Archive for Begging Bowl

Taking in boarders

One of the genuine assets held by Sears Holdings is the real estate occupied by many Sears stores. How to get more out of it? Shrink some stores:

Sears Holdings Corp. said its Oak Brook [Illinois] store is among a dozen stores nationwide set to be reduced by half with their auto centers eliminated or changed into just appliance stores by 2018.

The Sears store and its Sears Auto Center in Oakbrook Center, along with 11 others, were sold to the GGP-Seritage Growth Partners Joint Venture last year.

The nature of the shrinkage:

After the footprint is changed, the Sears store will remain on the entire lower level and continue to serve our (customers) by operating in a smaller, more efficient space that will include home appliances, mattresses, household goods, sporting goods, tools and a targeted assortment of apparel.

One of the dozen stores marked for diminution is at the east end of Sooner Fashion Mall in Norman, Oklahoma.

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Flosses mounting

As was announced online several weeks back, mental_floss has ceased print publication: the November/December issue was the last. Says executive editor Foster Kamer:

Shit happens. Doesn’t mean print’s dead, or mental_floss is, either. Magazines come and go. Christ, they re-launched Radar like fifteen times, and Tablet — which launched a print mag after seven years of being digital-only — is putting out one of the best print publications I’ve ever seen, and those guys only have four issues out the door.

Perhaps ironically, the death of the dead-tree edition might actually mean fewer trees:

Since Felix Dennis’ death in 2014, Dennis Publishing has been owned by the Heart of England Forest Charity, a charity set up by Felix Dennis with the mission of “the plantation, re-plantation, conservation and establishment of trees for the benefit of the public, together with the education of the public by the promulgation of knowledge and the appreciation of trees”.

And in lieu of a further year and a half of mental_floss, I will have a couple of months of The Week, a magazine founded by, yes, Felix Dennis, added on to my subscription. At some point I figure there will be only one print magazine left, and its subscriber base will be in the tens of millions from having absorbed all those other magazines.

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Hyperoverextended

Yahoo! Answers is good for at least half a dozen of these a week:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: If I am stuck in a car loan and can't afford the payments how can I get out of the loan early?

The gory details:

I have a 2014 mustang and the payments are 400 a month. I owe around 19000 on it. I need help finding a way to get rid of it as soon as possible. Thanks

If he’s lucky, he might get $14,000 for it, in which case he needs to scrape up $5000, sell the ‘Stang, and turn over the proceeds to the lender. Problem solved. It’s not the solution he wants, but it’s the solution that actually works.

Of course, there’s always Chapter 7, which has, shall we say, certain disadvantages.

But what bothers me is the blithe assumption that there’s some way to “get out of the loan early” without serious consequences. Life doesn’t work quite that way. (At least, it never has for me, and I admit to occasional bouts of presumptuousness.) Unfortunately, a substantial sector of automotive retailing is reliant upon luring people with no money into the showrooms.

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The A word

That word is “affordable,” and as usual, it doesn’t mean what everyone was taught it meant:

Health insurance premiums will likely increase by an average of 76 percent for Oklahomans who buy individual coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace. The increases for individual market plans range from 58 percent to 96 percent.

“These jaw-dropping increases make it clear that Oklahoma’s exchange is on life support,” said Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak. “Health insurers are losing massive amounts of money. If they don’t raise rates they’ll go out of business. This system has been doomed from the beginning.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, the only health insurer offering plans on the federal exchange in 2017, submitted the increases to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS will determine if the increases are reasonable. The increase requests follow many insurers reporting significant losses, lower than expected enrollment by the younger population and new customers being sicker than expected. ACA-compliant off-exchange individual plans sold by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma will see the same increases as plans sold on the exchange.

UnitedHealthcare, which was on the exchange last year, has withdrawn.

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A shock to the system

All of a sudden, falling on my sword looks like a good option again.

Something called Tiger Neurophysiology P.C., having collected nothing from my health insurance, evidently refiled; 90 days after the date of alleged services, CFI Care (not its real initials) has decided that these are really legitimate expenses after all, but Tiger is out of network, so I have to pay the entire $7300 and change.

Apart from the fact that I don’t have $7300 and change, I don’t understand this at all. So far as I can tell, Tiger works out of Teaneck, New Jersey. I can think of no reason why they’d be here in the 405. (Duplicate names? Possible, but hardly likely.) The EOB includes five separate entries for “Diag. Medical Exam,” which would seem useless, since I was already in the hospital on the day in question, scheduled for surgery.

I left an email for the insurance guys. But I tell you, I can’t take stuff like this; all by itself, this incident has put me perilously close to suicide watch. And a life that is constantly interrupted by traumatic incidents is not, to me, a life I want to live.

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We got your free health care right here

However, you probably won’t like it much:

No incubators, and no cribs, in this hospital; the newborns are sleeping in cardboard boxes.

And as seemingly always with Venezuela these days, it’s actually worse than it looks:

Experts say hospitals in the cash-strapped country, which is suffering from a shortage of food and fuel, are being starved of resources.

Douglas Leon, president of the Venezuelan Medical Federation (FMV), claimed some hospitals are working with just five percent of the medical equipment that they need.

The world’s tenth-largest (as of 2014, anyway) oil producer is suffering from a shortage of fuel. How bad is it? They’re having to buy oil from those horrible Americans.

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They never saw it coming

And really, if you think about it, they should have:

Irish Psychics broke

This happened a couple of years back:

A liquidator has been appointed to the firm behind Irish Psychics Live, which was founded by former journalist Tom Higgins.

A document lodged with the Companies Office confirms that Eamon Leahy of Leahy & Company, Fairview, Dublin has been appointed as liquidator arising from a resolution of the members of Realm Communications Limited.

The liquidation of the firm follows eight months after the company, which was behind what was Ireland’s most high profile and controversial premium phone line service, ceased trading.

The appointment of Mr Leahy also follows a Revenue Commissioner’s notice in January confirming it had petitioned the High Court to wind up Realm Communications Ltd.

The premium phone line business was established in 1998 and built up a large cash pile over the years before Mr Higgins and his wife Theresa Dunne cashed out in 2009, sharing a dividend payout of €9 million.

(From Bad Newspaper via Miss Cellania.)

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On the table

About the time this goes live, I’ll be on the operating table, getting my nerves realigned. (Literally. Look up “spinal stenosis.”) I have been given no reason to think this is a particularly complicated procedure, and I expect to come out of it no worse than I went in.

Saturday I sprung this idea:

I still hate the idea. Then again, I’ve burned up the last of my paid days at work as of this afternoon, so “subsequent expenses” are still something of a worry. (I have, I think, enough on hand to cover the annual out-of-pocket on my gold silver bronze zinc health-insurance plan.) I don’t plan a formal fundraiser or anything like that, largely because this requires setting an official goal, which sort of rubs me the wrong way. (If you’re curious, I was thinking in terms of $4,000.) That said, I would be grateful for anything anyone feels like stashing into my PayPal account (chaz -at- dustbury.com).

Any posts I have in the can will be dribbled out over the next day or two. I expect to be released Tuesday, maybe Wednesday at the latest.

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The incredible shrinking paper

It wasn’t that long ago that the Oklahoman decided to leave the Black Tower on the Broadway Distention to the printers and move the actual news-gathering operations downtown.

Evidently the printers weren’t far enough away to suit the publisher:

The Oklahoman will outsource its printing and packaging operations to the Tulsa World beginning in September, announced Chris Reen, publisher of The Oklahoman and President of The Oklahoman Media Group. The Oklahoman will close its printing and packaging facility at Britton and Broadway.

“We’re fortunate to have newer and more modern presses as close as Tulsa with ownership like Berkshire Hathaway who has a great deal of experience with these sorts of arrangements around the country. The move will create significant cost savings while not sacrificing quality,” Reen said.

Except, of course, for adding a minimum of two hours’ worth of lead time:

Reen said in order to ensure the same timely morning delivery of the newspaper, there will be earlier press times which will impact some late-night news stories and sports scores.

“Timely” is in the eye of the beholder, or maybe the subscriber. I consider delivery after 6:30 am (as it was yesterday) to be excessively late. (I am an afternoon-paper kind of person, but not the sort of afternoon paper that’s spent 11 hours turning yellow in the summer sun.)

Not mentioned in that NewsOK reveal:

I note for reference that GateHouse, under its post-bankruptcy name New Media Investment Group, bought the Dolan Company at the end of 2015, which owned, among other things, the Journal Record.

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Nearing the final Flickr

As Yahoo! circles the drain, its component parts are whirling around at comparable speeds, and Flickr, which they acquired in 2005, definitely appears to be tracing a similar spiral. Can it be saved? Geoff Livingston has some thoughts:

A lot depends on who buys Flickr. Doc Searls made an impassioned plea for Adobe to buy the social network, saying that Flickr was the best site for serious photographers.

And besides, Doc Searls has sixty thousand photos on Flickr. I’m almost embarrassed by my 159. But I haven’t left either, and neither has Geoff Livingston:

I’m not sure about the latter anymore, but I do believe Flickr still has value. I’m still there and still use it to house my library. I still get occasional media inquiries to use my pics from Flickr, too… The question is who will buy it? If Google or Facebook buys Flickr, I will be downloading all of my photos that day and closing my account. Warren Buffett would be more encouraging. At least you know Berkshire Hathaway would invest in the network again.

I shudder at the thought of Flickr being absorbed into Google Photos — or worse, into Instagram.

Now how do we persuade the Sage of Omaha to spend money on an Internet photo service? I mean, Flickr doesn’t sell insurance or anything like that.

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The house that Aubrey built v2.0

When word came down that American Energy Partners, the operation founded by Aubrey McClendon after departing Chesapeake Energy, was winding down toward an orderly end of business, the first thought that went through my head was something along the lines of “Well, at least they’re not filing for bankruptcy.” There have been a lot of restructurings, even a few liquidations, here in the Oil Patch, what with crude ranging from below $50 to way below $50.

My second thought was perhaps a tad more crass: “What happens to that supercool fitness center the company owned?”

But now, having had a night to think it over, what I really wonder was if McClendon had been anticipating this right before driving his Tahoe into a bridge abutment back in March.

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Shortable stock

It is no secret that Twitter is losing money hand over fist. It’s easy, I suppose, to blame corporate governance, such as it is, but maybe there’s something else at work:

My thought is that for every new person who tries to express coherent thoughts in bursts of 140 characters or less, at least one current user discovers that even when it can be done no one is interested and quits. Apparently there is a limit to the number of people who figure the best response to a watered-down oversimplified knee-jerk reaction to an event or statement is to squawk out another one.

If nothing else, this would explain user growth, of which they have had essentially none.

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Indebitably

For some inscrutable reason, the supermarket I was visiting Saturday requires that any actual Hot Food from the deli counter be paid for at that counter: you can’t just carry it over to the regular checkout stand. The person in front of me, a chap about my age, had bought a rack of ribs and various side dishes, coming to around $32, and slid his debit card — I recognized it as belonging to the bank just down the road — through the machine.

The machine told him no.

He tried again, and got the same result. “I don’t understand this,” he said. “I made a deposit just this morning.”

Well, yeah. It was Saturday. You’ll be lucky if that deposit posts by Monday. We have customers on our storefront who have yet to comprehend this fact.

He handed the package back to the clerk, and walked away. Apparently that basket in the middle of the aisle was his also, and it contained a lot more than $32 worth of stuff. He said he might go try the ATM. Yeah, good luck with that.

Once or twice in my life, I’ve sprung to cover a shortage of this sort, but never for more than $10. And even if I’d bought him the darn Ribs ‘N Stuff, he was never going to get through the line with that basket. Still, I felt lousy about the whole incident, a lousiness that will subside the moment I have to start slapping down deadbeats at work for creating basically the same situation. There’s no angle in doing them any favors.

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From the “It could be worse” files

You think Oklahoma’s budget woes are terrible? Well, yes, they are, no question about it. But we got nothing on the Sportsman’s Paradise:

Before the special session began, Louisiana had a 4-cent state sales tax, which, when combined with about 5 cents of local sales taxes, gave Louisiana the country’s third-highest overall average sales tax rate at 9 percent. At the same time, 196 separate transactions were exempt from being charged the 4-cent state sales tax.

Needing to raise money quickly to close a record budget gap, legislators and Gov. John Bel Edwards turned to sales taxes during the 25-day special session that ended March 9.

Beginning April 1, Act 26 [pdf] raised the state sales tax by a penny — giving Louisiana the highest combined local and state sales tax rate in the country — and provided a bewildering list of exemptions to paying that extra penny.

Beginning April 1, Act 25 [pdf] eliminated numerous exemptions to the existing 4 cents of sales tax for three months and then only for 2 cents for the next two years, in another bewildering list of exemptions.

For both acts, sales tax exemptions drop off or come back at different times, adding to the confusion.

Soonerland residents will note that the Oklahoma state sales tax is 4.5 percent, and that various city and county levies bring it up to 8 to 10 percent. (Perhaps the worst is the section of Clinton that lies in Washita County: 4.5 state + 2.0 county + 4.5 city = 11 percent.) And yes, we have a bewildering list of exemptions.

(Via Fark.)

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Stash renewal

It is with heavy heart that we report the death of Hancock Fabrics (1957-2016):

Great American Group (GA), a leading provider of advisory and valuation services, asset disposition and auction solutions, commercial lending services and a subsidiary of B. Riley Financial, Inc., was the highest bidder in the bankruptcy auction for the assets and inventory of fabric retailer, Hancock Fabrics, Inc., which filed for Chapter 11 protection on February 2, 2016.

On March 31, 2016, GA was recognized as the successful bidder at auction by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware and will manage the going-out-of-business sales for 185 Hancock Fabrics stores beginning April 1, 2016.

If you needed so many yards of such-and-such, now is the time.

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And another one gone

Another newspaper, this one in Britain, goes Web-only:

The final print edition of The Independent newspaper went on sale Saturday, ending its 30-year appearance on British newsstands with an exclusive on an assassination plot against a former Saudi king.

A poignant wrap-around front page carried the words “STOP PRESS” in red lettering on a white background, followed by the words “Read all about it in this, our final print edition — 1986-2016”.

The newspaper will now be available online only, with its final editorial claiming history would be the judge of its “bold transition … as an example for other newspapers around the world to follow”.

Were it truly “bold,” they’d have done it in 1996.

And it’s not like this came like a bolt from the blue:

The Independent‘s Russian-born British owner, Evgeny Lebedev, who announced the closure of the print edition last month, wrote that journalism had “changed beyond recognition” and the newspaper “must change too”.

Not that Mr Lebedev is playing Jolly Executioner here; the paper was slated for closure in 2010 before he bought it. Daily circulation, which peaked at 420,000 in 1989, has declined to barely a tenth of that, though the Sunday edition sells decidedly better. Still, independent.co.uk is reported to have 70 million unique visitors per month.

(Via Fark.)

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When “failed state” isn’t enough

Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse in Venezuela, things got worse:

Since my SO, and the mother in law, are physically unable to stand in line for anything for more than half an hour, we must all share the burden. I cannot so I am resorting more and more to black market. I put on Instagram the latest of my loot on toilet paper, two heavy bags at 8 times the normal cost (and I learned that actually I got it for cheap!). But I also got 12 kilos of pasta that way, albeit at only twice the normal cost. Currently I am waiting for milk (it will be twice) and rice (at least thrice). But I have also been told not to hope much for that arrival. Corn flour is too political so my black market guy does not dare to go there. For that I will need to go to “buhoneros” in Petare at 4 times the cost, if not more, under the eyes of the Nazional Guard.

And let’s hope you’re not on medication:

There is no black market for medicine because there is none. Well, almost no black market. One of my siblings got some of his heart medicine from some one bringing it form the US and cashing it in USD!!!!!!! Well, in all fairness apparently there had been some mistake so the guy sold what he did not need through contacts, but in dollars, with overhead anyway. I am expecting some form of black market for some medicines to start organizing.

Last week, the Maduro government devalued the bolívar; the official exchange rate, formerly 6.3 Bs.F per $1 US, is now 10 Bs.F per $1 US. Then again, the official exchange rate means essentially nothing: on the black market, a single American dollar will bring as much as 1000 Bs.F. It is, of course, illegal to mention such details in the Venezuelan press. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s gold reserves are being shipped to Europe to pay sovereign debt. Can things get any worse? Wait a few weeks.

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Definitely not a bozo

Roberta X reports on the Hoosier economy, and it’s not good:

The economy is still nasty and a large HVAC manufacturer here in Indianapolis has, after lavish grants, tax breaks, a personal massage* from at least one Governor and other enticements, decided to absquatulate for Mexico, where the bribes are cheaper, nobody minds a little lead or carbon tet, you can beat up the workforce and pee right in the river. The United States has priced itself out of the manufacturing business; this is not a new story.

* That’s what they’re calling it. Polite people do not inquire.

Come to think of it, absquatulation was how the Colts came to Indianapolis.

But that reference to leak-taking immediately called to mind this Firesign Theatre bit:

If you’re keeping score, this is from I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus.

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Half-chewed bullet

The Attorney General offers to take one for the state, kinda sorta:

Attorney General Scott Pruitt sent a letter Monday to Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders, asking that about $6 million in state appropriations for his office be withheld in the next budget in view of financial problems affecting the state.

A hole of about $900 million is expected in the next state budget as revenues have fallen because of a downturn in the oil industry.

Asking for a decrease in the budget? Unpossible!

But that’s not quite the whole picture:

The current fiscal year appropriation to the attorney general’s office is more than $13 million, but the office’s overall budget exceeds $40 million when federal grants, revolving funds, case settlements and legal counsel contracts are considered.

The money Pruitt asked to be withheld represents operations expenditures. This year, operations funds totaled $6.4 million in his budget.

“We’re able to absorb the loss of that appropriations through cost savings in the office,” said Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for Pruitt. He said no salaries would be cut.

The fun part of this, apart from the spectacle of an actual state official asking for less funding, something you don’t see too often, is imagining Mary Fallin’s reaction. I mean, what’s she gonna do, turn Pruitt down?

Note: This was in the Tuesday Oklahoman, page 3A, but I couldn’t find it on NewsOK, and while I am a subscriber and can get through the Oklahoman paywall, you probably aren’t.

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To the pink sheets with you

About eight years ago, SandRidge Energy (then NYSE: SD) was trading at the sixty-dollar level. Today, it doesn’t bring sixty cents, and the New York Stock Exchange has responded in its own inimitable manner:

The New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday removed SandRidge Energy Inc. from trading Wednesday, citing “abnormally low” stock prices.

Shares of the Oklahoma City-based oil and natural gas company dropped 2 cents, or nearly 12 percent, to 15 cents a share Wednesday before the notice was issued.

“The prolonged depression of commodity prices have caused nearly all companies in our industry to suffer material degradation in value,” SandRidge said in a statement Wednesday.

“While the delisting of our stock from the NYSE is certainly not an outcome we desired, it’s important to note that this action does not affect our day-to-day operations. SandRidge continues to have ample liquidity, and we remain focused on navigating the current commodity downturn and extending our capabilities, including developing our recently acquired Niobrara assets. We expect SandRidge shares to begin trading over the counter tomorrow.”

Personally, I think it’s karma:

SandRidge Energy Inc. has refused to follow a directive to shut down six wastewater disposal wells in northwest Oklahoma after a string of earthquakes in the area, testing the industry’s so-far voluntary cooperation with state regulators on the issue.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission directed SandRidge and several other operators to shut down injection wells or reduce wastewater volumes near the Alfalfa County town of Byron earlier this month after several earthquakes.

Maybe their liquidity isn’t as ample as they’re saying?

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Fark blurb of the week

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Road ending prematurely

Cars in the scrapyard often end up crushed. Some of them end up there because of crushing debt:

According to a recent PEW study [pdf], one out of every nine title loans results in a repossession, with the titled vehicle eventually heading to auction.

And after that, maybe the car finds a new home, but maybe not:

One vehicle, a 1995 Chevrolet Blazer, currently shows 271,285 miles. Pulling up its history, we see it shows up at auction in December 2011 with 199,683 miles, then it’s sold with a lien attached in February 2013. Since it had almost 200,000 miles at the time, it is highly unlikely any traditional lending institution would have written a loan for it, meaning this loan was almost certainly processed by a subprime lender. The February sale comes during one of the bigger months for subprime and “Buy Here Pay Here” dealers as many potential customers are receiving tax returns that can give them enough money for a down payment on a new-to-them car.

The Blazer’s owner was immediately in the hole since they were likely taking out a loan with an annual percentage rate of 30 percent for a vehicle that was only worth its weight in scrap. We see three more liens reported on the vehicle with the last one hitting in October of this year. The vehicle’s owner could have taken out multiple title loans or refinanced his loan, the last one being too expensive to cover. Since the vehicle was not worth more than $300 or $400, they would have only been able to get a loan for $150 or so, which would have cost them double or triple the original amount once interest was added. The owner may have been in a tight situation or the car could have broken down, making default a more affordable proposition. Due to the mileage and condition, [the] next stop for this Blazer is likely a salvage yard.

Five will get you ten the guy who bought this Blazer in 2013 went scurrying to Yahoo! Answers to see if there was a chance he could plunge himself further into debt to get himself something newer. Not that it matters what anyone actually told him. (I started suggesting that people start pricing bus passes, a practice some would dub cruel and insensitive.)

Most of the other cars I checked on the run list followed a similar path where they spent a few years in the mainstream market before ending up at a subprime dealer. Some of them experience accidents that should leave them with a branded title, but there are loopholes that allow the title to be washed. Others live a long life with their first owners before reaching the subprime market. The second and third owners of these vehicles are usually underwater as soon as they buy the vehicle and the title loans just put them further into debt.

That Blazer, says the intrepid reporter, was “not worth more than $300 or $400.” What would a BHPH dealer have sold it for? I’m guessing $1999.

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Neither A nor P

The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company is now nothing more than “intellectual property”:

While A&P’s stores and associated real estate have been the focus of the retailer’s bankruptcy wind-down, now the brand itself is going on the block.

Hilco Streambank said Friday that it would be taking bids for the intellectual property of A&P, which includes brand names for its stores and private brands, its slogans and customer data.

The sale includes all intellectual property associated with the A&P, Pathmark, Waldbaum’s, Super Fresh, Food Basics and Best Cellars brands, as well as private label product brands such as America’s Choice, Woodson & James, Green Way, Jane Parker, Via Roma, and Live Better, among others. The sale is being conducted pursuant to Section 363 of the Bankruptcy Code in A&P’s Chapter 11 case pending in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The bid deadline is Nov. 19.

The one A&P brand that might have meant something to me — Eight O’Clock Coffee, which dated back to 1859 — was sold off more than a decade ago and is currently owned by a subsidiary of India’s Tata Group, which also owns Tetley Tea, Jaguar and Land Rover cars.

And doesn’t “Hilco Streambank” sound like someone whom Benedict Cumberbatch has outgrown?

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Not much to overextend

I can’t say I’m too awfully surprised by this:

Americans are living right on the edge — at least when it comes to financial planning.

Approximately 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21% don’t even have a savings account, according to a new survey of more than 5,000 adults conducted this month by Google Consumer Survey for personal finance website GOBankingRates.com. “It’s worrisome that such a large percentage of Americans have so little set aside in a savings account,” says Cameron Huddleston, a personal finance analyst for the site. “They likely don’t have cash reserves to cover an emergency and will have to rely on credit, friends and family, or even their retirement accounts to cover unexpected expenses.”

Me, I’d like to know what kind of emergency manages to cost only $1000.

That said, I’m not one of the 62 percent — but I’m not so far away that I can justify bragging about it. I am, however, over 59½, which means that if something Dreadfully Terrible comes up, I can tap the 401(k) without the early-withdrawal penalty, though this is not something I particularly want to do, and besides it takes a couple of weeks for Girls Just Want To Have Funds (not its real name) to cut a check.

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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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