Sep 29 2016

Traveling (again)

Transferring to Stars Hollow By The Sea (as opposed to Stars Hollow North Lake or the DocuDharma/Stars Hollow World Headquarters in New York City).

New York City?! Well, Pace is actually a Campbell Soup Company from Camden, New Jersey which is 96 miles from New York City and I assure you that you can see the Empire State Building from our World Headquarters which is considerably closer than that.

Well, if you move 3 Avenues and gain about 10 stories but never let details get in the way of a good one.

It’s true enough that this past year has been marked with prolonged and frequent interruptions in output. Despite my investment in portability (and believe me I’m much more portable than I was in Desktop mode) my Road Warrior kit still takes an hour of setup and take down (though normally in reverse order) at each end and travel time is entirely unproductive.

On the other hand I’ve had some great experiences and spent more time than you might imagine in remote locations (about 3 weeks each month from June until now), the downside being that each time I return my desk is even more badly organized than it was before I ripped out all the wires AND I have a huge pile of used laundry to cycle through (also everything in the ‘fridge is furry and I have to pitch it).

The wonder is I make any progress at all.

None of which is an excuse for not making deadlines and unfortunately for my readers (at least I hope it’s unfortunate) being on the road usually means I have other work that needs to be done. C’est la vie. This weekend will be a huge crunch until Saturday, hopefully I’ll be able to cover Sepang but no promises.

Playoffs in the only sport that matters (Senior League Baseball) are fast approaching, I’m frantic to find my Mets cap but I fear they’re destined for an early exit regardless. Is this an indication I’ll need an absentee ballot? I’m not sure. I’ll be packing my passport just in case.

Do I take writing seriously? Yes and no. No in that after 11 years of almost constant attention I feel less bad about missing a few marks when circumstances dictate. Yes when you consider it’s the core of my self definition and, you know, I’ve been doing it for 11 years! I also imagine myself as a reader and I understand how keenly disappointing and concerning it is when a constant source of gratification and escape is unavailable.

Those Lighthouse metaphors? I mean them.

I hope you’ll suffer me this as you always do and I will attempt to keep the content coming as best I can.

Sep 29 2016

The Breakfast Club (Impossible Dreams)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

 photo stress free zone_zps7hlsflkj.jpg


This Day in History

Highlights of this day in history: Germany annexes Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland region; America returns to manned spaceflight for the first time since the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster; Pope John Paul the First is found dead in his Vatican apartment.


Breakfast Tunes


Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.

Miguel de Cervantes
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/miguel_de_cervantes.html

Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 28 2016

Perverse Incentives

Perverse incentives are what we call benefits that arise from seemingly disapproved of and illogical behavior. The question is from who’s point of view are they perverse. The recipient sees them as morally neutral, he doesn’t care about his behavior as long as he is rewarded. For systems and institutions the effects are quite different.

As an example I blithely say that if your goal is to lose money I’ll gladly do that for your at a lower price (ironically it means I’ll have to work harder to make up for the amount I’m saving you in compensation).

But losing investor money is not the ostensible goal of a publicly traded company and practically every economist including especially the worst quacks and rattle shakers will spout rote sanctimonious manure about maximizing shareholder value when clearly that’s not the goal of the company management.

Why Wells Fargo’s Executives Will Keep Their Bonuses, Even After Fake Accounts Scandal
by David Dayen, The Intercept
Sep. 26 2016, 2:54 p.m.

Stumpf, under fire from senators demanding that the bank claw back executive bonuses as punishment for the scandal, insisted that any such decision would be made by a committee of the board of directors that handles compensation issues.

That board is made up of five current and former CEOs and executive chairpeople who have enjoyed giant salaries throughout their careers. Pulling the trigger on clawbacks would force them to turn on the system that made them rich. They’d also have to bite the hand that feeds them a steady supply of Wells Fargo stock.

This is a common situation, and it helps explain why executive compensation has inflated in recent decades. Corporate CEOs sit on one another’s boards and approve oversized pay packages, in the expectation that they will get the same treatment from their board in return. Some, like Stumpf, serve as both the CEO and board chairperson simultaneously.

Top executives often receive stock instead of a base salary because of a Bill Clinton-era law exempting “performance-based” pay from a cap on corporate tax deductions for executive compensation.

Under Wells Fargo’s self-imposed “clawback” policy, the Human Resources Committee can revoke executive stock awards in the event of misconduct, including anything that causes the company reputational harm or a failure in risk management. While companies rarely enforce these provisions, as former FDIC chair Sheila Bair told CNBC when the false account scandal broke, “If you’re going to use clawbacks, this would be the situation.”

At last week’s hearing, senators of both parties urged Wells Fargo to use the clawback provision, particularly for Carrie Tolstedt, the former head of community banking (chief overseer of retail account sales) who retired this year with career earnings of $125 million. Were Stumpf to retire, he would receive $123.6 million in his own right.

“To not invoke some degree of clawback for yourself and others involved would be committing malpractice from the standpoint of public relations,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., at the hearing. Stumpf replied that any decisions on clawbacks would result from “a board process.”

Time to Treat Bank CEOs Like Adults
By Dean Baker, Truthout
Monday, 26 September 2016 00:00

The country’s major banks are like trouble-making adolescents. They constantly get involved in some new and unimagined form of mischief. Back in the housing bubble years it was the pushing, packaging and selling of fraudulent mortgages. Just a few years later we had JP Morgan, the country’s largest bank, incurring billions in losses from the gambling debts of its “London Whale” subsidiary. And now we have the story of Wells Fargo, which fired 5,300 workers for selling phony accounts to the bank’s customers.

It is important to understand what is involved in this latest incident at Wells Fargo. The bank didn’t just discover last month that these employees had been ripping off its customers. These firings date back to 2011. The company has known for years that low-level employees were ripping off customers by assigning them accounts — and charging for them — which they did not ask for. And this was not an isolated incident, 5,300 workers is a lot of people even for a huge bank like Wells Fargo.

When so many workers break the rules, this suggests a problem with the system, not bad behavior by a rogue employee. And it is not hard to find the problem with the system. The bank gave these low level employees stringent quotas for account sales. In order to make these quotas, bank employees routinely made up phony accounts. This practice went on for five years.

As it became aware of widespread abuses, it’s hard to understand why the bank would not change its quota system for employees. One possibility is that they actually encouraged this behavior, since the new accounts (even phony accounts) would be seen as good news on Wall Street and drive up the bank’s stock price.

Certainly Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, as a major share and options holder, stood to gain from propping up the stock price, as pointed out by reporter David Dayen. In keeping with this explanation, Carrie Tolsted, the executive most immediately responsible for overseeing account sales, announced her resignation and took away $125 million in compensation. This is equal to the annual pay of roughly 5,000 starting bank tellers at Wells Fargo. That is not ordinarily the way employees are treated when they seriously mess up on the job.

Regardless of the exact motives, the real question is what will be the consequences for Stumpf and other top executives. Thus far, he has been forced to stand before a Senate committee and look contrite for four hours. Stumpf stands to make $19 million this year in compensation. That’s almost $5 million for each hour of contrition. Millions of trouble-making high school students must be very jealous.

There is little reason for most of us to worry about Stumpf contrition, or lack thereof. His bank broke the law repeatedly on a large scale. And, he was aware of these violations, yet he nonetheless left in place the incentive structure that caused them. In the adult world this should mean being held accountable.

This is not a question of being vindictive towards Stumpf, it’s a matter of getting the incentives right. If the only price for large-scale law breaking by the top executives of the big banks is a few hours of public shaming, but the rewards are tens of millions or even hundreds of millions in compensation, then we will continue to see bankers disregard the law, as they did at Wells Fargo and they did on a larger scale during the run-up of the housing bubble.

There is another aspect to the Wells Fargo scandal that is worth considering. Insofar as the bank was booking revenue on accounts that didn’t exist, it was also ripping off the banks’ shareholders. The shareholders’ interests are supposed to be protected by the bank’s board of directors.

It’s hard not to wonder if the board ever asked questions about the large number of employees being fired for creating phony accounts. Did the board ever ask if they could get a CEO who was just as good for lower pay? For example, could they have paid Stumpf or his replacement half as much ($9.5 million a year) and gotten someone just as good, or would this person only have needed to fire 2,650 employees for ripping off the bank’s customers?

Great minds and so do ours.

Sep 28 2016

No slouch.

When I brag about my computers it’s usually a time of stress in my life where I’m trying to exert control through externialities. I say this because I don’t want my readers to think that I’m some kind of ‘mine is bigger’ asshole while instead I am a mendicant who measures each sou against a mouthful of bread.

Yet I try to keep my tools as sharp as my wit.

My base laptop (which I’ve been using as my primary computer for a couple of years now) is an HP 6475b running Windows 7 x64. You can buy it used/refurbished on ebay for $95, it cost me $600 new. It has a 15″ (rated, actually 14″ diagonal 1366 x 768) screen I hardly ever use, keyboard and touchpad likewise. It came with 1 or 2 Gb Ram which is plenty for most applications.

But not for me.

Among the “must haves” were a PCIE Slot (good for two extra USB 3.0 ports if nothing else), an SN-208db DVD Burner (may be capable of dual layer, I’ve never checked, DL media is expensive and nothing compared to 25 Gb Blu-Ray), 2 built in USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, an HP Display Port (really much better than the VGA) and the usual LAN and Headphone jacks. The processor is a 2.5 Ghz AMD A4-4300 APU with Radeon Graphics. I have 2 x 2.7 Ghz replacements (like $15 a pop) that I haven’t bothered with since mucking about the guts of a laptop is a pain in the ass.

Of course the first thing I did was rip out the Ram and max it at 16 Gb which had the counter intuitive effect of making my machine slower (bigger swap file). Small price to pay.

The next thing I did was buy myself some USB 3.0 Hubs (upwards of $20) which run 300 Mb transfers all day long to 256 Gb Flash Drives (though for a finite number of writes, but there are a lot of them, and at a mere 190 Mbs), so I have a base storage capacity of slightly over a Terabyte in addition to being able to use my phone and its 32 Gb SD Card (80 Mb) and my Camera and its 5 32 Gb SD cards (80 Mb) and my floating collection of 64 and 16 Gb sticks (190 Mb) I use to share stuff.

At this point I don’t even care though the people I give them to get all paranoid about returning.

Anyway, Daisy Chained, I have about 17 of those on my desk and I could go to… 128? 256? A lot. 300 Mb on the other hand is not that fast at all.

It’s fast enough for some things. I own a tool (actually several) that allows you to hook up “normal” drives through a USB 3.0 port (300 Mb) which is fast enough for me to blast Blu-Ray (Quad Density, 100+ Gb) media using the part I bought for my desktop or all my 2 Tb drives.

Seriously, I have like 6 of them suitable for NSA level data mining except they’re filled with junk.

Yeah, Utah has nothing on me, even in Road Warrior mode. I am constrained by the fact touch pads, laptop keyboards and displays are a joke. I never travel without my cables that allow me to hook up random HDMI and DVI devices and I carry one (which is not random) with me along with a full size keyboard and a real mouse.

My most recent change, that you’ve had to suffer through without notice because that is my way, is my upgrade from an HTS725050A7E630 (a 500 Gb 7200 RPM drive) to a ST 1000LM 014-1EJ164 (a 1 Tb 7200 RPM SSHD drive). That cost $81+ and doubled my core storage as well as making my experience smoother.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Sep 28 2016

Pondering the Pundits

“Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Pondering the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Trump’s falsehoods on election rigging are at odds with reality

Even before he walked onto the debate stage Monday night at Hofstra University, Donald Trump was complaining that his first head-to-head contest with Hillary Clinton was not fair. “The system is being rigged,” he charged last week. “They want the host to go after Trump.”

For the Republican nominee, the alleged unfairness of the debate was a new take on a familiar theme. Since the beginning of his campaign, Trump has said that our politics is rigged not only against ordinary Americans but also, somehow, against Trump himself. This summer, he went so far as to suggest that the outcome in November, should Clinton prevail, might not be legitimate. “If the election is rigged, I would not be surprised,” he said in an interview with The Post. “We may have people voting 10 times.”

In many ways, our political and economic system is indeed rigged. But it is progressive leaders such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), not Trump, who are putting forward real solutions to the problem. More to the point, if the election is swayed, it will not be because of voter fraud, which is virtually nonexistent in the United States. It will be because of voter suppression efforts led by Republicans across the country.

Eugene Robinson: Clinton delivers a beat-down

Donald Trump just got roughed up, and badly, by a girl. On Monday night, at the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton made her opponent look ignorant, unprepared, egotistical, childish, petulant, impatient and at times totally incoherent.

How bad did it get? At one point, as Trump was groping blindly across the minefields of foreign policy, losing a foot here and a leg there, he announced, apropos of nothing, that “I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament.” Clinton smiled sweetly and exclaimed, “Whew, okay!” The audience at Hofstra University, sternly instructed to remain silent throughout the debate, ignored the rules and burst into laughter.

They were laughing at you, Donald, not with you.

Clinton then patiently explained the importance of honoring international agreements, such as the NATO treaty, to a man who seemed not to grasp the concept of the nation’s word being its bond. One hopes her reassurances were enough to coax allies in Berlin, Tokyo, Seoul and other capitals down from the ceiling.

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Sep 28 2016

The Breakfast Club (Those Were The Days)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

 photo stress free zone_zps7hlsflkj.jpg


This Day in History

Ariel Sharon visits Jerusalem’s Temple Mount; The American Revolution’s last battle begins; William the Conqueror invades England; First round-the-world flight ends; Jazz great Miles Davis dies.


Breakfast Tunes


Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization.

Georges Clemenceau

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Sep 27 2016

The Late Night Pundits Assess The First Presidential Debate

Two of the late night show hosts, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, assessed the first debate between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Sep 27 2016

Scandal v SCANDAL

We are now six weeks from the end of the silly season known as the 2016 Presidential Election, an election that even the most seasoned politicians and pundits say they have never seen this absurd. Both candidates have a “likability” and credibility problem with the public and each of them has their share of scandals. But, when you put them side by side, it glaringly obvious that one is far worse than the media presents. John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” took a deep look at the scandals of both candidates:

“I do know that even talking about her scandals will irritate some of you, given that her opponent is an unambiguously racist scarecrow stuffed with scrunched-up copies of Jugs magazine, and that’s fair. But not being as bad as Donald Trump is a low bar to clear, and if you focus on nothing but him, you fail to vet a woman who might be president.” [..]

“We’ve spent several frustrating weeks trolling through all the innuendo and exaggerations surrounding Hillary’s email and foundation scandals, and the worst thing we can say is that they both look bad. But the harder you look, the less you actually find. There’s not nothing there, but what is there is irritating rather than grossly nefarious.”

“And this is where it’s instructive to compare her to her opponent: Donald Trump, America’s wealthiest hemorrhoid. He’s quantifiably worse.” [..]

“Bear in mind: we know nothing about Trump’s finances, and that is not good. He’s the first major party nominee since 1980 not to release his tax returns, and his justification is pathetic.” [..]

“There is everything, from the ongoing lawsuits against that bullshit university, to the alleged use of undocumented workers when building Trump Tower, to the fact that he received an illegal $3.5 million loan from his father in the form of a purchase of chips from one of Trump’s casinos.” [..]

“The point is this: the campaign has been dominated by scandals, but it is dangerous to think there is an equal number on both sides. You can be irritated by some of Hillary’s. That is understandable, but you should be f*cking outraged by Trump’s.”

Meanwhile, our roving pundit Keith Olbermann has updated his list of things Donald Trump has done that disqualify him as president with 74 more reasons from just this last month

Don’t forget to vote on November 8.

Sep 27 2016

Pondering the Pundits

“Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Pondering the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

E. J. Dionne Jr: Clinton shifts the election in her direction

Donald Trump scowled and fumed and fussed and interrupted. On Monday night, he was forced to defend business practices that involved not paying workers and contractors, a tax plan that offers most of its benefits to the wealthy, the fact that he did not pay any federal taxes in some years (which he called “smart”) and the debt incurred by his businesses.

Hillary Clinton wanted to remind Americans of the Trump they had grown accustomed to disliking, the man who demeaned women, minorities and immigrants. Trump helped her out, even debating the moderator, Lester Holt, about “stop and frisk” police tactics. He grunted “ugh” when Clinton called out his sweeping comments on the allegedly parlous state of African American communities. [..]

The surprise of the debate was that Clinton put before voters a new Trump to dislike. Trump has campaigned as a populist paladin of the working class. But the Trump that Clinton described was a plutocrat who walked away from debts and obligations to his own employees. She pushed the debate into an extended discussion of how Trump had become wealthy and turned what he sees as one of his central assets, his business acumen, into what could become a big liability as the campaign goes forward.

Paul Krugman: Progressive Family Values

Here’s what happens every election cycle: pundits demand that politicians offer the country new ideas. Then, if and when a candidate actually does propose innovative policies, the news media pays little attention, chasing scandals or, all too often, fake scandals instead. Remember the extensive coverage last month, when Hillary Clinton laid out an ambitious mental health agenda? Neither do I.

For that matter, even the demand for new ideas is highly questionable, since there are plenty of good old ideas that haven’t been put into effect. Most advanced countries implemented some form of guaranteed health coverage decades if not generations ago. Does this mean that we should dismiss Obamacare as no big deal, since it’s just implementing a tired old agenda? The 20 million Americans who gained health coverage would beg to differ.

Still, there really are some interesting new ideas coming from one of the campaigns, and they arguably tell us a lot about how Mrs. Clinton would govern.

Wait — what about the other side? Aren’t Republicans also offering new ideas? Well, I guess proposing to round up and deport 11 million people counts as a new idea. And Republicans in Congress seem to have moved past their tradition of proposing tax cuts that deliver most of their benefits to the wealthy. Now they are, instead, proposing tax cuts that deliver all of their benefits to the 1 percent — O.K., actually just 99.6 percent, but who’s counting?

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Sep 27 2016

The Breakfast Club (Hallucinations)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

 photo stress free zone_zps7hlsflkj.jpg


This Day in History

Warren Commission concludes Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in JFK’s assassination; Taliban captures Afghanistan’s capital; First steam locomotive to haul passengers; ‘The Tonight Show’ premieres.


Breakfast Tunes


Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

I’m not completely sure we aren’t all living in a hallucination now.

Marc Maron

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