Thursday, February 07, 2013

Service matters

Try to imagine this from a bureaucracy

Lunchtime at the flagship In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Baldwin Park, California, is a study in efficiency. As the order line swells, smiling workers swoop in to operate empty cash registers. Another staffer cleans tables, asking customers if they’re enjoying their hamburger. Outside, a woman armed with a hand-held ordering machine speeds up the drive-through line.

Such service has helped In-N-Out create a rabid fan base -- and make Lynsi Torres, the chain’s 30-year-old owner and president, one of the youngest female billionaires on Earth. New store openings often resemble product releases from Apple Inc., with customers lined up hours in advance. City officials plead with the Irvine, California-based company to open restaurants in their municipalities.

“They have done a fantastic job of building and maintaining a kind of cult following,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc. “Someone would love to buy them.”

That someone includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who told a group of visiting business students in 2005 that he’d like to own the chain, according to an account of the meeting on the UCLA Anderson School of Management website.
The thrice-married Torres has watched her family expand In- N-Out from a single drive-through hamburger stand founded in 1948 in Baldwin Park by her grandparents, Harry and Esther Snyder, into a fast-food empire worth more than $1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Famous for its Double-Double cheeseburgers, fresh ingredients and discreet biblical citations on its cups and food wrappers, In-N-Out has almost 280 units in five states. The closely held company had sales of about $625 million in 2012, after applying a five-year compound annual growth rate of 4.6 percent to industry trade magazine Nation’s Restaurant News’s 2011 sales estimate of $596 million.

In-N-Out is valued at about $1.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg ranking, based on the average price-to-earnings, enterprise value-to-sales and enterprise value-to-earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization multiples of five publicly traded peers: Yum! Brands Inc., Jack in the Box Inc., Wendy’s Co., Sonic Corp. and McDonald’s Corp. Enterprise value is defined as market capitalization plus total debt minus cash.



ObamaCare Blowback

I received a certified letter from my physician yesterday.  It read:

"This letter will serve as notification to you that (clinic name) is withdrawing you from further treatment as of the date of this letter. You are hereby discharged from care by all of our physicians and treatment locations. … We suggest that you place yourself under the care of another physician and medical facility immediately."

My doctor was firing me as a patient? What was up? Was I dying from some disease they had failed to properly diagnose, and they were hoping I was dead before I discovered their malpractice and sued? Did the nurse who couldn’t draw blood from my arm file a grievance against me as a preemptive move? Had I failed to pay a bill?

None of the above.  I phoned the doctor’s office today. They are no longer accepting any patient who doesn’t sign up for their “Concierge Service” — a yearly fee in four figures for unlimited clinic visits.

Cash only.  No medical insurance accepted, no Medicare, total opting out from any part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — ObamaCare.

Welcome to the future of private medical practice in the United States.



What Obama does best: taunt Republicans

President Obama is not committed to fixing Washington's chronic budget woes or jump-starting an ailing economy, but that doesn't mean this administration lacks focus. If there is one area where this administration delivers, it is taunting Republicans.

Think Lucy teasing Charlie Brown with the football. Except, in this case, Lucy is a twice-elected president who ought to have better things to do, like get Washington to work.

Three recent examples:

-- The White House released a photo of the president skeet shooting, in reaction to the press corps' skepticism at a recent Obama statement made during an interview with the New Republic. Obama said, "At Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time."

It's a silly story. The White House press doesn't know exactly what the president did when he learned that four Americans were killed at the Benghazi mission, but reporters had been demanding ocular proof that the president shot clay pigeons.

The photo came out Saturday, and Obama looked as contrived with a shotgun as former Democratic White House hopeful Michael Dukakis looked in a tank. Skeptics of various ideological stripes questioned the photo's authenticity. Conservatives got the blame.

This was exactly the reaction Obamaland had expected. In releasing the photo, Obama political guru David Plouffe tweeted, "Attn skeet birthers. Make our day - let the photoshop conspiracies begin."

-- Last week, the administration announced a reputed compromise on its rule that church-based institutions provide birth-control benefits in violation of a religion's deeply held beliefs. The new rules make insurers provide and pay for contraception coverage.

To the extent that church fathers object, they remind young voters that they oppose contraception. The administration scores bonus points when a Republican anywhere in the world says something really stupid about rape or conception.

-- Given former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel's near-endorsement of Obama in 2008 and his opposition to the Bush surge in Iraq, the president had to know that his decision to nominate Hagel to serve as his defense secretary would enrage the right. Clearly, the specter of Republicans bristling at the nomination of a highly decorated Vietnam veteran was the impetus behind the Hagel pick.

Still, the administration could not have suspected how muddled Hagel would appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. Hagel flubbed the administration's position on Iran - twice. He had to distance himself from old comments he had made about Israel and Iran. Hagel was so mediocre that former Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs conceded on Sunday's "Meet the Press" that Hagel seemed "unimpressive and unprepared." Sometimes the football fumbles by itself.

Last week, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he would be "stunned if, in the end, Republican senators chose to try to block the nomination of a decorated war veteran who was once among their colleagues in the Senate as a Republican." This administration never passes up a chance to blame the Republicans.



Review of "Coming Apart"

The educated elite don't believe their own b*lldust

Charles Murray's "Coming Apart" is an antidote to progressive utopianism about the social changes in America since 1960. Nostalgia for a pre-1960 American "golden age" is widely mocked, but the evidence shows that it did in fact exist.

This is an important book because it shows the downside of progress in meticulous empirical detail. The data show that after 1960 the shared culture of America ended and the upper and lower income classes walked different destinies. The upper class maintained its values and way of life. But the lower class entered into a self-destructive tailspin. In lower class neighborhoods, marriage eroded along with participation in civic groups, voting, and religiosity. Meanwhile, a growing number of lower class men no longer supported themselves. Social isolation grew and out of marriage childbirth became the norm. That bedrock of traditional American civil society - the married, working family engaged in its community - is now almost completely gone in lower class neighborhoods.

The upper class and lower class have become physically and spiritually isolated from each other. The upper class still marries, still participates in civil society, and still works hard to get ahead. But more and more these are activities limited to rich people.

More than one blogger has likened the growing cultural divide to the Vickies and the Thetes in Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age". The cultural practices of the upper class are conservative even if their politics are not.

Murray focuses on the experience of white Americans to avoid any composition effects driven by rapidly changing racial demographics over the last 50 years. He wants to show that American culture itself has changed, not merely that the country is composed of a different cultural mix than before. In a later chapter he recalculates several key metrics for the upper and lower class of Americans of all races and finds little difference.

The centerpiece of the book is Murray's empirical analysis of the General Social Survey and other data sources. The book finishes with the author's guesses as to the causes of the growing class divide. This section is weaker, but it is an intriguing detour. He notes that the modern upper class refuses to preach the values that it lives by. Moralizing is out of style - the only remaining public morality is non-judgmentalism. Pathological behavior with high social cost has lost its stigma. So the upper class works harder than ever, but the growing numbers of men who don't support themselves are not chastised.

Murray is uncertain that non-judgmentalism alone can explain his observations. But it is an interesting coincidence. American school children used to be taught loyalty, courage, fairness, and honesty in their readings for english class. Now, such imposition of values through the education system would not be tolerated.

The last 60 years brought inarguable improvements to American culture. But even as racial and gender divides shrank, the class divide yawned larger than ever. "Coming Apart" shows the downside of progress.



The History Lesson You Never Learned! The History Lesson You Were Never Taught!

By Rich Kozlovich

This is the history lesson everyone should have gotten and never received.  As I have said they in the past – they just won’t teach history.

I have known about the Venona Intercepts for years, and I have known about the infiltration of Soviet agents and fellow travelers who worked to support and promote Stalin and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from the 1920’s and on.  I knew that Joe McCarthy was a nut job, but I also knew he was accurate in his description of Communist infiltration of the State Department.  Remember that the House of Representatives, run by the Democrats at the time also held hearings on this, known as the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  But that was only the tip of the ice berg.

Wartime agencies such as the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, the Office of War Information (OWI) and the Board of Economic Warfare (BEW) were heavily penetrated by "Communists, fellow travelers, and Soviet agents".  They were in positions to exert influence regarding intelligence, information flow and procurement. When the war ended thousands of those staffers would end up being transferred to the State Department, many of them Soviet agents.    "The security problems hatched in the war would thus come to roost at State."

Soviet spies and sympathizers infiltrated the White House, Department of Defense, and all of the agencies created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  But mostly they heavily infiltrated the Treasury Department, which had enormous influence on FDR in his frail dealings with Stalin at Yalta and Teheran, virtually giving Eastern Europe to Stalin and later Asia via the Communist takeover against the Nationalist government run by Chiang Kai-shek.
I have posted information in the past discussing this, but two things happened recently that have motivated me to really expand on this important history.  A history that is virtually unknown to most people.

First, I have been reading, Stalin’s Secret Agents, The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government, by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein, and secondly I watched the attacks on Michelle Bachmann.  Mark Levin noted the scorn congressional colleagues directed at “Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and three other House members who asked for an examination of evidence that the parent organization of jihadist groups such as al-Qaida and Hamas were wielding influence on U.S. policy from within”, saying “The lawmakers were “treated like pariahs”!
It was impossible to miss the similarities to what is happening now and what happened to those who challenged this massive infiltration of Communalists in the federal government.  This included military personal whose career advancement ended for speaking up, along with investigative personnel, including the FBI.  When the upper echelon is sympathetic and those around them are able to control the information flow and decision making long term problems are created that can't be easily overcome or ever overcome.



Protection-racket "capitalism"

Arnold Kling makes some good points:  "One way to view the period 2005-2009 is as a massive destruction of property rights by the government. First, they destroy the right of Freddie, Fannie, and commercial banks to maintain lending standards. Then they confiscate the property of holders of securities in GM and Chrysler to pay off the labor unions. Then they sell off AIG’s assets in order to bail out Goldman Sachs and several large foreign banks. And of course, the government has made every effort to keep banks from enforcing mortgage contracts, while extracting large fines from banks."

Here is Charles Rowley making a similar point:  "The financial crisis was generated not by any rating agency, but by a cross-party political conspiracy to bludgeon mortgage companies to extend mortgages to minority households that had no resources to enter into home ownership. A crude vote-seeking frenzy ensued, fed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government-enterprises that were shell agencies for a Ponzi scheme in the housing market.

All this is in the context of the US government suing S&P.

The problem is that S&P is not guiltless, after all as Charles Rowley tells us:  "S & P’s error was ever to take credit guarantees emanating from the government with anything except supreme contempt."

But there is a lot of guilt to go around. In the first instance the Boston Fed has questions to answer. The authors of a paper published in the American Economic Review, the publishers of the American Economic Review, and many, many regulators should join S&P in the dock:

"Substantial media and political attention was showered upon a 1992 Boston Federal Reserve Bank study of discrimination in home mortgage lending. This study concluded that, while there was no overt discrimination in banks’ allocation of mortgage funds, loan officers gave whites preferential treatment. The methodology of the study has since been questioned, but at the time it was highly influential with regulators and members of the incoming Clinton administration; in 1993, bank regulators initiated a major effort to reform the CRA regulations"

By singling out just S&P it looks a lot like pay-back for down grading US debt rather than a proper effort to bring the originators of the GFC to account.




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