29 April 2017

Not Enough Bullets

American Airlines tends to underpay its employees relative to industry norms, and it shows.

Now that some of its unions have won some benefits in contract negotiations, the malefactors of great wealth are whining:
American Airlines is giving pay raises to its pilots and flight attendants, who have complained they are paid less than peers at other airlines. Wall Street isn't happy.

The raises come about two years before contract negotiations. Assuming they approve the increases, pilots and flight attendants will receive additional pay totaling close to $1 billion over three years.

At a time when American and other airlines are seeing higher costs for labor, fuel and maintenance while finding it difficult to raise airfares, this goodwill gesture didn't sit well with investors.

“This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first again. Shareholders get leftovers,” Citi analyst Kevin Crissey wrote in a note to clients. Investors showed their displeasure by sending American Airlines Group Inc.’s stock down 5.2% to $43.98 on Thursday.
(emphasis mine)

Seriously, Mr. Crissey needs to be sent to China and forced to work at Foxconn 14 hours a day and 7 days a week for $300 a month making iPhones.

Airlines suck like 1000 Hoovers all going at once, and much of this is because the endless downward pressure on wages, working conditions, by senior management.

If American does not want to become the passenger beating/bunny killing United, it needs to improve its product, and its product is produced by those icky labor sorts.

Please Kevin Crissey, while you are dining on that excrement, could you do us the favor of expiring.

Preach It, Brother!

In the Guardian, Thomas Frank makes a very good point, that "The Democrats' Davos ideology won't win back the midwest."

The current neoliberal consensus is that globalization benefits the deserving, and that if you lose, it's because you're stupid, and never studied in school:
The tragedy of the 2016 election is connected closely, at least for me, to the larger tragedy of the industrial midwest. It was in the ruined industrial city of Cleveland that the Republican Party came together in convention last July, and it was the deindustrialized, addiction-harrowed precincts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin that switched sides in November and delivered Donald Trump to the Oval Office.

………

And what I am here to say is that the midwest is not an exotic place. It isn’t a benighted region of unknowable people and mysterious urges. It isn’t backward or hopelessly superstitious or hostile to learning. It is solid, familiar, ordinary America, and Democrats can have no excuse for not seeing the wave of heartland rage that swamped them last November.

Another thing that is inexcusable from Democrats: surprise at the economic disasters that have befallen the midwestern cities and states that they used to represent.

The wreckage that you see every day as you tour this part of the country is the utterly predictable fruit of the Democratic party’s neoliberal turn. Every time our liberal leaders signed off on some lousy trade deal, figuring that working-class people had “nowhere else to go,” they were making what happened last November a little more likely.

Every time our liberal leaders deregulated banks and then turned around and told working-class people that their misfortunes were all attributable to their poor education, that the only answer for them was a lot of student loans and the right sort of college degree ... every time they did this they made the disaster a little more inevitable.

………

Of course it isn’t working out that way. So far, liberal organs seem far less interested in courting such voters than they do in scolding them, insulting them for their coarse taste and the hate for humanity they supposedly cherish in their ignorant hearts.

Ignorance is not the issue, however. Many midwesterners I met share an outlook that is profoundly bleak. They believe that the life has gone out of this region; indeed, they fear that a civilization based on making things is no longer sustainable.

………

I have no doubt that people in this part of America would respond enthusiastically to a populist message that addressed their unhappy situation – just look, for example, at the soaring popularity of Bernie Sanders.

As things have unfolded thus far, however, our system seems designed to keep such an alternative off the table. The choice we are offered instead is between Trumpian fake populism and a high-minded politics of personal virtue. Between a nomenklatura of New Economy winners and a party of traditional business types, willing to say anything to get elected and (once that is done) to use the state to reward people like themselves. The public’s frustration with this state of affairs, at least as I heard it on my midwestern trip, is well-nigh overwhelming.

………

But when “the resistance” comes into power in Washington, it will face this question: this time around, will Democrats serve the 80% of us that this modern economy has left behind? Will they stand up to the money power? Or will we be invited once again to feast on inspiring speeches while the tasteful gentlemen from JP Morgan foreclose on the world?
The argument of the privileged (center) left is that this is inevitable, and people who are harmed by this are to blame for this harm.

It is a pernicious attitude, one that stems from their inability to recognize their own unearned privilege.

This destructive sanctimony needs to be purged from the Democratic Party.  Let the Republicans have them.

28 April 2017

Have Some Helicopter Pr0n

I present to you the Sikorsky S-97 Raider:


I favor this over a tilt-rotor.

I want my rotor craft to auto-rotate in the event of an engine failure.

How Not to Design Reasonably

One of the fails going around the internet is Juicero, which is selling a press to squeeze raw juices from its pouches into a cup.

This press recently had its price reduced to "only" $400, for a juicer.

What's more reporters at Bloomberg discovered that you could get about the same amount of juice from the pouches using the Mark 1 human hand.

Not bad for a company that has raised $120 million in VC funding  ……… For a juice squeezer.

After all of this product designer Ben Einstein did a a disassembly and a deep dive, and  he found a ridiculously over-designed mess.

The short version is that there is a press using a custom motor and custom gear train, a half dozen machined aluminum parts which drives an aluminum plate against the pouch to uniformly apply pressure.

Einstein inventoried the following:
  • An extremely complex plastic molding, including co-molded parts.
  • A heavy custom machined aluminum frame.
  • A custom power supply.
  • Massive custom hinges on the door.
  • Custom sliders.
  • A very robust custom gearbox.  
  • Etc.
Looking at this problem, I immediately have a better way of doing things.

I could make a prototype using an off the shelf aquarium pump for less than $100 in in parts.  (It would work like the so called "Neat Squeeze" toothpaste tube), or do something similar with a store bought pasta maker retailing for $29.99.

That took me all of 15 minutes to think about it.

This is all of Silicon Valley dysfunction in a squeezable pouch.

So Not a Surprise


This is no surprise. The British financial system is arguably the 2nd most invested in money laundering of any in the world (after Luxembourg). Any meaningful crackdown on money laundering would blow a big hole in the City of London's balance sheet:
So near and yet so far…

Hopes were riding high yesterday that UK parliamentarians might seize the opportunity to take historic action to end decades of financial secrecy in the UK’s Overseas Territories. We blogged about this yesterday highlighting the fact that a lot of ongoing Parliamentary business was at risk of being shelved because of the sudden general election called by British Prime Minister Theresa May. There’s a phenomenon known as the wash-up period which “refers to the last few days of a Parliament before dissolution. Any unfinished business is lost at dissolution and the Government may need the co-operation of the Opposition in passing legislation that is still in progress.”

An amendment was tabled for the Criminal Finances Bill some months back which would have obliged the UK’s Overseas Territories (including such secrecy havens as Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Caymans) to create fully public registers of the beneficial ownership of companies. As we asked yesterday in our blog, will the UK parliament step up to the mark? Unfortunately, today we have the answer. No. Defeat has been snatched from the jaws of victory.
This is not a surprise.

There is corruption at the core of big finance, and the British financial industry is rather more corrupt than most, and they have been paying protection money to the political establishment for years.

Changing this will require coordinated and intense political activity over a period of years.

Deep Thought

I wish I had the opportunity to do this:



Seen on Facebook.

I am Amused

Jean-Luc Mélenchon who was in the tightly clustered top 4 Presidential candidates in the first round of balloting is approaching the question of an endorsement in the runoff is an interesting way, he is asking his supporters to decide.

He will not be endorsing Le Pen, but there is a question of whether to vote at all:
French leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon on Tuesday launched a consultation asking his supporters if they plan to vote for Emmanuel Macron in the second and final round of the presidential election on May 7.

Mélenchon was the only one of the main candidates not to tell his backers to choose Macron rather than the far-right’s Marine Le Pen after the first round of voting on Sunday.

According to the consultation, sent to 450,000 registered supporters of Mélenchon’s “France Untamed” movement, “None of us will vote for the far-right. But does it mean we need to give voting advice?”

They are then given three options: Vote for Macron, spoil the ballot paper or abstain.

………

On the campaign trail, Mélenchon was a vocal critic of Macron, the centrist candidate and former banker, and that has continued since the vote, with the veteran left-winger saying he “will oppose the far-right candidate and the candidate of extreme-finance.”
This is some high class trolling, and I approve.


Adding a bit of a pucker factor for Macron is a good thing.

At worst it's an annoyance for the candidate about nothing, at best it forces to the candidate to be about something, for a while at least.

27 April 2017

But of Course

It turns out that the Australian bureaucracy created to collect fees for content creators has been diverting these fees to lobby against changes in their copyright laws:
Even though stories of copyright collecting societies failing to distribute the monies that they collect to artists abound -- we wrote about one just a few weeks ago -- this doesn't seem to discourage others from continuing to bend the rules somewhat. Here, for example, is a story from Australia, where there is a major battle to switch to a US-style fair use approach to copyright. Naturally, the affected industries there hate the idea of allowing the public a little more leeway in the use of copyright materials. So Australia's copyright collection agency decided to build up a war-chest to lobby against such changes. The Sydney Morning Herald explains where the money for that fighting fund is coming from:

Australia's government-mandated copyright collection agency has been diverting payments intended for journalists and authors to a [$11 million] "future fund" to fight changes to the law.
Specifically, the monies come from payments made by educational establishments in order to use orphan works. That's a major change of the agency's policy that was not disclosed to the Australian government's Productivity Commission that oversees this area:

[The Copyright Agency] has been criticised in a Productivity Commission review that is before the government over the transparency of its accounts and its practice of retaining, rather than returning, millions of dollars collected from schools and universities on behalf of the owners of "orphan works" who can't be traced.
This reinforces a point that I have made on numerous occasions: IP protections are government subsidies through the enforcement of monopoly rents, and are justified only to the degree that they encourage the creation of protected works.

Any amount in excess of this results in parasitic rent seeking, because this is the most effective way to make EVEN MORE money.

Copyright and patent have gone from a way to "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," to a mechanism that corrupts the political process and hinders progress.

Just get a Persian Cat and Complete the Bond Villain Thing


USS Macon, 1934


Zorin Industries Blimp, 

James Bond: View to a Kill, 1985
Google founder Sergey Brin is making himself an airship:
Larry Page has his flying cars. Sergey Brin shall have an airship.

Brin, the Google co-founder, has secretly been building a massive airship inside of Hangar 2 at the NASA Ames Research Center, according to four people with knowledge of the project. It's unclear whether the craft, which looks like a zeppelin, is a hobby or something Brin hopes to turn into a business. "Sorry, I don't have anything to say about this topic right now," Brin wrote in an email.

The people familiar with the project said Brin has long been fascinated by airships. His interest in the crafts started when Brin would visit Ames, which is located next to Google parent Alphabet Inc.'s headquarters in Mountain View, California. In the 1930s, Ames was home to the USS Macon, a huge airship built by the U.S. Navy. About three years ago, Brin decided to build one of his own after ogling old photos of the Macon.

In 2015, Google unit Planetary Ventures took over the large hangars at Ames from NASA and turned them into laboratories for the company. Brin's airship, which isn’t an Alphabet project, is already taking shape inside one. Engineers have constructed a metal skeleton of the craft, and it fills up much of the enormous hangar.
Seriously.  This, and James Cameron's plans for his "asteroid mining operation" are disturbingly close to a plot device from a Bond film.

Happy Dance Time


Out Standing!
A member of Connecticut's Working Families Party has just won their first ever seat in the Connecticut General Assembly:
Union leader Joshua Hall became the first Working Families Party candidate to win a seat in the state House, collecting 41 percent of the vote in Tuesday's 7th District special election.

Hall, vice president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers and a former Weaver High School teacher, received 625 votes in an upset of Rickey Pinckney, the Democratic-endorsed candidate, who received 512 votes, and petitioning candidate Kenneth Green, who took 367 votes, according to unofficial election results released late Tuesday by Democratic Registrar of Voters Giselle Feliciano.

………


Hall's win marks just the second time a Working Families Party candidate has won a legislative seat. Ed Gomes was elected to the Senate in a 2015 special election.

………

all has leaned heavily on his experience in education and promised to fight for resources that the district needs, including school funding. Earlier this month, he said he opposed a plan by the governor to have municipalities pick up a portion of teacher pension costs — a proposal that would cost Hartford about $17 million.

"That $17 million is going to break Hartford Public Schools. It's going to break the city," he said. "I'm going to make sure that it does not happen."

In his statement, he also said he would prioritize the availability of good jobs, strong neighborhoods and a "just budget."

"That starts with eliminating backdoor tax increases on working families and setting budget policy that generates revenue without harmful cuts," Hall said.
One hopes that the sort of bottom-up campaigning will be a trend.

The high profile campaigns for Governor, Senator, and President favored by parties like the Greens has been shown to neither win elections nor build the party.

Until there is a meaningful force to hold the Democratic party to account for completely ignoring their promises of a just society, they will never keep their promises.

Data Point of the Day

It's also a quote of the day. "New York City’s biggest pensions have invested about $13 billion with private-equity firms in pursuit of large returns. They would have done better with a low-cost stock index fund."

The only people who actually benefit from the activities of private-equity firms and hedge funds are private equity firms and hedge funds.

Linkage


Not a video this time, because this still picture is too good:

26 April 2017

Stop Using Unroll.me, Right Now. It Sold Your Data to Uber.

That is the headline at The Intercept, and I'm inclined to agree:
Tucked away in a rollicking New York Times profile of amoral Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is a tidbit about Unroll.me, a popular service that aims to rescue your email inbox from unwanted newsletters and promotional messages with an easy automated unsubscribe service. The problem is, it’s been selling you out to advertisers, and you should stop using it immediately.

The Kalanick profile says that Uber previously used Unroll.me data to gauge the health of archrival Lyft:
Unroll.me's CEO then issued the most hypocritical "apology" ever:
Our users are the heart of our company and service. So it was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service.
Yes, he's SO sorry that he got caught.

Dump the service, and make sure that you never use anything from the founder, Jojo Hedaya, ever again.

Just When You Thought That the EpiPen Folks Could Not Get Any Worse

In addition to price gouging and fraud, it now appears that Mylan Pharmaceuticals used nuisance lawsuits to lock itself in as a preferred Medicaid provider:
Pharmaceutical company Mylan sued West Virginia in 2015 to keep its EpiPens on the state’s “preferred drug list,” which, if successful, would mean that the state’s Medicaid programs would have to automatically pay for the pricey epinephrine auto-injectors.

The bold and unusual move by Mylan—which ultimately failed—is yet another example of the aggressive marketing and legal tactics the company used to boost profits from EpiPens, which halt life-threatening allergic reactions. Since Mylan acquired rights to EpiPen in 2007, the company raised its price by more than 400 percent. Mylan also allegedly made illegal deals with schools to undercut competitors and allegedly scammed federal and state regulators out of millions in rebates by knowingly misclassifying the device.

Last year, EpiPen’s sales and expanded markets brought in more than $1 billion in revenue for Mylan. The company’s CEO, Heather Bresch, is one of the highest-paid CEOs in the industry, earning nearly $19 million annually.
Additionally, the company offered discounts on the condition that competitors' products not be covered:

When Mylan dramatically increased the price of its life-saving EpiPen devices, it drew sharp rebuke all around for what seemed like a purely greedy—and heartless—move. But according to a lawsuit filed by French drug maker Sanofi, the move wasn’t just out of simple greed. Instead, it was part of an underhanded scheme to “squash” competition from Sanofi’s rival device, the Auvi-Q.

With the lofty prices and near-monopoly over the market, Mylan could dangle deep discounts to drug suppliers—with the condition that they turn their backs on Sanofi’s Auvi-Q—the lawsuit alleges. Suppliers wouldn’t dare ditch EpiPens, the most popular auto-injector. And with the high prices, the rebates wouldn’t put a dent in Mylan’s hefty profits, Sanofi speculates.

Coupled with a smear campaign and other underhanded practices, Mylan effectively pushed Sanofi out of the US epinephrine auto-injector market, Sanofi alleges. The lawsuit, filed Monday in a federal court in New Jersey, seeks damages under US Antitrust laws.
In short, Sanofi claims that “Mylan engaged in illegal conduct to squelch this nascent competition, harming both Sanofi and U.S. consumers.”
According to the lawsuit:
In particular, Mylan offered new and unprecedented rebates to commercial insurance companies, pharmaceutical benefit managers, and state-based Medicaid agencies (collectively “third-party payors”) conditioned exclusively on Auvi-Q® not being an [epinephrine auto-injector] drug device that those payors would reimburse for use by U.S. consumers.
I'm beginning to think that we need to start throwing people in jail for monopolistic conspiracies, because fines are increasingly seen to be just a cost of business.

Deep Wisdom

In his review of the Clinton campaign tell all Shattered, Nathan Robinson and he provides a potent insight, specifically that there a number of factors that had to coincide for Clinton to lose the election, and that the Democratic Party political establishment needs to focus on the ones that are they have control over, and those factors are the fault of the Democratic Party political establishment.

The alleged Russian meddling in the election and Comey's behavior are both unlikely events, while the fact that the party establishment went all in on the worst possible candidate, and the party's consultants ran the worst possible campaign.

The last two items are something that could be fixed the next time around, though it's clear that neither party establishment, and the consultants who feed off the party apparatus want this to happen, since it means less for them.

The problem, much like the sitcom Seinfeld, the Democratic conventional wisdom calls for the party to be about nothing, and a bad something with bad hair and bad ideas still beats nothing:
………

First, let’s be clear on what we mean by identifying something that “caused” the result. Because the election was extremely close, and well under 100,000 people would have had to change their minds for the result to be different, hundreds and hundreds of factors can be identified as “but for” causes of the result, i.e. but for the existence of Factor X, Clinton would have won. So, say we narrow our 500 “but for” causes down to 4: the Clinton campaign’s incompetence, the Russian leaking of embarrassing internal documents, obstinate voters who refused to come out for Clinton, and James Comey’s letter. If we assume for the moment that we think each of these had an equal effect, we can see how it’s the case that in the absence of any one of them, the result would have changed:



That means that the decision of which factor to pick out for blame is subjective. Since both Comey’s letter and Clinton’s incompetence are equal causes, in that without one of them the result would have tipped in the other direction, the person who blames Comey and the person who blames Clinton are equally correct. Again, the actual chart would have about 5 million causes rather than 4. But the point is that we have to decide which of these causes to focus our attention on.

Thus the statement “The Clinton campaign lost because it lacked vision, authenticity, and strategy” is consistent with the statement “If it wasn’t for James Comey’s letter, Hillary Clinton would have won the election.” But personally, I believe it’s far more important to focus on the causes that you can change in the future. You don’t know what the FBI director will do, and you can’t affect whether he does it or not. What you can do is affect what your side does. So the Democrats cannot determine whether James Comey will choose to give a damning statement implying their candidate is a criminal. But they can determine whether or not to run a candidate who is under FBI investigation in the first place.

Note that even if you think Comey was the major cause of Clinton’s loss, it still might be advisable to turn your attention elsewhere:



If you fix the other things, then even a highly impactful Comey letter won’t tip the election. And correspondingly, even if you prove that Clinton’s own actions were 99% responsible for her loss, a Clinton supporter would be technically correct in identifying Comey as causing the outcome:


In any scenario, it’s probably best to figure out what your party itself can do to address the situation. After all, if we’re really adding up causes, Donald Trump himself is probably the primary one, yet it would be a waste of time to sit around blaming Donald Trump, if it’s also true that you ran a horrible campaign that alienated people.

You can also think certain things acted as precipitating causes without necessarily being at fault. For example, you might think that WikiLeaks was a direct cause of the result, but not think them at fault because it’s their job to post the material they receive. The same goes for the New York Times covering the email story; it might have contributed to the outcome, but you might think this isn’t their fault because they’re journalists and that’s what they do. Likewise James Comey; you might believe he was doing his job as he saw fit. And Bernie Sanders: Clinton may have lost both because she gave speeches to Goldman Sachs and because Bernie Sanders repeatedly criticized her for it, but you might think that one of those things is more justified than the other. There’s a question of which things you can change to improve outcomes, and then there’s a question of which things you should change. In 1992, for example, Bill Clinton realized that Democrats could win more elections if they adopted the Republican platform of slashing welfare and locking up young black men. This did change outcomes. But it was also heinous. And personally, I think you’re changing something about the party, you should change “Democrats enriching themselves from Wall Street speeches” rather than “people pointing out that Democrats are enriching themselves from Wall Street speeches.”

Shattered is both tragic and comic. It’s tragic because Donald Trump becomes president at the end. But it’s comic in that it depicts a bunch of egotistical and hyper-confident people arrogantly pursuing an obviously foolish strategy, dismissing every critic as irrational and un-pragmatic, only to completely fall on their faces. There was, Allen and Parnes tell us, “nothing like the aimlessness and dysfunction of Hillary Clinton’s second campaign for the presidency—except maybe those of her first bid for the White House.” And however horrible it may be to have Donald Trump as commander in chief (it is incredibly, deeply horrible and threatens all of human civilization), reading Shattered one cannot help but get a tiny amount of satisfaction from the fact that Mook and Clinton’s cynical and contemptuous attitude toward the American public didn’t actually produce the result that they were certain it would. One wishes they had won, but one is also a tiny bit glad that they lost.

Vision, authenticity, strategy. You need to have clear sense of what you want to do and why you want to do it. You need to show people that you mean it and believe in it. And you need to have an idea of how to get from here to there. The Clinton campaign had no vision, was inauthentic, and botched its strategy. But that’s not a problem unique to Hillary Clinton, and singling her out for too much criticism is unfair and, yes, sexist (especially because Bill is much worse). This is a party-wide failure, and it will require more than just banishing the Clintons from politics. If the Democrats are to have a future, they must offer something better, more honest, and more inspiring. With Republicans dominating the government, we cannot afford to end up shattered again.