Friday, July 31, 2009

Hello, again. My goodness, how this week and this month have flown. It seems like we just got finished with Christmas and New Years and now we are looking at Labor Day. The weather people have confirmed my suspicions--this is officially the coldest summer since 1942. Why do they specify 1942, you ask? That is when they moved the official weather station away from the lake front. The temperatures between the inland areas and the lake side areas can be 20 degrees or more. The gardening segment also confirmed my suspicions that the low temps have greatly delayed the tomatoes. Nothing has grown as well as I expected. I am just now getting ripe tomatoes and peppers. One pepper--on the MexiBelle. But the Chocolate Beauty is getting ready to flower and the Gypsy has a few peppers developing. Unfortunately the Poblano will produce only a few peppers. We will have to watch our farmer's markets for them and buy when they come in. I think we are harvesting about half of what we should have--if the weather had cooperated.

I found this little article in my google alerts. It is nothing really new. Senator Diane Feinstein of California has written to the Secretary of Agriculture asking for help in re-filling the state's food banks depleted by the increased demand (thanks to the economy) and the drought. What was interesting, on reflection, were my thoughts on it. Republicans, you see, are claiming that the water problems are entirely man-made. If certain people weren't so concerned about that damned inconsequential little smelt that they reduced water usage to maintain its' habitat, they would have no problem at all. I find it interesting how these guys parse their problems. Climate change cannot be caused by man because how could insignificant little us affect such a big atmosphere? But water problems are entirely our fault because we misplaced our priorities--all for a damned fish. The basic premise underlying both of these positions is the furtherance of man's rapacious, unsustainable, immediate and greedy exploitation of our world. I wonder how far up the food chain we would have to follow the effects of allowing the smelt to die out before we would discover a human activity that would be adversely affected? But these fellows cannot go beyond the smelt.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Good Morning, again, everyone. We are still in the midst of our cool, dry spell. Chances for rain aren't very good over the next week. The rain we have received has not been enough to let me dispense with the watering of our garden containers. I pulled the sugar pea plants yesterday. We won't be planting them next year. I think I have already said this. We would need much more space for many more plants to make it worth while. And space is the limiting factor here. I transplanted some of the broccoli and brussels sprouts into that space. I found that I can prune the acorn squash vines back on the trellis and plant something else under them. I have seen more bees lately so I will see if they will pollinate my squash plants. I have several zucchini and acorn squash fruits coming out. The early tomatoes are bearing nicely. I hope the late ones pick things up a bit.

I found this article at MSNBC on my way to the e-mail this morning. It focuses on what has been hinted at but rarely explicitly mentioned in all of the stories on the mortgage mess: the loan providers are not willing to help most of the homeowners who need help. Why? Because they make a tidy amount in fees. Late fees alone can total 6% of the monthly mortgage payment. Then there are a long list of other fees they can apply as well. Another article I read earlier this week (sorry, I didn't keep the list) added a different twist. Among the pool of struggling homeowners, according to that author, the banks would willingly help only about one-third: those who were stable but could only could continue to pay only if the banks gave them a bread and renegotiated the mortgage to lower interest rates and/or longer term. The other two groups included those who might be able to meet the current payments but only with draconian sacrifice and those who were so totally under water no amount of reasonable re-negotiation could salvage their situation. So what ever help these guys will 'voluntarily' give is likely to be extremely little, extremely late and reach very few at-risk homeowners.

Right next to that article, I found this one (Reuters via MSNBC). It also got a brief mention on last night's news. A recent study that reviewed some 160+ studies published over the past years 'proves' that organic foods are no more healthy than foods produced by usual commercial methods. My first question--define healthy. Commercially produced foods have residual pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. There is not way to get rid of these chemicals. They are taken up by the roots and remain in the plant. We are told they are safe but I trust those claims about as much as I do this study. My second question--what about the environmental effects of agricultural chemicals. Those chemicals stay in the environment long after they have been applied; in the soil, the air and the water. We already have 'dead' zones at the mouths of rivers around the world because of the agricultural (and other chemicals) that have been and are being dumped into the water. The cost-benefit analysis of organic foods goes well beyond the nutrients they deliver and whether those nutrients are also in commercially produced in the same amounts. Those considerations are not reflected in this study at all.

Continuing the theme of debt relief (or not) started in the second paragraph above, Robert Borosage at Huffington Post had some interesting comments on U.S.-China relations. He is absolutely right that the US press has been far more interested in Sarah Palin's resignation than anything of substance or importance. There was a brief sound bit that included the quote Borosage uses to set up his article. But no national news program featured any analysis of that speech. The ultimate irony in Borosage's description and analysis of the meetings is that both sides pay lip service to the need for change--on the other partner's part. Neither wants to make any change in their own behavior.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. There hasn't been much to say lately. The weather has been closer to seasonal with plenty of sun and intermittent showers. The garden has been doing nicely. The bees have finally shown up so I may be able to stop hand pollinating my squash plants and let them get on with their jobs. I finished the quilt top I showed you a few posts ago and have started another. I will get pictures up as soon as I get off my lazy butt and take some. It looks very interesting so far.

The news and the politics are boringly what they have been for a good while now. The Sotomayor nomination passed out of committee and the only real surprise was that not EVERY Republican voted against. The Blue Dog Democrats are holding health care reform hostage and again there are no real surprises. The bill that will come out, as of now, will have lost any possibility of a public option and will not likely require big business to fund employee health care. In other words--the status quo. The 47 million who don't have health insurance--thrown under the bus. But that is pretty well business as usual. If you look at the budget compromises that have passed in California and Illinois you see the same pattern. The compromises are achieved at the expense of those least able to bear the costs. But mean spiritedness has been a hallmark of modern American politics. Think of what Bush tried to do with Social Security 'reform.' He tried to convert the program into a welfare program for destitute old folks which a new effort could be launched to kill it entirely by whipping up a war between recipients on one side and the young and the rich on the other. It isn't much different with the budget battles.

This story hit the national news last night--without many details except, of course, the savings to New York City. It seems a kinder, gentler version of the old process of moving 'vagrants' out of the tourist and business districts so they won't bother the 'good' people. They just become a problem for someone else somewhere else. It is just a band-aid but I guess if we don't see what festers underneath we won't worry about gangrene.

I found a couple of very cute ideas for any of the crafty among you. Making really pretty pincushions out of found objects. Take a look at the pictures here, and here. And a big thanks to Craft Gossip for the links.

Another story that hit the national news last night and this morning, finally, is the Texas drought. It has been going on for two years and now is likely to have a serious impact on prices in the rest of the country. The losses are estimated at between $2 and $4 billion, depending on who you read. The weather forecasters expect that the rain will return in the fall but way too late for this season. Hope they are right and that they get enough to break the drought.

Rain at Rainy Day Thoughts has some appropriate thoughts concerning the 'compromise' on health reform I mentioned above. Sounds like we have been reading from the same hymnal.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hi, all. It is another nice morning. Just a bit cool which has not been at all unusual this year. The weather people this morning noted that in a normal summer we have something like 68 days of 80+ degree weather but have, so far, had only 28. If we keep on this way we will be way short of average. And it has been dry since the very wet spring that put this year on the record books as one of the wettest years.

Let's start off with a little piece I found in my e-mail from Lion Brand yarns. The lady who posted this is a dedicated knitter and a nice sense of humor. Enjoy.

As you may know John Aravosis has had some nasty run-ins with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. He has detailed some of it lately on Americablog. Today he provided a link to a post on the DailyKos concerning a law suit filed by a New Jersey hospital against the New Jersey Blue Cross/Blue Shield affiliate. If even a fraction of the allegations against the company are proven in court, it constitutes a very good argument for some kind of public plan for health insurance. I doubt it will get to court. These companies are very good at settling and then binding everyone's tongues with non-disclosure agreements. Kay mentioned in her comments yesterday that, though something needed to be done, she wasn't sure we should trust the government to do it. Given the recent past I understand her misgivings. Problem is--I don't trust the private insurance industry bureaucrats to do a better job. And they are getting a hell of a lot more money to do it. Health care should not be an industry where the concern for profit at any cost rules all considerations. Right now--it is.

Robert Reich has posted a piece on TPMCafe today that echoes thought that have gone through my mind as I watched the stock markets rocket upward over the last week. The most frequent refrain from the mouths of the talking heads has been how profits have been up providing somewhat better than expected reports from a wide array of companies. A couple have noted that these reports come after draconian cost cutting by those same companies. And fewer yet have noted that the costs cut come overwhelmingly from labor cuts. None have noted as Reich has that such profits are not sustainable. Why? Because the companies are not bringing in any new revenue. The earnings they are reporting are not due to the equation which shows steady or slightly reduced costs off setting increased revenue. They came because revenue has held steady or only slightly decline while costs have declined far more drastically. They only way this surprising increase in profits can continue is if they bring in more revenue (aka--sell more goods) and they won't do that until the purchaser start buying more. Tell me--who is going to increase their buying if they have no job, or if they feel their job is insecure, or if they have to take large cuts in their hours or wages in order to keep their jobs?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hello, again, everyone. Well, we are over the hump of the week. And as usual the time is going incredibly fast. We have only a little over a week before we get into August. As if we didn't know that the big box stores are already flooding the airwaves with ads for back-to-school sales and our local grocery store has a display of such goods in its main 'power' aisle. Damn, the time flies whether you are having fun or not.

I found this little article on MSNBC this morning. This illustrates my biggest bone of contention with modern society. The inability of our bureaucratic institutions, public or private, to treat individuals as individuals. The case involves a mother who breast fed her first child but who has to give her second child formula because she has had a double mastectomy in the intervening time. The IRS refuses to accept the cost of the formula as a medical expense because they consider the situation a matter of choice. Well, if this woman had choice she would be breast feeding but, because of a medical condition (aka, cancer) she no longer has that choice. What about women who simply don't produce enough milk? And I am sure there are other medical conditions that prevent women from breast feeding?

For another entry in the same category go to this site. Perhaps this provides a reason why it takes two years or more to get disability benefits. This is a system designed to create medical paupers.

John Aravosis has another entry in the 'why we desperately need a publicly funded health care system' or the 'private insurance has bureaucrats also' categories. If these shenanigans don't make you swear long and loud, you are brain dead.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Good Morning, everyone. It is a bit overcast today. They say we may get some small showers today but I am not betting on it. I will water my gardens later anyway. All of the plants I moved are adjusting nicely. The pole beans are flowering and I see a couple of fruit spikes growing. The sweet peas have more seed pods than flowers on the plants now--the first planting since the second has not yet flowered. I took the 3rd and 4th little tomatoes off of the 4th of july plant this morning. The other plants are flowering and fruiting nicely. I am a bit worried about the squash plants, though. We have seen only one bee so far this summer and squash require bees to pollinate them. I have begun to explore the possibility of hand pollinating them. Never had to do that before but I don't know were the bees are. And the yellow squash that has been blooming for two weeks now has not shown any indication of fruiting. Damn!!

Today John Aravosis continued his tale of 'An American in (the) Paris (socialized medicine system.)" I am astounded. I would not have expected that anyone could walk into an emergency eye clinic, be seen by a doctor within 20 minutes of arrival, diagnosed, and treated for a major retinal tear all in the same day and for about $170. Even if the wait to see the doctor had been the 2 hours the signs initially warned patients to expect or the 1 hour the receptionist thought likely, he still would have been finished with the initial treatment the same day. Can anyone tell me again what is so great about our 'capitalistic' system of medical (mal)treatment? What do we really get for all the money we spend except bloated insurance companies?

By the way John had an interesting earlier post that, I think, hits the nail on the head in explaining why health care reform is having such a tough slog. So far it has been a divide and conquer strategy for those who oppose the reforms. And it has been working. They paint the situation as one where the 'good' people who have worked so hard for what they have, have responsibly handled their affairs to that they can and do pay for health insurance, have jobs that pay for health insurance, manage their weight, don't smoke, don't drink and otherwise maintain a healthy lifestyle have to pay for the feckless b*****ds who don't do any of that. Has anyone else noticed the increasing number of 'news' segments that focus on the 'vices' that allegedly increase the cost of medical care or that focus on the growing number of employers that are using insurance costs as an excuse to force their employees (and in some cases, the employees' family members) to 'reform' their behavior or lose their jobs? This follows the same pattern I saw when Bush tried to 'reform' Social Security by remaking it into a welfare program for destitute elderly as a prelude to cutting it entirely. The opposing groups are dividing us and they will succeed in blocking any change.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Good Tuesday Morning to you all. It is nice and sunny and our temps are supposed to get closer to normal. I have some gardening to do. Yesterday I moved the lettuce seedlings to more appropriate places and started another dozen. I also moved two of the petunias so that the lavender and pole beans have more sun and room. Today I plan to move the violas to individual pots that can be placed in more sunny locations.

But for now, this headline from MSNBC could have referred to Illinois last week. No one wants to raise taxes in this environment so the formula has become 'cut social services+cut health care+cut education+defer (or simply not) pay some debts+borrow to the hilt=(temporarily) balanced budgets. I say 'temporarily' because I expect next year to follow the pattern of the last several years. Illinois has had a budget crisis every year since I returned to this area ten years ago. And I noticed that the news media did not make a big issue of the fact that the pols announcing the budget deal also indicated that some venders, many of those that provide state sponsored child care for the working poor, will not get paid at all. Does anyone remember the whole 'welfare to work' so-called 'reforms' that gained strength during the Reagan administration? Part of that included subsidized child care so that mothers on welfare could leave their kids for paying work. Now the programs that enabled that are on the chopping block. There was a quote from a Chinese source in the piece I directed you to yesterday to the effect that they 'could not afford' to concern themselves with equitable compensation and working conditions for their poor and/or working classes. We don't put the matter so baldly but I don't see much of a difference in the destination to which our actions are leading us. At least two states have indicated that we can't afford such concerns either.

On a---different(?)---note, take a look at this article that had both Mom and Me chuckling. It brought back memories of my childhood when, before some of the interstates opened, our family spent Dad's two week vacations with his folks. It took about 8 hours to travel between their homes and ours. We started off from home about midnight hoping to get there in time for breakfast and left for home just after breakfast hoping to get home in time to get some kind of supper before unloading the car and going to bed. Dad hated to stop for anything. Soooo, when any of us kids simply couldn't hold it any longer he pulled over to the side of the road where, hopefully the weeds or bushes were tall enough to provide a bit of privacy (more important for us girls than for the boys). Gas stations with public restrooms were not all that plentiful and rest stops were non-existent at the time. I wonder how many motorists will be forced 'back to the future.'

John Aravosis at Americablog relates the kind of tale that makes one want to swear repeatedly and loudly. He also makes the comment that has been echoing in my mind as I listen to the inane and asinine comments I have been hearing in the various debates on health care reform. All of the idiots in the anti-reform camp rely on a very few totally-ridiculous arguments that anyone with an ounce of common sense could refute. One of those arguments is that, if the reform programs go through, we will have bureaucrats inserting themselves between the patients and the doctors. Now, the last I saw the definition of 'bureaucrat' did not restrict this creature to government agencies. And, as John's story makes clear, the insurance companies have their own sub-species of bureaucrat that is already inserting themselves into the health care equation between doctor and patient. I agree with John. There is NO functional difference between the two. They simply occupy different 'habitats.'

Last night I saw something else on the news that leads me to question the education some of my fellow Americans have received--especially in the area of English word usage. The story featured a protest outside a meeting a conference titled (paraphrased, because I am not sure of the exact wording) 'the destruction of capitalism and the rise of Islam.' Many of the protesters evidently equated capitalism with democracy with America. My dears, these are not synonymous terms. They may occur in conjunction; but there is no guarantee that the political entity known as America has always been (is now or will always be) democratic and capitalistic.

To shift gears a bit, I just found this post at Subversive Stitchers, a blog I keep on my reading list. The pictures are absolutely wonderful and I am definitely going to do some research on the techniques of 'confetti art.' I also keep small pieces of fabric that would be very difficult to stitch otherwise. This might just work out for a couple of projects I have had rattling round my brain for a while.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Good morning, again, everyone. We have sun and are expecting a bit warmer temps today. We had spotty sun yesterday after an overcast early morning. The bit of fog seems to have burned off. We had the pleasure last night of eating the first two ripe tomatoes off the 4th of July plant. They were absolutely delicious.

I found this item that can be filed under either the 'can't win for loosing' or the 'when it rains it pours' labels. Can you imagine 39% unemployment and then watching the only bank in town close?

Of course, not everyone is a loser in this economy. The bright boys (and girls, perhaps) who created all of the credit default swaps and other 'creative' investment opportunities are still employed at outrageous salaries supposedly to wind down these programs. Even some agricultural sectors in drought hit California are prospering as this story from the Springfield, MO, News-Leader indicates. Part of this actually made the national news a week or so back. Some politicians are pushing to broaden the legal marijuana industry so they can tax it. Well, we all know that the one sure-fire way to raise money in hard times are sin taxes.

I hadn't found much to say about the coverage of Walter Cronkite's death this last weekend. Mom and I both watched some of the clips feeling somewhat nostalgic for a time when news meant new not celebrity stupidity, tie-ins to fake reality shows on the same channel, and God only knows what other garbage. Having said that I would direct your attention to James Kunstler's Clusterfuck Nation blog today. He has a lot of good points to make.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. Well, the weather people last night were a bit off on the forecast so far. Or, I should say some of them were. They were expecting overcast and cool. We have sun and cool. Yeah, Kay, this weather does make you wonder about 'global warming.' However, as the climatologists say--weather isn't climate. Also, just look down south at the heat there. Absolutely brutal. We went to our local building supply store yesterday and, as we were checking out, I grumbled that I really did not like having to put on a sweater only to have to take it off again. The man just in front of me remarked that I must not have gotten used to Indiana weather yet. I told him I had grown up here and didn't remember weather this strange. Ah, he remarked, you were younger then and it didn't have as much of an effect. Yeah, I told him, 50 years does make a bit of a difference. We all got a laugh out of that.

Salon.Com has a review of a book I will have to get when the library gets it in. It is on order now: "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture," by Ellen Ruppel Shell. I can't do the review justice so I will let you go to the horse's mouth. I will say that for several years I have become increasingly dissatisfied with our mass consumption culture. We talk about an obesity epidemic but don't connect it to the 2 burgers for $3 offers at McDonalds. Take a good look at the section on how cheap labor overseas has pushed the American worker to the brink here. Also think about the fact the only allegiance "our" companies owe is to the bottom line not to their workers or their communities or their country. At the end of the piece the author noted a positive example Shell ends her book with. Unfortunately, that is the exception and not the rule.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Good Morning, on this very cool and overcast Saturday. The weather report from South Bend (about as far east of us as Chicago is West) predicted a new record low high for the day. Current record is 73 and they say the temp today will struggle to make 70. Since our temperatures this morning are only around 60 I have two very ticked off cats who want out on the patio and don't understand why we don't let them out. Mom is in long sleeves and we both put on sweaters yesterday afternoon. And she pulled out her lap blanket last night. This IS supposed to be JULY!!

Lets get on to something more pleasant than the weather, the economy, or politics all of which are very dismal. The picture on the left here is my latest quilt. I am almost finished with the outer border. I had a bit of the patterned fabric left from the last two quilts I made and have been trying to come up with a way to use them up. Fabric is much too expensive to not use fully. This is the first effort.

Then, of course, there are the container gardens. They are doing rather well given the strange weather. The blossoms on the left are the first of the yard long pole beans. I have more in another container that haven't bloomed yet. They have been slow to take off. As I have complained--everything has been slow this year.

This is the part of the patio I call my jungle. From left to right I have a mix of pole beans, double petunias, sweet peas, portulaca, and (invisible under the petunias and portulaca) lavender. Next I have acorn squash hiding sugar snap peas and violas. And, in the last tub, I planted Zucchini which is hiding another stand of sugar snap peas. I didn't intend all of the hidden items. I just forgot how some of these plants spread. Monday I will be transplanting a couple of the petunias. I know it is a bit late to do that, but I really want the lavender to have a chance.

The scent from just brushing a hand over it is wonderful. In the fall I plan on trying to take plugs and potting for inside over winter. Hope that works out. I love lavender.

This picture is the first of my 'False Alarm' peppers. They are small (jalepeno size) and are supposed to have just a bit of a kick. These plants seem to have perked up after their slow start.

Here are my first tomatoes. They look bigger than they really are. They are the new 'Fourth of July' variety from Burpee. We won't be doing these again. Too small and we have already gotten early tomatoes from our farmer's markets. They simply aren't worth the space in our containers. Haven't tasted them yet. Will let you know on that later.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. We have sun today and temps that are expected to top out at some 12-13 degrees below normal. And the next two days are expected to be cooler and damp. This is definitely, so far, the Summer That Isn't. At least the gardens are doing nicely. The acorn squash, zucchini, and lettuce have done very well, so far. I took off the first two tomatoes this week. And we had the few sugar snap peas in a salad.

I found this interesting article in my google search list this morning. It is interesting for the contrast between what news readers on the broadcast news said yesterday about Nouriel ('Dr. Doom') Roubini's comments and what Richard Gwyn reports in his opinion piece. Last night the newspeople were almost euphoric in reporting the Roubini had predicted the end of the Great Recession by mid-2010. Oh, MY GOD--only a year away. Joy and celebration!! Well, maybe not. Gwyn says that Roubini is actually predicting a double-dip recession--a bit of a recovery followed by a second recession. THAT sounds like the Doctor Doom several of my favorite bloggers know and love. And, if you want Roubini's ideas straight from the horse's mouth, you can read them here.

That's all for now.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. We have nice sun and mild to cool temperatures today with some rain expected over night. The weather people are predicting temperatures for the next week that would have been seasonal in late April. We did get a nice rain over Tuesday night that actually did some good for my container gardens.

I found this item in the New York Times thanks to a link on Democratic Underground. My first thought was 'Oh, s**t!!' and my second was 'Why so surprised??.' These are the kinds of economic times that can turn even a good landlord bad. By the way, notice the comment about international and private equity firms who bought many rent controlled properties hoping to profit magnificently by moving poorer tenants out in favor of higher income tenants. Those kinds of people deserve a very hot circle in hell.

I didn't see much else to comment on and it is time for breakfast. Talk to you all later.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Good Morning, All. It has just stopped raining here. We had an early morning storm, but how much good it will do us I don't know. I may have to water my container gardens anyway. This is supposed to clear out and give us a sunny day that will actually exceed normal temps by, maybe, three degrees. We haven't gotten more than tantalizing tastes of real summer so far.

There seems to be a push on to convince us that The Great Recession, as some have taken to calling this economic quagmire, is behind us. CNBC carried Goldman Sachs' pronouncement yesterday and MSNBC had a headline to that effect. I did not read the MSNBC article. I really don't believe it. Do you?

Not everyone, thankfully, is buying that load of crap. See this Wall Street Journal article by Mortimer Zuckerman. Several points are particularly depressing. First, the number of jobs lost over the last six months alone exceed the number of jobs created during the last 9 years. Second, that same job loss exceeds then numbers lost during any previous six month period including the period which included demobilization after WWII. Third, businesses have slashed hours, downgraded full-time employees to part-time, and eliminated entire divisions. That means that when the economy picks up they will bring add hours and restore full time status before they add new workers. In other words, we will have another 'jobless recovery.' This is an interesting, if depressing, read. And it more closely reflects my experience and my gut feelings than the pie-in-the-sky predictions from the economic stratosphere. (Thank you, Greg Freed at A Purging Incandescence for the link and some pithy comments.)

And then there is this bit of less-than-positive news. I had been following this story for the last couple of days, when ever I found any reference to it which hasn't been often. At first I wanted to clarify exactly what CIT Group was, wondering if it was related to CITI Group. Evidently it isn't. What CIT Group does is supply credit to small businesses and risky businesses that cannot get credit from other sources. They are now looking at the possibility of bankruptcy unless some form of bail-out can be arranged. If credit is the life blood of small business and small business is the backbone of the economy, what do you think will happen if the blood stops flowing?

Some time ago, a couple of years at least, Mom and I commented on the up-tick in the number of bank robberies and the probable link, in our minds, to the economy. Now, that was before the 'official' beginning of the Great Recession (December of 2007). Here is another in that continuing saga from the Houston Chronicle. (Thank you, Democratic Underground, for the link.)

Joe Sudbay at Americablog has a few very cogent remarks about the process of health care reform in the wake of the announcement from House Democrats yesterday that they had passed a reform bill and were now waiting for the Senate to come up with its own version so the negotiation game could begin. Obama's intentions to try to create a bi-partisan atmosphere was all well and good. But we have seen what happens when only one side wants to play that game. Republicans, to date, have defined 'compromise' as 'you do what I want or I won't play.' And what they want is the old Bush agenda--war spending, no restraints on any business, and cuts in social programs. If Obama has to get reform relying on Democrats only--I can live with that. But I am getting tired of these blow-hards.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hello, again. We are still having nice weather though the temps are more late spring than mid-summer. We like the fact that it is a bit cooler than normal but the we would much prefer our seasons in their proper time. The gardens are doing pretty well though all my squash varieties are showing signs of powdery mildew. I found a homemade remedy on line that I am trying. Tell you later if it works. Our favorite farmer's market has opened again. We dropped in yesterday and got some nice green tomatoes for frying as well as a couple of ripe ones and some sweet corn. The farmer's market in the center of town is going well. More vendors are carrying produce and some new stalls have come in selling various crafts. One had her hand made jewelry and another had some interesting little soaps that she covered with felted wool she gets from sheep she raises. Had a nice talk with her.

Well, you know it had to come. There is an on-line auction site that is getting geared up to barter, sell, and swap those California IOUs. Read the details here. Some people are going to make out like bandits and the ones who will be screwed are the poor B*****ds who had to accept these things in exchange for honest work. I am getting real tired of the notion that 'something is better than nothing.' We keep hearing it. When hours or pay or benefits are unilaterally cut we hear the nostrum that at the workers still have a job. How long before people start to realize that that something is really nothing?

Here is another interesting article from Bloomberg on-line. Given the number of stories I have been reading about food shortages in some areas, you would think there would be buyers for the grain this article says is sitting in storage in Russia--more than half of last year's crop. I gather from this account that neither cash nor credit is flowing in parts of Russia and eastern Europe as well as parts of South America. A number of seed providers and chemical companies are setting up bartering arrangements with the farmers to take the crops in exchange for seeds and agricultural chemicals. That's nice but it makes me a bit uneasy. During the reign of Diocletian (late 3rd century) the Roman Government had to accept tax payment in kind rather than coin. Coin simply wasn't circulating, especially in the western Empire. Those who had it kept it because the political unrest and constant civil wars between generals contending for the imperial throne as well as the effects of some nasty epidemics and a series of crop failures. Makes you wonder doesn't it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning. We have sunshine and, for now, dry weather. It is supposed to change but you know the old saying: "don't like the weather--wait five minutes. We really haven't had much in the way of useable moisture. Most of the storms either fizzled out or went around us. Even the ones that did come through didn't give enough rain to do my gardens any good. I think, and this is only my opinion, that this year has had a schizophrenic nature. From January through mid-May we got enough moisture to make this one of the wettest years on record. Since we have got almost nothing.

I noticed a headline this weekend that set me thinking, always a dangerous thing. No, I did not read the article--I have a good idea of where it was going. It indicated that Republicans want 'neutrality' from any new justice on the Supreme Court. I strongly suspect the article never defined 'neutrality.' Nor would the reporter have been so rude as to suggest that Republicans define the term. No set of laws, including the Constitution, has ever been truly neutral. Don't believe me? Read any good history of the debates over the drafting of the Constitution to get a good idea of exactly how neutral even the notion of our now sacred document was. Did 'neutrality' give us the Dred Scott Decision, or Plessey v Fergueson, or, even, Brown v Board? I don't think so. They don't really want neutrality. They want a justice who will restore what they consider the natural order of things. Men over women, white over black (and Hispanic and Asian), business and government over the individual, and the presumption that those accused of crime are actually guilty of the crime. Neutrality, like beauty, is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

I wonder if this bit, posted by Archcrone at the Crone Speaks, is what Judge Sotomayor's critics mean by 'neutrality.' We should be very cautious and skeptical when anyone mouths some benign notion like neutrality as an absolute value. I am sorry if is sound cynical. I just have to ask who benefits from such absolute values and who is hurt.

Mom just saw an ad headline that gave us both a laugh. It touted a car that could 'make you look younger.' Really, I thought. What does it have--tinted windows so no one can actually see who is driving?

Also over the weekend, I got this in an e-mail from Elaine who featured it on her blog Elaine's Place. Bill Moyer's interview with Wendell Potter, a former insurance executive, is very enlightening. He confirms several of my own conclusions about the insurance industry as you can read in my past posts. The interview also confirms me in my conclusion that we need a single payer system, government run, that cuts the insurance companies out. By the way, this is what 'neutrality' looks like in practice. Or to resurrect that lovely little saying from the Wizard of Id comic strip: "The Golden Rule--he who has the gold, rules!!"

Tom Englehardt at Tomdispatch has a new post today by guest columnist Barbara Garson that is very interesting. If anyone thinks that REAL reform of the financial industry is going to happen any time soon, please read this. Worse, I think it doesn't bode well for any economic recovery that penetrates below the s**t floating on top. And by that I mean the financial manipulators who created all of that toxic mess we haven't really dealt with. Sometimes I wonder what those oh-so-smart boys in the government are looking at when they talk about the economy. And then I remember that Gaithner, Summers and several more came out of Goldman Sachs.

For more on this topic head over to Ronni Bennett's place at Time Goes By. I am glad to see I am not the only pissed-off pessimist on this topic. I don't know where this mess is going but I am sure that the ones who will get us out of it are not the bright boys who got us into it.

Bye for now. We have shopping and gardening to do. Talk to you later.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hello, everyone. Hope everyone is well on this Friday. The weekend is almost here and we hope the weather will be nice and seasonable. Which it hasn't been lately.

A couple of items caught my attention, and irritated me mightily, in the news over the last couple of days. The first involved a story on MSNBC which claimed that the leading contender among the plans for health care reform is one based on the Massachusetts plant: everyone pays--or else. In other words, everyone would be required to have their own health care plan (which would include employer provided programs, if offered). Those who can't afford the plans could receive government help to pay for it. I can see this working about as well as the legal mandates that all drivers carry auto insurance. How often have we heard about drivers without insurance (or with inadequate insurance) who have been involved in accidents? Furthermore, it doesn't involve the problem of the insurance companies cherry picking the potential customers and leaving the sickest or most needy for the government to pay for (or to die, whichever comes first.) Also, I haven't seen any mechanism that will bring down medical costs. I know that the insurance companies, the hospital associations and others have publicly announced their willingness to shave costs over the next decade but I have also noticed that there is nothing to compel them to follow through. A number of writers have noticed that these kinds of promises have been more honored in the breech than in the performance in the past. In other words, as soon as the heat was off the promise was quietly forgotten. All this plan does is ensure the future profits of the insurance companies and by extension those of health care providers while doing little to ensure the availability of health care for all of us. Lets go in a different direction.

The second story came out of the recently announced intention of various banks to refuse to accept the State of California's IOUs. Evidently someone (sorry, can't remember who) with the Federal Government floated the idea of creating an exchange on which these pieces of paper could be traded. I can just see how that will play out. As people get desperate for spendable cash to meet their bills (unless you think the grocer, gas station attendant, doctor, or mortgage holder will accept them) they will be forced to sell them for a fraction of their face value to people who will be able to hold them until California (hopefully) will be able to redeem them and then cash them in at full value for a hefty profit. So, you tell me: who gets screwed here? The Feds have refused to bail out California--a decision I do understand. But I cannot see that the Feds should create a system that will gouge ordinary people to enrich those who don't need enriching. I am especially puzzled since so many of the economic pundits have been crying about the lack of consumer spending and its effect in deepening the recession. All this idea would do is reduce consumer spending even more.

We have heard a fair bit on the news about the 'cyber attacks' launched against U.S. and South Korean web sites over the last week. When I first heard the stories a couple of questions came to mind. First, could they really reliably trace the attacks to North Korea. I don't expect the normal standard of proof required for a criminal conviction--beyond a shadow of doubt. But I rather doubt even the more lenient civil standard (preponderance of the evidence) could be proven. I remember the attacks on Latvian sites a little over a year ago which the Latvian government claimed came from Russia. That charge was never proven and criminal elements might just as well have been responsible. Second, even if we can prove that North Korea was responsible, what can we do about it. Well this little article, which has been making the rounds on the internet along with others in the same vein, sums up the situation very neatly. Even if we can make the case we have very few effective responses available to us.

However, this op-ed piece in the Korea Times sums up the problem very well. A successful attack could be devastating on so many levels (financial, military, political, social) because we are so dependent on computers and computer networks. So much of our information, our business, our banking, our control systems are computer based. The notion of cyber attacks have made their way into fiction but reality has been slow to catch up here. Over a decade ago I saw an episode of 'Diagnosis Murder' in which a serial killer used his hacking skills to find his victims and then to harass a lead investigator going so far as to hack into a traffic control computer to manipulate the traffic lights as she was crossing the street. The latest Jeffrey Deaver paperback 'The Broken Window' takes that notion and puts it on steroids. It is a good read especially for Lincoln Rhyme fans.

Time to go and get some piecing done. Bye for now.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. Still chilly and overcast here. Everyone is asking when summer will finally arrive. I am sure people living in the south and west are wishing it would go away.

The TV news this morning had a teaser for a story we didn't hang around long enough to hear: the transportation stimulus money has evidently not gone to the kinds of projects that the lawmakers intended raising fears that the 'recovery' would be delayed as a result. I wonder if this MSNBC story is what they were going to talk about. They handed out this money to the various states to use without any real direction on what to use it for and they are now surprised that the rural areas are getting better than half of the money when two thirds of the population live in urban areas. I am not surprised. I have watched the tug of war between rural and urban areas over the distribution of money in every state I have lived in. Why should this be any different? Add in the deadline for receiving the money and and the lack of clear language on how it should be spent and, of course, the money is going where ever they can throw it first and to whoever has the loudest voices or most clout in the state legislatures. DUH!!!

A related story on the morning news concerned the education money from the stimulus. A lot of that is also not going for the kinds of projects the national legislators intended, i.e. new schools. They gave mention to Flint, Michigan, (I think) where the money has been used to simply keep the system going--never mind building new. They said that city had not built a new school in something like 30 years. I wonder what kind of population growth (or not) the city has had over that time period. Many rust belt cities have lost population. Do they really need to build new schools?

For some more on the kinds of choices local and state governments have been forced to make take a look at this story.

Then there is the continuing fiscal soap opera in California. Governor Schwartzeneger and the legislature have been at loggerheads for some time now over the budget which at a $26+ billion deficit. The state started issuing IOUs for only the second time since the Great Depression. Now some of the biggest recipients of the banking bailout money are threatening to refuse to accept them. They hope to force the Governor and legislators to come to some kind of a final budget. Of course, they are also hoping to avoid being painted at the hard-hearted bastards they are and a spokesperson for the banking association suggested that they might arrange short term loans and lines of credit for their customers who are going to be given the IOUs that can be repaid in October (with interest) when, everyone hopes, the budget mess will be straightened out. Such generosity leaves me absolutely underwhelmed.

Then there is this story which I found via a link on one of my google searches. As I read this, aloud so Mom could hear what it said, we began to think about what we would need the next time we had to get our driver's licences renewed. If we are reading this story right we would have to take at least three documents to the licence bureau. Motor Vehicles Bureau personnel justify the requirement as a way of preventing identity theft. I rather doubt it will be all that effective. The criminals who make a living stealing other people's identities will surely be able to come up with fake birth certificates, fake social security numbers, and fake bills or what ever other fake document they need. Wait a minute--haven't they already done that? This is just another royal pain in the ass for me and another fake deterrent for the criminals.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good Morning, All. The weather isn't much to talk about. Still unseasonably cool. Nice for most of the garden but the tomatoes are still slow. The late season plant hasn't set any fruit yet. Some blossoms but no fruit. Although we have had periods of showers over the last couple of weeks (like on the 4th) not enough rain has fallen do any good in the gardens. Most of the gardens are doing well. We are taking stock of what we have and making notes for next spring. Note #1: do not plant sugar snap peas. Too little yield per plant for a container garden. Note #2: even with the large containers do not put in more than two tomato plants. Note #3: plant more lettuce. We have had more salads and sandwiches so far this year than we had in the previous two years together. Eating is so much more enjoyable when things taste good.

Tripping through MSNBC I found this story while trying to avoid the ad nauseaum coverage of Michael Jackson's memorial. It make you wonder what we are getting for the mind-blowing amounts of money we are spending on 'Homeland Security.' Those were (supposedly) high security federal buildings. I caught a bit of the story a couple of days ago on the nightly news but it was barely a mention amid the overwhelming coverage of the YOU-KNOW-WHO.

Right next to the above story was this one. Officials in the U.S. and South Korea think North Korea is behind a concerted cyber attack on government and financial agencies in both countries. Of course such attacks are very hard to trace back to the perpetrators but is anyone really surprised? After all, according to recent South Korean reports, North Korea would rather spend massive amounts of money ($700 million at last count) for the means (in this case missiles and nuclear warheads) to blackmail other countries into giving what they need to support their people rather than spend that directly on those people. Of course, these stories get barely a nod given the current focus of the news media. Does anyone remember the phrase "bread and circuses?"

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hello, again. It looks like I will spend the day trying to avoid coverage of Michael Jackson's memorial services. I really hate the ubiquity of this thing. At least the weather will be nice today.

As I scanned the titles on the MSNBC stories this morning I came across this entry. According to the writer some employees are not playing nice when they leave their jobs. Everyone interviewed seem perplexed by the number of people who burn their bridges when they leave. They violate non-compete clauses they signed or they leave without the 'customary' two weeks notice. I am not at all surprised. The job market has become a decidedly rude and one sided place over the last several years (decades?). I remember the resentment I felt when employers expected the applicant to send in thank you notes after an interview but never felt the need to inform that applicant of what action had been taken on their application. They expected courtesy when they provided none. I have listened to stories about mandatory furloughs, wage cuts, suspension of 401k contributions and other unilateral actions and been amazed at the attitude of interviewers and company representatives: at least the employees still had a job. Marginal comfort at best. I have wondered how long it would be before workers started questioning that wisdom and started thinking that having a job under the current conditions is not worth the effort.

Frank Rich has an interesting piece in the NY Times: "Bernie Madoff is no John Dillinger." My first thought reading the title was "Yeah--Dillinger was always up front about what he was doing. He had the gun and he was robbing the place." But there is a lot more to this article than just that. Read it for yourself. It is interesting. We don't have anyone right now that can tap into the public consciousness like Dillinger did (and like Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, or Jessie James from earlier times). I don't know that I would want even a pale imitation of Dillinger around but we do need someone who can make both the bankers and politicians understand how broken is the trust between ordinary people and our political and economic institutions. Chris In Paris, who provided the link to the Rich article, has some good comments also.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Good Morning, All. Hope you had a really nice 4th. Yesterday was great. Too bad the weather from yesterday wasn't what we had for the 4th itself. But that has been the standard pattern of weather this year. Unseasonably cold and wet followed by unseasonably warm and dry. And through it all we did not get enough rain to do any real good for the gardens. Luckily we had good food and good company for my sister's cook-out on Saturday.

I found this Newsweek article this morning that rang a bell. I also like to re-read old favorites. I have collected some of the Judge Dee and Nero Wolf mysteries twice now. I will keep my 'Father Brown Omnibus' and several other classics. I miss seeing new Father Koestler and Brother Cadfael stories coming out. But I keep my favorite editions to revisit from time to time. What favorites do you revisit?

Newsweek also has another of those 100 best lists. I didn't do as well on this one as I usually do. I only read all or significant portions of 51 of the titles listed. I did note, though, that I had read several works not listed by some of the authors. I also noticed that I had read a lot of the older books. Some of them I doubt I would have read if they had not been required for courses I was taking or papers I was writing.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. Well, here it is--July 3. Where has the year gone? Half over all ready.

I found this little item on MSNBC as I was going to get my e-mail. I have never trusted labels much. If a label tells you that you get a miniscule number of calories per serving, take a real hard look at the serving size. Do you really believe anyone is going to eat only a quarter of a cup of roasted mixed nuts? I don't. Nor do I believe the 'Organic' label. Over the last few years we have read more labels than we have ever before and made some serious changes in what we buy. The article makes it very plain who Federal agencies really protect--and it isn't the consumer. The only time they worry about the consumer is when s/he isn't buying things like there is no tomorrow, or like the credit flow won't stop. Then they get concerned.

I have to get myself out and go to the library today. So I will say bye for now.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hi, again. I just posted pictures of a sewing project just finished. I figured I would leave that post just for the pictures and put other things here.

Well, the U.S. Senate is, at least, complete. The Minnesota Supreme Court finally ended the election battle some almost 8 months after election night. Al Franken can now take his seat giving the Dems 60 seats. Anyone who thinks this will make a great deal of difference should remember Will Rogers' famous quip: I'm not a member of an organized political party. I'm a Democrat. We'll see if they can get their act together.

Illinois legislators failed to deliver a new budget. It is one of 6 according to a Chicago Tribune article in that same boat. Indiana, evidently, managed to get its two year budget approved.

Good Morning, Everyone. It is gray, drizzly and cool today. The plants will probably like this change though the cats are very, very annoyed. Especially a certain gray monster who thinks going out on the patio is his right.

Thank you, Looking to the Stars. I think green thumbs get greener with practice and I have been getting more lately after many years of inactivity--due to circumstances beyond my control because I would loved to have had a garden during that time.

I have some pictures of a different kind of garden this morning. I finally moved the my place mats from the UFO or WIP column to the FINISHED column. They all use a hexagon base. The top picture is the basic pattern: 'Grandmother's Flower Garden.' The others are simply variations on color and placement of the colors. It is a great way to use left over fabrics. A coupe of them are from old clothes long past their useful life as clothing.

I hand pieced these--something I usually don't do. But I don't like machine working such small pieces even more and it is easier to fit these pieces by hand.