Anecdotes from the Life of Groucho Marx.

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Julius Henry Marx, aka ‘Groucho’ Marx, was born October 2, 1890, in New York City, New York.  He and his brothers Adolf (Harpo) and Leonard (Chico) made up one of the zaniest comedy groups in American history – The Marx Brothers.  On stage and in the movies, they kept audiences in an uproar with their outrageous puns, satires, musical donnybrooks, and all-around bad-boy behavior with those who were obviously their betters.  Groucho was the nominal leader of this band of merry Andrews, and as such usually had the best lines in their plays and movies.  He was also a noted raconteur in his private life, using his irrepressible wit to skewer stuffed shirts and deflate the pompous vaporing of so-called experts in any and every field.  Here are five gems on finances that came from him, and that we can all learn from:

  • “A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running.’

Groucho was one of the first Hollywood stars to insist on using a stand-in for any stunts he considered to be even slightly dangerous.  He advised his children to work at boring jobs rather than risky ones; the money’s the same, he insisted, and you don’t have to spend time and money taking care of injuries.

  • “The only primrose path I know of is Wall Street!”

Groucho learned his lesson after the 1929 Wall Street Crash.  He invested in a wide variety of financial instruments, from real estate to bonds to precious metals, and was able to help his other brothers when their incomes dwindled at the end of their film career because they had insisted on investing in nothing but stocks.

  • “Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse.”

Well, okay, this is more bitter hindsight than sound financial advice, since Groucho had 3 wives during his lifetime.  But he managed to stay friends with all three of his ex-wives and they eventually agreed to drop their alimony demands on him – thus proving once again that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar!

  • “I find television very educational.  Every time someone turns on a set I go into another room and read a book.”

Groucho was an avid reader and book collector.  Towards the end of his life he estimated he had spent a total of four-hundred dollars on television sets, which were now worth nothing, and had spent well over twenty-thousand dollars on books, which were now worth nearly a million dollars.  He obviously knew the wisdom of spending money on things that not only give pleasure, but increase in value.

  • “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing.  If you can fake those you’ve got it made.”

Groucho’s friends knew him to be a hard bargainer, but an honest one.  When he made a deal, he stuck by it no matter what.  This came in handy in the mid 1930’s, when the Marx Brothers’ movie career was considered to be over.  The team was let go by Paramount Studios and Groucho decided to take them into radio for a trial run.  When MGM Studios requested them for a movie, Groucho told them that they had already signed a contract for radio and would not back out of it.  Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, was so impressed with Groucho’s honesty and integrity that he personally bought out the team’s contract with the radio network, and the team began work on what many consider to be one of the greatest movie comedies every made, “A Night at the Opera”.

How StealthGenie is Spying on You RIGHT NOW.

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After U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pressed key federal officials to investigate and prosecute the makers of so-called “stalking apps”—which abusers can put on victims’ smartphones to secretly track their calls, texts, location, and other personal data—the Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken unprecedented legal action against the developer of mobile app StealthGenie.

In October 2011, Sen. Franken and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked top officials at the DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to use their full force to crack down on and prosecute the makers of these apps. Federal law enforcement agents flagged advertisements for StealthGenie in November 2011, leading to the indictment and arrest of the app’s maker announced this week.

Sen. Franken also has comprehensive location privacy legislation that would outlaw the development, operation, and sale of stalking apps. You can read about his bill here.

“Most Americans have smartphones now,” said Sen. Franken. “And the companies that make the software on your phone, including apps, can track your phone activity and location at any time. People ought to be able to control who can access their sensitive information, and stalking apps on cell phones directly violate that principle. For years, I’ve been fighting to crack down on these dangerous apps—I’ve pressed federal officials, I’ve written legislation, and I’ve held hearings in my Judiciary subcommittee—and the DOJ’s decision to prosecute the maker of StealthGenie is an important one.

“But we also need stronger tools at our disposal. Currently, there is no federal law banning the secret collection of location data. That’s why we need to pass my legislation to ban stalking apps once and for all. My commonsense bill will help a whole range of people—including victims of domestic violence. My bill would finally put an end to GPS stalking apps that allow abusers to secretly track their victims, and it would also give consumers more control over their very sensitive location data.”

As Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, Sen. Franken has long fought to shut down stalking apps.

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The Cost of a College Education Hits an All-Time High!

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Sens. Franken, Grassley Introduce New Bipartisan Bill to Give Students a Better Estimate of College Costs Before Applying

Senators’ Legislation Would Make Calculators that Compare the Cost of College More User-Friendly

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. —With college growing increasingly unaffordable and student loan debt continuing to rise, U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced a bipartisan bill to give students and families a better estimate of college costs before they apply for schools. The bill would also help ensure that prospective students don’t fail to apply to certain schools that they think are too expensive.

 

The legislation would improve the effectiveness of and access to net price calculators (NPCs)—tools that provide students with early, individualized estimates of higher education costs and financial aid figures before they decide where to apply—by requiring schools to put their calculators on webpages where students and families are likely to look for cost and admissions information. The Net Price Calculator Improvement Act of 2014 would also authorize the Department of Education to develop a “universal calculator” that lets students answer a standard set of financial and academic questions to get cost estimates from many schools so they can better compare costs across institutions.

 

“Minnesotans are finding it more and more difficult to pay for college, and that’s why I’m working so hard on this issue,” said Sen. Franken. “Part of the problem is that students often don’t have a clear picture of how much their education is going to actually cost them, and often don’t fully understand what schools they can and cannot afford. Our bipartisan bill will provide students and their families with a better estimate of what they will need to earn, borrow, or save to attend the best school for them.”

 

“College sticker prices don’t mean much and a lot of sticker shock occurs later as a result,” said Sen Grassley. “It’s almost impossible for students to compare college costs until they have applied and received their financial aid award letter. By then, they will have narrowed their options and it might be too late to start over. If students and parents have more information on college costs early on when shopping for colleges, they’ll be able to use that information to comparison-shop. The more information available, the more there will be price competition that will help keep tuition costs down.”

 

For years, Sens. Franken and Grassley have worked together to tackle college affordability. In addition to the legislation introduced today, the two also have a bill—called the Understanding the Trust Cost of College Act—that would create a universal financial aid form to help students understand exactly what college will cost.

 

Specifically, the Net Price Calculator Improvement Act would do the following:

 

  • Help increase students’ access to net price calculators by requiring institutions to place their calculators on webpages where students and families are likely to look for cost and admissions information—such as the financial aid or tuition and fees page.

 

  • Improve comparability between schools by requiring that “net price” be the most visually prominent figure on the results screen.

 

  • Strengthen information for veteran students by requiring that calculators indicate on the results screen that prospective students may qualify for veteran benefits and include a link to direct eligible students to such benefits.

 

  • Authorize the Department of Education to develop a “universal calculator” that would enable students to answer one set of financial and academic questions in order to generate a list of comparable net price estimates for multiple institutions of higher education.

 

  • Require the Department of Education to submit a report on the steps the Department has taken to raise awareness of NPCs among prospective students and families, particularly those in high school and middle school, and students from low-income families.

 

You can read a summary of the bill here.

 

Sen. Franken is a strong advocate of making college more affordable for students and their families. In addition to his bills with Sen. Grassley, he also helped lead the introduction of the Affordable College Textbook Act to combat the rising expense of textbooks and supplies. He’s hosted a series of College Affordability Roundtables around Minnesota to hear directly from students, families, and higher education officials on what can be done to improve higher education. And for the third year, he’s sending his staff out into communities statewide to hold College Affordability Resource Nights. You can find dates and locations here.

 

In addition to working with Sen. Franken on the Understanding the True Cost of College Act, Sen. Grassley worked through the Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over tax policy, to help hold colleges accountable for their significant tax exemptions by pressing well-funded colleges to spend more of their endowments on student aid. He also has encouraged colleges to cut perks and salaries in the administrative suite, such as loans for vacation homes to executives and faculty at New York University. Sen. Grassley also led the fight to remove the 60-payment limit on the student loan interest deduction. Congress eliminated the 60-day payment limit in 2001. The expanded policy since became permanent law.

Comcast/Time Warner Try to Control Internet Access.

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In Letter to Sen. Franken, Netflix Says Competition & Consumers Will Suffer if Comcast/Time Warner Cable Deal is Approved

Netflix Says Comcast Will Use Market Power to Extract Tolls from Internet Content Providers; Franken Says Proposed Acquisition Would Give Comcast Power and Incentive to be Gatekeeper on Internet, Raising Costs & Limiting Consumer Choice

After asking Netflix last week to explain how the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal would affect Internet consumers and content providers, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)—one of the leading opponents of the deal—released the popular video streaming company’s response over the weekend.

You can read Netflix’s response here.

According to Netflix, competition and consumers will suffer if Comcast’s proposal is allowed to go through. Netflix opposes the deal, noting that it will result in higher prices for content providers or poorer service for customers.

“The proposed merger will result in online video content providers paying higher prices for access to Comcast customers or delivering poorer service to customers who depend on Comcast for broadband access,” wrote Christopher Libertelli, Vice President of Global Public Policy at Netflix, in his company’s response to Sen. Franken. “Ultimately, competition and consumers will suffer. That is why Netflix opposes the merger.”

When Sen. Franken wrote to Netflix last week, he expressed concern that the massive deal would give Comcast the power and incentive to act as a gatekeeper for traffic on the Internet, giving it an advantage over competitors in the online content market and threatening the open nature of the Internet. Sen. Franken asked Netflix to explain if and how Comcast’s proposal to buy Time Warner Cable would affect Internet consumers and other Internet content providers. He also pointed out that this deal would disrupt interconnection, the process by which content flows from providers, like Netflix, through cable companies, like Comcast, and finally to consumers.

“I’m very concerned that this deal will give Comcast too much leverage over everyone else on the Internet, resulting in higher prices and worse service for consumers,” said Sen. Franken. “I appreciate hearing from Netflix, as its experience with slow streaming speeds and new costs appears to illustrate the point. Unfortunately, Comcast refuses to even admit that this is a problem.”

Earlier this year, Comcast consumers experienced difficulty streaming Netflix videos, and Comcast required Netflix to pay a charge to alleviate the slowdown. In its letter, Netflix confirmed that it has seen firsthand how Comcast can use its market power to extract tolls from content companies. Sen. Franken fears that this could become the norm, essentially giving Comcast control over who gets access to its vast network of Internet subscribers. That precedent could stifle innovation and prevent the next Netflix or YouTube from coming to market and reaching consumers.

Since Comcast’s proposed acquisition was announced earlier this year, Sen. Franken has been fighting to give a voice to the millions of consumers in Minnesota and across the country who are being squeezed by cable and Internet costs. Earlier this month, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Franken took a leading role in questioning the deal. You can view or download video from the hearing here andhere. And you can download a video of Sen. Franken talking about the Comcast-Time Warner Cable dealhere.

When the proposal was first announced in February, he wrote to several top federal regulators and asked them to carefully scrutinize the deal, raising concerns that concentrating more market power in the hands of fewer companies will stifle competition and leave consumers with fewer choices and higher prices.

Sen. Franken has also pressed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take into account Comcast’s history of violating certain consumer protection measures, including some of the conditions imposed on Comcast by the FCC after it acquired NBC-Universal.

And last month, Sen. Franken said that if the deal goes through, it could harm the open nature of the Internet. Comcast’s net neutrality obligations, which were put in place by the FCC after the company’s acquisition of NBC Universal in 2011, are set to expire in 2018, and Sen. Franken is concerned about what will happen at that point-especially if this deal with Time Warner Cable is approved.

You can read Netflix’s response to Sen. Franken here or below. And you can read Sen. Franken’s letter sent to Netflix last week here.

Dear Senator Franken:

Thank you for your letter. Netflix shares your concerns about the power of a merged Comcast/Time Warner Cable and is committed to sharing facts with policymakers to increase their understanding of this issue. Netflix has seen firsthand how Comcast can leverage its existing market power to extract arbitrary tolls to reach consumers, particularly from Internet video companies like Netflix that pose a competitive threat to Comcast’s own video services.

Below are Netflix’s answers to the questions posed in your letter. We are also taking this opportunity to correct statements regarding our agreement with Comcast and the way the transit market currently functions made by Comcast Senior Vice President David Cohen during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent hearing.

1) Will Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable increase Comcast’s ability to extract payments from non-¬affiliated entities as a condition of access to Comcast’s broadband Internet consumers. If so, please explain how and why, noting also any consequences for consumers.

Yes.

Comcast is limiting the capacity of connections between its network and other networks, unless the network agrees to pay Comcast for access. This congestion causes delays when traffic enters Comcast’s network through the settlement-¬free connections. Consumers experience these delays as slow page loads, poor streaming quality, and frequent streaming pauses.

Few Americans have a meaningful choice in broadband service providers: Comcast subscribers are largely stuck with Comcast. And the only way for content providers to reach the millions of broadband subscribers currently controlled by Comcast is to go through Comcast. By degrading consumers’ experience, Comcast can demand that content providers pay them a toll to avoid congestion and reach their captive subscribers. If content providers cannot effectively reach Comcast subscribers, they cannot compete. So they have little alternative for an uncongested connection unless they agree to Comcast’s terms.

If the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger is approved, the combined company will represent 40 percent of wired broadband subscribers, including those 1 in 19 of the top metropolitan areas, with many of those homes having Comcast as the only option for truly high–speed broadband (>10Mbps). As DSL fades in favor of cable Internet, Comcast could control high-¬speed broadband to the majority of American homes. Comcast is already dominant enough to be able to capture unprecedented fees from transit providers and services such as Netflix. The combined company would possess even more anti-¬competitive leverage to charge arbitrary interconnection tolls for access to their customers.

2) Do you agree with Comcast’s testimony describing interconnection arrangements generally and Comcast’s new interconnection arrangement with Netflix in particular? If not, please explain.

No.

During the Senate Judiciary hearing on the proposed merger, Mr. Cohen said that it was “Netflix’s desire to pay us directly and cut out a middleman.” That is not an accurate description. Netflix agreed to paid peering with Comcast to reverse an unacceptable decline in our members’ video experience. Netflix developed an entire CDN architecture, called “Open Connect” based on settlement-¬free peering. This no-¬fee interconnection norm avoids the gamesmanship and blackouts that plague cable carriage and retransmission-¬consent negotiations in the traditional video space. Indeed, Netflix is directly interconnected with ISPs all over the U.S. and internationally without any exchange of payment from either side. Our agreement with Comcast is the first time that Netflix was forced to pay an ISP for what amounts to access to their subscribers.

In a subsequent statement, Comcast said “[i]f Netflix did not like the terms of our agreement, or if they do not like the terms Comcast provides at any time in the future, Netflix can work with any of the multiplicity of partners that connect with Comcast…. Transit is a highly competitive marketplace and Netflix and other Internet content providers have many choices.”

The fatal flaw in this assertion is that the number of transit providers or pathways into Comcast’s network is irrelevant to this issue. Every transit provider must ultimately negotiate with Comcast for a connection to Comcast’s network and Comcast controls the terms of that access. Simply put, there is still one and only one way to reach Comcast’s subscribers: through Comcast.

Prior to our agreement to interconnect directly with Comcast, Netflix purchased all available transit capacity into Comcast’s networks from multiple transit providers. Every single one of those transit links to Comcast was congested (even though the transit providers requested extra capacity), resulting in poor video quality for our members. Until Netflix agreed to pay Comcast, the more that Comcast subscribers requested Netflix content, the more congested these connections became, and the more that their Netflix video quality suffered. That is where Comcast is able to leverage its market power most effectively. It can restrict transit capacity into its network to force content providers into paying for uncongested interconnection.

It is inaccurate for Comcast to suggest that by paying Comcast directly, Netflix is simply swapping out payment for services that it used to pay transit providers to perform. For a content company such as Netflix, paying an ISP like Comcast for interconnection is not the same as paying for transit service. Transit providers are paid by companies like Netflix because they carry Internet traffic over great distances and provide connections to all of the networks that comprise the global Internet.

Comcast does not connect Netflix to other networks. Comcast does not carry Netflix traffic over long distances. Netflix connects to Comcast in locations all over the US, and has offered to connect in as many locations as Comcast desires. Netflix is itself bearing the costs and performing the transport function for which it used to pay transit providers. It is Netflix that incurs the cost of moving Netflix content long distances, closer to the consumer, not Comcast.

3) Comcast argues that it operates in a highly competitive marketplace in which consumers have ample choices for high speed Internet service and therefore will not tolerate slow streaming speeds or artificially high costs. What do you make of that argument?

Few Americans have a meaningful choice in broadband Internet access service provider. According to the FCC, about 70 percent of U.S. households have at best two options for 6 Mbps or greater broadband Internet access, which is the floor for data-¬rich applications like streaming video. As stated above, consumers do not view mobile broadband as a wireline broadband substitute for applications like streaming video because of low data caps and reliability issues. Couple all of this with the high costs of switching from one provider to another, and most consumers feel that they have to take whatever their ISP offers.

To conclude, Netflix is committed to providing our users with great video quality whenever they chose to watch Netflix. Unfortunately, Comcast appears willing to sacrifice the quality of its own subscribers’ broadband experience to extract fees from the content providers that Comcast’s own subscribers are paying Comcast to access. The fact that Netflix paid to protect our consumers is evidence of Comcast’s power. Acquiring Time Warner Cable will only increase this leverage.

The proposed merger will result in online video content providers paying higher prices for access to Comcast customers or delivering poorer service to customers who depend on Comcast for broadband access. Ultimately, competition and consumers will suffer. That is why Netflix opposes the merger.

Respectfully,
Christopher Libertelli
Vice President, Global Public Policy
Netflix, Inc.

 

 

Biodiesel Tax Credit to be Renewed: Senate Hopes Incentive Will Reduce Dependence on Foreign Oil.

Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chairman of the Energy Subcommittee, put his support behind a bipartisan bill to bring back a tax incentive for the production of domestic biodiesel to help spur job creation and decrease our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

The bipartisan Biodiesel Tax Incentive Reform and Extension Act will extend the $1-per-gallon tax credit for biodiesel producers. The tax credit lapsed at the end of 2013.

“Biodiesel is good for Minnesota and good for America, and we should be doing everything we can to expand its use,” said Sen. Franken. “It doesn’t make sense that taxpayers spend billions of dollars each year subsidizing big oil companies, while letting investments in clean, home-grown energy like biodiesel lapse. I’m backing this bipartisan effort to renew the biodiesel tax credit because it will create Minnesota jobs, expand demand for farm products, and decrease our dependence on foreign oil.” 

The bipartisan Biodiesel Tax Incentive Reform and Extension Act will:

 

  • Provide a $1-per-gallon tax credit for the production of biodiesel, renewable diesel and aviation jet fuel that complies with fuel standards and Clean Air Act requirements.
  • Increase the credit from $1 to $1.10 for the first 15 million gallons of biodiesel produced by small producers with an annual production capacity of less than 60 million gallons.
  • Eliminate potential abuses and simplify how the tax is administered by restricting the credit to fuel producers and excluding fuel blenders from eligibility. By focusing on production, this bill would eliminate any remaining opportunity for abuse known as “splash and dash” in which oil companies add a few drops of biodiesel to petroleum diesel to qualify for the tax credit. The change also ensures the credit benefits domestic producers – the old law allowed blenders to receive the credit for blends that included foreign-imported biodiesel.
  • Simplify the definition of “biodiesel” to encourage production from any biomass-based feedstock or recycled oils and fats.
  • Tighten compliance and reduce administrative burdens on taxpayers by simplifying the coordination between the income tax credit and the excise tax liability.
  • Extend this tax credit for three years, giving needed financial predictability so that more facilities can be brought online in the United States.

The legislation was introduced by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

In November, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposal to lower the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which would hurt the biofuels industry. Sen. Franken has both written to the President and spoken to him directly to express opposition to any cuts to the RFS.

As Chairman of the Senate Energy Subcommittee, Sen. Franken has held two hearings on the topic of energy efficiency.