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?  

Saturday, November 22, 2008

For the last few months it seems that my attention has been focused on the election and the economy.  I couldn't do much about either except fume, comment and vote (and urge others to vote, if not fume and comment.)  I feel like I have been decompressing for the last nearly two weeks.  I have also visited some web sites I had neglected for much of this year.

Yesterday, after I finished posting here, I read an interesting post on Grist that linked to a Wall Street Journal article.  To find their link you have to go into their 'more news' listing.  Here is the link to the article directly.  Power companies, it seems, are concerned over a sharp drop in electric usage especially by residential users.  They have all based their business models and projections on a sustained rise of 1-2% per year.  However, this year has seen a drop in most markets across the country.  I am not surprised and I hope the drop is due to a new sense of frugality that will be sustained beyond the current economic travail.  Again, I feel somewhat like the canary in another coal mine.  We have never been profligate with our energy usage.  We aren't comfortable when the air conditioning is set so low that our house feels like refrigerator or the furnace is set so high it feels like an oven.  Last year we set our temperatures to 70 in the winter and 85 in the summer.  This winter we reduced the temperature to 68.  And we are still quite comfortable.  Over the last couple of years we have also become more conscientious about turning off lights when we leave rooms and have installed power strips that we can turn off to reduce the electricity our appliances use when we aren't using them.  We unplug other appliances.  In spite of the ups and downs in the prices our power companies charge for gas and electricity, our bills have remained the same or declined.  Our landlord has also helped.  Over the time we have lived here, some nine years,  they have put new siding and insulation on our building, new tighter-fitting doors, new efficient air conditioners and furnaces into all the apartments.  When we needed replacement appliances the new ones have been much more efficient and they recently installed new low flow, energy saving faucets the electric company provided.  Perhaps, large parts of the population are catching up with us.  (What we find truly amazing in all of this is our landlords have not raised our rents in all the time we have been here.  Knock on wood.)

Sunday, 12/23
A few days ago Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By noted a study showing deep dissatisfaction among the nation's primary care physicians.  Today CNN picked up on that story and interviewed on official with one of the industry associations.  He made an interesting point.  We already have a shortage of primary care doctors in this country and the problem will only get worse.  Doctors are leaving the field in larger numbers than their replacements are coming into it.  And the problem will become more critical if any of the plans for expanding health care programs go into effect.  That will simply increase demand with no increase in supply.

I recently noted how much I hate our twice-yearly time changes.  I have seen several bloggers echo my own complaints.  For many years, Mom and I shook our heads and wondered if the time changes really did save the energy that the proponents claimed.  It simply did not make sense to us.  It has made even less as we have moved into a 24/7/365 world.  I did see one blogger last year who like the change because her children did not have to wait in pitch darkness for the school bus.  I think that could be remedied if the schools simply started one hour later rather than make everyone shift their clocks back.  Thanks to Ronni (again) for a link to a New York Times op-ed piece that details a study done in my state of Indiana. It supports the conclusion my body and mind came to years ago:  the time shift costs more than it saves.  Once upon a time, when people consumed most of their residential energy through lighting and before central air and heating became ubiquitous, the practice did save energy.  But the times have changed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Good Morning, All.  Well the snow was light, the wind high, and the temperatures cold.  How cold?  It was a 'three cat night.'  I had all three of my furry monsters in bed with me last night.  Anybody remember the Aussie band 'Three Dog Night?'  For those who do, I remember an article way, way back describing the origin of their name.  The author quoted one band member as saying that the Aborigines described how cold the nights were by the number of dogs they curled up with.  A 'three dog night' was very cold.  It may be an apocryphal story but it sounds good.  I don't have dogs and my cats do as they darned well please.  It was evidently cold enough that they decided to join their human for warmth.  We set our thermostat at 68 degrees but some areas can get a little colder.  We go for average comfort.

Morford has an interesting essay on his SFGate post today.  It touched a cord because his conclusions (and those of the unnamed economist he references) parallels my own experience. Most people, including me, have no business buying a home.  But home ownership is such a touchstone of the 'American Dream' as it is marketed to the masses.  I remember a Captain America story from the sometime in the eighties (I think) during one of the recurring phases when the Captain was going through a period of disillusionment with America as it had become.  Using  the computer Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) had given him, he did a search for the term 'American Dream.'  He grumbled that almost all of the hits were for real estate brokers and developments.  

Morford also touches a nerve in describing how unsatisfying home ownership can be.  My late ex-husband and I bought ours in Colorado back in the mid eighties.  We were lucky in some ways.  As veterans we went through the VA and the mortgage was standard 30 year with a low fixed interest rate.  Even so, we were house poor from the beginning.  L-ex-H  had a couple of expensive hobbies and he quickly found he couldn't pursue them.  I quickly found out (again) that his promises were just about worthless.  The projects he eagerly started he soon left half done and the chores he equally eagerly agreed to were also left for someone else, usually me.  Even necessary maintenance was neglected because we had so little cash left.  I could go on but it isn't necessary.  I think you get the picture.  What did I learn from the experience?  Unless I was in a good financial situation where I could afford to maintain the house properly and could save a contingency fund to cover emergencies, I would be far happier renting.  

I was also amazed by how much I did not know, and did not even know I did not know, about the financing and maintenance of a home before I got into it.  I feel sorry for all the first time home buyers lured by mortgages slightly lower than their rent payments.  No one mentions the insurance, taxes, or increased utilities.  The nearly eight years we were in that house also knocked some of the optimism out of my personality.  We had assumed that we would be better off (pay raises, better jobs, whatever) at the end.  We were not.  The only good thing about the experience was entirely beyond our control.  We were able to sell fairly quickly at a time when housing prices were rising rapidly.  As a result, homeownership fell off my list of what constitutes the good life for me.

Morford's  conclusion is right on target:

"But it's certainly worth reconsidering. It's worth pondering that, in this time of tremendous upheaval and mandatory change, maybe we've been thinking about our identity, about the required ingredients for the American Dream, all wrong. And maybe owning a home, right along with buying an American car, is one of the great myths that's overdue for a revolution."

I don't know about anyone else but I loved Nancy Pelosi's sound bite at the news conference concerning the non-deal for the automakers' bailout loan.  "If they can't show us the plan, we can't show them the money."  I can't believe these 'businessmen' could go into those hearings, which were essentially a loan application meeting with their 'bankers,' with no coherent business plan to present.  If that had been you or me, the banker would have shown us the door with his boot.  Unbelievable arrogance!!  It looks, to me, as though they thought all they had to do was threaten a couple million jobs and the legislators would cave in.  When it comes to bailing out the auto industry, I am of a very divided mind.  A year and a half ago, four of my relatives worked in jobs supplying the industry directly.  Today that is down to two, maybe three if the new job one relative landed involves production for autos.  One has had three jobs in the last eight months and another has had extensive periods of layoff.  The 'collateral damage' is going to be tremendous.

It is time for breakfast so I will close down for now. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Good Morning.

That lake effect snow squall from Monday into Tuesday left us with 10 inches; the most for anywhere in this area.  We are expecting more tonight and into tomorrow but it appears that the bull's eye has moved somewhat to the east leaving us on the fringe.  I hope.

It looks as though I am not the only one shaking my head in wonder at the befuddled demeanor of our auto CEOs.  I wonder how they could have remained in business so long or the CEOs could be worth their inflated salaries when they could not even answer the question of how much they needed to stay afloat until the end of march.  Simple Living In Vegas asks the same question.  I know that a really tight answer to the question would be difficult given current conditions but I do think they could come up with a spread that is much more precise than 'substantial.'  On one of CNBC's afternoon programs yesterday (sorry but I don't remember which one) the anchor asked one of these clueless idiots if they would accept a bailout loan if one of the requirements was a total change in the top management (i.e. would they accept it the agreement put them on the unemployment line.)  He managed a non-answer.

Simple Living makes another observation that holds for both the auto makers and the execs at AIG (and other financial firms.)  The small stuff matters.  The almost half a million dollars spent by AIG for their business 'retreats' or whatever they called them after they received their bailouts may seem like small change compared with the billions they received, but not to main street America.  The same goes for the cost of running company jets.  These guys desperately need a good PR coach.  They should remember where the 'let them eat cake' attitude got Marie Antoinette

It seems that the health insurance industry is concerned that the incoming Obama administration may be able to put some serious health insurance legislation on the books.  Archcrone at The Crone Speaks links to a New York Times article outlining the proposal the two largest trade associations are pitching.  They will agree to accept all applicants regardless of pre-existing conditions and other factors if everyone is legally required to carry insurance.  I have the same problem she has with their proposal and it is the same one I had with John McCain's plan to give a tax credit to those who buy their own insurance.  I can't afford it.  I have NEVER been able to afford health coverage during my entire working life.  If I remember the statistics correctly the average coverage for a family of four was $12,500.  The average income in this country is around $45,000.  That is one quarter of the average gross income for health insurance.  I have never earned more than $20,000 per year.  The tax credit would only cover part of the cost and only after the tax payer had already shelled out the full cost.  That is the way a tax credit works.

This whole mess reminds me of an incident about twenty five years ago.  My then Mother's-in-law health worsened to the point where she needed constant care.  For a brief while she lived with her grandson (her brother's boy.)  But the arrangement strained his marriage and his finances.  The last time she was hospitalized they refused to take her back.  They simply could not take her back.  She spent about three months in the hospital while a Social Worker tried to find an affordable nursing home.  That Social Worker called my husband repeatedly (and usually talked to me) during that time with various plans to get us to pick up the tab.  Mother-in-law had loaned us the money to put a down payment on our house.  (I say 'loaned' but the situation was far murkier and emotionally traumatic.)  'Sell the house,' she said.  We told her that the housing market was tight and we could not sell at a price that would pay Mother-in-law back fully.  (Social Worker wasn't very pleased when I noted that even if we could sell and get the full amount of the loan the proceeds would only last 6-8 months at the prices she was quoting us for the nursing home.)  Finally, Social Worker suggested a 'modest priced' nursing home that would provide at least the minimum care Mother-in-law needed and ONLY cost $1500-$2000 per month.  I laughed hysterically while the affronted Social Worker indignantly asked what I found so funny.  I told her that the amount she quoted exceeded our ENTIRE monthly income: Husband's Navy retirement, Husband's full time job (as an assistant manager in a retail store), and my full time job.  That is the kind of position working people find themselves in.

Archcrone has another link that may also help explain part of the insurance trade associations' about face on the coverage issue.  Patients aren't the only ones dissatisfied with the insurance companies.  Doctors are also.  Some 49% of primary care physicians replied on a recent survey that they would like to leave medicine because of the amount of time they have to spend on the red tape involved in dealing with insurance companies and government agencies.  If the insurance companies get mandated universal coverage the doctors would have no choice.  Concierge doctors who refuse, at present, to take any insurance and the 'opportunistic' patients who would only buy insurance when they needed it would both be forced into a system that only benefits the insurance companies.

I think I will leave this post now.  I have a repair job to do on my sewing machine.  Evidently the wires in the power cord broke and the connection is tenuous.  Luckily I was able to eke out enough connection time to repair my winter jacket.  And luckily the plug is easily replaced.  I was afraid that the machine itself was going.  I was very relieved that it was only the plug.  I can't afford to have the machine fixed or replaced.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Good Morning, from snowy northern Indiana.  We were hit over night (continuing till noon) with lake effect snow coming down off Lake Michigan.  Evidently someone up there painted a bull's eye on us.  The best part--I don't have to go out in it.

I just finished reading Ronni's post at Time Goes By this morning.  I totally agree with her--trust(?), confidence(?), in the economy and those who run it??? NO WAY.  You don't hire the doctor who broke your leg to set it.  You don't hire the cook who served you tainted food to cater your kid's birthday party.  But our government has asked us to trust a Treasury Secretary from Goldman Sachs???  What I wrote in an earlier post about President Bush ('he won't suffer') goes equally well for the Princes of the Universe who have driven the car off the cliff.  They will exit the scene (probably temporarily) with their salaries, bonuses, and golden parachutes in place.  And I see another problem.  Right now we have two competing world views fighting for control of our political economy.  One says that all we have to do is get out of the way and let the market work.  We can't burden the economy with regulations because that will stifle competition and innovation, the economy won't grow, and everyone will suffer.  The other says that we need prudent regulation and transparency in our economy.  Unfortunately, the difference is more one of degree than substance.  Each depends on the good will, self-discipline and ethics of the participants, especially at the top.  I have seen very little of that.  They suffer no great consequences from bad decisions while those consequences fall disproportionately on those who have no power to influence the decisions.  As many bloggers and critics have noted: the profits have been privatized while the losses have been nationalized.  Capitalism only works if those who are making the decisions and taking the risks have, as the saying goes, a dog in the fight.  That the top officers of our major companies do not have.  

I think I will leave this for now.  The recent snow forced me to take out my winter jacket and I have to spend some time repairing it.  I could have done this sooner but the snow forced the spirit to move me to get it done.  

Friday, November 14, 2008

Good Morning, all.  As I noted on my last post I suddenly found myself with a time sensitive project.  I thought I had three weeks to leisurely finish the quilt I was making for my sister's 50th birthday but suddenly had only four days.  Here it is.  I call it 'My Sister's Garden.'  I had the major portion done including the trailing vine.  All I had to do was make the soft sculpture butterflies and flowers and add them along with the little gold leaves.  Here is a close up.  It turned out rather well and made a splash at the party last Sunday.  

I spent most of the last four days cleaning up part of the sewing section of our computer/sewing room.  I finished six quilts in the last two years and the space was a cluttered mess.  I have most of it in a much better condition now and a better idea of what I have and where it is.  Mom and I joke that we clean when the 'spirit moves and thankfully it doesn't move very often.'  Now I will get on to other things.

Thanks to Kay at Kay's Thinking Cap, I am trying out the 'Following' feature and filling in those I visit daily.  New features intrigue me.  We'll see what happens.  By the way Kay has a great groaner today.  Check it out.  

Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By has a new post dealing with the various incarnation of the bailout.  Yes, I still refer to it as a bailout.  I am glad to see I am not the only old crone on the Cynical Express.  I have had the sinking feeling for some time that all the funny money Paulson and Bernanke are throwing at the mess will only make the final chapters of this sorry mess more painful.  As Ronni noted none of the measures taken so far address the problem of consumers in a consumer driven economy who can no longer consume in the heroic proportions of the near past.  Worse, we don't even ask the more basic question: should we base our economy on consumption almost entirely?  If not, how can we restructure it?  Just this morning the news listed new mega-layoffs.  That merely means tens of thousands more consumers entering the ranks of non-consumers.

I will make one last observation before hanging it up for today.  As I listened to the comments on the economy that floated through the air at my sister's birthday party I found many people as unhappy with the current and potential targeting of economic resources as I am.  Several people were unmoved by the media's focus on the potential damage to the economy if one or more of the Big Three automakers went down.  The major question commentators had was: why reward monumental stupidity?  The same goes for the financial companies.  More than one person noted that AIG, not once but twice, hosted meetings at luxurious resorts after receiving, not one but two, and asking for a third, infusion of money from the government.  I am afraid that the latest excuse, that most of the cost was paid by corporate contributors, fell on deaf ears. 

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I, for one, am glad the election is over and pleased with the result.  It didn't produce everything I had hoped for.  However, some of what I hoped for was totally out of character for me.  I have always believed that a split government is best.  Then each party provides a balance for the most extreme tendencies of the other.  I really can't say that what we have had over the last two years is truly a split government.  I don't know what is going to happen but I hope that the election moved the legislative branch somewhat more towards the middle of the political spectrum.

McCain's concession speech was the most gracious and generous he has made during the entire two years of this interminable campaign.  I wonder what the race would have been like if he had been that gracious and generous throughout.  But then he lost me on other factors.  The war in Iraq is one example.  I agree with Obama's position:  the war was a mistake from the beginning and we should never have engaged in it.  It doesn't matter that the surge "worked" (that is in quotation marks because whether it worked depends on you definition of what was to be gained.)  Now we have to have someone clean up the mess.  Another example: the economy.  I am cynically amused when I listen to the economic 'experts.'  The most frequent questions we have asked in our household have been 'how far can we take losing good paying jobs with benefits while gaining poor paying jobs without benefits' and 'how long can the consumer keep consuming when he has lost his good paying job, his house no longer has equity to tap, and his credit cards are tapped out.'  Those are not questions I have heard echoed in either the political or the financial reporting.  McCain told us the 'fundamentals of the economy are strong' when it was becoming apparent that the fundamentals had crumbled and his primary economic advisor, Phil Gramm, called us 'a nation of whiners' when we finally said 'ouch.'

What I have liked most about Obama has been his thoughtful listening and his measured responses.  He did not blame the Bush Administration or the Republican Party alone for our economic troubles.  He noted more than once that they grew over at least the last forty years.  He also noted that it will take time to get us out of them.  He also noted, and I hope people listened, that government cannot solve all our problems.  I have listened to the comparisons the news media (and some ordinary people) are making: JFK, FDR, Lincoln.  I certainly hope not.  Same stature but very different, I hope, because we are not the America of the 1960s, the 1930, or the 1860s.

For the first time in a very long time I am hopefully optimistic.  For once in a very long time the problems I think are crucial may get some serious attention: environment and pollution, health care, jobs, etc.  How can we address problems if our governmental leaders don't acknowledge a problem or decide that the problem is entirely one of individual failing or decide that addressing the problem will hit their constituencies too hard?  That is what we have had for the last eight years.  Rain at Rainy Day Thoughts sums up much of my feelings and thoughts.  The election results made it obvious that most Americans want a change of direction.  But societies built up inertia and changing direction will always be difficult.  That is a point that June Calendar makes very well.  She is older than I but we both have seen fantastic changes in our life times.  Change is never easy to assimilate and there are always those who want to turn the clock back.  

I think I am going to quit here.  This ramble feels a bit like my thoughts--jumbled.  I need to move on to other things now.  My time table for finishing the quilt for my sister's 50th birthday was suddenly moved up.  Instead of three weeks I have only four more days.  See you next time.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Good Morning on this day before the election.  The weather here is taking its cue from the campaigns and heating up.  We are supposed to be in the 70s for most of this week before crashing into the 30s for the weekend.  That is between 15 and 20 degrees warmer than is normal for early November.

As usual I am running through my favorite bloggers and google alerts.  I just finished the new tomdispatch and Tom Englehardt provides a very lucid piece on the 'legacy' of George W. Bush.  I think the following is the best summation of what has happened to us over the last almost eight years and what will happen to the Shrub: 

"The bubble world of George W. Bush was bound to be burst. Based on fantasies, false promises, lies, and bait-and-switch tactics, it was destined for foreclosure. At home and abroad, after all, it had been created using the equivalent of subprime mortgages and the result, unsurprisingly, was a dismally subprime administration.

Now, of course, the bill collector is at the door and the property -- the USA -- is worth a good deal less than on November 4, 2000. George W. Bush is a discredited president; his job approval ratings could hardly be lower; his bubble world gone bust.

Nonetheless, let's remember one other theme of his previous life. Whatever his failures, Bush always walked away from disastrous dealings enriched, while others were left holding the bag. Don't imagine for a second that the equivalent isn't about to repeat itself. He will leave a country functionally under the gun of foreclosure, a world far more aflame and dangerous than the one he faced on entering the Oval Office. But he won't suffer."

I think the key phrase is the last one: HE WON'T SUFFER.  Living proof that life isn't fair.

Over the last month I have watched the frenzy over the stock market and the panic over the credit freeze with some bemusement.  I haven't thought much of the resulting bail-outs and 'rescues' because they don't address what I think is the core problem in our economy.  We have been losing good jobs at an increasing rate since the turn of the millennium.  Oh, I know that Shrubs' spokespeople extolled the number of jobs the economy produced in the early years.  Haven't heard much bragging in the last couple of years, however, as job loss exceeded job creation.  But all along, I have looked at the numbers and noticed that the high paying manufacturing jobs left to be replaced by low paying service jobs.  Finally someone has connected the dots.  Take a look at Deleware Watch's post today.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Good Morning.  Hope the time change hasn't left everyone groggy and disgruntled.  I have never adjusted well to it, fall back or spring forward.  Nor do my cats who, needless to say, cannot be as easily reset as the clocks.  I wish the powers that be would leave the clocks at either setting and LEAVE IT ALONE.  Oh, well.

I find that my interest is already shifting away from the campaigns, which have gone on WAY TOO LONG.  I do have my preference and will vote it on Tuesday.  No, I haven't gone out to do the early voting thing.  I have no pressing time commitments so it doesn't matter if I stand in line early or on the traditionally designated day.  I also don't have any exalted hopes for whichever candidate gets to become the next President.  For a good exposition of why I am not bubbling with enthusiasm go to this site.  For me, the choice has always been between a failed set of policies and assumptions we have been following for more than the eight years of Shrubya's reign and the possibility of constructive change.  Political and social systems build up a lot of inertia and overcoming that is always a challenge.

Unfortunately we have two and a half months of the Shrub's term left.  Given the past behavior of the Administration 'of the well heeled and for the well heeled,' I think we can expect a full steam ahead effort to do as much as possible to secure their ill gotten gains and extend them.  More efforts to redefine abortion as anything that acts at any time after fertilization (as noted in earlier posts.)  And more like this article in the Nation, found by way of PureLandMountain.  I think the term 'swindle' is a bit mild for the whole thing.  More rigorous capitalism with moral hazard for ordinary people coupled with socialism without moral hazard for our  financial and political demigods.  Even a British paper has taken notice

 "Each of the firm's 443 partners is on course to pocket an average Christmas bonus of more than £3million."

By the way, notice that the partners they are talking about are at Goldman Sachs.  The same company Treasury Secretary Paulson used to work for.  Perhaps he still does because he certainly isn't working for us.

For another take on the bail-out swindle read Saul Friedman's new 'Gray Matters' post (by way of Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By.)  We are already at the point where both Presidential candidates acknowledge that the financial crisis will force them to trim their economic proposals.  I shudder to think what McCain's 'across the board' freeze will mean.  A worse scenario would be Palin's notion of cutting all programs she thinks are not absolutely necessary.  Necessary to whom?  An across the board freeze of Social Security and Medicare when the baby boom is just starting to retire?  Where is my Christmas bonus?  Why do I keep getting the feeling that the notions of trickle down economics still rule and what is trickling down to me has been passed through someone else's kidney or bowel?

For a nice overview of the roots of the financial crisis look at Kevin Phillips 'The New Hooverites' on the Huffington Post (also thanks to links provided by Ronni.)  Phillips has written very well on politics and economics for the last thirty years.  If you have time for longer expositions of how we got to where we are, pick up 'American Theocracy' and 'Bad Money.'  I can't think of better indictments of the philosophical underpinnings of modern American capitalism and politics.

Well, it looks like we have some sunshine on this Sunday.  I have to get cleaned up, dressed, eat breakfast so I can go out for our walk.  See you next time.