, European chocolate is still my fave (although Callebaut will do Out Here).  I have long suspected that said confection may have other - as yet undiscovered - health benefits too.  Just (barely) into my seventh decade, I've long believed that I'm staving off the forgetfulness of old age by eating "Smarties".  I don't "eat the red ones last", I eat them randomly - but I eat them one at a time, savouring the taste, and ... well, I digress.  Now there's scientific proof too: the JAFD today reports that "Smarties enhance brain power when eaten slowly, one at a time.  The mechanism remains to be elucidated."  JAFD?  That's the Journal of April Fool's Data (Note: Smarties are not available in the U.S.).