Thursday, September 28, 2006

Say it ain't so: Starbucks charged in unfair coffee competition

The utterly unctuous Starbucks, the place where they burn their beans and charge high prices, is facing an anti-trust battle. If the plaintiff is to be believed, they we can pretty much toss out Starbucks commitment "fair trade" baloney. Wouldn't you think that competition is as important as making sure a Central American farmer gets a "fair" prices for his products. What's Starbucks afraid of?

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The owner of a small coffee company sued Starbucks Corp. (SBUX.O: Quote, Profile, Research) on Monday, claiming the coffee shop's anti-competitive business practices put her store out of business.

The suit, which seeks class action status, was filed in Seattle federal court by Penny Stafford, the owner of Belvi Coffee and Tea Exchange Inc.

According to court papers, Starbucks violated federal antitrust laws by leasing prime commercial real estate at above-market prices in return for the exclusive right to sell espresso drinks or specialty coffee in those locations.

A Starbucks spokeswoman said the Seattle-based company was not aware of the complaint and could not provide further comment.

The suit alleges that Belvi Coffee and Tea's efforts to enter such buildings in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington were blocked by Starbucks "through unlawful use and abuse of its monopoly power."

Starbucks is the world's largest coffee shop chain, with more than 12,000 locations in 37 countries. The lawsuit alleges the chain "possesses monopoly power" because it has "at least" a 73 percent market share of the U.S. coffee shop industry.

Is he ready for prime tax time?

Deval Patrick is smooth but he really doesn't have a tax plan, except perhaps to raise them. Mr. Patrick how do you plan to cut property taxes? Will you protect Proposition 2 1/2?

BOSTON --While lamenting $985 million in fee and tax hikes he said the Romney-Healey administration proposed or used to close a state budget deficit in 2003, Deval Patrick refused Wednesday to outline how he would have eliminated the $3 billion cash shortfall.

The Democratic gubernatorial nominee instead insisted his solutions for coping with such a cyclical economic phenomenon were not as important as lifting the veil on what he calls the administration's "fiscal shell game."

Patrick said Gov. Mitt Romney and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, who herself is now the Republican gubernatorial nominee, portray themselves as conservative fiscal stewards, yet property taxes have gone up $1.8 billion while they have been in office, and various fees and taxes have also increased.

Healey wants to roll back to the state income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 5 percent, a reduction Patrick says the state, municipalities and homeowners cannot afford.

"My point is that if we are going to talk about an income tax rollback, let's start telling the truth, and this administration didn't tell the truth," Patrick said during a news conference called to draw attention to his housing proposals.

"It continues to talk about how it's a champion of income tax cuts when, in fact, it's been responsible for sharply higher fees and taxes at the state level and at the local level, and if we're going to do this going forward, what people can count of from me is that I will tell the truth."

Asked to define the economic "truth" he would have conveyed to state residents in 2003, when the deficit was pegged at between $2 billion and $3 billion, Patrick replied: "I'm not talking about going back. I'm talking about today."

He then walked away from the microphones assembled outside his campaign headquarters

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Just finished reading: An assault on theism

If you have any belief in God, Sam Harris is about to disabuse you of it. I spent part of my Saturday afternoon reading this brief, deadly assault on religious belief at the local library which just received a copy. Not even liberal theologians are spared. It's a tough polemic that is hard to beat.

This is a must read book for believers and atheists alike. For believers, Letter makes them think hard about first principles and strategies for public morality. For atheists, the book is reminder about implications of the authoritarianism of science and any whether atheists are committed to a pluralistic society that protects freedom of religion.

More on this later.

Meanwhile, writing in the LA Times, Harris takes a shot at liberal denial about the Islamic threat to the West. Will liberals get it? They better since civilization is at stake.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Two asses get their just desserts

Lewis Lapham ruined Harpers sucking on the tit of the MacArthur Foundation. With his new book he's ruining his reputation. Why bother reading it? Hasn't this been done before? He suffers from Bush Derangement Sydrome. He's an ass, really. I'm not above name calling nor is the puffed up, arrogant twit Lapham. Sidney Blumenthal comes in for a bit of deserved harsh criticism. The Clinton suck-up is a disgrace to opinion journalism. Boy was he wrong on Wilson to whom he dedicates this his new book. Pleasant surprise to see these books reviewed critically in the New York Times.

Bernard Lewis spells out the problem

Excellent essay (delivered originally as a speech). Lots of good points but this one stuck out.
What happened on 9/11 was seen by its perpetrators and sponsors as the culmination of the previous phase and the inauguration of the next phase--taking the war into the enemy camp to achieve final victory. The response to 9/11 came as a nasty surprise. They were expecting more of the same--bleating and apologies--instead of which they got a vigorous reaction, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. And as they used to say in Moscow: It is no accident, comrades, that there has been no successful attack in the United States since then. But if one follows the discourse, one can see that the debate in this country since then has caused many of the perpetrators and sponsors to return to their previous diagnosis. Because remember, they have no experience, and therefore no understanding, of the free debate of an open society. What we see as free debate, they see as weakness, fear and division. Thus they prepare for the final victory, the final triumph and the final Jihad.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Tom Edsall is a good reporter even if he's a liberal

Tom Edsall, recently retired from the Washington Post and now with the New Republic, is a good writer. He has a new book out I haven't read, Building Red America. Several years ago I did read his book on race Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics and it was kind of a primer for Bill Clinton as he prepared for his Sister Souljah moment. Reading the transcript of Hugh Hewitt's recent interview I can't help but feel admiration for Edsall, even though I think some of his analysis often misses the mark. What impresses me is that he's a lot more candid about his bias that most reporters. Plus he's certainly illminating. His pessimism is reason for conservative optimism.

Read the whole transcript.

I do think that Hugh was a bit rough on Edsall who took it in stride.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Adjusted for inflation, that glass is still a little more than half full

There's always trouble with prosperity. And it takes a political economist (usually left-liberal) to make the most cheerful innovations of life, let's say dismal. Here's a running discussion on the Consumer Price Index and its failure to capture the ubiquity of technology.

And this, to me, is the area where the CPI overstates inflation most dramatically. When a good goes from being non-existent to existent, how do you capture the impact that has on inflation or consumer prices? Basically, prices have dropped from infinity (it's out of reach to even the most willing to pay consumer, even if he could offer the wealth of the entire world) to something that costs $50-$100 at BestBuy.

All of the things Jane mentioned that would prevent her from going back in time are things which came into existence quite recently. It's hard to take dour, left-wing academics seriously when the moan about how little things have improved for the common man while they pull links, citations, and documents from all over the planet electronically, and then post their thoughts to an audience of thousands, again all over the planet, without leaving their desks, with a technology that's cheap as chips today, and could not be found anywhere a decade ago. The truth is we live in an age of Wonders.

Meanwhile, Brink Lindsey takes one of those academics, Jacob Hacker to task in a review of the latter's book, The Great Risk Shift:

No matter how the doom-and-gloomers torture the data, the fact is that Americans have made huge strides in material welfare over the past generation. And with greater wealth, as well as improved access to consumer credit and home equity loans, they are much better prepared to deal with the downside of increased economic dynamism.

Well, what do you expect of economists?

Via the Volokh Conspiracy. Harvey Mansfield one of Harvard's great treasures has this to say about the practitioners of the dismal science.

The building where I used to work was shared with economists, who, living the sort of life they describe, had no incentive to flush and sometimes failed to do so.

What stinkers!!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Are you better off now than you were 25 years ago?

An interesting discussion on progress, the ubiquity of technology and whether or not we are living the good life today.

If you have the time read the comments too.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Pink Floyd only imagined one; Reagan helped tear one down.

Yet another crank in the BushHitler wall. From Drudge

ROGER WATERS [PINK FLOYD] CONCERT TOUR HITS NORTH AMERICA AND NYC WITH FLYING PIGS, URGING DEM VOTES IN ELECTION, 'IMPEACH BUSH' WRITTEN ON REAR OF PIG FLOATING OVER AUDIENCE... One concertgoer writes: 'Seeing Bush's name written across the pig's arse made me howl'... The pig had graffiti. 'New Yorkers/Don't be led to the slaughter/Vote November 7'... another attendee played off the hit 'Another Brick in the Wall': ''We don't need no thought control,' even from Mr. Waters'... Another sends a review: 'I attended the Roger Waters 9/15 show at Jones Beach, Wantagh, NY. At one point during the show Waters juxtaposed pictures of the President, Karl Rove, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher with pictures of Osama bin Laden, Mao Zedong, Stalin, and other world tyrants. Rogers asked whether 'these people [Arabs] are really are enemies'. This took place during his anti-Bush/Blair song 'Leaving Beirut' in which he claimed 'that Texas education must have really f*cked you up' and asked why Tony the 'US poodle/pawn' is a warmongerer'

What does Roger Waters really know? Fallacies about moral equivalence that's about it Mao killed millions. Are Bush, Blair and Thatcher in the same league? Pink Floyd fans must be really stupid if this goes unanswered. Roger Waters never tore down the Berlin Wall. He's a jerk really. By the way which one's Pink?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A "new day" for the Bruins

Sorry Mr. Jacobs but I'll believe you when I see real progress.

WILMINGTON, Mass. --Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs proclaimed "a new
day" for the Original Six franchise on Friday, saying the job of ending the team's 34-year Stanley Cup drought now falls to general manager Peter Chiarelli and his hand-picked coaches and players.

"It's Peter's team and his organization," Jacobs told reporters at the team's media day, one day after veterans reported to training camp. "He should have the right to run it his way."

The Bruins haven't won the Stanley Cup since 1972, hitting a low point last season when they missed the playoffs and traded away soon-to-be league MVP Joe Thornton.

Out went the general manager, the coach, and many of the players that presided over the team's last-place finish, as well as the longtime face of the front office, Harry Sinden, who last month resigned as president after 17 years to become an adviser to Jacobs.

Bruins fans have been abused for far too long.

All rage all the time, so much for dialogue, open debate and free speech

You can't reason with some quarters of Islam ever. They don't understand free speech or honest debate. How can you have a dialogue with these people? Every criticism seems to turn into rage. Of course the quisling New York Times is gushing forth urging the Pope to apologize profusely. Does Al-Q ever apologize? Does the Party of God every apologize?

Tigerhawk spreads his wisdom.

For my part, I am sick of "Muslim rage." Whether inspired by the pope or Danish cartoonists or the clumsy use of the word "crusade" by a Western politician, there is simply no defense for the behavior of these imams and their followers. It is barbaric, and everybody who is not barbaric or an unreconstructed apologist for barbarians knows it. The Muslims who commit arson and mayhem in response to some Westerner speaking his opinion -- and the pope, as leader of the Roman church, is exactly that -- have chosen to act as enemies of reason, peace, and everything that is good in the world.

And by the way fuck the New York Times. They wouldn't have the balls to stand behind Orianna Fallaci who understood that the fight against Islamofascism is a fight for survival fo the West. Boy do we need her now!

Glenn Reynolds is right: "'Baptist rage' certainly wouldn't get this kind of slack from the Times."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Say it ain't so: "'Fair'" coffee workers paid below minimum wage"

Fair Trade coffee can't provide a living wage. Don't let this ruin your faith in the "integrity" of the fair trade movement.

"Ethical" coffee is being produced in Peru, the world?s top exporter of Fairtrade coffee, by labourers paid less than the legal minimum wage. Industry insiders have also told the FT of non-certified coffee being marked and exported as Fairtrade, and of certified coffee being illegally planted in protected rainforest.

This casts doubt on the certification process used by Fairtrade and similar marks that require producers to pay the minimum wage.

It also raises questions about the assurances certifiers give consumers about how premium-priced fair trade coffee is produced.

As the board member of one Peruvian Fairtrade-certified coffee producer told the FT: "No certifier can guarantee they will purchase 100 per cent of a co-operative?s
production, so how can they guarantee that every bag will be produced according
to their standards?"

Though certified coffee makes up less than 2 per cent of the global coffee trade it has become increasingly mainstream as large retailers such as Starbucks and McDonalds adopt it.

The FT visited five Peruvian smallholdings, all of which have Fairtrade certification.
Each farm hires 12-20 casual coffee pickers during the harvest season. All house and feed their workers, which allows them to deduct 30 per cent from their wages.

After that reduction from the legal daily minimum wage for casual agricultural workers of 16 soles ($5), farm owners are still obliged to pay at least 11.20 soles a day. In four of the five farms visited by the FT, pickers received 10 soles a day, while the other farm paid workers 12 soles a day.

Luuk Zonneveld, managing director of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, the Bonn-based body that sets fair trade standards, told the FT that the certification system "is not fool- and leak-proof" but said the problem should be put in context.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Are you ready for the coming recession?

Clive Crook says get ready for the recession when we'll be reminded how good we have it now.

The Republicans are bracing themselves for some awful election results in November. Iraq is hurting them badly, they acknowledge, and so is "economic insecurity." Has it occurred to them, or to the Democrats for that matter, that at some point between now and the next presidential election the economic insecurities of 2006 might seem like very small stuff?
Not the kind of stuff that wants to make me sing "Happy Days are Here Again!"

Thursday, September 07, 2006

People in the Great White North seem to be in the dark

News Item: "New poll says most Canadians blame U.S. for 9/11 attacks"

Is the fact that Canadians, who seem these days to be more open to hosting Sharia law, worth discussing?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Somewhere in New York a village is missing its rock critic

The Village Voice has fired Robert Christgau. Slate has the goods and high praise.
With Pauline Kael, Christgau is arguably one of the two most important American mass-culture critics of the second half of the 20th century?yet he's devoted the majority of his working life to fashioning 100-word blurbs with letter grades. He's a public intellectual who unwittingly invented the reviews section of Entertainment Weekly

Don't bother us, we're dummies at work in a dynamic economy

Robert Samuelson is always required reading.

The American learning system has, I think, two big virtues.

First, it provides second chances. It tries to teach people when they're motivated to learn -- which isn't always when they're in high school or starting college. People become motivated later for many reasons, including maturity, marriage, mortgages and crummy jobs. These people aren't shut out. They can mix work, school and training. A third of community college students are over 30. For those going to traditional colleges, there's huge flexibility to change and find a better fit. A fifth of those who start four-year colleges and get degrees finish at a different school, reports Clifford Adelman of the Department of Education.

Second, it's job-oriented. Community colleges provide training for local firms and offer courses to satisfy market needs. Degrees in geographic information systems (the use of global positioning satellites) are new. There's been an explosion in master's degrees -- most of them work-oriented. From 1971 to 2004, MBAs are up 426 percent; public administration degrees, 262 percent; and health degrees, 743 percent. About a quarter of college graduates now get a master's. Many self-help books are for work -- say, "Excel for Dummies.''

Up to a point, you can complain that this system is hugely wasteful. We're often teaching kids in college what they should have learned in high school -- and in graduate school what they might have learned in college. Some of the enthusiasm for more degrees is crass credentialism. Some trade schools prey cynically on students' hopes and spawn disappointment. But these legitimate objections miss the larger point: The American learning system accommodates people's ambitions and energies when they emerge.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Why I love WEEI's Larry Johnson

Sports talker and man of the cloth Larry Johnson is a courageous man and a lot of fun to listen to.

He is also a great artist.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

"The Scream" is back where it belongs; and a Boston side story

One of the world's most famous paintings has been recovered.

Oslo - Two stolen masterpieces by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch appeared only to have sustained minor damage after their theft from a museum in August 2004, museum officials said Friday.

Two armed men ripped the famous paintings - Madonna and a version of The Scream - off the museum walls and fled in a stolen car.

Oslo police announced Thursday they had retrieved the works that were stolen from the Munch Museum, where security has since been improved.

Acting museum director Ingebjorg Ydstie said experts had determined the works were authentic and were now safely back in the museum's care.

'Two small holes in Madonna' had been detected, she said while The Scream, which was painted on cardboard, had been 'damaged in one corner,' likely when it was dropped on the floor.

Experts would study the paintings in detail, but an ordinary museum visitor would perhaps not be able to detect the damage.

While art experts welcomed the safe return of the works announced Thursday, speculation continued over whether police had been tipped off by the alleged ringleader of a April 2004 bank robbery in the coastal city of Stavanger, in which a policeman was killed.

The 31-year-old David Toska, sentenced to 19 years, has according to recent media reports offered to help retrieve the paintings in return for a reduced sentence and better terms in prison including more visitation rights with his girlfriend.

The opposition Progress Party urged Justice Minister Knut Storberget to clarify if a deal had been made.

Norwegian media have speculated that the Munch paintings were stolen to divert police resources from the bank robbery probe.

Oslo police said that no ransom was paid, and no new arrests had been made. In May, a Norwegian court sentenced three men to jail terms ranging from four to eight years for their role in the theft.

Meanwhile, Forbes recalls another famous art heist involving men behind bars; that of the Isaballa Gardner Museum in 1990.

Then there's America's greatest art mystery, still unsolved. At 1:24 a.m. on the morning after St. Patrick's Day, 1990, two men in police uniforms knocked on a side door of Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, mentioning a "disturbance" on the grounds. The guards let them in and were swiftly handcuffed and locked in a cellar. The work the thieves made off with included "The Concert" by Vermeer, "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee"--which is Rembrandt's only marine painting--"Chez Tortoni" by Manet, five pieces by Degas and some miscellanea that includes a Chinese bronze beaker and a fitment from a Napoleonic flagstaff. Untouched were the Renaissance paintings, including Titian's "Europa," which is arguably the most valuable piece in the collection.

The current dollar figure attached to the stolen work is $300 million. In 1997, with the investigation moribund, the museum raised the reward from $1 million to $5 million. Tipsters understandably emerged, among them a Boston antiques dealer, William P. Youngworth III. He was a shady character but gained attention by telling Tom Mashberg, a reporter for The Boston Herald, that he and a colorful character named Myles Connor could get the art returned. His price: immunity for himself, the release of Connor from jail and, naturally, the reward.

Connor was behind bars at the time of the Gardner heist--for another art heist--but claimed he could locate the art if released. Credibility soon began to leak. Then Mashberg got a telephone call that led to a nocturnal drive to a warehouse, where he was shown--by torchlight--what may or may not have been Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee." He was later given some paint chips, supposedly from that painting.

Doubts sprang up, as the chips were not from the Rembrandt. The U.S. attorney demanded that one of the paintings be returned as proof that the works were on hand. This didn't happen.

Negotiations petered out. Connor is now out of jail, but the art is still missing.

Twists and turns like this make the recovery of "The Scream" all the more exciting. Painted in 1893, it is said to be worth around $74.5 million and was uninsured because the museum felt it was priceless. An interesting strategy, given its history. Not only is it one of the world's best-known paintings, it is also one of the most stolen. In 1994, one version of the iconic Expressionist painting was also stolen from the Norwegian National Gallery--and later recovered.

This is just too rich to pass up

Yes indeed "hypocrisy thy name is Democrat."

We have heard plenty of outrage from Congressional Democrats this year over the length of time since the last minimum-wage hike. Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer have railed about how minimum-wage workers have not had a raise in seven years, somehow neglecting to mention that the minimum wage is a transitional wage only and that raises come as part of a performance reward system when one stays at a job.

Then what of this?

A group that raises money for Democratic Congressional candidates uses a canvassing company that pays some workers submimium wage, in apparent violation of Wisconsin state law, to talk about the need to raise the federal minimum wage, Isthmus newspaper has learned. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), based in Washington, D.C., has hired Grassroots Campaigns, a Boston-based for-profit company with operations in 18 U.S. cities, to conduct canvassing on its behalf. The DCCC's "New Direction for American" agenda, which
provides the talkiing points canvassers are taught to use to solicit contributions, includes a call to "Raise the minimum wage."

Read the whole damning thing. Working at WalMart is a better deal, I guess.

Hat tip to Instapundit and Captain's Quarters.