31 August 2016

Once Again, It's Called Money

Once again, we have someone writing about a skills shortage, and suggesting that the solution is to sex it up:
Because hiring manager Jim McKeown was talking to an audience, he wasn't sitting at a desk, his head in hands, but he may as well have been.

"I don't know where we are heading with manufacturing," he said, clearly discouraged. "The last 10 years have been difficult."

McKeown wasn't talking about sales, or business, or the supply chain, or the cost of raw materials - all important to such companies as Kingsbury Inc., which manufactures bearings in Philadelphia and Hatboro.

For him, and about 30 area manufacturers attending Tuesday's meeting of the Manufacturing Alliance of Bucks and Montgomery Counties, the issue is manpower.

There's not enough of it - and what there is is not young.


But, he said, manufacturers need to romance them - to show them how their work on a product makes a difference, maybe keeping a jetliner aloft or a heart beating.


When interviewing millennials, make sure there is someone close to their age on the interviewing panel, suggested audience member John Trainor, staffing manager at Javan Engineering Inc. in Fort Washington


For a quick fix, update a stodgy website so its text and photos tell a compelling story about the company, its products and people, said audience member Clara Console, a human-resources consultant.


"Millennials want to see their future," which does not include working on tools "their grandfathers might have used."
(emphasis mine)

The word for this self absorbed delusional cluelessness is "bullsh%$".

One only need look at history:  Until auto workers pay was essentially doubled in 1914, they had trouble recruiting and keeping workers:
At the time, workers could count on about $2.25 per day, for which they worked nine-hour shifts. It was pretty good money in those days, but the toll was too much for many to bear. Ford’s turnover rate was very high. In 1913, Ford hired more than 52,000 men to keep a workforce of only 14,000. New workers required a costly break-in period, making matters worse for the company. Also, some men simply walked away from the line to quit and look for a job elsewhere. Then the line stopped and production of cars halted. The increased cost and delayed production kept Ford from selling his cars at the low price he wanted. Drastic measures were necessary if he was to keep up this production.
Henry Ford had a 371% turn over rate.

He solved it with money.

If you cannot find skilled machinists, or tool makers, or bull semen collectors, Econ 101 gives you the answer: pay them more.

If the author of this article were a journalist, instead of a stenographer, they would have known that.

H/t Atrios.


I just found out that a close family friend was killed in a bike accident on Monday.

Posted via mobile.

30 August 2016

And Clinton Throws the Democrats an Anvil

So, now that the clusterfuck known as Donald is hanging around Republican's neck like a millstone, Hillary Clinton is busy trying to remove that particular albatross: (welcome to the Matthew Saroff mixed metaphor festival)
Hillary Clinton is trying to entice Republican voters to ditch Donald Trump by portraying him as outside the mainstream of their party, putting her at odds with congressional Democrats who want to link the party's House and Senate candidates to Trump's controversial brand of politics.

In a speech on Aug. 25 that flayed the Republican nominee as an outlier channeling the views of white supremacists and courting the "fringe element" of his party, Clinton invoked the names of former President George W. Bush, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican nominee, to set up the contrast with Trump.

Republicans who've already voiced their opposition to Trump welcomed having the Democratic presidential nominee make their argument—that he doesn't represent the party or mainstream conservatism.

"I'm glad that even Hillary Clinton recognizes that this isn't our whole party," Katie Packer, a former adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign, wrote on Twitter. "This is strong," Republican strategist Ana Navarro said of Clinton's praise for past Republican nominees. "It's easily the best speech of any candidate this year," Tony Fratto, a former spokesman for Bush, tweeted.
It's Bill all over again:  Throwing the party, and the party's ideals over the cliff in the quest for personal gain.

I am so going to take a sh%$ in the ballot booth this year. (I am not speaking figuratively here.)

Told Ya!

Last night, I said that Syria was a clusterf%$#, and that the Turkish invasion made it worse.

Tonight, we learn that the Turks gave no warning before launching their invasion:
When Turkish ground forces delivered a lightning strike on Islamic State fighters in Syria last week, the Pentagon hailed what it described as close U.S.-Turkish coordination.

But behind the scenes, cooperation between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners broke down at senior levels, according to officials on both sides. The two countries weren’t as aligned on the operation as their public statements indicated.

While the White House was preparing to consider a secret plan to have American special forces join the Turks, Ankara pulled the trigger on the mission unilaterally without giving officials in Washington advance warning. When clashes started between Turkish and Syrian Kurdish fighters—who are directly backed by U.S. Special Forces—the Pentagon issued unusually blunt calls for both to stand down.

U.S. officials say the Turks’ decision undercut a behind-the-scenes effort to clear rival Syrian Kurdish elements out of the conflict zone first and created a prickly, new challenge for the U.S. as two of its most important partners in the campaign fight each other instead of Islamic State. The breakdown in coordination adds a new layer of tensions between Washington and Ankara on top of those sparked by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown since the July coup attempt in Turkey.

Officials in Washington said they warned their Turkish military counterparts Monday that the U.S. won’t provide air support to Turkish forces pushing southward, deeper into Syrian territory. The U.S. will continue to provide air support to Turkish forces moving westward, into the border area threatened by Islamic State. Likewise, U.S. officials told the Kurds that U.S. air support hinged on their forces moving east of the Euphrates River and on advancing south toward Islamic State’s self-declared capital, Raqqa, to ensure they wouldn’t come into conflict with the Turks, according to the officials. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday that the Kurdish forces had begun to move eastward, easing the friction between the two sides.
(emphasis mine)

Just lovely. More clusterf%$#s in the Levant.

You have Jihadis, a Turkish president who makes Charles deGaulle look humble trying to reinstate the Ottoman Caliphate, the antediluvian kleptocratic Persian Gulf monarchies, which are terrified at both the possibility of a successful secular Arab state and any non-Sunni regime, you have the Iranians trying to protect the Shia across the Arab world, the Russians trying to preserve an allied government, and the US both supporting and opposing pretty much all these elements.

All the while, the refugees created by this situation is destabilizing both the EU and NATO,

Like I said, a complete clusterf%$#.

They Can Find it In Their Couch

Apple was just assessed a €13 billion ($14.4 B) fine tax delinquency for using Ireland as a tax haven. Essentially the European Commission ruled that Apple received tax breaks from Ireland that amounted to an illegal subsidy to the computer and phone maker:
Apple has warned that future investment by multinationals in Europe could be hit after it was ordered to pay a record-breaking €13bn (£11bn) in back taxes to Ireland.

The world’s largest company was presented with the huge bill after the European commission ruled that a sweetheart tax deal between Apple and the Irish tax authorities amounted to illegal state aid.

The commission said the deal allowed Apple to pay a maximum tax rate of just 1%. In 2014, the tech firm paid tax at just 0.005%. The usual rate of corporation tax in Ireland is 12.5%.

“Member states cannot give tax benefits to selected companies – this is illegal under EU state aid rules,” said the European competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, whose investigation of Apple’s complex tax dealings has taken three years.
Here is where it gets weird: Ireland, which stands to benefit to the tune of €2800 for every man, woman, and child in the country is fighting this, as is the US Treasury department, which one would expect to fight this sort of illegal tax scheme:
Vestager’s ruling prompted an angry response from Apple and from Ireland and is likely to spark a political row between the US and the EU. The US Treasury said the ruling threatened to damage “the important spirit of economic partnership between the US and the EU”.


The commission said Ireland’s tax arrangements with Apple between 1991 and 2015 had allowed the US company to attribute sales to a “head office” that only existed on paper and could not have generated such profits.


The Irish government, however, wants the ruling reversed because it wants to preserve its status as a low-tax base for overseas companies.

Ireland’s finance minister, Michael Noonan, said Dublin would appeal against the ruling. He said: “The decision leaves me with no choice but to seek cabinet approval to appeal. This is necessary to defend the integrity of our tax system, to provide tax certainty to business and to challenge the encroachment of EU state aid rules into the sovereign member state competence of taxation.”
This was money laundering, pure and simple.

And this won't really hurt Apple:
Apple, which changed its tax arrangements with Ireland in 2015, should easily be able to pay the huge tax bill because it has a cash mountain of more than $230bn (£176bn) of cash and securities, mostly held outside the US. The tech group keeps the money outside the US because it would be forced to pay US tax charges if it repatriated the money.
It's pocket change for them, but hopefully this will make further Irish tax shenanigans less common.

I would hope that we would see some more movement in this direction, but the Obama administration, in the person of Jacob Lew, seems determined to prove that only little people pay taxes.

29 August 2016

So, We Are Bombing ISIS, and Supporting the Kurds, and a Group That Was Al Qaeda, Which Is Fighting the Kurds………

And now our NATO "ally" Turkey has invades Syria to fight the Kurds and support ISIS and the group that was al Qaeda.

This is completely f%$#ed up:
In recent years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered plans drawn up for a Turkish military incursion into Syria. At every turn, though, military commanders, already fighting a war inside Turkey against Kurdish militants, pushed back.

And then last month a rebel faction of the military tried to stage a coup, and that changed everything.

In the aftermath of the coup, which failed but claimed more than 200 lives, Mr. Erdogan purged thousands of officers from the ranks, leaving the military seemingly depleted. It also provoked worry from Western allies, including the United States, that Turkey would either be unwilling or unable to be a reliable partner in the fight against the Islamic State.

Instead, the opposite happened on Wednesday, as Mr. Erdogan ordered Turkish tanks and special forces soldiers into Syria, under cover of American and Turkish warplanes, to assist Syrian rebels in seizing the city of Jarabulus, one of the last border strongholds of the Islamic State.

More Turkish tanks rumbled into northern Syria on Thursday to support rebels there, and the Turkish military seemed to be succeeding in clearing the border area of Islamic State militants, and preventing Kurdish militias from seizing more territory in the region — a primary goal of Turkey in the campaign.

The operation, coming so soon after the failed coup, has highlighted how Mr. Erdogan, even after the purge, secured more operational control of the military. It allowed him to undertake Turkey’s most ambitious role yet in the long Syrian civil war and to bolster the flagging fortunes of rebel groups, of which Turkey has been one of the most consistent supporters.

Other factors holding back Turkey’s ambitions in Syria were also recently resolved. A feud with Russia, which began last year after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the border, ended after Mr. Erdogan expressed regret for the episode. After Ankara’s relations with Moscow deteriorated, a Turkish incursion into Syria could have risked war with Russia, which has been bombing rebels in support of the Syrian government. And the United States, which had previously been opposed to Turkey’s intervention, agreed to support it.
Seriously.  This is f%$#ed up and sh%$.

We are supporting sides at war with each other and our allies are supporting different sides that are fighting each other.

The only foreign powers with a coherent policy are Iran and Russia, they both support Assad, which is truly scary.

When the Washington Post Editorial Board Condemns Something, It Is a Hearty Endorsement

They just came out guns blazing in their condemnation of the NAACP's opposition to charter schools.

Don't worry. They are just proving that the NAACP is right.

From their support for the ill conceived adventures in Iraq and Libya, to their endorsement of privatizing Social Security, there is perhaps no group in the country that has proven to more reliably and spectacularly wrong.

Fred Hiatt and his merry band of useful idiots are the veritable Washington Generals (taste the irony there) of punditry, which says a lot.

Microflaccid Office Fail

It turns out that one of the major data exchange formats for genetics is Microsoft Excel, and we have now discovered that the Redmond company's flagship spreadsheet program has been autocorrecting the data into oblivion:
For many people, working with error-ridden spreadsheets is a way of life. This takes on added meaning for genomics researchers, who study the building blocks of life. It turns out that their work, too, is rife with dodgy spreadsheets.

A new paper has revealed the vast extent of errors in published genomics research, which is down to an unfortunate quirk of Microsoft Excel. A trio of scientists in Australia scanned 7,500 Excel files with gene lists accompanying 3,600 papers in 18 journals over a 10-year period. One-fifth of the files had easily identified errors, which is “quite striking and a little bit embarrassing,” says Mark Ziemann of the Baker IDI medical research institute in Melbourne, one of the paper’s co-authors.

What happened? By default, Excel and other popular spreadsheet applications convert some gene symbols to dates and numbers. For example, instead of writing out “Membrane-Associated Ring Finger (C3HC4) 1, E3 Ubiquitin Protein Ligase,” researchers have dubbed the gene MARCH1. Excel converts this into a date—03/01/2016, say—because that’s probably what the majority of spreadsheet users mean when they type it into a cell. Similarly, gene identifiers like “2310009E13” are converted to exponential numbers (2.31E+19). In both cases, the conversions strip out valuable information about the genes in question.
What on earth inspired all these researchers to use what can only be described as the greasy kid stuff of analysis and data storage for this purpose?

It's nucking futz.

That's Fronkensteen

Gene Wilder has died at the age of 83:
Gene Wilder, who established himself as one of America’s foremost comic actors with his delightfully neurotic performances in three films directed by Mel Brooks; his eccentric star turn in the family classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”; and his winning chemistry with Richard Pryor in the box-office smash “Stir Crazy,” died on Sunday night at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 83.

Eric Weissmann, who was Mr. Wilder’s lawyer for many years, confirmed the death. A nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, said that the cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease.


He made his movie debut in 1967 in Arthur Penn’s celebrated crime drama, “Bonnie and Clyde,” in which he was memorably hysterical as an undertaker kidnapped by the notorious Depression-era bank robbers played by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. He was even more hysterical, and even more memorable, a year later in “The Producers,” Mr. Brooks’s first film and the basis of his later Broadway hit.


He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as the wizardly title character in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971). The film was a box-office disappointment, partly because of parental concern that the moral of Roald Dahl’s story — that greedy, gluttonous children should not go unpunished — was too dark in the telling. But it went on to gain a devoted following, and Willy Wonka remains one of the roles with which Mr. Wilder is most closely identified.

His next role was more adult but equally strange: an otherwise normal doctor who falls in love with a sheep named Daisy in a segment of Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask,” in 1972. Two years later, he reunited with Mr. Brooks for perhaps the two best-known entries in either man’s filmography.

In “Blazing Saddles,” a raunchy, no-holds-barred spoof of Hollywood westerns, Mr. Wilder had the relatively quiet role of the Waco Kid, a boozy ex-gunfighter who helps an improbable black sheriff (Cleavon Little) save a town from railroad barons and venal politicians. The film’s once-daring humor may have lost some of its edge over the years, but Mr. Wilder’s next Brooks film, “Young Frankenstein,” has never grown old.
Mel Brooks movies were a part of my adolescence, and Mr. Wilder had a real skill in being both low key and hysterically funny at the same time.

28 August 2016

I Don't Vote for Internet Trolls

Nor do I vote for those who knowingly and deliberately employ internet trolls :
When the Internet’s legions of Hillary hecklers steal away to chat rooms and Facebook pages to vent grievances about Clinton, express revulsion toward Clinton and launch attacks on Clinton, they now may find themselves in a surprising place – confronted by a multimillion dollar super PAC working with Clinton.

Hillary Clinton's well-heeled backers have opened a new frontier in digital campaigning, one that seems to have been inspired by some of the Internet's worst instincts. Correct the Record, a super PAC coordinating with Clinton's campaign, is spending some $1 million to find and confront  social media users who post unflattering messages about the Democratic front-runner.

In effect, the effort aims to spend a large sum of money to increase the amount of trolling that already exists online.


“It is meant to appear to be coming organically from people and their social media networks in a groundswell of activism, when in fact it is highly paid and highly tactical,” said Brian Donahue, chief executive of the consulting firm Craft Media/Digital.

“That is what the Clinton campaign has always been about," he said. "It runs the risk of being exactly what their opponents accuse them of being: a campaign that appears to be populist but is a smokescreen that is paid and brought to you by lifetime political operatives and high-level consultants.”


The mere mention of Correct the Record makes some critics seethe. Super PACs are typically prohibited from working in tandem with candidates, but Correct the Record is doing just that by exploiting a loophole in campaign finance law that it says permits such coordination with digital campaigns.
(emphasis mine)

I've spent way too much of my time online dealing with these ratf%$#s, and Hillary Clinton is paying to make more of them.

I am so glad that I do not live in a swing state.

I Am So Hoping That Matt Taibbi Is Wrong

Unfortunately, his analysis is pretty good, so his take that Kurt Shilling is the future of the modern conservative movement is rather alarming.

This is a guy who makes Donald Trump look measured and intelligent:
Curt Schilling, cauldron-bellied baseball star turned political activist, has apparently decided to run for Senate in Massachusetts. His goal will be ousting an icon of the liberal hegemony he proudly despises.


If you think the white-guy grievance movement will die after Donald Trump's likely landslide defeat this November, think again. There will be plenty of filterless, self-pitying dunces to carry the torch in Trump's place. Schilling is a leading candidate.

His story, maybe even more than Trump's, is a parable on the comically comprehensive inability of some to recognize the advantages us white guys enjoy.


More recently, Schilling worked at ESPN, where he was paid $2.5 million a year to be an analyst.

He needed the money. Soon after his playing career ended, he blew his $50 million fortune on a failed video game venture, a fiasco that cost Rhode Island taxpayers $75 million.

After that, he fell back into the ESPN gig, which should have been easy money. For all his other qualities, Schilling is an excellent baseball analyst (although, humorously, his ex-teammate and rival Pedro Martinez is better).

But Curt couldn't keep his job. As is usually the case with people who can't hold on to gravy-train situations, the culprit was addiction. In Schilling's case, it wasn't booze or pills, but line-crossing political rants.


Having proven incapable of running a business, being a good steward of either his own money or the taxpayers', or holding down the world's cushiest job, Schilling naturally decided to get into politics.

Don't bet against him winning a Senate seat in my home state of Massachusetts, either. His would be a victory for the cause of ignorance and tone-deafness perhaps even exceeding Trump's capture of the Republican nomination.


Schilling should wake up every morning and compose a five-page letter to God thanking him for the American white-guy lifestyle jackpot. Instead, he's consumed with bitterness over the raw deal he thinks people like him have gotten.

In this, he's very much like Donald Trump, who spent much of his adult life partying with models and celebrities and somehow emerged in late middle age as the most obdurate complainer in American history.


This shouldn't be too big an ask, since (as the likes of Trump and Schilling regularly prove) American white men still mostly run the world and live highly failure-resistant existences. Just take yes for an answer, enjoy the ride, and try to have the decency to not act like a victim; that's all anyone asks.

But they can't do it. The Schilling/Trump principle is never shutting up, particularly on topics about which they are ignorant, which is pretty much all of them. This is a movement, not limited to Trump, and it's not going to end anytime soon. God help us.
If Taibbi is right, and I think that he is, this likely is an indicator of a society in precipitous decline into absurdity and obscurity.

27 August 2016

Do You Want Some Cheese With That Whine?

Ordinary investors who are paying attention understand that aggressively managed mutual funds almost always under perform the market over any significant time horizon.

These same investors also understand that you pay more in fees for this lackluster performance, and so they tend to invest in passive investments.

You cannot continue this, because it is worse than Communism:
The rise of passive asset management threatens to fundamentally undermine the entire system of capitalism and market mechanisms that facilitate an increase in the general welfare, according to analysts at research and brokerage firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., LLC.

In a note titled "The Silent Road to Serfdom: Why Passive Investing is Worse Than Marxism," a team led by Head of Global Quantitative and European Equity Strategy Inigo Fraser-Jenkins, says that politicians and regulators need to be cognizant of the social case for active management in the investment industry.

"A supposedly capitalist economy where the only investment is passive is worse than either a centrally planned economy or an economy with active market led capital management," they write.

High fees and subpar returns, coupled with the creation of a plethora of relatively inexpensive exchange-traded funds that track major equity indexes have helped fuel a massive shift in asset flows away from active management in favor of passive. While policymakers are quick to praise the benefits of these low-cost options for retail investors, Bernstein argues that this is a short-sighted view that doesn't take into account the potential downsides involved with the increase in passively-managed assets.


The social function of active management, in a capitalist society, is that it seeks to direct capital to its most productive end, facilitating sustainable job creation and a rise in the aggregate standard of living. And rather than be guided by the Invisible Hand and profit motive, capital allocation under Marxism is conducted by an oh-so-visible hand aimed at producing use-values that satisfy each member of the society's needs. Seen through this lens, passive management is somewhat tantamount to a nihilistic approach to capital allocation.

The mutual fund is a relatively new phenomenon.

You are having a kitten over this because, to quote Blazing Saddles, "We've gotta protect our phony baloney jobs!"

26 August 2016

I Am Not Sure What This Means

ITT Educational Services, you've probably seen their ads for ITT Technical Institute, has been prohibited from enrolling new students using any federal aid

It sounds like a big deal, but the educational chain has been circling the drain for a while, so it's not like the Depoartnebt if Education went after a major going concern.

It has been showing signs of financial distress for some time, and its accreditation has been problematic as well:
The federal Department of Education imposed strict new rules on Thursday on one of the nation’s largest for-profit education companies, ITT Educational Services, barring it from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid and ordering it to pay $153 million to the department within 30 days to cover student refunds if its schools close down.

John B. King Jr., the secretary of education, said the department took action to protect both ITT’s students and the taxpayers who are on the hook for losses when students default on their federal aid. “Looking at all of the risk factors, it’s clear that we need increased financial protection and that it simply would not be responsible or in the best interest of students to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal student aid funds,” Mr. King said in a statement.

The action threatens the viability of the beleaguered company, which like most for-profit education entities relies heavily on government financial aid programs for students to fund its operations. As of June 30, according to a regulatory filing, ITT had only $78 million in cash on its balance sheet.
Dead School Walking.
ITT operates 137 campuses in 39 states, providing career-oriented programs to 43,000 students at ITT Technical Institute and Daniel Webster College locations. ITT was once a highflying stock, trading above $75 a share in 2012. On Thursday, its shares closed at $1.40.
The company has been under increased scrutiny by the Education Department since 2014 and has been accused by both federal and state regulators of misleading students about the quality of its programs and their employment potential upon graduation. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit against ITT two years ago, accusing the college chain of predatory student lending.

In addition to the enrollment restrictions imposed by the Education Department, ITT is also prohibited from awarding raises to employees, paying bonuses to its executives or paying special dividends without department approval. In recent years, ITT has not paid bonuses to its executives. Still, Kevin Modany, its chief executive, received total compensation of $1.4 million last year, the company’s proxy statement shows.

The Education Department also required ITT to develop “teach-out” plans for current students, allowing them to finish their programs at other colleges if ITT shuts down.

ITT, based in Carmel, Ind., must also inform its students that its accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, has determined that the institution is not in compliance with its criteria. That determination was made this month. Earlier this year, ITT said it believed its schools were in compliance, but it also acknowledged that if the schools lost the accreditation, they would no longer have access to government loan programs.

Those programs are the lifeblood of ITT and other for-profit education companies. Federal aid accounted for almost 70 percent of ITT’s $850 million in revenues last year, the Education Department said.
It would be nice if it happened when predatory for profit schools were not already in a death spiral.

25 August 2016

Speaking of Defense Procurement Misconduct………

The US Air Force has declared the F-35 A combat ready.

The Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) has declared that it is not even close:
The Pentagon’s top weapons tester is again sounding the alarm over the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, warning that significant deficiencies with the gun, challenges integrating the short-range AIM-9X missile and unresolved software bugs could delay fielding of the jet’s full capability.

On the heels of the U.S. Air Force’s milestone decision to declare the F-35A ready for battle, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) is raising new concerns about Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation fighter. In an internal memo to Defense Department leadership Aug. 9, the DOT&E warned the jet still has a long way to go before full combat capability and may run out of funds to fix significant performance problems on time if late discoveries delay the end of the program’s development phase.


In response to Aviation Week queries, the DOT&E reiterated concerns that the program’s official start date for IOT&E is “not realistic,” repeating the agency’s public assessment that the F-35 will not be ready to begin the test period until mid-2018 at the soonest—assuming the JPO can provide production-representative test aircraft by then.
Late, over budget, and not combat ready.

The internal fun does not shoot straight, there are cracks in the carrier variant's wings, external carriage of ordinance is at least 2 years away.

The Pentagon procurement process at its finest.

This is a Fascinating Concept, But Only if it is Applied Rigorously

The suggestion that defense contractors post performance bonds is intriguing, but, much like the rest of the military industrial complex, the question is that the people who would enforce the terms of this bond would not allow themselves to be swayed by the political and economic powers of the defense contractors:
In Washington, D.C., “military reform” usually means “acquisition reform.” There is a lot of talk about it on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon. Enough think-tank papers have been written on the subject to clear whole forests. But of the myriad options out there, one has escaped notice.

Performance bonds — money put up by a contractor as insurance to the buyer to make sure the job is done on time and to specifications — are already required for federal building projects under the Miller Act. Prime construction contractors have to furnish a surety to the government to ensure their work is completed properly and to guarantee all subcontractors get paid should the firm go out of business.

These bonds have been used with some success in overseas defense procurement contracts. Using performance bonds is one way the government protects its interests without having to resort to judicial proceedings. In fact, the Congressional Research Service recently noted that performance bond money can be used to “offset the costs of contract completion, which can include delays and finding a new contractor.”

The same idea could potentially be applied to a weapons acquisition project to protect the government’s — and the taxpayer’s — interests. But it has so far been overlooked during the sometimes desperate search for solutions to the Pentagon’s dysfunctional buying process.

One key selling point for this idea is that provisions for using performance bonds for Defense Department acquisition already exist. As is usually the case, improving discipline in weapons spending doesn’t require new rules but using the rules that already exist to better effect.
That last paragraph reveals the weakness of the concept.

The tools are already there, but the Pentagon is unwilling to use them.

If you were to decertify the 4 services, and move procurement to an agency independent of the Pentagon, a structure similar to Sweden's FMV, you might have a chance of making it work, but this would require a catastrophe to generate sufficient impetus to do this.

The Origins of Money

I'm sure that you all "know" how money started.

Societies were bartering, and it became too unwieldy, and so money was created as a proxy for value that reduced the friction in the transactions.

It's an elegant theory. The only problem is that no one has ever found an example of this ever.

No examples in archeology, none in mythology, none.

Also, how does one develop a sufficient velocity to commerce to justify the creation of money?

You need money to create the levels of commerce that justify its creation.

It's a chicken egg thing.

An alternate theory, and one that has some actual evidence behind it, is that money grew out of a system of debts and fines that were driven by the expansion of government.

This origin story actually works the way that human minds do:
Most of us have an idea of how money came to be. It goes something like this: People wanted to exchange goods for other goods, but it was difficult to coordinate. So they started exchanging goods for money, and money for goods. This tells us that money is a medium of exchange. It’s a nice and simple story. The problem is that it may not be true. We may be understanding money entirely wrong.

The above story assumes that first there was a market, and then people introduced money to make the market work better. But some people find this hard to believe. Those who subscribe to the Chartalist school [the belief that money originated with the states attempt to influence their own economy] of thought give a different history. Before money was used in markets, they say, it was used in primitive criminal justice systems. Money started as—and still is—is a record of debt. It is a way to keep track of what one person owes another. There’s anthropological evidence to back up this view. Work by Innes, and Wray suggest that the origins of money are more like this:
In a pre-market, feudal society, there was usually a system to maintain justice in the community. If someone committed a crime, the authority, let’s call him the king, would decide that the criminal owed a fine to the victim. The fine could be a cow, a sheep, three chickens, depending on the crime. Until that cow was brought forward, the criminal was indebted to the victim. The king would record the criminal’s outstanding debt.

This system changed over time. Rather than paying fines to the victim, criminals were ordered to pay fines to the king. This way, resources were being moved to the king, who could coordinate their use for the benefit of the community as a whole. This was useful for the King, and for the development of the society. But the amount of resources coming from a criminal here and there was not impressive. The system had to be expanded to draw more resources to the kingdom.

To expand the system, the king created debt-records of his own. You can think of them as pieces of papers that say King-Owes-You. Next, he went to his citizens and demanded they give him the resources he wanted. If a citizen gave their cow to the king, the king would give the citizen some of his King-Owes-You papers. Now, a cow seems more useful than a piece of paper, so it seems silly that a citizen would agree to this. But the king had thought of a solution. To make sure everyone would want his King-Owes-You papers, he created a use for them.

He proclaimed that every so often, all citizens had to come forward to the kingdom. Each citizen would be in big trouble, unless they could provide little pieces of paper that showed the king still owed them. In that case, the king would let the citizen go, and not owe them any longer. The citizen would be free to go off and acquire more King-Owes-You papers, to make sure he would be safe the next time, too. This way, all the citizens needed King-Owes-You papers to stay out of trouble. That made King-Owes-You papers widely accepted, and consequently, also a useful medium of exchange. This lead to the rise of markets.
Not only does this better match the way humanity works, the creation of money is the other is a Kumbaya moment that really hasn't ever occurred in the history of finance.

The author goes on to explain how we actually have relatively recent history to explain this:  The Spanish conquest of the Americas, where the locals saw the need for money only when their oppressors started demanding taxes.

One Week ………

Since ………

I ………

Last ………

Had ………

Caffeine. ………

I ………

Am ………

Feeling ………

So ………

Alive ………

Right ………


Man, I want a cuppa Joe.

Doing on my own, not on a doctor's instructions.


To go along with the Ikea link:

24 August 2016

This Explains Why College Costs So Much

Here is a little sample of the corruption and self dealing that is increasingly at the heart of elite colleges.

The attached link is a series of vignettes, but read the penultimate paragraph, and then read the rest:
So, what we’ve got here is an NYU President handing a New York apartment, meant for faculty, to his son, and what looks rather like powerful faculty members feathering their own nests with cheap housing; we’ve got a Baylor President not wanting to cross a powerful and wealthy football team, even to the extent of failing to handle a rape scandal; and at Penn State we’ve got a President who’s a member of the “innovation cult,” when it’s not at all clear this will benefit the student body as a whole. Have any of these institutions learned from these experiences? No. Are these college Presidents personally responsible for corruption at their universities — for converting a public institution to serve private purposes? Sexton and Start, yes. For Barron, the jury is still out.
Go read.

Irony is Officially Dead

Former Congresswoman "Crazy Eyes" Michelle Bachmann is now advising Donald Trump in foreign policy.

I volunteer for cryogenic stasis experiments from now until the day after the elections.

Hell, I volunteer for tribute.

And Now We Have Very Serious People Coming Out Against the TPP

So, now we have a former Reagan and Clinton trade official and a retired general arguing that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a security risk to the United States because it will hasten the hollowing out of American manufacturing, which makes the US dependent on foreign manufacturers in places like China and Vietnam for the crucial building blocks of military equipment.

This is a rather interesting counterpoint to the Obama administration's argument that we have to pass the TPP as a counter weight to Chinese influence in the region.

The first OP/ED appeared in the New York Times. The second appeared in The Hill.

It doesn't get any more establishment than that.

I'm actually beginning to think that Obama won't be able to get it through during the lame duck session.

I hope that this is not irrational optimism.

Those Old Family Ties

Bummer of a Birth Mark, Jim
One of the stories floating around right now is that Mylan Pharmaceuticals jacked up the price of EpiPens by over 400% over the past few years.

Given the state of the American pharmaceutical industry, we've seen something similar from the 3 manufacturers of insulin colluding on price hikes,  it's not a particularly surprising or unique state of affairs.

What is news however is that Heather Bresch, the company's CEO, is the daughter of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Mylan is one of the most generous donors to him.

In fact, a former Mylan lobbyists, Michael Garrison, appointed  president of the University of West Virginia by Manchin when he was governor had to resign in disgrace when he bent the rules to give Heather Bresch an unearned MBA.

So now this linkup is hitting the mainstream news:
The growing congressional scrutiny of pharmaceutical giant Mylan over the high cost of EpiPens could prove awkward for Sen. Joe Manchin.

The West Virginia Democrat’s daughter, Heather Bresch, is chief executive of the company, which appears to have hiked the price of the epinephrine auto-injector by 400 percent since 2007. The device, which is used to treat severe allergic reactions, now costs more than $600 per dose.

This price increase has become a public relations disaster for Mylan and at least four of Manchin’s Senate colleagues are either pressing the company to reduce the cost of EpiPens, asking it to explain the price increase or requesting federal regulators to investigate the matter. Manchin is not a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has shown the most interest in probing Mylan’s pricing practices, and so far the senator is not discussing the issue.
Manchin has spent his time in the Senate being a Joe Lieberman Democrat, so I have absolutely no sympathy for the fact that he is getting jammed up by this.


It turns out that because of sloppy law writing in Missouri, theft is no longer a felony in the Show Me State:
On an opinion that went largely unnoticed, the Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling Tuesday that had the effect of making most stealing offenses no longer felonies thanks to an apparently inadvertent change to state law way back in 2002. The far-reaching decision sent criminal defense attorneys across the state scrambling.

The case – State v. Bazell – was brought by a woman who had been convicted of multiples felonies for stealing firearms, among other things, in a burglary case. The court said the firearm felonies should be knocked down to misdemeanors because a portion of the state's criminal code designating certain types of offenses as felonies is written in a way that doesn’t make it applicable to the state’s definition of stealing itself.

“If the words are clear, the Court must apply the plain meaning of the law,” the opinion said. “When the meaning of a statute is clear, the Court should not employ canons of construction to achieve a desired result.”


Subparagraph 3 covers a whole assortment of stealing crimes, including the stealing of explosives, credit cards, motor vehicles, property deeds, anything worth between $500-$25,000 and in any case in which the suspect physically takes something from the victim’s person. Additionally, subparagraph 8 – which designates stealing anything worth more than $25,000 as a Class B felony – has similar language, and thus is no longer applicable as well, public defenders believe.

Because of Tuesday’s ruling, anyone who was charged with a felony for those kinds of crimes has a chance to get it brought down to a misdemeanor, as long as it’s for a crime after 2002, when the language was added, Flottman said.
Son of Missouri Harry S Truman must be spinning in his grave.

Son of Missouri Mark Twain must be laughing somewhere.

Words to Live By

I came across a Chassidic story related by Martin Buber:
There is a famous story told in Chassidic literature that addresses this very question. The Master teaches the student that God created everything in the world to be appreciated, since everything is here to teach us a lesson.

One clever student asks “What lesson can we learn from atheists? Why did God create them?”

The Master responds “God created atheists to teach us the most important lesson of them all — the lesson of true compassion. You see, when an atheist performs and act of charity, visits someone who is sick, helps someone in need, and cares for the world, he is not doing so because of some religious teaching. He does not believe that god commanded him to perform this act. In fact, he does not believe in God at all, so his acts are based on an inner sense of morality. And look at the kindness he can bestow upon others simply because he feels it to be right.”

“This means,” the Master continued “that when someone reaches out to you for help, you should never say ‘I pray that God will help you.’ Instead for the moment, you should become an atheist, imagine that there is no God who can help, and say ‘I will help you.’”

ETA source: Tales of Hasidim Vol. 2 by Martin Buber.
This has always been my philosophy:  If you have to use God to justify your actions, you are doing something wrong, it turns out that I have some esteemed Jewish authorities who agree.

BTW, I also love it how Jewish stories use "Clever" as a euphemism for asshole.

23 August 2016

Look for the Union Label, When You Are Researching or Grading That Test………

The Nation Labor Relations Board has ruled that graduate assistants are employees and have the right to organize:
Punctuating a string of Obama-era moves to shore up labor rights and expand protections for workers, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities have a federally backed right to unionize.

The case arose from a petition filed by a group of graduate students at Columbia University, who are seeking to win recognition for a union that will allow them a say over such issues as the quality of their health insurance and the timeliness of stipend payments.

Echoing longstanding complaints from blue-collar workers that they have become replaceable cogs in a globalized economic machine, the effort reflects a growing view among more highly educated employees in recent decades that they, too, are at the mercy of faceless organizations and are not being treated like professionals and aspiring professionals whose opinions are worthy of respect.

“What we’re fundamentally concerned about isn’t really money,” said Paul R. Katz, one of the Columbia graduate students involved in the organizing efforts. “It’s a question of power and democracy in a space in the academy that’s increasingly corporatized, hierarchical. That’s what we’re most concerned about.”

Columbia and other universities that weighed in with the board before the ruling argued that collective bargaining would lead to a more adversarial relationship between students and the university that would undermine its educational purpose.
The idea that this could, "Lead to a more adversarial relationship," is laughable.

The current relationship is akin to slavery, particularly at Columbia.

From the Department of "Well, Duh"

Over at the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell answers the burning question about millenials, "Why aren't they getting married or buying houses, and why are they still living with their parents?"

Spoiler alert, it's because they have crap jobs and they are up to their ears in debt, something which seems to escape all those sage analysts who have spilled barrels of ink over this:
Millennial homeownership rates are way, way down. And believe it or not, that’s probably a good thing.


Homeownership rates among Americans under age 35 are barely more than half the national number, at just 34.1 percent. This too is a record low and about a fifth below its peak from the go-go years of the mid-2000s.


Many colorful theories abound for millennials’ abandonment of homeownership. There are, for example, lots of think pieces about millennials’ purported love of the sharing economy and associated communitarian disavowal of all kinds of ownership — whether that be of houses, cars, bikes or even clothes.

But this explanation is wrong, at least when it comes to housing.

So why are young people delaying getting that deed?

One, they’re putting off getting married, which many still see as a prerequisite to homeownership. (Though a large chunk of millennials, I should note, instead view homeownership as a prerequisite to marriage.)

Two — and this is part of the reason they’re delaying marriage, too — is that they’re poor.

Relative to earlier generations, today’s cohort of young people is making less money, given their levels of education; more indebted with student loans; more likely to be underemployed; struggling harder to sock away savings; and facing shallower income-growth trajectories.
She's right, and it's blatantly obvious to anyone who isn't busy yelling, "Hey, you kids get off my lawn!"

But for the average pundit, bemoaning the sad states of today's youth is a an article that writes itself.

It's catnip for hack writers.

Ummm ……… the Solution Here Is Straightforward. Better Pay and Benefits.

Over at Aviation Week, there is much hand wringing over the fact that their workers are retiring, and they can't find replacements:
There are two statistics that haunt the U.S. aerospace and defense (A&D) industry when it comes to its workforce: 10% and 2.6%.

The first, according to Aviation Week’s 2016 Workforce Study, is the percentage of the overall workforce who were qualified to retire in the past year. The second is the percentage that actually did.

Industry faces a potential crisis in its workforce, just not the one that formerly predominated. For sure, defense prime contractors, OEMs and top-tier suppliers continue to fear the mass departures possible as the baby-boom generation begins reaching the traditional retirement age—65—en masse. At the same time, employers would like a little more actual turnover because they are eager to staff their companies with the new and younger talent offered by technology-oriented “millennials” because they fear losing those Gen Y workers to the lure of Silicon Valley.

“While retirements are of concern, so too is attrition,” the study says. “As the industry comparison illustrates, the attrition rate for A&D is low, with only the chemical industry coming close to a comparable rate.”


But the business risk of seeing so many skilled, experienced workers leave in a relatively short time remains a deep concern, and for good reasons that have been widely documented. According to a National Bureau of Economic Research July working paper by Nicole Maestas, Kathleen J. Mullen and David Powell, economies face a double whammy of lost productivity and lost labor capacity as working populations exceed 60 years old.
Gee you need something in short supply, if only there were some medium of exchange that would allow you to adjust the value that you assign to it based on that scarcity.

If you are losing skilled staff, then you need to set pay or benefits or job security at a level that will attract a sufficient number of skilled replacements.


John Oliver gets into charter school fraud.

He doesn't discuss the merits, he just details the extensive history of fraud.

It is beautuful:

Teacher Tenure Survives is California

The California State Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal on the Vergara case, where a Silicon Valley venture capitalist tried to eliminate teacher tenure.  

It's not surprising.  Their original opinion by  Los Angeles Superior Court judge Rolf Treu was well nigh incoherent, and the appellant court vacated it pretty much as soon as it hit their desk:
Over four years ago — May 2012 — a group of nine public school students filed a lawsuit, Vergara v. California, challenging five laws that govern how teachers can be fired in California, including the teacher tenure law and the "last in, first out" law that says teacher layoffs must be done in reverse order of seniority.

The suit was paid for by the nonprofit Students Matter, founded (and largely funded) by telecom millionaire David Welch.

The plaintiffs argued that the laws allowed "grossly ineffective" teachers to keep their jobs, and violated the California Constitution by having a disproportionate effect on poor and minority students. Judge Rolf Treu agreed. In his August 2014 decision, Treu wrote, "The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience."

But in April of this year, the court of appeals overturned the decision. The three-judge panel ruled that it was up to the individual schools and school districts to assign teachers.

"Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students," the court wrote. "The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are 'a good idea.'"
That last bit is legalese from the appellate court for, "What the f%$# are you smoking?"

From what I've seen, I tend to agree with the basic thesis that teacher tenure in needs some reforms, but people like Welch are looking at privatizing schools (charters) and damaging labor unions, and any consideration of education is either deception or self delusion.

As an aside, I would note that tenure in public school teaching is an artifact of a broken management system, where principals are given free reign to be arbitrary and capricious, with very little in the way of other meaningful protections.

Headline of the Day

Mass Lesbian Farm Infiltration Is Obama’s Best Scheme Yet
Jonathan Chait
It's Jonathan Chait writing about Rush Limbaugh, so it's not really worth clicking through, but it is a great hed.

And Not a Peep from the Nobel Peace Prize Winner

In response to massive and indiscriminate bombings of civilian targets in Yemen by the Gulf States, there was a massive march in Yemen's capital, Sana'a.

So, the Saudis bombed them:
The Houthi Ansarullah Movement that controls most of north and west Yemen staged what was by all accounts an enormous demonstration in the capital of Sanaa on Saturday. It may have been the single largest demonstration in the country’s history. While it was unlikely actually to have involved a million people, it did probably tens of thousands, and it showed how strong grassroots support for the Houthis is in the north.

The massive demonstration in Sab`in Park in downtown Sanaa was intended to send a signal to Saudi Arabia and its coalition that the Houthis are enormously popular in the north and that the General People’s Congress, the parliament of Yemen in its present form, shares in that popularity.

If so, Saudi Arabia did not get that message. Its fighter-bombers targeted downtown Sanaa in the midst of the demonstration, which arguably was a war crime (you aren’t allowed to endanger large numbers of civilians in war if you don’t have to). The Saudis are at war with rebel supporters of the Houthis, whom Saudi Arabian inaccurately depicts as a cat’s paw of Iran.
I get that they have a lot of oil, but the House of Saud is arguably the worst government, and their war in Yemen is destabilizing the region, creating a humanitarian catastrophe, and making the United States less secure.

Our support for the House of Saud is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.

22 August 2016

Russia Pulls Out of Iranian Air Base

The airstrike from Iran was was intended to serve a diplomatic purpose, not a military one:
The Russian military said on Monday its aircraft operating from an Iranian air base to conduct strikes in Syria had completed their tasks, but left open the possibility of using the Hamadan base again if circumstances warranted.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said Russia had stopped using the base for strikes in Syria, bringing an abrupt halt to an unprecedented deployment that was criticized both by the White House and by some Iranian lawmakers.

"Russian military aircraft that took part in the operation of conducting air strikes from Iran's Hamadan air base on terrorist targets in Syria have successfully completed all tasks," a Russian Defence Ministry spokesman, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, said in a statement.

"Further use of the Hamadan air base in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Russian Aerospace Forces will be carried out on the basis of mutual agreements to fight terrorism and depending on the prevailing circumstances in Syria," Konashenkov said.
While the use of the recent use of the Hamedan air base in Iran  might be more convenient than flying from Russian bases, there is very little military utility for a one off deployment like this.

This was a demonstration by Iran and Russia of a changes in the Middle East order, and it certainly has folks at the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom sitting up and noticing.

And the Middle East Gets Even More Pear Shaped………

Today in an interview, Yemen's former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the guy who got deposed by the guy that the House of Saud is supporting, just said that Russia can have access to all of Yemen's facilities:
In a TV interview today, Yemen's ex-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, appeared to invite Russian military intervention in the country's conflict. He talked of reactivating old Yemeni agreements with the Soviet Union and offfered "all the facilities" of Yemen's bases, ports and airports to Russia.

Saleh seemed to be advocating something similar to what happened in Syria, where Russia and Iran joined the conflict on the Assad regime's side under the guise of fighting terrorism. A video of the interview is here, with a transcript in Arabic here.

Saleh, who was ousted from the presidency in 2012, is allied to the Houthis who currently control the Yemeni capital and large parts of the country, especially in the north. For more than a year Saudi-led forces, who back Saleh's exiled successor, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, have been bombing Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. Meanwhile the Houthis, who have some Iranian backing, have attacked Saudi territory in the border area.


"We extend our hands to Russia. We have agreements with the Russian Federation which were with the Soviet Union. The legitimate heir to the Soviet Union is the Russian Federation, we are ready to activate these treaties and agreements that were between us and the Soviet Union.

"We agree on a principle, which is the struggle against terrorism ... We extend our hands and offer all the facililties, and the conventions and treaties ... We offer them in our bases, in our airports and in our ports – ready to provide all facilities to the Russian Federation."

The most recent negotiations broke down, which is not a surprise, since the only offer on the table was unconditional and complete surrender by the Houthis.

I don't expect Russia to take up this offer, but once again, our "Allies" in the Middle East find a way to make a conflict a complete cock up.

And the Infection Spreads

The Wheels bus system in northern California has decided to start subsidizing Lyft and Uber:
In a first for California, a public transit agency next month plans to begin subsidizing fares of people who take private Uber and Lyft cars to local destinations rather than riding the bus.

Passengers ordering Uber or Lyft car trips within two test areas of Dublin will be eligible to get door-to-destination service at a big discount under a partnership between the ride-hailing companies and the Wheels public bus system in Dublin, Alameda and Pleasanton.

The Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority, which operates Wheels, said the one-year pilot project could help pave the way for changes in how public transit agencies in the United States serve suburban areas hampered by far-flung bus routes, few riders and little money from fares.
This is going to end in a morass of corruption and incompetence.

See my post on the city of Arlington, VA considering the same here.

Charter School Fail

In a bit of news that should surprise no one, it turns out that charter school students do slightly worse later in life than public school students:
Charter school boosters have many arguments in favor of fostering a publicly-financed, privately run parallel education system. But at the end of the day, their model should help kids learn more, perform better, get good jobs and earn a higher salary than they might have otherwise, right?

By that metric, it appears that Texas' charter schools have failed, according to a large-scale study of kids from the K-12 system through early adulthood.

The analysis was conducted by Will Dobbie, an assistant professor at Princeton, and Roland Fryer, the Harvard economist who in recent years helped Houston ISD adopt charter school methods (you might also remember his name from research on Houston's police-involved shootings). It uses data from Texas state agencies that tracks student achievement and demographics from primary school, through college, and on to the labor market.

Texas is the ideal laboratory for this kind of study. It introduced charter schools way back in 1995, and they now enroll 3.5 percent of the public school population. The schools have thus had time to refine their methods and work out some kinks, while their students have had time to test their mettle in the labor market.

< The findings: On average, charter schools have no meaningful effect on test scores or employment, and actually have a slight negative impact on earnings. The results are slightly better for so-called "no excuses" charters, which feature stricter discipline and extended instructional hours -- they increased test scores and four-year college enrollment and had no effect on earnings. Regular charter schools boosted two-year college enrollment, but depressed test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings.
The idea behind charter schools has always been that unleashing the market on education will create amazing result.

It has been about as effective as the idea of "Unleashing Chiang" (Kai Shek) on the communists in mainland China was.

You can read the full study here.


 Do try this at home, but kids should make sure that your parents are there:

21 August 2016

Am I the Only Who Sees Fail Written All Over This?

NASA is looking at handing operations of its space station to private business in the next decade:
NASA is giving us some more insight into its plans to get humans to Mars, under the blanket mission called ‘Journey to Mars,’ and during the press conference, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Bill Hill revealed that the current hope is to hand off control of the International Space Station to a commercial owner by sometime around the mid 2020s.

“NASA’s trying to develop economic development in low-earth orbit,” Hill said, speaking on a panel of NASA staff assembled to discuss the upcoming Mars mission. “Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-earth orbit, so that research can continue in low-earth orbit.”

The timing fits with the end of The U.S. Government’s current funding of the ISS program, which was extended by President Obama’s administration from its original deorbiting date of 2016 through 2020. Operations were prolonged through 2024 to help give NASA a platform from which to run its near-Earth preparatory missions leading up to the ultimate manned mission to Mars.
If this works as well as the privatization of British rail, I would be very surprised.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!?!? Trillions of Dollars?

An auditor has found that the US Army has engaged in trillions of dollars in dodgy spending:
The United States Army’s finances are so jumbled it had to make trillions of dollars of improper accounting adjustments to create an illusion that its books are balanced.

The Defense Department’s Inspector General, in a June report, said the Army made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year. Yet the Army lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up.

As a result, the Army’s financial statements for 2015 were “materially misstated,” the report concluded. The “forced” adjustments rendered the statements useless because “DoD and Army managers could not rely on the data in their accounting systems when making management and resource decisions.”


The new report focused on the Army’s General Fund, the bigger of its two main accounts, with assets of $282.6 billion in 2015. The Army lost or didn’t keep required data, and much of the data it had was inaccurate, the IG said.

“Where is the money going? Nobody knows,” said Franklin Spinney, a retired military analyst for the Pentagon and critic of Defense Department planning.

The significance of the accounting problem goes beyond mere concern for balancing books, Spinney said. Both presidential candidates have called for increasing defense spending amid current global tension.
I'm beginning to think that we will need to experience something akin to the sinking of the Vasa in 1628 (which led to the creation of the progenitor of the Swedish defense procurement agency, the FMV) before we end up with a defense procurement system that actually works.

This is Getting Insane

We are now scrambling jets to defend its allies in Syria against the Assad regime:
U.S. fighter jets scrambled to eastern Syria this week when Syrian bombers attacked in the vicinity of American and coalition Special Operations forces working with Kurdish and Arab opposition fighters, the Pentagon said Friday.

The unprecedented incident, near the Syrian city of Hasakah, did not result in a direct confrontation or any injury to U.S. or coalition forces.

But it illustrated the increasingly tense and ambiguous Syrian battlefield, where aircraft and ground troops from multiple countries — with multiple agendas and loyalties — are fighting overlapping wars.

Following the initial Thursday incident, the coalition began “actively patrolling the airspace nearby,” a Defense Department official said. Early Friday, “two Syrian SU-24 aircraft attempted to transit the area and were met by coalition fighter aircraft,” which “encouraged” the Syrians to depart “without further incident,” said the official, who spoke on a Pentagon-imposed condition of anonymity.

The Syrian military, engaged in a five-year civil conflict, has generally given a wide berth to U.S. aircraft targeting the Islamic State, as have Russian jets aiding their Syrian ally. But local fighters being assisted by U.S. Special Operations forces on the ground are often opposed to both the Islamic State and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway said that the Syrian strikes targeted Kurdish forces in Hasakah on Thursday. Social-media reports indicated that several Kurds were killed in the bombing.

U.S. forces initially contacted Russia, using “deconfliction” channels established to ensure that Russian and U.S. planes over Syria avoid each other, but were told that the bombers in question were not Russian. Ground forces received no response to attempts to contact the planes through a recognized radio channel.

The United States then launched a “combat air patrol,” Rankine-Galloway said. It arrived in the area as the Syrian Su-24 ground-attack aircraft were leaving. While he would not specify from where the U.S. aircraft were launched, the United States maintains a contingent of F-15 fighter jets at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.
So, now the Syrians are bombing the Kurds.

My guess is that this is a result of the recent Turkish and Russian rapprochement:  The Turks see any form of Kurdish state as an existential threat to their state, and so the Syrian attacks on Kurdish positions are likely an artifact of this.

The US is clearly unamused by this development, since there are reports that fighters sent to intercept the Syrian aircraft was an F-22, probably because they were concerned about Syrian and Russian SAMs.

The US forces are in a bit of a bind though, because the Turks are implacably opposed to any Kurdish autonomous regions.

The only way the US wins this game is not to play.

Pass the Popcorn

First, we have Trump's campaign manager turfed out in large part because of his lobbying dealings with the former President of the Ukraine.

Now we have a The Podesta Group, founded by Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, and run by his brother Tony Podesta, lawyering up over their involvement with the same corrupt dirtbag:
A prominent D.C. lobbying firm has hired outside counsel over revelations that it may have been improperly involved in lobbying on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians who also employed former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

As first reported by BuzzFeed, the Podesta Group announced Friday that it has retained law firm Caplin & Drysdale to investigate whether or not the lobbying firm unwittingly did work for the pro-Russian political party in Europe that also hired Manafort.
"Unwittingly" my ass.

Working on behalf of the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, the Podesta Group lobbied in Washington for positions favored by the pro-Russian political party, of which deposed former President Viktor Yanukovych was a member. The lobbying work ended in 2014 after Yanukovych fled Ukraine for Russia, where he remains in exile.
The problem here, as it often is in the world of lobbying, is not what is illegal, but what is legal.

Manafort and Podesta are peas in a pod that only differ in their client list.

20 August 2016

Wait ……… Who is Calling the EpiPen Manufacturer Vultures?

The manufacturer of the EpiPen, Mylan pharmaceuticals, has been raising the price of the pens by 15% every 6 months for years.

It's gotten so bad that pharmaBro Martin Shrelki has just called the company vultures:
A growing chorus is calling on the Mylan pharmaceutical company to justify its price hikes on EpiPens, a potentially life-saving medication for children and others facing fatal allergies that has little real competition.

In 2007, a two-pack of the epinephrine-filled devices went for $56.64 wholesale, according to data gathered by Connecture, a health insurance data specialist. Now it's jumped to $365.16, an increase of 544.77 percent. Since the end of 2013, the price has gone up by 15 percent every other quarter.

Doctors, parents, patients, and a former presidential candidate are speaking out on social media — and negative comments are filling up Mylan's Facebook page following an NBCNews.com story Wednesday.


Even Martin Shkreli, the disgraced former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, has weighed in.

"These guys are really vultures. What drives this company's moral compass?" he told NBC News in a phone interview.

In 2015, Shkreli famously jacked up the price of Turing's malaria and HIV medicine Darapim overnight, from $13.50 to $750, a move that earned him a grilling by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in February — and the nickname "Pharma Bro" for his seemingly carefree attitude toward affordable medication.
Our model of pharmaceutical production and research and development is fundamentally broken.

We have expanded IP protections on drugs over the past 40 years, and what we have seen is that drugs have become less affordable, and efforts of the drug companies have moved from cures to finding ways to evergreen those IP protections.