Daily Archives: March 23, 2014

In anticipation of the GHS Marching Band’s arrival

 

"Sell more Che shirts!" John Yoon exhorts his students to redouble their fund raising efforts

“Sell more Che shirts!” John Yoon exhorts his students to redouble their fund raising efforts

Cuba doubles medical workers pay: doctors with two specialties will now be paid $67 a month, nurses go from $13 to $25. “The kids have been busy working to raise the minimum wage here in America to $10 per hour,” GHS band director John Yoon told FWIW, “and I worried that our Cuban friends would be embarrassed if the band members learned that the Cubans pay their workers that same amount per month. So I called Fidel and he graciously agreed to the raise, at least as long as we’re on the island.”

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This is interesting: Malaysian authorities doctored photos of the two Iranians using stolen passports on Flight 777

Those same authorities claim it was done “without malice”, but don’t explain why they did it. Same legs, different torsos – why?

article-2587554-1C867F0600000578-767_306x497Two legs

 

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White House: Russia may be preparing to invade Ukraine

Really?

Really?

“Could be serious”.  Surely, if the President had had even an inkling of this danger, he wouldn’t have spent yesterday on the golf course. Life’s just one damn surprise after another for the community organizer.

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A god by any other name

Nothing's changed

Nothing’s changed

Hollywood Reporter: “Noah” makes no mention of God, pushes “aggressive environmentalism”.

Darren Aronofsky wrestles one of scripture’s most primal stories to the ground and extracts something vital and audacious, while also pushing some aggressive environmentalism, in Noah. Whereas for a century most Hollywood filmmakers have tread carefully and respectfully when tackling biblical topics in big-budget epics aimed at a mass audience, Aronofsky has been daring, digging deep to develop a bold interpretation of a tale which, in the original, offers a lot of room for speculation and invention. The narrative of the global flood that wiped out almost all earthly life is the original disaster story, one that’s embraced by most of the major world religions, which means that conservative and literal-minded elements of all faiths who make it their business to be offended by untraditional renditions of holy texts will find plenty to fulminate about here. Already banned in some Middle Eastern countries, Noah will rile some for the complete omission of the name “God” from the dialogue, others for its numerous dramatic fabrications and still more for its heavy-handed ecological doomsday messages, which unmistakably mark it as a product of its time. But whether you buy these elements or not, this is still an arresting piece of filmmaking that has a shot at capturing a large international audience both for its fantasy-style spectacle and its fresh look at an elemental Bible story most often presented as a kiddie yarn.

Oh, Hollywood! Far too sophisticated to believe in the bible -“a kiddie yarn” – they won’t mention the G-word, but substitute Mother Gaia instead. It’s religion at its worst, with an insistence on absolute acceptance of everything its high priests proclaim and savage denunciation and punishment of heretics and “deniers”.

These are the cool guys.

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Shocker: WaPo discovers government waste

 

Coming attraction: ObamaCare

Coming attraction: ObamaCare

Bureaucratic sinkhole

This is one of the weirdest workplaces in the U.S. government — both for where it is and for what it does.

Here, inside the caverns of an old Pennsylvania limestone mine, there are 600 employees of the Office of Personnel Management. Their task is nothing top-secret. It is to process the retirement papers of the government’s own workers.

But that system has a spectacular flaw. It still must be done entirely by hand, and almost entirely on paper.

The employees here pass thousands of case files from cavern to cavern and then key in retirees’ personal data, one line at a time. They work underground not for secrecy but for space. The old mine’s tunnels have room for more than 28,000 file cabinets of paper records.

This odd place is an example of how hard it is to get a time-wasting bug out of a big bureaucratic system.

Held up by all that paper, work in the mine runs as slowly now as it did in 1977.

“The need for automation was clear — in 1981,” said James W. Morrison Jr., who oversaw the retirement-processing system under President Ronald Reagan. In a telephone interview this year, Morrison recalled his horror upon learning that the system was all run on paper: “After a year, I thought, ‘God, my reputation will be ruined if we don’t fix this,’ ” he said.

Morrison was told the system still relies on paper files.

“Wow,” he said.

The existence of a mine full of federal paperwork is not well known: Even within the federal workforce, it is often treated as an urban legend, mythic and half-believed­. “That crazy cave,” said Aneesh Chopra, who served as President Obama’s chief technology officer.

But the mine is real, and the process inside it belongs to a stubborn class of government problem: old breaking points, built-in mistakes that require vital bureaucracies to waste money and busy workers to waste time.

In some cases, the breaking point is caused by a vague or overcomplicated law.

In New Jersey, for instance, one researcher found that the approval process for a bridge project dragged on for years, in part because officials were required to do a historic survey of all buildings within two miles and to seek comment from Indian tribes as far away as Oklahoma.

In other places, what breaks is the government’s technology.

The rollout of HealthCare.gov, of course, was ruined by glitches in the Web site, but there are other examples: The Census Bureau had a failed experiment with hand-held computers, then reverted to paper, which cost up to $3 billion extra. The Department of Veterans Affairs had trouble with an online records system and, while they struggled with it, accumulated so much paperwork in one office that auditors feared the floor might collapse.

During the past 30 years, administrations have spent more than $100 million trying to automate the old-fashioned process in the mine and make it run at the speed of computers.

They couldn’t.

So now the mine continues to run at the speed of human fingers and feet. That failure imposes costs on federal retirees, who have to wait months for their full benefit checks. And it has imposed costs on the taxpayer: The Obama administration has now made the mine run faster, but mainly by paying for more fingers and feet.

The staff working in the mine has increased by at least 200 people in the past five years. And the cost of processing each claim has increased from $82 to $108, as total spending on the retirement system reached $55.8 million.

In a statement issued Saturday, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said: “I do not believe that the current level of service is acceptable.” She added that modernizing the system is a priority for her.

In an interview inside the mine this month, another federal official called the operation “very successful.”

But that official balked when asked if it was modern. “What does ‘modern’ mean?” the official said.

You really should read the whole, lengthy article, especially if you like to feel pain. Progressives think that the answer to efficient big government is more government; non-progressives disagree.

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Hope for one last blast of winter

 

Easter Sunrise Service, Tod's Point

Easter Sunrise Service, Tod’s Point

Latest forecast is for just 3″ of snow down here (12″, Boston), but the storm seems to be drifting back on a westward path, which would bring that 6″-12″ zone to our area Tuesday night. Those of you who don’t enjoy snow storms as much as I do may find this discouraging news but hey – you can always burn your copy of “Earth in the Balance” to stay warm.

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Chicagoland – NEA chief Karen Lewis prescribes a new math

Karen Lewis (r). "Gluttony's not consumerism, it's a hormone imbalance."

Karen Lewis (r). “Gluttony’s not consumerism, it’s a hormone imbalance.”

Teach social justice, not consumerism

Lewis spoke about ways to avoid “consumerist” messages while teaching subjects typically seen as apolitical, like math, at the annual conference of the Network for Public Education, a progressive advocacy group that backs public schools.

“You want to talk about organizing? You want to talk about social justice?” the Chicago union leader asked. “People always talk about how that there’s no political and values in math, that you can teach math without a place for social justice.”

“Johnny has five pencils and if he spent two cents for the red pencils and eight cents for the green pencils, and he has 47 cents, how many pencils can he buy? We’ve all seen that, right?” Lewis said. ”That’s a very political statement, because it’s all about consumerism — it’s about buying stuff, right?”

Instead, Lewis prefers the approach of one progressive teacher who uses union-approved rhetoric in math problems, instead of the damaging consumerism of two cent pencils.

“Bob Peterson tells them about Jose working in a factory making piecemeal [sic] clothes. He uses the same numbers and gets the same answer,” Lewis explained. “Math is political, too.”

Jabba the Hut’s members have produced a system with a 70% drop-out rate and a 0% college-level literacy rate, so it’s easy to see why she wants to use examples that her students can understand, like piecework  jobs at minimum wage; no sense building false expectations.

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This seems like a poor idea

sharia-law-worldwide-revisedBritain to incorporate Sharia law into its judicial system

Top lawyers have written guidelines for British solicitors on drafting ‘sharia-compliant’ wills which can deny women an equal share of their inheritance and entirely exclude non-believers, it was revealed today.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, has written a guide on Sharia succession rules that will be used in British courts. It will mean that children born outside of marriage and adopted children could also be denied their fair share.

The guide states: ‘No distinction is made between children of different marriages, but illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs.

Suicide of western culture.

sharia-law1

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A bargain on Juniper Hill Road?

7 Juniper Hill Road

7 Juniper Hill Road

The listing for 7 Juniper Hill Road, (Raveis listing)  asking $2.995 million (up from $2.795 – go figure),  says, “Greenwich address, Stamford taxes”. I’m told that the owner – a lawyer, naturally – went down to our town hall and got a ruling that enough of the property is in Greenwich to entitle her to beach privileges and possibly, depending on the location of the property line, our schools (the law provides that if some part of the physical residence straddles the line, an owner can choose which school district she wishes to use). If this is accurate, especially the schools, but even the beach access, to a lesser extent, this house is a crying steal. Couldn’t touch this 2010 construction for under $4 million in “Greenwich”. I’d look into it or better yet, have me look into it for you.

This situation is different, by the way, from the one described by Greenwich Time’s real estate columnist, who a few weeks ago erroneously stated that homes off Taconic that are entirely located in Stamford but use a Greenwich convenience address are entitled to all the privileges of Greenwich residency: they aren’t; at least a portion of the residence must be physically located in Greenwich for the owner to have access to our schools. I was a little disappointed to see that, a week after publishing that bit of misinformation the columnist brought a listing on the market that was in the very area he’d written about. Misinforming the public is one thing,  not disclosing an interest in making that “error” is another.

Or that’s what I think, anyway.

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Bob Horton poses an interesting question: what’s under the high school playing fields that our selectmen don’t want us to know about?

After attending their anti-gun demonstration to "save the children", Greenwich selectmen head to the high school to assure parents that their children are safe

After attending an anti-gun demonstration to “save the children”, Greenwich selectmen head to the high school to assure parents that their children are safe

The Selectmen are using our tax dollars to appeal a FOI ruling concerning PCBs at the site

Something about the increasing size and intensity of the PCB dumping grounds at Greenwich High School has town officials spooked, and they don’t want the public to know what it is.

That’s the inescapable conclusion drawn from the Board of Selectmen’s decision to appeal a recent state Freedom of Information Commission ruling that ordered the town to make public all discussions and documents presented at an illegal, closed-door meeting held last fall by the boards of Estimate and Taxation, Selectmen and Education.

Horton speculates, as have others here on FWIW, on the reason for the silence:

I suspect that the ultimate cost of this project is what has our elected officials so concerned, as well they should be. The bigger this cleanup gets, the more expensive it is. And if PCBs have migrated off the GHS site, that opens up liabilities that might dwarf the remediation costs at GHS.

I also agree with Bob’s concluding paragraph:

Opponents of the new high school wing seem to think the town would not be facing this problem if we never excavated the site. But with just one public high school serving Greenwich, building expansion was inevitable. The new wing just happened to be the project underway at the time.

I’d add, however, that many people’s objection to MISA had nothing to do with the then-unknown PCB problem and centered instead on the sheer cost of the construction itself which, we predicted, would balloon way past the estimates. That has happened – from a $29 million original estimate, we’re already past $43 million, and no more than $3 million of that is attributable to PCB remediation, which hasn’t even begun.

Boondoggle.

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Alex Mascioli update

As solid as a Greenwich address

As solid as a Greenwich address

Back in May, 2012, a local fraudster made a “bid” for Winnebago, the RV people, and the business press; Bloomberg, WSJ,reported it with a straight face. I suspected otherwise, and said so the same day (some) Wall Street hedge funds were piling into the company, accumulating shares. Then, in September, 2013, I asked whatever happened to the man because, aside from a few angry phone calls I’d received from Mascioli himself, I’d heard nothing further about the matter.

Last night, a reader sent me this story about the ultimate denouement of “North Street Capital” and its principal, Alex: It’s behind a pay wall, but here are the relevant parts:

The Securities and Exchange Commission has settled securities fraud charges against Alexander Mascioli and his “alter-ego”—North Street Capital—for making a fraudulent offer to acquire all of the outstanding shares of Winnebago Industries Inc., according to Thomas Gorman, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney who focuses on defending SEC, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and other regulatory investigations.
Mascioli of Greenwich, Conn. set up NSC as a hedge fund in June 2011, and also launched an accompanying website, which was rife with false information.
“NSC’s website emphasized NSC’s specialization in leveraged buyouts (“LBO”) even though NSC had never participated in an LBO,” the SEC complaint reads. “NSC’s website also included statements that its core markets were automotive, consumer retail, and business services, even though NSC had not engaged in a single transaction in any of those markets.”
On April 10, 2012, Mascioli telephoned Winnebago’s then-general counsel, making an offer on behalf of NSC to acquire all outstanding Winnebago shares. He then followed up with an offer letter, on NSC company letterhead, stating the hedge fund’s desire to purchase the stock for $10.25 per share, or just short of $300 million in total.
Following a back and forth between the two parties over NSC’s ability to complete the transaction, Winnebago ultimately rejected the offer. In the meantime, Mascioli had made several efforts to enlist a financial backer, but to no avail, Gorman reports.
Undeterred, Mascioli and NSC sent a second offer letter on May 9 with improved terms, offering to purchase the shares in cash for $11 per share, or around $321 million in total.
“In the May 9, 2012 offer letter, Mascioli wrote on behalf of NSC that its offer was not conditioned on any financing requirements, that NSC was prepared to move forward immediately, and that NSC could complete the process in approximately two weeks,” the SEC complaint reads. “Mascioli and, through him, NSC knew or were reckless in not knowing that each of these statements was materially false and misleading.”
Mascioli’s and NSC’s financial situation, the complaint goes on to say, remained unchanged. Neither had assets and they were unable to go through with the deal without financing from a third party.
On May 17, 2012, before receiving a response, Mascioli sent a copy of the second offer letter to Bloomberg which, according to a SEC press release, had been altered to look like an NSC press release. Bloomberg published the letter on its website, which caused Winnebago’s stock price and trading volume to sky-rocket, Gorman reports.
When trading opened on May 18, Winnebago stock had increased almost 15 percent, and almost 700,000 shares had been traded in pre-market trading in a startling contrast to the very low volume over the previous four trading days.
Winnebago notified the NYSE prior to the open, and trading was halted for an hour while the company issued a press release stating that the NSC offer was “highly conditional,” according to the SEC complaint. A New York hedge fund had decided to cover the majority of a large short position it held in Winnebago and incurred a loss in the process.
Mascioli and NSC have received sanctions from the SEC, including an order to pay, jointly and severally, a $100,000 civil penalty. Mascioli has also been barred from serving as an officer or director of a public company, Gorman reports.

Sometimes I question the intelligence of some of the people in some of these hedge funds.

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