Saturday, December 31, 2011

Regulatory failure.. (or perhaps not)

"... Well, it’s really an incredible case study in regulation because something called OFHEO was set up in 1992 by Congress, and the sole job of OFHEO was to watch over Fannie and Freddie, someone to watch over them. And they were there to evaluate the soundness and the accounting and all of that. Two companies were all they had to regulate. OFHEO has over 200 employees now. They have a budget now that’s $65 million a year, and all they have to do is look at two companies. I mean, you know, I look at more than two companies.

And they sat there, made reports to the Congress, you can get them on the Internet, every year. And, in fact, they reported to Sarbanes and Oxley every year. And they went–wrote 100 page reports, and they said, ‘We’ve looked at these people and their standards are fine and their directors are fine and everything was fine.’ And then all of a sudden you had two of the greatest accounting misstatements in history. You had all kinds of management malfeasance, and it all came out.

And, of course, the classic thing was that after it all came out, OFHEO wrote a 350–340 page report examining what went wrong, and they blamed the management, they blamed the directors, they blamed the audit committee. They didn’t have a word in there about themselves, and they’re the ones that 200 people were going to work every day with just two companies to think about. It just shows the problems of regulation..."

- Warren Buffet interview, see That Awesome Warren Buffett CNBC Interview

When asked if this was an argument against regulation, he responded:

"... it's an argument that managing complex financial institutions where the management wants to deceive you can be very, very difficult. Or even when the management doesn't know what's going on, and--just take Bear Stearns. Bear Stearns had--I read it, anyway--750,000 derivative contracts. Now, you know, I could clone Albert Einstein, you know, and--many, many times and have him work 12-hour days for me and he would not be able to keep track of what's going on in an institution like that. It's--the ones that are too big to fail may be too big to manage, in some cases. And they're particularly difficult to manage if they're promising Wall Street and their investors that they're going to do things that can't be done..."

Note: some have pointed out that OFHEO was actually doing was it was designed to do...

Random chart - Congressional wealth

Source: Financial wealth distribution as a percentage of Congress and Senate

Random charts - "Buffet tax"

Source: Millionaires Support Warren Buffett’s Tax on the Rich

Source: Stormy Political Climate Biggest Concern to Millionaire Investors

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Flubbed prediction

The February 18, 2008 blog entry, 'Independence! Wave the Kosovo Albanian flag...' wondered what the reaction might be if/when the Kosovars decided that they wanted to merge with Albania... Well, fortunately this hasn't happened, and 'Albania's Berisha: Union With Kosovo Not An Option' would seem to indicate that it is unlikely...

Random chart - top earners

Source: Jobs and Income Growth of Top Earners and the Causes of Changing Income Inequality: Evidence from U.S. Tax Return Data

"... In this paper, we have presented for the first time complete information on the occupations of very high‐income people, and on how the incomes of top earners in different occupations have grown over time.."

Great quote

"While edge weapons such as swords remain a prohibited item, it will not cause catastrophic damage on an aircraft"

- TSA spokesman Luis Cassanova, after airport screeners allowed a 14 inch sword in a cane to pass through the security checkpoint...

QR/Tag roundup - V

Source: 9/11 QR code

Here are more QR code and Microsoft Tag news updates, uses, etc:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Random picture

Source: The 'New Knut.' Danish Polar Bear Cub Siku Conquers the Internet

Misc update (Georgia)

Relations between Russia, Georgia, NATO, and the U.S. exist in a sort of cold war, with occasional rhetorical eruptions on both sides and with the internal politics of the various parties roiled by the circumstances resulting from the war of 2008... Some headlines:

American re-arming of Georgia will spark new aggression – S. Ossetia. Dec 21st, 2011 - "... The South Ossetian Foreign Ministry has stated that a US Senate draft resolution on the resumption of arms supplies to Georgia can be seen as pushing Tbilisi to aggression against its former republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The ministry voiced its regret over the fact that American senators drew no conclusions from “the tragic events of August 2008 and have once again settled down to a course of encouraging [Georgian President] Saakashvili to a new aggression to please their political ambitions,”cites Interfax.

Will the US resume weapons sales to Georgia? Dec 19th, 2011 - "... The US Congress has mandated that the US begin to sell weapons again to Georgia, re-establishing full military ties for the first time since the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. This will likely throw a wrench into the delicate "reset" between Washington and Moscow. Deep inside the massive military authorisation bill passed on December 15, Section 1242 calls on the Secretaries of Defence and State to develop a plan within 90 days "for the normalisation of United States defence cooperation with the Republic of Georgia, including the sale of defensive arms". It encourages NATO member and candidate countries "to restore and enhance their sales of defensive articles and services to the Republic of Georgia as part of a broader NATO effort to deepen its defense relationship and cooperation with the Republic of Georgia"..."

Russian army officer jailed for spying for Georgia. Dec 7th, 2011 - "... A former Russian Army major was given a 12-year prison term on Wednesday for spying for Georgia, a RIA Novosti correspondent reported from the courtroom..."

Experts do not rule out Russia's military intervention in situation in South Ossetia. Nov 29th, 2011 - "... Mass protests in Tskhinvali may cause Russia's military intervention to settle the situation, according to Ivan Sukhov, a columnist for "The Time of News", and Alan Parastaev, an employee for the project of Radio Liberty "Echo of the Caucasus". Today, the Supreme Court of South Ossetia has considered the complaint lodged by the presidential candidate Anatoly Bibilov that on the voting day the electorate was pressed on, and recognized the presidential election in South Ossetia invalid. On the decision of the Court, all the results of the second round of the election, where Alla Djioeva was Bibilov's opponent, have been annulled. Also today, the parliament of South Ossetia has appointed the repeated presidential election on March 25, 2012..."

Kremlin Official Accuses U.S. Of "Murdering" Russian Soldiers In South Ossetia. Nov 30th, 2011 - "... A senior Russian official has blamed the U.S. and NATO for the "murder" of Russian peacekeepers during the 2008 war in South Ossetia. The official, Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council Vladimir Nazarov, made the comments at a conference in Moscow on Wednesday.."

The Russian-Georgian war as a turning point. Nov 24th, 2011 - "... President Dmitry Medvedev made a remarkable statement during a speech to military officers in southern Russia early this week. Regarding the August 2008 war between Russian and Georgia, he said, “For some of our partners, including NATO, it was a signal that they must think about geopolitical stability before making a decision to expand the alliance.”..."

Medvedev Gets Caught Telling The Truth. Nov 22nd, 2011 - "... In a rare instance of truth telling, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appeared to reveal on Monday the real reason Moscow went to war with Georgia in August 2008. Speaking to officers of the Southern Military District in Vladikavkaz, Medvedev seemed to suggest that the goal was preventing Georgia from joining NATO..."

Ivanishvili: We Started the War with South Ossetia. Nov 2nd, 2011 - "... Georgia's billionaire/politician Bidzina Ivanishvili has given his first press conference in which he expanded on his views on defense and foreign policy, which have been the matter of some speculation since he entered the political arena. He reiterated, but in stronger terms, his previous assessment that it was Georgia, not Russia, who started the war over South Ossetia..."

“Frozen conflicts” hinder NATO's enlargement to South Caucasus. Sept 29th, 2011 - "... Most likely, Putin will continue to pursue the policy Russia has pursued with respect to the South Caucasus in recent years. It would probably be the most pragmatic policy line, as Moscow at this stage is not interested in violating the status quo in the neighboring states. Putin, in my opinion, will try to keep the allied relations with Armenia and the friendliest relations with Azerbaijan as much as possible..."

One small step towards recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Aug 31st, 2011 - "... The recent presidential elections in Abkhazia have reignited the debate concerning the legitimacy of any internal political developments in the two newly independent states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia..."

Vice President Wins Georgian Rebel Region's Presidential Election. Aug 27th, 2011 - "... The vice president of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia has won the presidential election there. Central Election Commission Chairman Batal Tabagua told reporters that preliminary figures showed Aleksandr Ankvab taking 55 percent of the vote. Tbilisi called the polls illegitimate and NATO said it would refuse to recognize them..."

Russia files criminal lawsuit against Georgia over August 2008 war. Aug 9th, 2011 - "... Russia has sent the copies of all materials collected during the investigation into the August 2008 Georgian war on South Ossetia to the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), Vladimir Markin, the official spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee, told reporters on Monday. He emphasized that the Georgian side had repeatedly refused to cooperate with Russian investigative bodies in establishing the truth..."

Medvedev reignites war of words over blame for Georgia conflict. Aug 8th, 2011 - "... Three years after the short, bitter war that left hundreds dead and redrew the map of the Caucasus, Russia and Georgia have been trading insults and accusations over what happened in the run-up to the conflict..."

Georgia: Putin Tweaks Tbilisi on Ossetian Annexation. Aug 8th, 2011 - "... Three years after their war, Russia and Georgia are still fighting over the separatist territory of South Ossetia. Russia’s political supremo, Vladimir Putin, ignited the latest skirmish with a suggestion that South Ossetia may opt to join the Russian Federation. ..."

Russia, Georgia remain in distrustful deadlock on anniversary of 2008 war. Aug 5th, 2011 - "... The war that erupted between Russia and its little post-Soviet neighbor Georgia three years ago this weekend was unexpected, extremely violent, and brief, much like the sudden summer storms that descend upon the Caucasus Mountains at this time of year..."

'Resolution on Occupation' Passed in U.S. Senate. Jul 30th, 2011 - "The U.S. Senate unanimously passed on July 29 a resolution supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity and recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as regions “occupied by the Russian Federation”.

Some previous blog entries on Georgia:
Misc update (Georgia) - May 15th, 2011
Misc update (Georgia) - Mar 26th, 2011
A little war II - Apr 22nd, 2010
A little war I - Mar 17th, 2010
An inconvenient truth - Nov 26th, 2008
Georgia update... - Nov 22nd, 2008
Georgia - Sept 7th, 2008
Immediate Response?!? - Aug 25th, 2008
Georgia (updated) - Aug 15th, 2008
Two-edged sword (South Ossetia) - Aug 11th, 2008

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In the wild - XVII

The TSA wants your feedback, and is using a QR code to solicit it! However, their site is not particularly mobile-enabled or mobile friendly:

Next up, a QR code on a ATM receipt... "The Fifth Third Mobile App is here! Scan the QR code and get it now." Well, not exactly. It takes you to the mobile banking site... eventually. Mobile friendly, yes, but two clicks too much...

Previous QR and Tag entries:
BB QR readers
QR codes "in the wild" (17 links)
QR-and Tag-related entries (22 links)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Approximately a year or so ago my venerable (dating back to January 2005!) Sharp Zaurus SL-C3000 was beginning to show its age... and spontaneously re-booting on a random basis. As a result after some 16 years of (almost) paper-free, PDA-enabled existence I converted to using the Levenger Shirtpocket Briefcase and 3x5 cards!

With no pocketable replacement with a keyboard on the horizon, found a place still selling the discontinued Zaurus (Pulster) and bought a Zaurus SL-c3200 (yes, I had tried multiple possible replacements, including the UMID M1, Viliv N5, Dell Streak, and others... without finding something better)

Sad to say, the market seems to have mostly abandoned the pocketable, clamshell form factor 'close to full fledged' computer. Until something new comes along I guess I'll have to "settle" for the SL-C3200 in conjunction with a BB Torch 2 for applications requiring connectivity...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Latest MLR update

Implementing Health Reform: Fine-Tuning The Medical Loss Ratio Rules from the HealthAffairs blog and 'HHS Unveils Insurance Rule: Brokers Do Not Count As 'Health Costs' from Kaiser Health News bring us the latest updates on the government's position on the MLR, the Medical Loss Ratio.

From HealthAffairs, a reminder of how the MLR figures in healthcare reform: "The MLR rule has been one of the most controversial provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The MLR provision of the Affordable Care Act (section 2718 of the Public Health Services Act) requires health insurers in the individual and small group market to spend 80 percent of their premiums, after subtracting taxes and regulatory fees (85 percent for large groups), on payment for medical services or on activities that improve health care quality. Insurers must report their medical loss ratios annually and insurers that fall short of the target must rebate to their enrollees an amount equal to the product of the difference between their actual medical ratio and the statutory target multiplied by their premium revenues"

Insurance agents and brokers had argued in favor of their commissions being excluded from 'administrative costs', but HHS rejected their argument. The latest changes also related to rebates and how they would be paid, tweaked what could be included in quality improvement expenses, and tweaked allowances for a couple of specific plans... Also, rebates to consumers will not be taxable income.

Some previous blog entries referencing the MLR:
The MLR saga continues - May 13th, 2011
Misc update (MLR) - Mar 26th, 2011
Misc update - V - Feb 13th, 2011
Misc updates - MLR - Oct 25th, 2010
MLR Redux - Aug 24th, 2010
MLR update - Jun 27th, 2010
Health care re-form VIII (More nonsense) - August 28th, 2009