Archive for Begging Bowl

See how broke we are

This hit Twitter today with a bang, or at least with more than a whimper:

As is my wont, I checked its papers. It’s quite true, but it’s nine years old. Let’s continue, shall we?

Lane County [Oregon] will spend up to $250,000 this year publicizing its tight financial picture, in hopes that voters in November will approve higher taxes for public-safety services.

It’s an amount for county spending on publicity that has been unparalleled in at least the past 10 years. And it illustrates the seriousness of the effort to persuade voters to approve a county income tax for public safety.

Still, the irony of spending big to publicize the county’s frugal ways was troubling for Commissioner Bill Dwyer, board chairman, who nonetheless joined in the unanimous approval of the amount Wednesday.

“We got our hand out (for more money) on one hand, and we’re spending money with the other,” Dwyer said. “That’s a dilemma that we face.”

The commissioners hope that an intense, 10-month public-information campaign that hits media, the general public, the county’s own workers and specific groups will convince people that they’re getting a lot of county services for their money. That could encourage support for the county-wide income tax, which would generate $70 million annually to fund current and additional public safety services.

But officials must be careful not to spend money advocating for the income tax, as that would violate a state law that governs how public money can be spent on campaigns, county attorney Terry Wilson said.

Careful with that advertising, Eugene.

Oh, and did their campaign succeed? It did not. The county imposed the tax anyway.

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Confiscation nation

You can probably find someone Stateside who thinks this is a swell idea:

Venezuela’s embattled government has taken the drastic step of forcing food producers to sell their produce to the state, in a bid to counter the ever-worsening shortages.

Farmers and manufacturers who produce milk, pasta, oil, rice, sugar and flour have been told to supply between 30 per cent and 100 per cent of their products to the state stores. Shortages, rationing and queues outside supermarkets have become a way of life for Venezuelans, as their isolated country battles against rigid currency controls and a shortage of US dollars — making it difficult for Venezuelans to find imported goods.

The state stores, numbering 7245, are presumably hoping to get some coin of the realm back from people who prefer the 113,000 or so grocers in the private sector, represented by the Venezuelan Food Industry Chamber. You can guess what Pablo Baraybar, head of the Chamber, thinks of this whole scheme:

“Taking products from the supermarkets and shops to hand them over to the state network doesn’t help in any way,” he said. “And problems like speculating will only get worse, because the foods will be concentrated precisely in the areas where the resellers go.

“Consumers will be forced to spend more time in queues, given that the goods will be available in fewer stores.”

And you might think that Venezuelans have suffered enough already:

In March, Venezuelans were so worried about food shortages and diminishing stocks of basic goods, fingerprint scanners were installed in supermarkets in an attempt to crack down on hoarding.

Venezuela’s official rate of inflation hit 64 per cent last year — the highest in the world. The government hides the scale of shortages, but angry consumers regularly post photos of empty shelves on social media.

As with all socialist (and more than a few non-socialist) governments, “official” numbers are arguable at best.

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Don’t want to go on the cart

Sears would like you to know that they’re not dead yet:

For what it’s worth, Felicia Day says that picture of her is about eight years old.

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Fark blurb of the week

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Drifting together

Charleston, West Virginia has been a two-newspaper town, kinda sorta. But it’s becoming less so:

The Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail have been your local source for news for more than a century.

The two newspapers operated independently for readers and advertisers until Jan. 1, 1958, when the owners merged the business, advertising, circulation and production departments into a single corporation.

The standard Joint Operating Agreement, common in many cities in an effort to keep two papers going. But this is where things change:

Beginning [Sunday], the two newspapers are combining newsroom functions with the exception of editorial page content.

That’s right, two editorial pages, presumably facing one another, with the Gazette on the left and the Daily Mail on the right, reflecting their positions on the political spectrum.

So: still a two-newspaper town? Not with one edition a day, I think. Then again, they’ve published a jointly-produced single edition on weekends for several years, and since both papers were morning papers, the last six people on earth who preferred afternoon editions will not be further affected. Besides, it’s a single ownership, albeit with one strange twist along the way:

On January 20, 2010, the Daily Gazette Company and the Justice Department settled relative to violations in the purchase of the Daily Mail and the Daily Gazette Company’s management of it. Under the terms of the settlement, the previous owner, the Media News Group, will hold a perpetual option to re-purchase 20% of the paper, will have two of five seats on the management board, and will determine the size of the budget for its news staff and choose its editorial content. Daily Gazette will be required to seek government permission to cease publication of the Daily Mail and the intellectual property of the paper will pass to the Media News Group should it ever be shut down.

So complete consolidation may still be a long way off.

(Via Andrew Brown.)

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Grexit sign

I happened to find these two pictures of model Anastasia Perraki, who turns 30 on Monday, and somehow they seem to bracket the ongoing financial crisis in her native Greece. The first is from a local Vogue pictorial, shot in and around a classic Cadillac, circa 2012. Note the invocation in the corner:

Anastasia Perraki in the back seat

More somberly, an official photo of Perraki from her modeling agency:

Anastasia Perraki is represented by Ace Models, Athens

You can almost read it: “Yeah, fine, austerity. Whatever.”

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Haircut 101

“Haircut,” in the financial-crisis sense, sounds cheery, especially when you consider the reality of the matter:

Haircut. It sounds so droll; you can imagine a sharp banker in a fine suit cocking an eyebrow and sighing about someone having to take a haircut, when the truth of the matter is someone dragged to a stump and made to put his head in the blood of the last guy they brought up on stage. Hold still, it’ll be easier for you. The correct metaphor would probably be “have several layers of skin removed by rubbing a hot brick all over the body,” but it would seem as if there’s something unfortunate going on.

Why, everyone has a haircut, eventually.

And with it, probate. Probably.

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Drachma queen

To some extent, I sympathize with the Greeks during this, their Hour of Need; but it’s not going to go away without a whole lot of hardship. Believe me, I know.

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Maybe they’ll give him a pen

Fiat Chrysler chair Sergio Marchionne is keen to find a merger partner, even if it’s General Motors:

The search, which is coming up blank thus far, is the latest in the CEO’s attempt to find a happy ending for his increasingly desperate romantic tragicomedy film, fearing excess production and duplicate costs in engineering, R&D et al threaten future profitability of the overall industry.

For now, though, FCA’s low profit margins do not make for a good partner with stronger players, while Marchionne’s dealings with GM leave much to be desired. In 2005, he convinced the Detroit automaker to pay $2 billion to not buy Fiat — in hospice care by then — a move which also dissolved a five-year-old partnership to produce engines and transmissions together.

If it’s worth $2 billion not to buy Fiat, what’s it worth not to buy Fiat and Chrysler as a unit?

More recently, Marchionne attempted to woo GM back with an email to CEO Mary Barra suggesting as much. The automaker is transitioning its lineup to global architectures and can build said lineup on a broader scale than FCA. GM is also undergoing an internal consolidation to further boost profits, a plan Barra and others in management won’t allow to be derailed by outside distractions like Marchionne holding up a boombox in front of the RenCen playing Peter Gabriel, hoping GM will say anything but no.

Sooner or later the accountants are going to come for Sergio and ask why he stayed so long with an operation that is clearly not a growth enterprise.

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Bimmer bummer

One practically guaranteed source of Schadenfreude is the nimrod who decides to pony up for an aged Teutonic sled without giving the slightest consideration to what it’s going to cost him to maintain it.

Which, in this particular case, is several times the purchase price:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: I have a 2001 BMW 740I timing chain broke where can i get her fixed cheap real cheap?

Oh, it gets better:

At the end of April I paid $1500 for her 3 days later her timing chain snapped what am I to do

Fifteen hundred for a 7-series? The guy dumping it knew the engine was about to grenade, and, well, as George Hull once noted, buyers for old BMWs are born at the rate of sixty per hour.

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May the Schwarz be with us again

Because we’re about to lose it, albeit temporarily:

The iconic FAO Schwarz toy store, a bastion of childhood wonder for New Yorkers of all ages, is closing.

The toy store’s owner, Toys R Us, said FAO Schwarz’ Fifth Avenue locale will close on July 15 because of the increasing expense of operating the 45,000-square-foot flagship store, the company said in a statement. The company is exiting its lease two years early.

Toys R Us swears they b back:

“The company is committed to the FAO Schwarz brand and growing its legacy. In fact, it is actively searching for another location in midtown Manhattan where FAO Schwarz can welcome shoppers from around the world,” said Toys R Us, which acquired FAO Schwarz in 2009.

Let’s hope they come back with ludicrous speed.

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The flow of imaginary cash

Tribune Publishing isn’t exactly rolling in dough these days:

Tribune Publishing’s earnings fell about 75% in the first quarter as advertising revenues at the owner of the Los Angeles Times continued to decline, the company said Wednesday.

The company posted net income of $3 million, or 10 cents per share, down from $12 million during the same quarter last year.

Revenues dropped nearly 5% to $396 million. Gains in circulation revenue did not offset continue declines in advertising revenue, which was down nearly 6% to $220 million.

“The first quarter of 2015 represents our second full quarter as a publicly traded company,” Tribune Publishing’s CEO Jack Griffin said in a statement. “Our results were in line with expectations and reflect the early initiatives of our five-point transformation.”

Griffin may be right: it might be too early to tell how Tribune Publishing is doing. (It was spun off from Tribune Media last summer.) Market cap, for now, is a modest $400 million or so.

However, TribPub is somehow coming up with $85 million to buy out the major San Diego daily:

The parent company of the Los Angeles Times has agreed to buy the U-T San Diego, uniting the newspapers of California’s two largest cities under common ownership.

Tribune Publishing, owner of The Times, the Chicago Tribune and other daily newspapers, announced Thursday that it will pay $85 million in a cash-and-stock deal for the U-T, eight community weeklies and related websites.

The acquisition will extend the company’s reach into the country’s eighth-largest city and give it a dominant position over a wide swath of Southern California.

Tribune will place both the Times and the U-T under the California News Group umbrella, suggesting they may be open to buying other Golden State news properties. The deal is for $73 million in cash, the rest in TribPub stock.

The AP story on this transaction is a little blunter than the story in the Times, at least in one regard:

Douglas Manchester, who bought the San Diego newspaper in 2011 for about $110 million, will remain owner of the U-T’s headquarters in the city’s Mission Valley area. He is seeking permission to build 200 luxury apartments there.

So Manchester’s down $25 million in four years, and — is he going to tear down U-T HQ? Is the Times going to take over production entirely?

(Via Georganna Hancock. Note: Tribune Media holdings include KFOR-TV and KAUT in Oklahoma City.)

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Worldwide poultry

“Get ready for $10 oil,” says A. Gary Shilling at Bloomberg View, and he’s not kidding:

What is the price at which major producers chicken out and slash output? Whatever that price is, it is much lower than the $125 a barrel Venezuela needs to support its mismanaged economy. The same goes for Ecuador, Algeria, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran and Angola.

Saudi Arabia requires a price of more than $90 to fund its budget. But it has $726 billion in foreign currency reserves and is betting it can survive for two years with prices of less than $40 a barrel.

Furthermore, the price when producers chicken out isn’t necessarily the average cost of production, which for 80 percent of new U.S. shale oil production this year will be $50 to $69 a barrel, according to Daniel Yergin of energy consultant IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Instead, the chicken-out point is the marginal cost of production, or the additional costs after the wells are drilled and the pipes are laid. Another way to think of it: It’s the price at which cash flow for an additional barrel falls to zero.

Last month, Wood Mackenzie, an energy research organization, found that of 2,222 oil fields surveyed worldwide, only 1.6 percent would have negative cash flow at $40 a barrel. That suggests there won’t be a lot of chickening out at $40. Keep in mind that the marginal cost for efficient U.S. shale-oil producers is about $10 to $20 a barrel in the Permian Basin in Texas and about the same for oil produced in the Persian Gulf.

Which is not to say that there might not be creatures other than poultry in this farmyard: we still don’t know what effect ISIS will have on the Iraqi oil fields, and it’s been suggested more than once that ISIS’ major goal on the way to Caliphate is to knock out the Saudi royals. Not that we should be shedding any tears for Riyadh, of course.

(Via Fausta, who notes that Venezuela is already broke, and will be much, much broker with oil below $40.)

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Faint Saabing from the corner

Zombie Saab stirs a bit:

If we’ve learned one thing from watching The Walking Dead, it’s that the only way to terminate a walker is with a swift and brutal blow to the brain. Sadly, no one has come along that’s willing to do the gruesome deed to the stumbling shell that is Saab.

The company’s latest owner, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, is trying, yet again, to crawl its way out of bankruptcy with a “composition proposal in order to exit the reorganization.”

A bit from Nevs’ press release:

The current negotiations, together with two major OEMs, are mainly focused on two tracks that are complementing each other. One is to form a technical joint venture company in Trollhättan and the other is to introduce a new majority owner in Nevs, with the plan of making Saab cars a global premium product.

The weirdest thought occurred to me as I read those sentences, regarding that “new majority owner.” Could it possibly be … no, of course not, don’t be silly.

And then a commenter with the name Actionable Mango dared to utter it out loud: “Perhaps NEV Sweden is a front for Apple, lol.”

LOL, indeed.

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Shacking down

Radio Shack, so-called because they’re usually not in shacks and they seldom if ever sell radios, has filed for Chapter 11; about half the stores — 1800 or so — will be closed in three waves, including, so far as I can tell, eleven in Oklahoma.

First group:

  • Broken Arrow, 1348 E. Hillside Dr.
  • Tulsa, 7454 S. Olympia Ave.
  • Tulsa, 10035 S. Memorial Dr.

Second group:

  • Oklahoma City, 5928 SW 3rd St.
  • Oklahoma City, 11725 S. Western Ave.
  • Owasso, 12305 E. 96th St. N.
  • Tulsa, 8518 E. 71st St.

Third group:

  • Altus, 1307 N. Main St.
  • Oklahoma City, 1841 Belle Isle Blvd.
  • Ponca City, 3000 N. 14th St.
  • Sapulpa, 126 E. Taft Ave.

And you probably should find another place to get your obscure batteries, since the remaining stores may end up going to Sprint.

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If there’s a rustle in your hedge fund

You have every right to be alarmed:

A hedge fund manager told clients he is “truly sorry” for losing virtually all their money.

Owen Li, the founder of Canarsie Capital in New York, said Tuesday he had lost all but $200,000 of the firm’s capital — down from the roughly $100 million it ran as of late March.

“I take responsibility for this terrible outcome,” Li wrote in a letter to investors, which was obtained by CNBC.com.

“My only hope is that you understand that I acted in an attempt — however misguided — to generate higher returns for the fund and its investors. But even so, I acted overzealously, causing you devastating losses for which there is no excuse,” he added.

I’m guessing this was not from 90-day oil futures at $200.

(From Zero Hedge [!] via @SwiftOnSecurity.)

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Downsize matters

This little blurb has shown up in sub-meme (so far) quantities:

No More Lies -- attempts to explain overseas movement of jobs

Just a note: if you have a 401(k), you’re a stockholder, Chuckie.

But this is as good a response as one can reasonably expect:

[T]hat third world guy would be MUCH better off doing seasonal work in a rice paddy somewhere exposed to malaria-ridden mosquitoes and foot fungus trying to scratch out a basic living for his family and maybe afford a used 1970’s transistor radio. Because YOU deserve a higher wage.

Provide more value to the world than you are paid, and the work will come to you. That is how wealth is generated, making the pie bigger for everyone.

Of course, the numbskulls who think all things bright and beautiful come from government will resent the heck out of this, especially when they’re replaced by third-world guys — or by machines assembled by third-world guys.

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Bullseye missed

Target’s Canadian operation is winding down:

Target says it plans to discontinue all operations in Canada and seek protection from creditors.

In a release early Thursday, the U.S. retail chain said it will close all its locations in Canada. There are 133 stores across the country with about 17,600 employees.

The company says it is setting up a $70-million fund to ensure all employees affected by the move get at least 16 weeks in severance pay.

The stores will remain open while the company completes the liquidation process.

File this under Giving Up Early: Target didn’t open any Canadian stores until 2013, and most of them were converted Zellers locations.

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It’s Deb, Jim

The disappearance of one-time mall stalwarts continues apace:

[A]nother mall staple is putting down the store gate for good: Deb is liquidating and closing all 295 of its stores.

You know, Deb. That store where you tried on a bunch of prom dresses but ultimately didn’t buy any of them. Or maybe that was me.¹ The chain was still in existence and almost 300 stores strong, but sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection at the end of 2014. Without a buyer, the company will close all of its stores and liquidate.

And actually, it’s not just Deb; dELiA*s is dead, and Wet Seal is shedding two-thirds of itself. This is not to say that retail targeting teens is in irreversible decline, but there seems to be a serious squeeze-out going on.

¹ [It wasn’t me.]

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Nobody saw it

One institution apparently not doing so well these days is the American motion-picture theater, with the butts/seats ratio in decline:

The next time you’re at the movies, look around — does there seem to be more empty seats than they’re [sic] used to be? Your eyes aren’t lying, as we just left one of the worst years for movie theater attendance since 1995. That is the year of Waterworld and Showgirls, so you know it’s bad.

Bad films, yes; bad box-office performers, only moderately so. Showgirls made back $37 million of its $45-million budget; Waterworld, which cost about $175 million, earned $88 million in the States, but twice as much overseas, enough to balance the books.

You want a box-office bomb? Try Cutthroat Island, with Matthew Modine as the dull-witted cabin boy to pirate captain Geena Davis. It cost just under $100 million to make, and has yet to clear $20 million in revenue.

North America had its lowest number of folks heading to the movies in two decades in 2014, reports the Hollywood Reporter, citing about 1.2 billion consumers who purchased movie tickets between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31.

I contributed, I suppose, to that dismal performance, having attended exactly one film last year; everything else I saw was either DVD or over the Net.

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Rained on, evidently

It wasn’t that long ago that a Sunday edition of the Oklahoman had about 50-60 pages of classified ads. These days, it’s 16. I’ve gotten used to that, I suppose, but of late something else has shrunk: Parade magazine, the granddaddy of all Sunday supplements, is down to around 16 pages. You’d think there’d be enough vendors of senior-citizen crap to fill up twenty or so and still have room for Marilyn vos Savant and that tedious hack Walter Scott.

But no. And a few months ago Advance Publications, also the owner of all those upscale-or-die Condé Nast magazines, set Parade adrift on an ice floe, where it floated into the nets of Athlon Media Group, which promptly — okay, not so promptly — announced the slicing of the rate base from 32 million to 22 million “through measures like concentrating distribution in larger, urban markets.” Yeah, like those suave urbanites have been screaming for a weekly quiz by Ken Jennings.

Athlon, which hasn’t yet bothered to connect parade.com to its own Web site except through murky bottom-of-the-page links, could actually be sitting on a gold mine, Gannett having killed off Parade’s primary competitor, USA Weekend, last weekend. But maybe it’s all part of that same dreaded evolutionary cycle, in which newspapers mutate from daily reading material to quaint anachronisms to mere apps.

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One weird (and costly) trick

Although you can’t blame them for wanting to preserve the business:

Prostitutes in the Russian Arctic port of Murmansk have unexpectedly hiked prices for their services by up to 40%, blaming the tumbling rouble exchange rate for their decision, it seems.

They also want to peg the cost of services to the dollar in the longer term if the situation doesn’t improve, sources at one brothel tell the local FlashNord news agency. Two hours with a prostitute in Murmansk cost 3,000-7,000 roubles ($57-132; £36-84) before the price rise, the agency says. The management of another brothel says it’s “trying to keep prices down, but the cost of living is rising and the girls can’t work at a loss”. The rouble has lost more than 40% of its value against the dollar and 60% against the euro since the start of the year, as a result of Western sanctions over Russia’s involvement in the eastern Ukraine insurgency and a fall in oil prices.

Vladimir Putin surely never anticipated this.

(Via Interested-Participant.)

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Kicked to the curb

I’ve kicked into several Kickstarters over the years; most of them eventually reached their funding goal, though a couple missed the mark. It could have been worse, though: suppose there were no backers at all?

This happens more often than you (or at least than I) think, which is why there is Kickended. Buzzfeed (!) explains:

Kickstarter projects have a success rate of about 40%, according to Kickstarter’s site. Among the failed 60%, some come close to their goal, but some sad ones fail to get even a single donor.

These $0 are the ones that Italian artist Silvio Lorusso is interested in. That’s why he created Kickended, a museum of failed Kickstarters that couldn’t raise a single cent. Since it’s actually rather difficult to search Kickstarter for failed projects, Lorusso uses Kickspy, a site designed to help people find projects to fund. Lorusso automatically scrapes projects with $0 from Kickspy and feeds them into his site. So far, he has over 8,000 $0 projects archived. Unlike other collections of bad Kickstarters, Kickended’s interface looks the same as the real Kickstarter. It’s a weird, sad mirror image.

As Lorusso describes it on the site, these failed projects are “free from the pressure of money raising, these retain the purity of abstract ideas.”

Going to Kickended gets you a random project from Lorusso’s collection. The first one I got was called The Nu Envy Experience Fashion Show, from a woman in Memphis who has since deleted her blog.

(Seen here.)

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Toll you so

Surely somebody could have seen this coming:

In 2006, then-Governor Mitch Daniels (R) leased the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to Cintra and Macquarie Bank, operating as the ITR Concession Company, in return for an up-front payment of $3.8 billion. Daniels promised to use that money to build new roads over ten years under a program he called “Major Moves,” while the consortium was allowed to charge motorists steadily rising tolls until the year 2081.

The consortium came up with the cash by borrowing $4.1 billion off the prospect of a “guaranteed” stream of future toll returns.

And both sides of this deal got squat:

Motorists paid $196 million to use the road last year while the consortium owed $193 million in debt service payments. This left just $3 million to cover the cost of 244 employees, maintenance, capital upgrades and related expenses. Reserves were exhausted in December, and the consortium missed a $102 million interest payment in June. With interest, the consortium’s total debt obligation now stands at $6 billion.

The promise of the Major Moves Fund also failed to deliver. The $2.6 billion fund was supposed to have been set aside from the $3.8 billion payment to the state government. It was to grow by 5.25 percent annually from investments. That did not happen, and the money ran dry in 2013, though tolling will continue for at least another 69 years.

If Daniels still has a wisp of presidential ambition, this should kill it once and for all: I got 99 candidates, and Mitch ain’t one.

(Via Fark.)

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Sign of the Times

The Los Angeles Times cuts its home-delivery price, if not to the bone, certainly to a sinew or two:

Los Angeles Times subscription card

I mean, three bucks a week will barely buy you that much wood pulp.

I do hope, though, that no one (1) fills in a credit-card number and (2) drops the card in the mail. (In very tiny print at the bottom, the Times suggests you mail it in an envelope.)

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The last Saab story ever?

Maybe. The company that makes Saab cars — except, of course, that it’s not actually making any cars right now — has won protection from its creditors, but at a dear price:

China’s National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), which bought bankrupt carmaker Saab in 2012, won protection from creditors from a Swedish court on Friday while it concludes funding talks.

The decision gives the company, which has not built any cars since May because of a shortage of money, breathing space from creditors to whom it owes some 400 million Swedish crowns ($57.56 million).

There’s just this one minor detail:

Separately, Saab AB, the defense firm from which Saab Automobile was created in 1990, added to NEVS’ troubles on Friday by saying it had withdrawn its right to use the brand name Saab.

Swedish business daily Dagens Industri quoted a Saab AB spokesperson as saying NEVS’ application for creditor protection gave Saab AB the right to cancel the brand agreement.

So there will be cars from NEVS, maybe, but with a new brand name — unless they can pull off something miraculous like persuading General Motors to sell them Pontiac or Saturn. Fat chance of that.

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Yes, we have no [anything]

For those of you who thought things would improve in Venezuela once Hugo Chávez passed on, you might want to think again. Now there are food shortages, and the word from Caracas is that the government is going to Do Something. Unfortunately, it’s going to do what a Chavist government can’t help but do, and that’s muck things up worse:

Rather than understanding that the problem is due to a drop in production and a drought in foreign currency to buy the products required by the population, now the “queues” making the lives of consumers miserable every day get the blame. A few days ago, Andrés Eloy Méndez, the newly appointed Superintendent of Socio-Economic Rights, announced that the Government will start a “war against queues” at supermarkets, another fictitious conflagration that adds to the so-called “economic war” [Nicolás] Maduro frequently resorts to.

The first mistake, of course, is appointing a Superintendent of Socio-Economic Rights, which in terms of functionality is right up there with establishing a Ministry of Play-Doh.

Anyway, you may be sure that Méndez takes his phoney-baloney job seriously:

From this “battle” of audits arose the erroneous idea that one of the main causes of people spending up to three and four hours in a commercial establishment is that supermarkets have a significant number of checkout counters closed. And a couple of supermarkets were fined over this, including the Bicentenario Plaza Venezuela in Caracas, where only 26 checkout counters out of 60 were operational. Also, the Bicentenario branch was requested to outline a plan to cover and ensure the operation of all counters in the future.

Of course, opening more checkout counters will not add one single banana (probably imported from Colombia) to the stocks in Venezuelan food stores.

But wait! It gets worse:

[I]t has just been announced that the ministries of Science and Technology and Food are developing a biometric fingerprint recognition system that will allow to monitor “who buys and how he/she does it” and to control the so-called “bachaqueo” (a type of smuggling activity common in the Venezuelan border with Colombia), according to Méndez. This mechanism would be put into operation for both private and public network supermarkets by early 2015.

Number of additional bananas to be sold as a result: zero.

These ideas are so horrible and have such minimal potential positive impact that I expect Harry Reid to propose at least one of them before too long.

(Via Interested-Participant.)

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A shortage of pixie dust

Is the economy well and truly dead? Well, no. But it’s fading. Think Tinker Bell, if Tink had to contend with the Federal Reserve:

The economy is an area in which belief equals reality or, at least, belief has an important effect on behavior which produces the reality. That’s what John Maynard Keynes referred to as “animal spirits”, an important force in pulling economies out of recessions.

Welcome to roadkill. Where did all the spirited critters go?

Whatever his failing, Bill Clinton was a relentless and indefatigable cheerleader for the economy. His confidence built confidence in others… George W. Bush didn’t have that same quality and neither does Barack Obama.

Of course, neither W. nor BHO had the benefit of various 90s booms, and neither of them could conceive of a budget that wasn’t deeply in the red. And Clinton had had hard-nosed Congressional Republicans of the Newt Gingrich stripe who kept the pressure on. Today’s GOP, by comparison, has a collective proboscis made of rubber baby buggy bumpers or something.

And whatever Bill did in the 90s won’t redound to Hillary’s credit in 2016, since nobody can imagine her as a cheerleader, for the economy or for anything else.

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Would you have any grey coupons?

“The bad news for news isn’t over,” says Jeff Jarvis:

The last best category of advertising in newspapers is the distribution of FSIs, free-standing inserts — circulars and coupons — which by one account adds up to 30-50 percent of newspapers’ retail advertising (though retail advertising continues to plummet). The last, best reason to keep printing and distributing a newspaper is FSIs. When you see papers cut frequency of printing or distribution to a few days a week, those are not hot news days; those are the days that bring FSIs and their revenue.

I’ve been saying here for some time that FSIs will go away. About two years ago, I asked a big-box retailer that makes much money from its circulars (from charging brands for presence in them) how long it would be before the circulation of print newspapers would fall below critical mass. The reply: 24-36 months. Note how long ago that was.

A typical Sunday Oklahoman has maybe 110 pages of actual broadsheet; all the rest (except for Parade, I suppose) is FSI. The classifieds, once 60-70 pages, are now down to 16. I’m not sure what mass is considered “critical,” but I do know that thirty years ago, they were moving twice as many papers, and those papers were 50 percent thicker.

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I feel bad for you, son

Well, we’re having sales problems, really under the gun,
We’ve sold 99 Cadillacs, the product’s done.

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