Category: Business

Grain piles up – as trains are dedicated to North Dakota oil

The furious pace of energy exploration in North Dakota is creating a crisis for farmers whose grain shipments have been held up by a vast new movement of oil by rail, leading to millions of dollars in agricultural losses and slower production for breakfast cereal giants like General Mills.

The backlog is only going to get worse, farmers said, as they prepared this week for what is expected to be a record crop of wheat and soybeans…

Although the energy boom in North Dakota has led to a 2.8 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in the nation, the downside has been harder times for farmers who have long been mainstays of the state’s economy. Agriculture was North Dakota’s No. 1 industry for decades, representing a quarter of its economic base, but recent statistics show that oil and gas have become the biggest contributors to the state’s gross domestic product.

Railroads have long been the backbone of North Dakota’s transportation system and the most dependable way for farmers to move crops — to ports in Portland, Ore., Seattle and Vancouver, from which the bulk of the grain is shipped across the Pacific to Asia; and to East Coast ports like Albany, from which it is shipped to Europe.

But reports the railroads filed with the federal government show that for the week that ended Aug. 22, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway — North Dakota’s largest railroad…had a backlog of 1,336 rail cars waiting to ship grain and other products. Another railroad, Canadian Pacific, had a backlog of nearly 1,000 cars.

For farmers, the delays often mean canceled orders from food giants that cannot wait weeks or months for the grain they need to make cereal, bread and an array of other products. “They need to get this problem fixed,” Mr. Hejl said. “I’m losing money, and my customers are turning to other sources as a result. I don’t know how much longer we can survive like this.”

This month, federal Agriculture Department officials said they were particularly concerned that Canadian Pacific would not be able to fulfill nearly 30,000 requests from farmers and others for rail cars before October. As a result, North Dakota’s congressional delegation and lawmakers in Minnesota and South Dakota have called on the Surface Transportation Board, which oversees the nation’s railroads, to step up pressure on the companies.

Farmers and agriculture groups say rail operators are clearly favoring the more lucrative transport of oil. Rail shipments of crude oil in North Dakota have surged since 2008, and the state now produces about a million barrels a day. About 60 percent of that oil travels by train from the Bakken oil fields in the western part of the state to faraway oil refiners…

RTFA. Ain’t anything there likely to surprise you.

Railroad officials beat their double-breasted Brooks Brother suits and claim they show no favoritism. That they are planning an additional investment of $400 million for more track and tank cars has nothing to do with which commodity is most profitable for them.

Obviously not Christians for they certainly don’t worry about being struck by lightning as liars, eh?

Thanks, Mike

About these ads

So-called facts you find in the Creation Museum

When BuzzFeed journalist Matt Stopera went to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY for the Bill Nye–Ken Ham debate, he learned a lot of really crazy stuff that creationists make up about creationism and evolution.

“First off, the museum is HUGE. It’s also REALLY nice. Like one of the nicest museums I’ve ever been to. It took me over three hours to go through it. Through the course of those three hours, I learned just about everything I could possibly ever want to know about creationism.”

Here is a sampling of some of the things he learned in his surreal experience. Honestly, these kooks just make this stuff up. I’m a Christian. Why can’t other Christians reconcile God with science as I have? But nooooo, they (some of them) have to be as stupid as humanly possible.


Graffiti is a sign of the abandonment of God


Adam and Eve did it in a forest surrounded by dinosaurs


Animals used trees knocked down by the great flood as rafts to get around


Fork it over!

RTFA for lots more useless crap. All images via Matt Stopera of BuzzFeed.

The magic words today are “profit center”.

What a free trade zone is all about – Amazon ready to expand in China!

amazonchina

Amazon.com will set up shop in China’s Shanghai free trade zone, the company said on Wednesday, aiming to take advantage of less stringent trade regulations to sell a wider range of products in the country.

The U.S. online retailer’s move shows an intent not only to remain in China but to beef up its presence in an e-commerce market dominated by Alibaba Group Holding and Beijing-based JD.com, the second-biggest player.

Amazon did not say when the company is likely to begin operations in the free trade zone, which enjoys more relaxed import and export regulations than the rest of China.

The company is also pushing its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing business in China and said in December that the country will have its own AWS region to improve speeds for its mainly corporate customers…

Amazon’s move to the free trade zone comes nearly a year after the zone was launched, attracting attention from overseas businesses and hailed as one of China’s boldest reforms in decades. However, there has been a lack of specific policy details since the initial fanfare.

Foreign banks, such as Citigroup and HSBC Holdings have set up branches in the zone, but many foreign companies have been reluctant to follow suit, citing a lack of clarity on what will and will not be allowed in the zone.

The 2nd half of that last sentence is representative of what investors call the chickenshit index. Since Reuters was purchased by Thomson you’re bound to find some editorializing by omission. It’s the imperial disease.

In truth, this first free trade zone has been so successful that another dozen or more cities around China are lobbying to follow Shanghai’s model.

Agencies warn Africans over bogus Ebola cures

Panic over Ebola has the makers of dietary supplements aggressively targeting Africans, claiming to have a cure for the lethal virus.

Late this week, both the World Health Organization and the United States Food and Drug Administration issued strong warnings about false Ebola cures. The latter threatened American companies with penalties if they continue making such claims…

Earlier this week, a W.H.O. expert panel ruled it ethical to try some experimental drugs to fight this outbreak; some supplement makers have implied that ruling constituted permission for use of their products, though a top W.H.O. official emphasized that it did not.

The hustlers who specialize in the class of medical alternatives guaranteed to be nothing more than a hustle – take this as an invitation to flood the market of fear with so-called wonder cures.

While discussing the shipment to Liberia of an experimental drug the panel did endorse, ZMapp, Nigeria’s health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said an unidentified Nigerian scientist living overseas had arranged for Nigeria to get a different experimental medicine, according to Nigerian news outlets. They identified it as NanoSilver, a supplement offered by the Natural Solutions Foundation, which said that it contains microscopic silver particles, although, as a food supplement, it is not tested by regulatory agencies. Silver kills some microbes on surfaces and in wounds, but it can be toxic and is not F.D.A.-approved for systemic use against viruses…

ZMapp is a set of antibodies made by the Mapp company of San Diego. Only a few doses exist, and the first two were given to American health workers who contracted Ebola in Liberia and are now hospitalized in Atlanta.

NanoSilver is for sale on the foundation’s website alongside hemp oil, ear candles, chocolate and “mental clarity packs.”

Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director general of the W.H.O., said that testing promising treatments “doesn’t mean that any crazy idea that people have — things that have barely been tested in anything — will now be brought to Africa to test on patients. This is absolutely out of the question…”

Since the outbreak started, many rumored cures have swept West Africa. A popular Nigerian rumor is that bathing in or drinking saltwater is protective. Bags of “blessed Ebola cure salt” are for sale.

While bathing in saltwater is harmless, drinking large amounts of it is not. The W.H.O. said two Nigerians have died of it.

Medical hustles abound in every culture in direct proportion to the segment of the public still stuck into religion and superstition. Poverty is another quality creating an open door to snake oil salesmen. If your nation has a significant number of politicians afraid of science and education it’s all the more likely that 14th Century solutions will take hold of the hopes and prayers of ignorant folk.

The placebo effect is next to useless on a virus as deadly as Ebola. So, miracle cures, amazing remissions, aren’t likely. Just more dead – after being drained of every penny they could come up with.

Americans hate lobbyists’ power over politicians — Obama’s response? More power for lobbyists

President Barack Obama is loosening restrictions on lobbyists who want to serve on federal advisory boards…

Obama came to office pledging to curtail the sway of lobbyists and banned lobbyists from serving on such panels, which guide government policy on a range of topics ranging from cancer to towing safety.

The president said he was doing so because the voices of paid representatives of interest groups were drowning out the views of ordinary citizens.

But many lobbyists felt they were being unfairly tarred by Obama’s campaign to keep them out of public service. A lawsuit challenging the ban was initially dismissed, but a District of Columbia Circuit Court in January reinstated it.

A spokesperson for the White House Office of Management and Budget said the administration was revising its earlier guidance on lobbyists serving on federal advisory panels to clarify that lobbyists may now serve on such panels when they are representing the views of a particular group…

The head of a lobbying industry trade group called the change a positive step that will allow the government to draw on the expertise of people whose experience can be beneficial in making policy.

“We’re basically going back to allowing federally registered lobbyists to participate in these committees,” said Monte Ward, the president of the Association of Government Relations Professionals.

Every creep, every former member of Congress who’s waiting in line to pickup their payoff for services rendered is smiling in their K Street digs.

Over 1,000 “federal advisory committees” are registered as lobbyists in Washington, DC, right now. What percentage do you think represent people like you and me?

Richard Kinder pays himself $1 a year — poor guy only made $1 billion this week


Click to enlarge

Kinder Morgan (KMI), which operates some 80,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines through a network of separate entities strung together by its billionaire chairman and chief executive, Richard Kinder, is consolidating under one corporate roof. In a deal valued at $71 billion, the parent company will fully acquire three companies it already has partial stakes in: Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, Kinder Morgan Management, and El Paso Pipeline Partners. Think of it as fusing a disparate collection of pieces into one, functioning whole—kind of like building a pipeline.

The deal simplifies a complicated corporate structure that carried big tax benefits for its partners while also resulting in higher borrowing costs. The new corporation should generate more cash for investors and for buyouts. And it will also make Kinder Morgan the fourth largest-energy company in the U.S…

Richard Kinder co-founded Kinder Morgan in the late 1990s after losing out to Ken Lay [Phew - bet he doesn't miss that call] to be chief executive of Enron, and Kinder proceeded to cobble together a bunch of cast-off assets from Enron. In doing so, he pioneered the master limited partnership (MLP), a corporate tax structure that has come to dominate the pipeline industry.

The basic premise of an MLP is that instead of organizing as a corporation, pipeline companies were a collection of limited partnerships. Like corporations, MLPs still have thousands of investors and trade publicly. But under the law, stakes in MLPs trade as units, not shares—and that technically makes their investors partners, not shareholders. The IRS counts each stake in the profit as income, allowing the company to sidestep the 35 percent federal corporate tax.

Which further points out how real capitalists ain’t whining about how the IRS is run.

…Richard Kinder, who takes a $1-a-year salary and earns no annual bonus from any of the four companies, will increase his annual pay from dividends by more than $100 million, according to Bloomberg. His ownership take from all the companies earned him $380 million in dividend payments in 2013.

Bloomberg’s analysis doesn’t include which members of the Senate and the House of Representatives Kinder owns outright. It will take the Progressive bloggers and journalists to sort that out.

Thanks, Mike

Verizon says, “Gee, all the kids do it” — Not a legit defense for data throttling

During a news conference on Friday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded to Verizon’s claims that its planned data throttling program is a “widely accepted” practice, saying that an “all the kids do it” argument is not justifiable.

…Wheeler chided Verizon for its defense of an upcoming “network optimization” change, which consisted of pointing fingers at other U.S. cellular providers, calling it an attempt to “reframe the issue.”

“‘All the kids do it’ was never something that worked with me when I was growing up and didn’t work with my kids,” Wheeler said.

In July, Verizon announced plans to slow down data speeds for a select group of high-use subscribers when its 4G LTE network bogs down. The shift is scheduled to take effect in October, when users with grandfathered-in unlimited data plans may see slower than normal data speeds when performing high bandwidth operations like streaming high-definition video.

“My concern in this instance is that it is moving from technology and engineering issues into business issues,” Wheeler said. “Such as choosing between different subscribers based on your economic relationship with them…”

When smartphones first hit market, cellular providers like Verizon and AT&T offered unlimited data plans to help spur on sales. A boom in popularity, largely driven by Apple’s iPhone, left the telcos with an infrastructure poorly equipped to deal with the glut of data-hungry subscribers, which in turn prompted the halt of unlimited plans.

At the time, both Verizon and AT&T let subscribers keep their all-you-can-eat data allotments as long as they continued to pay the same top-tier monthly fee in perpetuity. With faster wireless technology and ever-increasing demands for more data, however, companies have started to throttle speeds for power users…

The creeps who run the American telecom monopoly are stuck in the same business model that’s been around since Ma Bell owned the whole national network. They will give us as little advancing technology as possible while charging every possible penny they can squeeze from mediocre service. Perish the thought they share with little guy start-ups or even medium-size competitors. This applies to Comcast fibre as completely as it does with Verizon’s cell towers.

Which is why Americans get telecom service that barely ranks in the Top 20 in the world. Elsewhere, either nationalized services provide the best that technology has available – because the people deserve it. As in South Korea. Or hardware, copper or fibre, must be leased to others so there will be actual competition. And that’s worked out equally well. As in the UK.

Listening to corporate barons whine about fairness is enough to make Adam Smith rollover in his grave.

Thanks, Mike

Angry viewers demand that NBC cancel “Shark Hunters”

shark fins
Shark fins drying — click to enlarge

With the advent of the second season of NBC Sports’ terrible show about killing threatened species, “Shark Hunters,” the internet is starting to erupt. Over 16,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the network to cancel the show, and countless others have taken to Twitter to express their outrage.

The show follows a group of fishers as they compete in a tournament to win money for bringing in the biggest shark. Among other disturbing things about the show, the hunters target only species that are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List for the contest — Mako, thresher and porbeagle sharks. In a world where shark finning and loss of apex predators is a major concern, the glorification of killing these animals seems incredibly backwards.

The petition, hosted by Change.org, is addressed to Mark Lazarus, Chairman of NBC Sports Group, and several other executives in the company. It reads:

Programs like this not only glamorize shark hunting and killing but also make the whole action “OK”. Sharks play an important role in our oceans and if we continue to hunt them, our ocean’s health will continue to decline. Change.org petitions have successfully convinced other channels, like National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, to cancel other violent hunting shows. I’m sure with enough signatures, we can get NBC to listen.

I’m not so sure. I’d also suggest you send an email or otherwise complain to Comcast – who owns NBC-Universal.

Even killing sharks “for food” is a load of crap when often all that’s taken is the fins for soup and seasoning. That’s like the last Sun King of France killing thousands of song birds to have a pate made from their tongues.

Thanks, Mike

He’s in the top 1% of the 1% — and he wants a $15 an hour minimum wage

nick-hanauer

The fundamental law of capitalism is that if workers have no money, businesses have no customers. That’s why the extreme, and widening, wealth gap in our economy presents not just a moral challenge, but an economic one, too. In a capitalist system, rising inequality creates a death spiral of falling demand that ultimately takes everyone down…

Policy makers debate incremental changes for arresting this vicious cycle. But perhaps the most powerful and elegant antidote is sitting right before us: a spike in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

True, that sounds like a lot. When President Barack Obama called in February for an increase to $9 an hour from $7.25, he was accused of being a dangerous redistributionist. Yet consider this: If the minimum wage had simply tracked U.S. productivity gains since 1968, it would be $21.72 an hour — three times what it is now…

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would inject about $450 billion into the economy each year. That would give more purchasing power to millions of poor and lower-middle-class Americans, and would stimulate buying, production and hiring.

Studies by the Economic Policy Institute show that a $15 minimum wage would directly affect 51 million workers and indirectly benefit an additional 30 million. That’s 81 million people, or about 64 percent of the workforce, and their families who would be more able to buy cars, clothing and food from our nation’s businesses.

This virtuous cycle effect is described in the research of economists David Card and Alan Krueger (the current chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers) showing that, contrary to conventional economic orthodoxy, increases in the minimum wage increase employment. In 60 percent of the states that raised the minimum wage during periods of high unemployment, job growth was faster than the national average.

Some business people oppose an increase in the minimum wage as needless government interference in the workings of the market. In fact, a big increase would substantially reduce government intervention and dependency on public assistance programs.

An objection to a significant wage increase is that it would force employers to shed workers. Yet the evidence points the other way: Workers earn more and spend more, increasing demand and helping businesses grow.

Critics of raising the minimum wage also say it will lead to more outsourcing and job loss. Yet virtually all of these low-wage jobs are service jobs that can neither be outsourced nor automated.

Raising the earnings of all American workers would provide all businesses with more customers with more to spend. Seeing the economy as Henry Ford did would redirect our country toward a high-growth future that works for all.

Nick Hanauer really is in the top 1% of America’s 1%. One of the original investors in Amazon.com, he and his partners in Second Avenue Investors own their own bank. He sold his ad agency to Microsoft for $6.4 billion in 2007 – in cash. He is a self-described plutocrat.

He would like to prevent a revolution. Something on the order of French peasants and workers rolling out the guillotine in 1793. He believes economic justice will rescue our economy from the crapper it was dropped into by investment bankers in 2007 – and rebuild a prosperous nation with a healthy middle class.

Or you could pay attention to the scumbag side of class warfare in the Republican Party.

Copyright law is boring crap – until it involves a monkey!

In 2011, British wildlife photographer David Slater traveled to Indonesia. He set up his equipment to take a photo of a crested black macaque. Suddenly, the monkey grabbed Slater’s camera and started to take selfies. As you can imagine, the selfies were hilarious and adorable, and the photos went viral as soon as they hit the Internet…

This sounds like an incredible opportunity for a photographer, right? Wrong. The photo eventually ended up on Wikipedia, as well as on Wikimedia Commons, an arm of the Wikimedia Foundation that hosts photos that are in the public domain and therefore free to use. Slater asked Wikimedia to take the photo down, arguing that the copyright belongs to him, and that he should get paid whenever someone wants to use the photo.

But Wikimedia has refused to remove the photo, since it was technically taken by the monkey, not by Slater…

Slater accused Wikipedia, which mentioned the monkey selfie in a recent transparency report, of “making a news story” of the issue. He added that he believes Wikipedia editors, most of whom are volunteers, “have a communistic view of life…”

He urged people to stop using Wikipedia. “It’s important to tell people that Wikipedia should be not used as a source of truth,” he said.

Katherine Maher, a spokeswoman for Wikimedia, emailed the following statement to HuffPost:

We take these assessments very seriously, and researched both sides of the argument. We didn’t think the monkey owned the copyright — instead, our assessment was that there’s no one who owns the copyright. That means that the image falls into the public domain.

Under US law, for example, copyright claims cannot vest in to non-human authors (that is, non-human authors can’t own copyrights). It’s clear the monkey was the photographer. To claim copyright, the photographer would have had to make substantial contributions to the final image, and even then, they’d only have copyright for those alterations, not the underlying image.

Meanwhile, the monkey seems to be enjoying the whole kerfuffle.

Thanks, Marc Perkel