Archive for Common Cents

Yes, we have no renminbi

In the past couple of weeks, I have encountered several individuals who yearn for the Cashless Society we’re supposed to be getting along with our flying cars and such. To every action, of course, there are the forces of reaction:

The most terrifying thing about the basically cashless society in China is (contra Bloomberg) not that the banks are being cut out of their lucrative middle-man fees. It’s that every transaction shows up in your social credit score and if Tencent is told by the government that you don’t need your money, well, then you starve.

Of course, being Bloomberg, they miss the schadenfreude of companies that have behaved like Mastercard losing their middleman privileges.

Yea, verily. Ostensible progressives operate under the assumption that the banks, like every other operation that desires favors from the government, will do their bidding when called upon. And the Chinese enjoy least-unfavored nation status as a result, while everyone complains about the Russians, who aren’t even Communists anymore fercrissake; you just know Bernie Sanders cried himself to sleep the night they dissolved the Supreme Soviet.

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I might not give the answer that you want me to

Some people are never happy unless there’s detectable urine in the punchbowl. A Quoran threw this out: Is it true that the median interest rate for credit cards is 21.36%? Is this high-interest credit used by many people?

I gave it a handwave — if you pay it off every month like you’re supposed to, the interest rate becomes irrelevant — but this wasn’t sufficiently literal-minded for this twerp:

The question asks whether many people are using the high interest credit. i.e. whether many people have these cards and do not pay of their balance every month, thus paying these interest rates.

Well, chuck you, Farley:

Card issuers wouldn’t set rates like this unless they expected some people to pay them. Oh, and “median” implies that half the users pay less, and half pay more. It is therefore trivially obvious that some people are paying these rates.

Bloody Belgian.

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That don’t oppress me much

Seen in the Quora queue: Does real time processing of debits and credits by banks discriminate based on the customers income and financial status?

Few questions fall so easily into my area of expertise. I responded:

Generally, no, though banks do have a tendency to time transactions to maximize the possibility of collecting overdraft fees. Inasmuch as there are plenty of ostensibly “poor” people who don’t overdraw their accounts, the people who are discriminated against are stupid people, which is fine with regulators and with me.

A roving asshat chose this moment to weigh in:

You obviously have not lived on the bubble like many middle and lower class Americans are forced too [sic].

Your answer reflects your lack of empathy and compassion.

The guy’s reading comprehension is obviously on the low side, since the people I criticized were not the poor, but the stupid. But no, his knee couldn’t jerk fast enough to get this boilerplate flung at me. I responded with a brief unpleasant history of my own, but in retrospect I think the more useful response would have been simply “Sod off, Swampy.”

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Riffing on tariffs

Karl Denninger has a plan:

So over the first seven months we’ve collected $41 billion and change in duties over the $22 billion and change last year. That’s $19 billion smackers in additional tariff revenue.

Total ag exports to China are approximately $24 billion a year.

All of them.

Well, so will be the tariffs over a 12 month period.

So with that tariff revenue, should the Chinese decide they would like to try to boycott American agricultural products, we can buy the same amount of said agricultural products and essentially erase a huge amount of starvation in third-world nations by giving the products to them.

It will cost US Treasury zero to do that.

Well, yeah, but what will that do to prices?

BTW $24 billion is about 0.12% of the US economy. That is, the cost to you as a consumer of these tariffs is going to be a grand price increase of about 0.22% (annualized). You won’t even be able to see that in the price of what you buy — even more than doubled it will be less than one half of one percent in price increase, unless US firms try to gouge you — and if they do then your correct response is to destroy the firms and executives who do that and ship their body parts over to China to be recycled by swine-flu infected hogs.

Oh.

Peter Grant points out:

Right now, the side exporting the most to the other side has the most to lose from increased tariffs — and the USA is exporting far less to China than the other way around.

I’m going to force myself to enjoy the prospect of well-fed Chinese swine.

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Not so cashless after all

Sweden. among the nations farthest along the path to the Cashless Society, has decided that maybe they’re going a little too fast:

Everyone in Sweden has been urged to stockpile coins and banknotes in case the country’s move towards a cashless society leaves them without money in a cyber-crisis. In a move that will sound alarm bells in the UK, Sweden — one of the most advanced nations for digital payments — has warned that its people could be unable to buy anything if its computer networks were put out of action.

The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, an arm of the government, has sent guidance to every home telling residents to squirrel away “cash in small denominations” in case of emergencies ranging from power cuts or technology glitches to terrorism, cyber-attacks by a rogue government or war.

I don’t know if he worries about this, but Warren Buffett says he carries about $400 — and an American Express card.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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Before the generic appears

I take one brand-name drug, for which no generics have yet materialized. And it occurs to me that Big Pharma LLC might want to keep its customers asking for the brand-name version, even if it means taking a haircut on the retail price.

Actually, this didn’t occur to me until yesterday at Walgreens, where I duly dropped my ID and my American Express card into the drive-in drawer, to cover both Schedule IV controls and the $150 copay for 90 days of the brand-name stuff. The pharmacy tech did warn me that yes, it’s $150. But then she said: “Would you be interested if the manufacturer was offering a discount coupon?”

Um, yeah, I think I might. “Give me a few minutes,” she said, and started clicking away on a keyboard. No one was behind me in line, so a few minutes — turned out to be about five and a half — elapsed before she returned to the window. “We’ve attached a copy of this to your record,” she said, “so you can use it again.”

Net price on that pricey drug, once couponned into submission: five bucks. Ninety tabs, $5.00 total. I made sure I looked properly grateful as I pulled out of the lane. And I spent $31 of that $145 saved on dinner, because reasons.

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As the customers are blown off

I have never had a whole lot of use for TurboTax, although it must be disclosed up front that 40-odd years ago, I was a seasonal worker at present-day archrival H&R Block. But I never quite suspected Intuit, publisher of TurboTax, of pulling a stunt at this level:

This week, we reported on how TurboTax uses deceptive design and misleading advertising to trick lower-income Americans into paying to file their taxes, even though they are eligible to do it for free.

There’s a new wrinkle: It turns out, Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, is deliberately hiding the truly free edition — TurboTax Free File — from Google Search.

Intuit has done that by adding code on its site telling Google and other search engines not to list TurboTax Free File in search results.

Does this require some arcane knowledge of coding? Ha. Also, ha:

The code in question, which can be found in a file called robots.txt or in an HTML tag, has to be actively added to a site, as Intuit has done. It is typically used on pages that designers want to hide from the open internet, such as those that are for internal use only. Without that code, Google and other search engines default to adding a site to their search results.

My own robots.txt file, should you be interested, blocks indexing of graphics and WordPress components, but nothing else.

There are, of course, ominous political rumblings:

Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement that he plans to raise Intuit’s misleading marketing with the IRS. “Intuit’s tactics to reduce access to the Free File program and confuse taxpayers are outrageous,” he said.

As if tax returns themselves aren’t confusing enough already.

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The dreamer reveals himself

And he hasn’t a clue: Where do I deposit my Bitcoins to earn a guaranteed annual rate of return of 6%? How is it insured?

Just the idea of having “Bitcoin,” “guaranteed” and “insured” in the same paragraph is hilarious in the extreme. Someone’s going to rip off this poor, deluded soul, and he’ll never know what hit him until it’s gone.

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In exchange for a little work

Among people wanting free stuff, or as close to free as possible, the Amazon gift card is closer to legal tender than anything that isn’t actually currency. Getting one, or several, is a simple matter of taking part in market research. Consider, for instance, Ebates:

Founded in 1999, they’ve helped millions of consumers save over a billion dollars with their cashback app.

Best of all, you can get a $10 bonus just for signing up with them today.

They’re a legend in the cashback space, and been around since the dinosaur age in internet years.

However, payouts do happen ever quarter — that’s every 3 months — so this is more of an investment in your future self.

Twenty years is — what, a millennium or two? — in Internet time. As a dinosaur myself, I have to respect that sort of thing. And if three months seems like a long time for instant gratification, the link does have plenty of faster-paced alternatives.

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Ammo can what?

Found at BulkMunitions.com:

Ammo Can Giveaway at BulkMunitions.com

Hey, you never know. Drawing is on April 13th. (And this year, unlike last year, it’s on a Saturday.)

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Stuck in 1690

Someone perhaps wasn’t thinking when this application was written:

The matter was resolved quickly enough:

And thank God this didn’t happen to an American woman running for office, because we’d never hear the end of it.

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The usual wailing

This sort of stuff has been coming out all year, with the implication that somehow it’s All Trump’s Fault:

The average tax refund is $2,640 for the week ending Feb. 15, according to the IRS. That’s down by more than 16 percent compared to the year-ago period.

For the first time, taxpayers are submitting their returns under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which went into effect last year.

The filing season only kicked off on Jan. 28, but some early filers are finding that they’re either owing the IRS or they’ll be receiving a smaller refund.

Boo fricking hoo. If you knew how to play this game, you’d have tweaked your withholding for 2018 to wind up even with the IRS and had all that extra cash during the year. Most people, it seems, would rather get it in a lump sum in the spring.

Then again, I didn’t tweak my withholding for 2018, and I got back six times as much as I did last year. This reflects two factors: (1) I actually made a few bucks less, and (2) I am not easily scared.

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Tons of money, stat

So why is it that we spend more on health care than pretty much everyone else on the planet? One theory:

Perhaps because we think we like to think we are sick and we like spending money on doctors and lab work and drugs. Perhaps because we are willing to spend the money and the medical establishment is willing to take it. In any case, I suspect it’s just our mindset: charge on until we are stopped, and then bust down the barricade and charge on some more… Crazy people run up bigger medical bills, and we Americans might be the craziest of all.

I dunno, but I suspect most of our health care dollars are spent on old people, and a lot of that is spent on people who are not even mentally with us anymore. It is easy to foist unnecessary treatments on people who are barely aware of what’s going on. But hey, Medicare will pay for it, so it gets done.

Certainly the medical establishment doesn’t go out of its way to keep from taking our money.

And then I look at the doctor’s office, which includes three actual medical personnel and four people who push paper, and I am no longer surprised.

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High-ish hopes

A Quora query: How can I make a billion dollar selling job lots, job lots of cars (used cars, new cars, luxury cars), new cars and luxury cars through an LLC?

All the cool kids are setting up as Limited Liability Companies these days, so that’s certainly understandable. (An LLC is not quite a corporation; the rules governing LLCs and the creation thereof are not quite as stiff as those governing corporations.) And really, no one cares about millionaires anymore: you want that tenth digit to proclaim your status.

Still, I’d believe Taylor Swift calling me up for a date before I’d believe this kid’s made it to a billion.

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Some pal you are

This arrived in the mail yesterday:

As a result of a new regulation issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, D.C. coming into effect on April 1, 2019, we are making some changes that will affect consumers who want to hold and use balance with PayPal.

When in doubt, blame Washington. Works for me.

If you want to hold and use balance, you will need a balance account which will be linked to your current PayPal account. PayPal will offer two balance accounts: PayPal Cash and PayPal Cash Plus. Information about both types of balance accounts can be found in the PayPal Cash and PayPal Cash Plus Terms and Conditions.

If you are an existing personal PayPal account holder and we have already verified your identity, we will establish and automatically link a PayPal Cash Plus account to your current PayPal account. Information about your PayPal Cash Plus account, including your balance amount, will be easily available using your existing PayPal login.

Whatever the hell that means.

For all other consumer PayPal account holders, if you want to hold and use balance, in addition to verifying your identity with PayPal, you will need [to] set up a balance account which will be linked to your current PayPal account.

I have in fact three putative balance accounts wired into PayPal. Does this mean I’m good to go, or do I have to lose two of them?

All this goes into effect on the 29th of March. Perhaps by then this will be de-jargonized.

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Chirpy chirpy cheap cheap

Dystopic flinches at the cost of his upcoming vacation/delayed honeymoon, but only a little:

I think in the end, this vacation will cost me on the order of $8,000. On the other hand, I can afford it. I have the cash, it can be done.

It got me thinking, though. On social media, I constantly see friends and acquaintances flying off to exotic vacations, buying new cars, and eating at fancy restaurants. And I know they make far less money than I do. And, paradoxically, they often complain about living paycheck-to-paycheck, apparently not seeing the obvious connection between their lifestyles and lack of savings. Some of them even purport to be Socialists.

Bernie Sanders tweeted that “80% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck” as if this was somehow unavoidable; that they were forced to live this way. It’s a blatant denial of Free Will. You were fated to be a spendthrift. It’s not your fault. You shouldn’t have to fix it.

One word trips them up every time: deserve. “Well, we deserve this,” they say, even before they hide the bank statement from themselves. Merchants are happy to play along with the politics of envy, because they get paid up front. And who’s going to tell these unbudgetable souls that no, you really don’t deserve this? (Hint: Not Bernie Sanders.)

I’ve lived from paycheck to paycheck before. In fact, there were times when I was living paycheck to four days before paycheck. But if there’s too much month left at the end of the money, whom can I blame? A random member of the One Percent? Walmart? Pope Gregory XIII?

No, no, and no, in that order.

(Title source.)

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Collateral damaged

Amazingly, this did not work:

After being refused a loan at a bank in Kazan, Russia, a young woman tried to convince the bank manager to approve the loan by stripping in front of him.

Yulia Kuzmina, who is reportedly in her mid-20s, went to a bank in Kazan, the capital city of The Republic of Tatarstan in western Russia, to secure a loan for a new car. She filled out all the necessary forms, but her application was denied after the bank’s analysis determined that she was an unreliable borrower. After pleading with the loan manager, Kuzmina decided it was time for desperate measures and started taking her clothes off in front of him.

The banker was evidently not impressed:

“Very low interest,” says the Fark blurb writer.

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She has a roof over her head

Which is better odds than you get with him:

A new report by the online loan marketplace LendingTree has found that single women own far more homes than their male counterparts. The study revealed that in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, single women are almost twice as likely to be homeowners as single men. Single women in New Orleans, for example, own 27 percent of all homes compared to only 15 percent for single men. Multiple cities boasted disparities of over 10 percent. Interestingly, there were no cities in which single men outpaced single women.

And if you know lots of single guys, you’re already nodding your head.

The decision to marry and have children has a profound impact on earnings. Though the average man makes more than the average woman, the disparity is reversed when looking at unmarried women versus unmarried men. Based on data compiled from 2,000 urban communities, one study found that the median salary for young, unmarried, childless women is about 8 percent higher than men with the same characteristics. Other cities experienced pay gaps in the double digits, sometimes reaching as high as 20 percent. Further research has shown that unmarried college-educated women between the ages of 40 and 64 earn an average of 17.5 percent more than their male peers.

And probably a better credit risk, I suspect, having spent rather a lot of time at the wrong end of FICO.

(Via Stephen Green.)

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Don’t ever get sick

To misappropriate a line from J. B. S. Haldane, it’s not only more expensive than we imagine, it’s more expensive than we can imagine.

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Face off

Most Kenyan coins bear the image of Jomo Kenyatta, or his successor Daniel arap Moi. But this practice is ending:

Section 231(4) of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya stated “Notes and coins issued by the Central Bank of Kenya may bear images that depict or symbolise Kenya or an aspect of Kenya but may not bear the portrait of any individual.” New banknotes and coins are scheduled to be released by 2018 to meet up with this new law.

Still no sign of the banknotes, but the coins are now in circulation:

20 and 10-shilling coins minted in Kenya in 2018

The 20-shilling coin bears the likeness of an elephant; the 10-shilling, of a lion. All new-series coins have the Kenyan coat of arms on the reverse.

The current President of Kenya is the first not to have his image on any of the country’s currency, and he’s fine with that:

President Uhuru Kenyatta — the son of Kenya’s first leader Jomo Kenyatta — said the new coins were a “big change” and showed “our nation has come a long way.”

First day of circulation for the new coins was Tuesday.

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An ATM without so much rat in it

Perhaps the critter thought he needed fiber:

Eating money will not make you rich, but rather turn your insides into tub of paper confetti. A rat in Assam state, India, learned this hard truth earlier this week when it squeezed its way inside an ATM machine, consumed and destroyed $17,662 worth of Rupees, and promptly died.

The ATM in question was on the fritz for a few days when technicians were called to inspect it, Reuters reports. What they found looked like the contents of a paper shredder, with the rat already dead and buried within the mountain of minced up money.

The bank was properly appalled:

State Bank of India branch manager Chandan Sharma told reporters:

“The ATM was out of order for a few days and when our technicians opened the kiosk we were shocked to find shredded notes and a dead rat … We have started an investigation into this rare incident and will take measures to prevent a recurrence.”

The rat was small enough to evade the ATM’s security camera and burrow inside, ultimately ripping through $17,662 of its $42,685 supply. When the rodent’s body was retrieved, it was already a stiff and withered corpse.

The love of money will get you every time.

(Via Tracy Chou.)

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Ghosn with the wind

In 1999, Carlos Ghosn created the Nissan/Renault Alliance, to which Mitsubishi was added last year. Three utterly disparate automakers. But Ghosn, apparently, spent a great deal of time looking out for Number One:

Nissan Motors chairman Carlos Ghosn has been arrested and will be dismissed for alleged under-reporting of his income and misuse of company funds, the company said Monday.

The Japanese automaker’s CEO Hiroto Saikawa confirmed that Ghosn was arrested after being questioned by prosecutors following his arrival in Japan earlier in the day.

It was a stunning development that will pose a daunting test for the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance, one of the world’s biggest automakers.

The biggest, at least during the first half of 2018, beating out both Volkswagen Group and Toyota.

The Yokohama-based company said the alleged violations involving millions of dollars by Ghosn, 64, and another executive were discovered during a months’ long investigation that was instigated by a whistleblower.

Did Ghosn think himself to be underpaid?

Ghosn’s Renault pay package amounted to a shareholder-approved 7.4 million euro last fiscal year ($8.46 million), with Nissan and Mitsubishi chipping in $6.52 million and $2.01 million, respectively.

I’m pretty sure I could get by on $17 million a year.

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Man of inconstant borrow

Why is the auto financing sometimes not fair? asks Mr. I Wouldn’t Give My Name Either:

I always see people with poor or not credit at all not a stable job and taking subsidies from the government getting those brand new cars while I have a stable job with good credit not getting even approved for a car loan which I really need to move on this car dependent city.

One of these, or both, will apply:

  • His credit isn’t as good as he says it is;
  • Their credit isn’t as bad as he says it is.

What I want to know: Are their FICO scores stenciled on the deck lid?

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A shiver of sharks

I can remember when the phone book hit the porch with a resounding THUNK. Then again, it was two thousand pages, not including coupons. Today it’s down around 550, and the sound is feeble indeed.

The back cover this year has been taken by a local loan operator with, it says, eight locations in OKC. Um, no, not really. While the eight locations have seven different names, three of them have the same address (different “suite number”), and two more are more or less next door to each other with a third just around the corner.

Across the bottom of the page is a single URL for all, which matches exactly none of those names.

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This is me being dumb

I planned this out very carefully. About four, having determined that I needed to pick up a bundle of prescriptions, I browsed over to my MasterCard provider, who would happily tell me my balance and how much I have left. This particular card has the lowest credit limit of any I have, so I tend to use it more for things like, well, trips to the drug store.

They didn’t recognize me for some reason, and requested further ID. Now I’m cool with two-factor authorization, so yeah, go ahead and text me a code. It was about twenty seconds later when I remembered I was still at the office, a virtual black hole as far as cell service goes.

</facepalm>

At five, roughly six minutes away from home (and the store, three blocks from home) they sent me a code, with a note attached to the effect that they weren’t going to call me this time. I have to assume there is such a thing as undeliverable SMS, and return messages then ensue.

Oh, and I put the drugs on American Express. Why complicate matters?

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Your very own tax haven

Your driveway runs through it:

One of the common arguments against the mortgage-interest deduction is that most of it goes to higher-income folks; most of those thus arguing believe that there must be some magical means in the arcane rites of mathematics that could somehow make it Not So. I figure someone who makes ten times what I do probably pays twelve or thirteen times what I do to the taxman, and someone who makes a tenth of what I do probably pays nothing at all. Besides, the deduction isn’t worth as much as it used to be, at least partially because of Donald Trump’s tax package.

And that said, the deduction is no longer worth anything to me personally: halfway through my mortgage, I pay less interest than I used to, and I’m now at the point where I needn’t even bother with Schedule A. The only reason for me to support it, therefore, is to annoy its detractors.

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Beyond mere inflation

This might even be beyond hyperinflation:

Venezuelan consumer prices rose 488,865 percent in the 12 months ending in September, a member of the opposition-run congress reported on Monday, as the OPEC nation’s hyperinflation continues to accelerate amid a broader economic collapse.

Daily inflation is now 4 percent, according to opposition legislator Angel Alvarado, with monthly inflation rising to 233 percent in September from 223 percent in August.

Not sure how you get four hundred thousand percent out of that, but it’s not like the government has a clue what to do about it:

In an effort to stabilize prices, President Nicolas Maduro in August cut five zeros off the ailing bolivar currency, boosted the minimum wage by 3,000 percent, and pegged salaries to an elusive state-backed cryptocurrency.

A mere ten years ago, the first three zeros were lopped off the bolívar, something Caracas hadn’t seen fit to do since 1879.

“The only thing planned economies never run out of,” says Stephen Green, “is zeros.”

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Lending again

Another small business I have opted to assist financially:

They’re seeking ten grand, as follows:

•$2500.00 — For the purchase of the new equipment for our Point of Sales inventory system, a new laptop for launching an online sales component and to increase our social media presence

•$3000.00 — To sustain our current employees’ salary. This will help our business maintain the current position for our employee. This position allows us to provide a job for a local community member and maintain our excellent customer service

•$3000.00 — To Increase inventory by adding additional product brands. Being able to increase our inventory will help us to fulfill requests from our loyal customers and will assist our store in being competitive with neighboring competition.

•$1500.00 — Marketing promotion expenses and flyer printing. Mailers and professional business flyers will include promotions, discounts and our new product offerings. This will keep our business relevant, increase awareness of our presence in our local community, and give our customers reassurance as to why time and time again, they choose our store for their immediate beauty needs.

Does “South Central” include north Long Beach? No matter.

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Glass sunroof

Apparently being female isn’t enough to silence complaints about fat-cat CEOs:

One of Britain’s best-paid female bosses has been slammed by critics over a £29million bonus.

Avril Palmer-Baunack runs British Car Auctions, which owns We Buy Any Car, the car-buying website known for its catchy jingles.

The vast sum, 59 times her normal salary, is the result of an incentive plan drawn up four years ago to grow the firm.

Oh, and her normal salary went up a bit as well:

On top of the £29 million bonus, which is linked to an increase in the share price, she also got an eight per cent increase to her basic salary to £525,000. The company defended it by saying it needed to pay a “competitive” rate.

But in a report to investors, influential advisory firm Glass Lewis called the £29 million payout to Palmer-Baunack “exceptionally disproportionate.” It said the increase in the value of BCA may have been boosted by broader swings in stock market prices “rather than company or management performance.”

Kim du Toit laughs at that, as he should:

Well, guess what? “Broader swings” in the stock market are a result of shareholder confidence in the market’s activities and results — and if the company and its boss benefit from that, it’s called “good luck.” I should point out once again that if the market is tanking and it takes a company down with it — through no fault of the company boss, mind you — the boss may well get fired anyway because at the end (and please note this, because it’s important), executive management is responsible for one thing, and one thing only: growth in the value of the shareholders’ investment. How it gets there is irrelevant (except in the Land Of Wealth Envy). When they say, “The buck stops here,” that’s precisely what it means: the ultimate responsibility for shareholder value lies with the executive manager, and with this comes either termination or reward, as agreed by the shareholders.

Glass Lewis may be “influential,” but they have no actual power; she’ll be getting her bonus, all $37 million of it. And I’d say she should be rewarded handsomely for phasing out advertisements like this:

That one alone is worth several million.

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Schools cost money

Even some Oklahoma politicians are coming to realize that.

Joe Sherlock tossed out this little statistic this past week:

Tuition at St. Joseph’s Prep, my old high school, is now $23,900 per year, not including fees (books, retreats, sports, transportation, etc.).

Which sounds like a lot, though public schools in Philadelphia, in 2015 anyway, were spending $12,570 per student, and it’s almost certainly gone up since then.

So I dialed back to my own old high school, which, if your family qualifies as parishioners in the Diocese of Charleston, is charging a mere $9,600 a year. (If not, it’s $14,100.) This is about twenty times what it was when I was there, fifty years ago, but the only things that haven’t gone up at that rate are the things the government uses to calculate the inflation rate.

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