Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Good Morning from snowy and cold Northwestern Indiana.  The weather dudes lied again.  We were supposed to have sun and seasonable temperatures.  No sun and cold again.  It is still early so the temps might hit a normal high.  Last night was miserable.  I haven't heard and felt wind like that since the time I lived in Missouri and a tornado passed less than a half mile away from me.  It drove the cats nuts and they, in turn, drove me nuts.  At least the wind has died down.  Hopefully the snow won't amount to much.  Another piece of luck for family and friends in other parts of this area is the flooding was not as severe as last September.  That had us worried for a bit.

I found this little entry from Chris In Paris blogging at Americablog.  He links to an article about the various 'conveniences' that are not necessities and he asks how many of these are really necessary.  He notes that, living in Paris, he has had little need for air conditioning.  We also have not used ours much.  We were grateful for it on the, perhaps, ten days last summer when the temps reached into and above the mid 90s.  Otherwise we didn't use it.  The microwave is a necessity because, since it is a combination micro/convection oven, we use it almost exclusively.  That is one reason we don't have to use the a/c as much.  We don't use the big oven and, therefore, it doesn't heat up the entire house.   We no longer use the dishwasher.  It never cleaned well and we rarely have enough dishes (including pots and pans) to fill it.  We do have cable tv but not any of the premium services.  We couldn't do without the computers and internet services.  The article mentions the clothes dryer.  We have to use ours because we have no place to put up a clothes line.  But then our landlords put in a new large capacity and energy efficient model when the old one died last spring.  Luxury or necessity?  I guess it all depends.

It is time to go on to some necessary house cleaning.  I have said that I am the type of person who cleans when the spirit moves me and thankfully it doesn't move too often.  Unfortunately I can write my name in the dust so the spirit is moving.  See you next time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Good Morning, All, on this Day After Christmas.  Christmas Day for us was quiet.  We didn't go anywhere.  We aren't going anywhere today either.  On the one hand we don't really like crowds and everyone knows what a zoo the stores are the day after Christmas.  On the other, the weather is simply horrible.  The news said this morning that EVERY major road in Chicago had stretches that were shut down.  We have had freezing rain and sleet coating everything.  Most people can't remember worse conditions even those whose memories go back 30 plus years.  Better to stay indoors safe and warm.  And it isn't expected to get much better even as the temperature rises.  They don't expect the rain to let up and flash flood advisories are out for the entire area.

Anyway, on to something else.  I found this cute item on The Wild Hunt by way of Chrysalis.  I love the idea of voodoo dolls in the shape of bankers.  Perhaps we should have some made up in the form of Bush and his friends.

Or perhaps we should have voodoo dolls in the shape of the directors of Fannie Mae directors, those who appoint them, and those who pay them.  Take a look at this bit of inanity by way of Dean Baker at TPM Cafe.  I agree that the outrage the Washington Post (and others) display when complaining about the compensation of auto workers doesn't seem to carry over to this situation.  How can I get that job?  I would love to get $160k for a 500 hour year.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Good Morning and Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Are you feeling Grinch-y?  Well go on over to Rob's World where there is a link to a Jib Jab video featuring Santa who is definitely feeling the stress of the season.  I can relate, although this Christmas has been decidedly lower stress and lower key than many in the recent past.  In fact it was downright enjoyable.

The weather cooperated and the rain came down as rain to wash away much of the snow.  Most of the roadways were clear at least until late afternoon when some of the puddles in the streets started to freeze.  By then we were on our way home.  Now we are bracing for higher temps (as much as 50 degrees) with rain.  We are just hoping that it won't result in flooding.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas Eve, Everyone.  It looks like we might make it to my sister's today after all.  The temperature is just below 40 degrees.  Talk about pneumonia weather!!  It looks as though travel will be slushy not frozen.  We Hope.

I think we might need a little weather related humor given how brutal the last couple of weeks have been.  Take a bit of a side trip to Rob Johnson's blog, Rob's World, for a way too cute cartoon.  It will provide a chuckle.

Susie Madrak focuses on an interesting problem associated with our economic downturn in her  post on Crooks and Liars this morning.  What happens when state courts don't have the money to operate?  Well, in New Hampshire they shut down for a month.  I remember a snippet on the news within the last month which quoted the newly elected Cook County, Illinois, prosecutor saying that she would try to find private donors to help fund their activities.  Even though County Board President Todd Stroger pushed through an increase in the county sales tax earlier this year he has been pushing for budget cuts across the board because the revenues haven't been anywhere near what they expected.  I wonder how many other states and counties will be following suit.

Well, if I am going to get dressed, eat some breakfast, and start getting dug out in time to get to my sister's I had best get moving.  Happy Christmas Eve, everyone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How is everyone this morning?  We are supposed to get snow followed by a mix of snow/sleet/rain with rising temps.  Mom and I are hanging loose to see if we will feel comfortable with the driving conditions to make it to my sister's for Christmas Eve.  We won't know till tomorrow morning.

I found this little bit of unpleasantness on this morning.
"Under existing law, as part of a deal to give up outside income from speeches and other sources, Congress receives an automatic pay raise unless it votes otherwise. In January, Congress will receive a raise of $4,700, this will increase the average Member's pay to about $174,000, or a 2.8 percent increase. "
They have a link for you to chime in with your support or opposition.  In answer to the question of whether I oppose or favor:  the first one--in spades.  They have done little to deserve it and should follow the lead of Caterpillar's CEO who, according to a news item last night,  is getting a pay cut of 50%. (Note on that, another source, David Rosenberg on Mauldin's Outside the Box blog entry, says this is really 20%.  Other top management will see a cut of around 30%.  

Another item on the news was somewhat bittersweet.  An increasing number of companies are cutting hours and benefits but not jobs.  It is nice that they are trying to keep people on but I wonder how many can really afford to take an unpaid vacation of between a week and a month.  I noticed also how the news spot focused on those employees who were so grateful for their jobs that they are willing to accept the cuts.  I didn't see a single interview with an employee who expressed anything more than mild regret.  No serious hardship--no major complaints.  An Anti-Walmart site, The Writing On The Wal, saw the same thing and noted that that is what Walmart has been doing all along.  How many of those employees will now be looking for part time jobs to fill out their depleted paychecks?

John Mauldin (Sorry I can't link to this. It comes as an e-mail.)  has posted a piece by David Rosenberg from Merrill Lynch that makes a point that has been in my mind every time I listen to accounts of Obama's plans to boost employment by 3 million jobs (as of his latest projection which was upped because of the worsening jobs news.) 
"We have 1.2 million unemployed construction workers. We have 123,000 unemployed architects and engineers. We have 83,000 unemployed machinery workers. We have 145,000 unemployed transportation-related workers. So that brings us to barely more than 1.5 million of a labor pool the government can tap into for all the new building activity. But the bulk of the joblessness is in financials (up to half a million), retail/wholesale (1.2 million), leisure/hospitality (1.3 million) and health/education (1.2 million). And if investment bankers, shopkeepers, bell captains and medical chart technicians have anything in common it is that they don't have much experience in shovel-ready activities."
My point:  what about the rest of us??  Rosenberg also notes the trend to cut hours and benefits as well as the fact that Americans are not as willing to uproot themselves for jobs which indicates a frozen, deflationary labor market.  But, as I have pointed out in a previous blog, this has been going on for sometime.  I worked for a time in a law office starting at $10/hr.  When that job ended, a year and a half later,  the starting pay had dropped to $7.50/hr for experienced workers.  I worked for a time as an inventory auditor starting at $9.50/hr.  A year after I left that job the starting pay for the same job at the same company was $8.50.  I worked for a time as a sales associate and balloon artist starting at $7.25/hr.  During the last year and a half that store was open we had two new clerks who were started at $6.50/hr.  That is deflation, People.  But no one noticed.

John Aravosis at Americablog links to Arianna Huffington at the Huffington Post who has some very good comments on the economic situation.  The gist of the argument is that free market capitalism is a vampire that needs to be staked as thoroughly as Soviet communism.  We are not where we are because people in high places failed to see problems.  Rather:
"... the mistake was the ideology that led to the problems. Communism didn't fail because Soviet leaders didn't execute it well enough. Same with free market fundamentalism. In fact, Bush and his team did a bang-up job executing a defective theory. The problem wasn't just the bathwater; the baby itself is rotten to the core."

I think that is enough ranting for the day.  See you all soon.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Good Morning on this very cold and snow covered three days before Christmas.  I did say it was cold, didn't I.  Well, we MIGHT make it out of the subzero freezer sometime today.  Unfortunately that is the only good news on the weather front.  Our weathermen are warning us to expect as much as 7 inches of snow over between ton
ight and late afternoon of Christmas Eve.  Part of that may come as freezing rain and sleet.  We will do our week's shopping today because we may be house bound for the next week.  

So what do I do in the mean time.  I usually shoo those two black blobs (aka, Damarimasu and Sawagimasu) off my chair (I know they contest the owner ship, but I am bigger) and work on one or more of the four projects I keep downstairs.  You can see three of them close up below.

This is a cross-stitch/embroidery table cloth.  It will take a while because the big projects always bore me if I work on them too long.  I always keep same smaller projects around to give myself a rest.  This is one of the last of the commercially printed projects I will do.  We aren't buying any more and any new projects will be all mine from start to finish.  Besides you need only so many tablecloths and most of those I would give needlework to don't use these.  They are still in the 'save it for special events mode.'  Needless to say the 'special event' never comes.

This is the start of a vest done in a lacy tunesian stitch.  I saw a technique last year where a knitter worked the vest in a single piece from the bottom edge to the beginning of the arm holes and then formed the top back and fronts from there.  I thought I would give it a try but in a crochet stitch since I don't knit.  That silver is really a gold but the flash washed out the color.

When I cleaned out my sewing section of the sewing/craft/computer room I took out several balls of left over yarn and decided it was time to do something with them.  So I brought out the old knitting spool and will make an area rug out of them.  

I know I promised four projects but I am having some difficulty getting all of the pictures on where I want them and keeping them there.  They seem to disappear suddenly.  I will put up more pictures later.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The ice storm made it onto BBC.  We did not have any power outage. And not many broken tree limbs.  But them we haven't been outside except to clear off our cars.  That was more exercise than we wanted or are used to.  We are fairly smart old birds though and did not overdo it.  Slow and steady.  The ice here was about an inch thick.  I heard it cracking loudly when I spread salt on the patio to start the melting process so I could shovel it away.  I did try chopping through it with the shovel first but that was some very hard s#$t.  My car looked like the more difficult chore with the ice covering the snow from the last system but Mom's car was the more difficult challenge.  All I had to do to clear most of mine was get the scraper under the ice into the snow and pop up large blocks of the ice.  The worst was the driver's side door where the ice completely covered the surface and freezing the door shut.  I had to go in from the passenger side (almost completely clear) to start the car and let the heater thaw the other door and finish clearing the windows.  Mom spent most of her time tapping the ice with her scraper as though it was a boiled egg and then brushing off the shards.  We had cleared it out so we could get to her doctor's appointment just after the last snow.  Luckily both cars started like a charm.

It has been cold.  We got visual confirmation when we opened the bedroom curtains this morning.  Moisture had condensed on the plastic we installed over the windows to cut the cold drafts.  We have covered the windows for three years now and this is the first time moisture formed.

Right now we have some welcome sun and last night's snow did not come up to forecast levels.  For which we are very thankful.  Now we await the next system.

Here is a little post that falls into the intriguing category.  Alexis Madrigal at The Lost History of American Clean Tech writes about intensive solar agriculture.  Reading it also brought back memories of the time I lived in Colorado and used 'walls of water' to start my tomatoes and peppers really early; like, February early.  For those who don't remember or have never seen them (I haven't seen them in a very long time) the 'wall of water' was a tube of heavy plastic made up of smaller tubes around the circumference which were filled with water.  The filled wall was placed around the seedling and warmed the ground around it keeping it from freezing.  It worked beautifully.

Well, that is enough for a lazy Sunday.  Keep warm and safe.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hello, again.  We still have ice covering most surfaces outside.  Our patio has about an inch.  We will be spreading some salt to start getting it out.  The plows have been working the streets and you can hear the ice crunching as they go buy.  Later we will see if we can clear our cars.  It is still overcast and I doubt we will get any sun before the next system comes through sometime tonight.  At least we do not have to go anywhere and can stay home.

Checking out my google searches this morning I found which had a link to a two part Bill Moyers interview with Michael Pollen.  I sat and watched the nearly 40 minutes of it and enjoyed the whole thing.  It may be the time of the year, after all Christmas and Thanksgiving seem to revolve around food, but we have seen several programs dealing with food and where it comes from.  The History Channel featured Modern Marvels episodes on fast food, cold cuts, and the turkey.  They were very enlightening.  Earlier this year we stopped buying bologna largely because we finally got tired of buying something 'convenient' that we really did not like.  Watching the segment of the cold cuts show simply confirmed our decision.  It was disgusting.  The segment on the production of deli turkey breast was, if anything, worse.  After our experience this year with our home grown or farmers' market tomatoes and other veggies, we found ourselves wishing we had a local community garden where we could rent space.  We will just have to make do with containers on the patio.

Bob Geiger has another set of good political cartoons and a link to the ''Sock and Awe" game that has become popular on the internet this past week.  According to the site, more than 46 million shoes have hit the Dimwit-In-Chief in the face since the game went up.  I am proud to say four of them were mine.  Thanks again to Joe Sudbay at Americablog for the link.

Rep. Brad Miller has a good post today at TPM Cafe.  It says just about what I said yesterday and cited Thomas Freidman's essay in the New York Times in which he said that we need an 'ethical bailout' not simply a money bailout.  He also quotes Steve Pearstein at the Washington Post saying that two words were 'conspicuously missing' from everything the titans of Wall Street have said: "We're Sorry."  Not only are they not sorry.  They think they have performed so well that they 'deserve' bonuses.  And there are idiots out there who agree with them and justify their demands by claiming that the bonuses were structured into their normal compensation.  In other words, back when we had our previous outrage, last decade/last century, companies reduced compensation for executives but pushed what they lopped off into bonuses to hide what these overpaid gluttons were really getting paid.  Miller also notes that the 'Mexican strawberry picker' with little income and no English has replaced the black Welfare Queen in the pantheon of low income chiselers responsible for all our ills.  The poor little bankers were their dupes.  Yeah.  Right.  Maybe, they like Voldemort, should try for some repentance.  I doubt they have it in them.

I watched Obama's introduction of Hilda Solis as his nominee for Secretary of Labor and I liked what I heard a lot.  I liked, especially, her comment on the issue of health care.  I have said in previous posts that American industry AND American labor are both disadvantaged with respect to foreign industry and foreign labor.  And they are disadvantaged because our system insists on putting the costs of health care onto either business or the individual where nearly every other country provides at least a basic level of health care as a matter of social policy.  Business wants to get out from under an increasing burden.  Workers rightly complain that they can't afford it.  And government refuses to buck the insurance industry which is only concerned with its own obscene profits.  I fervently hope Obama and Solis can break this log jam.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Well, the storm finally came in last night.  We are on the southern end of it and most of our precipitation has been rain and freezing rain so far.  It is expected to change to snow before the storm ends around noon.  We woke up to find the glass on our front storm door glazed over.  We hope we will be able to open it later.  Luckily we got out shed door open yesterday so I could get a bag of cat litter out of it.  We have not had any problem with our electricity but the news was reporting that a couple of Chicago's electric trains were delayed because of icing on the lines.  Everyone east of me, look out because it is coming your way.

I found this post at I didn't know there were so many varieties of miniature and dwarf vegetables.  Since all we have is a small patio and must use containers (since things don't grow well on bare concrete), these are intriguing.  I wonder how many will be available locally.

Chris In Paris blogging at Americablog has a cynical view of the new rules for credit card issuers.  He first notes that help is fully a year-and-a-half away.  These new rules don't take effect until July of 2010.  I am somewhat cynical for other reasons.  I don't know if anyone else heard the somewhat veiled threat in a statement from an industry source that made it into only one news cast that I saw.  It was not repeated.  The statement from the industry said the rules would make credit less available because the banks could no longer 'protect' themselves from defaulting card holders by using all of those sneaky little and very expensive (for the borrower) tricks.  That cuts damned little ice in this quarter.  They are worse than drug dealers feeding crack addicts' habits.  Unfortunately we don't deal with them as severely as we should.

I absolutely love this post from Arlee Barr at DesignJournal.  Do click on the image and see it in larger format.  It is amazing.

Robert Reich notes that Alan Greenspan has evidently learned nothing from the present crisis.  Reich comments on an article that Greenspan wrote for the current issue of the Economist.  Therein he claims that regulations requiring banks to have larger capital cushions on hand before they lend aren't necessary because investors will require it.  This sounds very much like his belief (which, in testimony before congress, he claimed was mistaken) that the self interest of bankers would keep the bankers they dealt with honest.  But it echoes an article he wrote for the International Herald Tribune yesterday (sorry I didn't keep the link) in which he claims that regulation won't restore confidence in the system.  Only trust will do that.  Oh, Yeah???  And who are we going to trust?? Bernie Madoff.  During the 19th century, writers created a stock character out of the financial nightmares that haunted the dreams and lives of their compatriots--the confidence (con)-man.  The crook who put on the guise of a respectable and prosperous business man, gulled the locals out of their money, and disappeared.  Bernie Madoff is simply the 21st century version and Greenspan (and all his ilk) are simply enablers.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Good Morning, Good Morning.  At least it is morning and not later today when a nasty winter storm is expected to come in.  As usual we are in an ambiguous area where what we will get (rain, freezing rain, oodles of snow) depends entirely how far north or south the system goes.  We are simply glad that we have nothing to do that will require getting out in it.  We simply hope that we will miss the freezing rain and ice.  We don't really want to test the electric grid the way that in New England got tested last week.  We are also glad we don't live in a smaller town just north of us.  Their electricity goes out when a squirrel sneezes.

On to business.  This is an amusing post I found by way of the latest Tomdispatch.  Econowhiner has a slant Madoff story and makes some very pertinent, snarky comments.  I have just added the site to my bookmarks.  

By the way, the Tomdispatch post that led me to Econowhiner concerned the publishing industry which is facing a melt down that very much resembles that of the auto industry.  Some of my reactions to the story surprised me, avid reader that I have always been.  One was 'well here is another story of economic woes the mainstream media has ignored.'  There have been so many such stories.  But then some of his comments led me to think about my own experience over the last couple of decades.  For better than twenty years I have had Preferred Reader cards at Barnes & Noble or at Waldenbooks or at both simultaneously.  I bought enough in books and magazines to justify the cost of the cards.  Recently, however, the Barnes & Noble card expired (the Waldenbooks card expired several years ago).  I am not renewing because I no longer buy enough books, videos, and magazines to justify the cost of the card.  We stopped buying newspapers over a year ago after several years of buying only the Sunday papers.  We get most of our information on line and the newspapers were redundant.  A decade ago, when I was still a graduate student and teaching at the local community college, I was aghast at the cost of books both those I had to buy and those I assigned for my students.  I am not surprised that publishing is on the ropes along with everything else in this wacky economy.

Robert Reich asks where the democracy is in the plans Bush and Paulson are pushing to use TARP funds to provide the automakers with the $14 billion bridge loan.  Good question. If the House of Representatives, the President and the President-Elect listened to voters, 60% or so of whom (depending on the poll one reads) oppose the bailout, they would have dropped the matter long ago.  But I don't really think that the Senate was listening to voters as a whole when they blocked the measure.  For the most part the plan was derailed by Southern senators whose states are home to foreign automakers production facilities and whose constituents work at those plants. Their pious citing of the free market scriptures is so much self-righteous swill.  There is no democracy on either side.

Rotwang at TPM Cafe has a few cogent points to make on this issue.  By the way, Senator Shelby from Alabama has frequently been referred to as the "Senator from Honda" (or fill in you least favorite foreign automaker) by some of the reporters on CNBC.  At the same time Bush and Co. are trying to convince other countries not to engage in 'beggar thy neighbor' policies the southern Senators are trying to use the power of the Federal government to begger other states in this alleged Union.  And I don't mean UAW here.

And, for those who don't know, I have been very luke warm on the whole notion of bail-outs.  I feel they simply protect inefficient, bloated organizations that should die anyway.  I doubt they will succeed in 'saving' the economy.  I don't think anyone has really defined what 'saving' the economy means.  But, being unemployed now for 15 months (without benefits of any kind) and seeing nothing on the horizon, I absolutely hate the notion of more people unemployed.  Between luke warm and absolutely hate, you all know where I stand.

Here we go again.  Thanks to The Hollywood by way of digg by way of newsfire. Yes, I know it is New York.  And yes, Indiana already has sales tax on things like cell phone service, cable TV service.  But where will it end.  Various states have tried with varying degrees of success to tax internet transactions.  I am always irritated when politicians resort to raising sales taxes.  Those are the most regressive of the taxing schemes.  Those lower on the economic food chain pay more of their incomes on these kinds of taxes than those at the higher end.  Come on, folks.  I know you have a nearly $2 billion deficit to close but how about spreading the pain more fairly.

ABC Nightly News had an interesting little animated feature on the dangers of deflation last night.  Everything makes sense but I have a nasty feeling that deflation has already been stealthily moving in the economy.  On the lower levels especially.  Almost five years ago I worked as an inventory auditor.  I started at $9/hour and left a year later making $9.50.  I know that sounds good until you realize that the hours were incredibly variable.  I had months during that year when I had between 20 and 30 hours for the entire month.  After I left, for two jobs that paid less but offered at least the possibility of more hours, I often looked at the want ads in the paper to see what was available.  I saw listings for my former employer but the new starting wage was only $8/hour.  Soon after that the ads stopped listing the starting pay.  I also saw my employer of that moment hire new employees for much less than I had started at.  Honey, deflation has been here all along.  The media just didn't report on it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This item caught my eye because it hit a nostalgic note.  I haven't seen a Woolworths store over her in I don't know how long, I remember shopping at Woolworth (n the U.S.) and Ben Franklin's and other so called 'five and dime' stores when I was a girl.  I bought my first needlework projects and supplies at such stores.  I would bet that a couple of my wooden hoops date that far back.  They had piles of thread, floss, notions, and printed pillowcases, table scarves, doilies and table cloths.  The BBC is reporting that all 807 stores on that side of the pond will close before January 5. 

CBCNews is reporting that Canada could lose half a million jobs if the Big Three car makers go down.  The Canadian government has reached a deal with the manufacturers to provide $3.3 billion contingent on the $14 billion Washington is still trying to arrange.  To beat a dead horse, THIS is precisely the problem with globalization--the problem no one talked about or even thought about all the years one administration after another pushed globalization with promises of an economic Paradise to come from it.  I should have said 'the major problem' since there are other big problems with globalization that we have failed to see before.  But this one is enough for the moment.

According to the International Herald Tribune, Americans weren't the only  people treating their homes as ATMs.  British consumers were doing the same and the same problems are rippling through the British economy.  I wonder if wages for working class Britons have shown the same pattern for the last 30 years--an adjusted for inflation decline.  

Monday, December 15, 2008

Good Morning, Everyone.  It is brutally cold here.  Something of a shock after a weekend of temps in the 40s.  The rain from last night has frozen and the news is full of accidents on the roadways.  We have had a few snow flurries.  Not enough to accumulate--yet.  That comes tomorrow night into Wednesday.

As usual I am checking out my e-mail which includes a long list of google alerts.  One is for crocheting.  I found this intriguing little blog at the CraftGossip Blog Network.  I still work most crochet from patterns but every once in a while take a flyer on patternless crochet.  I did that with the fingerless gloves I showed a couple of posts ago.  I can think of a few left overs that aren't enough for a new project.  I will have to dig them out.

Here is another interesting crocheting technique.  It isn't one I want to do but I am always intrigued by new (to me, anyway) techniques.  I came to the YouTube video by way of a link to the Ravelry blog site.  But I couldn't find the item because I am not a member.

Chris in Paris, blogging at Americablog, has this tidbit that should make everyone very angry.  Anybody else think it strange how suddenly the Treasury switched from a plan to use the $700 billion bailout fund to buy at auction the troubled assets of the banking industry to one to simply buy stock in the banks themselves?  Now I understand why.  I am so sick of this administration and the party that supports it.  The only excuse for the Democrats (make that Damn-ocrats) is the TARP legislation was passed when (as now) they have no way to over-ride Panderer-In-Chief's veto.  I hope they develop both a backbone and a means of stymieing Republican filibuster threats.  We so badly need a government that works for ALL of us not just the corporate and moneyed interests.  And one that doesn't play sectional interests.

Although I follow elections, I have never been a whole hearted participant (beyond voting.)  I think this article from the New York Times (by way of TPM Cafe) when read together with the stories of the involvement of southern senators from states hosting foreign auto makers illustrates why I am tepid about politics.  On the one hand, we have Republican Senators opposed to any kind of bailout of Detroit automakers and making various unreasonable demands to make sure the deal fell through.  Why?  Because their southern, non-union auto industry would only benefit without Detroit.  But on the other hand, we have a Democratic Senator from New York whose major concern is bailing out the financial industry on which his own state's (and region's) prosperity depends.  This kind of politics transcends party.

That is enough today.  It is time for breakfast.  Stay warm and safe.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

This is a nice story about connections.  I rather like connections perhaps because so much of modern life is disconnected.  Cynthia Bix describes a quilt her grandmother started 60 years before that she and her mother finished recently.  I don't have much like that around me.  Though I remember my grandmother's (my father's mother) quilts none passed down to me and she never worked on them while I was around.  I remember her crocheting while sitting under the trees on summer afternoons watching my brother and me taking the nap she insisted we needed.  No I did not learn to crochet or quilt from her or from my mother.  I learned those on my own.  I seem to learn better when I am self directed.  My memories are the only connections now.

It is a lazy Sunday.  After mulling over whether to post this now or wait for tomorrow when more might catch my fantasy, I decided to post now.  

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It has been a couple of weeks now since the Mumbai attacks.  It has virtually disappeared from our news media except for a few brief mentions, as when Pakistan, under extreme pressure, arrested a couple of the 'masterminds.'  As usual we in the U.S. have learned virtually nothing about India and its political/economic/social situation.  For a tantalizingly different view take a look at Tomdispatch today.  I have been reading occasional snippets concerning sectarian and ethnic violence in India for some time.  It would be nice to get more complete information.  But we don't get that even when the topics are distinctly American.

Archcrone at The Crone Speaks asked a few days ago 'where had the outrage gone?'  Today she presents the Madoff Ponzi scandal.  I think we can answer the question, as she did, that we are in outrage overload.  Here, east of Chicago, we have been treated to the spectacle of the current Governor of Illinois being arrested for corruption while the previous Governor begs for a pardon for his conviction on corruption charges.  For weeks now we have seen banks and financial institutions 'too big to fail' lining up for Federal bailouts while spending those funds on expensive jaunts for employees and outrageous 'bonuses' for the executives who led them into financial shipwrecks in the first place.   There is so much to be outraged about that we are like the hungry donkey tethered equidistant between two piles of hay.  We can't decide which one to go to. 

After the week (month, quarter, year???) we have had we need some humor.  Bob Geiger has some good ones today.  Thanks to Joe Sudbay at Americablog for the link.

I think I will make this a lazy day.  See you all soon.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Good Morning, All.

I found this little post on Grist this morning.  I have been reading, somewhat lackadaisically for the last couple of years, about genetically modified foods and the controversy over them.  However, Mom and I recently came in contact with another facet of the genetic modification business and didn't even realize it.  Our old goldfish died and we went about trying to set up an new aquarium.  We are utter amateurs when it comes to fish and, by trial and error, found some that seemed hardy enough to survive our low learning curve: glofish.  They are very pretty with their neon colors of red, green and yellow.  After we got them I looked them up on the internet.  They are genetically modified zebras.  We saw nothing at the pet store to indicate this and we didn't even know enough to ask that question.  A geneticist in Singapore, I think it was, developed the first ones by inserting the gene from corals to create a red fish.  He hoped to create a fish that would change color when exposed to environmental pollutants.  That failed; instead he created a designer fish for the aquarium market.  No, we haven't gotten rid of them.  Like all the animals we get, they will live out their lives until they go naturally.  But how stealthily these innovations invade our lives.

Ronni at Time Goes By has a few comments coming out of the Blagojevich scandal in Illinois.  I said yesterday that my comments were unprintable.  I think my reaction has boiled down to--utter disbelief.  I CAN NOT believe this man was so abysmally stupid and arrogant.  I could say the same thing for most of the politicians Ronni lists in her blog.  She also points out that she listed only politicians though politicians, by no means, have exclusive patents on scandals.  But, as usual, my brain has been making other connections.  In our society, the appearance of success matters more than the fact of success.  And how you acquire that appearance doesn't matter.  Does anyone remember a '60 Minutes' feature that was replayed twice in the last couple of years where they interviewed college students and found that more than half engaged in some form of cheating?  I wasn't surprised.  One semester I caught two of my students plagiarizing an essay assignment.  Others may have cheated also. I just didn't catch them.  These two were only the least skilled and most blatant cheats.  And, like O.J. at his sentencing, they claimed they didn't know they were stealing.  Or, as another example, some years ago I read an article whose authors had polled a group of young men concerning whether they would commit rape given the opportunity.  Well over 50% said they would--if they could be sure they would get away with it.  What does this say about us as a society?

Robert Reich's blog, written before the news this morning, deals with the auto bail out negotiations, which have evidently fallen through.  He makes a point that became clear to me a couple of days ago when I watched interviews on CNBC with politicians opposed to the bailout.  Most of these politicians are not only Republicans they are southern Republicans.  As Reich says we have an new 'Civil War' on our hands.  But something else struck me as the interview with South Carolina's Governor progressed.  I heard not just the argument that foreign auto makers located in southern states and their workers should not see their tax dollars go to subsidize competing northern companies and their workers.  I also heard an historical grievance.  He basically asked where those northern companies and workers were when South Carolina's furniture and textile industries were dismantled and shipped overseas devastating their economy.  We were told then that globalization and off-shoring were good and we would all benefit from the loss of overpaid jobs and obsolete companies.  So why should we protect the big three?  Overpaid jobs and obsolete companies, right?

It is time for breakfast so I will end this for now. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Good Morning, again.  I think I will go in some other directions today.  I am rather tired of politics and economics.  And there is not much polite comment I can make on the situation with Illinois' governor.  

I have always been interested in gardening but for the last many years have not been able to do more than keep some houseplants.  However, since our landlord expanded the cement patio and put up some nice fences around the areas, I have been looking at container gardening.  Here is a site I found that I will be exploring more fully later.  It is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service site on You Tube.  You can reach it by way of Millie's Garden.  The feature today in on choosing the containers you will incorporate into a container garden.  Like many it seems to be geared more toward those who want decorative container gardens.  Me--I am looking to grow food and, if I can make it pretty as well, I will.  Also,  I am into doing it as cheaply as possible.  We have two very large plastic storage bins that we will drill holes in for tomatoes and peppers.  One was on sale for $10 and the other was free because I liberated it from our neighbor's trash.  

This little post today on BitchPhD strikes a chord.  I have spent most of my adult life in Academia, as a student (graduate and undergrad) and as an instructor.  I found parts of the academic life attractive: the creativity, the research, many of the people.  I think she is right that I didn't leave Academia; it left me.  It took an incredibly long time before I realized it and even longer before I accepted it.  The academic job market, especially for the non-technical or non scientific majors, has been tight for 20+ years.  The prospects of getting a job after getting your degree were lousy and only got worse over time.  But no one acknowledged that.  I often got the feeling that the tenure track people were interested in their grad students only as long as they provided  a low wage pool of instructors that took as much of the teaching load away from them as possible.  And what was worse yet they did very little to help their students compete effectively for the jobs that were out there.  I didn't finish that last degree.  

Granny Geek notes that the 'After Christmas' liquidation sales have already started.  And it is a scary sign of the times.  I wonder who will be left standing after New Year.  Unfortunately, if my family is any indication, there is little good news on the gift buying front.  Part of the situation grows out of past dissatisfaction with the whole gift buying rat race: spending a lot of time deciding on and then finding gifts the relatives would like only to find that they weren't appreciated, or that some of our more competitive relatives were comparing prices to see who was 'favored,' getting out in the crowds, etc.  But much of it is simply that most of us are pulling back because of the economy.  The kids (under 18) will get cash.  My sister will get a small hostess gift.  And she suggested a 'white elephant' gift round this year.  Good suggestion, I think.

I haven't put up any of my little projects for a while.  I have been busy; just haven't taken pictures.  I finished a small pair of embroidered doilies and a table scarf.  But I didn't take any pictures since they are commercially produced patterns.  I am working on a table cloth that is also a commercially printed pattern and won't put pictures of it either.  I have done about a quarter of it.  However there are a few pieces that are totally my own.   

This is the top for a quilted placemat done in the grandma's flower garden pattern.  I have it pinned to the backing and batting now and will soon finish it off.  I will show the finished piece when I get it done.

These are pairs of fingerless gloves I crocheted for Mom and me.  Our computers are near a window and sometimes our hands get very cold.  I finished them just in time for the cold weather that has settled in here.  I may try a couple more with different patterns I have been rolling around in my mind.

These are a couple of my 'recycling' projects.  The balls in the basket are 'plarn' that I put together from the plastic shopping bags and bread bags.  We don't get more than three or four of these any week any more.  We are using the canvas shopping bags now.  The smaller rolls are strips of fabric sewn together to make a long continuous  strip.  I can't stand the notion of wasting any fabric given the cost of it now-a-days.  I will crochet the plarn into new market bags and the fabric strips into a rug.  Hope they work out well.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Good Morning from Northwestern Indiana.  I mention my location to explain why the stories about Republic Windows and Doors interests me.  I live within shouting distance of Chicago.  For those who don't know, Republic shut down Friday without notice after Bank of America cancelled its line of credit.  The workers are now occupying the site demanding the severance and vacation pay they say the company owes them and has failed to pay them.  I start with this because it is a good segue into the first item that caught my attention as I went through MSNBC to get to my e-mail.  The title proclaims that  the 'Work and Family Agenda Faces Tough Climate.'  The whole contention is that tough economic times are not the times to increase the 'cost of work.'  Cost to whom? I have to ask.  And, I also have to ask, how many other Republics are out there?  Of course, recently bailed out Bank of America claims no responsibility at all.  I think the signs many of the protesting workers had it about right: 'They got bailed out, we got sold out.'  Did any one else catch the protesters at the Senate hearings last week.  Their slogan, as they were ushered out of the chamber echoed those Republic workers signs.  Once again the government's focus is on the big companies and industries on the tenuous theory that the benefits of their bailouts will trickle down to the rest of us.  I think I have mentioned before what I think of what trickles down.

And here are some interesting little factoids from the article"

  • The U.S. is one of only four countries out of 173 in a recent survey that doesn’t guarantee some form of paid maternity leave; the others are Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.
  • Sixty-six countries, but not the U.S., ensure that fathers either receive paid paternity leave or have a right to paid parental leave.
  • At least 145 countries provide paid sick days, with 136 providing a week or more annually, while the U.S. has no federal law providing for paid sick days.
What is interesting you might ask?  Well, the argument opponents of these various proposals always put forward is how implementing these programs would put U.S. companies at a disadvantage compared to foreign companies.  How so?  I would say that the U.S., Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea should be raising holy hell with the World Trade Commission.  By the way don't you just love the company we keep?  

I think Ronni at Time Goes By reflects my thinking on much of what passes as intelligent economic and social policy discourse.  What in the hell can those supposedly intelligent people have been thinking?  For the most part, I think these experts have been arguing from a set of assumptions they have never subjected to careful scrutiny.  They are like Alan Greenspan who, according to his own testimony, thought that the self-interests of individual bankers would safeguard a system without regulation.  He had an almost religious faith in rational self-interest and found that it simply did not work the way he thought it must.  Perhaps he should have talked things over with savvy religious experts who knew something about human nature.

Good Morning, again.  I started this on Monday, Dec. 8.  It is now Tuesday.

It is raining now and we expect snow by this afternoon.  What a nasty day.  We hope to get our errands done before then.  I think I will take the library books back and try to stay out of the stacks.  I am considering hibernating till spring.

It is interesting that the news media has only mentioned popular sentiment concerning the auto bail-out in passing.  I can figure out why. had a poll last week and published the results today.  66% of their readers opposed the bail-out outright.  Another 31% approved but only with conditions attached.  That result parallels the snippet I heard on the news a couple of nights ago--60%+ opposed the loans in that poll.  And we thought legislators represented us.  How foolish!!

Recently I have noticed a number of articles claiming that several countries, mostly in Asia, are pushing for greater self-sufficiency in staple grain production.  This one on the Huffington Post deals with Japan.  Joseph Coleman lists a number of factors that concern Japanese officials and that have concerned me as well.  I think I have said elsewhere that the longer the supply line the less control the consumer has over the content and quality of the goods he buys.  According to Coleman Japanese consumers get less than 40% of their nutrition from homegrown foods.  I wonder what the percentage would be for U.S. consumers?  And we shouldn't be lulled into complacency by thinking of California or Florida or Texas as local if we are in Indiana or New York or Michigan.  After all only one of the food scares (affecting humans, that is) involved foods from beyond the borders of the U.S. over the last few of years.  At least among those that made the news media.  Actually two. I remembered the Mexican Peppers but forgot the Canadian beef.

I think I will end here.  The errands won't get them selves done.  

Saturday, December 6, 2008

As a bit of a shift from that farce on Capitol Hill, also called Auto bailout, here is a site I came upon through Joe Sudbay at Americablog.  Bob Geiger has some very good political cartoons.  Take a look and have a good laugh.  We did.

John Aravosis also at Americablog asks a very pertinent question on another part of our economic melt down: the mortgage crisis.  That question is simply whether lowering interest rates are the way to address the problem or will it just encourage a renewed growth of what has been a cancerous bubble.  He points to the absurdity of the situation.  If you don't have good credit lowering the interest rates won't help and, if you don't have good credit,  making it easier to get a mortgage may not do you or the economy any great favors.  It is an interesting bit of illogic which is all too prevalent in this consumer driven economy.

That's all for this snowy and cold Saturday.  

Friday, December 5, 2008

Good Morning, Everyone.

We have nice bright sunshine though very low temps.  I read 8 degrees on my patio thermometer earlier and the expected high is only in the low 20s.  At least we have a brief respite from snow and clouds.  The last bit of precipitation was not nearly so bad as expected.  Who knows what the next ones will bring.  The systems are still lined up, according to the weather reporters.

CNBC had extended live coverage of the automakers' CEOs testifying before the Senate Banking Committee.  I had a definite feeling of having heard all this non-information before.  And like before I was neither impressed nor encouraged by what I heard.  One Senator, and I wish I could remember who it was, deserved kudos for tackling the myth of the $73/hour autoworker head on and calling it what it was--misleading mythology.  So far, my opinion is still the same--let the big three go through bankruptcy and reorganize.  The arguments they make against that don't really hold water.  Their sales have already tanked and I doubt that bankruptcy will hurt them that much.  They are planning mass lay-offs and mass closings of dealerships anyway.  I also don't believe this is a one time deal and they will be back for more next year.  I hate thinking about the jobs that will be lost and the business that will go under but that will happen anyway.  I hate even more thinking about putting all that money down a rat hole and I fear that is exactly what will happen.  

Chris In Paris, blogging at Americablog, echos some of my own sentiments and adds another.  I have no confidence that the management of these companies are really equipped to deal with this situation.  He specifically mentions Nardelli at Chrysler and his history at Home Depot which is not confidence inspiring.  Even at $1/year he would be grossly overpaid.  I wonder how many of their upper management, if they get this bail-out, will get 'retention pay.'

And Robert Reich says pretty much what I said on Wednesday and provides an historical connection to solidify the sentiments.  The ostensible reason for bailing out the automakers, the reason Senator Dodd and others make the centerpiece of their insistent demand for a bailout, is to save jobs.  Reich notes that, during the bailout of Chrysler during the early 1980s, Chrysler cut its workforce deeply and most of those jobs did not come back even after Chrysler returned to profitability.  As I said on Wednesday 'give me a better reason.'

I think I will leave this for now.  It is time to get some breakfast and do a few chores.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Good Morning.  We are expecting snow this afternoon and, according to the weather reports, can expect repeated snow 'events' at intervals of 24 to 48 hours into next week.  And the coldest temps of the season to date.  Sorry, Kay, it is coming your way.  It always does since you live east of me.  Wish I had better news.  Luckily, the pattern has so far left the days Mom and I normally go out or on which we have appointments clear of snow.  But we are definitely into our winter mode of looking ahead to see if we need to adjust our marketing day.

The Big Three are providing tantalizing bits and pieces of the plans they are presenting to Congress this week.  I had a thought as I listened to the news reports of what has come out so far.  I know that most of those who are pushing for the bailout insist that doing so will be far less costly in terms of economic activity and job loss than forcing these companies to reorganize through bankruptcy.  One of the numbers bandied about is 1.5 (give or take) million jobs lost as the effect of the bankruptcies ripples through the economy.  But as I listened to the plan Chrysler's CEO, I think it was, is proposing I have to ask if the jobs saved would really be worth the cost.  That company alone plans to eliminate something like 30,000 jobs.  It doesn't matter, I think, if they do it by out right lay-off or by attrition, and it doesn't matter if they do it in one year or three, because the end result is that there are fewer jobs available.  Period.  But then to complete the comparison we have to look at the fact that Chrysler will be producing fewer cars, requiring fewer supplies to make those cars and fewer dealers to sell and service the cars produced.  In the end we will still have a ripple effect that will eliminate economic activity and jobs.  How many?  If we lose 1 million jobs but save 500,000 at a cost of $34 billion, is that a wise use of the money?  And remember that money will have to be borrowed from somewhere.    There may be good reasons to bail out the automakers but saving jobs isn't one of them.  I would like someone to make sense here.

Robert Reich does make sense and gives a very good idea of why we have to very carefully think about what we, as a society, want for the $34 billion and whether it is attainable at that, or any price.  We have been seduced by the notion that 'if you build it they will come.'  To that I can only say, not necessarily.  Lets think about this from a small perspective.  In my household, both Mom and I have our own cars.  We bought them used.  We are, probably, never going to buy new cars.  Even if the automakers do make some fantastic new fuel efficient cars we won't be in the market.  She is retired and on a fixed income and I am unemployed.  We don't have the resources and aren't likely to gain them any time soon.  I am afraid there are many like us, so who is going to buy their products?  I doubt that sales of any new cars are going pick up any time soon.  So as above, forcing the automakers to make efficient new lines of cars in return for that $34 billion is not going to do what we want done.  Lets come up with better reasons or forget the whole thing.

I think you can file this little item under the 'if it quack, waddles, and looks like a duck, it sure ain't a swan' column.  When is a bonus not a bonus? Why, when it is a 'retention pay, ' of course.  Thanks to Chris In Paris at AmericaBlog for the link.  And, thank you AIG for screwing the American taxpayers yet again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Well, we are now officially in a recession.  More bloggers than I can link to are expressing an amazing lack of surprise.  Many of the comments are on the 'blue' side (meaning profanity.)  I read a couple of the articles on Market Watch and MSNBC yesterday detailing how NBER came up with the determination.  But it is a bit late.  Employment peaked in December 2007 they say.  My experience says they are exactly right.  I have seen very few jobs listed (no new ones for the last week.)  They say sales peaked in June and I say they would have tanked earlier if the Federal rebates had not been sent out. Did anyone else catch the excited gush from the news media about the Black Friday sales followed by the barely mentioned fact that sales for the other days of the first post-Thanksgiving weekend fell precipitously?  I have noticed that pattern for most of the economic news.  The good news, however tenuous and slight, is pounced upon and magnified while the more sobering news is mentioned, if at all, in passing.  The mainstream media seem to be buying into Phil Gramm's notion that the state of the economy is all in our heads and will be rectified by positive thinking.  

I watched part of Ben Bernanke's speech that was shown during a couple of the programs on CNBC yesterday.  I don't know where he was or what organization hosted him.  I was struck by one particular part.  He took exception, as someone who has spent a large part of his adult life studying the 1929 Crash and following events, to various comparisons between the Great Depression and today's economic conditions.  He said two factors make today's circumstances very different.  First, the Federal Reserve today is very active and is using all of its tools vigorously to combat the economic slowdown.  Second, there was no political will at the Federal level to intervene early in 1929 whereas there is the will to act today.  I will make two observation here.  First, economists, like generals, are always preparing for the last crisis as though that last economic downturn, or war, is exactly like the current one.  As the saying goes: history doesn't repeat, it rhymes.  Second, I am not encouraged by what has been done to date.  We have saved a couple of big companies but what has that done for us?  What we have applied are some very expensive band-aids to a problem that appears to me more like blood poisoning.

 Thank you, Janet at Gen+Plus, for an absolutely perfect description of the economy.  Mom and I laughed all the way through nodding our heads.

I am always fascinated how one thing often leads to another.  Earlier in the fall, as gardening season wound down, Mom and I were looking at a whole bunch of those plastic tubs margarine, cream cheese, and cottage cheese come in and wondering what to do with them.  We hate throwing anything useful in the garbage.  Since our town does not really encourage us to recycle (because we live in a rental unit we would have to pay a considerable monthly fee), we are forced to throw away things we would normally recycle.  We decided to keep these tubs for planting seedlings next year.  I figure I can start the seeds in the styrofoam egg cartons, suitably modified with drain holes, and then transplant the strongest seedlings into the progressively larger containers until it is safe to plant in our containers outside.  However, we don't really like getting the tubs in the first place.  Last week, Mom picked up the sale flyer at the grocery store (we got there just before the supply ran out) and saw that cream cheese was on sale for $.68/package.  Since that was a quarter the price of the cream cheese in the tub we were going to get we decided to get the sale package.  I simply let the brick soften, transfered it to one of the containers we already had and then scooped out what remained in the nearly used container and added it to the rest.  This week we decided to check out what the normal price is and the brick is one-half to one-third the cost of the tub.  Needless to say, we won't be getting cream cheese in tubs anymore.

From there we started wondering about margarine.  Mom still has her heavy glass butter dish that holds a full pound of margarine.  We checked out the prices on the stick vs the tubs and found that the difference for 3 pound tubs vs. 3 pounds in the stick is about $.50.  Why should we pay for a tub we really don't want any way.  When I was a kid all we had was the stick margarine.  I know that if you try to use it straight out of the fridge it can tear the bread.  But we don't eat that tasteless, white bread and if we leave the butter dish on the counter for about half an hour it softens up in time for dinner.  Hey, guess what?  We won't be accumulating those tubs any more.

Some time ago we started buying the larger supply of hand soap and refilling the pump bottles.  As I was refilling the small containers a couple of days ago, I looked at the large bottle and thought that I could use it as an automatic waterer for our containers next spring.  All I have to do is break off the upper cap, leaving the lower cap with the hole in it and make a hole big enough to add water from the other end.  I don't know how it will work but we will give it a try.

I find it interesting how often we get into patterns of doing things until something comes along to change a small part of the pattern.  And from there the changes flow.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hello, All,

Hope everyone had a nice holiday.  We did.  Dinner with my nephew and his family.  His mother, my sister, unfortunately was laid up with a migraine and couldn't come.  But we talked to her by phone and she is feeling better.

I always find it interesting when I find someone gives a name to things I do.  A couple of years ago I did a pair of quilts for a friend where I cut the figures I wanted from the fabric and put them into the quilt.  Then suddenly every quilt magazine on the stands touted the 'fussy cut' techniques.  I have lately been engaged in cutting the plastic shopping bags into strips and joining the strips so I can crochet them into something else.  Today, on the 'crochet' google search, I found a site that gives a name to the result.  'Plarn,' I assume, conjoins yarn and plastic.   Recycle Cindy has a nice pattern for a tote with a couple of very interesting suggestions I will have to remember when I start using my plarn.

There isn't much else going on that I want to comment on so I will make this post a short one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Good Morning, All,

I have an interesting little entry from Media Matters' Eric Boehlert this morning that can be filed in the 'figures don't lie but liars sure know how to figure' column.  We have heard the often repeated charge of how overpaid auto workers are.  It doesn't matter much if the figure is '$70/hour,' or '$73/hour,' or even 'tending toward $80/hour.'  It sounds like a hell of a lot, especially compared to the supposed $43 per hour or so Toyota allegedly pays its assembly line workers.  That is what it looks like when the news puts up pictures of the guys in work dungarees and boots while talking about the cost of producing cars.  The articles imply that the guys on the line are pocketing the $70 per hour in base pay and benefits. Here is Boehlert's explanation:

"What that $70 figure (or $73) actually represents is what it costs GM in total labor expenses, on an hourly basis, to manufacture autos.

Do you see that there's a big distinction? General Motors doles out $70 an hour in overall labor costs to manufacture cars. But individual employees don't get paid $70 an hour to make cars. (The discrepancy between costs and wages is explained by additional benefits, pension fees, and health-care costs GM pays out to current and retired employees.)

Simply put, GM's labor costs are not synonymous with hourly wages earned by UAW employees. Many in the press have casually used the two interchangeably. But they're not.

Felix Salmon at Portfolio did perhaps the best job explaining the misinformation at play:

The average GM assembly-line worker makes about $28 per hour in wages, and I can assure you that GM is not paying $42 an hour in health insurance and pension plan contributions. Rather, the $70 per hour figure (or $73 an hour, or whatever) is a ridiculous number obtained by adding up GM's total labor, health, and pension costs, and then dividing by the total number of hours worked. In other words, it includes all the healthcare and retirement costs of retired workers. [emphasis in original]"

As Boehlert sums it up, the calculation is misleading and dishonest.  

One of my google searches is for blogs by crocheters and this morning I found this really nice little blog with a very intriguing idea.  Take a look at how she transformed a very nice top (cost $3 at a thrift store) that was too small into a totally new top.  I don't have anything to play with right now but will think about it for later.  


Marian at Elderwomanblog has a good post this morning.  She cites an author who, some years ago, described the current global economy as suicidal.  Her comments resonate especially since I have just finished 'Confessions of an Eco-Sinner' by Fred Pearce.  He tried to trace the source of all his stuff.  It is an interesting journey.  Even though third world workers often enjoy the best standard of living in recent memory supplying western consumers insatiable demand for more of what ever, they have done so at the expense of family and other community ties, their own health, and the environment (their own and other peoples.)  And, a Marian notes, 'the race to the bottom,'  as Pearce calls it, takes us to the bottom as well.  Our workers earn less, our industries leave (or pressure law makers to reduce environmental, labor, health and safety, and other protective regulations), small business disappears.  


I think I will leave this for the day.  See you all next time.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good Morning, Good Morning,

I found this Newsweek item on a link on the MSNBC website.  On the one hand we have the crisis of patients who desperately need medical care that often bankrupts them even if they have insurance and on the other we have hospitals whose continued existence depends upon getting paid and doing everything they can to collect.  However, this little paragraph caught my eye.  I was struck by the emphasis on credit and collection agencies.  I was also struck by something the article said was legal but, to my mind, smacks of fraud.  I have highlighted it in red.  

"With their own solvency at stake, hospitals are doing everything in their power to collect on unpaid bills. That, according to the Boston-based advocacy group the National Consumer Law Center, can mean suing patients and their spouses, failing to explain charity care options, offering credit or loans and using collection agencies and the threat of bad credit to coerce patients into settling up. A number of big banks now offer credit cards exclusively for medical procedures—and a growing number of hospitals have started checking patients' credit scores while they sit in the waiting room."

Here is another snippet that disturbs me:

"The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows medical providers to report medical debts to credit reporting agencies but forbids them from indicating what treatments were involved. But rather than report delinquent accounts to credit agencies outright, hospitals often send them—or, ever more frequently, sell them—to outside collection agencies, which are more than happy to do the dirty work for them. That means threatening phone calls, lawsuits—and, in some states, agencies even going after spouses or grown children. (According to a 2003 Federal Reserve study, 52 percent of collection records that appear on credit reports are related to medical debt."

Why should I be disturbed by this?  Well, for one thing, in a time when medical costs have skyrocketed, where is the check on costs?  Hospitals can charge anything they want and then sell the debt, for a fraction of its book value, to someone else.  And if they are selling it for less than their true costs, I would be very surprised.  So they get paid and the collection agency, if it collects anything at all, also gets paid.  The only one who gets shafted is the patient.  This also ties into an interesting segment 60 Minutes, I think it was, aired about a year ago.  The report detailed how insurance companies were charged half or less than patients without insurance.  Actually, that would be illegal.  What they did was give the insurance companies 'rebates.'  

And this use of credit reports should also be illegal:

"But while the credit checks are legal, they're not always welcome. Many advocates worry they could impact the quality of care—or worse, they say they've heard cases where providers have coerced patients to use available lines of credit they can see from the reports."

It may sound like I am down on hospitals but I recognize that they are in desperate straights also.  And the reason is no more of their making, totally, than it is the fault of patients, entirely.  The following sums up the situation quite well:

"Hospital administrators say they've been forced to undertake such steps in part because of the growing cost of caring for so many uninsured Americans—now numbering almost 46 million, according to Census Bureau figures released in August. But it's also the fact that those who do have employer-backed health care—more than half of all Americans—are paying more and getting less. Annual health-insurance premiums for families now average $12,680, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation—more than double the amount in 1999. Of that, families contribute about a quarter out of pocket, not including copays and deductibles."

Many of these facts came out in the election.  Although I am not an Illinois resident, I get the news from Illinois because I live just across the border from Chicago in Indiana.  I cheered this year when one of the candidates, a Republican, lost big.  His opponent ran a very effective ad which showed him saying that everyone had health care.  All people had to do was go to the emergency room and they could get medical care.  Some years ago, another Republican candidate, for Governor, lost in part because she said that anyone who made more than $40,000 per year could afford to pay for their own health insurance.  Really?  How many of you can afford to pay more than 10% of your income (25% of $12,680) and then pay the copays and deductibles as well.  And what if your employer isn't paying any part of the insurance tab?  How about paying one-fourth of your income?      

Monday, November 24, 2008

Good Morning, again.  They say we will have rain this morning.  I guess we should be glad since those a few miles north will be getting 1 to 2 inches of snow.  We are now in the time of the year when 40s feels like a heat wave.

Hey, hey, Kay (at Kay's Thinking Cap).  I hear your Buckeyes won!!  Hope the rest of your Saturday went as well.

As I said last time, I am getting back to a more varied blog hopping now that the election is over.  I found this with my morning google searches.  For those who crochet and who, like me, hate wasting anything these little coasters using no-longer-useable CDs sounds really great.  But, I thought, why limit the stiffener to CDs?  I can think of a range of plastics that might do the job also.  Have to try it out.

It is interesting how often such ideas come to me.  Mom and I were watching TV yesterday and saw an ad for wash cloth pouch that was interesting.  You slip a bar of soap into it and then use it like a loofa or such scrubber.  It has a draw string on one end and a loop on the other so you can use it like some of the back scrubbers I have seen.  They hawked the things for about $8 or they would send out a special three-pack for about $15.  I thought 'what a wonderful way to use pieces of old towels.  And for a lot less that $8.  Another thing I will have to try out.  It goes rather well here because we have started going back to bar soap.  It lasts longer and does the job better.

June Calendar at Big 70 & More recalls William Saffir's term 'frugalista.'  I had not heard it before but it is a perfect description.  I am glad there is a name for me.  I recently reorganized my sewing section.  I have my fabric organized into boxes for the very big pieces (old sheets, etc.), the large (2 or 3 yards), medium (fat quarters 1 yard pieces), small (less than 10 inches), very small (just large enough to sew into something).  I even have a coffee can in which I put scraps too small to sew.  I figure they can be used to stuff some small thing like a pin cushion or sachet.  When good fabric costs between $4 and $10 per yard it seems a shame to throw anything out.

I would say that the Big Three automakers have a major problem.  Visiting the site this morning I saw the results of one of their latest polls.  They asked readers if they supported the bailout loans without conditions, with conditions or not at all.  The 'not at all' option won by a landslide--67% to 31% (OK, with conditions) to 3% (OK, without conditions).  As I said before, I find the whole idea of the bailouts unpalatable.  But I also think we are between a hammer and an anvil here.  There are no good solutions when companies get too big to fail.

Here is an interesting post from TPM Cafe.  Steve Clemons provides some more ammunition for those who are opposed to the auto and Citi bailouts.  We, as tax payers, are supposed to bail out companies whose interests do not intersect with ours.  I have observed for a very long time now that American multi-national firms are usually American in name only.  They have no real nationality, no firm local ties and no loyalty to any nation, city, or locality.  We used to say, with more than a tinge of wry humor, 'what's good for General Motors is good for the USA.'  It used to be somewhat true.  It hasn't been for a very long time.  What's good for General Motors is good for General Motors.  End of Report.  Only big question here is how do we encourage multi-nationals to realign their interests and with whom?