July 21, 2006

Light Attentiveness Alert

Filed under: General — Tom @ 4:01 pm

Though I have entries already done that will post between now and late Monday afternoon, I will be mostly away from the computer from now through the rest of the weekend, and will only be sporadically checking for comments and e-mails, perhaps responding to neither until as late as Monday afternoon.

Start of a Trend? Sony Releases Unprotected Digital Song

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy — Tom @ 1:21 pm

This bears watching.

Carolyn Maloney: Not Pennywise and Just Plain Foolish

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:18 pm

The humble US penny may be going the way of the horse and buggy, turntable, and betamax. It costs 1.4 cents to produce each one. Even our government can figure out that it’s not smart to keep making them.

Now if only a certain congresswoman could figure that out:

The U.S. Mint is a money-making government operation in more ways than one. In 2005, it made $730 million in profit. But pennies are being targeted as the big loser for the mint. It costs the government 1.4 cents for every penny produced. Multiply that by 7 or 8 billion pennies made each year and it comes to a $20 million loss. (Note: That’s really between $28 million and $32 million a year. — Ed.)

….. “I cannot support eliminating the penny at this time,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. “Although the penny does cost more than what it cost to make the penny, the nickel also cost more than the nickel to make. According to the Mint, the penny cost 1.4 cents and the nickel 6.4 cents. … If we drop the penny we would need to make more nickels so it’s not clear the net would come out ahead financially.”

Ms. Maloney has a point until she lets loose of this whopper:

Maloney added that eliminating the penny would hurt the poor.

“A study by a former Federal Reserve economist shows that rounding hurts lower income most and this effect would be especially strong if only cash transactions are rounded,” she said.

I find a reference to Federal Reserve surveys relating to the penny at this link — from 1996 — which makes this statement about 60% of the way through the text:

Increased prices due to rounding ultimately would fall disproportionately on those least able to afford it, the poor and the elderly, because they make more small cash purchases. Federal Reserve surveys confirm that those with incomes under $10,000, nonwhites and Hispanics, and those adults with less than 12 years of education pay for more than half of their total purchases in cash. Since only cash transactions will be subject to rounding, it follows that cessation of penny production would be regressive in that the poor will bear a larger share of the aggregate burden than will other segments of society.

Nowhere is it estimated how much “burden” is involved. It so ridiculously low that it’s embarrassing.

Assume that all transactions, even electronic ones, have to be rounded to the nearest nickel. We’ll assume that, even though it’s likely that rounding would only apply to the total amounts of each cash transaction if the penny ceased to exist, and not to individual items on merchant shelves (though over time merchants would certainly “round out” their product line). Then assume that a person has an absurdly high 150 purchase transactions in a month. If every single one of these transactions was rounded up by a worst-case 4 cents, the monthly financial impact would be ….. $6 (150 x $.04).

But of course this wouldn’t happen. Even if merchants were able to automatically round every transaction up, the impact would at most be 2 cents (the average of rounding up 4, 3, 2, 1, and 0). Now we’re down to $3 a month (150 x $.02). It so happens that many prices end in 9, so the impact if merchants had total control to round up would really be somewhat less than $3.

But even this wouldn’t happen because competition would in most cases force merchants to round up or down to the nearest 5 cents (transactions ending with 3, 4, 8, or 9 would be rounded up, those ending in 1, 2, 6 or 7 would be rounded down). The impact in reality would be close to zero, while the roughly $30 million saved annually by taxpayers from penny elimination would amount to 10 pennies two nickels per person. Of course, you would have to offset that with the loss incurred on additional nickels produced. But even if nickel production has to be increased 50% from the last annual amount of 1.741 billion to accommodate penny elimination, that loss of a bit over $12 million (1.4 cents x .87 billion) would enable the govern-Mint, contrary to Ms. Maloney’s unsureness, to still come out ahead.

And that’s my two cents’ worth on Ms. Maloney, who really needs an infusion of common, uh, sense.

Amnesty International on China’s Internet Censorship and US Tech Firms’ Cooperation: Where Have You Been?

Filed under: Business Moves,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:14 am

Excuse the cynicism, but Chinese censorship of the Internet, the co-opting of US-based Internet Service Providers who should know better, and the jailing of dissidents thanks to US tattletales has been going on for more than a year. Google bowed to Chinese censorship strictures in late January, when BizzyBlog’s Internet Wall of Shame was established. Yahoo!’s assistance in the jailing of a dissident journalist was revealed in October of last year.

And Amnesty International (AI) is just now getting around to accusing “Yahoo, Microsoft and Google on Thursday of violating human rights principles by cooperating with China’s efforts to censor the Web and call(ing) on them to lobby for the release of jailed cyber-dissidents”?

I’m sorry. AI is only making sure it’s on the record so they can say, “See, we condemned it.”

It’s also interesting timing, given that the world’s attention is almost entirely focused on Israel, Lebanon, and the Middle East.

This organization, which once had so much potential, will soon return to their unbalanced condemnations of Guantanamo Bay prisoner treatment and civilian casualties in Iraq.

Fortunately, organizations like Reporters Without Borders (here) and Students for a Free Tibet (here) are staying on the case.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links (072106)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:59 am

Free Links:

  • I don’t know why people are surprised at the, uh, flat demand for flat-panel TVs, since there are only so many people willing to pay 4 grand, 3 grand, or even 2 grand to be early adopters, when a perfectly serviceable TV costs about $200. Prices are as low as $1,100 now and heading lower. Holding out has its benefits.
  • Jeff Jacoby at The Boston Globe gets in his digs at The Big Dig (HT Large Bill).
  • This is so disappointing on so many levels (HT Club for Growth blog) –

    Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., has convinced the House of Representatives to approve the “largest earmark in history.” That’s how the Maryland Public Policy Institute describes his $1.5 billion, 10-year federal bailout for Metro, to be paid for with revenues generated by offshore oil drilling. This proposal, which just made it over the required two-thirds majority by one vote, is wrong on so many counts that it’s hard to know where to start, but here are three points to open the discussion.

    Let’s begin with the totally regressive, even elitist, nature of the new spending that would be authorized by the Davis earmark. A big chunk of Metro’s customers live in Davis’ district, especially in Fairfax County. The median household income there is twice the national average, $88,133 to $44,684, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Does Davis really think the daily commuting costs of people making twice the national median household income should be subsidized by hard-working middle- and lower-middle-class taxpayers?

    I haven’t seen anyone mention another “unforeseen” development I expect to occur in a few years — Public-transit systems in New York City, LA, Chicago, Frisco, and who knows where else will put their hands out for ever more federal money in the name of (take your pick, multiple choice is allowed) national security, reducing pollution, saving energy, or reducing traffic congestion. After all, they’ll argue, why should DC Metro get all the breaks?

  • Tom Vilsack (is that an abbreviation for “village sacked”?) may think that his veto of an eminent-domain law won’t affect his presidential ambitions. If so, he is in the process of learning that he is wrong (HT Can’t Make This Stuff Up)–

    For the first time in 40 years, both chambers of the Iowa Legislature have overridden a governor’s veto — a move that could lead to a legal showdown.That’s because an Iowa attorney general’s ruling in 1998 casts doubt on the Legislature’s legal ability to override a veto after its regular legislative session ends.

    Lawmakers reconvened Friday in a special session to vote 90-8 in the House and 41-8 in the Senate to override Gov. Tom Vilsack’s veto of a bill that puts new restrictions on local government’s ability to seize private property.

    The legal wrangling is important to whether the law gets enacted, and you can be sure that someone will sue to overturn the law even if Vilsack signs it.

    The larger point for Vilsack is that he is obviously going against the grain of bipartisan popular sentiment on a very important issue. I doubt that his other Democratic opponents will be so foolish.

  • My, this has been kept quiet — President Bush’s poll numbers have gone into the mid-40s (graphic saved for future reference is here).

Positivity: Tot Survives Being Dragged 80 Yards

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:59 am

“Lucky to be alive” seems an inadequate phrase:

Tiny tot’s survival ‘a miracle’
July 15, 2006

The mother of a girl who was dragged beneath a van in Oakland Park spoke out from the child’s hospital room.

Jennifer Marisol Romero lay wide-eyed and quiet in her room at Chris Evert Children’s Hospital in Fort Lauderdale on Friday amid scattered toys, get-well balloons, news cameras and a dozen strangers.

Her mother caressed the diminutive girl’s body, which was covered in bright-red road burns.

Three days after Jennifer and her grandmother were struck by a van in Oakland Park, the girl’s mother, Ester Lopez, was stroking the little girl’s hair in the hospital room, amazed that she had escaped relatively unharmed.

Lopez invited the news media to the hospital Friday to talk about the incident.

”When I heard what happened, I imagined the worst,” Lopez, 28, of Pompano Beach, said in Spanish, wiping tears from her eyes.

“Honestly, I tell you, this is a miracle.”

Jennifer and her grandmother were crossing the street at Northeast First Terrace and East Commercial Boulevard in Oakland Park after buying groceries Tuesday morning, Lopez said.

The white 1999 Ford van struck the little girl, who turns 2 next week, and her grandmother. The van’s front wheel pinned down the toddler’s stroller — with her still in it — and dragged the girl for 80 yards.

The grandmother fell to the ground, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Grocery bags and food were strewn across the road.

A few tense seconds after the accident, a band of onlookers pulled the child out from under the wheel, leaving her bruised but alive.

Jennifer was in good condition Friday at the hospital with road rash. But her grandmother, Florencia Ortega, 55, was in serious condition at Broward General Medical Center, where the children’s hospital also is located.

Ortega has several broken bones and cannot move, Lopez said.

”She is here in shock, because she can’t sleep,” Lopez said of her mother. “She wakes up screaming.”

Lopez blames Gerson E. Palma Aguilar, the van’s driver, for not stopping soon enough to avoid her mother and her child.