Saturday, July 31, 2010

Good morning on this stormy Saturday. We woke to heavy rain with thunder and lightening. No gardening today. The most I will do, if we get a dry enough spell, is take the gypsy pepper and the salsa tomatoes that are ready. We went out to our favorite farm market yesterday and picked up some jalapeno and bell peppers. Part of the jalapenos were frozen whole and the others went into a cooked salsa that we are going to freeze. We have a fresh salsa in the refrigerator from our first batch of tomatoes. Today we are going to have stuffed peppers, sliced tomatoes and fried eggplant. Oh, I didn't tell you--we got our first eggplants over the last couple of days. We froze half and will eat the other half with supper. Of course, we snitched a fried slice each. Very tasty.

Sorry the links didn't work for you, Kay. I tried them this morning and they worked well for me. I don't know what happened. Something between your server and mine perhaps?

I found this article on MSNBC this morning. 'Consumers Feel Downtrodden' proclaims the headline. The author goes on to detail all of the dismal facts surrounding that decline in consumer 'confidence' over the last couple of months--lay offs, furloughs, underwater mortgages, foreclosures, etc. And then I realized something--I don't feel downtrodden. I don't think I have ever felt downtrodden--even in the middle of a nearly two year stint of unemployment (after another four years of 'underemployment') without unemployment compensation. Over that time, I trimmed my buying and reset priorities to conserve what I had. I changed my habits and found how much of all of the goods and services constantly pushed at me I really didn't need or really want. I wonder how many others are going through a similar process. Right now, if I were given a million dollars free and clear, I would be a serious disappointment to those trying to save this consumer driven economy. There is very little I would spend it on. But I don't feel downtrodden.

Then I found this article that one of the bloggers I always read linked to. There are a couple of points that struck me. One is the fact that for the higher economic classes the recession seems to be over and they are spending lavishly again. They were never really affected to begin with. I linked in an earlier post to a couple of articles which showed that unemployment hardly hit the upper 20% at all and the higher up the lower the jobless rate. Conversely the lower down the higher the incidence of joblessness. I am sure the high end retail shops are glad of their business but I really don't see that extending the Bush tax credits for everyone will help stimulate the economy significantly. Another is the notion of a bifurcated economy. We have always had that it just was more easily hidden. Dollar stores and their like have been around for as long as the high end retailers. There has always been a need for them. But this recession has been deep enough and long enough that people who would have rather been at their own funerals began shopping there. Third, the notion of people economizing on some things to splurge on others is not new to this 'new abnormal.' And the author's tone is somewhat moralistically condescending. To shop down at discount stores for shampoo so you can splurge on lattes strikes him as somewhat...strange. But is it really. We have done the same thing in our shopping. We decide exactly what quality of goods we want and when quality actually matters. We buy one of the cheaper brands of shampoo because none of the more expensive brands provide any discernible benefit for the added price and we buy it at a dollar store for less than half of the 'normal' price. That is just thrifty shopping. Instead we can redirect our money toward those goods where higher quality is worth a higher price. Lastly, some of the irrational behavior strikes me as simply very human responses to frustration. The man who walked away from his underwater mortgage and splurged on a vacation and an iPad is much like a dieter who rebells against a strict diet by gorging on a whole devil's food cake.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Good Morning and Happy Friday to everyone. It is overcast and we have been told to expect sporadic thundershowers today and tonight. The temps may get up to 80 which will be fine with us--we can shut off the air and open the doors (until it rains). I have been very busy this morning. Yesterday found signs that tomato hornworms have found my tomatoes but I simply couldn't find the #@%# things because of how I had the tomatoes arranged. So I spend a lot of time untangling the various tomato, bean, and pepper plants so I could take the front two tomatoes to a new spot. That allows me to look over all of the plants thoroughly. I did find one of the worms which is now drowning in a container of water. I am surprised though that it took them so long to find my plants. This is the fourth year I have had tomatoes out here. In the process I moved everything around and found space for some of my plans for next year. That is the way it is in very small spaces. If you move one thing a lot of other things have to be moved also.

MSNBC had this report on GDP growth for the second quarter. Sluggish. Only 2.4%. For now. You know how these numbers always change after a month or two. It seems that the missing element in all of this is the consumers who simply aren't buying. Could it possibly be that they have lost their jobs, had their hours cut, or their credit lines dry up? Duh!!! I noticed yesterday some talk on MSNBC on the topic of possible deflation. That has been mentioned sporadically over the last few months--mostly to provide some expert a platform for dissing the whole notion. They aren't really dissing it now. One of the comments cited spokesmen for two companies who claim that they can't raise prices in the U.S. without their sales falling. People simply don't have the money to spend. I think declining wages has been the first sign of deflation but none of the so-called experts cared to make that connection.

I found this item as I checked my Google alerts. The author quotes extensively from a Pew study of the economic health of the various states. Using California as the bench mark (the poster child of fiscal dysfunctionality), the authors of the study rank all of the states on the factors they think most contributed to the economic health or lack thereof of each state. Frankly, it presents a nasty picture and a foreboding one for ending this recession any time soon. The article asks what will happen when the worst off states 'start' lining up to ask for Federal bailouts. I have news for you--California tried that last year and was refused. Maybe the Feds should have bailed out the states and left the banks twisting in the wind!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Good Morning, again, everyone. I had errands to run yesterday so I didn't post anything. It was so hot that when I got back I just vegetated with a couple of novels. This morning I got out in the garden containers and did some work. Took three nice eggplants (two ichiban and one fairy tales), several salsa tomatoes, and a handful of beans. I pulled the broccoli and moved some of the small pots into that container along with the stevia which clears up some space on the patio. I won't water today unless the small containers look dry this afternoon. I think we got a little of the rain that came through last night. But most of the systems still jump over us. The weather people say we might get more this evening.

HuffingtonPost's Laura Bassett has found an economist who is actually making some sense on the issue of the Bush tax cuts (which Republicans fervently wish to extend across the board) and jobs. To cut to the chase, just extending the cuts won't do much to stimulate either jobs or the economy. A better plan would take the money that the expiration of the cuts would raise and spend it on unemployment benefits, food stamps and other programs that affect the lowest levels of the economy. I have said that for some time--put the money to work among those who have to spend it.

Last time I posted I had a couple of stories and a comment or two about privacy. Today I found this story. Of the two I find the government lapses in the last post more troubling.

Then there is this little story. I find it interesting in light of all of the blather I heard on MSNBC about the signs of recovery in the housing market. I think the remarks on the effect of the tax credits (and their expiration) are interesting. I have suspected that much of the stimulus would be, for the most part, temporary. That is pretty well what has happened. And I think the estimates that the economists quoted in the story for when the housing market will recover are rosy.

I was tempted to let this story go without comment. It has become all too common and the mind-boggling sums almost numbingly unreal. What really bothers me is these are the kind of people who would have been handling money diverted from Social Security if Bush had gotten his way and the program had been privatized. It is bad enough as it is with every President and every Congress since God only knows when pretending to borrow it to fund what they didn't want to raise taxes to pay for.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Good day to you all. The garden is going well and the weather is nice (though getting warm again) so I will go on to other things.

Privacy is, and has been, a major concern for sometime. A good while ago, I came to the conclusion that, by any reasonable definition, it has pretty well disappeared. A couple of stories I found this morning confirm my pessimistic notions. The first involves a case in Virginia. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, an appeals court has upheld a lower court judges verdict deciding that a Virginia law that prevented a woman from publishing the social security numbers she found on on-line legal documents. The appeals court went ever further than the trial judge in holding that she can publish not only the numbers of public officials in Virginia but the Social Security numbers of anyone whose numbers are on public documents. I agree with the appeals court. The state was remiss in not redacting the numbers when they put the documents on line. Many of those on-line documents were land titles and recorded mortgages. And, according to Utah residents, or former residents, face a similar breach of privacy if they have owned real property any time in the past 30 years. In wonder how many other states have placed their residents in the same predicament.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Good Monday morning to everyone. Yesterday was absolutely gorgeous: low 80s with a cool northerly breeze. I would happily endure that weather all year round. The rains Friday night through Saturday morning were monstrous. Thankfully, only rain here. I wondered a couple of times Saturday night if that rain has some hail with it but the gardens are intact so evidently not (or not much). We didn't get any of the flooding that hit west of Chicago and east of us in areas around Mishawaka and Shipshewana. The news this morning said we have received enough rain to make this one of the wettest Julys on record. It is already in the top ten for heat. At least we can be thankful that we don't have a broken dam to deal with.

MSNBC had this link this morning. If Ezra Klein at Newsweek is right and the Financial Regulations recently passed put restrictions on the payday loan business then the fight is well worth it. What I really hope, however, is that there is a grass roots revolution in our attitudes toward debt. Our levels of debt are obscene on all levels, government and individual. I don't know if it is possible to reign it in without crashing the whole system. But the economic models that are based on infinite 'leverage' (a euphemism for debt) and unlimited industrial production are inherently unsustainable. Some bright person somewhere really needs to come up with something better.

So, the next big battle looming is over the Bush tax cuts. The issue is simple. Either Congress votes to extend them or they expire on Dec. 31. The opinion is split now. One group wants the cuts extended--end of story. They argue that it is folly to increase taxes on anyone when the economy is still so fragile. Another group wants the cuts to expire claiming that the revenues are needed to keep address the growing budget deficit. Another group wants to continue the tax cuts for those 'middle class' people who earn less than $200k ($250k/family) while letting them expire for anyone earning more. My attitude goes back to my response when the tax cuts were enacted--'Tax cut? WHAT tax cut??' I think we should let the cuts expire. We have had years of the wealthy and corporations getting breaks while the rest of us picked up the tab. After the cuts expire, we should look at tax breaks for those making less than $200k--the ones who have to spend what they make to live. We have a consumer driven economy and they are the people who MUST spend.

For an interesting and related commentary with a nice history lesson thrown in take a look at this post. My first response to the whole notion of trickle down economics, when I first heard about it, was that what usually trickled down (piss and shit) you didn't want to trickle down on you. As it turned out we got the piss and shit while other countries got the real benefits of new jobs and increasing standards of living. And the whole notion is coming up again in arguments over the Bush tax cuts. Gollum lied when he promised that if the hobbits 'be nice to us, we'll be nice to them.' Our legislative Gollums are making the same promise. Why in the hell do we believe them?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Good Saturday Morning, Everyone. We had a lot of rain last night. I don't mind that. In fact, I much prefer the rain fall at night. But the temps today are supposed to get back into the 90 which means it will be a sauna. The gardens will get along nicely without me today. Unfortunately, my cat isn't happy. He won't get to go out. He has already protested quite vocally.

The little dehydrator worked very nicely and I have little baggies of dried basil and sage in the freezer. The herbs dried much faster than I thought they would--only about 2 hours. Although the dehydrator does have a small heater, it doesn't appear to 'cook' the herbs to the extent the microwave did. Using the micro we could smell the herbs all over the house. The aroma of drying herbs was barely detectable with the dehydrator. When things dry out, I will gather some of the lavender and stevia for drying.

Since we are supposed to get more intermittent rain all day (and I don't really like saunas much) I will probably spend more time crocheting. I have a lot of left over yarn from various projects over the years so I am trying to find things to do with it. Some of the yarn I used in one of my rugs has fallen apart. It was simply too old and had weakened/deteriorated over time. Sometime I will have to take the rug apart and get take it out. Luckily, that yarn is in the last couple of rows. Right now I am working up the pink cotton left overs into wash cloths. Next I plan a couple of market bags from the white.

MSNBC had this article that I decided to read for a fuller explanation of the story the evening news carried last night. Of course, both lead off with the titillating title of Wal-Mart 'getting in your pants.' I am not at all happy with the notion of Wal-Mart (or anyone else) embedding RFID tags into anything I buy. Removable tags, maybe. I notice toward the end of the story the reporter claims that Wal-Mart is working with its suppliers to incorporate removable tags rather than embedded tags. They claim it is for inventory control but I have to wonder if tags on every single object is rally cost effective. They already do that for jeans, shirts and other such clothing items--but extending this to every piece of underwear or socks?? Those often come in multiple piece packages and the packages are already tagged. As I read this story, I thought of only one circumstance in which individual tagging would be helpful. Some years ago, Mom and I were shopping for a particular color of sheets and pillow cases which she wanted to put a crocheted edging on as a gift for someone. After an extensive search, we finally found an acceptable set only to find, after we got home, that the pillow case package had been opened, one of the two removed, and carefully sealed up again. Is that kind of loss becoming so prevalent that it justifies the use of RFID tags on every single piece? By the way, I understand the privacy concerns. I don't like the implications at all. But Wal-Mart, in retail, is like Texas in textbooks. What Texas wants, Texas gets even if it is inane, insane, inaccurate, or downright wrong. And even if you don't shop at Wal-Mart (or live in Texas), you will be affected.

MSNBC also had this story which should come as no surprise. Some insurance companies, in some states, are refusing to issue new individual insurance policies for children. It is, evidently, a response to the new health care reforms which will prohibit insurers from refusing to write policies on children with pre-existing conditions. The companies are afraid that parents will wait until a child has a health crisis before getting insurance or that hospitals will get insurance on any uninsured child that comes in. Either way the insurance company would be stuck. The industry, state insurance regulators and health officials are trying to get the Administration to set up a limited open enrollment period to limit the feared abuse of the system. What we have to realize is that what Bert Gummer said of Federal agents in Tremors 3 applies to insurance companies: "They are not your friends." Insurance companies are for profit entities. Your health, financial or physical, doesn't mean a bucket of warm spit to them. If you die or go bankrupt, they don't care so long as they make a profit. But we, or rather our political leaders, have decided that profits are more important than people's health.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Good Morning, everyone. We decided to run a couple of errands yesterday since today was supposed to be hot with good chances of strong thunderstorms. Yesterday we were supposed to be dry and mid-80s. As I updated it was considerably warmer. By the time we finished we were both rung out and exhausted. We could have easily have put off our errands. Oh, well!!

I wasn't too happy with the microwave drying of the herbs I harvested earlier. It worked but one of the paper towels I used came out with small singed spots. I was very careful to limit the times for each cycle of drying but I was a bit concerned with possibly starting a small fire. We decided to get a small food dehydrator instead of doing another round with the microwave. It is at work now with two trays of sage and three of basil. I did my gardening real early and am very glad I did because the temps on the patio are already touching 90 degrees.

We also decided to get a small propane camp stove. Over the last couple or three years severe weather has cause large areas both east and west of us to lose electric service for two, three, or more days. All our cooking is electric and we have no plan B in case anything happened. We have felt very fortunate because we have only experience momentary brown-outs. Other areas nearby have had day long black-outs. Mom has also been unhappy with the electric stove for some of the cooking. She likes to do poblano peppers Mexican style which means she has to char the skin and peel them. That is better accomplished over a flame. Now she can do that.

Economist Mom has an interesting excerpt from Alice Rivlin who is on the President's budget commission. When I reached her third reason for dealing with Social Security now I had some interesting thoughts. She thinks that dealing with Social Security makes it easier to deal with the rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid which are the true monsters in this mess. Medical costs have risen faster than inflation for something like the last two decades. The question, though, is how to deal with the problem and my thought is that we have first to deal with our attitudes toward death and toward medicine itself. If most Americans today were asked the question Davey Jones asked in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (Do you fear death?) we would scream "YES!!!" at the top of our lungs and grasp at any means of gaining more life of any kind. But most medical costs are expended in a person's final illness. But we don't ask if that is a good expenditure of resources and money. We seem to be congenitally incapable of accepting limits. Also, we are a culture addicted to high tech toys and, because we have the toys, we want them used usually without questioning their usefulness in a given circumstance. If we moderate those two attitudes, and learn to say no on occasion, we would go a long way toward moderating the spiraling costs of medical care.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Good Morning, Everyone. We expect the reprieve from 90+ weather to continue for another day. We may or may not get any of the thunderstorms that are now out west of us. We got absolutely no rain over the last week. All of that stayed south or fell apart. But tomorrow and Saturday are supposed to be in the 90s again with heat indices in the 100s. We intend to turn on the air and hibernate. (Update: we did NOT continue our reprieve from the 90+ weather. I don't know what the official temp is but we have about 96 on our patio. Damn!!!)

I found this opinion piece on HuffingtonPost this morning. It is just another indication of just how drunk we have become on credit over the last 40 years. I am amazed as I think back at just how easy it was to accumulate that debt--and, yes, I am speaking from experience. The author is absolutely correct about how nonchalantly students were advised that the student loan debt was 'good' debt. Everyone assumed that the degree would lead to good jobs that would allow us to pay off the debt and live a nice, upwardly mobile life. And, because the loans carried a fairly low interest rate, they were so much better than any other kind of debt. Well, as the old saying goes 'Assume makes an ass out of u and me." And the default rate is, as Zac Bissonette writes, only the tip of the ice berg. Several years ago another writer (whose name I cannot now remember) compared the student loan burden as "debt slavery." I agreed to her then and agree even more heartily now. has an interesting letter to the editor concerning Social Security. The meat of the article deals with the contention I expressed yesterday that I do feel entitled to Social Security since I have paid the taxes all my working life and it has been promised me all my working life. The important part starts with a couple of Supreme Court Cases.
"Helvering v. Davis — 1937, the Supreme Court rules that Social Security was a tax like any other tax, and no American has a property right to that tax revenue. This was affirmed again by the Supreme Court in 1960 — Flemming v. Nestor. Starting with FDR, Americans have been told a lie about Social Security, while the federal government (starting with FDR in 1937) has always successfully argued in court that Social Security was in fact just a tax.

Whether it would be immoral and/or politically stupid to not fulfill promises made about Social Security is another question entirely. For the moment, you have to pay your FICA; it is not legally yours as a property right; the government can give you back whatever it wants (including nothing) and can tax the FICA tax you already paid. Yes, your government has spent the surplus taxes it collected because it can, legally. It allowed them to spend money without raising your taxes directly. November 2010 is about change, choose wisely."
I think the questions of entitlement and morality are not entirely separate questions. In spite of the law (which holds that we are not entitled to any of the tax proceeds) there is a moral obligation whether enforceable or not. What this says is that the U.S. taxpayers are in the same position as workers employed by a failing company. When the company files for bankruptcy the workers become unsecured creditors and may or may not get the wages they worked for. Another parallel comes to mind. Years ago, casino gambling was sold to the residents of Illinois on the promise that the revenues the state garnered through gambling would be used to pay for education. Those revenues were put in the general fund and education in Illinois has always had to fight for appropriations from the state legislature. I have asked this question before but it is worth asking again: how long before repeated broken promises and crushed hopes leads people to withdraw support from the political system that governs us? We no longer trust the economic system and its leaders. The last ten years have provided repeated blows to our trust in our political system and its leaders. I think we are on very fragile ground here.

Here is another interesting story from HuffingtonPost. Katz is absolutely right when he writes that it is a very different thing to get medical help for cancer, or flu, or similar conditions which are not the normal functioning of the human body. For the most part, obesity is the result of the very normal functioning of human physiology. It has a very important survival function--or has had for most of human history. Obesity today is the combination of a sedentary lifestyle (how much of our daily work involves vigorous physical activity?) and a food industry that provides cheap and often empty calories. Katz's conclusion is right on target--instead of trying to chemically modify our physiology we should put ourselves into a more natural environment.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Howdy, Everyone. Yesterday provided a nice break from the heat which, unfortunately, will be back today. The rain that has been promised all week has stayed well to the south. I wouldn't mind a nice, steady, day-long, gentle rain but I don't think I will get anything like that. We used to get that kind of rain a lot during the spring but not for some years.

You are right, Lois, about the thieves in government. They have been around a lot longer than the 1800s. One of the biggest controversies of the early Republic involved the redemption of the war bonds that financed the Revolution. Well-heeled speculators bought up piles of them for pennies on the dollar from cash-strapped farmers and destitute soldiers. The speculators expected to redeem those bonds at full price and eventually did thereby getting a financial windfall. The argument in Congress was whether to pay the full price or to split the price between the original bond holders and the speculators. Congress sided with the speculators. Of course, the action was couched in terms of 'honor.' They decided that the honor of the nation was bound up in full payment even though the people who had sacrificed their financial well-being for the new nation did not get the reward for that sacrifice.

I found this article on the very hot summer we have been having and our national inaction on climate change. My mind followed a very odd path as I read the article. Our politicians are following exactly the same strategy so many of our manufacturers have for so long--doing anything to disguise cost increases. The manufacturers provide packages that look the same but actually contain one-third less product for the same or very slightly lower price. Our congress-critters would prefer to haggle over rules that mandate greater energy efficiency that then have to be clarified and enforced by individual government agencies but which hide from the ultimate consumer/citizen how costly reducing carbon emissions really would be. I wonder if honesty in politics is possible when every individual (and the group he identifies with) in this country thinks that every other individual (and his group) is getting a better deal/break/whatever and doesn't deserve it.

The New York Times has another interesting article. At the same time we are being deluged with stories about the 'crisis' in Social Security the state of Maine is considering switching its state employees over to Social Security and dumping its private pension plan. Living close to Chicago (but on the Indiana side of the line) I hear a lot about the trouble the Illinois public employee pension plan is in. Like so many private company plans it has been seriously underfunded for some time and the losses on investments have only made matters worse. Reading this article, however, I have to wonder why it has taken so long for people to start realizing that these pension plans are really scams. And I wonder how many workers have been left with neither state pensions nor social security?

Economist Mom at The Christian Science Monitor asks a very good question: Why is 'entitlement' a dirty word?" I can think of a couple of reasons. On the one hand it is often coupled with other programs which more closely fit one of her definitions of entitlement--benefits guaranteed to a particular group of people. In that sense social security is an entitlement. But there is a connotation to the word that is less appealing. Some years ago I remember trying to get that idea across to a student who questioned my questioning of her word choice in an essay. The word she used conveyed a totally different meaning than she intended but she had used a thesaurus and a dictionary which told her that the definition was exactly what she intended much like the dictionary definitions of entitlement Economist Mom used. Unfortunately, the word 'entitlement' carries a sense, a connotation, of something that has not been earned--a gift to someone who may or may not be deserving and which the gifting party could reduce or eliminate at will. I have no trouble embracing the term because I say 'Hell, yes, I am entitled. I paid for the damned thing. It is not charity.' Her comparison of the program to 'Membership Rewards' with American Express is interesting as is her conclusion that we are not paying enough to cover the rewards offered. But one of the big complaints and one of the issues the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency is supposed to address is the practice of credit card companies/banks/financial firms of changing the rules without notice. If we don't think it is ethical/moral/fair for private companies to do that why should the Government. And to change the rules for people under some arbitrary age, say 55, doesn't make the situation any more fair. By the time someone reaches 40 they have paid in for 20 years. That is more than enough time for a worker with a private pension to become vested even if they can't collect they reach retirement age (what ever age that might be).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Good Morning, All. Well, the expected thunderstorms stayed well south of us so I will have to water well this morning. I only watered the smallest of my containers yesterday. I expect to take 3 or 4 of the salsa tomatoes that are ripe. The plants are full of fruit so I hope for a good harvest and plenty of fresh salsa for immediate use and cooked salsa to freeze. I think I am getting the aphid problem under control. The combination of insecticidal soap and the pyrethrin based insecticide (the mildest treatments in the arsenal) seem to be doing the job. The peppers are all doing very well as are the eggplants. I anticipate good harvests from both. I have already frozen about 2 quart freezer bags of the yardlong beans and we had one meal of fresh beans stewed with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and bacon. The rest of the tomatoes are just a bit behind the salsas but we took three of the larger green ones for frying. Our favorite little farmer's market opened two weeks ago. They have the best sweet corn around. It is more expensive than other markets but we have never been disappointed. We found one ear that was a the slight side but then noticed that they had given us 13 ears instead of 12. I think that is a bargain.

I found this USAToday article on my google alerts this morning. For almost two decades now the mainstream media has noted a decline in the faith of younger Americans that Social Security will be there for them. That is hardly new though, I gather, the levels of such skepticism are at record levels. What I find interesting is the attitude of current retirees: "A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds that a majority of retirees say they expect their current benefits to be cut, a dramatic increase in the number who hold that view." Given the number of stories I have seen lately which claim that the IMF is encouraging the US government to repudiate the bonds held by Social Security, I am not surprised the current recipients are beginning to wonder if it will continue to be there for them. I half expect that the thieves we have in government will bend more and more towards repudiating that debt because stiffing our own people is preferable to stiffing the foreign holders of our debt. And I would not be surprised if they followed that up with repudiation of Social Security though not, of course, of the taxes that support the system. Those will remain to pay for their damned wars and the companies that provide war services. Call me cynical, but given the conditions of this country over the last decade or two, I think cynicism is fully justified. (For a bit more information on this poll check out the Gallup site.)

I am back after a break to do my gardening and a few other chores. Looking at my poor, pathetic spinach I decided to call it a failed experiment and start over next year. They did fine until the heat of recent days but they bolted before they could develop any really good leaves to harvest. Mom spend the last couple of hours grinding three large beef roasts into hamburger. We will now have about 10 pounds of about 98% lean ground beef for a little over $2 per pound. However, she found almost 1 pound of gristle, coarse connective tissue and skin in the process. Almost 10% of what we bought was inedible waste. If we had bought those roasts for cooking as roasts we would have been very disappointed in them. We are spending some time looking at the small meat markets and farms in the area. They are much more expensive but we hope the quality will be much better. At least we hope that what we spend on meat will go into our bellies and not into the garbage.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Good Morning, Everyone. My God, third week of JULY already. I noticed that the weather people are predicting high temps for the remaining two months of summer. I was amused last night when one of the our meteorologists commented on the fact that the climate change deniers who were crowing during the extended cold and snow of last winter are now falling back on the notion that heat waves come along every now and then. At least they did mention the climate change proponents' position--that side expects extreme cold and snow spells and extreme heat waves to come along more frequently. No one mentioned that the denial camp talks about the weather while the change camp talks about climate and the two are not the same.

I have seen a number of news stories about Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner and his opposition to Elizabeth Warren as head of the new consumer protection agency (the one the new financial regulation reform law mandates). HuffingtonPost had this article that makes a good case for a hidden reason for Geitner's opposition. Basically, Geitner (and his good buddy from Goldman Sachs, Larry Sommers) wants to allow the big banks to hide their bad loans and other shady deals, soak their small customers with fees and bad financial products, stop making new loans to anyone, and collect an increasing interest rate spread on Treasury bonds. After several years of this the banks will be in fine shape--but the economy as a whole will be in the toilet for a decade or more.

You can file this story in the "I have heard this crap before and I am still not convinced" folder. I regret that the shill is a Republican congressman from Indiana. No, he does not represent my district so I didn't vote for or against him. (I don't want to vote for the Democrat who represents my district and I won't vote for the Republican who is challenging him--but that is a story for another time.) I love the constant references to past times when tax cuts for the wealthy allegedly created economic growth but I have a number of problems with the whole argument. First, what portion of the economic growth was actually due to the tax cuts and what part was due to other unmentioned factors? No one ever says. Second, they always say that the tax cuts actually created higher tax revenues which actually ''pay" for the cuts. But, again, where is the proof. If a large part of the economic growth, which fueled the larger tax revenues, did not come from the tax cuts then we might have had the higher revenues without the cuts for the wealthy. In that case, the lower 80% of wage earners, who got little or no benefit from the cuts, paid for it which amounts to a 'transfer' of wealth from poor and middle class to the wealthy. I guess Republicans can stomach transfers like that so long as it goes from lower to higher. Third, if the purpose of tax cuts is to stimulate consumer spending, it makes more sense to give the cuts to the lower income groups since they are the consumers who have to spend. Since the Republicans are in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts, which did not help anyone in my social/economic circle, I have to conclude that stimulating consumer spending is not a serious goal for them because they are not interested in stimulating the consumers who have no choice but to spend. Instead, it is merely another means of transferring wealth from lower to higher income groups.

I can't resist commenting on this story from the Chattanooga Free Press. It seems to me that common sense and intelligence have left the business world. An Hispanic job applicant shows a valid driver's license and a valid social security card and the company then demands he show a green card??? Then they rescind the job offer when he explains that he can't show the green card because he is a U.S. citizen and doesn't have one??? The pairing of this story with the judgement against another company in that same industry for failing to get adequate documentation seems to indicate that the lack of caution of the one company led to the 'excess' of caution of the other. That is sheer crap. The person in charge of hiring simply did not know his/her job and was looking for an excuse to refuse to hire an otherwise qualified applicant who happened to be Hispanic. This is why I am very, very, very skeptical of how Arizona's immigration law will be implemented, if it passes the court challenges.

You can put this New York Times article in the 'I have been saying this for a long time now' or in the 'It takes an expert to tell you this??' files. When this recession started and the unemployment stats started their meteoric rise we greeted the expansion of job training programs with one question--'job training...for what?' and got no good answer. Some of the stories we saw concerned people signing up for training programs and using government-guaranteed loans to finance it. Some saw their prospects dimming before they were halfway through because the programs were swamped with more desperate people hoping that the training would lead them back to a good job.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Good Sunday Morning, to you all. Our heat wave continues. The gardens continue to grow. If the plants put out as much fruit as they have blossoms we will have a bumper crop of peppers and eggplant. If I can get the aphid population under control. They hit the eggplants hard and have moved on to the peppers. But I had some insecticidal soap that seems to be doing the trick. The nice thing about container gardening is that I usually find problems before they get out so out of control as to ruin everything.

I found this article from the New York Times (by way of HuffingtonPost) that I rather like. Initial stories in the broadcast media were far more sketchy and there as been no follow up since early in the week when the subpoenas were first issued. The question of how the securities were bundled actually has been answered in a neat little book that come out earlier this year--The Big Short. The real question in my mind is--how much fraud was involved and how should the responsibility for that fraud be apportioned? I notice that the ratings agencies have not, at least according to the early reports, been hit with subpoenas. They were up to their necks in this mess and I would love to see them called to account. It would be nice if Fanny and Freddie could force the sellers of those securities to buy them back at the price originally paid but I fear that if they do so the sellers would simply go whimpering back to the Federal government for help. One way or another tax-payers are on the hook.

I guess this NYT article should not be a surprise. So we were promised choice and now the insurance companies are defining choice for us. And if we want choices they don't offer we have to pay for it. Unfortunately they are also defining 'high quality' and 'affordable' for us. I am afraid that that will translate into 'cheapest.' I also remember another problem from the 'HMO wars' of the mid-1990s--people who suffered a medical emergency and were transported by EMTs to the nearest hospital only to find that the hospital and its doctors were not in the 'network.' I wonder how that problem will be worked out--through drawn out litigation or arbitration that favors the insurers?

Peterr at Firedoglake has a short but on-the-money post today. He says pretty much what I said when I heard the consumer confidence reports this week--'What in the hell did they expect?' I have gone beyond shaking my head when the various reports come out so far below what so-called experts expected. Now I just wonder what they are taking with their morning coffee (or what they are smoking). There does seem to be a massive disconnect between the economy at my level and economy at the heights from which our financial and political leaders are pontificating.

Jim White, also at Firedoglake, makes another point I have made here before, though not so eloquently and not with any links to musical accompaniment. We seem to choose experts to solve problems those experts had a large role in creating. Goldman Sachs gave us, in part at least, the financial meltdown and they have given us Larry Sommers and Tim Geitner. BP was deeply involved in creating the conditions that led to the Gulf blowout but whose experts to we allow to fumble their way around to solve it? BP's experts!! That is like asking the doctor who broke our legs to set them.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hello, again. We are expecting another hot day and increasing humidity. We may or may not get any rain so I will have to water the gardens well this morning.

While I was writing yesterday's post I was amazed, as I have been often over the last decade or so, by just how much trust our system requires. And how often that trust is abused. We go to the supermarkets, or a restaurant, or wherever, to buy what we need assuming that we will get what we pay for, that what we buy will do what we want and that it will not not harm us. I have noted often in the past couple of years that we purchased a product that looked like what we normally bought only to find that we paid the usual price for significantly less because the manufacturer had reduced the amount in the package. We no longer trust the manufacturers and no longer assume that we will get what we pay for. We read all the labels. The question that popped into my mind is: how long can our economic/political/social system continue without trust? What will happen when a large number of us no longer trust anyone? I have heard a lot of drivel about how we have to be responsible consumers but I have to ask how can we do that when so much is hidden under the surface? We can't, as individuals, test for melamine in our pet's food, or cadmium (or lead) in our child's charm bracelet, or take the wrapper off a package of ground beef to check that the core of it is as fresh as the outside (or whether it has been contaminated by e coli), or test our salad greens for salmonella. Unfortunately, the whole system (from finance/banking to retail to medicine to whatever) is riddled with hidden dangers to both our financial and physical health. And even informed consumers can't be aware of all of those dangers. Therefore we need a legal system that protects consumers foremost.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hope every one has a nice Friday, today. I expect mine will be. It is still going to be hot just with a little less humidity. So the expected 90 degrees will actually feel like 90 (instead of 100+). The weather people say that this July is already the 8th hottest on record (and it is only half done with more hot weather on tap for the near future.) Don't have much to say about the gardens--they are progressing along nicely. All I am doing is watering when needed, changing the slug traps, watching for any pests that may have moved in thinking to get some easy pickings.

It looks like we have had some good news--the Senate passed Financial Reform (FinReg as the economic talking heads have dubbed it) and BP has finally installed a cap on that well that seems to be working. How good the news is will depend on how things shake out in the future. Much of the regulation the financial reforms mandate are still to be worked out by various agencies. I don't really place much faith in the regulations to prevent another financial crisis. Like generals who are always planning for the last war, our politicians are always looking to prevent the last crisis. I have absolutely no doubt that the next one will blind side most of us, just like the last one did. As far as BP goes--I hope the new well head holds till the relief wells are in place and that they work.

Ryan Grim at HuffingtonPost has a nice summary of the reform package. I hope Elizabeth Warren gets the nomination as the head of that new consumer protection agency even though this Shahien Nasiripour, also at HuffingtonPost, thinks that unlikely--she has been much too tough on Tim Geitner and his Treasury Department as well as much too critical of the big boys on Wall Street. I think we need a strong consumer protection agency headed by a tough and vigorous activist. Why you wonder can't we just insist that consumers exercise their responsibility to be informed and protect their own interests themselves? Well, they should but that notion has a serious flaw. We were watching a CNN program on the counterfeiting problem this week. One of the early segments was pretty much as expected--counterfeit designer bags, shoes, etc. What struck us is how easily we might be fooled into buying the counterfeits. We wouldn't go for the Coach or other brands specifically. We would be looking for a bag that meets our purposes and price range. Because we aren't interested in making a fashion statement we aren't as knowledgeable about what might or might not be a knock off AND we aren't interested in spending our time researching that aspect of our purchase. Also, dealing with a reputable vendor isn't a guarantee--some months ago one of the local big box stores was caught selling fakes. Another part of the counterfeit story actually scares us a bit--the segment on medical counterfeits. These can be deadly.

However, aside from the problem with counterfeits, we face other hidden dangers as consumers which no amount of research or active investigation can prevent. How many people fed their pets the melamine-laced foods last year? A number of reputable manufacturers were involved because they got a tainted ingredient from a Chinese supplier. My pets could have easily been victims--all I would have had to do was pick up one brand instead of the one I usually pick up.

Or consider, the number of food recalls we have had. You decide to go to a fast food restaurant for a treat. Suddenly you have a nasty case of food poisoning because the lettuce (or tomatoes, or peppers, or spinach, or God only know what) were contaminated. The restaurant, the party you deal with, also had no way of knowing.

Michael Whitney at Firedoglake posted this article this morning. If this is true, the entire management of Massey Energy, from Don Blankenship down, should be indicted for murder.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Good Morning, Everyone. It is already warm and humid. The weather people predict a high in the low 90s with a heat index (heat + humidity) over 100. Needless to say my gardening will be early and light. I really don't have much to do. I want to get everything watered well and will probably have to water the tomatoes and small containers again this evening. I would like to get a bunch of plastic containers cut down so I can stack them away for next year but that might wait. The nice thing about not having to go out to work is that nothing is so pressing that I have to do it now.

HuffingtonPost has this article which covers the results of three polls which showed considerable support for either extending unemployment benefits or doing something else to ease the unemployment numbers even if it increased the budget deficit. Even the Bloomberg poll indicated that 70% thought reducing unemployment is more important that reducing the deficit. That poll showed the lowest level of approval (47%) for extending unemployment benefits. The ABC and CBS polls showed majorities in favor of that option. And yet we can't get ANY measures to relieve unemployment through our so-called legislative branch of government.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Good Morning, Everyone, on what promises to be a hot and humid Wednesday. We may have to put on the air this afternoon after a nice day without. The gardens are going well. I plan to harvest a couple of green tomatoes to fry this afternoon as well as some yardlong beans that will be frozen for later use. The pepper plants that suffered the recent assault from some child's toy have recovered nicely.

Robert Creamer has a very nice assessment of our recent past with particular emphasis on the Republican role in our present situation. Unfortunately, I don't know how many voters will either remember that past when it comes time to vote. We have a cliche about how short voters memories are and for the most part those memories are very short indeed. I noted over our morning coffee that there seems to be a growing 'throw the bums out' mentality. Sorry to say, there are more Democratic bums to throw out than Republican bums. I sincerely hope that Creamer's question of whether the electorate will return control of the economy to those whose policies led to this mess will be answered in the negative. However, unless we get a super-majority in both houses of truly liberal Democrats, I don't expect anything to change.

I have said repeatedly and for some time now that our current economics and politics has raised economic and political principles to the status of religious dogma. I just found Daniel Schultz's post which makes a similar point far more eloquently than I have.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Good Morning, All. We have had morning thunderstorms so far. The weather people say my area has received about three-quarters of an inch so far and the rain should move out by mid-morning. I don't mind since I won't have to water extensively in the gardens. We got the latest water bill and were pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn't very much above the usual even though I have had to water the plants more thanks to the hot weather we have had. The heat is supposed to come back by the end of the week. The bill we really dread seeing is the electric because we have used the air quite a bit more. The heat we can usually tolerate but lately it has combined with humidity and that is extremely uncomfortable.

I found this item on my news alerts this morning and the cynical side of me can easily believe that there may be some fire beneath this smoke. After all, what is the value of a hundred-plus lives when hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars is at stake? That is the key fact people have to understand about economics (and politics, and science). These are NOT moral systems in their own right--they have to be judged by some standard external to themselves. Unfortunately, we have conflated concepts like capitalism and democracy into nearly religious concepts and, in the U.S., have so intertwined it with 'Christianity' that we can't criticize the first two without criticizing the latter. Capitalism is about making money and the only standard on which companies are judged is how much money they make NOT on how they make it. Making a lot of money functions as the Medieval indulgences did--your sins magically disappear.

HuffingtonPost has another story concerning the rising number of law suits by debt collectors that are clogging the 'justice' system an increasing number of which are frivolous in one way or another. A couple of months ago another story indicated that some judges in New York were becoming very unhappy with debt collection lawyers who filed large numbers of actions without checking the facts. There is no justice in a system which allows the sale, often many times over, of debts (which may or may not be owed by the person who is targeted) and then allows the harassment of the alleged debtor. We have a debtor's prison without the bars. Unfortunately, the largest debtors (banks who received government bailouts) are treated much more gently than individuals.

Talking about banks, it seems Fed Chairman Bernanke (perhaps channeling the Administration's feelings) is frustrated because loans are still hard to come by for small businesses. The banks simply are not lending. We heard this on the morning news. As usual we were not surprised. There has been a drumbeat since the crisis began to encourage the banks to make small business loans and they have been very slow to do so. On the one hand I can't blame them--debt got us into this crisis. Anyone who thinks that lax standards applied only to home mortgage loans is living in a dream world. We built the prosperity of the last 30 years on debt and now we can't figure a way to be prosperous without debt. We are in a box and haven't even begun to think outside it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Good Morning, again, everyone. Didn't have much to say yesterday. Too irritated at having to repair the damage some kid's toy did to a couple of my pepper plants. I did get them reset but lost a branch with several nicely developing peppers on it. The rest will do all right I think. I also took the opportunity to put a taller stake with one of my Ichiban eggplants. I think it took part of the same hit the peppers took. They are all looking much better now.

This is an interesting article from MSNBC. I found a couple of points particularly interesting. First, the notion of arrogance and hubris. We always assume that we, with our amazing technology, have everything under control. We never really think about what we would do if that technology failed us for any reason. Second, the recognition that while some aspects of our technology, mostly the lucrative, have leaped ahead while others, the more costly safety oriented, have lagged seriously behind. In this case the technology that allows us to tap oil fields under a mile of ocean and several thousand feed of earths crust have surged far ahead of the technology for dealing with a catastrophic failure. Third, the notion that if we got away with ignoring possible warning signals in the past, we will necessarily get away with such behavior in the present and future.

I found this NewsWeek article by way of MSNBC and I have some mixed thoughts about it. It turns out to be one of the 'booster' articles that dismiss the negatives in the economy while playing up the so-called positives. I think the author would be dismayed at where his medical analogy led my wandering brain. As he outlined all of the money the Federal government pumped into the economy over the last two years, I thought of the several articles I have read on when in our life cycles we spend the most on medical care--during the last medical crisis before death. And I almost involuntarily asked--are we using extraordinary means to resuscitate a terminal patient? Then the author went into a far more rosy and all too predictable path. He thinks we will, with our resilience and innovation and ability to "ride the Global economy," surf out of the recession on the China wave. That completely ignores the fact, which many of the economic pundits have been discussing for the last month or more, that China is taking steps to cool its economy. And it ignores the fact that China is hardly an open economy. American companies may sell good to the Chinese but those goods are going to be made in China--not here. American companies will benefit but America won't. And this guy, like most other economic commentators, expects the American people to both save and spend. I have yet seen any explanation of how that miracle of having your cake and eating it can be accomplished.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Well, it is Sunday but how good it will turn out I really don't know. We had a heavy, though brief, thunderstorm yesterday. I won't water today unless the plants dry out more than I expect they will. I woke up this morning to find my Mexibelle peppers laying down. They aren't broken so I think I will be able to add some trellises and straighten them up. We think some kids lost their ball and it hit smack in the center of the peppers. Occupational hazard here since we have kids all around. Thankfully it doesn't happen often.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Good Saturday morning, Everyone. We have nice, cool temps and low humidity today. We have turned the air off at least till late this afternoon. We will see if we need to turn it back on. I have to change out my slug traps today. I did catch a couple of the little pests. With cooler temps they might try to get some more tasty treats in the containers. So far pests of any kind have been few and I hope it stays that way.

Well, Arizona voters did do one sensible thing. With all of the attention paid (and I am not saying that we should have paid less attention) to the immigration bill, this one slipped by almost unnoticed. HuffingtonPost notes that 'pay day' lenders are leaving the state after both the legislators and the voters refused to extend an expiring law which allowed extremely high interest rates. Instead of 400% interest rates they are limited to a paltry 36%. I really can't get up a lot of sympathy for those legalized loan sharks. I think 36% is usurious and immoral.

And I have to say the same thing about the 'silent raids' the Obama Administration have been conducting to deal with illegal immigration. MSNBC carried this story today. I think it is an excellent strategy and an effective use of personnel. Instead of the dramatic, televised raids on farms or factories that nets large numbers of illegal immigrants and the follow up hand-wringing and tears (also televised) of families torn apart as the illegals are deported, there is the quiet audit of company payrolls and the quiet firing of those workers without documents. The comments Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AZ) makes are totally asinine. He bemoans the firings when 'so many Americans are out of work.' My dear Idiot, these are NOT Americans. I am also not impressed with his concern that the illegals are not arrested. If they cannot get jobs they will leave. I strongly suspect that Sessions is really crying for the employers who have been caught and are paying fines for flouting the law. The story includes a 'traditional' point that many of the jobs involve farm work that even our long-term unemployed are reluctant to take. Can anyone, except a hard core RepThuglican, blame anyone for not wanting a job that pays a pittance and requires hard physical labor for long hours under trying physical conditions? I don't.

So, after the Gulf disaster, we are going to trust both oil companies (whose only standard of behavior is how much profits they rake in) and the Federal Government (who has consistently failed to enforce any regulations on big companies) to protect the 1.8 M acres of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge the Obama Administration is opening up to drilling? I once saw an estimate of the amount of oil in that reservoir and found the U.S. daily consumption of oil. It was simple math to figure out that, IF we could get every last drop of oil out, we would get only 3 months supply (maybe a little bit more with the recession suppressing demand a little bit.) And most of the estimates I have read claim that only half of any such field is economically recoverable. The rest is simply too expensive unless the oil prices rise to over 200/barrel.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Good Friday Morning, All. The weather people have promised us less heat and less humidity but aren't sure exactly when (or in what combination) that will occur. But by next Friday the 90s are supposed to be back. The rain we got yesterday did not even moisten my gardens. I will have to water well today.

MSNBC ran this New York Times article this morning. It seems the rich are hurting like the rest of us during this Great Recession. The default rate on home mortgages of $1M and more is 1 in 7 as opposed to the 1 in 12 for those mortgages below that level. Another group busted on the breakdown of the old assumptions that salaries and home values would only go up, and jobs would always be there.

MSNBC also had this article that does a nice job of presenting our present predicament. I am always amazed when the economic reporters on CNBC present rosy predictions of consumer spending/retail sales just before the actual numbers come out only to scratch their heads in amazement when the numbers don't match much less exceed expectations. Evidently they all passed on Common Sense 101. When you have a consumer driven economy where jobs are disappearing, consumer spending will decline. That should be a no-brainer.

Charles Hughes Smith at oftwominds summarizes the last decade in our financial history quite nicely and with a nice tone of sarcasm. During the Great Depression we had financiers jumping out of high rise windows. During the Great Recession the financiers are secure while the rest of us are losing jobs, homes, hope. FDR was credited with saving American Capitalism from Fascism on the right and Socialism on the left. At this point, I wonder if American Capitalism is worth saving considering what it has morphed into but it looks like Obama is trying. And his biggest enemies are the capitalists as an earlier generation of capitalists were for FDR.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hello, again. Now that the garden tour is over I will go on to other things.

I saw a fascinating discussion on CNBC yesterday. The talking heads were genuinely perplexed. They saw the Dow settle over 10k with a triple digit gain but couldn't to save their lives tell anyone why it went up. The data is no more hopeful than it has been for the last week which saw, I think, 6 or 7 losing days. I found it fascinating to watch them scratch their heads.

I will be so very glad when LeBron James extravaganza is over although that simply means that the news shows will have to scramble to find another equally meaningless and vacuous story on which to waste their time and ours.

Karoli at Crooks and Liars makes some interesting points. I don't doubt at all that businesses, especially big businesses, are planning some big expenditures to 1) shift the balance in the House and Senate back towards Republicans, and 2) to ensure the election of a Republican to the White House in 1012. I linked to an article yesterday which indicated that Wall Street firms have dramatically shifted their political spending in favor of the Republicans. Our corporate masters have not been happy with Obama's administration.

Carolyn Baker has an very good post on The Energy Bulletin today. She articulates many of the dissatisfactions I experienced some time ago. Unlike her, I never found a teaching career in higher education though I spend many years preparing for such and acquiring in the process several degrees (though never the coveted Ph.D.) Her assessment of students, as of the time of my last contact with them (as a teaching assistant and as an adjunct lecturer), is absolutely right on. I found a few, very few, who came in with the tools (math and language skills) and the desire to learn that transcended the goals for which they were pursuing their education. Unfortunately, most were in my history classes because the course was a bothersome requirement for their degree. Her conclusions concerning the student loan situation are unfortunately absolutely correct. Several years ago I read another article which described it as debt servitude. I can only agree.
Good Morning, Everyone. It rained overnight and is still raining. We are supposed to have intermittent showers all day with highs in the mid 80s. I'm not complaining. I don't care if the water that sustains my gardens drops from the sky instead of my watering cans and hose; in fact, I prefer it. I thought I would give you some pictures of my jungle.

I put portulaca and some marigolds in the containers I cut from plastic juice cartons and threaded them onto the trellis stakes. They are supported by the cross beams. All the plants seem to like the arrangement and the portulaca is kept under control.

Here is another view of one of the pink portulaca. We have seen several bees working the flowers.

The little purple flower and the vines behind the container are the asparagus yardlong beans. I have them woven into the trellis and running across the back. We have already harvest some of them. We ate some last evening and froze what we didn't eat.

Here is a view of the west side. If you look closely you can see some gypsy peppers forming on the far left just above the marigolds. I planted two batches of marigold in two of the large tubs. The very broad leaves i the blue bed are Fairy Tales eggplant. You can't see the blossoms but there are a lot of them. Behind the eggplants are poblano peppers which are also doing very well and should produce nicely (knock on wood). The tallest plant in that bunch is an Ichiban eggplant in a converted Tidy Cat tub just like the one on the ground on the far right.

This picture shows the north wall. The Tidy cat tubs and the white tubs contain tomatoes.
All of these plants are producing well though the heat has been a bit hard on them. I have commented before that our patio is an oversized oven that runs between 5 and 10 degrees above the official temps. I think we touched 90 officially yesterday but the patio thermometer registered 98.

I mentioned yardlong beans and this is what they look like. The cutting board is 20x24 inches so you can get an idea of how long the pods can get. The recommend harvesting at the 18 in size. The tomatoes at the back are among the first from the Mothers' Day plant my sister gave Mom.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hello, everyone, and happy Wednesday. We are expecting another hot day though not as hot as east of here. We only hit about 90 officially but our patio registered 100. It acts like an oversized oven with the white concrete and white fencing. Everything except the broccoli is doing well. One plant barely started forming its spear and bolted. They are cool weather plants and don't really like any position in my containers very much. I don't really have a lot of time between when the peppers and tomatoes start petering out and when the threat of freezing temps arrives. I don't think I will plant broccoli next year. Today, however, I plant to harvest and dry some of my two basils and the stevia. I found several sites that provide tips for microwave drying of herbs. I will give that a try. I, also, researched the possibility of doing the same with peppers but quickly gave that idea up, especially where the hot peppers are concerned. Several posters tried that and were driven out of their houses by the fumes. We will freeze ours as we usually do.

Our morning news had a brief story about Gulf Oil that was both not surprising and a bit unsettling. Although the BP well is, and has been, spewing massive amounts of oil for about 75 days now, some oil and tar balls have appeared that are not form that spill. Instead that contamination may come from some of the nearly 3000 inactive oil and gas wells that are scattered around the gulf--some capped since the 1940s. No one know how many of those wells may be leaking, how much, or for how long. None of the governments involved in oil exploration in the Gulf and none of the companies have kept tabs or inspected any of these sites. An update: I found this on MSNBC which goes into much more detail. The actual number of abandoned wells is around 27000 of which about 3000 (the number I mentioned above are of major concern. Evidently there are few rules in place and the few the MMS can use are toothless. They rely on the paperwork filed by companies when the companies decide to permanently abandon a well and don't inspect the sites during or after shut down. Furthermore, MMS has not enforced the rule that requires companies to decide within one year of 'temporarily' abandoning a well to decide whether to permanently shut it down. So the Gulf of Mexico may be a gigantic superfund site (my conclusion).

It would appear that President Obama is going to by-pass the Senate, again, and will make a couple of recess appointments. He will put Dr. Donald Berwick as head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid and will make two other less prominent appointments during this recess. I really can't blame him for using this strategy. He announced the Berwick nomination back in March but no hearings have yet been scheduled. I understand the whole concept of 'advise and consent' but the Founding Fathers would have been appalled by the way it has been corrupted for base political ends. It has become another stonewalling strategy for both Parties. And, as a result, nothing gets done.

So the Federal Government has filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of the Arizona immigration law on grounds it is unconstitutional. I won't link to anything because the story has been ubiquitous. Instead, I have a comment on the argument some have raised to support Arizona--that Federal inaction has made it necessary for the states to act. I guess I am not surprised at conservatives of the far Republican right taking a position that flies in the face of their usual strict constructionism in Constitutional matters. But, the Constitution is clear on which level of government has the duty to regulate immigration and citizenship matters: the Federal Government not the states. The fact that they believe that the Federal Government has not performed its duty does not give the states the right to usurp the powers to deal with the matter themselves. I also see a certain measure of self-serving hypocrisy in this as so many have Republican Senators and Congressmen who have paid a lot of lip service to solving this issue and then stalled action to serve their own political ends. I don't absolve the Democrats in this matter. If they had been a halfway cohesive and effective party they had the numbers to move this and other matters through the legislative bodies. Instead, each individual has jockeyed for his own or his state's individual advantage.

Back to gardening--It is already over 90 on the patio. I finished watering everything and harvested the stevia and the two basils. The stevia and thai basil were easy enough to process. Their large leaves are easy to handle and they dried nicely in the microwave. Our downstairs areas smell strongly of basil. I even threw a sprig of the thai basil into the asparagus beans Mom is stewing up with onions, mushrooms and (fresh) tomato. That is for supper tonight. I won't do much with the boxwood basil and won't plant it next year. It is a lovely plant and has a strong basil smell and taste but the leaves are small and harder to process. Also, when I dried it, it had so much water in it that the water popped all over. I also found a few small singed spots on the paper towels. Luckily, I kept a very close eye on it and kept the microwaving times very short. I understand now why the sites I saw with instructions on this technique warned of hot spots that could burst into flame.

HuffingtonPost has this story today. Evidently, Europe is getting tougher with its banks and bankers raising the capital the banks are required to keep on hand and changing how bankers' bonuses are paid. On the latter, only 20-30% will be paid up front in cash. When and whether the remainder would be paid out depends on whether the bank does well over the longer term. It is a damned shame that our lawmakers are so wedded to corporate socialism masked as capitalism that they can't do something similar. And, no, the supposed caps we had were 1) ineffective and toothless, and 2) no longer apply for the most part.

A big thank you to Rain at Rainy Day Things for the link to this blog. Joe Begeant has a wonderfully sarcastic wit and many right on remarks.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Good Tuesday Morning, All. They say we are going to have another 90+ day today. I have had to water the entire collection of containers early and heavily to keep the plants in good condition. Then the smaller containers (5 gal. and under) need second late evening watering. I shouldn't complain since I have two Fresh Salsa tomato plants that are heavily loaded with Roma style tomatoes. We will have our own fresh salsa soon. The pepper plants are doing nicely with the first gypsy, cows' horn, and mexibelle peppers growing well. I have already taken several yardlong beans and have some more to get today. All of the eggplant are flowering well so Mom has printed several recipes that will freeze well. The beets are also doing very well and so far we have take some of the leaves for use in salads. We tried some of the stevia brewed with our tea yesterday. We were a bit cautious with it since neither of us use use a lot of sweetening. Four leaves was enough to give a slightly sweet taste to a gallon of tea. We will up the next to six. We have also started putting fruit juice or nectar, about a cup per gallon, to flavor it a bit. Added the peach nectar to the stevia sweetened tea which made it nicely different.

This story from the Washington Post, by way of MSNBC, is no surprise at all. I guess the Wall Street boys feel they have gotten about all they can from the Democrats--continued bailouts, watered down financial regulations, no criminal charges. I don't think they necessarily want the Republicans to gain a majority in the House and Senate. It seems to me that anything short of a supermajority plus 1 does what they want quite nicely. Grid lock works for them, not for the rest of us.

I found this Newsweek article, also by way of MSNBC, which sums up our current political scene. Of course, this situation is simply an intensification of the politics of the last decade and a half ever since the Republican Party became an arm of Fundamentalist Christianity. Politicians have catered to any of the far out wingnuts to win the primaries and then tried to come back far enough to the center to claim more moderate members of their constituencies. And it is a pattern that holds for both the Republicans and Democrats.

Well, I have just finished my gardening for most of the day. It is already about 90 degrees on our patio. That is about 12 degrees higher than the temp around 7 this morning and it is now just going on 10. Luckily, the container set up I have is really low maintenance. I usually have few weeds and those rarely get large enough to attract attention. The mushrooms I still have but the plants are all big enough to fend for themselves. Besides watering frequently enough to keep everything happy, trimming and pruning some of the plants, dealing with a few pests that make themselves intolerable nuisances, I don't have a lot of heavy work to do. I may not even have to add any garden soil next year. I also harvested some more beans which will be frozen for this winter.

Will wonders never cease, I thought, as I read the headline for this HuffingtonPost piece co-authored by Representatives Barney Frank and Ron Paul. I agree with them totally on the need to both change our military spending and our philosophy surrounding our use and maintenance of the military. They lay out the case very well. Now all they have to do is get others in their respective Parties to go along. I am not taking bets.

Here is a HuffingtonPost article which falls into the "I am SO not surprised" category. The only thing I find surprising is that much of what the article talks about has rarely been mentioned. In Illinois, and Chicago in particular since most of our news comes out of there, public employees, except fire and police, have been forced to take unpaid furlough days that have reduced their pay by as much as 15-20%. Unionized workers tried to fight that as a violation of their contracts and found that up to 25% of their workers got pink slips. They were able to keep many of the teachers because of the Federal stimulus but now that has ended. I expected a big uptick in the number of teacher layoffs to smack everyone in the face about late August just before the new school year started and the last paychecks from this one had been sent out. That is when the unemployed teachers would qualify for unemployment. THAT is one reason why I have been skeptical of the economists' pronouncements that the economy has turned around.

And then there is the aspartame vampire that the maker is trying to resurrect--again.

Tony Wollin at Firedoglake has a take on the current job situation, the attitude of Republicans and big business that parallels my own thinking. And, evidently, Paul Krugman, whom he quotes, voices similar notions. I can add another factor that is only mentioned in passing. Wollin does note that we no longer have much empathy for others in this society but it isn't a matter of distance. Even within a small town or city, some people find it much easier to blame the 'victim.' If you are unemployed, it is your own damned fault. If you can't find a jog, you are lazy. I could go on but there is no need. Can you really call this a society when all we are is a bunch of atomized individuals whose social bonds are tenuous at best?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Good Morning, Everyone. Supposed to be bright and sunny today which translates into HOT! Yesterday's temps exceeded predictions and we had to turn on the air. It will stay on today as well. The weather people don't think we will get more than very scattered showers from the remnants of Alex but the humidity will make things very uncomfortable. I will have to get my gardens watered early.

This little NYT story greeted me this morning which I am filing under the 'The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same' tab. I think we need to establish a rule for private, 'capitalist,' companies--we won't raise your taxes but we won't give you ANY public money either. I think what pisses me off most on the first example they give is that the company markets a product to the Pentagon which the Pentagon has been reluctant to buy and which it may NEVER USE. Talk about a triple waste--the earmark money + low tax rates + the purchase price of the goods that may not be used.

I found this story on HuffingtonPost. When one segment of the economy represents more than two-thirds of economic activity and that segment takes a big hit, the economy is in trouble. It is even worse when that segment is entirely devoted to consuming products no longer, for the most part, made or grown in this country. I think it is absolutely amazing how all of the economic pundits can wax enthusiastic about the 'expected' rise in 'consumer confidence' or 'consumer spending' and then totally ignore the dismal news that the expected rise did not happen. I did see a very interesting segment on the ABC local morning news. The commentators noted that the drop in unemployment last month came because over 600k people were 'no longer looking for work' and so no longer counted. They also noted the anemic creation of 83k private sector jobs and the lower than expected consumer spending data. Then they mentioned how the news media had let the dismal numbers slide barely mentioned to focus almost exclusively on the 'positive' data. They wondered if the reporters were getting somewhat exhausted by the negative data--to the point where they were ready to simply say 'The economy sucks' before moving on to other stories. That was, I think, the most honest report I have seen in a long time.

I notice another story has gotten the 'glide over without comment' treatment. BP has started to pressure its partners in the blown-out oil well for contributions to costs of the spill which have now topped $3 billion. And they are looking for an investor to buy a 10% stake in the company. I saw this on the televised news and so don't have a link. But none of the articles I have found so far mention anything other than the scale of the costs.

Firedoglake has an interesting piece which adds to the discussion started with the piece on earmarks with which I started today's post. Why in the hell does an industry dominated by a very few huge international companies that rake in trillions of dollars a year need public money and tax breaks? You can get the outrage from Firedoglake and more of the story from the NYT article which spells out the facts. I really do wish that all of those lovely idiots who think we have capitalism would show me where it is. I can't see it. Chris In Paris (at Americablog) also has a few well chosen remarks on our system of "corporate socialism."

We have heard a good deal over the last couple of months about the deficits that most countries have been running up to combat the recession and how to tame them. Austerity has become something of a watchword in politics today. As anyone with half a brain realizes, the devil is always in the details. Over here we have a drumbeat going on that hammers on the 'entitlements' (though very seldom does anyone mention spending on two useless wars). I think we have every reason to be skeptical about austerity measures and should ask serious question about who will be hurt most and who will benefit most. Chris has a link to a Guardian story which indicates that women in Great Britain will shoulder some 75% of the burden of austerity (from a combination of increased tax burdens and benefit cuts) while men (still better paid and wealthier) will only bear 25%.

Although I haven't yet finished going through my blog list but this had gone on long enough for today. See y'all next time. Have a good day.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hello, again. I started off with my other post today wishing everyone a holiday but didn't quite like doing that and then proceeding on to this first story. So I started a new post. Iraq was one military adventure we should never have engaged in. Saddam was a nightmare but he was their nightmare not ours. The only time that changed was when his forces invaded Kuwait and we formed a coalition to throw him out. We stopped short of toppling his regime but that was not the objective of the operations there and we did, with our allies, accomplish the mission of throwing the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Everything about the second Iraq war was half-assed and it looks like we are going to, again, declare victory and leave.

For several years I have been hearing about the fiscal difficulties in Illinois. They don't often make national news though the shootings in Chicago lately have--frequently. Now, I guess, Illinois has made the big time--The New York Times. This article provides a fairly accurate picture of the situation as it stands now. However, the budgetary problems go much further back than late 2008 when this recession officially started. Every year the Chicago media ran stories that the mass transit systems were on the verge of going broke needing either a fare hike or an infusion of state cash to keep afloat. Each year some kind of agreement was reached with the state legislators to fund mass transit with promises that the fix was permanent. It never was. In the mean time, the infrastructure deteriorated as capital funds were diverted to pay everyday expenses. And as the NYT story clearly shows that is not an isolated case. (They don't mention mass transit at all. But the situation for social services, education and other departments are mirror images of the problems with mass transit.)

I have become increasingly pessimistic where our political life is concerned and, I think, with good reason. The gridlock in Illinois perfectly mirrors that in DC. And when anything does get done it accomplished only by totally dishonest means as noted in this Firedoglake piece. Not only have we acted in a half-assed manner in Iraq and Afghanistan but we are continuing to be half-assed in our conduct of the nation's business. And it is all clothed in the language of righteousness.