Missouri poacher ordered to repeatedly watch ‘Bambi’
Tuesday, December 18
OZARKS, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri poacher has been ordered to repeatedly watch the movie “Bambi” as part of his sentence in a scheme to illegally kill hundreds of deer.
David Berry Jr. was ordered to watch the Disney classic at least once a month during his year-long jail sentence in what conservation agents have called one of the largest deer poaching cases in state history, the Springfield News-Leader reports .
“The deer were trophy bucks taken illegally, mostly at night, for their heads, leaving the bodies of the deer to waste,” said Don Trotter, the prosecuting attorney in Lawrence County.
Berry, his father, two brothers and another man who helped them had their hunting, fishing and trapping privileges revoked temporarily or permanently. The men have paid a combined $51,000 in fines and court costs — but the judge ordered a special addition to Berry’s sentence for illegally taking wildlife.
Court records show he was ordered by Lawrence County Judge Robert George to “view the Walt Disney movie Bambi, with the first viewing being on or before December 23, 2018, and at least one such viewing each month thereafter” while at the county jail.
Berry was also sentenced to 120 days in jail in nearby Barton County for a firearms probation violation.
His father, David Berry Sr., and his brother, Kyle Berry, were arrested in August after a nearly nine-month investigation that also involved cases in Kansas, Nebraska and Canada. The Missouri Department of Conservation said information from the investigation led to 14 Missouri residents facing more than 230 charges in 11 counties.
Investigators say David Berry Sr.’s other son, Eric Berry, was later caught with another person spotlighting deer, where poachers use light at night to make deer pause and easier to hunt.
The investigation into the Berrys began in late 2015, when the conservation agency received an anonymous tip about deer poaching in Lawrence County.
Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com
The Institute for New Economic Thinking
Apple’s “Capital Return Program”: Where Are the Patient Capitalists?
By William Lazonick
Nov 13, 2018 | Innovation & Inequality
Instead of rewarding the taxpayers and employees who actually create value for the tech giant, Apple is doling out massive stock buybacks
The enormous revenues and profits flowing from Apple’s innovative products, the iPhone in particular, get primary credit for enabling the company to be the first in history to reach a trillion-dollar market capitalization. That financial achievement, attained on August 2, 2018, represented a tenfold increase in stock market value since mid-2007 and a doubling of the level reached in March 2012. But also driving Apple’s booming stock price has been the company’s record-breaking largess in distributing corporate cash to its shareholders.
Apple has just released its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2018, revealing the full extent of its record-setting stock buybacks in fiscal year 2018. From the last quarter of calendar year 2012 through September 29, 2018, under its inaptly-named “Capital Return Program,” Apple spent $239.0 billion buying back its own stock. In addition, the company paid out $74.4 billion to shareholders as dividends. Prior to 2018, Apple had set the record for buybacks by a company in a fiscal year, with $45 billion in 2014 (year ending September 27). During fiscal year 2018, Apple far surpassed that figure with $73 billion lavished on buybacks, representing 123% of its net income.
Apple’s “Capital Return Program” is an ideologically laden name for these distributions of corporate cash to shareholders that has nothing to do with returning capital. First, you can’t “return” something to a party that never gave you anything. The only time in its history that Apple actually raised funds from public shareholders was its initial public offering in 1980, which yielded $97 million for the company. Second, in distributing cash to shareholders, Apple is not giving them “capital.” It’s just transferring cash that may be used for a multitude of purposes, ranging from household consumption to building the war chests of hedge-fund activists, augmenting their power to engage in predatory value extraction.
Apple has become the most glaring example of how, captured by the ideology that a company should be run to “maximize shareholder value,” U.S. business corporations have been handing over the gains of innovative enterprise to public shareholders far in excess of their contributions to the processes of value creation. Losing out are households, whose tax dollars fund the government investments in infrastructure and knowledge that a company like Apple requires, and Apple’s employees, whose skills and efforts have generated the innovative products that have made the firm the richest in the world.
Contrary to shareholder ideology, the stock market is not an institution whose function is raising cash for corporations to invest in productive capabilities. Rather, the financial role of the stock market has been to enable private equity investors to “exit,” as venture capitalists put it, investments they have made in a firm’s processes and products. The listing of a firm on a liquid stock market enables households, governments, and businesses to include its publicly listed shares in their portfolios of financial investments without actually investing in that firm’s productive capabilities. Compared with those financiers, taxpayers, and employees whose funds and efforts are committed to value-creating investments in productive capabilities, stock market traders always have the option of mitigating their risk at any time by selling shares to lock in financial gains or stem financial losses.
Take, for example, the $3.6 billion in Apple shares that “shareholder-activist” Carl Icahn added to his financial portfolio between July 2013 and January 2014. In research supported by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, my colleagues and I have analyzed how Icahn used his accumulated wealth, public visibility, tweeted-out hype, and personal influence on Apple’s management to help drive up the price of the company’s stock—while, apparently, exploiting privileged access to nonpublic information in choosing when to sell his Apple shares. In 2014 and 2015, as Icahn continued to hold those shares, the company did $80.3 billion in buybacks, helping to lift the stock price to new heights. Aided by this record-setting exercise in value extraction, Icahn was able to add $2 billion to his wealth by March 31, 2016, by which time he had sold all his Apple shares. In realizing this bonanza, Icahn made no contribution whatsoever to Apple’s value-creating capabilities.
While Icahn was selling Apple stock in the first quarter of 2016, “patient-capitalist” Warren Buffett was buying it. Over the previous decades, the “Oracle of Omaha” had become one of the world’s wealthiest people as chairman, CEO, and major shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway, a financial and industrial conglomerate that he has led since 1964. In a recent interview, Buffett proffered the words of wisdom that “the reason stocks are worth a whole lot more than they were 20 years ago, or 50 years ago, or a hundred years ago, is that companies have ploughed back part of the earnings.” In contrast to the proclivity of corporate raiders such as Icahn for what I call a “downsize-and-distribute” business model, Buffett’s business approach at Berkshire has been to “retain-and-reinvest.”
Retaining its profits for reinvestment in the growth of the company, Berkshire has not paid a dividend since 1967. Its repurchases were minimal: $1.2 million in stock between 1976 and 1978, $67 million in 2011, and, its only significant buyback, $1.3 billion (9% of net income) in 2012 from the estate of a long-term shareholder. By retaining profits and reinvesting in productive capabilities, in 2017 Berkshire’s revenues had grown to $242 billion—placing it third on the Fortune 500 list, just behind Exxon Mobil and just ahead of Apple—and its constituent businesses employed 377,291 people, up from 38,000 on 1997 and 233,000 in 2007. In August 2018, Buffett said that Berkshire had repurchased “a little” stock under a new authorization program, and with the release of third-quarter earnings on November 3, revealed that amount to be $928 million.
Between January 2016 and June 2018, Buffett used Berkshire’s ample cash reserves to accumulate 252 million Apple shares, representing 5.1% of Apple shares outstanding on June 30, 2018, at an estimated purchase price of $36.1 billion. In so doing, Berkshire became Apple’s third-largest shareholder, behind Vanguard (7.1%) and Blackrock (6.4%). If Buffett had sold Berkshire’s entire Apple stake on that date, his company would have netted a market gain of $10.4 billion, along with the $734 million in dividends that Apple had paid on Berkshire’s shares over those 30 months.
Just after the announcement in May 2018 that Buffett had purchased an additional 74 million Apple shares, interviewer David Rubenstein asked Apple CEO Tim Cook: “Are you pleased to have him as your shareholder?” Cook responded: “I’m overjoyed. I’m thrilled. Warren is focused on the long term, so we’re in sync. It’s the way we run the company. It’s the way he invests. So, yeah, I could not be happier.”
Rubenstein then asked Cook what Apple planned to do with its $260 billion in cash, most of it newly repatriated from offshore tax havens under tax incentives provided by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Cook’s answer: “We’re going to create a new site, a new campus within the United States. We’re going to hire 20,000 people. We’re going to spend $30 billion in capital expenditure over the next several years. Number one, we’re investing, and investing a ton, in this country. We’re also going to buy some of our stock, as we view our stock as a good value.”
With Apple repurchasing $73 billion in fiscal 2018 at record stock prices, Cook’s statement that Apple was going to buy “some stock” at “a good value” was clearly disingenuous. Perhaps that is why the Apple CEO followed with a feeble attempt to justify Apple’s stock buybacks, telling Rubenstein that Apple’s repurchases were “good for the economy as well because if people sell stock they pay taxes on their gains.” Given the enormous tax breaks that corporations and the richest households have received under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Cook’s ludicrous defense of Apple’s repurchases is in effect an admission that Apple’s stock buybacks are indefensible.
As for Buffett, in an interview just after the May 2018 announcement of Berkshire’s latest increase in its Apple shareholding, he flatly contradicted his reputation as the quintessential patient capitalist. Buffett enthused: “I’m delighted to see [Apple] repurchasing shares. I love the idea of having our 5 percent, or whatever it is, maybe grow to 6 or 7 percent without our laying out a dime.” Move over, King Icahn. Having the Oracle of Omaha as one of its largest shareholders has not in the least stemmed Apple’s voracious appetite for bingeing on its own shares. From April 1, 2016, when Icahn no longer held Apple shares, through June 2018, with Berkshire now Apple’s third-largest shareholder, Apple did $102.7 billion in buybacks, equal to 92.9% of profits. That’s compared with $87.1 billion (78.3% of profits) in buybacks over 27 months from October 2013 when Icahn was holding his Apple stake.
As I put it in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article, “Profits Without Prosperity,” stock buybacks manipulate the market and leave most Americans worse off. With business leaders like Cook and Buffett expressing a passion for repurchases, it is no wonder that income inequality runs rampant in the United States, while well-paid and stable employment opportunities disappear. Four years ago, after Icahn had written an open letter to Cook demanding that Apple ramp up its buyback activity, I posted my own open letter to the Apple CEO on the Harvard Business Review blog, with suggestions on how, instead of doing buybacks, Apple’s management could focus its attention on improving the remuneration and opportunities of its employees, as well as on social investments and innovation. All of my suggestions in that letter are entirely consistent with Cook’s repeated claims that Apple is all about investing in innovation for the long term.
Even after all the buybacks, Apple’s current cash flows position it to do far more than it is doing to reward its real value creators—taxpayers and employees—while investing for the future. In continuing its massive buybacks, however, Apple is, with Buffett’s enthusiastic approval, reinforcing the destructive ideology that all of its retained earnings and future profits belong to shareholders, while, with stock price as the metric of superior corporate performance, increasing the pressure on all other U.S. companies to engage in stock-price manipulation by doing stock buybacks.
Instead Apple should be, and could be, increasing the pressure on other U.S. companies to improve employee remuneration and career opportunities as well as provide corporate support for government investment in the infrastructure and knowledge that a prosperous economy requires. Government regulation is needed to give would-be patient capitalists a helping hand. A ban on manipulative stock buybacks would be a critical step in putting corporate profits to work for a thriving American middle class.
Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts Lowell
President, The Academic-Industry Research Network
The US has become a nation of suburbs
September 19, 2018
Author: Christopher Boone, Dean and Professor of Sustainability, Arizona State University
Disclosure statement: Christopher Boone receives funding from the National Science Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development.
Partners: Arizona State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Since 1970, more Americans have lived in the suburbs than central cities. In 2010, suburbanites outnumbered city and rural dwellers combined for the first time. We Americans live in a suburban nation.
Despite several concerted efforts by city governments to lure residents, suburbanization continues largely unabated. Census figures from earlier this year show that suburbs of warm climate “Sun Belt” cities in the South and West continue to grow, while cities in the cold climate “Snow Belt” of the Midwest and Northeast decline.
Smaller metropolitan areas with fewer than 500,000 people have also grown, related to an improving economy and job creation in smaller urban centers. This ongoing shift towards the suburbs has significant environmental repercussions.
Since cities and suburbs are home for 8 of every 10 Americans, views of the country are often distorted. Most travel occurs within or between cities. Although rural areas have more than three times the miles of roadways as urban areas, more than two-thirds of the 3 trillion miles that vehicles travel each year in the U.S. are in urban and suburban areas.
Jobs, too, are overwhelmingly centered around cities. Less than 2 percent of the American labor force is employed in agriculture.
Many of my students are surprised that the land area occupied by cities is only 3 percent of the nation’s territory. However, they are correct in that cities have an outsized impact on the economy. In 2016, metropolitan areas contributed US$16.8 trillion dollars to the nation’s gross domestic product, more than 90 percent of the country’s economy.
With this economic activity comes a high use of natural resources and concentrated pollution production. Although density can be more efficient when it comes to energy use, the sheer number of urban dwellers means that cities, despite a small physical footprint, have a big energy and pollution footprint.
Rising suburbanization undermines some of the energy efficiency gained by high density living in urban cores. Manhattan has lower per capita greenhouse gas emissions than the suburbs of New York, thanks to factors like apartment living, high costs of car ownership and extensive public transit. Of course, not everyone can afford to live in Manhattan even if they want to. Low-density suburbs are an affordable alternative.
Even so, suburban life can look less desirable. As the U.S. population ages, elderly people may end up “stranded in the suburbs,” far from adequate public transit and unable or unwilling to drive. At my urban university, a mixed use retirement facility was sold out before ground was broken. In the U.S., there are more than 100 university-based retirement communities and the number is growing.
The trend toward suburban life could soon come to an end. Millennials – the generation born between 1981 and 1997 – appear to prefer urban life. They are happier in cities, especially large metropolitan areas, than older generations. The millennial population is growing fastest in metro areas in the Sun Belt and western states, and slowest in the Snow Belt. Topping the list of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas for millennials are Colorado Springs, San Antonio, Denver and Orlando.
Will millennials follow older generations to the suburbs as they marry, have children, recover from the shocks of the Great Recession and find affordable housing? The jury is still out.
Whatever happens, it’s unlikely that people will start to move out of cities and suburbs and back into rural areas. Even though increased connectivity and the internet of things will make remote work more possible than before, businesses will continue to concentrate in urban cores, because they profit from being close to one another. (Futurists once thought the telephone would make crowded cities unnecessary.)
I believe that it’s likely the U.S. will remain a nation of suburbs for some time to come. That will pose a continuing environmental challenge. But it will also bring a new set of opportunities for millennials, who are predicted to overtake baby boomers by next year as the largest generation in the country. How will that generation remake the suburbs to suit their needs and desires without exacerbating current environmental challenges? The answer has profound implications for the nature of cities and urban life in the U.S.
Christopher Anderson, logged in via Google: Rural is not ending, Many Americans are moving to the “country” (Suburbs) to escape the Democrat controlled Socialist cities.
APNewsBreak: US miscalculated benefit of better train brakes
By MATTHEW BROWN
Friday, December 21
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s administration miscalculated the potential benefits of putting better brakes on trains that haul explosive fuels when it scrapped an Obama-era rule over cost concerns, The Associated Press has found.
A government analysis used to justify the cancellation omitted up to $117 million in estimated future damages from train derailments that could be avoided by using electronic brakes. Revelation of the error stoked renewed criticism Thursday from the rule’s supporters, who called the analysis biased.
Department of Transportation officials acknowledged the mistake after it was discovered by the AP during a review of federal documents. They said a correction will be published to the federal register.
But transportation spokesman Bobby Fraser said the decision not to require the brakes would stand under a Congressional act that said the costs couldn’t exceed the rule’s benefits.
“This was an unintentional error,” Fraser. “With the correction, in all scenarios costs still outweigh benefits.”
Safety advocates, transportation union leaders and Democratic lawmakers oppose the administration’s decision to kill the brake rule, which was included in a package of rail safety measures enacted in 2015 under President Barack Obama following dozens of accidents by trains hauling oil and ethanol in the U.S. and Canada.
The deadliest happened in Canada in 2013, when an unattended train carrying crude oil rolled down an incline, came off the tracks in the town of Lac-Megantic and exploded into a massive ball of fire, killing 47 people and obliterating much of the Quebec community’s downtown.
There have been other fiery crashes and fuel spills in Alabama, Oregon, Montana, Virginia, West Virginia, North Dakota, Illinois and elsewhere.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said the administration should reconsider the brake rule in light of its miscalculation.
“The omission of $117 million from the rule’s anticipated benefits is further proof that the Trump administration is willing to cut corners to put industry profits ahead of the American people’s safety,” said Merkley, a Democrat. He called for “a new cost-benefit analysis that is full and transparent.”
After the brake rule was enacted, lobbyists for the railroad and oil industries pushed to cancel it, citing the high cost of installing so-called electronic pneumatic brakes and questioning their effectiveness.
But supporters of the brakes said the issue should be reconsidered given the miscalculation and concerns about other benefits that may have been ignored, including reducing the frequency of runaway trains and severity of train-on-train collisions, said Robert Duff, a senior adviser to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat.
“This is not theoretical risk. We’ve actually seen these derailments,” Duff said.
Unlike other systems where brakes are applied sequentially along the length of a train, electronic pneumatic brakes, or ECP, work on all cars simultaneously. That can reduce the distance and time a train needs to stop and cause fewer cars to derail.
“These ECP brakes are very important for oil trains,” said Steven Ditmeyer, a rail safety expert and former senior official at the Federal Railroad Administration. “It makes a great deal of sense: All the brakes get applied immediately, and there would be fewer cars in the pileup.”
Under Obama, the Transportation Department determined the brakes would cost up to $664 million over 20 years and save between $470 million and $1.1 billion from accidents that would be avoided.
The Trump administration reduced the range of benefits to between $131 million and $374 million.
Transportation Department economists said in their analysis that the change was prompted in part by a reduction in oil train traffic in recent years. Even as ethanol shipments on U.S. railroads have continued to grow, reaching about 500,000 carloads annually, crude shipments peaked in 2014 and fell to about 200,000 carloads last year.
But in making their cost-benefit calculations, government economists left out the most common type of derailments in which spilled and burning fuel causes property damage but no mass casualties, the AP found. Equipping fuel trains with electronic brakes would reduce damages from those derailments by an estimated $48 million to $117 million, according to Department of Transportation estimates that were left out of the administration’s final tally.
Including the omitted benefits reduces the net cost of the requirement to as low as $63 million under one scenario laid out by the agency. Other scenarios put the net cost at more than $200 million.
Transportation spokesman Fraser said that would not have changed September’s decision to cancel the electronic brake requirement because of the cost.
The Association of American Railroads declined comment on the agency’s cost benefit calculations. Spokeswoman Jessica Kahanek said the move to rescind the Obama rule was in line with the requirements set forth by Congress, which passed a 2015 measure saying the Department of Transportation must repeal the braking requirement if expected costs exceed benefits.
The biggest share of oil now moved by rail goes from the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana to the West Coast, where fears of an accident were realized two years ago when 16 tank cars carrying Bakken oil derailed, igniting a fire that burned for 14 hours along the banks of the Columbia River near Mosier, Oregon.
The accident was caused by track problems. An investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration concluded electronic brakes would have made it less severe.
John Risch, national legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, said electronic brakes also would have prevented the deaths at Lac-Megantic.
He added that the omission of benefits from the government’s findings further tilted a study that was otherwise flawed.
“It flies in the face of earlier, much more comprehensive studies,” Risch said. “We are using a 120-year-old technology with mechanical brakes. They’ve come to the peak of what you can do with them.”
Follow Matthew Brown at https://twitter.com/matthewbrownap