31 March 2021

Once Again Stating the Obvious

Is anyone surprised to find that philanthropy by the very rich is largely self-serving?

I am not surprised one bit.  This has been the way of the hyper rich since before Crassus had his last drink of molten gold.*

Relying on private philanthropy serves only to increase their power, because the goal of the hyper-rich is not to help, but to reinforce their own position of power:

Philanthropy among the elite class in the United States and the United Kingdom does more to create goodwill for the super-wealthy than to alleviate social ills for the poor, according to a new meta-analysis. 

A group of U.K. researchers reviewed 263 journal articles, books and studies on elite philanthropy to better understand the role it plays in this new age of inequality. In the United States, the wealth gap between richest and poorer families has more than doubled since the 1980s, and in the United Kingdom, the incomes of the richest fifth are 12 times as much as the incomes of the poorest fifth. 

The researchers' paper, published in a special issue of the International Journal of Management Reviews, lays out how on the whole, the elite class mainly donates to causes that provide themselves with some type of benefit. The researchers defined "elite philanthropy" as "the preserve of wealthy individuals and close family members" who became rich through entrepreneurship, either by starting a new business or expanding an inherited one. These individuals generally have extensive local, national and international business networks, the researchers said, and occupy positions with the "field of power," a social space at the top of society that allows them to impact policy and practice.

………

Many people mistakenly view elite philanthropy as a benign force for good rather than an avenue for the super-wealthy to translate economic capital into social and cultural capital, according to the researchers. Elite philanthropy, the study argues, is transactional, as there are also material benefits in addition to the cultural capital. In 2017, the United States increased the proportion of income that can be deducted from 50% to 60%, which directly benefits the elite; and in the United Kingdom, efforts to reduce philanthropic tax relief fell through in 2012 after pushback from wealthy philanthropists.

In study after study, the rich are shown to be relatively less generous, and more inclined to engage in antisocial and immoral behavior.  Why should their so-called "charity" be any different?

*Yes, I know, Marcus Licinius Crassus actually died in battle, and not as a result of having molten gold poured down his throat. It's a metaphor.

Not Enough Bullets

Did you know that if the minimum rose as fast as Wall Street bonuses, it would be $44 an hour now?

I don't know about you, but it makes me want to find a way claw to it all back, because, to quote Billie Ray Valentine, "Billy Ray Valentine principle, "The best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people." 

The chaos that the coronavirus pandemic unleashed on America's economy turned out to be a major boon for Wall Street traders, according to new data from the New York state comptroller's office.

Wall Street firms paid their New York City-based traders an average bonus of $184,000 last year, a 10% increase from 2019, New York's comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, said in a press release Friday.

But those paydays have been skyrocketing for decades. Since 1985, Wall Street traders' bonuses have grown 1,217% — and that's just part of their overall pay, which was more than $406,000 on average in 2019, according to data from DiNapoli's office.

By comparison, the federal minimum wage has flatlined at $7.25 an hour — or $15,080 annually — for 12 consecutive years. When adjusted for inflation, it has actually decreased by 11% since 1985.

If the minimum wage had instead grown at the same rate as Wall Street bonuses, it would be $44.12 an hour today.

We really need to levy a tax on financial transactions, and place a limit on fees for tax advantaged accounts (IRAs, 401(K)s, etc) of less than 10 basis points.  (.1%)

These parasites have been doing nothing but extracting wealth from the rest of us for decades.

30 March 2021

Going Down the Wikipedia Rabbit Hole

I am sure that most of you have experienced this, you look up something, and you go to the Wikipedia page, and there is an interesting link, and you go there, and before you know it, you have clicked on 20+ different links, and you are looking at something completely unrelated to where you started.

Well, I did this today, I was looking up the comedy team of John Clarke and Bryan Dawe, after posting their classic sketch, The Front Fell Off, and I ended up on the sport of ferret-legging.

Ferret legging is a sport in which men (and it is almost always men) stuff ferrets down their trousers, and the one who can do this for the longest time wins:

Ferret-legging was an endurance test or stunt in which ferrets were trapped in trousers worn by a participant. Also known as put 'em down and ferret-down-trousers, it seems to have been popular among coal miners in Yorkshire, England. Contestants put live ferrets inside their trousers; the winner is the one who is the last to release the animals.

Ferret-legging may have originated during the time when only the relatively wealthy in England were allowed to keep animals used for hunting, forcing poachers to hide their illicit ferrets in their trousers. Following a brief resurgence in popularity during the 1970s, it has been described as a "dying sport", although a national ferret-legging event was held in Richmond, Virginia from 2003 to 2009.

Description and rules

In the sport of ferret-legging, competitors tie their trousers at the ankles before placing two ferrets inside and securely fastening their belts to prevent the ferrets from escaping. Each competitor then stands in front of the judges for as long as he can. Competitors cannot be drunk or drugged, nor can the ferrets be sedated. In addition, competitors are not allowed to wear underwear beneath their trousers, which must allow the ferrets free access from one leg to the other, and the ferrets must have a full set of teeth that must not have been filed or otherwise blunted. The winner is the person who lasts the longest.

The sport is said to involve very little "native skill", simply an ability to "have your tool bitten and not care". The former world champion, Reg Mellor, is credited with instituting the practice of wearing white trousers in ferret-legging matches, to better display the blood from the wounds caused by the animals. Competitors can attempt, from outside their trousers, to dislodge the ferrets, but as the animals can maintain a strong hold for long periods, their removal can be difficult. The ferrets are occasionally put inside the contestants' shirts in addition to their trousers. An attempt to introduce a female version of the sport—ferret busting, in which female contestants introduced ferrets down their blouses—proved unsuccessful.

This is profoundly weird, and having been exposed to the story Sredni Vashtar by Saki at a young age, it is certainly not a sport that I have any interest in participating in, though right now I am craving a piece of buttered toast. (It's Passover, so I am REALLY craving a piece of buttered toast)

Quote of the Day

This is an important distinction, because it means we're not up against some intrinsic aspect of our being here. We're up against a small minority of manipulative sociopaths and psychopaths and a system which rewards a lack of empathy.
Caitlin’s Johnstone explaining how she sees the current state of affairs as a function of a relatively small minority of assholes, and not the while human race.

This is actually one of the more optimistic statements that Ms. Johnstone has made, and I hope that she's right.

Certainly, human survival has for most of our existence depended on empathy and cooperation, hunter gatherer societies, upwards of 95% of our history could not function without this.

The current state of affairs, we can call it Neoliberalism, certainly does seem to cater to the absolute worst in us and of us.

This Can't Be Good

With all the signs pointing to explosive economic growth in 2020, economists are generally predicting a growth rate greater than 5%, the news that personal income fell by $1,516.6 billion (7.1%) from January to February is a pretty dire data point. 

Obviously, there were some freak conditions in February, the massive Texas blackouts come to mind, but this is pretty grim news:

Hence, when the opening line of the press release for this report tell us “Personal income decreased $1,516.6 billion (7.1 percent) in February“, that means that the annualized figure for US personal income in February, $19,945.6 billion, was $1,516.6 billion, or roughly 7.1% less than the annualized personal income figure of $21,462.2 billion for January; the actual change in personal income from January to February is not provided…similarly, annualized disposable personal income, which is income after taxes, fell by nearly 8.0%, from an annual rate of an annual rate of $19,210.5 billion in January to an annual rate of $17,678.2 billion in February…the components of the monthly decrease in personal income, which can be seen in the Full Release & Tables (PDF) for this release, are also annualized figures…in February, the reason for the $1,516.6 billion annualized decrease in personal income was a $1,584.1 billion annualized decrease in government social benefits to individuals, which was only slightly offset by a $37.7 billion annualized increase in business & farm proprietors’ income and a $15.6 billion annualized increase in interest and dividend income…wages and salaries, which fell by an annualized $0.2 billion, were barely a factor in February’s personal income change . . .

Not great economic news.

29 March 2021

Diplomatic Nostalgia

To be honest, I have not heard the term, "Running Dog," as used by elements of the Chinese foreign policy apparatus ever. I've merely heard about this, because its use pretty much ended when Nixon went to China, and I wasn't even 10 years old then.

So I find it rather amusing that a Chinese diplomat has just used the sobriquet to describe Justin Trudeau.

I thought that the term had died when Mao Zedong did:

A Chinese diplomat has dismissed Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau as a “boy” in a social media attack marking a new low in the fractured relationship between the two countries.

China and Canada have clashed repeatedly in recent months, and last week the two countries imposed sanctions on each other in a growing row over Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur minority.

But on Sunday, Trudeau was singled out for insult by China’s consul general to Rio de Janeiro, Li Yang in a tweet blaming him for the diplomatic crisis.

“Boy, your greatest achievement is to have ruined the friendly relations between China and Canada, and have turned Canada into a running dog of the U.S,” he tweeted.

The demeaning term “running dog” , a relic of Maoist China, is often used to describe nations that are subservient to countries like the United States.

Honestly, I am stunned at the PR ineptitude of the elements of the Chinese state on this one.

Maybe they should hire some professionals who could do a better job, because even the Marketing Department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation would be an improvement.

Quote of the Day

Look, is the seller a vampire?

No, not that I’m aware of.

If he was, would you be allowed to say, or is there some kind of realtor privilege?

Well, in real estate we talk about the property, not the people, because of housing discrimination.

Oh, that’s a good point. I don’t know if vampires are a protected class.

I’ve learned in fair housing seminar after fair housing seminar, you do not talk about people. You want me to tell you how many square feet or how long the driveway or what it looks like inside, no problem.
Slate, interviewing a realtor trying to sell a vampire-goth themed house in Baltimore.

The listing is linked to in the article, and it's a trip.

The Front Fell Off


The Front Fell Off?

It now appears that the Ever Given, the massive container ship which had completely blocked the Suez Canal, has been freed and traffic has resumed through the waterway.

There is still a major backlog of ships in both directions, but after a week, we should expect a return to normal shipping conditions.

The bigger issue is how this event has demonstrated the fragility of international shipping.

What's more, it has increasingly been juxtaposed with economic fragility driven by the increasingly oligopolistic nature of shipping, which means that if one shipper fails, the entire system can seize up.

The classic Clarke and Dawe sketch, "The Front Fell Off," (shown) is a perfect metaphor for this:

In this newsletter, I do a lot of explaining about complicated problems caused by big dumb corporate institutions. I don’t have to do that this time, because the story of the mess in the Suez is so simple. “After years of bitcoin and reddit short selling and credit default swaps and a million other things I don’t understand,” one random person put in a tweet that went viral, “it’s so refreshing to hear that global commerce is in peril because a big boat got stuck in a canal.”

That’s basically the story right there, it’s a big boat and it got stuck in a canal. The ship blocking the Suez, called the Ever Given, weights 220,000 tons, and is as long as the Empire State Building is high. Despite the hilarious nature of the problem, the disruption to world trade is large and serious, costing tens of billions of dollars. And if the ship can’t be dislodged soon, some consumers will once again experience shortages of basic staples like toilet paper.

That said, the reason this disruption to global commerce seems so dumb is because it is. It starts with the ship size itself. Over the last few decades, ships have gotten really really big, four times the size of what they were 25 years ago, what the FT calls “too big to sail.’ The argument behind making such massive boats was efficiency, since you can carry more at a lower cost. The downside of such mega-ships should have been obvious. Ships like this, which are in effect floating islands, are really hard to steer in tight spaces like ports and canals, and if they get stuck, they are difficult to unstick. In other words, the super smart wizard financiers who run global trade made ships that don’t fit in the canals they need to fit into.

The rise of mega-ships is paralleled by the consolidation of the shipping industry itself. In 2000, the ten biggest shipping companies had a 12% market share, by 2019 that share had increased to 82%. This understates the consolidation, because there are alliances among these shippers. The stuck ship is being run by the Taiwanese shipping conglomerate Evergreen, which bought Italian shipping firm Italia Marittima in 1998 and London-based Hatsu in 2002, and is itself part of the OCEAN alliance, which has more than a third of global shipping.

Making ships massive, and combining such massive ships into massive shipping monopolies, is a bad way to run global commerce. We’ve already seen significant problems from big shipping lines helping to transmit financial shocks into trade shocks, such as when Korean shipper Hanjin went under and stranded $14 billion of cargo on the ocean while in bankruptcy. It’s also much harder for small producers and retailers to get shipping space, because large shippers want to deal with large clients. And fewer ports can handle these mega-ships, so such ships induce geographical inequality. Increasingly, we’re not moving ships between cities, we’re moving cities to where the small number of giant shipping lines find it efficient to ship.

Dumb big ships owned by monopolies are the result of dumb big ideas, the physical manifestation of what Thomas Friedman was pushing in the 1990s and 2000s with books such as The Lexus and the Olive Tree and The World is Flat, the idea that “taking fat out of the system at every joint” was leading towards a more prosperous, peaceful and competitive world. Friedman’s was a finance-friendly perspective, a belief that making us all interdependent with a very thin margin of error would force global cooperation.

………

What is new isn’t the vulnerability of the Suez Canal as a chokepoint, it’s that we’ve intentionally created lots of other artificial chokepoints. And since our production systems have little fat, these systems are tightly coupled, meaning a shortage in one area cascades throughout the global economy, costing us time, money, and lives.

It’s a dumb way to organize a global supply chain system, just as it was dumb to build ships that are too big to fit into canals. And that’s why the "big boat stuck in canal" is such a great illustration of the problem, it shows our policymakers and corporate leaders couldn’t even think through what would happen if Really Big Thing Got Stuck In Important Canal.

………

The answer to addressing the problem of thinned out supply chains is to recognize that hyper-efficient globalization inherently carries the downside of unpredictable shortages, geopolitical tension, and supply disruptions. And then redesign our global trading order to make it less efficient and more resilient. There are three basic changes we’ll need.

Matt Stoller calls for a rigorous enforcement of anti-monopoly measures, a reimpositition of border friction like tariffs, and a restructuring of business so that they are less indebted and less vulnerable.

Unfortunately, this will not happen, because this system was created to benefit financial institutions and to drive wages down through labor arbitrage, so his reforms are actually a repudiation of the entire system.

I support his ideas, but I don't think that they are politically realistic at this time.

 

Linkage

A specific example of how Amazon uses its monopoly position as a marketplace to crush competitors:

28 March 2021

Banking and Booze

Louis Dejoy is trying to destroy the US Post Office, as are a majority of the board members.

They are doing so because they want the union destroyed, and because in privatization is an opportunity for looting.

The first step to fixing the USPS is to repeal the absurd requirements that it has to fund employee benefits 75 years into the future, a couple of good follow-up steps are to re-establish postal banking, and allowing the Post Office to deliver alcohol

There are way too many unbanked in the US, and the delivery of things like stimulus checks would be facilitated by a Post Office that has an account for every citizen, and delivering booze is lucrative:

When U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy laid out plans Tuesday for the future of the post office, he pointed to higher postage rates and slower first class mail as a means of stemming postal service losses he says could reach $160 billion.

But missing from his new 10-year plan were two ideas economists, members of Congress and consumer advocates say could generate billions of dollars for the beleaguered service and bring the post office into the 21st century: a return to postal banking and the post office’s entry into the lucrative alcohol delivery business.

“We don’t expect the post office of the 21st century will be the same as the post office of the 20th century,” said Rakim Brooks, senior campaign strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union. “People are using the mail less, and we think that the institution has to provide new services.”

Postal banking, he said, is among the new services the post office of the 21st century could — and should — provide. It would include basic banking services, including check cashing, providing low- or no-fee checking accounts, installing low-fee ATM machines, and providing wire transfer and bill payment services.

………

Long said it makes sense for post offices to double as banks, especially given the growing number of “bank deserts” in the U.S., communities in which there are no commercial banks.

………

Congress is taking notice of postal banking. Last year, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced the Postal Banking Act, aimed at providing consumers with bank accounts and mobile banking services.

In a statement, Gillibrand noted, “Postal banking is an elegant solution that would provide the USPS upwards of $9 billion a year in revenue and would address the high cost of being poor in America by eliminating payday loans, check cashing, and other predatory financial products.

………

Just as [Porter, not Mitch] McConnell believes postal banking could provide additional revenue for the Postal Service, she notes that shipping alcohol could also generate money for it.

FedEx and UPS are currently allowed to ship wine, beer and spirits, but because of Prohibition-era legislation, the Postal Service is not.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Postal Service could make an additional $50 million a year if it were to be able to ship alcohol.

………

In 2019, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced the bipartisan USPS Shipping Equity Act, a bill which would enable the Postal Service to ship alcohol.

There is not a lot of support for this, because it is likely to be successful, which would run afoul of the anti-government crowd, as well the banks and private parcel carriers, who would then have less money for campaign donations.

We Live in Bizarro World


Did not Expect This

I never thought that I would agree with Elmer Gantry wannabee Franklin Graham, but his support for vaccines is unequivocally correct.

Needless to say, his wacko, my parents are first cousins, X-Files wannabe, black helicopter, tinfoil hat wearing, stupid, dim-witted, thinks pro wrestling is real* fellow travelers, were not so sanguine about his statement. (By that I mean that they went nuts)

So, Franklin Graham was right about a matter of both public health and the overall public good.

I cannot believe that I just said that.


*Sorry, I think that I just channeled the comedian Denis Leary.

Nope, Nothing Dodgy Here

Have you heard about SPACs? (AKA, "Blank check companies."

The short version is that they are shell companies created to raise capital to take other companies public.

The SPAC issues shares, raises money, and then buys a company, taking the target public.

If this sounds dodgy, as in, "Why don't those companies go public on their own?" you are right.

The answer is, as far as I can tell, evading regulations and increasing the opacity of the investment, since there is no SEC due diligence and the like.

Their rates of returns to investors suck, as they are typically a number less than 0, a loss, though the managers make bank, and I suppose money launderers are OK with taking the hit.

As such, it is not surprising that the SEC has opened an investigation into the recent explosion of these arcane financial instruments:

The U.S. securities regulator has opened an inquiry into Wall Street’s blank check acquisition frenzy and is seeking information on how underwriters are managing the risks involved, said four people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in recent days sent letters to Wall Street banks seeking information on their special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, dealings, the four people said.

………

The SEC, which declined to comment for this story, has previously said it was monitoring the SPAC boom, but the letters are the strongest sign yet that it is stepping up scrutiny of such deals and the Wall Street banks that underwrite them.

………

Wall Street’s biggest gold rush of recent years, SPACs have surged globally to a record $170 billion this year, outstripping last year’s total of $157 billion, Refinitiv data showed.

………

Investors have sued eight companies that combined with SPACs in the first quarter of 2021, according to data compiled by Stanford University. Some of the lawsuits allege the SPACs and their sponsors, who reap huge pay-days once a SPAC combines with its target, hid weaknesses ahead of the transactions.

Hiding weakness ahead of the transactions is the PURPOSE of SPACS.

BTW, if you are wondering just how dodgy this whole mess is, look no further than WeWork, whose IPO infamously collapsed on insider looting and misleading accounting.  They now intend to go public via merging with a SPAC

Even though WeWork has long lost billions of dollars, it always found ways to attract huge investments from deep-pocketed investors. Now, less than two years after it was rescued from a collapse, the co-working company has found yet another backer willing to overlook its losses.

The company announced on Friday that it had agreed to merge with a blank-check firm in a deal that would give it a listing on the stock market it was denied when it was forced to shelve an initial public offering as investors questioned its financial strength and dubious governance practices.

Instead of a traditional I.P.O., WeWork is merging with BowX Acquisition, a company listed on the stock exchange for the sole purpose of buying a business, in a type of deal that has become hugely popular in recent months. Investors, bankers, and even celebrities and athletes have rushed to float such special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, because they offer their creators a chance to mint huge profits relatively quickly. And merging with these vehicles is attractive to companies like WeWork because they provide an express lane onto the stock market without the obstacles that scuttled WeWork’s public offering in September 2019.

"Obstacles," what a quaint way to describe flagrant fraud and misrepresentation.

This is yet another way for Wall Street to steal from you,

27 March 2021

Jobless Claims Finally Fall Below Pre-Pandemic Record

There were 684,000 initial claims, less than the pre-pandemic peak of 695,000.

Yes, this is unmitigated good news:

Jobless claims fell to their lowest level of the pandemic last week as stronger hiring and consumer spending drive a U.S. economic revival.

Worker filings for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, fell to 684,000 last week from 781,000 a week earlier. Claims are now at the lowest point since mid-March of last year, before lockdowns triggered millions of layoffs. They are also below the pre-pandemic high of 695,000, a threshold not crossed for 52 weeks.

“The recovery is really hitting full steam again, and all of the conditions will be in place for a real, explosive liftoff in the summer when hopefully we’ve reached a higher vaccination threshold,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at jobs site ZipRecruiter.

………

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal this month raised their average forecast for 2021 economic growth to 5.95%, measured from the fourth quarter of last year to the same period this year, from a 4.87% projection in February’s survey. The higher figure would mark the fastest such pace in nearly four decades, following a steep downturn last year.

If these predictions are accurate, this is a blistering pace of economic growth.

What, Elon Broke the Law? Pshaw!

The NLRB has ruled that Tesla has openly and repeatedly broken labor law in its anti-union drives.

Seeing as how the car company has been killing and injuring its workers while offering them free frozen yogurt, they pretty much have to break the law to keep the unions out:

Tesla has been ordered to correct its unlawful labor practices, and its supremo Elon Musk must delete a related tweet from three years ago.

In a ruling issued on Thursday, the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) concluded that Tesla violated federal labor law in its efforts to discourage workers from unionizing. It directed the company to cease various anti-union actions and policies like claiming workers would lose benefits if they vote for union representation.

The NLRB found that Tesla violated labor law by coercively interrogating employees, threatening them with the loss of stock options if they supported unionization, and enacting unlawful policies like a confidentiality agreement that banned speaking to the press.

The ruling directs the vehicle maker to offer to rehire plaintiff and former employee Richard Ortiz and pay him lost wages, and to strike unlawful disciplinary information from the record of both Ortiz and another employee, Jose Moran.

It further requires Tesla to rescind portions of its 2016 confidentiality agreement that disallow lawful union-related activity under Sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act, which the NLRB acknowledged "protects employees when they speak with the media about working conditions, labor disputes, or other terms and conditions of employment."

The decision also directs self-styled "Technoking" Musk to delete a May 20, 2018, tweet because it implies workers must give up their stock options if they unionize.

I still think that the only to get the lawbreaking to stop is to frog-march Elon Musk out of his offices in handcuffs.

 

Tweet of the Day


Epic

26 March 2021

Headline of the Day

US Intelligence Warns Withdrawal Could Lead To Afghanistan Being Controlled By Afghans
Caitlin Johnstone

To quote Charles Dickens, "It was as true... as turnips is. It was as true... as taxes is. And nothing's truer than them."

Remarkably Toxic Individuals

It turns out that only 12 people are responsible for the overwhelming majority of anti-vaxx content online.

It really is amazing what a few horrible people can do:

They've been dubbed the "Disinformation Dozen": 12 individuals or organizations are tied to up to 65 percent of anti-vaccine content circulating on major social media networking sites, according to an analysis of popular anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter.

………

The report accuses Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — who was banned from Instagram last month — Joseph Mercola, Ty and Charlene Bollinger — whose Twitter accounts were briefly suspended at the beginning of the pandemic — Sherri Tenpenny, Rizza Islam, Rashid Buttar, Erin Elizabeth, Sayer Ji, Kelly Brogan, Christiane Northrup, Ben Tapper and Kevin Jenkins of spreading disinformation and claims that their social media accounts "have repeatedly violated Facebook and Twitter’s terms of service agreements." And the CCDH has receipts — the report is full of screenshots of “example violations” that range from misleading to antisemitic.

It's not a surprise.  The past few years have shown us the potential effects of a few toxic individuals in the right (wrong?) places.

It's Bank Failure Friday!!!

Still no commercial bank failures this year, but we now have the 3rd credit union failure of the year, Edinburg Teachers Credit Union of Edinburg, TX, which was placed under conservatorship by the NCUA. Texas.

I still have no clue as to why there are so many more credit unions failing than banks, it's not overall numbers, there are about 5100 banks as versus 5700 credit unions, so that is not the source of the difference.

I would figure that credit unions, being less likely to loan to speculative endeavors, would fare better, but, by this metric at least, they are not.

Here is the Full NCUA list of closures, and here is the direct link for this year.

25 March 2021

It Just Gets Better and Better

People don't fear Andrew Cuomo any more, and so more and more people are dropping a dime on his corrupt behavior. Case in point, people are now telling reporters that Cuomo arranged for family members and close associates to get special access to Covid-19 testing.

We are going to see more and more of this: 

As the coronavirus pandemic swept through New York early last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration arranged for his family members and other well-connected figures to have special access to state-administered coronavirus tests, dispatching a top state doctor and other state health officials to their homes, according to three people with direct knowledge of the effort.

As part of the program, a state lab immediately processed the results of those who were tested, the people said, even as average New Yorkers were struggling to get tested in the early days of the pandemic because of a scarcity of resources. Initially, the lab was capable of running only several hundred tests a day for a state with 19 million residents.

The use of state resources to benefit people close to the governor raises serious ethical questions, experts said. New York law prohibits state officials from using their positions to secure privileges for themselves or others.

Drip, drip, drip. 

Cuomo's career is toast, and only bad thing about this is that it did not happen a decade ago.

Headline of the Day

Amazon Denies Workers Pee in Bottles. Here Are the Pee Bottles
Vice

What a surprise, the PR department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Amazon lies through its teeth.

They claim that their workers are well treated, and are free to take pee breaks, which is belied by the pictures of pee bottles in Amazon trucks and warehouses.

A memo specifically telling workers to remove their urine bottles at the end of a shift

What's more, Amazon actually has posted notices telling workers to clean up their urine bottles at the end of a shift. (See attached Tweet)

They demand a schedule that allows no time to pee, and it is impossible to make schedule unless you pee in a bottle, because it's (at least) 15 minutes to find and use a bathroom and return to deliveries.

In a just world, Jeff Bezos would be sentenced to a life of working for ……… Jeff Bezos.

One of the responses to that tweet is telling:

And yes, I know, that Crassus did not actually die in this manner, though he was almost as contemptible as Bezos:

The first ever Roman fire brigade was created by Crassus. Fires were almost a daily occurrence in Rome, and Crassus took advantage of the fact that Rome had no fire department, by creating his own brigade—500 men strong—which rushed to burning buildings at the first cry of alarm. Upon arriving at the scene, however, the firefighters did nothing while Crassus offered to buy the burning building from the distressed property owner, at a miserable price. If the owner agreed to sell the property, his men would put out the fire; if the owner refused, then they would simply let the structure burn to the ground. After buying many properties this way, he rebuilt them, and often leased the properties to their original owners or new tenants.

This is an attitude toward public service that I am sure Jeff Bezos would admire.


Immigrant Tries Too Hard to Be a Real American

There has been another senseless mass shooting in Colorado, this one in Boulder.

10 dead, including a cop, though the shooter was arrested.

For once, it was not a classically white guy, it was allegedly a Syrian refugee, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa.

It's a rather grisly return to normalcy, 2 mass shootings in less than 2 weeks.

God Bless America.

Also, before I forget, "Thoughts and prayers."

24 March 2021

It's Called "Doing Your Job"

Mitch McConnell is now threatening to make Senators stay in town if there are any meaningful changes to the filibuster.

We pay Senators $174,000.00 a year in salary, and they are in for 3 days a week.

If they have to stay near for a quorum call or the like, they still are not the most overworked blokes out there.

Also, one of the proposals requires that the people supporting a filibuster, i.e. Mitch's evil minions™, would have to stay in town, not the Democrats.

Muck Fitch:

A Senate operating in the "nuclear winter" Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promises if the filibuster is eliminated is one in which lawmakers face incessant roll calls and other inconveniences turning their comfortable lives into a living hell.

Why it matters: In employing apocalyptic language to warn about a "scorched-earth" response, the Kentucky Republican is trying to scare Democrats away from the tool they're considering to break through the GOP's own political obstinance.

Oh, dear, making it so that Senators need to remain nearby.

What a f%$#ing horror.

23 March 2021

Finally, Someone Suggest Breaking Out the Handcuffs

Someone states the obvious, that if you want to rein in tech giants, start treating them like the criminals that they are

Between criminal violations of anti-trust laws, violations of wiretapping laws, securities law violations, and conspiracies to violate laws and regulations (Uber, AirBnB, etc.) these guys should be subject to arrest, trial, and imprisonment"

On March 25, the CEOs of Google, Facebook, and Twitter will once again testify before a committee of the House of Representatives, this time about the spread of disinformation on their platforms.

………

Fortunately, there are two options to buy time, neither of which requires congressional action. It merely requires the government to apply regulatory tools that do not get used frequently, namely subjecting business executives to felony prosecution.

The first option is an antitrust case against Google led by the attorney general of Texas that alleges a price fixing conspiracy in digital advertising. The complaint names Facebook as a co-conspirator. Price fixing falls under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, significant because it does not require proof of harm. The attempt itself is a crime. And if, as has been alleged, there is evidence of an agreement for mutual legal defense, there may be a second count. When appropriate, executives can be subject to felony prosecution, punishable by up to three years in prison. Google denies any wrongdoing.

………

The second option would be a securities fraud investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. For a decade or more, journalists have reported evidence of overstated user counts and advertising views by internet platforms. They assert that a material percentage of advertising clicks are manufactured by fraudsters exploiting the lack of transparency in digital advertising. The opacity of all digital ad platforms relative to traditional media and Google’s dominance of digital ad infrastructure have prevented a thorough accounting.

………

Securities law requires public companies to report accurate numbers. For internet platforms, user count and ad views are key to investor sentiment, the latter an essential revenue driver. If ad views are overstated, then revenues must also be overstated. If the overstatement occurred over many years, with the knowledge of the executives, then the SEC has the option to pursue a felony case, creating legal jeopardy for senior executives who may face prison time. Such cases are not common, but the circumstances surrounding internet platforms certainly warrant a thorough investigation.

While it has not been a common practice to use felony cases to reform an industry, these are extraordinary times. The goal is not to put executives in jail, but rather to create incentives for good faith negotiation with corporations whose behavior poses a threat to society and the authority of the government.

It used to be common practice to use felony cases to reform an industry, just look at the prosecutions, and long jail sentences in the 1930s, see the fate of Richard Whitney, former head of President of the NYSE.

He was not the only one.

………

The Biden administration wants to restore faith in government. Its aggressive actions to distribute Covid vaccines and pass the American Recovery Act are important first steps, but not enough. Directing executive branch agencies to enforce the antitrust and securities laws against flagrant violators would be welcome next steps. Doing so against Google and Facebook would begin the process of reforming an industry that continues to act recklessly.

I know I say this a lot, but I want to see them frog-marched out of their offices in handcuffs.

22 March 2021

Best take-down of Musk ever:


Marianne Williamson:1 — Elon Musk: Nothing.

Those Crazy Canucks

Have you ever wondered, "Just how am I going to expense this kick-ass burgher I'm eating in Toronto?" 

Well, wonder no more.


Now THIS is putting it to the man.

It is also the epitome of evil genius.

A Return to Normalcy

I am referring, of course to the the mass shooting in Boulder Colorado today

Of course it was in Colorado, you had Columbine, Aurora, Aravada, Aurora again, and now Boulder.

It appears that mass shooters are to Colorado what Florida Man is to Florida.

Please, let's set about to prying their guns from their cold dead hands.

Almost forgot, thoughts and prayers:

A gunman killed 10 people at a King Soopers in Boulder on Monday afternoon, the latest in a grim litany of mass shootings in Colorado — this one including among its victims a police officer who was first to respond to reports of shots fired at the grocery store.

The suspect was taken into custody, but there were few answers in the following hours. Officials said it would take days to investigate the large crime scene and to notify families that their loved ones had been killed.

………

A gunman killed 10 people at a King Soopers in Boulder on Monday afternoon, the latest in a grim litany of mass shootings in Colorado — this one including among its victims a police officer who was first to respond to reports of shots fired at the grocery store.

The suspect was taken into custody, but there were few answers in the following hours. Officials said it would take days to investigate the large crime scene and to notify families that their loved ones had been killed.

It's Colorado, so my guess is that their response will be to ……… loosen gun laws even further.

Seriously, just f%$# the NRA.

It's OK if You Are a Republican (IOKIYAR)

Remember disgraced former Missiouri Governor Eric Greitens>?

He resigned after credible allegations emerged of rape, blackmail, and other sexual misconduct with hid hair stylist.

In fact, impeachment proceedings had begun by the time he resigned.

Well now, he is looking to run for the US Senate to replace retiring Senator Roy Blunt.

He seems to think that the aforementioned crimes just don't make a difference, talk about chutzpah:

Former Missouri Republican Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday announced a bid to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

Greitens’s announcement came nearly three years after he resigned as governor amid mounting scandals, including allegations that he photographed a woman nude without her consent in an effort to conceal an extramarital affair.

Despite the scandals, Greitens has floated a Senate bid for weeks, even before Blunt announced his retirement earlier this month. On Monday, he made his decision official.

“I have been so encouraged by the people of Missouri that I am happy to announce tonight that I am running for the United States Senate to continue serving the people of Missouri,” Greitens told Fox News’s Bret Baier.

 Also, he is a Jew, so in addition to being a narcissistic psychopathic megalomaniac, he is a, "Shanda fur die Goyim," an embarrassment to Jews around the world for his behavior.

It makes him a perfect Republican though.

Linkage

Leopard Seal tries to show NatGeo photographer how to eat a penguin.  It did not go to said seal's satisfaction.

21 March 2021

"Mishandled?" The Term is "Rioted."

At the New York Times, they are describing the response to Black Lives Matter protests by the police as, "Mishandled."

This is patently wrong, and IMHO deliberately misleading.

The brutality of police in confronting what were largely non-violent protesters were police riots.

Their behavior was deliberate and premeditated:

For many long weeks last summer, protesters in American cities faced off against their own police forces in what proved to be, for major law enforcement agencies across the country, a startling display of violence and disarray.

In Philadelphia, police sprayed tear gas on a crowd of mainly peaceful protesters trapped on an interstate who had nowhere to go and no way to breathe. In Chicago, officers were given arrest kits so old that the plastic handcuffs were decayed or broken. Los Angeles officers were issued highly technical foam-projectile launchers for crowd control, but many of them had only two hours of training; one of the projectiles bloodied the eye of a homeless man in a wheelchair. Nationally, at least eight people were blinded after being hit with police projectiles.

Now, months after the demonstrations that followed the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police in May, the full scope of the country’s policing response is becoming clearer. More than a dozen after-action evaluations have been completed, looking at how police departments responded to the demonstrations — some of them chaotic and violent, most peaceful — that broke out in hundreds of cities between late May and the end of August.

In city after city, the reports are a damning indictment of police forces that were poorly trained, heavily militarized and stunningly unprepared for the possibility that large numbers of people would surge into the streets, moved by the graphic images of Mr. Floyd’s death under a police officer’s knee.

The police were prepared.  Their goal was to create violence, and some property damage, in an attempt to discredit protestors, and to a significant degree, they succeeded.

This was malice, not ineptitude. 

 

Iawn, Pa Un Ohonoch Chi Sydd Wedi Bod Yn Ffycin Defaid? *

It appears that as a result of Covid-19, efforts to reduce the population of feral goats has been curtailed, and so feral Llandudno Goats have been running rampant over portions of Wales

Is it just me, or does anyone else have an image of some poor bureaucrat trying to convince goats to wear a condom?

The goats of the Great Orme headland in Wales were a worldwide sensation during the first Covid lockdown last year after they were pictured roaming brazenly around the deserted streets of nearby Llandudno.

This year there has been a population explosion of the kashmiri goats in their north Wales headland home after the Covid crisis forced countryside wardens to cancel a planned contraception campaign.

………

Sally Pidcock, warden of the Great Orme country park, said there were estimated to be about 30 billy goats – the males are the ones that tend to travel – at large Llandudno and roughly 150 less adventurous males, plus females and kids, back on the Great Orme.

Pidcock said a campaign to give contraceptive injections to nanny goats last summer had to be postponed because of Covid. “It means there are more kids being born on the Great Orme now than there would have been,” she said. As long as Covid allows, a contraceptive vaccination campaign will take place this summer.

We live in strange times.

*This is Welsh for, "Which one of you boys been f%$#ing the sheep?

バカに぀ける薬はγͺい*

In response to raucus partying and a refusal to engage in proper social distancing, Miami Beach has announced a curfew.

Who could have possibly known that a bunch of drunk college students on spring break would take of their masks and swap bodily fluids?

The answer to this question is, "Anyone with 2 brain cells to rub together." 

One day after the spring break oasis of South Beach descended into chaos, with the police struggling to control overwhelming crowds and making scores of arrests, officials in Miami Beach decided on Sunday to extend an emergency curfew for up to three weeks.

The officials there went so far as to approve closing the famed Ocean Drive to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. — the hours of the curfew — for four nights a week through April 12. Residents, hotel guests and employees of local businesses are exempt from the closure.

The strip, frequented by celebrities and tourists alike, was the scene of a much-criticized skirmish on Saturday night between at-times unruly spring breakers who ignored social distancing and masking guidelines, and police officers who used pepper balls to disperse a large crowd just hours after the curfew had been introduced.

The restrictions were a stunning concession to the city’s inability to control unwieldy crowds of revelers that the city and the state of Florida aggressively courted amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Florida, man.

*Pronounced in Japanese, "baka ni tsukeru kusuri wanai", which means, "There is no medicine for stupidity." Apologies for any inaccuracies in the text, I do not know Japanese.

Quote of the Day

What explains the clampdown mania among liberals? The most obvious answer is because they need an excuse. Consider the history: the right has enjoyed tremendous success over the last few decades, and it is true that conservatives’ capacity for hallucinatory fake-populist appeals has helped them to succeed. But that success has also happened because the Democrats, determined to make themselves the party of the affluent and the highly educated, have allowed the right to get away with it.
—Thomas Frank in The Guardian

He's right. 

The modern Democratic Party, particularly under Clinton and Obama, was hostile to organized labor, and favored finance and international labor arbitrage over the well-being of the average working American.

How Convenient

It turns out that Purdue Pharmaceuticals conducted an in-depth probe of the Sackler family, but they are refusing to release the results

If the results exonerated anyone, they would been in a press release:

Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, conducted what may be the most extensive investigation yet of the Sackler family, exploring whether they committed crimes or financial improprieties, but the company has kept most of its findings secret.

In a bankruptcy filing late Monday, the drugmaker acknowledged hiring attorneys, forensic accountants and other financial experts to probe members of the family who own the company and profited billions from opioid sales.

According to the filing, the team searched for evidence of wrongdoing by the family, reporting to a special committee of Purdue's board between April 2019 and earlier this month.

Yet in its filing, Purdue Pharma chose to reveal almost nothing of what investigators uncovered, a decision that infuriates opioid activists and some government officials.

"They're still trying to cover up the facts," said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who has sued the company and it owners, in a statement.

"Purdue's disclosure filing says it paid its lawyers for a 22,000-hour investigation of the Sacklers, but it doesn't disclose any of their findings," she added.

First, the Sacklers decided to become drug pushers, and when they got caught, the Sacklers decided to loot the company before declaring bankruptcy. 

Once again, I think that the best way to deal with this is to apply the Billy Ray Valentine principle, "You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people."

This is Kind of Horrifying

In a story about how a candidate for Erie County Sheriff (Buffalo, NY), completely screwed up a drug raid and the warrant he swore out to allow it, we have the following testimony from another member of his team:

[Detective Joseph M.] Cook had shot other dogs in drug raids. He did not dispute during the deposition that he had shot 26 dogs over roughly a three-year period.

So, he shot a dog about once every six weeks.

The owner of the job got a $110,000 settlement.  Nothing wrong here, I guess. 

Support your local police.

19 March 2021

Headline of the Day

McConnell Threatens to Hold a Scorched-Earth Senate Hostage Unless He Can Keep the Filibuster to Hold the Senate Hostage
The Washington Post


I am humbled, just like this

Damn.  Alexandra Petri uses just 20 words to say what took me 8 paragraphs, and at least twice as much quoted material.

I am impressed, and nonplussed by her mastery of the English language.

Speaking of Leverage


Indeed, WTF


Increased leverage goeth before a fall
It appears that the use of margin trading, one of the things that triggered the stock market crash of 1929, is spiking, which is a pretty good indicator to me that we are headed to another market panic:

In the current craze that encompasses everything from sneakers and NFTs to stocks, where valuations don’t matter because of widespread certainty that valuations will be even greater in a few days, and where folks are chasing lottery-type returns, supported by the Fed’s interest rate repression and $3 trillion in asset purchases, and by the government’s trillions of dollars of handouts and bailouts – well, in this perfect world, there is a fly in the ointment: Vast amounts of leverage, including stock market leverage.

Margin debt – the amount that individuals and institutions borrow against their stock holdings as tracked by FINRA at its member brokerage firms – is just one indication of stock market leverage. But FINRA reports it monthly. Other types of stock market leverage are not reported at all, or are disclosed only piecemeal in SEC filings by brokers and banks that lend to their clients against their portfolios, such as Securities-Based Loans (SBLs). No one knows how much total stock market leverage there is. But margin debt shows the trend.

In February, margin debt jumped by another $15 billion to $813 billion, according to FINRA. Over the past four months, margin debt has soared by $154 billion, a historic surge to historic highs. Compared to February last year, margin debt has skyrocketed by $269 billion, or by nearly 50%, for another WTF sign that the zoo has gone nuts:

………

And it’s risky leverage for the borrower. It seems like risk-free leverage when stocks go up, but when your stocks do the unheard-of and tank below a certain level, your broker will ask you to put more cash into your account or sell stocks into the tanking market, whereby you then join the legions of forced sellers.

In the past, a big surge in margin balances tended to precede history-making stock market declines:

………

Leverage is the great accelerator of stock prices, on the way up, and on the way down. Purchasing stocks with borrowed money creates buying pressure, and prices rise, and rising prices increase the margin balances a portfolio can support, and this encourages more stock-buying on margin.

On the other hand, selling stocks to deal with margin calls adds more selling pressure to an already declining market. The more prices fall, the more selling pressure there is from frazzled forced sellers trying to deal with margin requirements.

When market correct, this is going to be very ugly.

H/t Naked Capitalism.

Probably a Good Idea, Not Sure If It Is the Right Time

The Federal Reserve is looking to reverse its pandemic driven loosening of capital requirements for banks

I am generally in favor of higher capital requirements for banks, because when the requirements are lowered, fraud, incompetence, and collapse invariably follow.

On the other hand, I'm not sure if now is the best time for this:

The Federal Reserve has announced that it will let looser capital rules for banks introduced at the start of the pandemic expire at the end of March.

The US central bank’s decision could disappoint banks, which had been pushing for an extension of the capital relief.

Capital rules were eased last year in a temporary change to the supplementary leverage ratio (SLR), and have been the focus of an intense political battle in recent weeks.

While Democrats in Congress had argued that the relief from capital rules should be terminated at the end of this month, many Republicans sided with the banks to argue for an extension.

The Fed said on Friday that the change to the SLR would expire as scheduled on March 31. However, the central bank said it would explore a more permanent overhaul to the rules.

………

The SLR requires large banks to have capital equal to at least 3 per cent of their assets, or 5 per cent for the largest systemically important institutions. Under the April 2020 rule change, lenders were allowed to temporarily exclude holdings of US Treasuries and cash kept in reserve at the central bank from their assets when calculating the ratio.

………

Bank executives have warned that the reimposition of these capital requirements could hamper their ability to extend credit to companies and consumers, and in some cases force them to turn away deposits.

If you cannot justify a loan with a return to (already dangerously lax) existing capital requirements, you should not have made the loan in the first place.

If you are making those loans, then when (not if) you need a bailout, the taxpayers will be on the hook

This Reminds Me of Bush and Hurricane Katrina

By August of 2005, Karl Rove had managed to manipulate the public discourse in such a way as to make meaningful criticisms of George W. Bush almost unthinkable.

Then came Katrina, and much like New Orleans and its levees, the ensuing backlash washed away Rove's carefully constructed barriers intended to protect bush, and everything started coming out.

The same is going on with Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo right now, and here is an update:

  • We have another claim of sexual harassment, this one from a current aide, "He called her and her co-worker “mingle mamas.” He inquired about her lack of a wedding ring, she said, and the status of her divorce. She recalled him telling her she was beautiful — in Italian — and, as she sat alone with him in his office awaiting dictation, he gazed down her shirt and commented on a necklace hanging there."
  • Also, we have reports that the  FBI is investigating ties between campaign donations from nursing homes and his inserting immunity provisions in legislation, "FBI investigators probing the Cuomo administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic last spring are seeking information about a state budget provision that gave operators legal immunity, THE CITY has learned. ……… FBI officials started to make house calls this month, showing up at people’s residences and leaving business cards, according to the three sources."

FWIW, I don't think that "Rat Faced Andy" is going to resign except perhaps as part of a plea deal, because he wants to make sure that he has this chip in his pocket until it is certain that he won't be going to jail.

I so hope that he goes to jail.

Don't Give to the Audubon Society

As I have noted before, "You Don't Do Good by Doing Bad," and this goes double for charities that go full scorched earth to suppression union drives, as is the case, unfortunately, for The Audubon Society, which has chosen to go on a jihad against its employees unionization efforts:

As President Biden touts union jobs as central to America's clean energy future, a fight over unionizing has broken out at one of the country's leading conservation groups.

Employees at the National Audubon Society are organizing after allegations of widespread workplace problems, including two rounds of layoffs, a mishandled diversity training, and the resignations of two top equity and inclusion officials.

They say they are meeting sharp resistance from the group's management, which has hired one of the country's most well-known union-busting firms.

Audubon strongly disagrees with that characterization, saying that it does not oppose the effort and that the firm, Littler Mendelson PC, was hired to provide advice to managers to stay out of the organizers' way — not to break them up.
Littler Mendelson PC is notorious for busting unions, and half of their own web pages tout their "Union Avoidance" strategies.

But tensions between the organizers, who have rallied under an "Audubon for All" banner, and management nevertheless seem to have quickly reached a boil. They claim Audubon management is deploying some of Littler's tactics, and they filed a complaint this week with the National Labor Relations Board alleging Audubon's management is improperly meddling in their organizing effort.

………

In an emailed statement, Audubon said it is "devoted to providing a workplace in which all our employees feel respected, valued, and empowered."

………

Audubon insisted that Littler is not advising the organization on how to combat the unionizing effort. But Littler's website states that's one of its specialties, and a handbook from the firm obtained by E&E News lays out multiple strategies for fighting unionization efforts.

"Our deep experience in representing management serves as a strong counterpoint to the world's most powerful labor organizations," its website states. "We guide companies in developing and initiating strategies that lawfully avoid unions or effectively respond to unconventional corporate campaigns."

Union officials, including from CWA, said Audubon is setting itself apart at the wrong time.

Gee, ya think?

………

President and CEO David Yarnold's handling of the anonymous survey, including allegedly asking for the names of participants, led to the October resignation of one senior diversity specialist, Devon Trotter. Another official, Deeohn Ferris, left the previous March and said she was forced out.

Those developments coincided with two rounds of layoffs, in which 108 employees were let go. One round took place last June, and another, larger round was announced on Earth Day last April.

It appears that the management wants to run the company like a business, burn it down for the insurance money.

18 March 2021

Tweet of the Day


Now this is something that we need in the US as well.

I would be remiss in not noting that indoor cats live far longer lives, and indoor cats also don't go around killing birds and other small woodland creatures, so for f%$#'s sake, KEEP YOUR CAT INDOORS.

Strange Times Require Strange Tools

Pleased to present for your consideration, the Zoom Escaper, which provides technical subterfuge to allow one to get out of a remote meeting:

Had enough Zoom meetings? Can’t bear another soul-numbing day of sitting on video calls, the only distraction your rapidly aging face, pinned in one corner of the screen like a dying bug? Well, if so, then boy do we have the app for you. Meet Zoom Escaper: a free web widget that lets you add an array of fake audio effects to your next Zoom Call, gifting you with numerous reasons to end the meeting and escape, while you still can.

You can choose from barking dogs, construction noises, crying babies, or even subtler effects like choppy audio and unwanted echoes. Created by artist Sam Lavigne, Zoom Escaper is fantastically simple to use. All you need do is download a free bit of audio software called VB-Audio that routes your audio through the website, then change your audio input in Zoom from your microphone to VB-Audio, and play with the effects.

You can watch a video tutorial on how to set up Zoom Escaper and listen to a sample of the various sound effects here:


If you’re running Zoom Escaper, you can’t actually hear the sound effects yourself. But I was able to test the site’s functionality with the help of my colleague, Verge news editor Chaim Gartenberg. Here was his opinion of the various effects Zoom Escaper had to offer:

  • Urination: “That sounds very fake. Also, I’m not entirely sure what the plan is to sell this as a reason to leave a call?”
  • Construction: “This sounds like you literally stood in the middle of a construction site. I think the sounds need to be a bit more muffled to sell it, but it’s very good.”
  • Man Weeping: “Those are the sobs of a broken man. But who’s crying — is it your roommate, your partner?”
  • Bad Connection: “This one works really well. Your audio is coming through broken up and disrupted. Get off the call.”
  • Echo: “Extremely annoying and very convincing. This sounds like a busted Zoom connection. If someone I was speaking to had this, I’d tell them to get it fixed. It wouldn’t be feasible to have a meeting with that.”
  • Wind: “If you were trying to skive off work, I’m not sure how you’d convincingly sell gale force winds in your own office.”
  • Dog: “That sounds very real. It sounds like a dog barking outside, but maybe not the sort of thing you’d need to take care of?”
  • Upset Baby: “That baby sounds decently upset! This is definitely something you should go and check on! Go and take care of your baby!”

This is so very tempting.

Also, it's art, according to its creator, artist Sam Lavigne.

And Unemployment Goes Up

Initial jobless claims rose by 45,000 to 770,000 last week.

Not good news:

Worker filings for jobless benefits are hovering near the pandemic’s lowest levels, adding to evidence of recent economic improvement.

Jobless claims rose last week to 770,000—still elevated above the pre-pandemic peak of 695,000—but have declined since January. The four-week moving average, which smooths out weekly volatility, fell last week to about 746,000, near November’s pandemic low.

An increase in Texas accounted for about half of last week’s overall rise in jobless claims, which could reflect delayed effects from last month’s winter storm, some economists said.

More broadly, declining jobless claims are one sign of economic improvement. U.S. employers added 379,000 jobs in February, and the unemployment rate ticked down to 6.2%. The U.S. manufacturing industry has exhibited steady signs of expansion. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s tracker of credit- and debit-card transactions showed consumer spending climbed in early March.

Economists expect widespread distribution of vaccines and a fresh round of government stimulus to fuel growth in the first half of this year.

They are predicting that economic growth this year will be about 6.5% in the US, largely because of government stimulus.

Me, I'll take the under, but the fact that people are lauding fiscal stimulus, as opposed to waiting for monetary stimulus to eventually do its thing, is a nice change in the conventional wisdom.


 

17 March 2021

Looks Like Another Take on the B-70 Valkyrie


Not particularly informative, but the patent application has a bit more information



The B-70 with the wingtips lowered to contain the sonic boom



106 is the Engine, 108 is the nacelle, and 114 is the underside of the wing


Some more detail.

I just came across this brief bit about New Century Transportation & Aeronautics Research's (NCTAR) concept for a low sonic boom SST, and it seems rather similar to the compression lift concepts developed for the B-70 supersonic bomber in the late 1950s.

It had wingtips that folded down (see picture, those wing tips are each as big as a Mirage III wing) that contained the shock waves generated off of the inlet and fuselage which increased lift.

This contained the pressure under the aircraft and increased lift and so improved its lift to drag ratio. (It also moved the center of lift forward, reducing trim drag at supersonic speeds, but that's for another post)

It appears taht NCTAR is looking to do the same thing, only with an additional goal of using shock waves and bypass air from the engine to reflect the sonic boom (shock wave) back up to the wing, and hence attenuate the, "Boom."

Basically shock-waves off the engines, which are located in front of the wing keep the boom, and its pressure  contained under the wing, increasing efficiency and reducing boom.

A part of this is that the bypass air is not, as is normally the case, ejected radially, but rather from the bottom of the nacelle, further reinforcing the "wall" that contains the shockwave.

It's a nifty concept, though I wander what the trade-offs might be:

With the resurgent interest in supersonic air travel, aircraft designers are looking at different ways to work around the problem of sonic booms. Flying supersonic only over water, or at a low enough Mach number to prevent shockwaves reaching the ground or shaping the airframe to minimize boom strength are all approaches being taken with aircraft now in development.

U.S. startup New Century Transportation & Aeronautics Research (NCTAR) has patented (U.S. patent 10,618,638) a different approach: use the engines and their exhaust plumes to reflect and attenuate the shockwaves from the wing and so reduce the sonic boom reaching the ground.

In NCTAR’s concept, the engines are located ahead of a wing that is curved so that, in cruise, the downward-propagating compression waves from the leading edges are focused onto the exhaust plumes. The shockwaves reflect off the shear layer between the freestream airflow and supersonic exhaust plume and back up onto the underside of the wing. This increases pressure under the arched wing and generates additional compression lift to improve supersonic lift-to-drag ratio.
Like I said, kind of nifty, in a B-70 bomber kind of way.

That being said, I really don't see this for commercial airliners, because even with improvements, the aircraft will be less fuel efficient than their subsonic counterparts, but given the current trajectory of our society, I could see something akin to a supersonic version of a Gulfstream private jet come from this.