Saturday, April 19, 2014

No One Walks Off The Island

The title of this post is taken from some great investigative reporting by ESPN The Magazine writer Scott Eden. It tells an unflattering story of MLB stars Yasiel Puig (LA Dodgers) and Alrodis Chapman (Cinnanati Reds). It appears, though not proven, that these two men fingered innocent men to Cuban authorities in order to cover their attempts to defect from Cuba. Not all Cuban defectors took this route. Jose Fernandez (Miami Marlins) was just 15 when he and his mother made a fourth attempt to get to U.S. shores. Three previous attempts resulted in Cuban imprisonment. On the fourth attempt Jose's mother fell overboard and he jumped into the ocean and saved her. How naive am I, thinking this is how all Cuban defectors get to the United States.

The story of Puig's defection without the alledged informing, is a story of a talented man wanting a better life in a freer country. There is nothing wrong with that and one can assume that Puig was unaware that death, Mexican cartel (Los Zetas) participation, bribery of government officials and torture would all be involved in his goal to play Major League baseball. The difference between Puig, Chapman and Fernandez is the financial reward at the end. Fernandez was just 15 and his baseball abilities, if known, had no immediate payoff. Whereas, Puig and Chapman were worth alot of money. As you will learn from Scott Eden's reporting there were investors financing the defection of Puig. In return they were supposed to get up to 20% of his contract money with whatever MLB team won the bidding for his services.

As you read this article, one wonders who benefits from the Cuban Embargo that has been in place since October, 1960? I see no political advantages for Cuba or the United States. There use to be a strong anti-Cuban lobby made up of Cuban refugees. But their clout has weakened as they age and younger Cuban-Americans seem to be more moderate in their views toward the island.

Friday, April 18, 2014

General Mills Update

"UPDATE April 17, 7:05 pm ET General Mills says a New York Times report cited in an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the company's legal policy change prevents consumers from suing the company if they like any of the company's brands on Facebook. This post has been updated to reflect the correction from GeneralMills." Reporter Todd Wasserman

Thursday, April 17, 2014

General Mills Takes Away Your Day In Court

Reading an article by Stephaine Strom reporting at the New York Times, that just by downloading a coupon for Cheerios, you may loose some of your constitutional rights. Yep, today consumers are subject to 'forced arbitration' and because of AT&T Mobility v. Conception you don't even have the right to a class action forced arbitration. If you and others have been wronged in some way by a business, each wronged individual must pay for his/her own defense. However, even a binding arbitration decision can be appealed. So there's that. But, it is still more expense for the plaintiff.

I have never read a privacy statement, but apparently by agreeing to joining a book club, Facebook, etc., there is also a good chance you are 'voluntarily' giving up your 'day in court', should you be harmed in some way. Just by going into a store you may lose your right to sue if you are injured.   (There is a Whataburger franchise owner who has a sign on the restaurant entrance, "that by simply entering the premises, they [customers] agreed to settle disputes through arbitration)'. Most credit card and mobile phone companies take away your 'day in court'.

Julia Duncan, at the American Association for Justice says; "It's [General Mills] essentially trying to protect the company from all accountability, even when it lies, or say, an employee deliberately adds broken glass to a product."

Some of you might be inclined to say that frivolous law suits, greedy trial lawyers, and outlandish jury awards have caused this to happen. I say frivolous law suits, greedy trial lawyers and outlandish jury awards pale against losing constitutional rights. Furthermore these abuses having absolutely nothing to do with the plaintiff(s). Finally, let me emphasize that trial lawyers will still make money from force arbitration, companies will save money, and settlements will shrink as will your constitutional rights.

Friday, March 21, 2014

There Is Something Going On Here

Social change works best with consensus, but if you can't get that, then try the bottom line. This is the dynamic taking place in the upstream or exploration and production (E&P) of the oil business. Investors are on the case of upstream companies. These companies are spending too much capital on E&P and not enough on dividends to the investors. Investor pressure has even morph into the environmental risks/high capital expenditure projects such as deep water exploration and tar sands.

There is a transition lurking in the oil industry. It concerns environmental penalities or carbon tax associated with the production of high carbon fossil fuels from tar sands. Also costly government regulations that raise exploration and production operating costs of deep-water projects especially since the Deep-Water Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Regarding the former, we read today that Exxon Mobile will provide a report to investors on the capital costs associated with these high risks E&P projects. It is the first time a company has provided investors with such information.

An undisclosed wealth management group was the impetus for Exxon's startling disclosure. Most E&P companies have refused to comply with any such financial data.  Whether a precedence is being set is not possible to speculate on at this time however as Natasha Lamb of Arjuna Capital notes: "Shareholder value is at stake if companies are not prepared for a low-carbon scenario…". Lamb goes on to say: "Forward thinking companies need to reassess how they allocate shareholder capital and act strategically to shift their business models…".

Right now, in Houston, we are experiencing another oil and possibly natural gas boom. Commercial and residential construction is exploding along with increase property taxes. The property taxes are rising because of high demand and a low high-end housing inventory. Office space is a on the rise and cost per square foot is about fourth in the nation. All this is directly and indirectly link to upstream, midstream and downstream oil and gas. Investor demands for prudent capital spending by energy companies and the anticipated low-carbon scenario discussed by Natasha Lamb could thwart the boom. But such is the Ying/Yang that is the 21st century energy business.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Tea Party Dilemma

Here in Texas we have six Tea Party candidates running for Lieutenant Governor. They are having so-called debates where each candidate tries to 'out conserve' the five others. This is not working since they all agree or purport to agree on the hot button issues that prove their Tea Party street cred:

Abortion: Brain dead pregnant mother should not have been taken off life-support. No exceptions for rape or incest.

Other Issues: All agreed on Tea Party positions on border security, gun rights and education.

I am not posting about the issues per se I am just wondering how does a voter select a candidate in a party primary when so far there appears to be no difference? The only objective criteria I guess is to look at each candidate's history and try to discern sincerity.

I for one think candidates in primaries in all parties pander to their party's base so again an informed voter is going to vote for the candidate that best and truly represents their political and moral views.

With that in mind a recent survey by Farleigh Dickinson University indicated that Fox News listeners were the least informed about current events and international news. MSNBC was a distant second. Sunday news shows had the best informed current events audience and the New York Times, USA Today, and National Public Radio had the best informed international readers and listeners.

I myself quit watching MSNBC because on two occasions I watch Rachel Maddow get flumoxed when a guess did not agree with her assessment of certain events.

Anyway, Tea Partiers, good luck with selecting the RIGHT candidate in your primaries.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Coming Storm

It's starting to 'rain' but no one knows if or how long it will continue. That will be determined by a huge cultural and economic shift brought on by the changing demographics in this nation of ours.

While people are wringing their hands over the Affordable Health Care Act, many don't realize it is doing exactly what the President set out to do and that is redistribute wealth. The tectonic shift that is causing the most grief is among those with incomes just above the cutoff for subsidies. It's the DMZ of the beginning of this huge social change.

I know people at the other lower fault line who make just enough money to be exempt from food stamps, food pantries, medicaid, etc. They have been living in this purgatory for years. It is at these fault lines where the battle will rage.

Ironically at the extremes are the 42 million people living below the poverty line of about $18,000 and receiving assistance from various welfare programs and the super rich who don't need assistance and can pay out of pocket … thank you very much from the members of these groups.

Both of these groups live off the subsidies provided by the middle and upper economic classes.

Source: NYT, "New Health Law Frustrates Many In Middle Class", by Katie Thomas, Reed Abelson and Jo Craven McGinty; 12-20-2013.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

True Believers

Several times in past blog postings I have referred to true believers. This concept was first introduced by Eric Hoffer in his 1951 book, The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements. 

Hoffer was reflecting on how fanatical movements begin and sustain themselves. These movements, both political and religious, were made up of people with low self-esteem. Quoting from Wikipedia, one contributor states, that such movements "arose under predictable circumstances: when large numbers of people come to believe that their individual lives are worthless and ruined, that the modern world is irreparably corrupt, and that hope lies only in joining a larger group that demands radical changes."

Hoffer was examining the rise of the totalitarian governments of Hitler and Stalin which he described as  "madhouses".  There are many, perhaps too many, examples in human history of these "madhouses" of "human psychology". But, like most things in life even the true believers vary in degrees of true
'believerism'. I suspect that even within Hitler and Stalin's organizations were varying degrees of commitment. The real true believers in the movements are those at the sharp end of the spear. These are the suicide bombers, the Sovereign Citizens movement, and even individuals acting alone in violent ways.

What happens when the sharp end of the spear is broken in these "madhouses"? What happens to the true believers? Within the Nazi movement post war members kept the 'dream alive' for a time by regrouping into secret organizations. Others started right wing parties that were regrouping in the open but with a more tempered nationalist agenda.

I recently finished a book by Stephen Kinzer, The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles and Their Secret World War. I don't recommend it but Kinzer describes the brothers as true believers. He doesn't label them as such, however his bullet points of their psychological proclivities is on point with Eric Hoffer's concept.

Here then is Mr. Kinzer's criteria for true believers:

  • People are motivated to accept accounts that fit with their preexisting convictions; acceptance of those accounts makes them feel better, and acceptance of competing claims makes them feel worse.

  • Dissonance is eliminated when we blind ourselves to contradictory propositions. And we are prepared to pay a very high price to preserve our most cherished ideas.

  • Moral hypocrisy is a deep part of our nature: the tendency to judge others more harshly for some moral infraction than we judge ourselves.

  • Groupthink leads to many problems of defective decision making, including incomplete survey of alternatives and objectives, failure to examine the risks of the preferred choice, poor information search, selective bias in processing information, and failure to assess alternatives.

  • We are often confident even when we are wrong…. Declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.

  • Certain beliefs are so important for a society or group that they become part of how you prove your identity…. The truth is that our minds just aren't set up to be changed by mere evidence.