Archive for Common Cents

Oh, a wise guy

If only it had been funnier:

The radio deejay ordered to pay a symbolic $1 to Taylor Swift after he groped her during a photo op said he mailed her the money last week.

David Mueller told the Associated Press that he sent Swift a Sacagawea coin and provided proof of payment to the outlet, which he said was sent on Nov. 28.

“I mean if this is all about women’s rights … It’s a little poke at them, a little bit,” he told the AP. “I mean, I think they made this into a publicity stunt, and this is my life.”

Two ways this could have been more amusing:

  • Send her 77 cents and blame it on the wage gap.
  • Send her a check and leave a, um, blank space.

Then again, no sense risking a contempt finding over a buck.

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Return of the heart of zinc

From a couple of months ago, the beginning of an experiment:

Some people have gotten so serious about it that they are building a computer farm in Iceland for the specific purpose of mining Bitcoins. I gave them $100 to see if they can make any money for me.

Sixty-odd days and $120 later:

They seem to be a new outfit that is having normal start-up problems, so I cut them some slack, but like I said, it’s been a couple of months so I inquired, and now I have some numbers. Since they sat on my money for a month to ensure that it was legit and not some from some scammer, the money has only been at work for a month, but in a month it has produced $5.38. Theoretically speaking. To actually get the money, I have to transfer it to an electronic ‘wallet’, and from there I should be able to get actual moola.

I dutifully set up the wallet, but nothing had gotten transferred. Seems there are transaction fees, so Genesis doesn’t transfer any funds until you have at least $15 to transfer.

Anyway, $5 a month times 12 months is $60, so in two years I should double my money. Assuming of course that this whole thing doesn’t collapse like the house of cards it is.

There we go. A House of [IBM] Cards.

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Bang for one’s buck

This should require no explanation:

In defense of the little hut in Lincoln Heights, it’s only four miles from Dodger Stadium (1000 Vin Scully Avenue). That must be worth a dollar or two.

And while I can’t aspire to anything like that Texas McMansion, my own palatial estate, not quite one-third its size, sits on the same size lot: circa 11,000 square feet.

(Incidentally, Trophy Club, on the Denton/Tarrant county line north of Fort Worth, was built around the only golf course designed by Ben Hogan. More amusing: its high school was named for Byron Nelson. Are these folks golf-crazy or what?)

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Headed for 1 terabolívar

No time to play. We have to go to the bank:

I’m betting President Maduro has at least two — which is, after all, the limit.

(Via @dicentra33.)

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Schedule A takes a hit

Francis W. Porretto on the local impact of the GOP’s current tax proposal:

Long Island is in a tizzy over one of the revealed portions of the current GOP federal income tax bill: specifically, the one that limits the deductibility of property taxes to a maximum of $10,000 per year. Our property taxes are the highest in the nation. Few Long Island homeowners pay less than $10,000 per year in property taxes. (To give you a sense for the extortionate nature of our rates, I live in a fairly ordinary three-bedroom ranch on an acre of property, and my annual property tax bill is just over $12,000.) The taxes imposed on more recent purchasers of homes have often been over $20,000 — and not because their homes are places of palatial magnificence. So this provision of the bill will hit Island homeowners hard.

Yet it must be done. The federal deductibility of state and local taxes has allowed states and localities to squeeze their residents that much harder, for no return the victims would value. Here on the Island, the major complaints are about our roads, which are wholly inadequate to the traffic burden and are therefore infrequently and sketchily maintained. (Yes, therefore. Think about it.) Yet as our property taxes have skyrocketed, the roads have become poorer. Clearly, the problem has not been mitigated by throwing more money at it … but Island politicians like the set-up just fine.

I have no doubt that the residents of other regions have similar complaints, and that they anticipate considerable pain from a cap on the deductibility of their state and local tax burdens. Yet it must be done. The deduction is a form of collusion between Washington and the “donor class:” a way to benefit wealthy persons who live in opulent areas, but without being obvious about it. The same goes for the deductibility of mortgage interest, a special-interest subvention to the housing industry that originated after World War II and was rationalized as a “recovery measure.”

To give you a sense for the nature of our rates here on the prairie, I live in a not all that ordinary, but decidedly small, three-bedroom ranch on a quarter-acre of property, and my annual property tax bill — for this year, anyway — is just over $900.

Our roads are fairly terrible, but in this state, property-tax receipts are not used for street maintenance.

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How it’s done down under

An American expat meets up with Australian health care:

Off to the ER I went. After a wait of 4 hours, I was brought into a procedure room, where I was examined other doctors brought in, and was told immediately that I’d be scheduled for surgery. They had me in a ward within 20 minutes, and began pumping me full of anti-biotics. The next morning, they had me prepped and the anesthesiologist asked me if I would prefer to be sedated with a mixture of ketamine and other fine drugs, or epidural. I’ve had an epidural before. That did not go well. IV cocktail it is.

There followed the actual surgery, and then:

I was made to stay another night for more antibiotics being pumped in while they looked after me. The next day, the nurses did a repack and bandaging. From there, it was a matter of getting me scripts and arranging for a care nurse that will come to my home everyday for the next month and deal with dressings until it’s no longer needed.

His one out-of-pocket expense was for those scripts:

Individual pharmacy bill from an Australian hospital

Ten antibiotic, ten painkillers, 100 acetaminophen. Twenty bucks American. About what you’d fork over for a single antibiotic in the States, if you’re lucky.

(Via Fark.)

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A trillion a year

Says a Forbes report, this is what we can expect in the way of budget deficits in the Trump years and thereafter:

In July, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the Trump fiscal 2018 budget will result in an average annual deficit of about $677 billion between 2018 and 2022. But that took the Trump budget proposals at face value and assumed Congress would agree to all the spending cuts proposed by the White House, something that the House and Senate have already shown no interest in doing. That makes the average annual baseline deficit over the next five years closer to $750 billion.

While the White House and its congressional supporters insist the tax cut the House and Senate will consider in the next month or so will eventually pay for itself with much higher economic growth rates, the congressional budget resolution passed by the Senate late last Thursday (and highly likely to be accepted by the House) assumes that the deficit will increase by about $150 billion a year over the next 10 years. Nonpartisan analyses show that the deficit will increase by an average of between $220 billion and $240 billion between 2018 and 2027 and even more thereafter. An average of the three estimates results in about a $200 billion increase in the budget deficit for each of the next five years.

That will make the annual deficit around $940 billion.

When $60 billion is a rounding error, something is seriously wrong.

Remember when everyone was complaining about budget deficits in the Obama years? Me neither. And that won’t change any time soon:

Trump appears to be heading down the same road. The only difference today is that the GOP will be openly applauding him for it, or at least shrugging it all off like it’s no big deal. And a GOP Congress — which sometimes pretends to act on behalf of limited government when a Democrat is in office — gains zero political mileage out of opposing big spending when it is proposed by a Republican president.

“Not a dime’s worth of difference,” said George Wallace. Before adjusting for inflation, of course.

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Vaya con queso

Just don’t expect to take a lot of it when you go.

Venezuela, this past week:

(Historical numbers.)

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Fark blurb of the week

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It’s only fare

The New York City MetroCard replaced the old subway token system in 2003. Now the MetroCard itself is on the endangered list:

[T]he MTA has officially begun testing a mobile phone payment and scanning system.

Aimed for the moment at commuters riding the train and then transferring to the subway, the new mobile ticketing service is actually the expansion of one already in place for riders on the Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road who use the MTA’s eTix app. The MTA is testing out the expansion at specific stations where riders on the Metro-North and LIRR usually transfer with turnstiles now fitted with new scanners for commuters to swipe their phones past, instead of using their MetroCard.

Not yet addressed: how people will handle this without smartphones.

The new mobile scanners are slated to be installed in 14 key stations around the city before the end of the year, including Penn Station, Grand Central, the 14th St-7th Ave. Station, as well as the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center Station.

(Via Kevin J. Walsh.)

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Closer to home

I continue to play microfinancier. My first three loans were to Third World women; one’s been entirely paid back, one’s within a couple of bucks, and one’s making normal progress.

Number Four goes to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a fellow named Demetrio:

I was born and raised in Mexico City, a magnificent place to live in. Ever since I was a little child, I have always wanted to have my own restaurant. Today, I find myself as head of the family and also a grandfather, finally having established “La Catrina” in the city of Pittsburgh.

I seek to make my business grow, so I put forth the most effort every day. Immigrating to this country demonstrates my determination in making my dream a reality, despite the difficulties of learning English and working at restaurants to learn how to manage my own business.

I put up $25 toward the $10,000 he seeks. He’s about halfway there.

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Greed is eternal

There are, I am told, a few people who are irked that CBS expects you to subscribe to their All Access service to see episodes of Star Trek: Discovery. However, this new stunt has all the earmarks (so to speak) of a Ferengi scheme:

The websites of US telly giant CBS’s Showtime contained JavaScript that secretly commandeered viewers’ web browsers over the weekend to mine cryptocurrency.

The flagship Showtime.com and its instant-access ShowtimeAnytime.com sibling silently pulled in code that caused browsers to blow spare processor time calculating new Monero coins — a privacy-focused alternative to the ever-popular Bitcoin. The hidden software typically consumed as much as 60 per cent of CPU capacity on computers visiting the sites.

The scripts were written by Coin Hive, a legit outfit that provides JavaScript to website owners: webmasters add the code to their pages so that they can earn slivers of cash from each visitor as an alternative to serving adverts to generate revenue. Over time, money mined by the Coin-Hive-hosted scripts adds up and is transferred from Coin Hive to the site’s administrators. One Monero coin, 1 XMR, is worth about $92 right now.

Shlubs like me aren’t privy to such things: my attempt to look at the Hive got me a Blocked message from Malwarebytes.

Did the Eyeball Network pull these shenanigans deliberately? Probably not:

[I]t’s extremely unlikely that a large corporation like CBS would smuggle such a piece of mining code onto its dot-coms — especially since it charges subscribers to watch the shows online — suggesting someone hacked the websites’ source code to insert the mining JavaScript and make a quick buck.

The JavaScript, which appeared on the sites at the start of the weekend and vanished by Monday, sits between between HTML comment tags that appear to be an insert from web analytics biz New Relic. Again, it is unlikely that an analytics company would deliberately stash coin-mining scripts onto its customers’ pages, so the code must have come from another source — or was injected by miscreants who had compromised Showtime’s systems.

But just in case, you ought to blow the dust off that book of Rules of Acquisition.

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The unsoaked rich

Colonel Bunny, on the subject of the one-percenters and how they stay there:

The mask has slipped in the last 25 years as the infection of high-speed trading on the stock market, the flood of insane derivatives, the chummy relationship of public employee unions and politicians, open borders, and massive money creation, among other things, have come to light. The result has been the enormous transfer of wealth to the richest 1% that has accompanied astronomical wage stagnation. This is parasitism.

No one’s been minding the store in the West for a long time. Almost all Western nations have flooded themselves with savages and run up massive debt and money supplies, all to satisfy, I presume, the moneyed interests and their lumpenproletariat clients on whom the former rely to deliver reliable votes for economic destruction and the slide into third-world grime and savagery. This has nothing to do with common sense or patriotism.

There’s scarcely any money worthy of the name down here in the old Teeming Milieu; at best, what we have turns out to be nothing more than positive ledger entries. The more pragmatic among us will note that this is better than negative ledger entries; but at any moment your personal balance may be confiscated at the whim of the State. And if they want you in red ink, in red ink you shall be.

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A miner for a heart of zinc

Step right up and take a chance:

Some people have gotten so serious about it that they are building a computer farm in Iceland for the specific purpose of mining Bitcoins. I gave them $100 to see if they can make any money for me. Some people might want to call it an investment, but to me it’s more like gambling. It’s just enough money that I should remember to check on it occasionally to see if it is producing any results. It’s entirely possible they have faked the video and have taken my money and spent it [on] lattes for all their friends. We shall see.

This is the video of which he speaks. The actual value of bitcoin varies, like every other currency, “real” or crypto. (Possible exception: the Venezuelan bolívar, which has been worth pretty much nothing for some time.)

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It ain’t nothin’ but trash

Remember when cash was king? Now it ain’t jack:

More than three-quarters of respondents to a recent U.S. Bank survey said they never carry more than $50 in currency with them. Nearly one-quarter said they keep $10 or less.

And, when given a choice between paying someone with cash or a peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app, 47% said they would choose the digital option, as opposed to the 45% who said they’d rather use cash.

You’d think this might be dependent on how much cash they have on hand. Last actual art I bought at the downtown Festival of the Arts was $125; I seldom if ever have $125 in my pocket. Often the determining factor is the nearest ATM from Humongous Bank and Trust Company (Member FDIC), which has an option labeled “Fast Cash $60.”

(Via Fark. Title swiped from Charles Calhoun, aka Jesse Stone.)

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BFFs again

Integris Health, the biggest hospital in town, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the only insurer left in the federal insurance exchange for this state, were on the outs. Shortly before the pertinent contracts ran out, they kissed and made up.

Yesterday, I got a letter from Integris, signed by CEO Bruce Lawrence, to this effect:

I sincerely apologize for any frustration, inconvenience or concern you experienced during these contract negotiations. Our intent was to negotiate an agreement that would allow Integris to continue to offer the critical services not offered elsewhere in Oklahoma … service you or a family member may need some day. Although we tried to be as reassuring as possible during this process, we recognize the uncertainty the negotiations may have caused you.

Well, yeah, considering the war of words was fought largely in local media, with FUD as ammunition. To bolster that impression, here’s Mr Lawrence again:

I truly appreciate those of you who made phone calls to Blue Cross on our behalf; your efforts made a significant impact.

Of course, this has been the guiding principle of high-zoot health care since the invention of the phrase “Ask your doctor if [hyperexpensive new drug] is right for you.”

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Downright cheap, maybe

Try not to look at the digits:

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved a futuristic new approach to treating cancer, clearing a Novartis therapy that has produced unprecedented results in patients with a rare and deadly cancer. The price tag: $475,000 for a course of treatment.

That sounds staggering to many patients — but it’s far less than analysts expected.

The therapy, called a CAR-T, is made by harvesting patients’ white blood cells and rewiring them to home in on tumors. Novartis’s product is the first CAR-T therapy to come before the FDA, leading a pack of novel treatments that promise to change the standard of care for certain aggressive blood cancers.

Novartis’s therapy is approved to treat children and young adults with relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It will be marketed as Kymriah.

The generic name of this stuff is “Tisagenlecleucel.” Now, about that price tag:

Novartis picked the $475,000 price tag in an effort to balance patient access to Kymriah while giving the company a return on its investment, said Bruno Strigini, Novartis’s head of oncology, in a conference call Wednesday. The cost is below Wall Street analyst expectations, which reached as high as $750,000 for a dose. And it’s considerably cheaper than the roughly $700,000 price tag that U.K. regulators said would be fair considering Kymriah’s potential benefits.

For one dose?

In a clinical trial, a single dose of Kymriah left 83 percent of participants cancer-free after three months, results oncologists have hailed as a major advance for patients with few other options. The most frequent side effect was an inflammatory storm called cytokine release syndrome, a reaction to CAR-T that can prove fatal in some patients but is commonly controlled with immunosuppressant drugs.

About that CRS:

Deaths due to cytokine release syndrome with OKT3 (muromonab-CD3) have been reported, and it can cause life-threatening pulmonary edema if the patient is fluid overloaded. However, if treated appropriately it is usually not dangerous, just extremely unpleasant for the patient.

I bet it is. And it’s probably unpleasant for one’s insurance carrier as well.

(Via Joanna Blackhart.)

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Do not honor

The purveyors of plastic know they have us by the short and curlies:

My Citi card was refused at Costco today. Seems I haven’t paid my bill. Well, where is it? I’ve been looking for it but all I’ve seen have been promotional mailings offering to lend me even more money. So I call them and I get a pleasant sounding robo-cop, but no matter how loud I yell she can’t understand me. She won’t shut up either, she keeps yammering away about some useless information (supposed to fry my imagination). I give her two chances and she fails on both so get me to a real person you stupid shit. It takes persistent hammering on the keypad and yelling to get a connection to a real person who then wants to play 20 questions. Screw you, Citi bank. You want your money, send me a bill.

The credit card problem sent me over the edge. This is like the first week this summer without some kind of catastrophe and I was finally thinking that maybe I could relax and then this bullshit happens. I mean, what happened to the frickin’ bill? I could have misplaced it, or someone along the delivery chain could have lost it, but that has never happened before, so why would it happen now? Especially since I know it’s liable to be a big bill and I’ve been watching for it. So no, it didn’t get lost on the way. Stupid Citi failed to get it out the door. I suspect all large corporations are evil (they aren’t intentional evil, they are just big, relentless machines that have replaced thinking with blind, rote obedience), and in this case evil Citi bank screwed up. I am almost willing to bet that someone clicked on the little check box that signed me up for paperless billing. God damn commies.

The last time I had a card declined was after returning from a World Tour, some time during the previous decade; the bill had been paid on time, all right, but the Postal Service, instead of holding all the incoming mail as they usually do, somehow returned the bill to the card issuer, which promptly informed Lowe’s that they shouldn’t accept this obviously fake slab of polywhatchamacallit disguised as a Visa. American Express, proffered in its place, wasn’t anywhere near as fussy.

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Hey, buddy, can you break a mil?

From the What Was He Thinking files:

Authorities say a man who tried to deposit what he presented as a $1 million bill has been charged with drug possession in Iowa.

A criminal complaint says Sioux City police officers were called to a Northwest Bank branch Thursday to talk to a man who tried to deposit the bill into his account. The officers asked 33-year-old Dennis Strickland whether he had any more of the bills and that a baggie fell out when he emptied a pocket. The complaint says the baggie contained methamphetamine.

Quelle surprise.

Anyway, they can’t bust him for counterfeiting: there has never been an official $1 million bill from the Treasury, and therefore the bill he tried to deposit does not meet the legal standard for counterfeiting.

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Hydroplane into fame

You can never protect yourself too much:

Some time ago I was sued by a large corporation over a negative review I posted on this site. The case was eventually settled, and I am not allowed to talk about the terms or mention the company’s name any more. But I will say the review is still up and unchanged and sits on the first page of results on Google for that company’s name, so draw what conclusions you may.

But the case generated over $50,000 in legal expenses for me. I probably would have paid that out of pocket just because I am curmudgeonly and was not going to back down, but in fact the legal costs were 100% covered by my personal liability and umbrella insurance. Basically an umbrella means that if anything goes over the coverage limits of your policies, or slips through the cracks of your policies’ various coverages, the umbrella kicks in. The cost for the umbrella is close to a rounding error on my other insurance costs.

I wish sometimes I could afford to be curmudgeonly.

Still: fifty large in legal expenses? That’s more than four billable hours.

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Forget your frickin’ network

News Item: Still no deal between Integris and Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Without it more than 150,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield members may have to find a new doctor October 24th and Integris will be out of network August 31st.

Newspaper ad, August 9th:

Bill Shock ad by BCBSOK

The war of words escalates, as it seemingly always does.

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When health care was affordable

A bill from the Community Hospital of Beloit, Kansas, for a patient with appendicitis:

Hospital bill from 1932

Notes Gerard Van der Leun:

Adjusting for inflation since 1932 the cost in today’s dollars would be $2,265.49.

This does not include the surgeon’s fee.

Not that you can expect to pay anything like that to today’s Mitchell County Hospital Health Systems. And there’s this, from five years ago:

[T]he charges for treating appendicitis at hospitals in California ranged from about $1,500 to more than $182,000.

Moreover, patients usually have no idea what their bill will be when they enter the hospital, said study researcher Dr. Renee Hsia, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. And those who provide care are usually unaware of how much their treatment recommendations cost, Hsia said.

What’s changed since then? Only the prices, which are higher.

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New product, same old risks

Roberta X has been offered a new investment option for her 401(k):

Sitting on my desk is a mailing from the people who run my employer’s 401k, touting an exciting new investment tool that will automatically maximize my investment and tweak it from “adventurous” to “cautious” as my retirement age approaches. At least that’s what I think it says; I can barely make head nor tail of it, couched as it is in nice-sounding, empty phrases and high-financesque terminology that probably looks impressive to someone who doesn’t read the dictionary for fun. It’s low on numbers, contains no math, no graphs, and very little in the way of objectively factual content. Since my 401k is set to be as low-risk as possible — I know too many people who took a deep plunge when the market was roaring and saw their savings swept away in one slump or another — I don’t know why they bothered to send it to me.

If this is a new “investment tool,” “objectively factual content” probably doesn’t exist yet: the expected return, the one thing you care about, can’t be stated because no one has actually received any results yet.

(My own account has a small segment with a small but guaranteed return, a small segment for which the sky’s the limit, and everything else right in the middle.)

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It’s all at the new Radio Shack

What? A new Radio Shack? “Surely,” you say, “you jest.”

I jest not [and you know what goes here]. A new Radio Shack has just opened:

Radio Shack’s comeback is beginning in Baraboo [Wisconsin].

On July 10 a downtown store formerly known as Gadget Central became a Radio Shack franchise, the national chain’s first new U.S. store since it filed for bankruptcy.

The Radio Shack sign went up Tuesday at the corner of Ash and Third streets, where owner P.J. Kruschel and his staff are stocking the shelves with merchandise. The store sells televisions, flashlights and drones, as well as refurbished phones and laptops.

“Inventory is pouring in,” Kruschel said. “We’re going to have all the parts and pieces, all the fun toys.”

But the major selling point will be service after the sale:

Kruschel said competitive prices will allow his store to sit at the table with big-box and online competitors, and service will be his trump card. The store offers cell phone and computer repair.

“Radio Shack will work in almost any small town,” he said. “People want service.”

People who want the latest Kindle Fire or a build-it-yourself drone or an iPhone will find those, too, at prices comparable to Best Buy and amazon.com.

Baraboo is a few miles northwest of Madison, Wisconsin, if you’re planning a pilgrimage or something.

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Living off the residuals

Drake appeared in 145 episodes of the Degrassi series reboot, about which he said later: “My mother was very sick. We were very poor, like broke. The only money I had coming in was off of Canadian TV.”

Fortunately, he has other sources of income these days, because:

A residuals check made out to Drake

Judging by the date, I’m guessing he gets these quarterly. And by now, he’s earned some figure with nine digits — he said he wanted to make $25 million by age 25, a sum he exceeded handily — which tells me he’s not desperate for thirty-three bucks a year.

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Still some glitter in the Golden State

And, of course, you’ll pay dearly for all that sparkle:

[A]gent Mark Wong sent out an email blast Tuesday revealing that around 60 South Bay homes, mostly in Sunnyvale and Cupertino, sold for $200,000 or more over the asking price in the last 30 days. And he wasn’t necessarily talking about fancy schmancy places. One modest Cupertino house — 1,046 square feet — sold for $660,000 above its listing price.

This is within a breadbox of the size of my modest house, which might be worth $100,000. Maybe. As long as the taxman says it’s in the 90s, I’ll happily nod in agreement.

“The listing price doesn’t mean anything anymore,” Wong said. “It’s just a number.”

“Most of the agents, they love to list under the fair market value, so that’s why it creates an auction-style sale,” he said. “The buyers are smart people. They look around. And when they see a property below the fair market value, they think they’ve found a good deal and they’ll jump on it. Then everybody jumps and it bids up the price.”

The sellers are happy because they need those extra dollars for their new digs. And so it goes, until it won’t go anymore.

(Via Fark.)

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Tenants, anyone?

As of last weekend, Vancouver, British Columbia, is imposing a 1-percent tax on empty homes:

Vancouver city council has voted to approve a tax on empty homes, the first of its kind in Canada.

Self-reporting owners will be assessed a one per cent tax on homes that are not principal residences or aren’t rented out for at least six months of the year.

That means a $1-million home left vacant would be taxed $10,000.

Mayor Gregor Robertson thought this was a swell idea:

Robertson has said the tax is a way to combat what he called the housing crisis in Vancouver, and justified the measure as a “business tax” on owners he said were treating housing as an investment property.

Robertson has said the tax will improve Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate, which is currently around 0.6 per cent, by persuading owners of thousands of empty apartments and houses to put them up for rent.

That was last fall. With the tax going into effect on the first of July, landlords have been in Scurry Mode:

[Real-estate agent Cameron] Fazli said many of the people he has talked to are thinking of renting or selling their properties. He recently met with a woman who owns three empty properties in Vancouver — and says one of them is now listed for rent, another will be listed shortly and she is thinking of selling the third.

“This is a scenario of someone who is kind of in a panic now and needs to rent them out,” he said.

Other property owners are still figuring out exactly how much of the year they spend in the property, Fazli said, and are seeing if they can find a family member to occupy enough to make it over the six month threshold.

The agent predicts that there will be more available properties, but not necessarily affordable properties:

Fazli said while it will lead to more housing being available because of lower vacancy rates, it won’t drive down prices.

“It’s going to bring more rental properties onto the market but, on the affordable aspect, I think we’re going to see the properties being more on the higher end side,” he said.

Which means likely no change to Vancouver’s status as the third most unaffordable housing market on the planet:

Vancouver ranks 3rd in the 2017 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey [pdf], down one spot from 2016 when it was second.

The survey compares 406 metropolitan housing markets in nine countries: Australia, Canada, China, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.

It’s the 13th edition of the report, which links median house prices to median household incomes otherwise known as the “median multiple.”

A value 3.0 or under is deemed affordable. Vancouver’s median multiple is 11.8.

At the very top of the scale is Hong Kong, which posted a score of 18.1. Should anyone care, Oklahoma City rates a 2.9.

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Still more microfinance

Last year, I made a couple of small loans through Kiva, on the basis that having escaped the hospital without going bankrupt due largely to the kindness of friends, I was due for some forward-paying. One of those loans has been completely paid back, the other more than halfway, so I sprang for a third. Carmen Josefina is 55, lives with her husband in Portoviejo, Ecuador, and this is what she does:

She is a great housewife, who in order to obtain her own resources works in artisanal crafts and as a merchant. She makes flowers out of fabric, cushions for furniture, and Christmas decorations with a lot of designs. She makes these handmade items to order or to sell to the public. She has been doing this activity for more than 20 years, and thanks to it, she helped her children get ahead.

This loan is to buy more raw materials for all of the products she makes. She likes it because with the loans, she has gotten a lot of help to continue with her business. Her dream is to have good health to keep going forward.

She asked for $1325 over eight months. As is typical with Kiva, there is a Field Partner, in this case an Ecuador-specific charity operation reporting a default rate (on 22,000 loans) of 0.11 percent.

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Stop lugging around all that bitcoin

Okay, cryptocurrency doesn’t weigh all that much, but it’s long been limited in its capabilities — though maybe not so much anymore:

Bitpay’s recent announcement will mark the company’s pre-paid Visa card as the first cryptocurrency tethered debit card that’s available to over 130 countries worldwide. The Atlanta-based firm believes the improved accessibility of the Bitpay card will enable global citizens the ability to utilize the tool with their digital currency savings.

“Today’s news makes the Bitpay Card the first prepaid Visa debit card available for bitcoin users in both the United States and in major bitcoin-using countries such as the UK, Germany, China, Japan, Argentina, and Brazil, along with 125 other nations,” explains Bitpay.

I snicker at that “global citizen” business, but this was inevitable: existing bitcoin addresses are clumsy, and it was probably going to be a long time before you could pay for your groceries at the Hy-Vee with bitcoin. This way no one even needs to know. (Hey, there’s a new reason for the word “cryptocurrency”!)

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Some weird grasshopper/ant hybrid

Perhaps that should be a model for how we conduct our financial affairs in our middle years:

I’m busy taking steps to insure I at least have my house paid off, my debts gone, and a bit of money around when I’m in my 60s. I drive an Accord and I’ve sold two of my three Porsches. I’ve spent more money on bicycles for my kid in the past year than I’ve spent on Italian menswear, although admittedly in both cases I’ve laid out more cash than was strictly prudent.

Still. I’m trying to think about what I’ll have in the future. It won’t be anything like what I’d have if I had devoted the last 15 years to saving money and living within my means. I didn’t do that. I devoted the last 15 years to having unprotected sex with random women, most of whom were already married, in the carbon-fiber-clad cockpits of leased luxury vehicles. I don’t want to say how much money I spent in that lifestyle. The sum would be inconsequential to Sheryl Sandberg but it would make the average American dry-heave.

You know what? I don’t regret it. I don’t regret any of the money I spent on cars. I don’t regret any of the money I spent on hotel rooms, expensive meals, linen Kiton sportcoats, last-minute flights, or arrive-and-drive expenses. I might be 45 years old but I’m not stupid enough to think of that as “middle-aged.” That implies that I’ll live to be 90. Let’s say I’d saved all that money and I retired at 65 with $5 or $10 million bucks. What would I do with it? Would I go back and sleep with all those women I’d missed out on because I was driving a seven-year-old Sentra and pinching my pennies? Would I enter all the races that I’d skipped in the past to save money? Would I buy my son an expensive bicycle for his birthday, even if it’s his 35th birthday?

And how would I feel if I wound up with a late-stage cancer diagnosis of my own at the age of 61? As I lay dying in a semi-private hospital room, watching my savings disappear at the rate of two Brioni sportcoats a day for amenities to include one IV drip and three assisted trips to the toilet per day, how would I feel about all those days I’d spent behind the wheel of a Sentra, waiting for the future that would never actually arrive?

The most specific advice here, I think, is to avoid the Nissan Sentra at any cost.

Still, settling down a bit and taking a wife — his own, not someone else’s — might buy him a few years at the far end. Maybe. My relatively sedate existence isn’t likely to buy me a ninth decade, or even an eighth. And the only way I’m going to retire with five or ten million bucks is if some wacko billionaire decides to bestow twenty million on me. It’s times like these that I appreciate the wisdom of Katie Scarlett O’Hara: “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

Oh, and my son is already thirty-five.

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