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    Tesla Story Gets Even Weirder as $TSLA Completely Changes Its Business Strategy (Full Article, Previous Partial Article Published Accidently)

    A prior version of this article was published accidentally before it was complete.

    I know I swore not to write about Tesla here and to confine myself to talking about Tesla on Twitter, but I can't help myself.  This is the company that is going to spawn a thousand business school case studies.  It is Enron but in the Internet Age with more transparency (or at least less sophistication in hiding their problems).

    Over the weekend I re-read "The Smartest Guys in the Room" about the collapse of Enron.  I will admit I was an Enron fanboy at the time -- I drank the Kool-Aid and totally overlooked the problems.  I knew Jeff Skilling a little and worked for him on Enron when we were at McKinsey.  I believed he was brilliant and was doing what he said he was doing.  The crash of Enron took me years to accept, and only on my recent second reading of that book did I have the distance and objectivity to really understand it.  And I realized something else -- I was the same guy back then that I criticize today.  Skeptics of Tesla (including me) make fun of Tesla fanboys and their cult of Elon Musk and their belief of everything he says and their certainty he is the smartest guy in the room.  I understand them because I was that guy with Enron and Skilling.  Maybe Tesla is my chance to correct my past gullibility.

    Anyway, just when I thought the story couldn't get any more dramatic (or weird), Elon Musk raises the bar.  Apparently Tesla is now only tangentially and largely irrelevantly an automobile manufacturer. 

    Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, who are underwriting Tesla’s latest effort to raise $2 billion in new funds, held a “broad investor call” on Thursday, where CEO Elon Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn answered brokers’ questions about their plans for the electric vehicle maker.

    According to two invitees who attended the call, CEO Elon Musk talked up Tesla’s self-driving strategy right off the bat, expanding what he and other execs said at a recent event for investors that the company dubbed “Autonomy Day. ”

    Musk confidently told investors on the call that autonomous driving will transform Tesla into a company with a $500 billion market cap, these people said. Its current market cap stands around $42 billion. He also said that existing Teslas will increase in value as self-driving capabilities are added via software, and will be worth up to $250,000 within three years.

    This call was in the context of Tesla's offering this week of about $2 billion in new stock and convertible bonds.  The really interesting thing about the call:  Virtually 100% of the discussion on the call was about ride-sharing and autonomy, while neither word was even mentioned in the official written prospectus for the offering.

    Before we can understand what the hell is going on here, and why Tesla is going all-in on a business it was barely talking about 60 days ago, we need to do some review.  I want to review where Tesla was last time I wrote about them, and also discuss new Tesla news and actions over the last 3-4 months.  From there, we will try to dissect what Elon Musk is doing.  TL;DR: I believe Musk is doing exactly what Jeff Skilling did at Enron, chasing new business strategies based on what stories he thinks will most likely goose the stock in the short term, rather than which strategies make the most sense in the long-term for his investors.

    Where I was on Tesla at year end 2018

    I had a lot of criticisms about Tesla's strategy towards the end of last year (here and here, for example).  But let me summarize some of the key points

  • Tesla has taken what was already a risky entry into a capital-intensive industry and has made it even more expensive and risky by choosing to own both the dealer network and fueling networks for its cars -- this means it has to invest not only in auto manufacturing capacity but also in a world-wide network of sales and service centers and in a global network of charging stations
  • Inexplicably, just as its production volume began ramping up in mid-2018 with the introduction of the mid-priced model 3, Tesla ramped down on its capital spending, R&D, and SG&A spending.  By the first quarter of this year, capital spending was no longer even keeping up with maintenance needs.  This was absolutely inexplicable for a growth company that has promised many new products in the near future (new coupe, semi truck, model Y crossover), all of which will need a plant and equipment to produce.  Further, Tesla slowed investment in its sales, service, and charging networks at the exact time its fleet size exploded, leading to a lot of customer dissatisfaction
  • The decrease in these expenditures was likely tied to Tesla's hard to fathom (I seem to be searching for a lot of synonyms for "inexplicable")  decision not to raise capital last year.  Its stock was over $350 a share and it had huge momentum from its first two profitable and cash flow positive quarters.  By almost everyone's analysis, they should have raised $5 billion or more, which might have only created 10% dilution.  (Instead they waited until this week after a terrible quarter and after the stock had fallen to about $235 to raise just $2 billion, barely enough even to fill their accounts payable hole).
  • Tesla and Musk claimed that the growth and performance of the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2018 were harbingers of the future and he extrapolated hockey sticks from these data points.  Skeptics like myself believe that this was merely a one-time bulge, that Tesla had sold through 2-3 years of demand in their order book in just 2 quarters, and that the first quarter would be a disaster now that the tank was dry.  In addition, Tesla has culled its order book of all the highest margin variants where it could actually make money, leaving what remained of the unfilled orders as low-margin variants it was barely worth selling.  [By the way, I figured none of this out on my own, and owe a lot to the great folks at $TSLAQ on Twitter, who bring a lot of free research to bear that made it easy to see these patterns].
  • My admiration for Musk as having really shown the automobile world that electric cars can sell at high price points (and not as little sh*tboxes) and for his space entrepreneurship really ended with the SolarCity deal.  In that deal, Tesla shareholders overpaid for a failing business simply to bail out Musk and his family from a sinking ship.  The acquisition made absolutely no strategic sense and Tesla has done zero to try to develop it, and in fact has been slowly shutting it down from the moment it was purchased.
  • Elon Musk has steadily lost any credibility he might have had by initiating product launches of products he claims are nearly ready for sale but never get introduced.  Tesla got a higher level of subsidy from California based on a single suspicious battery swap demo that has never been repeated or even discussed since.  Musk sold SolarCity to Tesla in part based on a flashy reveal of a solar shingle product that still has not seen the light of day.  Musk had a big reveal of the Tesla semi and started taking customer deposits but there are still no clear plans for its production.
  • What has happened at Tesla this year

  • The first quarter of 2019 was a disaster, with deliveries down despite initiation of Model 3 sales in Europe.  Worse, since the Model 3 seems to be cannibalizing Model S and X sales, Tesla was not only selling fewer cars but its mix shifted to lower priced less profitable cars.  It lost an enormous amount of money, and only after the conference call with analysts about first quarter results did Tesla reveal that this loss would have been far worse without a huge sale of government EV credits
  • Tesla burned a staggering amount of cash in the first quarter, and was forced to pay off nearly a billion dollars in debt when the stock price did not remain high enough for the debt to convert.  While Tesla's cash balance at the end of the quarter looked OK, there were two huge red flags. First, the cash barely covered a huge hole Tesla had in its net working capital.  Second, given the large number of vehicles Tesla sold in its end of quarter push in the last 2 weeks of the quarter, it appears that Tesla was nearly out of cash in Mid-March and perhaps days away from a default (analysis below).
  • The Tesla financial statements still include a number of unexplained oddities, including a billion dollars of accounts receivable, or about 20% of quarterly revenues.  How does a company that demands payment in advance before delivery have 20% of its quarterly revenues tied up in receivables?
  • Tesla announced, out of the blue, that it was closing all its retail stores and going online only.  Given the drop in demand for the quarter, it was a head-scratcher as to why eliminating the sales force was going to help.  The decision seemed to be almost off the cuff, as Tesla seemed surprised that they would still have to continue paying their expensive long-term mall leases.  After this was revealed, Tesla partially reversed the closure decision, but no one -- including their own retail folks -- seems to know what the plan is now.
  • Tesla constantly fiddled with its prices and model lineup.  It cut prices several times, but also announced a small raise as well.  It eliminated certain options for cars, added new ones, and then reintroduced eliminated ones.  Even long-time Tesla watchers are confused about the model lineup today.
  • Tesla continued to see an outflow of executive talent, including the exit of their very well-respected new General Counsel after just over one month on the job  (Mr. Buttswinkas returned to his old law firm and purged Tesla from his resume).  This seemed to parallel the rapid exit of an outside chief accounting officer last year who gave up millions of dollars to exit in just 60 days.
  • April car deliveries stayed on the same pace as the first quarter -- ie, way worse than Tesla's guidance
  • Elon Musk continued to get in trouble with the SEC, firing off production and sales guidance on Twitter that was different from Tesla's official published guidance.  Mr. Musk and Tesla are still guiding to a total delivery number for the next year that is well in excess of what most anyone else looking at the first four months believes is possible
  • Tesla announced a reveal of their Model Y crossover that will not go on sale until at least the end of k彩平台登陆.  Unlike past Tesla reveals, this one seemed hastily set up and the prototypes shown were weird.  They looked more like the existing Model 3 with a few modifications than a promised crossover that could incorporate a third row of seats.  Tesla asked customers to start making deposits (skeptics will argue that the whole point of the reveal was just to get some free financing from Tesla fanboys) but unlike past reveals, this one fell flat.  There was apparently little interest in making deposits, though Tesla (unlike with past products) has not revealed the deposit numbers.
  • Lyft went public for over $20 billion and Uber is planning a $70+ billion IPO, despite having a history of negative earnings and promising investors they may not make money for 10 years (more on this in a minute)
  • After the Model Y went nowhere, Tesla set up what they called "investor autonomy day."  Tesla outlined their strategy for creating a fleet of self-driving cars, and promised fully autonomous cars by the end of k彩平台登陆.  With these fully autonomous cars, Musk promised that Teslas would become an appreciating asset in that they earned income for their owners as autonomous taxis when the owners were sleeping.  He also said Tesla would own a fleet of taxis itself, using off-lease model 3's for this purpose.
  • As described at the top of the article, Tesla raised over $2 billion on verbal promises by Tesla (not echoed in the deal prospectus) that Tesla was soon to be a $500 billion autonomous taxi company
  • So what is Tesla doing?

    Having written all of the above, I realize I have left so much out -- the product quality problems, the worker lawsuits, the autonomous driving deaths, the spontaneous car fires -- but I only have so much time.  If you are interested, @teslacharts on Twitter is a good place to follow Tesla from the skeptic side.  But given all this, what the hell is going on?  The following is my theory.

    I think in the 3rd quarter last year, Elon Musk honestly believed that the huge ramp in sales and profits at Tesla represented Tesla permanently turning the corner.  He extrapolated from that growth and believed it would continue for years -- he did not see it as simply the one time working through of years of pent-up orders and demand.  As a result, he put off the capital raise he should have been doing, and instead had dreams of taking the company private and getting away from all the scrutiny by analysts and shorts that seem to irritate him.  Thus was launched the ill-considered "420" tweet when he claimed he had funding secured for a go-private transaction at $420 a share, when in fact this was an outright lie.  Once the SEC stepped in to investigate, a new funding round was almost impossible.

    Then, in the first quarter, reality hit Tesla in the face.  For all their public optimism, Musk had to see that the demand he expected was not there and Tesla was likely running low on cash.  I think Musk had convinced himself the convertible bonds due in the first quarter would surely convert (and would have at the third quarter stock price) but now Tesla was doing the opposite of raising capital, it had to pay off debt.  Cash was going out the door and demand was weak.  What to do?

    Musk has a demonstrated pattern that whenever he needs the stock price to be higher, or he needs to sell stock, or he needs some other kind of favorable financial outcome, he will do a new product demo. It worked for battery swap and the solar shingle and the model 3 and the semi, so it would work again.  The model 3 reveal had collected hundreds of millions of dollars of cash in the form of deposits.  That's what he needed now.  The problem is, they didn't have a prototype to show.  I believe Musk had the company hastily create a Model Y prototype built on top of a model 3.  It did not really have to work, it just had to be something he could talk about.  Interestingly, his VP of engineering quit at exactly this time, for reasons unknown -- was their some internal dissention about this Y prototype?

    Anyway, the Model Y reveal was essentially a flop, and likely garnered few deposits.  Certainly not enough to fill in Tesla's growing cash hole.  And by Mid-March, Tesla may have been almost out of cash.  Tesla says it delivered half its vehicles for the quarter in the last 10 days of March, so about 31,500 were delivered in those hectic days.  At an average price of $50,000 each that would mean Tesla brought in nearly $1.6 billion in cash those last 10 days (this is conservative, may have been more if the average price was higher).  But they only had $2.2 billion at the end of the quarter, meaning Tesla was scraping bottom in mid-March, particularly since hundreds of millions of that cash is restricted and not supposed to be spent.

    Somewhere in this period of March-April, after his usual product reveal trick with the Y did not work, I think Musk came to the conclusion that the Tesla car business as currently defined was not going to work.  Or, more accurately, it was never going to make enough money to support its sky-high stock valuation.  I have always said that Tesla would make a fine $10 billion niche car company, but nothing about it justifies a $50 or $60 billion valuation.  But at this point Musk can't accept a $10 billion company, even though that would ostensibly still leave him a very rich man.  But like Ken Lay at Enron, Musk has borrowed against at least half his Tesla stock and a falling stock price could lead to financial death by margin call (Musk, for some reason, also mortgaged all his multi-million dollar k彩平台登陆s last December). His other investments are also struggling -- SpaceX has been unable to attract the capital it needs of late and Musk has poured a lot of money into the Boring company, an absolute embarrassment of a company that helps refute, in my mind, his "smartest guy in the world" rep.

    As Musk looked around for a way to save the stock valuation, the Lyft and Uber IPO's must have had an influence.  Uber is losing as much money as Tesla and folks are talking about it IPO-ing at a market cap of $70 billion.  What if Tesla could call itself a ride-sharing company, only better.  Wouldn't that garner Tesla an even higher valuation?

    So I see investor autonomy day and Musk's autonomy soliloquy on the capital raise call the other day as evidence that Musk has, in his mind, capitulated on auto manufacturing and has decided the way to keep Tesla's stock price up is to promise it will -- in just 20 months -- sell fully autonomous vehicles and be making tons of money selling taxi rides.  In other words, it is a robotaxi company that happens to be backward integrated into manufacturing the taxis.

    I am skeptical for a number of reasons.

  • This reeks of desperation and capitulation.  If Dell says they are going to reinvent themselves as a search engine, it's time to sell the company
  • There is no evidence that Tesla can achieve full autonomy by end of next year and a lot of reasons to think they can't.  Most experts think full autonomy is decades away, and when they rank companies on their progress on autonomy, Tesla is usually near the bottom (e.g ).  Waymo and GM, the leaders, often go thousands of miles between driver interventions.  Tesla is hundreds of times worse.   Even over the short course at Investor Autonomy Day (where Tesla likely trained and practiced in advance) investors reported a driver intervention was needed.  Now imagine the same car with no driver.  In snow with the road markings obscured.  Driving through construction where new routes are confusingly marked off with cones.
  • The basic business numbers Musk throws around are absurd.  Just as one example, he extrapolates from current ride-share prices and assumes Tesla will make a ton of money because they will get the same price but not pay the driver.  But this is crazy.  If Tesla suddenly throws a million taxis into the rideshare supply equation, rates are going to fall.  Already, since 2012, Uber reports its average fare per mile has been reduced by over half.  If everyday folks are having their cars drive autonomously at night to earn extra money, the fee per mile is going to be competed down close to the cost per mile of operating the vehicle (or even lower, since most folks underestimate their all-in cost per mile on their vehicle).  Musk is basically proposing to commoditize the market but still reap premium margins.  Not going to happen.
  • Warning

    Note that this article is simply my analysis and in some cases my guesses.  I think the story holds together but I can be wrong.  I am short TSLA via put options but note that this is a modest investment that is a small percentage of my portfolio.  Tesla is a dangerous stock to short.  Right through the bad news, have been loading up on the theory they are buying the dip.  20,000 people added TSLA to their portfolio at RobinHood just AFTER the horrible first quarter report.  Be very careful

    Bonus -- Tesla's Largest Mistakes

    No matter what happens, Tesla will always be remembered as the company that brought EV's mainstream.  But like any tragedy, they have made some fatal mistakes.  This is my attempt to get out ahead of future business school cases and rank their largest mistakes:

    1. The Model 3.  Tesla could have been a profitable luxury car maker but with the Model 3 tried to go for the low to mid end of the market.  But it does not have the manufacturing expertise or cost position (it assembles in California, for God sakes) to pull it off.  The quality problems it encountered have reduced its brand luster, and the volumes of cars have overwhelmed its service and charging networks.  Investments in the Model 3 have distracted it from real refreshes of its S and X and in fact the Model 3 has cannibalized those more profitable cars.  A higher end crossover would have been a better choice
    2. No third party dealers.  Tesla chose to bring the sales and service function in house.  This was a mistake.  Not only did it eat up capital, but it robbed it of valuable marketing partners such as Penske that could have really helped its sales ramp.
    3. No 2018 capital raise.  Rather than tweeting 420, Musk should have been raising capital based on its third quarter results.  The money was there to be had and Tesla needed it.  $5billion at least could have been raised with little dilution effect
    4. SolarCity Purchase.  This was a complete sham to bail out the Musk family and friends.  Did absolutely nothing for Tesla except drain billions of valuable capital
    5. In-house Manufacturing.  Musk often says he wants to be like Apple, but Apple is a design company.  It does not manufacture and for quite a while did not do its own retail.  Tesla would have been better off finding a manufacturing partner rather than manufacturing itself in the highest cost location in the country
    6. No Charging Partner. I think Tesla had to build out its charging network at first to eliminate one of the greatest consumer barriers to purchasing an EV.  But they should be partnering to share the costs.  Instead, Tesla still thinks of its charging stations as a competitive moat.  But as other car makers form consortia for charging networks based on faster charging technologies, Tesla is stuck with an expensive network that needs upgrading.  Its more of an anchor now than a moat

    2nd Bonus -- Another Musk parallel if you are tired of Enron comparisons

    Even more than Skilling and Enron, the person Musk most reminds me of is Ferdinand de Lesseps, whose attempt at building a French canal in Panama ended in spectacular failure.  I highly recommend the book "Path Between the Seas" for folks who want the whole story.  When I have time, I may post on the parallels. I presume Tesla critic @ElonBachman would agree since he uses de Lesseps' picture as his twitter icon but I have never seen him discuss it.

     

    California Governor Finally Sees Reason on High-Speed Rail. And Then He Doesn't

     has announced that he’s  between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

    The project's cost has ballooned to $77 billion.

    “Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address on Tuesday. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

    Hurray!  This is long overdue.  I was writing about how dumb an idea this was back in 2008.  I remember it because I was on Fox and Friends in the worst time slot ever to talk about it.  Not only was the interview at like 4AM Arizona time, but the segment immediately before I discussed economics and public policy *yawn* they had 8 cute maltese puppies frolicking on stage.

    Everyone, including I would bet California officials but probably excepting elements of the fawning media, knew the cost estimates were a joke.  In 2010 when CA said $30-$40 billion I said it would take at least $75 billion and when CA belatedly adopted that number I doubled it to $150 billion and I think that is still low for what it would have cost.  This was all at a time when you could fly Burbank to Oakland on Southwest for $90.

    But because it seems to be a rule that no CA politician can remain sane for more than 5 minutes straight, here are the next lines of the story:

    Newsom, though, said he wants to finish construction already underway on a segment of the high-speed train through the Central Valley. The project would connect a 119-mile stretch from Merced to Bakersfield.

    “I know that some critics are going to say, ‘Well, that’s a train to nowhere.’ But I think that’s wrong and I think that’s offensive,” Newsom said. “It’s about economic transformation. It’s about unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley.”

    This is absolutely absurd.  If you started with a clean sheet and studied what the Central Valley really needed for "economic transformation," I am willing to bet a high-speed rail line from Merced to Bakersfield would not be in the top 100 items, maybe not the top 1000.  Probably first on the list for the Central Valley economy would be to stop applying minimum wage rates based on San Francisco to poorer rural areas of California.  If you wanted to limit yourself to infrastructure projects, the Central Valley would probably beg for water infrastructure projects, not a silly overpriced train.

    The Dangers of Trying To Reinvent An Industry, And A Few Notes on Tesla

    I am often critical of Elon Musk and Tesla, and will be again later in this post, but I wanted to start by sympathizing with Tesla's plight.  As you may know, Tesla set out not only to produce a leading electric car (which it did) but also to reinvent automobile manufacturing (which it is struggling to do).  One of the hard parts about reinventing an industry is being correct as to what parts to throw out and what parts to keep.  Musk, I think, didn't want to be captive to a lot of traditional auto industry thinking, something anyone who has spent any time at GM would sympathize with.  But it turns out that in addition to all the obsolete assumptions and not-invented-here syndrome and resistance to change and static culture in the industry, there is also a lot of valuable accumulated knowledge about how to build a reliable car efficiently.  In Tesla's attempt to disrupt the industry by throwing out all the former, it may have ignored too much of the latter, and now it is having a really hard time ramping up reliable, quality production.  Musk even recently admitted it may have gone overboard on factory automation.

    I don't agree with all the conclusions, but I thought this was an interesting article on  and the industry lessons Tesla may have been too quick to ignore.  One quote I liked, “Machines are good for repetitive things… but they can’t improve their own efficiency or the quality of their work.”  I sympathize with Musk on this one.  You CAN"T upend an industry by copying everything it does -- you have to go off in a different direction, at least on some things.  It may be that Musk eschewed the wrong bits of industry practice, but this is an understandable mistake.

    What is not understandable is Musk's lack of transparency, his self-dealing, his wild and unfulfilled promises, and his unprofessional behavior.  Some notes:

  • A few months ago, at the Tesla truck launch, I wrote:
  • But Tesla needs to stay hot. California is considering new vehicle subsidy laws that are hand-crafted to pour money mainly into Tesla's pocket. Cash is burning fast, and Musk is going to have to go back to the capital markets again, likely before the end of the year. So out came Musk yesterday to yell SQUIRREL!

    Tesla's main current problem is that they cannot seem to get up to volume production of their main new offering, the Model 3. The factory appears to be in disarray and out of production and inventory space. They can't produce enough batteries yet for the cars they are already making. So what does Musk do? Announce two entirely new vehicle platforms for tiny niche markets.

    I saw the truck launch as a cynical ploy to distract from Tesla's operating problems and perhaps to get a bit of financing in the form of customer deposits (a growing percentage of Tesla's available cash is from customer advance deposits).  There was no way it could do anyting with this truck, given its operating problems and lack of capital.  It seems that I was on target, because not even 6 months later Tesla has tired of pretending the truck is going anywhere.  After Telsa did not even mention the semi in their earnings conference call,

    I actually don't know how many reservations we have for the Semi. About 2,000? Okay. I mean, we haven't really tried to sell the Semi. It's not like there's like an ongoing sales effort, so sales – orders for Semi are like opportunistic, really companies approaching us. Yeah, it's not something we really think about much.

  • Elon Musk proved himself on the same conference call to be a spoiled brat who has spent too much of his time having people kiss his feet and compare him to Tony Stark.
  • One week ago, Elon Musk entered the history books for his unprecedented, petulant handling of "boring, boneheaded" questions from two sellside analysts, who merely wanted more details about the company chronic cash/rollout issues.  And no phrase captures Musk's descent better than "These questions are so dry. They're killing me."  That's what Musk told RBC analyst Joseph Spak in response to a question about Model 3 reservations.

    My older readers will know that my dad was President of Exxon from the early 70's (a few weeks before the Arab oil embargo) until the late 1980's.  In that job he never had to do analyst calls, but he did about 15 annual shareholders meetings.  I don't know how they run today but in those days any shareholder with a question or a rant could line up and fire away.  Every person with a legitimate beef, every vocal person who hated oil companies and were pissed off about oil prices, every conspiracy theorist convinced Exxon was secretly formulating chemtrail material or whatever, and every outright crazy would buy one share of stock and show up to have their moment on stage.  My dad probably fantasized about how awesome it would be to just get asked dry financial questions about cash flow.  And through all the nuts and crazy questions and outright accusations that he was the most evil person on the planet, dad kept his cool and never once lost it.

    If you asked him about it, he likely would not have talked about it.  Dad -- who grew up dirt poor with polio in rural Depression Iowa -- was from that  generation that really did not talk about their personal adversity much and certainly did not compete for victim status.  He probably would just have joked that the loonies at the shareholder meeting were nothing compared to Congress.  My favorite story was that Scoop Jackson once called him to testify in the Senate twice in 6 months or so.  The first time, just before the embargo, he was trying to save the Alaska pipeline project and Jackson accused Exxon of being greedy and trying to produce more oil than was needed.  The second time was just after the embargo, and Jackson accused Exxon of being greedy and hiding oil offshore in tankers to make sure the world had less oil than it needed.

    Through all of this, the only time I ever saw him really mad was when Johnny Carson made a joke about killing the president of Exxon (he asked his audience to raise their hands if they thought they would actually get convicted for killing the president of Exxon) and over the next several days our family received hundreds of death threats.  These had to be treated fairly credibly at the time because terrorists were frequently attacking, kidnapping, and bombing oil company executives and their families.  We had friends whose housekeeper's hand was blown off by a letter bomb, and I was not able to travel outside of the country for many years for fear of kidnapping.  (For Firefly fans, if you remember the scene of Mal always cutting his apples because he feared bombs in them from a old war experience, you might recognize how, to this day, I still open packages slowly and carefully.

    This is a long way of saying that Elon Musk needs to grow the hell up.

    Why Tesla Agreed to Pay Elon Musk So Much

    Tesla agreed to give Elon Musk what is potentially the .  I will give my (*gasp*) cynical reason why I think they did this.  I can show you in one chart (Tesla Model 3 production, ):

    k彩平台登陆

    I would argue that Elon Musk is the only one in the world who can run a company with so many spectacular failures to meet commitments and still have investors and customers coming back and begging for more.  A relatively large percentage of Teslas and their customers sing their praises (even while ).  Tesla keeps publishing Model 3 production hockey sticks (apparently with a straight face) and consistently miss (each quarter pushing back the forecast one quarter) and investors line up to buy more stock.  Tesla runs one of the least transparent major public companies in this country (so much so that people like Bloomberg have to spend enormous efforts just to estimate what is going on there) and no one is fazed.  Competitors like Volvo and Volkswagon and Toyota and even GM have started to push their EV technology past Tesla and actually sell more EV's than does Tesla (with the gap widening) and investors still treat Tesla like it has a 10-year unassailable lead on competition.

    All because Elon Musk can stand up at a venue like SXSW, wave his hands, spin big visions, .   Exxon-Mobil has a long history of meeting promises, reveals its capital spending plans in great detail, but misses on earnings by a few cents and loses $40 billion in market cap.  GE lost over half its market value when investors got uncomfortable with their lack of transparency and their failures to meet commitments.   Not so at Tesla, in large part because Elon Musk is PT Barnum reincarnated, or given the SpaceX business, he is n made real.

    Disclosure:  I don't currently have any position in TSLA but over the last 2 years I have sold short when it reaches around $350 (e.g. after Elon Musk speaks) and buy to cover around $305 (e.g. when actual operational or financial data is released).  Sort of the mirror image of .

    Why Infrastructure is Really "Crumbling" -- It's Unauthorized Borrowing by Government Agencies Against Public Infrastructure

    I am mostly going to leave highways out of this post.  Most evidence I have seen is that the numbers do not actually show highway infrastructure to be getting worse.  To the extent highways are underfunded, in my mind it is because gasoline taxes paid by drivers and meant for highway repair and construction have been shifted to grand projects like light rail that get politicians excited but carry at least an order of magnitude fewer passengers per dollar spent than do highways.

    But in worlds I am more familiar with - government transit agencies and parks agencies - there has been a real deterioration of infrastructure.   Systems like the Washington Metro clearly are falling apart and most public parks and recreation areas have huge deferred maintenance accounts that are growing every year.  California State Parks and the National Parks Service alone have deferred maintenance tallied well into the tens of billions of dollars.

    Most of these agencies will argue the problem is -- wait for it -- that they are underfunded by their legislatures.  But this is not the case in my experience.  My company routinely takes over public parks that some government agency said were too expensive to remain open and profitably reopens them to the public -- not only keeping up with the maintenance but paying to catch up on all the maintenance the agency let slide when it was operating the park.

    The problem is that most agencies, whatever their stated public purpose and mission, tend to be run for the benefit of their employees.  I understand some but not all the reasons for this, but it is simply an observable fact that this happens time and time again.  This means that the priority is to build up large staffs with good pay and large benefits and retirement packages.   Worse, the preference is usually to build up headquarters and administrative staff, rather than staff that actually does stuff like serve the public or fix things.  When cutbacks need to occur, the priority order always is: cut maintenance first; cut field staff actually doing useful things second; cut administrative staff only in case of the apocalypse; cut benefits packages never.

    Deferred maintenance is the way that agency's can borrow without transparency and without any outside authorization to do things like maintain staff in the face of cutbacks.  In effect, the agency is borrowing against the infrastructure the public has built to help fund staffing levels and benefits.  What is deferred maintenance?  It is all kind of things.  It is having one out of three toilets in a bathroom break and just roping it off rather than fixing it.  It is allowing potholes to multiply in the road without repair.  It is constantly chasing more and more leaks in an underground water line and not just replacing it.  It is an acknowledgement that all manmade things have a fixed life.   Take picnic tables.  Let's say a type of picnic table in a campground, of which there might be hundreds, lasts about 10 years.  That means a responsible person should budget to replace 10% every year.  But what if we skip a year?  No one will probably notice if some old tables slide from 10 to 11 years old, and we save some money.  But really we are only borrowing that money, because we will need to do twice as many next year.  But then we do it again the next year, to borrow more, and the bill just increases for the future.  Before you know it, the NPS has $12 billion in deferred maintenance, a $12 billion debt for which there is little transparency and no legislative approval -- and the interest on which all of us in the public pay when we have to live with these deteriorating public facilities.

    I have written about this many times, but here is what I wrote about Arizona State Parks several years ago:

    At every turn, [Former Arizona State Parks Director Ken] Travous made decisions that increased the agency's costs.  For example, park rangers were all given law enforcement certifications, substantially increasing their pay and putting them all into the much more expensive law enforcement pension fund.  There is little evidence this was necessary -- Arizona parks generally are not hotbeds of crime -- but it did infuriate many customers as some rangers focused more on citation-writing than customer service.  There is a reason McDonald's doesn't write citations in their own parking lot.

    What Mr. Travous fails to mention is that the parks were falling apart on his watch - even with these huge budgets - because he tended to spend money on just about anything other than maintaining current infrastructure.  Infrastructure maintenance is not sexy, and sexy projects like the Kartchner Caverns development (it is a gorgeous park) always seem to win out in government budgeting.  You can see why in this editorial -- Kartcher is his legacy, whereas bathroom maintenance is next to invisible.  I know deferred maintenance was accumulating during his tenure because Arizona State Parks itself used to say so.  Way back in 2009 I saw a book Arizona State Parks used with legislators.  It showed pictures of deteriorating parks, with notes that many of these locations had not been properly maintained for a decade.  The current management inherited this problem from previous leaders like Travous, it did not create it.

    So where were those huge budgets going, if not to maintenance?  Well, for one, Travous oversaw a crazy expansion of the state parks headquarters staff.    When he left, there were about 150 people (possibly more, it is hard to count) on the parks headquarters staff.  This is almost the same number of full-time employees that were actually in the field maintaining parks.  As a comparison, our company runs public parks and campgrounds very similar to those in Arizona State Parks and we serve about the same number of visitors -- but we have only 1.5 people in headquarters, allowing us to put our resources on the ground in parks serving customers and performing maintenance.  None of the 100+ parks we operate have the same deferred maintenance problems that Arizona State Parks have, despite operating with less than a third of the budget that Travous had in his heyday.

    Arizona State Parks has a new Director, but its the same old story.  They have complained about deferred maintenance in the parks for years, but when times are good (and I can tell you all of us in public recreation are having visitation records the last few years) they use the extra money to add headquarters staff and pay headquarters staff more.

    State Parks, which receives no state general-fund money, saw a record 2.78 million visitors come to its parks for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The agency generated nearly $17.9 million largely from park fees, another record.

    The result: Black has been generous with pay for people she has brought on staff. Some salaries are up to 32 percent higher than what her predecessor paid for the same positions. And she has approved raises of up to 25 percent for some carry-over staff as more money rolls into the agency's coffers....

    Meanwhlile, records show [former director Bryan] Martyn's top two deputies were paid $110,250, while Black pays her top assistant $142,000 — 29 percent more. Black brought in a new development chief at nearly $105,000, a 32 percent bump over what the position paid under Martyn.

    Black also boosted the pay of the natural-resources chief, who also worked for Martyn, by 25 percent, to $84,000 a year.

    State Parks payroll records show Martyn, around the time he left, had 41 staffers making more than $50,000 [incredibly this is apparently personal staff, not the total headquarters staff]. Black had 58 staff members in March making more than $50,000. Black also brought in staff at higher salaries than what Martyn paid, giving some holdovers significant raises.

    An agency spokeswoman said Parks is increasingpay to recruit and retain talent, and staffers are dealing with more visitors.

    Black said she also has increased the pay of those in the field.

    So, as we see some really good years in public recreation, Arizona State Parks is using the extra money to pay staff rather than address fundamental infrastructure issues.   Anyone want to guess what will happen when the next downturn comes?  Will administrative pay be cut?  Will headquarters staff be cut?  Or will maintenance be cancelled and parks closed?  Place your bets.

    When companies or other entities get into debt holes they cannot climb out of, their debt is restructured and perhaps partially forgiven or even bailed out, but rules are put in place to ensure more responsible financial behavior in the future.  The same needs to be true of infrastructure spending.  These agencies got themselves into the deferred maintenance holes they are in.  They cannot get out without a bailout, but we should understand that it is a bailout of these agencies and there need to be conditions attached to the funding tied responsible maintenance spending by the agency itself.

    Woah! You Mean Illegal Activity That We Never Punish is Still Occurring?

    Democrats are having fun noting the hypocrisy (after all the focus in the last election on Hillary's email practices) of .  I will leave them to their fun.**

    But I will note that I am a huge supporter of FOIA and government transparency and from the very beginning I criticized Hillary Clinton's use of private email primarily because it was clearly done to evade government transparency laws.  We did not punish her for obvious violations, and we did not punish Gina McCarthy when she used private email as the head of the EPA to avoid public scrutiny of her contacts with environmental lobbying groups.  So we should not be surprised if lots of other people are doing the same thing.  Politicians would love to sweep all their private conversations under the rug if we let them.  We need to start charging people for this crime -- even one high-profile person to start pour encourager les autres would be a start.

     

    ** This is an example of the good side of partisanship -- someone is always in opposition.  Engadget never did a single article on Gina McCarthy or other Obama Administration officials evading FOIA through private email accounts, presumably because it was much more sympathetic to that administration.  But it does not like Trump so it is on the case.  Which is fine-- the watchdogs across administrations don't always have to be the same people, they just need to be there.

     

    My Views on BLM

    I was at a function the other day when I was challenged to take a position on the stupid 'black lives matter vs. all lives matter' false dichotomy.    I was fortunate to be in a group that actually let me answer with more nuance.  Here is essentially what I said:

    1. There is a real problem with police accountability and police violence in this country, one I have been writing about since long before the BLM movement was even created.
    2. The harm of these police accountability issues falls disproportionately, but not solely, on blacks and other minority ethnic groups
    3. For any number of reasons, fixing racism is not the immediate answer.  Most obviously, because racism is super-hard to eradicate and has persisted (though improved, IMO) despite a lot of attention over many decades.   It is hard to point to any time and place in human history when some folks have not been seduced by in-group-out-group thinking.  The other reason is that the primary issue is accountability, not racism.  We give police special powers to use force that the rest of us do not have, but impose less accountability on them for the use of force than the rest of us face.  No matter how good most police officers are, this accountability problem is going to allow bad eggs to repeatedly abuse their power.
    4. There are real, identifiable steps that can actually increase police accountability and transparency and reduce the types of police violence incidents BLM was formed to oppose.  Early on, BLM actually identified a pretty good list.
    5. BLM did a fabulous job of raising awareness and putting these issues near the center of political discussion.
    6. Having done so, BLM now has gone completely off the rails.  It appears to be entirely focused on virtue-signalling and disruption and support of progressive issues completely tangential to its initial focus.  It has no coherent action plan.  Colin Kapernick torpedoed his own football career to bring attention to BLM, but once he did so and had microphones thrust in his face from every direction, neither he nor any of his supporters had anything specific to advocate for, other than outrage and telegraphing their victim status.
    7. Progress can be made on these issues, but what it will take is a hard city by city slog to change the rules that govern police discipline and transparency.   As I wrote before, BLM "could learn a lot from Conservative and libertarian groups like ALEC, that focus on creating model legislation and local success stories that can be copied in other places."
    8. Republicans often oppose police accountability steps -- they don't just support the police, they fetishize them.  But the cities that most cry out for new accountability rules -- New York, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis, Los Angeles -- are have Democratic super-majorities and governments whose officials almost to a one have come out publicly in support of BLM.  So why no progress?  One big barrier is the Democratic Party's unwavering support for public employee unions, and it is police unions that are the biggest barrier to implementing the steps BLM should be demanding.  This is another side of this issue discussed earlier in the week.

    Costumed Run at @RunDisney

    My daughter and I would feel weird at this point to run a 10K or half-marathon without costumes.  For the Marvel #DoctorStrange10K  today at Disneyland, she made a cute Thor costume and I made an Ironman outfit.  Actually I did not bother very much with the rest of the costume details because I spent all my time geeking out over making the lighted arc reactor.  Eventually, I ended up with a very light design using an with an inkjet-printed overlay on transparency film.  I had to hump the battery pack over the whole course but it was not too bad.

    k彩平台登陆Dr strange 10k

    Update:  Per several suggestions, a pocket in the shirt for a smartphone with the image of the arc reactor on the screen does not work well.  The phone is too heavy and unless the shirt is really, really tight, it flops around when running.  The EL panel is super light, and the main weight of the battery can be on the belt.

    Pardon Hillary

    This may be the last message you expected from me, but Obama should pardon Hillary.  If Obama does not, Trump should.

    Look, I am a FOIA absolutist.  Long before it came out that Clinton may have had top secret emails on her k彩平台登陆 server, I wanted to see her punished for her flouting of public accountability laws.  Her whole k彩平台登陆-brewed email system was a transparent attempt to evade FOIA, and consistent with her history of attempting to duck transparency (going all the way back to her abortive health care initiative she ran as First Lady).  In addition, I have had it up to here with bogus non-profits that pretend to do charity work, but are in fact merely lifestyle and influence maintenance devices for their principals.  I would love to see the Clinton Foundation investigated (though market forces may take care of that institution on their own, as it is unlikely donors will be sending much money their way now that the Clintons have no prospect of returning to power).

    But the optics, and precedents involved, with a winning candidate's administration criminally prosecuting the election's loser are just terrible.  Even if entirely justified, the prosecution smacks of banana republic politics.  And even if it were justified, half the country would not see it that way and next time, when the parties are reversed, as sure as the sun rises in the East there will be folks looking to duplicate the prosecution in the other direction.

    The rule of law is seldom helped by ignoring wrong-doing, but in this case I will make an exception.

    Postscript:  By the way, what could be a better political FU than having Trump pardon her?   An attempted prosecution could last for years and could lead nowhere.  But nothing leaves the impression of "your guilty" like a preemptive pardon (see Richard Nixon).  From a political point of view Obama should pardon her just to prevent Trump from doing so and getting credit for being a healer.

    Hillary Clinton and "Intent" -- Can the Rest Of Us Get A Mens Rea Defense From Prosecution?

    Yesterday, the FBI said that Hillary Clinton should not be prosecuted because, though she clearly violated laws about management of confidential information, she had no "intent" to do so.  Two thoughts

  • Even if she had no intent to violate secrecy laws, she did - beyond a reasonable doubt - have intent to violate public transparency and FOIA laws.  She wanted to make it hard, or impossible, for Conservative groups to see her communications, communications that the public has the right to see.  In violating this law with full intent, she also inadvertently violated secrecy laws.  I don't consider this any different than being charged for murder when your bank robbery inadvertently led to someone's death.
  • If politicians are going to grant each other a strong mens rea (guilty mind or criminal intent) requirements for criminal prosecution, then politicians need to give this to the rest of us as well.  Every year, individuals and companies are successfully prosecuted for accidentally falling afoul of some complex and arcane Federal law.   Someone needs to ask Hillary where she stands on .
  • Disney Wait Times Are Among The Most Transparent Service Numbers Anywhere

    How often does Amazon fail to deliver Prime shipments in two days?  I have no idea -- I know it has happened to me sometimes, but they don't publish the metric.  What is the average wait time on the phone with the IRS?  We don't know.  What is the average wait time at a TSA checkpoint?  We don't know.

    One thing we most certainly do know, and can know any time on any day, is the current wait time for any Disney ride.  I bring this up because some goofball in the Obama Administration made this absurd statement :

    When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” McDonald said Monday during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”

    rightly points out the downside of a longer wait for Space Mountain is just a tiny bit lower than the downside of waiting for heart surgery.

    But I want to add that this statement is not even close to being factually correct on its face.  , but there are dozens of apps and sites with this info because Disney makes the data public in an API most anyone can access.  (, which has built a whole Disney trip planning business on top of Disney published wait time data -- as an aside, if you are a Disney fan or future visitor, you should join).

    But I would go further.  I know for a fact that Disney spends a ton of time internally planning and improving ride throughput and capacity entirely with an eye to reducing wait times (and also, by the way, to making design changes that make ride waits more enjoyable with in-line activities).  They have a sophisticated operational research staff working on this all the time, and they are constantly tweaking their Fastpass system which would not even begin to work correctly if they did not understand ride wait times down to the second decimal place.  And by the way, if their management found out that some folks in their organization were fudging line wait time data, I am pretty sure the offenders would not be working there any more (as they are at the VA).

    Postscript:  I am still amazed by the fail here.  Anyone who has been to Disney even once will know that all wait times are displayed all over the park on boards, and that at each ride, every few minutes a customer will get an electronic card at the beginning of the ride that precisely times their wait.   Seriously, where do they get folks like this who can blithely utter nonsense as if they know what they are talking about.  The whole premise is screwed up.  Yes, good service companies measure overall satisfaction. This is marginally useful data, but what does one do with it?  To really fix and improve the experience, one also has to measure many important bits of the experience.  Saying that one should pay attention to only one output metric and nothing else would get you laughed out of any quality course I have ever been to.

    Update:  Also, I would add that there is a lot of market pressure on the wait time issue pushing Disney to improvement on lines, market pressure that does not exist on the VA (which is one reason they totally lack any accountability).  Disney has its FastPass system for helping guests manage ride waits, but both Universal and Six Flags have their own different systems (Universal has a higher level ticket you can buy that gets you preferred access to all rides, Six Flags Magic Mountain has a pager system where you tell it which ride you want to do next and they page you when your place is ready).

    Gruber & Rhodes: Lying Politicians Are Old News, But Bragging About it Seems To Be An Obama Innovation

    Does Ben Rhodes victory lap bragging about how he pulled the wool over the eyes of a stupid and gullible America on Iran remind anyone else of Jonathon Gruber?  ?

    "You can't do it political, you just literally cannot do it. Transparent financing and also transparent spending. I mean, this bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes the bill dies. Okay? So it’s written to do that," Gruber said. "In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in, you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical to get for the thing to pass. Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not."

    Even the justification is the same -- its OK to break the law and lie about it in order to break up gridlock.  (By the way, my mother-in-law -- who tends to be a reliable gauge of mainstream Democratic thinking -- argued the same thing with me, that extra-Constitutional Presidential actions were justified if Congress did not accomplish enough.   Asked about whether she was comfortable with the same power in a Trump administration, she was less sanguine about the idea).

    While political lying is old as time, it strikes me that this bragging about it is a new phenomena.  It reminds me of the end of the movie "Wag the Dog", when the Dustin Hoffman character refused to accept that no one would ever know how he manipulated the public into believing there had been a war, and wanted to publicly take the credit.  In the movie, the Administration had Hoffman's character knocked off, because it was counter-productive to reveal the secret, but I wonder if in reality Obama is secretly pleased.

    Dear Republicans, Could We Get A Little Consistency?

    Republicans were rightly horrified that various government agencies, including a number of state attorneys general, were harassing private entities like Exxon-Mobil and CEI over their speech about climate change.  They pointed out that even if formal charges were never brought, the intrusive and public investigatory process by powerful government actors had an inherently chilling effect on free speech.

    Kudos to Republicans!  They are defending the free speech of private actors from government harassment.

    The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee demanded on Tuesday that explain how it handles news articles in its “trending” list, responding to a report that staff members had from conservative sources.

    In a , the chairman, Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, asked Facebook to describe the steps it was taking to investigate the claims and to provide any records about articles that its news curators had excluded or added. Mr. Thune also asked directly whether the curators had “in fact manipulated the content,” something Facebook denied in a statement on Monday.

    “If there’s any level of subjectivity associated with it, or if, as reports have suggested that there might have been, an attempt to suppress conservative stories or keep them from trending and get other stories out there, I think it’s important for people to know that,” Mr. Thune told reporters on Tuesday. “That’s just a matter of transparency and honesty, and there shouldn’t be any attempt to mislead the American public.”

    Ugh.  What does Thune want, a revival of odious equal time rules, but now applied to the Internet?  This is just stupid.

    Excellent Slate Article on GMO Safety

    , and is full of links to literature on both sides of the debate.  But its conclusions are pretty definite

    I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

    Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement—that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food—is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins. They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes.

    Third, there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents. But none of these concerns is fundamentally about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering isn’t a thing. It’s a process that can be used in different ways to create different things. To think clearly about GMOs, you have to distinguish among the applications and focus on the substance of each case. If you’re concerned about pesticides and transparency, you need to know about the toxins to which your food has been exposed. A GMO label won’t tell you that. And it can lull you into buying a non-GMO product even when the GE alternative is safer.

    This is just the management summary, the article goes into great depth on all of these.

     

    Asset Forfeiture Fraud and Abuse

    Arizona has one of the worst asset forfeiture laws in the country, essentially allowing law enforcement to help themselves to any money or real property that takes their fancy, and then spend it on anything they like.   For example, one AZ sheriff is spending the asset forfeiture stolen money**, even though such scholarships sure seem to be specifically prohibited as a use for the money.  You can think of this as pure PR - give 1% of the stolen money to some worthy cause so no one will question what you do with the other 99%, or more importantly question why they hell you had the right to take it without due process in the first place.

    The Cochise County Sheriff's Office is providing nine high school students with college scholarships financed by money and assets seized from people suspected of illegal activity.

    The $9,000 for scholarships is paid from the county's anti-racketeering revolving fund. State law specifies that cash in this account is to be used for things like gang and substance-abuse prevention programs and law enforcement equipment.

    So, how do the scholarships fit the bill?

    Though federal law appears to prohibit such a use of the money, Cochise County says the spending is permissible because it plays a role in substance-abuse prevention....

    [The IJ's Paul] Avelar agreed.

    The categories that specify how the money should be spent are "incredibly broad," allowing for a gamut of expenditures, he said.

    "It's very loosey-goosey on what they spend it on," Avelar said. "They have the ability spend it on a lot of things that we might not think are wise expenditures of public money."

    But McIntyre said that it's essential that counties retain broad spending power over this money, because "local elected officials are in a much better position to determine what priorities need to be addressed than people outside of the county."

    "And additionally, the reality is that if the local voting populous doesn't agree with the use of those funds or the priorities that have been set by these decision makers, they have the ultimate remedy to vote us out," McIntyre said.

    The last is a total joke.  First, most sheriff's offices refuse to provide any comprehensive reporting on their seizure and spending activities, so without transparency there can be no accountability.  And second, this is a classic redistribution scheme that always seems to get votes in a democracy.  Law enforcement steals this money from 1% of the citizens, and spends it in a way that seems to benefit most of the other 99%.  It is exactly the kind of corrupt policy that democracy consistently proves itself inadequate to prevent -- only a strict rule of law based on individual rights can stop this sort of abuse.

    ** While the forfeitures are legal under the law, that does not make them right.  The law is frequently used by one group to essentially steal from another.  Allowing police to take money at gunpoint from innocent (by any legal definition, since most have not been convicted of a crime) citizens is stealing whether it is enabled by the law or not.

    Yelp's Way of Caving to Corporate Pressure and Hiding Reviews While Saying They Didn't Delete Anything

    Update:  This post may be unfair, as discussed here.  I am not fully convinced, though.

    A few days ago I posted a negative review of Applied Underwriters, and linked to this post on my blog for much more detail.  Yelp promptly pulled the review, saying I violated their terms of service by linking to a commercial web site.  I thought that bizarre, since my blog has absolutely nothing commercial about it.   But it made more sense when I received a letter from Applied Underwriters demanding that I take down my negative Yelp review or they would sue me for libel.  I don't know for sure what happened, but I suspect that Applied Underwriters sent Yelp a similar demand and they used the link in the review as an excuse to delete it and avoid legal entanglements.

    So I posted an updated review with more detail and no link.  Now, Yelp is hiding the review, along with most of the other negative reviews, behind a nearly invisible link at the bottom that says "other reviews that are not currently recommended".  Scroll down to the and you may see it if you have a keen eye.  It is not even clear it is a link, but if you click on it, you get all the bad reviews Yelp is hiding.

    Let's dismiss all the reasons why Yelp might say they do this.  One is clarity, to reduce clutter.  But go to your favorite restaurant Yelp page.  Likely you will not see this link / hidden review phenomenon.  You will see pages and pages of reviews, far more than they would have to show if they just displayed all the reviews for Applied Underwriters.

    So there must be another reason.  They say in their note there is a quality algorithm.  Anyone who has read a lot of Yelp reviews will know that if this is so, their quality algorithm is not working very hard.   They have a number of reviews that they "recommend" that are nothing more than a rant like "I will never use these guys again" while my unrecommended review includes paragraphs of detail about the service.  They say it is based on your review volume as well, but I have more Yelp review volume than several of the others who seem to pass the screen.

    All of which leads me to believe that this is Yelp's purgatory where they hide reviews based on corporate pressure.  They have gotten a lot of cr*p publicly about deleting bad reviews from sponsors and from corporations that pressure them to do so.   They have hey don't delete anything.   So imagine Applied Underwriters sends Yelp loads of threats to take down each negative review that comes up.  What do they do?  They put them in the not-recommended purgatory.  They can claim that they haven't deleted anything, but absolutely no one will ever likely see the review.  And they don't count any longer to the company's review count, so for all intents and purposes they are gone.

    All of this is a guess, because it is absolutely impossible to contact Yelp about these issues.  No phone numbers.  The ones in general directories for San Francisco don't work for them.  You can't email or chat or contact their customer support in any way.  For a company in the transparency business, they avoid it like the plague.

    But do you want to know what makes me doubly sure of my analysis?  Because there is no way to up-rate any of the "not recommended" reviews.  I would have thought the whole up-rating system was how they sorted reviews to present the most relevent at the top, but you can't do that with the ones they have put in purgatory.  Why?  Because these reviews are being put in purgatory not for some customer benefit but to protect corporations able to put pressure on Yelp.  Yelp doesn't want them uprated.  They are supposed to disappear.    If I had time, I would compare the number of "not recommended" reviews for corporations with powerful legal staffs like Applied Underwriters to the number for Joe's local business  (AU has 17 recommended reviews but a 28 full reviews that have been "disappeared" as unrecommended).

    Arrogance of the Elite

    I am pretty freaking cynical about the political process, so it takes something pretty bad to catch my attention.  This attitude by Obamacare architect Jonathon Gruber, which is likely shared by most of the Administration,

    An architect of the federal healthcare law said last year that a "lack of transparency" and the "stupidity of the American voter" helped Congress approve ObamaCare.

    In a clip unearthed Sunday, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Jonathan Gruber appears on a panel and discusses how the reform earned enough votes to pass.

    He suggested that many lawmakers and voters didn't know what was in the law or how its financing worked, and that this helped it win approval.

    "Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber said. "And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass."

    Gruber made the comment while discussing how the law was "written in a tortured way" to avoid a bad score from the Congressional Budget Office. He suggested that voters would have rejected ObamaCare if the penalties for going without health insurance were interpreted as taxes, either by budget analysts or the public.

    "If CBO scored the [individual] mandate as taxes, the bill dies," Gruber said.

    "If you had a law that made it explicit that healthy people are going to pay in and sick people are going to get subsidies, it would not have passed," he added.

    By the way, Jonathon Gruber was the one in 2012 who that the limitation of subsidies to state-run exchanges was not a drafting error, but was an intentional feature meant to give incentives to states to create exchanges.  Now that it is clear that incentive did not do its job, and a case is in front of the Supreme Court attempting to enforce the plain language of the law, Gruber is now saying that he mispoke (over and over again) in 2012 and it was a typo.  Given the fact that he has now admitted he would gladly lie (and has) to the public to defend Obamacare, how much should we believe his current claims?

    Not Sure That Word Means What You Think It Means

    with the Obama Administration's lack of transparency, I am not sure this phrasing quite works

    “There is no precedent for President Obama’s Nixonian assertion of executive privilege over these ordinary government agency records,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a written statement.

    If the assertion is "Nixonian", doesn't that imply that there is indeed a precedent?  Otherwise how would the practice be named after someone else?

    PS- since we were on the subject of grammar and editing yesterday, I will say that yes, I know the comma after "Nixonian" above is supposed to be inside the quotes.  But as an engineer and former programmer, this rule is entirely illogical.   It's like writing 3+(x+y*)7 instead of 3+(x+y)*7.   I do it the way that makes logical sense.

    Missing the Forest for the Trees

    I can understand .  But seriously, their biggest problem with this President's transparency is that he does not allow enough pictures of himself?

    It Turns Out That Democrats Were Responsible for the Watergate Coverup

    .  The Left is finding the article to be convincing evidence that the failures were all ... wait for it .. the Republican's fault.

    Every single failure, save one, in the article (we'll come back to that one in a minute) was due to the Administration's fear of Republican criticism.  So results were hidden, bad decisions were made, and key steps were delayed until after the last election.  All because the Obama Administration appears to incredibly thin-skinned about criticism.

    But blaming these decisions on Republicans and other Obamacare opponents is absurd.  One could easily say that the bad decisions made by the Nixon administration to cover up Watergate and other campaign shenanigans were driven by a fear of political reprisals by Democrats, but no one would be crazy enough to blame the Democrats for them.  It reminds me of the folks who wanted to blame failures in the Vietnam war on the anti-war movement.  But that is exactly what is going on here, and the amazing thing is just how many people seem willing to enable and support this incredible evasion.

    The one other example that Republicans are supposedly to blame is , among others, quite eagerly.  Apparently, the PPACA legislation, which was written entirely by Democrats and passed without a single Republican vote, failed to actually provide financing for an enormous new organization to build and run the exchanges.  And, amazingly enough, Republicans refused to fix the Democrat's problem with the Democrat-written legislation in a law they hated and wanted repealed.  So the Obama Administration had to build the exchanges within the existing CMS organization, which botched the implementation.  And for THAT, apparently Republicans are to blame for it all.

    Of course, beyond the just bizarre "buck stops anywhere but here" mentality, there are other problems with this logic.  First, it is hard to believe that a brand new greenfield organization run entirely by Obama's policy folks and completely without any systems experience would have done better than an organization that at least has some health care systems experience.  Further, would the schedule really have been aided by having to start an entirely new organization from scratch?  Finally, it is clear from the article that a large part of the reason for moving the work to CMS was not just money but a desire to avoid transparency, to bury and hide the work.  Even had the financing mistake** not been made, one gets the sense that Obama might have buried the effort inside CMS anyway.

    In fact, this is the overriding theme from the entire article.  Every decision made for the Obamacare implementation seemed to be driven by political expediency first, avoiding transparency and accountability second, and actual results last.  It is well worth reading yourself to see what conclusions you draw.

     

    ** I am not entirely convinced it was a mistake.  Remember, the Democrats were scrambling to make the PPACA seem budget neutral.  They might easily have left out key bits of financing they know they needed, thinking they could hide the appropriation later.   A plan that died when Scott Brown was unexpectedly elected.

     

    Total Fecklessness

    If a city government something so obviously abusive as pension spiking, what hope is there of any real reforms on tougher matters?  Government employees are increasingly running government in their own favor.

    After nearly three hours of contentious debate, Phoenix city leaders were so divided over how to tackle pension “spiking” on Tuesday that they ended up doing nothing at all.

    They walked into the City Council chambers prepared to make changes, but after splintering into three ideological factions, voted 5-4 against a plan to combat spiking, generally seen as the artificial inflation of a city employee’s income to boost his or her retirement benefit.

    Several high-profile cases have come to light, pushing the effort to eliminate pension boosting to the forefront of the council’s agenda.

    Former Phoenix City Manager David Cavazos, who retired last week to lead another city, was able to apply unused sick pay and other perks to spike his pension to an estimated $235,863, the second-largest retirement benefit in city history.

    Earlier this month, a subcommittee of council members proposed modest reforms that they said would reduce pension spiking and provide transparency. They said the plan treated existing employees fairly and avoided potential litigation.

    But the proposal fell apart Tuesday night, when a group of liberal-leaning council members joined the body’s fiscal conservatives in voting against it, though their rationales were vastly different.

    After the motion to approve the proposal failed, the meeting ended. The result, greeted by cheers from employee unions in the crowd

    This is a Scandal??

    While fans can also purchase pink [NFL Branded] clothing and accessories to support the cause, a shockingly small amount of the fans' money is actually going towards cancer research.

    According to , the NFL "takes a 25% royalty from the wholesale price (1/2 retail), donates 90% of royalty to American Cancer Society."

    In other words, for every $100 in pink merchandise sold, $12.50 goes to the NFL. Of that, $11.25 goes to the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the NFL keeps the rest. The remaining money is then divided up by the company that makes the merchandise (37.5%) and the company that sells the merchandise (50.0%), which is often the NFL and the individual teams.

    How is this "shockingly small"?  A donation of 11.25% of the retail price, and 22.5% of the wholesale price,  of a piece of clothing is a pretty hefty.  What do they expect?  All the author is doing is demonstrating his (her?)  ignorance of retail and clothing net profit margins.  In particular, how can you try to make the NFL the bad guy for donating 90% of the money they actually get?  It's their program, they can't donate the clothing manufacturer's money.

    And besides, the NFL should be congratulated for being open about the numbers -- there is often zero transparency in such charitable promotional programs.  How much of the money in the last charity gala you attended do you think actually made it to the charity rather than just help fund the self-aggrandizement of their socialite sponsors?

    Trading $1 in Debt for 85 cents of Economic Activity

    UPDATE:  Mea culpa.  One point in the original post was dead wrong.  It is possible, contrary to what I wrote below, to get something like a 0.7%  difference in annual growth rates with the assumptions he has in the chart below (Drum still exaggerated when he called it 1%).  I don't know if the model is valid (I have little faith in any macro models) but I was wrong on this claim.  Using the 0.7% and working more carefully by quarter we get a cumulative GDP addition a bit lower than the cumulative debt addition.  There is still obviously a reasonable question even at a multiplier near 1 whether $1 of economic activity today is worth $1 of debt repayment plus interest in the future.  

    I am not a believer, obviously, in cyclical tweaking of the economy by the Feds.  To my thinking, the last recession was caused by a massive government-driven mis-allocation of capital so further heavy-handed government allocation of capital seems like a poor solution.  But what really drives me crazy is that most folks on the Left will seductively argue that now is not the time to reduce debt levels, implying sometime in the future when the economy is better will be the appropriate time.  But when, in any expansion, have you heard anyone on the Left say, "hey, its time to reduce spending and cut debt because we need the fiscal flexibility next time the economy goes wrong."

    I will leave the stuff in error below in the post because I don't think it is right to disappear mistakes.  For transparency, my spreadsheet reconstruction both confirming the 0.7% and with the updated numbers below is here:   reconstruction.xls.

     

    I see that Macroecomic Advisors has produced a  of the total effect of bad fiscal policies. Their conclusion: austerity policies since the start of 2011 have cut GDP growth by about 1 percentage point per year.

    Something seemed odd to me -- when I opened up the linked study, it said the "lost" government discretionary spending is about 2% of GDP.  Is Drum really arguing that we should be spending 2% of GDP to increase GDP by 1%?

    Of course, the math does not work quite this way given compounding and such, but it did cause me to check things out.  The first thing I learned is that Drum partook of some creative rounding.  The study actually said reductions in discretionary spending as a percent of GDP reduced GDP growth rates since the beginning of 2011 by 0.7% a year, not 1% (the study does mention a 1% number but this includes other effects as well).

    But it is weirder than that, because here is the chart in the study that is supposed to support the 0.7% number:

    k彩平台登陆click to enlarge

    Note that in the quarterly data, only 2 quarters appear to show a 0.7% difference and all the others are less.  I understand that compounding can do weird things, but how can the string of numbers represented by the green bars net to 0.7%?  What it looks like they did is just read off the last bar, which would be appropriate if they were doing some sort of cumulative model, but that is not how the chart is built.  If we interpolate actual values and are relatively careful about getting the compounding right, the difference is actually about 0.45%.  So now we are down to less than half the number Drum quoted see update above (I sent an email to the study author for clarification but have not heard back.  Update:  he was nice enough to send me a quick email).

    So let's accept this 0.45% 0.7% number for a moment.  If GDP started somewhere around 16 trillion in 2010, if we apply a 0.45% the quarterly growth numbers from his chart, we get an incremental economic activity from 2011 through 2013:Q2 of about $333 billion.

    So now look at the spending side.  The source says that discretionary spending fell by about 2% of GDP over this period.  From the graph above, it seems to bite pretty early, but we will assume it fell 1/12 of this 2% figure each quarter, so that by the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014 we get a fall in spending by 2% of GDP.  Cumulatively, this would be a reduction in spending over the 2.5 years vs. some "non-austere" benchmark of $388 billion.

    Thus, in exchange for running up $677 billion $388 billion in additional debt, we would have had $445 billion $333 billion in incremental economic activity.  A couple of reactions:

    1. Having the government borrow money and spend it definitely increases near-term GDP.  No one disputes that.  It is not even in question.  Those of us who favor reigning in government spending acknowledge this.  The question is, at what cost in terms of future obligations.  In fact, this very study Drum is quoting says

      Economists agree that failure to shrink prospective deficits and debt will bestow significant economic consequences and risks on future generations. Federal deficits drive up interest rates, “crowding out” private investment. If government borrowing supports consumption (e.g., through Social Security and major health programs) rather than public investment, the nation’s overall capital stock declines, undermining our standard of living. The process is slow but the eventual impact is large.2 In addition, accumulating debt raises the risk of a fiscal crisis. No one can say when this might occur but, unlike crowding out, a debt crisis could develop unexpectedly once debt reached high levels.

      High deficits and debt also undermine the efficacy of macroeconomic policies and reduce policymakers’ flexibility to respond to unexpected events. For example, in a recession, it would be harder to provide fiscal stimulus if deficits and debt already were high. Furthermore, fiscal stimulus might be less effective then. Additional deficit spending could be seen as pushing the nation closer to crisis, thereby forcing up interest rates and undercutting the effects of the stimulus. With fiscal policy hamstrung, the burden of counter-cyclical policy is thrust on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) but, particularly in a low interest-rate environment, the FOMC may be unable (or unwilling) to provide additional monetary
      stimulus.

    2. I guess we have pretty much given up on the >1 multiplier, huh?  Beggaring our children for incremental economic growth today is a risky enough strategy, but particularly so with the implied .66 .85 multiplier here.

    This is not the first time Drum has taken, uh, creative data approaches to cry "austerity" during a mad spending spree. 

    Climate Humor from the New York Times

    Though this is hilarious,

    But the complete candor and transparency of the [IPCC] panel’s findings should be recognized and applauded. This is science sticking with the facts. It does not mean that global warming is not a problem; indeed it is a really big problem.

    This is a howler.  Two quick examples.  First, every past IPCC report summary has had estimates for climate sensitivity, ie the amount of temperature increase they expect for a doubling of CO2 levels.  Coming into this IPCC report, emerging evidence from recent studies has been that the climate sensitivity is much lower than previous estimates.  So what did the "transparent" IPCC do?  They, for the first time, just left out the estimate rather than be forced to publish one that was lower than the last report.

    The second example relates to the fact that temperatures have been flat over the last 15-17 years and as a result, every single climate model has overestimated temperatures.  By a lot. In a draft version, the IPCC created this chart (the red dots were added by Steve McIntyre after the chart was made as the new data came in).

    k彩平台登陆figure-1-4-models-vs-observations-annotated (1)

     

    This chart was consistent with a number of peer-reviewed studies that assessed the performance of climate models.  Well, this chart was a little too much "candor" for the transparent IPCC, so they replaced it with this chart in the final draft:

    k彩平台登陆figure-1-4-final-models-vs-observations

     

    What a mess!  They have made the area we want to look at between 1990 and the present really tiny, and then they have somehow shifted the forecast envelopes down on several of the past reports so that suddenly current measurements are within the bands.   They also hide the bottom of the fourth assessment band (orange FAR) so you can't see that observations are out of the envelope of the last report.  No one so far can figure out how they got the numbers in this chart, and it does not match any peer-reviewed work.  

    OK, so now that we are on the subject of climate models, here is the second hilarious thing Lovejoy said:

    Does the leveling-off of temperatures mean that the climate models used to track them are seriously flawed? Not really. It is important to remember that models are used so that we can understand where the Earth system is headed.

    Does this make any sense at all?  Try it in a different context:  The Fed said the fact that their economic models failed to predict what actually happened over the last 15 years is irrelevant because the models are only used to see where the economy is headed.

    The consistent theme of this report is declining certainty and declining chances of catastrophe, two facts that the IPCC works as hard as possible to obfuscate but which still come out pretty clearly as one reads the report.

    Health Care and Prices

    is lauding the transparency an Oregon health insurance exchange which was initiated some apparently welcome price competition into a market for now standardized products.  My response was this:

    I applaud any effort by this Administration and others to improve the transparency of pricing in the medical field.  I would have more confidence, though, if all of you folks were not pushing for 100% pre-paid medical plans that will essentially eliminate price-shopping by individuals, and in so doing effectively eliminate the enormous utility of prices.  Prices will soon be meaningful for one thing -- insurance -- in the health care field and absolutely meaningless for everything else in the field.

    By the way, at the same time you are improving competition on price, you are eliminating by fiat all competition on features (e.g. what is covered, what deductible I want, etc).  This "success" is like the government mandating one single cell phone design, and then crowing how much easier shopping is for consumers because there is now only one choice.  A simple world for consumers is not necessarily a better world.  I am sure Medieval peasants had a very simple shopping experience as well.

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