Category: Business

Uncle Sugar continues to fall behind in affordable broadband

30up-broadband-master675

America’s slow and expensive Internet is more than just an annoyance for people trying to watch “Happy Gilmore” on Netflix. Largely a consequence of monopoly providers, the sluggish service could have long-term economic consequences for American competitiveness.

Downloading a high-definition movie takes about seven seconds in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris, and people pay as little as $30 a month for that connection. In Los Angeles, New York and Washington, downloading the same movie takes 1.4 minutes for people with the fastest Internet available, and they pay $300 a month for the privilege, according to The Cost of Connectivity, a report published Thursday by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The report compares Internet access in big American cities with access in Europe and Asia. Some surprising smaller American cities — Chattanooga, Tenn.; Kansas City (in both Kansas and Missouri); Lafayette, La.; and Bristol, Va. — tied for speed with the biggest cities abroad. In each, the high-speed Internet provider is not one of the big cable or phone companies that provide Internet to most of the United States, but a city-run network or start-up service.

The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry…

For relatively high-speed Internet at 25 megabits per second, 75 percent of homes have one option at most, according to the Federal Communications Commission — usually Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T or Verizon. It’s an issue anyone who has shopped for Internet knows well, and it is even worse for people who live in rural areas. It matters not just for entertainment; an Internet connection is necessary for people to find and perform jobs, and to do new things in areas like medicine and education.

In many parts of Europe, the government tries to foster competition by requiring that the companies that own the pipes carrying broadband to people’s homes lease space in their pipes to rival companies. (That policy is based on the work of Jean Tirole, who won the Nobel Prize in economics this month in part for his work on regulation and communications networks.)

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission in 2002 reclassified high-speed Internet access as an information service, which is unregulated, rather than as telecommunications, which is regulated. Its hope was that Internet providers would compete with one another to provide the best networks. That didn’t happen. The result has been that they have mostly stayed out of one another’s markets.

Unforeseen consequences is often the excuse offered by the corporate pimps in government. Whether getting direct kickbacks – “campaign donations” – or being obedient little trolls while awaiting the promised job opening in private industry, ain’t much to be gained by working on behalf of us ordinary working folks.

New America’s ranking of cities by average speed for broadband priced between $35 and $50 a month, the top three cities, Seoul, Hong Kong and Paris, offered speeds 10 times faster than the United States cities. In my neck of the prairie I have the choice of two of the national ISP’s. One gets me 26mbps download max for $75 all in. Their “competitor” charges about half that amount – for 7mbps.

Competition American style.

Thanks, Mike

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Where do you get the seeds to start a legal [in your state] pot business?

As more states legalize medical marijuana, there’s one stage in the process nobody wants to talk about: the part where people still have to break the law.

After growers obtain licenses, plan for security and build facilities, they then must obtain their first seeds or cuttings — while regulators turn a blind eye…

The situation is known as the “immaculate conception” or the “first seed” problem. Those involved see it as an absurd consequence of the nation’s patchwork of laws, with 23 states allowing medical marijuana sales, Colorado and Washington state allowing recreational use and a federal prohibition in place.

While marijuana may not be hard to find, getting the first seeds for medical operations often involves either descending into the underground market or crossing state lines — a violation of state and federal laws.

One Colorado grower, Toni Fox, says she ordered her first seeds for a medical crop five years ago from advertisers in High Times magazine. If they showed up at all, they came hidden in packages with T-shirts and coffee mugs…

Most state laws are silent on the issue, forcing officials into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance. In Washington state, growers have a 15-day, no-questions-asked period during which they can bring non-flowering plants into their operation, which must then be bar-coded and registered.

The result of both citizens and government in this land willing to accept fear of science as a standard, irrational and contradictory law as a replacement for responsible government. Between States Rights, bible-thumping political campaigns, legislative bodies composed of cowards and con artists – we’re all screwed.

And, of course, some folks think that’s pre-ordained and OK.

Ebola vaccine sat on the shelf ready to test for a decade

Almost a decade ago, scientists from Canada and the United States reported that they had created a vaccine that was 100 percent effective in protecting monkeys against the Ebola virus. The results were published in a respected journal, and health officials called them exciting. The researchers said tests in people might start within two years, and a product could potentially be ready for licensing by 2010 or 2011.

It never happened. The vaccine sat on a shelf. Only now is it undergoing the most basic safety tests in humans — with nearly 5,000 people dead from Ebola and an epidemic raging out of control in West Africa.

Its development stalled in part because Ebola is rare, and until now, outbreaks had infected only a few hundred people at a time. But experts also acknowledge that the absence of follow-up on such a promising candidate reflects a broader failure to produce medicines and vaccines for diseases that afflict poor countries. Most drug companies have resisted spending the enormous sums needed to develop products useful mostly to countries with little ability to pay…

The NY TIMES doesn’t need to waste space on defending the greed of corporate pharmaceutical giants. That’s what Congress is for.

Now, as the growing epidemic devastates West Africa and is seen as a potential threat to other regions as well, governments and aid groups have begun to open their wallets. A flurry of research to test drugs and vaccines is underway, with studies starting for several candidates, including the vaccine produced nearly a decade ago.

A federal official said in an interview on Thursday that two large studies involving thousands of patients were planned to begin soon in West Africa, and were expected to be described in detail on Friday by the World Health Organization.

With no vaccines or proven drugs available, the stepped-up efforts are a desperate measure to stop a disease that has defied traditional means of containing it.

Kind of like white folks noticing we don’t live in a post-racial society regardless of what Republicans say. The TIMES notices what anyone who cares about public health has always known. If it can make a bunch of money, any illness can receive study and attempts at a cure from the medical-industrial complex. The rest can waste their energy on hope.

Thanks, Mike

Banned dietary supplements back on the shelves – still adulterated

Many dietary supplements recalled by the FDA for containing banned ingredients find their way back on the shelves, still adulterated, researchers found.

In an analysis of products recalled between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2012, about two-thirds still contained banned ingredients when analyzed an average of nearly 3 years later, Pieter Cohen…and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Action by the FDA has not been completely effective in eliminating all potentially dangerous adulterated supplements from the U.S. marketplace,” they wrote. “More aggressive enforcement of the law, changes to the law to increase the FDA’s enforcement powers, or both will be required if sales of these products are to be prevented in the future…”

A total of 274 supplements had been recalled during the 4-year study period, and 27 of these met inclusion criteria and were analyzed. They had been purchased a mean of 34 months after FDA recalls.

Overall, they found that 67% of the recalled supplements still had pharmaceutical adulterants in them. In most cases (63%), it was the same adulterant identified by the FDA, but in some cases (22%) they contained different banned substances…Sometimes the products contained both the banned ingredient identified by FDA and additional adulterants, though the researchers did not give a specific percentage.

Cohen and colleagues also looked at supplements by type, finding that 85% of sports enhancement remained adulterated, along with 67% of weight-loss supplements, and 20% of sexual enhancement supplements…The majority…were made by U.S. manufacturers…

Golly. Think the manufacturers have anything to worry about? Will Congress spend as much time on this dangerous crap as they do on fancier – and useless – policies like examining planes landing from West Africa for Ebola? Since there are no planes landing in the United States directly from West Africa!

The Party of NO, Congressional Republicans care less about the health of Americans than almost anything else. Watching an assembly of hypocrites join and mingle in a dance of meaningless slogans is about as productive as guarding a landfill from scavengers. A healthy society has no need for garbage-pickers.

Meanwhile, the FDA has toothless authority to stop crap from being sold over-the-counter as diet supplements.

How far back do you want your “Heritage” fruits and veggies to go?

Fruits and vegetables have changed a lot since the onset of agriculture 10,000 years ago, as generation after generation of farmers artificially bred crops to select for more desirable traits like size and taste.

But that change can be hard to visualize. So James Kennedy, a chemistry teacher in Australia, created some terrific infographics to show just how drastic the evolution has been. This one, for instance, shows how corn has changed in the last 9,000 years — from a wild grass in the early Americas known as teosinte to the plump ears of corn we know today…

Mind you, not all attempts at selective breeding turn out so well. As Sarah Yager recently wrote at The Atlantic, apple-growers in the United States during the 20th century tried to breed Red Delicious apples to be as bright and shiny as possible and stay on shelves for as long as possible without noticeable bruising. The result? “As genes for beauty were favored over those for taste, the skins grew tough and bitter around mushy, sugar-soaked flesh.” Nowadays, as storage and transport have become more advanced, tastier apple varieties like the Honeycrisp or Gala are surpassing the Red Delicious.

The article gives watermelon and peaches the same treatment and ends with links to FDA definitions that range from selective breeding to the difference between cisgenesis and transgenesis. I’ll launch into that some other time – once again – trying to explain to the Vegan Left that science doesn’t define DNA as good or evil.

Thanks, Mike

Vatican rents out the Sistine Chapel to Porsche

Sistine Chapel parking

Pope Francis has revealed that the Vatican will rent out the Sistine Chapel for a corporate event for the first time in its 600-year history.

Porsche will hire the revered chapel, which is covered in Michelangelo’s stunning frescoes, and put on a private concert for 40 lucky – and high paying – guests. The concert, which takes place on Saturday, will be one stop on an exclusive tour of Rome organised by the car brand.

The Vatican has not divulged how much it will earn from the event, but the five-day tour of Italy’s capital, arranged by the Porsche Travel Club, costs up to €5,000 a head, meaning an overall intake of €200,000, reported…

The concert will be performed by a choir from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, which traces its origins back to the 16th century. Participants will then sit down to a meal in the midst of the Vatican Museum, “surrounded by masterpieces by world-famous artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael”…

Proceeds from the event will go to charities working with the poor and homeless…

The Sistine Chapel’s…primary function is to be the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new Pope is selected.

Why not carry the logic a step or two further? Just imagine the annual revenue from the Facebook Chapel?

Thanks, Ursarodinia

FTC expects record claims over AT&T cramming scam

AT&Y scum

Over 359,000 AT&T customers have already filled out an online application to obtain refunds from the company, which padded phone bills with suspect SMS charges.

Since the Federal Trade Commission announced a $105 million settlement with AT&T last week over fake billing charges, 359,000 individuals have already come forward to claim their share of the refund money, and that number is expected to climb.

The claims relate to so-called “cramming” charges in which AT&T customers paid extra fees, usually in the amount of $9.99, for “premium SMS” services that promised to deliver content like horoscopes and celebrity news to cell phones. Such services are a relic of the pre-smartphone days, but people still paid for them, often without authorization, with AT&T receiving a commission on the charges…

The process for making a claim is very straightforward: anyone who was an AT&T customer after January 1, 2009 can simply fill out this online form, which only requires a phone number and address.

Crooked corporation of the day, eh?

The Age of Vulnerability

Two new studies show, once again, the magnitude of the inequality problem plaguing the United States. The first, the US Census Bureau’s annual income and poverty report, shows that, despite the economy’s supposed recovery from the Great Recession, ordinary Americans’ incomes continue to stagnate. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, remains below its level a quarter-century ago.

It used to be thought that America’s greatest strength was not its military power, but an economic system that was the envy of the world. But why would others seek to emulate an economic model by which a large proportion – even a majority – of the population has seen their income stagnate while incomes at the top have soared?

A second study, the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2014, corroborates these findings. Every year, the UNDP publishes a ranking of countries by their Human Development Index (HDI), which incorporates other dimensions of wellbeing besides income, including health and education.

America ranks fifth according to HDI, below Norway, Australia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. But when its score is adjusted for inequality, it drops 23 spots – among the largest such declines for any highly developed country. Indeed, the US falls below Greece and Slovakia, countries that people do not typically regard as role models or as competitors with the US at the top of the league tables…

In the US, upward mobility is more myth than reality, whereas downward mobility and vulnerability is a widely shared experience. This is partly because of America’s health-care system, which still leaves poor Americans in a precarious position, despite President Barack Obama’s reforms.

Those at the bottom are only a short step away from bankruptcy with all that that entails. Illness, divorce, or the loss of a job often is enough to push them over the brink…

American politicians continue to reject the words and work of prize-winning economists like Joe Stiglitz for a couple of reasons. First, he won’t keep quiet about endemic illness in our economy. Inequality of opportunity being among the primetime crimes. Second, he doesn’t mind pointing out who benefits from the lousy politics, sleazy economics of the conservatives who have built this inequality into a new testament of American capitalism. Starting with fossil fuel and energy barons and following the money trail into the pants of Congress.

RTFA for details of the latest Stiglitz essay on a nation with leaders who really don’t care about the lives of ordinary people. Just stay in line and don’t ask too many questions.

Pig farms are recovering from virus — meat prices may drop — so they say


What a clean pig farm can look like

A virus that killed millions of baby pigs in the last year and led to higher pork prices has waned thanks to warmer weather and farmers’ efforts to sterilize their operations. And as pigs’ numbers increase, sticker shock on things like bacon should ease.

Already, hog supplies are on the rise, with 5.46 million baby pigs born between June and August in Iowa, the nation’s leading producer — the highest quarterly total in 20 years and a record 10.7 surviving pigs per litter, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

It’s a significant turnaround from a year ago when the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus was wiping out entire litters. Since the virus first showed up, the federal government rushed to give conditional approval for a vaccine and those in the industry began taking precautions, such as disinfecting trucks, equipment and clothing…

It’s clear the industry is managing the virus, but it’s far from eradicated. Two new cases were confirmed by South Dakota veterinary officials in the past week, bringing the state’s total to 38 farms. And there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic, Lear said, as the virus thrives in colder, wetter environments like those found in fall and winter…

Also – too bad it took the death of 10% of the young hogs in the United States to nudge a bit of activity by farmers and the USDA alike to invoke more sanitary conditions for the pigs they raise for food. Anyone wonder why so many nations keep a weather eye out for meat from the United States – how it may endanger their own consumers?

It takes about six months to raise a pig to market weight, so the increased supply could mean a slight drop in consumer prices this winter and a more noticeable decline in the spring…Many in the industry are optimistic that the worst of the PED virus is behind them, but there is still concern among producers.

Dale Norton — a livestock farmer in Bronson, Michigan, and president of the National Pork Board — lost 1,500 piglets over 2½ weeks in March, but said his barns are now free of the virus.

There may be additional outbreaks, Norton said, but he doubts they’ll be as severe, since hog farmers have learned more about the virus and how it spreads and have taken precautions.

This clown show – producers and regulators alike – are still astounded that cleaner living conditions make a difference. Scary as ever.

Thanks, Mike