Saturday, October 30, 2010

Good Morning, again, everyone. My cat is very unhappy and has been for the last few days. We haven't let him out first thing in the morning because the temps have been below 50 degrees. This morning we only hit 38. He may have a fur coat but we don't. Sometimes the seasonal changes are unsettling--although he would probably say something stronger. Did anyone else see the little blurb on the news citing a new 'scientific' study which concludes that we should do away with our 'daylight savings' regime? This study found, contrary to popular propaganda, it doesn't save energy and it is very hard on the body. I have said that for years but didn't have numbers to back it up.

I have felt dissatisfied for a number of years by the Holiday creep, Lois. The commercialization only adds to my disgruntlement. Before the economic crash began Visa had a commercial which showed a humming store coming to a crashing halt when some benighted soul tried to use cash or a check. The message was that the 'speed' of commerce (and daily life with it) required the speed of Visa. The speed of commerce also requires consumers who are willing (if not actually able) to spend freely. But over the last several years (well before the 'Great Recession) spending has been less and less rewarding (whether spending on myself or others.) But I still like my holidays 'in season' and this nonsense of a 6 month Christmas 'season' or manufactured 'holidays' like Sweetness Day simply annoy me. I really don't even like to make gifts anymore. In a commercial world I am not at all sure a made gift is really appreciated. Has anyone had the feeling that the recipient of a hand-made baby afghan or quilt would have been just as happy, and perhaps happier, with a commercially produced item they could put a dollar figure on? Maybe I am getting cynical but, over the last several years, I have had that feeling often.

I have had a reasonably productive morning. Actually, a productive couple of days. I am irritated because some of that productivity was spent correcting a problem with something I had done before and the problem was not with what I did but what I used to do it. I recently bought some new wicks from Michaels and used them when I poured a few candles. A couple of weeks ago we tried to light one of the candles and the wick barely caught. A second candle also sputtered and almost went out. I checked over the wicks and found that each had a metal piece and not much else left. Then I checked package. Each of the remaining wicks has a shiny metal core and were supposed to be 'coated'; with what over what I have no idea. So, after a bit of research on line, I braided several wicks out of some spare bedspread weight crochet thread, soaked them in wax, and used them for six votive candles. The one we lit this morning burned nicely and I used the others as the cores for some new candles. I had to completely melt out the wax for the older candles which did not make me happy. From now on--I make my own wicks.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Good morning to you all. We woke to calm winds but cloudy skies. We still expect strong gusts but nothing like what we had earlier this week. Of course, with the winds we get the leaves from the surrounding trees. Since I have the compost tub this year I am sweeping them up and putting them to good use. At least as long as I have room in the tub. We are expecting some low temps overnight over the next week. We'll see how much longer the marigolds and mums last. I took some of the marigold seeds to save for next year. I don't know how they will do since they are a hybrid variety. I hope it will be interesting. The overnight lows are getting down far enough that I turned off the water and drained most of the water out of the hose. All these little seasonal chores that remind you winter isn't far off.

The evening news Wednesday night had a brief segment that reflected a trend we have noticed for sometime--all the sneaky ways manufacturers have of raising prices without seeming to have done so. The biggest way is one I have commented on often here--reducing the amount in a package without changing the package noticeably. It is interesting that the news media picked up on this. I figure we can expect even more in the future since commodity prices have gone up spectacularly over the last year.

Did you hear that some of the nations retailers plan to start their 'Black Friday' specials this last Friday of October? That was also on our local news lately. Last year they tried to drum up business by making all Fridays after Thanksgiving 'Black Fridays.' The holiday creep has accellerated. I wonder when they will start the 2011 holiday sales season--January 2?? That way they can eliminate the after-Christmass sales.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Good morning, Everyone. Our weather made the national news. The winds are here along with the wind. They say that the low pressures will be the strongest in some 70 years. We also have, in addition to the high wind warnings, tornado warnings. I quickly go some light weight items into the storage shed this morning. I know I won't do anything outside today and doubt I will tomorrow as the winds are supposed to continue through Wednesday.

I have a link today that should make anyone who reads it angry. I don't think I need to comment.

Weather update: just spent the last half hour downstairs because of the tornado warning that just expired. The sirens went off for, maybe, the 6th or 7th time (barring monthly tests) since we moved in here. But the worst, for now has moved east.

I have written before about our misguided notions about higher education. Here is a link to an Alternet article which very nicely expresses many of my own thoughts on the subject. And, of course, the grand strategy for renewed economic vigor is--more higher education. But where are the jobs for our so supremely educated people? I don't see them now or in the future. Also, think about this little fact--while students here graduate with worthless degrees and a crippling pile of debt employers who could hire them are moving their operations overseas to where other highly educated people are willing and able to work for considerably less. Talk about sending good money down a rat hole.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Good Monday morning to you all. We have had some warmer than normal weather and the near forecast has totally eliminated the possibility of a hard freeze for the next week. We also got some nice, though insufficient rain, over night for the last couple of nights. I managed to wash down half of my patio and rearrange the containers on that side yesterday. That half looks so much neater. Fall (and early spring, as Mom reminded me) is such an untidy season. I also spread the compost on two of the containers before trying to put the lids on them for the winter. I say try because the long sides of the containers have bowed out drawing the short sides in so the lids do not fit at all anymore. I keep them on with bungie cords. Now all I have to do is clean out the other side and turn off the water for the season. I guess everyone had a bad season for tomatoes this year. Talking to the siblings at Mom's birthday party over the weekend I get the impression that nothing much did well for them. My patch of tomatoes and peppers probably did the best. Too hot and dry for much too long.

Several days ago, Rain at Rainy Day Things made some good observations and asked some good questions about the intersection of religion and politics in this country. One of her key questions was 'should a candidate's religious beliefs influence whether you would vote for him/her?' That has been rattling around in my mind for several days now leading me into some very strange paths of thought. Rain makes the astute observation that Republican candidates, especially in the South, have a very hard time getting nominated, much less elected, if they don't hew closely to what Rain calls 'christianist' (as opposed to Christian) positions. This article from the New York Times indicates that demands for orthodoxy doesn't just affect Protestants. I remember the storied 1960 election when John Kennedy had to repeatedly make it clear that he, a Catholic, would not be controlled by the Pope. We have come a very long way backwards over the last several decades. Over the last ten years we have seen Catholic bishops threaten Catholic politicians with excommunication if they voted in any way that could be construed as favorable to abortion rights, reproductive rights, or gay rights. John Kennedy insisted on being an American Catholic. The purists in the Church now insist that their communicants be Catholic American. Unfortunately, we have seen the same hardening of lines among some of the Protestant denominations.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I would have told Rain that I never would have considered a candidate's religion when making my choice in the voting booth. Now, I can't say that. Once upon a time, I would have respected the candidate's religious beliefs and been fairly sure that he would have respected mine and would have known where to draw the line. Now, I can't be at all sure of that. I realized that two years ago when Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, was pursuing the Republican nomination. Stories came out about two parole cases that came before him that made me question this matter. Two men, each convicted of heinous crimes, requested parole claiming that during their incarceration they had experienced a religious conversion and reformation. One man's request was refused and he was executed. The other was granted and he was freed with the condition that he leave the state on release. The one that was refused had converted to Buddhism. The one Huckabee granted converted to fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. The one who was freed went on to rape and murder three, I think, women in another state. Mike Huckabee, a born-again-fundamentalist-Protestant-Christian, accepted the 'conversion' of the Christian and freed him while not accepting the conversion of the Buddhist allowing him to be executed. This incident made me doubt that Mike Huckabee could be trusted to administer justice impartially. That means I can no longer trust that candidates respect the religious choices and values of those who don't share those choices and values. In fact I see a contest to demonize anyone outside their own group.

My suspicion of religiously motivated candidates goes even deeper, however. Over the last couple of decades the notions of 'capitalism,' and 'free markets' have acquired a quasi-religious aura. One would almost think that god had delivered them along with the Ten Commandments or that Jesus incorporated them into the Sermon on the Mount. Christian orthodoxy now seems to require an Economic Orthodoxy that seems, to me at least, very much at odds with the origins of Christianity. Now the believer and unbeliever alike are left to their own devices and the mercy of god. Early Christians had a supportive community to care for the sick, the old, the needy. Today's Christianists label that 'communist.' Economic heresy has become synonymous with religious heresy.

To answer Rain's question--once I would not have asked anything about a candidate's religious belief. Now, unfortunately, I have to consider whether that candidate can accord me the respect I deserve as a citizen and voter. I have to ask if a candidate can respect my right to hold different beliefs and whether s/he can respect my beliefs and my right to act on my beliefs. And I have to ask the same questions concerning the quasi-religious beliefs that have flooded our political scene over the last few years. Already my rights to hold a job in some companies has been wiped out because they have a zero tolerance policy on smoking. Though I don't smoke I would always test positive for tobacco contaminants because someone else in my household smokes. Some companies have such a zero tolerance policy with respect to weight? Those companies wouldn't hire me because some insurance companies think I would be a poor health risk even though statistical surveys have shown that weight alone is not a good indicator of how much I would use health services. I feel assaulted on all sides from the High Priests of Capitalism, the High Priests of Health, the High Priests of the Green Church, and the High Priests of the Christianist Churches (Catholic and Protestant). All are intent on forcing their beliefs on me. I don't like it much but I have to consider their 'religious' views when I vote.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Good morning on this crisp but, so far, clear, Friday. I got somewhat side tracked yesterday with clearing out the last of the tomatoes and peppers. Today I want to clean out another container, finish emptying a couple of pots with herbs, and generally getting the patio ready for winter. The temperature this morning was about 36 degrees. I think that is the lowest since, maybe, early April. I had to come inside yesterday to put on a knitted vest because the wind was so cold. One of the weather people said she might have to put the possibility of snow into the forecast next weekend (Halloween, of course.) Everybody on their set groaned.

HuffingtonPost published this article today. Unemployment for 1+ million people will run out just in time for the Holidays and the push will be on to extend them once again. Of course, the argument for that extension is the fragile economy, specifically the absolutely crucial holiday retail season. I guess I am getting a bit jaded by the economic news. One question has been popping up whenever I read about extending unemployment benefits, how much public support Fannie and Freddie might need to stay afloat, the need for Federal stimulus monies for the states to maintain public payrolls and other such stories is--do you want a fast train wreck or a slow one? The issue of whether we will get a train wreck is long past. I think our leaders have opted for the slow train wreck but I am not so sure that was the wisest option. There is a certain wisdom in getting it over and done with.

Carrying on with the unemployment theme, I have been totally irritated with some of the latest coverage of the issue. MSNBC had a headline this morning (and, I think, yesterday) that proclaimed 'For Some, Jobless Benefits Trump A Job.' Yeah, it is nice they fudged a bit by saying 'for some.' But the implication is that a lot of jobless people are out there sitting on their backsides enjoying a life of leisure on what one talking head earlier this week on CNBC called 'our overly generous unemployment compensation.' The comments by the anchors yesterday reinforced that impression when they talked about the unemployed taking benefits 'instead' of looking for work. From my own experience during the one brief time I qualified for benefits, I spent a lot of time looking for work, sending out resumes and applications, preparing for the few interviews that materialized. I wasn't sitting on my ass. I sympathize totally with the one worker who noted that he was worse off for taking a job that paid less than either his former employer or his unemployment benefits because he found he couldn't stomach the job (after his employer insisted he harass an elderly couple who made the mistake of signing for their grandchild's student loan). When he left that job he had to reapply and found himself no longer eligible. I spent a bit longer at my next job and did get a higher wage and more hours than I had in my previous job (the one on which my unemployment was based) but it was a job I couldn't handle even after several attempts to adjust myself to it. The company made sure it looked like I had left entirely voluntarily and successfully challenged my application. In the end I was, like the worker in the story, worse off for having taken that job. But then, if I hadn't taken that job I might have wound up having my benefits cut off anyway since the pay was actually a bit more than I had been receiving before. The way our unemployment in this state is run pressures the unemployed worker to take work and the longer the worker is unemployed the more pressure is applied to make that worker take anything at any wage. I have thought about this since my very unpleasant experience and I have a question: which erodes your job skills more--being out of work or working in a job that doesn't use your skills? I have heard a lot of comment on the first but none on the second.

Rain at Rainy Day Thoughts has a link to that Pew poll from a couple of weeks ago that attempted to examine how religiously literate Americans were. I found it interesting for a couple of reasons. Atheists scored better by a couple of points than any religiously oriented group. Not all that surprising since they more than others would be most likely to need to defend their religious choice. But the averages were all abysmal. None scored more than 20 out of 32 questions correct. For the heck of it, Mom and I went through the questions just to see how hard the poll really was. We both answered all question correctly. We were unsure of only 3--those dealing with a couple of the Supreme Court decisions--but answered those correctly as well. What the poll really underscored was how abysmally ignorant so many Americans are. Rain's assessment is somewhat kinder than mine--it isn't so much a matter of being 'smarter' than Atheists but how interested we are in what inspires us and our fellows spiritually. Unfortunately, I don't think many of us are all that interested.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Good Thursday morning to you all. We have nice sunshine today though we are not supposed to reach the 70 we had yesterday. The weatherperson's prediction of cooler temps over the next week had his co-workers moaning. They aren't ready for the change. I have been delaying cleaning out the remaining plants in my containers. It just looks so bleak out there without something growing. I will leave the mums and marigolds until we get a killing frost. That will keep a bit of color for a bit longer.

I agree with you, Lois. About 25 years ago Target (and K-Mart) dropped their needlework and craft sections. I almost totally stopped shopping there. Why make a separate trip to one of those stores when Wal-mart had everything in one place. And then I did shop at Wal-mart a lot. Over the years we have become equally disenchanted with Wal-mart. We gradually realized that their business model (cheap trumps everything else) simply didn't work for us. All of the big box stores have stopped carrying items we normally bought and the items they carried in place of those items simply did not work as well for us. One stop shopping just doesn't get us what we need so we plan our shopping for maximum efficiency and keep an eye on what is available where and at what price. I noticed an ad on tv last night for the new 'fresh produce' sections at the remodeled 'local' Target. I put the local in quotes because the ad stressed that these were 'your local' Target stores. First, they aren't mine. Second, they are local only in the sense that they are in a given area. I doubt very much that Target's local ties go much deeper. Upshot--we are very selective about what we buy and where we buy it and price alone is never the primary consideration.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Good morning to everyone. We have been busy with come of our fall chores for the last couple of days. The car has had its oil change and the anti-freeze has been checked so it is ready for winter. All of the windows have their plastic coat on now. That went very quickly. When we first started doing that it took us four hours. This year we managed it in only two. We are debating just leaving the plastic up on two of the windows all year. Those windows are so hard to open and close it isn't worth it to fight with them. Anyway, we are almost ready for winter. I plan to take out the beets, tomatoes, and peppers today and tomorrow. I might cover the containers but that might be more trouble than it would be worth. The pressure of the plants and dirt has bowed the sides so the lids don't fit any more. Update on the cuttings I took--the lavender, sage, and basil are doing nicely. Only one of the stevia left. The longer it goes the more hopeful I am that I will get one plant to carry through the winter.

I found this Newsweek article that ties up some various stories I have been reading over the last couple of years. The Sita, Alaska opener didn't surprise me much. At the peak of the extreme drought in the Southeast last year, Georgia and other state governments were making noises about transporting water from the Great Lakes to their neck of the woods. States bordering the Lakes raised quite a howl. The point towards the end concerning the inelasticity of water demand is quite accurate and parallels the discussion we have been having here as our local utility has tried to raise the electric rates. The company claims that the increase will only amount to about 10% and they haven't been allowed a rate increase in the past decade. But consumer groups challenge that charging that the increase may be as much a 30% for the lower income consumer who doesn't qualify for the discounted prices of the bulk user. Do we really want predatory capitalism to rule our water resources?

And we should be asking that question rather urgently if the scenario presented in this MSNBC article is accurate in its predictions If you think that the prediction is merely extreme environmental scare tactics from a lunatic fringe, compare the first map projecting drought conditions between 2030 and 2039 with the last map showing the conditions for the last decade. We catch the news on a South Bend station every Saturday morning, when our normal stations carry fishing shows or infomercials, and they have been reporting dry conditions there that are threatening the corn crop. I have read reports from Kentucky which say that a large proportion of counties there are either 'dry' or in stage 1 and 2 drought. Some local areas have put water use restrictions in place. Some areas west of us got enough rain in the first three weeks of September that they exceeded the yearly average but October has been drier than normal. And our area got very little of that rain. I grew up in the area and I can't remember any time in my childhood when local officials urged people to conserve water as I have several times over the last decade.

As I started reading this article my skepticism meter was pegged at the high end. I read a lot of articles and blogs about economizing and simplifying. I have never been impressed with 'either/or' solutions and my first question at the beginning was 'does this really have to be framed as either I penny pinch or I concentrate on the big things issue?' Well, the author finally got to the notion of a middle path that advocates both but I thought it was a half-hearted, johnny-come-lately inclusion. The article was very unsatisfying in a number of ways. The penny pinching segment totally ignored the fact that, as we have found out here, cheap isn't always our friend. Cheap is no bargain when the quality of the product makes it unusable to any significant extent, makes it break or wear out long before a more expensive item, or requires double or triple the more expensive product to achieve the same end. Just to illustrate--we used to buy the cheapest dish soap available. It was one-third the price of the name brands. But we found that we were using three times as much (or more) to get the job done. That was no bargain and we went back to name brands on sale. Cheap, in this case, is not our friend. We have become much more discriminating in what buy and price is only one of the factors we consider. We haven't let the big things go either. After two years of unemployment (for me) we sold my car for scrap. It required far more maintenance that we could afford and it was the least reliable of the two we had. We held on to it on the expectation that I would need it when I got a new job. Once we recognized that that was a slim if not a when, it wasn't hard to economize. The point I have taken a long time getting to is that people need to realistically look at where their money goes and then decide if they need to make that expenditure and whether a cheaper item is as good for their purposes as a more expensive item. Unfortunately, our society has brainwashed us to the point that we no longer recognize what we need versus what we want and we assume that 'cheap is always our friend.' Most of us would be far more solvent if we break those two habits of thought.

I am back. We did our grocery shopping late this week because of our other chores. We decided to go to Target because our local Target just opened its 'fresh produce section' and expanded grocery. I would say that the reality did not live up to anticipation but we didn't really anticipate much. They did not add on to the store so the only way to expand the grocery section was to limit other areas. They don't have much to draw us in. We go there primarily for cat food--the canned Friskies is the cheapest in the area--and health and beauty--toothpaste etc. The bananas are $.30 cheaper than any others we have seen but they were also the greenest. Overall, few choices and many of the items we wanted just were not there. We think Target is catering to singles and couples who don't cook.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Howdy, all. Hope you are having a nice peaceful Sunday. We have sun and high 60s predicted today. According to the local weather person, our cooler temps are just a few degrees above 'normal.' And last October we didn't have one single day top 70. This year almost the entire first half did that. What a difference a year makes.

Because we didn't see any movies or other programing that didn't repulse us last night we turned on the History Channel. Don't misunderstand me--we often watch the History Channel for specific programs many of which are in hiatus now. But usually, on Saturday night, on some channel, often SyFy. Unfortunately slasher films don't do it and that was on tap last night. It was an absolutely wonderful three hours without a single political commercial. I can hardly wait until the election is over. I am absolutely depressed to think that we will get very little respite because the next Presidential cycle will probably start (officially) just after New Year.

Another interesting item from tv yesterday--usually I pay absolutely no attention to the 'financial advisors' on any channel. I don't really have much to 'invest' and I am highly skeptical of most of the advice anyway. But Suze Ormond had a brief spot that was interesting because some of what she reflects the current reality. Times are indeed tough in this economy. Many good jobs are gone, probably forever. Investments are chancy and can turn sour quickly. Interest rates on savings are so low that the saver might actually get a negative return on their savings. And that old standby, the single family home, isn't what it used to be. She actually suggested that people might be better off renting. What heresy!!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Good Morning, everyone. The patio thermometer registered only 42 degrees this morning. The South Bend news this morning predicted lows in the high 20s and low 30s for late this coming week. We probably won't get that low. We are nearer Lake Michigan. But the season is definitely changing. I have delayed cleaning out the last tomatoes and peppers hoping they will ripen but I don't think I can delay much longer. Everything except the mums and marigolds will come out this week. Then I will spread the compost and put the cleared containers to bed for the winter. I did get a few more ripe cayennes this week. I gave them to our landlord's handyman when he came to fix our smoke detector. We already have at least 2 years' worth drying in the kitchen.

MSNBC linked to this Newsweek article which I thought was interesting. The deficit has become a somewhat hot issue this election cycle. Eleanor Clift asks why and provides an interesting answer. The deficit, she says, is an intellectual issue but the emotional issue that intersects is where that deficit money is spent. So far, for most ordinary Americans, it seems to have gone down a rathole. We have saved several institutions from bankruptcy but wonder whether those institutions should have been saved--especially when individuals in financial difficulties are given rocks instead of life preservers. And more especially when ordinary Americans have experienced serious cuts in their take home pay, if they still have a job, while executives at the 'saved' institutions are on schedule to get another round of obscene 'bonuses.'
Clift's key paragraph, to my mind, is this one:
"Republicans have cast themselves as the deficit reducers in this election, even though earlier this year, they blocked the creation of a fiscal commission that would have come up with proposals to reduce the deficit, which Congress would then have voted on. Obama then had to appoint such a commission, which will report in December. Our politics are so out of whack that Republicans routinely oppose with impunity what they once supported. The health-care plan is founded on Republican principles: a competitive private insurance market; an individual mandate, which Republicans used to be for; and cost-cutting measures like a super Medicare commission, which is not really a radical idea. But in tough economic times, people focus on themselves—seniors worry about Medicare cuts, and Tea Partiers don’t want their taxes used to help people who may be undeserving. "
Unfortunately, it looks like the voters are going to let the Republicans get away with their hypocrisy and we have degenerated into a bunch of squabbling factions arguing over who is 'worthy.'

I can only agree with the assessment that our politics has become totally dysfunctional. This article from the Quad City Times is further proof. When the reports came out that Social Security would get no increase for the second year in a row, I wondered how long it would be before someone would push for another 'temporary, one-time payment' instead. Not long. HuffingtonPost had a small blurb that Obama is going to push for it as well. The first link reports that Rep. Phil Hare wants to link the Social Security payment to passage of the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts. Frankly, I don't see the equivalence here. The payment to seniors would amount to about $14 billion while the extension of the tax cuts would increase the deficit by more than $500 billion. I think both proposals should be dropped. I will give up the $250 and they should give up the tax cut.

Some of the coverage of what the media now calls 'Foreclosure-gate' makes me want to scream and swear a blue streak. So many of the talking heads give the bankers a carte blanche to blame anyone but themselves for the mess. I saw several episodes of that on CNBC over the last few days. I also saw several articles in which the bankers basically blame the 'unworthy' home buyers for getting mortgages they couldn't pay for to begin with. And these charges go unchallenged. Yes, some home buyers got mortgages they were not able to pay. But who the hell approved them for those mortgages? Who approved loans that did not verify income or job histories? The bankers and mortgage brokers did. And who was it that failed to properly convey the notes and mortgages into the securitization trusts? The bankers and mortgage brokers. And who was it who, on discovering that failure, resorted to forged paperwork and fraudulent affidavits? The bankers and mortgage brokers. They have compounded massive failures of common sense at the beginning of this mess with criminality on the back end. If they hadn't cut corners and ignored the 'technicalities' (read 'legalities') they would be fully entitled to foreclose now. But then, I have another question--given the fraud in the foreclosure end of the process, how much fraud was in the mortgage generation end?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hi, everyone. We got a spit of rain yesterday. Not enough to do any real good. The cool weather continues. The cat is thoroughly disgusted because we won't leave the door open so he can come and go as he wants. He figures that if he has a fur coat we should also and the only reason we won't put it on is to spite him. Like most cats, he thinks the world revolves around him and, for the most part, he is right.

I linked to an article somewhere in the last couple of posts that referred to 'purple squirrels,' the practice now among manufacturing employers of combining jobs and writing a very specific job description which proves to be very hard to fill. Then I run across this story. Evidently not all employers are so picky. Banks and mortgage servicers were quite happy to hire anyone breathing to be 'foreclosure experts' so long as they would sign what they were told to sign when they were told to and not ask any questions. I guess if the need is great they can let anything slide--like ethics and law. Maybe, especially ethics and law.

Naked Capitalism posted an item today that asks a very good question--is the bank moratorium on foreclosure real or just PR? There is some convincing evidence that it is PR and the foreclosure steamroller continues on its merry way. Yves Smith makes a very good point in the middle of her comments. Some 75% of mortgages over the last few years were securitized and that is where most of the problems are because servicers and banks were sloppy about the legal requirements governing the securitization process primarily by failing to convey the notes properly. That leaves 25% of mortgages still held by the original lenders who have every right to foreclose on defaulting homeowners. The whole notion of a moratorium on all is ridiculously like hitting a fly with a shotgun--you aren't going to hit the intended target and you are going to do a whole lot of collateral damage. What I really, really, REALLY resent has been the notion just below the arguments by the banks and their supporters that fraud and other criminality should be given a pass because the 'fragile' real estate market can't stand another shock. I say let the courts and the however-many states attorneys general are now involved sort out the issues. How long will that take? Take a look at this piece also by Yves Smith. Also take particular note at the conclusion in the middle of her first block quote--U.S. property law has developed over the last couple of centuries to include multiple failsafes to make sure that only property on which there was a mortgage could be foreclosed on, that only the right property could be foreclosed on and that only defaulted mortgages could be foreclosed on. Unfortunately, the recent news stories demonstrated that all of those conditions have been violated repeatedly. The only way to by pass the failsafes is outright fraud.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hello, again, everyone. Well, it is cooler today and overcast. Instead of the mid 70s we are supposed to have mid 60s, which is 'normal' for this time in October. The trees are starting to turn and some are quite pretty. But a large number have gone from green to bare with nothing in between. I hope the clouds drop some rain--it has been pretty dry here over the last month. That seems to be the pattern lately--dry, wet, dry, wet. I think the weather people said that this has been a wetter than normal year but the rain has all fallen in concentrated time periods. Several times we got the entire 'normal' amount of rain for a month in a couple of days. In a couple of reports some areas got an entire year's allotment in less than a week. Thankfully we didn't have the widespread flooding that occurred over the last couple of years--in areas where long time residents couldn't remember a flood.

I can give an interim report on the efforts to root some cuttings of the herbs. The stevia cuttings have been giving up their ghosts one at a time over the last week. Only one remains. Next year I will let some flower and try to collect the seeds. There is only one variety (so far) and it isn't a hybrid so I may get some good seed from any new plants next year. The sage, basil, and lavender are still doing nicely. I hope they continue to do so.

I had a thought as I read this MSNBC article this morning. I spent a good bit of time between 1980 and 2000 studying history, particularly U.S. history. I remember a couple of courses that dealt with the Great Depression and the various attempts various historians made to explain both its severity and length. A number of explanations have resurfaced during discussions of the Great Recession--trade imbalances, economic bubbles, over production, a credit drought. There is one that hasn't been mentioned but I think might be relevant. By 1930 the manufacturing sector had reached its peak as the dominant sector of the economy but was already showing signs of decline (similar to the decline of agriculture as manufacturing displaced it.) The consumer section was growing rapidly. Some economic historians postulated that this shift from a manufacturing economy to a consumer economy was a major factor in both the onset of the Depression and its severity because neither sector was strong enough to revive the economy on its own. Perhaps we are now seeing the inherent weakness of an economy based overwhelmingly on the service and consumer sectors. Ten years ago I started asking a very unsettling question--what happens to a consumer driven economy when the consumer can't consume in the heroic manner previously considered 'normal?' I think we have our answer. The question now is--what will the next economic reinvention look like?

Are you all relieved that the inflation rate is so low that Social Security recipients won't 'need' an increase in their (our since I am on Social Security) benefits for the second year in a row? The take a look at the lead section of Casey's Research this morning. How, you ask, can the price increases listed not be reflected in the official inflation rate? Because, the figures have been fudged. The government doesn't include such exotic things as food and fuel costs in the CPI. We, here, at our lowly location on the economic food chain have noted for some time now that everything we normally buy has increased in price. Sometimes the price increase has been hidden--as when the producers of a product decrease the weight or volume but charge almost the same price.

The news just gets worse for the mortgage service companies and the banks. We have watched as two or three banks suspended foreclosures in 23 states (those that require judicial review of foreclosures) to Band of America announcing a suspension covering all states to 30 states' attorneys general announcing fraud probes to (today) the announcement that all states are involved in the probe. Here is HuffingtonPost's take on the matter. And to think that those poor bankers were just getting ready to announce the happy news that they had made nearly record breaking profits and were going to pay billions out in bonuses (again).

emptywheel at Firedoglake has a good article on the foreclosure mess. And, as he points out, the problem isn't just a 'few' bad mortgages but systemic failures which undermines the trust that those who are trying to foreclose have the legal right to do so. And, if fraud is pervasive in the 23 states that require judicial review, what kind of fraud has been (is) present in the 27 states without such review? Emptywheel also poses some questions on trust and the rule of law which we should very seriously consider. And we should also question whether the banks are more value to society than the law. Right now they seem to say that they are and all too many of our political leaders seem inclined to agree with them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Good morning, everyone. We have another day of above normal temps with plenty of sun. I again don't have anything to say about the garden. With the warmer temperatures I have left what is left of the garden alone. The mums and remaining marigolds are blooming well and making a pretty show. The peppers and few remaining tomatoes are trying to ripen. I hope they make it before we get a killing frost. We'll see.

I was struck by an interesting thought yesterday as I watched the CNBC reports. The reporters cited a recent poll of leading economists and investors on the question of whether the Federal Reserve would engage in another round of 'quantitative easing' (basically buying up as much Treasury debt as needed to keep--they hope--this feeble, barely detectable recovery going). The overwhelming majority think that it is a moot question and that the Fed will move on to QE2 as they call it. That isn't the interesting part of the poll. What is interesting to me is that most of the respondents think it won't be effective. My question--why do it if it won't work? These guys remind me of the characters in so many sci fi movies who continue to fire their weapons with abandon though the monsters are impervious to them. They can't think their way out of a wet paper bag much less the ideological box in which they are imprisoned.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Good Monday morning to everyone. I started a couple of posts but didn't get very far. Nothing much happening that I haven't commented on before and nothing much happening in the gardens. I feel like I have already moved on from the summer pursuits but haven't quite gotten into the fall and winter activities. And the election is less than a month away but little substantive has happened--same old empty platitudes, same old inconsequential accusations, same old prescriptions which haven't worked in the past. Let's see if I find anything worth commenting on today.

Well, well--here is an interesting little HuffingtonPost piece. It goes a long way toward explaining why manufacturers aren't filling their jobs very rapidly. And why a lot of the unemployed over the age of 50 may never work again (and certainly not in the fields they once worked in.) A major question is--how does a 50-something become a 'purple squirrel' and does it make economic sense for that 50-something to spend the resources to do so? A 20-year-old can look at the time and expense required to get a degree and/or certificate and think that over a 45 year career they will recoup the costs and come out ahead of the game. But a 50-year-old? S/He only has 15 more years. Simply think about the ads for colleges and universities that feature that young person and tout that with X, Y, or Z degree that young person can earn an additional $1million dollars. Over a 40 year career that amounts to $25,000/year. Maybe. Let's also assume that the training lasted 4 years at the cost of $25,000/year and the trainee used student loans at 5% interest to pay for them. If the repayment schedule is 15 years the student would have to pay almost $850/month and repay about $165,000. If the schedule is 20 years the payments drop to almost $700/month and final repayment to $147,000. That sounds like a pretty good investment for a 20-year-old. But for the 50-year-old? His/her expected return would be only $25,000 times 15 years (or $375,000) of which over a third goes to repay the loan. Even if the older worker gets a certificate that 'only' takes one or two years to complete the economics aren't that favorable. The purple squirrels will be the youngsters starting their educations/training now.

Kunstler at Clusterfuck Nation has a marvelously sarcastic piece on the rampant mortgage fraud fiasco. I think he is absolutely correct in the assessment that we did this to ourselves. But the corrosion is so deep, the corruption so pervasive that I don't see any daylight at the end of the tunnel. Why should such pervasive criminality be surprising? Thirty years ago I knew of ambitious students in organic chemistry classes who would sabotage fellow students' lab exercises to preserve their own high grades by knocking down someone else's. Twenty years ago, I was dealing with students who regularly committed plagiarism to bolster their grades. Fifteen years ago, or thereabouts, I saw a news program about students who openly admitted to cheating on tests and felt no shame in having done so. Ten years ago, give or take a year or so, I saw a poll in which a very large majority of the male respondents admitted that they would commit rape if they could be assured of getting away with it. Several of the bloggers I read have posted their take on the banks' assertion that their current problems are simply 'mistakes,' a matter of 'misplacing' documents, a 'procedural' problem, a 'paperwork' mixup. I agree with their pronouncement--the banks' problem is fraud and perjury--both criminal offenses. We, collectively, have winked at various levels of criminality so long as the perpetrators were successful, or could argue that they simply made innocent mistakes, or were somehow ignorant of their criminality and had no criminal intention, or we could pass off the matter with the old canard that 'no one really got hurt.'

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Good Morning to you all where ever you are. We are supposed to get another day into the mid 70s. I hope so. I think I mentioned that I have a few tomatoes and peppers slowly (very slowly) ripening and I would really like for them to get on with it. Planning for the gardens is an ongoing process, Kay. We do it a little at a time so none of it is overwhelming. Over the last couple of years (2 and a half unemployed and half officially retired) I have discovered how much I really hate being rushed into anything. Over the winter, we will finalize our plans for what we will plant and where. That may change in small details but not in any major way. All during the season we look at what is happening with the plants--which ones are doing well, which are really not suited to our space, which might do better if we just tweaked the system a bit. Our gardens are like our house--a small space which requires us to select what we put in and to take out something if we want to put in something new. We have talked about moving to get more space but have always decided to stay put. I have mentioned we have really good landlords. We are within a mile or two of most of our shopping and other interests. The expenses are not overwhelming. And the distribution of the space probably wouldn't be any better. We would like a bigger kitchen but modern designs for the last half century have minimized the kitchen area as people cooked less and less. So until something changes to upset the equilibrium we will stay put.

Well, we knew that big companies have been sitting on a mountain of cash. The economic talking heads have been telling us that for months and wondering what those companies would do with all that money. This Washington Post article (found by way of HuffingtonPost) tells us--they are buying back their own shares and bolstering the price of their stock. This is why I never believe the Republican ideologues when they tell us that all we have to do to boost employment and get the economy started again is to cut taxes so these guys will hire new workers. Pay particular attention to Microsoft's borrowing $4+billion at almost no interest while leaving another $37 billion overseas so they won't have to pay taxes on it. And then think about the wars we are fighting but they aren't paying for, and the infrastructure that is deteriorating over here because their money is parked overseas. I wonder how much Microsoft actually paid in taxes last year.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Good Morning, y'all. Clear and crisp this morning. Our highs are supposed to reach into the low 70s which will be nice. I did get the stevia cut and dried yesterday. I may get the Thai basil done today. Maybe tomorrow--I have books to get back to the library today. Thanks, Kay--yes the gardens have been fairly successful. I am getting quite a lot out of a very small space. The really nice thing about container gardening is that I don't have much of a problem with weeds. After the my veggies and flowers got well grown they took over and the weeds didn't have any space. Next year I plan to spend more time trimming my herbs. They will be bushier and more productive. We picked up a second starter tray (you know--one of those things with a clear plastic lid that functions like a mini-greenhouse) so I can start double the number of plants in my small space. They were on sale at one of our stores when they were changing out the spring stuff. I also took out the violas and most of the portulaca--both were looking a bit tired. In case you are wondering, I retain most of the soil and keep it in large bags in the shed for next year. Not much gets wasted here.

HuffingtonPost had a link to an interesting story which should come as no real surprise. Japanese researchers have published a study quantifying levels of BPA (Bis-phenol A) in the atmosphere. Like so many pollutants it is everywhere. All we can do is limit our exposure as much as possible.

And then there are stories like this one which surprises me only in that our national news media actually carried a bare mention of it. What pisses me off is that the absurdity that is Dancing With the Stars 'merited' twice as much time on the national news and about 10 minutes of the hour and a half of local news. Like BPA this pollution is ubiquitous. Nice thing about getting most of my news from news sites on the web is that I can skip such inanity and go to what is real news.

Here is a story from Crooks & Liars I fervently hope will take off. I didn't know that a civil RICO case could be filed but an attorney for homeowners in Kentucky has filed just such a class action lawsuit against Citibank and Ally. Naked Capitalism has another slant on this issue. I find the section about the Ohio Secretary of State's comments concerning a new Federal law that passed with amazing speed both houses and is awaiting President Obama's signature. Although that is troubling, the problems with the mortgage fiasco go well beyond notarization problems. They include fraudulent affidavits, back dating legal papers (a big no-no), and a host of other problems. But the assessment that the banks are trying to pull their asses out of the fire of their own making hits the bull's eye.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Good morning, everyone. We have bright sun and cool temps again today. All my cuttings appear to be doing well, including the stevia. It looks like I may have fresh sage, lavender, basil, and stevia all winter. Hope so. I will try to get out and clean out a couple of pots whose contents have become a little sad looking. I am leaving the last peppers and tomatoes as long as possible. I don't want to wast anything but, then, none of it will go to waste. If it doesn't go into the kitchen it will go into the compost bin. The only things that doesn't go in the compost are the heavy woody stems, corn husks and anything that takes a long time to decompose. I just don't have the room for it.

I found this story on HuffingtonPost this morning. The basic story is one I have heard for years. Most cities have a policy of charging those who live outside the city limits for basic services. After all, city residents pay taxes to receive those services; non-residents don't. But a couple of comments reminded me of other stories I have read lately where even those who pay the taxes for the police, fire, and ambulance services have been charged fees for emergency responses. And, being in an historical frame of mind, I remember a case that hit the newspapers about 20 or so years ago concerning a Supreme Court decision. A woman who reported, repeatedly, being raped over a period of several hours sued because the emergency calls went unanswered sued because the police made the decision not to respond. The Court basically told her, and anyone else in a similar violent situation, that a police response was not a right no matter what the emergency involved. We have no right to police (or fire, or ambulance) services whether we pay taxes or not. And, with the budget cuts and layoffs, at least one California town's police chief has announced that the police will not respond to a long list of reported crimes. The rich will hire private guards while the middle class, what remains of it, will pay taxes and pray, and the poor will get help only if the other two classes are threatened. Don't you just love the Conservative vision of social justice? (update: I noticed that MSNBC has picked up this story. Their focus seems to be, to judge by the headline, on the fact that the city fire department showed up to fight the fire in case it spread to a neighboring property, whose owner paid the fee, but refused to fight it on the property where the fire started because that owner had not paid.)

And then there is this story, also from HuffingtonPost. I normally wouldn't have linked or commented because it concerns something I have commented on frequently enough before--the mortgage disaster ('mess' seems just doesn't seem strong enough) compounded by fraud, greed and, in some cases, ignorance. What I think is noteworthy is the connection the author makes to the procedures that led to the melt-down in the first place. The fraud continues. Nothing has changed. The Kleptocracy prospers and the rest of us pay for it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Good morning, again, to everyone. We saw frost on the roofs this morning for the first time in a long while. No hard freeze though so the gardens are still flourishing--the plants that are left, that is. Since the temps over the week are supposed to get into the mid 70s for highs I don't think we will have a killing frost soon.

HuffingtonPost carried this link to a Washington Post story. My reaction--how terribly obscene. But then sweetheart deals between the U.S. government and major companies usually are.

Stephen Salisbury published a guest post on Tomdispatch this morning that shows a different obscenity in modern American life but ties into the theme of sweetheart deals between governments and big companies. Interesting how the 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people' acts most often to protect corporate interests against the interests of the people. And how much the interests of the government have diverged from those of its supposed constituency.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Good morning, y'all. It is only 42 degrees outside this morning. We expect the temps to get barely into the 60s later today. The weather people are promising a 'warm up' over the week---into the 70s. I finally got off my butt and harvested the peppers on three plants then took out the plants. I still have a lot of peppers on my False Alarm and Cow's Horn cayenne plants. I plan to take all of the False Alarm and freeze them since they can be taken green or red. I don't know about the cayennes yet because only a couple of them are anywhere near red. I also took cuttings from my stevia, lavender, and sage. My first attempt to root cuttings from these failed but I am hopeful of this one. I used the rooting hormone and put them in dirt rather than water. Last night the the stevia looked a bit droopy but this morning it is standing straight up. Good sign I think. I want to take out the parent plants of all my herbs and dry the leaves. I will start with the stevia since it is the most temperature sensitive and the overnight temperature is likely to get into the mid-to-upper 30s tonight.

I found this New York Times article by way of HuffingtonPost this morning that makes provides some interesting information and analysis of the Dod-Frank bill that is supposed to put in new rules for the finance industry that will 'make sure this (the financial crisis of the last two years) doesn't happen again.' The author provides some interesting reasons why 'this' is all too likely to happen again. Another example of capitalism with all its risks for most of us 'little people' (to use Alan Simpson's dismissive and disparaging phrase) and communism for the big boys who can make the case that they are 'too big to fail.' Or as the pigs said in Animal Farm some of us are 'more equal than others.'

HuffingtonPost's Dr. Mark Hyman has an interesting study that isn't a surprise but is disturbing nonetheless. According to a recent review of a year's worth of peer-reviewed articles published in major medical medicine, the French investigators found that 40% presented positive outcomes that were contradicted by the actual data presented. In other words, they claimed that the treatments were efficacious when they, in fact, did not work. As Dr. Hyman noted, medical practitioners, consumers, and government regulators use such studies to determine whether to approve, provide, or accept a treatment or medicine. But we can't rely on the results.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Good Saturday morning, everyone. We had rain and wind over night. The rain is supposed to leave sometime this morning but the temps will stay in the 50s or maybe the low 60s. I don't mind that. It is about time for cooler weather. Some areas are supposed to get overnight frost over the next couple of nights. I am waiting to see how soon I will have to harvest the rest of the peppers and clean out the remaining containers. I haven't done much of what I had intended this week. Instead, Mom needed to get her driver's license and car tags renewed and that took more time than usual. Not for the car but for the driver's license. Indiana is moving toward that secure ID that was passed on the federal level a couple of years ago. We can get the old style license but so many institutions are now requiring that secure id that we have decided to do that. Getting the documents together to prove who she is and where she lives was a pain. We finally got it taken care of after 3 tries and a trip one county over for a copy of one of her documents. Although I have more than a year on my current license I will change it over after the first of the new year. I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Thanks for the compliment, Lois. The doilies did turn out nicely. I finally got off my butt a couple of weeks ago and cut down a section of the extra foam insulation board (from the time we put up my design board on the wall) to form two drying and stretching boards. I can dry two 24 inch doilies at a time now. In keeping with my resolution to do smaller pieces I did not want anything bigger than that. I still have a 2 foot by 4 foot section of board we haven't yet found a use for.

I didn't know that Budo is an author. Tell me how you like the book. I don't yet do e-books though I have been thinking about it. My niece has a Kindle and my brother (her father) is thinking about getting one. If I went to e-books I think I would go to either the Barnes & Noble Nook or to the iPad. Those would overlap more with my usual vendors and equipment. The iPad is more expensive and has more computer features than I need but then I can download the Barnes & Noble software onto my MacBook and dispense with the separate reader. Decisions, decisions.

I have been slogging through This Time Is Different by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. I say 'slogging through' because my eyes tend to glaze over now-a-days whenever I see pages of graphs and economic statistics. They write very well, thankfully. I think I can boil down their argument to a few key points. First, institutional and governmental financial crises of the past have always been, at bottom, a debt crisis. That is to say--too much debt. Second, the crisis is not related to the actual amount of debt but rather to the confidence creditors have that the debtor will continue to pay the debt. When the confidence evaporates the crisis comes on--often with breathtaking suddenness. One country, city, or bank can have much more debt on its books than another but will remain stabile while another with much less debt will go into a crisis. And no one can really predict when the confidence will disappear. Third, when the crisis appears very few will have foreseen it because 'This time is different.' This time we (whoever we is) will have taken steps after the last crisis to prevent a new one. This time we are smarter and know more about such crises. This time we are better prepared. The most dismal aspect about this study of historical financial crashes is--we don't really learn from history.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Good Morning, again, everyone. I jumped the gun a bit yesterday. Today is actually the 1st of October. Unless we have something planned for a specific day we don't have to keep close track of exactly which day of the month it is. Usually, if we have an appointment, we receive a reminder phone call or something during the day reminds us of what day it is. I stand by the other sentiment--where the heck has September gone? And the year is quickly following it.