Monday, January 31, 2011

Good Monday morning to you all. We are getting ready to do our weekly shopping today because a storm is forecast starting tonight with a second wave due tomorrow afternoon into Wednesday. Total snow is expected to exceed 15 inches and we are supposed to get our old friend 'Lake Enhanced Snow.' Most of the weather people expect the storm to place in the top five of historic snow makers. Anyone who has read some of these blogs knows our pattern--snow or deep freeze temps put us into hibernation mode. Nothing short of an emergency will get us out of the house.

I agree, Lois, about the amounts of money we spend on various countries around the world. I have known for years that we have been supporting a number of governments over there with huge amounts of money. I rather doubt that the $1.5 billion Egypt gets each year is the sum total. And getting rid of it will be a real challenge. One of the news reports speculated that the one group Mubarak could count on was the military because he made sure they were well equipped, well paid and generally well taken care of. Given that the U.S. is the largest arms dealer in the world, I have to wonder how much of our foreign aid is given in military equipment or is given knowing that the money will be used to buy our equipment. Quite a bit I would think. Think of the dent in the budgets of, especially, red states whose economies are heavily supported by the 'military-industrial complex' if that stream of cash were interrupted. Egypt some, very few, news reports noted is second only to Israel in the amount of foreign aid received from the U.S. I wouldn't doubt, but haven't seen any listings, that Saudi Arabia is not far behind.

I read some interesting posts over the weekend that present ideas about the Egyptian situation that have not made it into the mainstream press. Most of us forget that all of Egypt's presidents since the army overthrew the monarchy in the 1950s have been military officers: Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. The army hasn't played a very prominent role in Egypt very often; it doesn't need to since the presidents have all had close ties to the army. Mubarak had been grooming his son to replace him but Gamal Mubarak doesn't have the kind of ties to the army that his father has had. The army has been conspicuously restrained in its handling of the demonstrations, although that may be changing if the early morning news is any indication. The only significant change has been Mubarak's appointment of his former security chief, who has close ties to the military, as his vice president (and presumed successor). Mubarak has steadfastly refused to name a vice president in all his thirty years in power--until now. It makes me wonder if the senior army officers haven't decided that the time has come to make sure that Mubarak's successor is someone they approve. If so, I can see a continuation of the same old, same old. No liberalization, no democratization. And we will support it.

Considering that the political turmoil in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan and Yemen stem most directly from rising food and fuel prices, this story (and others like it which don't find their way into the mainstream media) should spark our interest. It is nice that the futures prices of grains are expected to fall about 5% over the year but that is after a rise of 50+% over this last year. I have noticed that our news media have devoted more time to food inflation over here but I have not noticed anyone connecting the dots. What dots, you ask? Weather (droughts, floods, severe storms) to lowered crop yields to higher prices to political turmoil. Those dots. Oh, I almost forgot! Recent failures of Monsanto's GM corn and cotton in several countries which, of course, Monsanto says was not its fault.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Good Morning, everyone. Our last snow didn't amount to too much. I think we may have gotten 2 inches out of all that gloom last week. They are telling us to brace for a storm that may produce the largest amount of snow in several years. We will do our weekly shopping before it comes in. Mom had a cute quote on her home page this morning: Weather forecasters are right often enough that we have to take not of their forecasts; but they are wrong often enough that we can't rely on them. We'll see how this forecast turns out.

The big story has, of course, been the uprising in Egypt. For the most part I don't have much to say on it. Every now and then some talking head spouts some idiocy that irritates me but for the most part I am content to be a spectator and let the Egyptians settle the matter themselves. One piece of idiocy came Friday, I think, on CNBC. The main thrust of their discussions was how to benefit as an investor, which doesn't interest me at all since I have never had anything to invest. However, one of the pundits mentioned he was acquiring more defense stocks because all the talk about cuts in military spending, he thought, would come to nothing thanks to the situation in Egypt. My first reaction was: WHY??? We already spend more on 'defense' than all other countries put together. And we aren't really getting all that much for all that cash. And then there is the question of what we have been getting for the $1.5 billion/year we have been spending on Egypt. Only a couple of news reports said anything at all about that. Most say we are hoping for a moderate replacement for Mubarak but I wonder if our definition of 'moderate' is anything at all like what Egyptians would want.

Now we have the potential for protests in another northern African country: Sudan. I am not surprised that the trigger is the same as for other countries there: the increase in the price of fuel and important food commodities. That, of course, is exacerbated by the referendum over the last couple of weeks concerning independence for the oil-rich Southern Sudan which is running about 99% in favor.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Good morning to you all. We had some snow yesterday. Thankfully, nothing like the system that hit the northeast. I noticed that everyone is scrambling to explain this years snow phenomenon. I am not so interested in an explanation--I simply want to know when to hibernate.

Well, this didn't take long. The Republicans are once again floating the notion of Medicare vouchers to 'reform' the system. Thank you, Paul Ryan. (sarcasm alert). Look, I can agree that we do need to do something but our politicians are, as usual, attacking the problem from an angle likely to give the least benefit in terms of the desired action (curtailing costs) and the most pain to those who have the least impact on rising costs (the patient). We have a medical education system from which doctors graduate with (if they are lucky) debt in the mid to high six figures. It has to be paid back somehow. We have a high tech medical system whose practitioners show little discernment (I would say discrimination but people often forget that the term has a good meaning) in how, when and why the high tech toys are used and use those high tech toys to cover their asses rather than treat patients effectively. We have a medical malpractice system in which the malpractice insurance providers whose premiums are more correlated (inversely) to stock market losses than malpractice judgements, and we have a professional association that is more interested in covering everyone's asses than getting rid of bad actors. Furthermore, we have consumers who demand a medical cure for all ills with no negative side effects. Vouchers will make effective medical care far more expensive for those who can least afford the expense and will do nothing to curtail the costs (read profits) of drug companies, hospitals, medical insurance providers, and the medical technology industry. Perhaps that is exactly what many of our politicians want.

I noticed yesterday that resistance is growing among some of our Senators and Representatives to the proposed cuts in the defense budget. I wasn't surprised. After all defense contractors are among our most profitable companies upon whom many of our politicians rely for the massive amounts of money it takes now-a-days to get elected and many of our communities rely for jobs and other economic benefits. Andrew Bacevich has a very good piece on Tomdispatch this morning explaining how very well protected the military sacred cow is and how difficult it will be to do more than restrain the growth of military spending even though it has been pointed out repeatedly that we spend more than all other countries combined and are getting very little in return on that investment. And, as Bacevich points out, corporate profits, though not negligible, are not the most powerful factors in this debate. More important are historical, cultural, psychological, and institutional investments in the system as it is--however inefficient or ineffectual.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Good morning again, everyone. I am still mulling over the SOTU trying to sort out some of my rather contradictory feelings and thoughts about it. I was very glad that the 'co-ed' seating arrangement (as far as it went) put a damper on the rowdiness and rudeness that was so evident last year. Obama made some very good points but, as he said and I often say, the debate will be in the details. I agree, Kay, with your observation on your 'Small Stones' post and on your comment here. I don't feel at all reassured and I wonder when the knife will hit my back.

But I think my uneasiness comes from something deeper. Both parties are living in some kind of La-La Land seeing only what they want to see and trapped by what I think are very fuzzy visions of where we came from, where we are, and where we might be going.

I'll start off with the Democrats. It is nice that the President mentioned the need to invest in refurbishing our infrastructure but where is he going to start? I have read stories for the last 3 decades about crumbling roads and disintegrating bridges. The estimates from engineering experts on what the bill would be to fix the country's roads and bridges alone just about equal the yearly deficit. Where is the money to come from when the cumulative deficit just about equals our GDP now? That is just fix the roads and bridges we have now not extend the system. To use much of the 'green' technology for electric generation we have to upgrade the electric grid also which some experts say is worthy of a third world nation. For some humorous takes on the problem look at these political cartoons on MSNBC. And, much as I hate to agree with the Republicans on anything, simply 'cutting' the budget in some areas to create 'new investments' in others doesn't really change the economics of the situation. It is rather like a consumer paying one credit card with another.

Then there is the issue of 'clean energy.' As this piece from MSNBC makes clear much depends on how you define 'clean.' Also many of the technologies depend on large energy inputs to create the 'clean' energy in the first place which means that the final energy resulting from the process is quite expensive. Let's also ask about the financial inputs here. Where is the money going to come from and can consumers afford the energy produced? And which consumers are we talking about? A recurring story in our local news concerns the problems low income people have paying their utility bills during the winter and the increasing demand for low income energy credits to help the process along. Last summer, during our heat wave, a similar story cropped up when the air-conditioning bills came due. It is nice that the President focused part of the SOTU on energy but we are already tripping over the technical and financial details.

What about education? Well, the basic question I want answered simply aren't asked. Education for what? The President mentioned that so many jobs that once required a high school diploma now require at least some college. Why? I have said before that we have become a nation of clerks selling goods made overseas to other people who sell goods made overseas infinitum. You don't need a college education to punch a damned point of sale computer. (I almost wrote 'cash register' here. I guess I am showing my age.) Also who pays since college educations are becoming even more expensive?

And then there was the issue of competitiveness. This had the feel of football boosterism about it. The problem is the metric by which we measure competitiveness. Is it the proportion of college graduates in the population? Why? Let's be clear here--no matter how many college graduates we churn out we can't match the number a society like China can produce. Think about it--our 300 million versus their 1.3 billion. Even if we educated 100% of our people to the bachelor's degree level they could exceed our numbers by merely educating one-third of their people to that same level. We are number one in the world in two other metrics which are of dubious value. We spend more than anyone else on health care and we spend more that the rest of the world put together on defense and we have gotten very little bang for those massive bucks.

So much for the Democrats. Let's go on to the Republicans. They have been singing the praises of 'small' government that simply gets out of the way and lets individuals and businesses get on with the important work of making 'us' prosperous. I have to ask: what you mean 'us,' white man? The problem is they are still enthralled by the tired old notions of 'trickle down' and 'a rising tide lifts all boats.' Most of us have been trickled upon by bodily excreta, not prosperity and our boats, which have been leaking for a long time, have now capsized. I don't see any rescue for us anywhere in sight. How far back do these 'small' government apologists want to go? How about the Articles of Confederation? That was small government--no executive, no judiciary, legislation by committee. The British had a very good chance of reabsorbing the so recently independent states into their empire because of the ineffectiveness of the government established by the Articles. But, by God, it was small.

Oh, you want to go back to the Constitution as the Founders originally created it? That is nice except for the simple fact that the country has grown spectacularly since 1789. At that time we had a bit less that 3 million people (not counting Native Americans, I am sure), controlled none of the territories west of the Mississippi or North of the St. Laurence or any of Florida. We didn't have utilities whose pollution plumes followed the wind across the entire continent or concentrated animal feeding operations whose wastes polluted entire rivers and local groundwater. As various problems have risen over the last 200+ years that have transcended the state boundaries or the capacities of the individual states to handle, the Federal Government has grown. We can argue whether the Federal Government should be funding traffic lights at the corner of Local and Main, or 'bridges to nowhere,' or whatever other inane project you can name. But we cannot run a country with 100x the population and three times the territory with the government that existed in 1790.

Ok, Republicans want to cut spending. Lets talk about some of the spending priorities they have supported over the last decade. Start with Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of this was funded completely off the books during President Bush's tenure in office. And most of it has been a total waste in money, materiel and lives. Has anyone else noticed the increase in suicide bombings in Iraq lately? There have been numerous stories about reconstruction projects in Iraq which are so shoddy and so out of line with what the area needs that the are a boondoggle of the worst kind. Billions put into this with nothing to show. How about TARP? Started to buy up toxic assets so beleaguered banks wouldn't be sunk by the weight of their own stupidity and then changed to a program which loaned (?) money to those banks with almost no strings attached. Yes, much of it is being paid back but we are in almost the same situation with respect to the 'too-big-to-fail' financial institutions as we were before the crisis. And where have the Republicans been with regard to moral hazard for stupidity at the top of the financial food chain? Largely, missing in action. They really don't want to offend their major donors.

I think I will leave this discussion here. As you can tell--I am not terribly happy or satisfied with any of our politicians right now.

HuffingtonPost put up this article this morning. What sets off the warning bells in my little brain isn't anything said in the article; rather it is what isn't said. How many of the President's past and present economic advisors have very close ties to Goldman? I sometimes wonder if his appointment of William Daley, a long time executive with JP Morgan, was simply a nod to 'financial diversity.' A number of people have noted that the economic advice the President is getting is coming from people who have close ties to the companies at the center of the 'Great Recession.'

I think I will get off this rant now. It has gone on quite long enough. Pox on both their houses.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Good morning, everybody. I did watch the State of the Union last night and the Republican 'response.' I put that word in quotes because Rep. Ryan did not respond to the President's speech. He instead repeated the same tired generalities you would expect from the Republicans; the same ones we heard before the SOTU.

The New York Times headline today calls the SOTU and the Republican response a 'clash of philosophies.' And, I think, they are right. But they fail to show exactly how deeply rooted in our history this clash is, or how often the boundaries of our different levels of government have had to be renegotiated. We see similar argument in the Maysville Road Veto of 1830 where Andrew Jackson held an opinion similar to what that of the Republican/Tea Party position today. Jackson's position might have prevailed 125 years later when President Eisenhower pushed through the interstate highway system if it had not been pushed as a defense measure during the early years of the Cold War. Most people forget that the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 is more popularly known as the Interstate and Defense Highways Act. Those who want a strictly limited role for the Federal Government forget how much of a role the Federal Government has played in our national development. Railroad entrepreneurs pushed into the heartland of the United States well before enough people had moved in to make the venture economically profitable. The Federal Government tipped the equation by giving very providing generous land grants of Federal land (rights of way) to the railroads which then encouraged new settlement by selling parcels to newcomers. The transcontinental railroad was part of a Federal strategy to make sure that California (with its very important gold fields) became an integral part of the Union at a time when the issue of California statehood was very much in contention. Republicans and their business supporters complain complain about government intrusion but in truth government has always intruded. Republicans and Tea Partiers seem to believe that once upon a time we had small government that left business alone because our political leaders adhered to the Constitution. That is pure nonsense. Obama's call to streamline our government, restructure out tax codes, cut unnecessary expenses and invest in rebuilding infrastructure, innovation, and restructuring education is prudent. Perhaps they should look at Japan before they had their own overheated real estate market collapse and how they used the Ministry of Trade and Industry to out transform their industrial economy from one only capable of making cheap toys to one that could give our industries serious problems. Unfortunately, I don't think either side will be able to think outside their very narrow boxes, conservative or otherwise. They are all constrained by political and economic orthodoxies that have reached the intensity of religious orthodoxy. They should remember Moses did not deliver an 11th commandment saying 'Thou shalt adhere to Predatory Capitalism' along with the other ten. And Jesus did not proclaim that capitalism as the path to salvation.

Juan Cole, in a post at Tomdispatch, provides a revealing commentary on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Call it a case of 'same song, different verse.' Again our foreign policy leaders, also, seem unable to break old habits of thought.

We seem to have had a lot of snow out here in the last three months but, according to our weather people, the appearances are somewhat deceiving. The snow level is actually several inches below what we would normally expect. Also, the amount of rain and snow melt is still 6+ inches below what we should have received over the last five months. So even with all this snow we can't say that the 'extremely dry' conditions have abated.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Good morning, everyone. There is always something in the news to raise my Contrary hackles. This HuffingtonPost item did it right off the bat. It is nice that the some Republicans in the House are now willing to consider alternatives to what we are doing in Afghanistan. But the section that refers to the cost to "further the Obama Administration's stated strategic goals." What in the hell happened to the Republicans who gave Bush a blank check to play cowboy over there? Who set the goals in 7 years of war in the first place? Let's apportion the blame properly here and not try to rewrite history with self-serving crap!!! Interesting that they want to reassess now that they are not calling the shots.

Well, it looks like the mainstream media is taking a little note of the rising food prices. CBS posted the Michael Klare article I linked to yesterday. CNBC yesterday had several segments on the subject but mainly dealing with how investors can profit from it. I wonder how many more outlets will suddenly find the topic. CNBC is continuing the theme today. They showed an interesting map showing the level of price increases and it is most severe in the developing world. They explained away the severity of food inflation in Australia with the floods and remarked that the situation is transitory. Problem--the floods come after a severe multi-year drought and parts of the country is still in severe drought.

The State of the Union is tonight and the comments have been coming fast and furious on what people think Obama might say. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor panned the leak which claimed that Obama is going to propose 'investment' and dismissed it as a Democratic euphemism for more spending. He claims Republicans want 'real' spending cuts but of course failed to specify what he meant by that. It is so nice to snipe without proposing anything you might be criticized for. The problem is that we really do need to make some investments in several areas. CNBC yesterday had a segment on infrastructure and noted that our systems of river transport, airports, public transit and others are woefully outdated. On the topic of airports the newsreader noted that air traffic has increased by 7% but we have not invested in new airports or runways. In Chicago, the city government has been trying to get a couple of new runways built at O'Hara and have been stymied at every turn. They just got the land issues settled after going through several law suits but now the airlines are balking because they have to contribute to the funding. They want the new facilities but they don't want to pay anything for it. We haven't found a way to agree on much of anything else and I am not optimistic that we will agree on what an 'investment' should be.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Good morning to you all. There wasn't much to comment on yesterday. The Bears playoff game dominated our news and I think most sports 'news' is a waste of time. The loss is dominating this morning's news--an even bigger waste. Oh, well, that's entertainment.

It is still cold with periodic snow or other precipitation. Some areas south of us are expecting ice. Hopefully, we will miss that. But I notice that I am not the only one in the blogosphere keeping warm perusing the seed catalogs and planning the spring planting. My seed orders came in so I sat myself down and actually planned what I will plant and where I will put it. I checked out the plans yesterday to make sure I had a place for everything I had on my list and made a couple of minor tweaks to the plans. What's on the agenda, you ask?

Well, peppers, of course. I decided not to put in any sweet peppers this year. The farm markets are full of those. Top on the list is the False Alarm (very mild jalapeno style hybrid) and Zavory (mild habanero hybrid) both from Burpee. I added the Vietnamese Multi-color hot from Baker Creek (an heirloom variety). All are small and I want to pickle some as well as freeze a batch. The False Alarm has been reliably prolific over the last two years.

Then, tomatoes, and absolute must. I still have Fresh Salsa ) (Burpee hybridseeds so I will continue with them. They did the best of all the tomatoes last year and produced heavily. The Brandywine and Big Rainbow (heirlooms) didn't do nearly so well thanks to the heat wave that hit just as they were blooming and the sun damage didn't help either. I will start them and the peppers early under plastic tents and I plan to provide shade from the worst of the sun.

I will continue growing stevia, thai basil, lavender, and sage but will add marjoram, rosemary, oregano, and sweet basil.

I have a number of new categories this year: the Tigger melon, Dragon's Egg cucumber, Blue Lake pole beans, and Aunt Molly's ground cherry. These are all heirloom varieties from Burpee (beans) and Baker Creek (mellon and cucumber). The ground cherry was a gift packet from Jung with our order of the little greenhouse and a total surprise. I am very interested in how it will turn out.

Greens will include Bull's Blood beets, spinach and three varieties of lettuce. Actually, there are more varieties of lettuce because I will be planting the Heatwave mix from Burpee for the middle of the season. These didn't do well last year but I hope the results will be different this time. We do like our salads.

For pure decoration I am putting in the dwarf marigolds again along with Love-in-a-Mist, Black Peony poppy, and Teddy Bear sunflowers.

Though I love looking at the seed catalogs I find my enthusiasm often outruns my garden capacity. Everything looks and sounds wonderful. But I have a very small space so many of my choices are restricted to what plants that may fit in well in that space. The melons produce small fruit and I have several large pots that can be fitted with a trellis. And I have some pots that, I think, are big enough for the poppy and sunflower both of which grow to 4 ft.

On to other things. I don't find this New York Times story all that surprising though the time line does raise my eyebrows a bit. The story started unraveling about five years before the housing crisis hit. The rot in the mortgage industry is pervasive and cleaning it up will take a long while. The first step has to be a social attitude adjustment on two points. Ordinary Americans can't think of homes as 'investments' the way stocks are investments and count on them for a windfall return. Second, homeownership is not for everyone as it has been touted for the last thirty years. The we have to clean up the mortgage servicers and banking industry but not by turning the whole thing over to the big banks as some recent articles have claimed representatives of the industry are lobbying for the government to do.

I am not all that surprised by this Reuter's story either although I notice that not much attention has been paid to the issue over here. We heard about Sarkozy's visit to the U.S. but not much at all about his agenda. Nor have we heard much about the rise in food prices world wide or about the increase in the commodities that lie beneath the rising cost of food. It is interesting that Sarkozy wants to go after 'speculators' and he may have a point in doing so. But speculation in the commodities market may be a smaller part of the problem than he thinks. We all heard about the heat wave in Russia last summer but only snippets about the Russian Government's ban on wheat exports which put a serious hurt on their major customers, including Egypt and Indonesia. We have heard about the floods in Australia which has devastated Queensland and is now proceeding into Victoria. But think about this--it is early fall down there and what ever crops were growing there are gone. We have heard absolutely nothing about the floods in Indonesia and Sri Lanka which have put a severe crimp in rice production or about the severe winter in Vietnam which has killed, reportedly, some 10k buffalo with the numbers rising. Southwestern China, a major grain growing region, suffered a severe multi-year drought followed by massive flooding and now severe winter snows and freezing. I haven't read a final tally for the American wheat and corn crop but both are down and reserves are at a multi-decade low while the Canadian wheat farmers took a big hit on the heat wave that hit there. Weather, it seems to me, may be a much bigger problem than speculators. Michael Klare at tomdispatch has a good post this morning which puts the whole issue in a very nicely balanced perspective. Speculation is only one leg of a very wobbly three legged stool supporting global commodities--decreased production (due to nasty weather or increased production costs) and increased global demand being the other two.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Good Saturday morning to everyone out there. First I have to apologize to Lois. I accidentally deleted your comment on yesterday's post. I did read it. I hit the wrong option by mistake and couldn't get it back. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I would have posted it if my 'fat' finger hadn't gotten in the way.

I absolutely love this post on Alternet. Thanks to the Roberts Supreme Court the notion of the fictional personhood of corporations has exceeded any rational boundaries. When the rights of these fictional persons exceed and take precedence over the rights of flesh and blood persons while the punishments meted out for similar crimes are diminished for the fictional person, we need to rethink the whole think.

And here is another interesting item from Alternet on JP Morgan. Don't you just love the notion of a 'too-big-to-fail' bank distributing food stamp benefits (via debit cards) and collecting a fee per/recipient while using call centers in India to handle customer service? Oh, at the same time they wrongly foreclose on mortgages held by military families and engage in robo-signing to move other foreclosures through the process at lightning speed. And, in the light of recent Massachusetts cases on this issue, we have to ask if they actually held the title to those mortgages.

Maha posted this with a link to the original that provided us with a bit of a chuckle this frigid morning. I guess some of our Founding Fathers were as confused over the intentions of the Founding Fathers as some of our current politicians--IF the right-wing Republicans and their friends are right.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Good morning, again, on this most frigid day of the winter so far. Our patio thermometer stood at 0 when we woke this morning and dropped to -2 before we finished our coffee. Thankfully, this extremely cold stretch isn't supposed to last very long. By the time we need to do our weekly errands Monday it should be tolerable again. Hope everyone else out there who is in the cold belt is staying warm.

I agree, Kay, on the education issue. What is troubling is that once, in the not so very far past, I would have considering going back to school to upgrade my skills and urged everyone else to do the same. I followed the that very typical pattern of returning to school whenever the economy took a serious dip to get additional degrees or training thinking that, surely, after the economy recovered the jobs would be there. Usually, I was disappointed. The jobs I did take were tolerable only because they were supposed to be temporary. Unfortunately, they lasted much longer than I had figured. All along the way, I often wondered what those coming behind be were being taught and/or learning because they seemed so unprepared. The first question I ask when I hear politicians press the case for educational 'reforms' is what do they mean by reform"? I never get more than platitudes and schmaltz--nothing specific. Needless to say, I no longer suggest additional education. Especially not in an environment which requires the student to foot the full bill, usually by hocking their future for the education that may or (more likely) may not secure that future.

Oh, and thanks for the suggestion of using apple juice to cook the oatmeal. I hadn't heard of that before but is sounds yummy. Mom had but had not thought of it in years.

I wonder about the Haiti situation also, Lois. Especially since the other exiled dictator, Jean Baptiste Aristide, is making noises about returning (if he hasn't already). The U.S. government has had a long history of preferring to work with right wing dictators--after all they are more likely to smooth the way for U.S. companies to act without restraint.

So this is finally bubbling to the surface in the foetid swamp that is our economic system. About a month ago, Meredith Whitney (a financial annalist) created a bit of a furor when she declared, on CNBC, that there was a wave of municipal bankruptcies coming that would deflate the value of municipal bonds. A number of writers since have spilled a large amount of ink (or pixels, since this is the computer age) declaring that she is not only wrong but dangerous in spewing such destabilizing muck when the economy is recovering. Now the government is trying to find a way to legitimize state bankruptcy in fact if not in name. I notice that the first target is to find a way of getting out from under the debts owed to the pension funds that government officials from all parties have deliberately underfunded for years. This makes me angry. Our law and order nuts among the economists decry the trend of individuals walking away from underwater mortgages (a form of contract) as immoral but when workers are defrauded of a large part of the compensation they had been promised for the labor they have already delivered (under another form of contract) they consider it just another business strategy. The problem is that if the state actually doesn't have the money to meet its obligations then trying to collect the pensions is like trying to get a harvest out of barren ground. But, by God, I want someone to pay for the fraud besides the workers who are the victims of the theft.

Ira Chernus has a new post on tomdispatch which also raise your blood pressure a bit. The introduction alone should really make you question the priorities of our Federal government--and our leaders, Republican or Democrat. The money involved in the so-called reconstruction of Afghanistan (and Iraq, which the intro doesn't mention) could have fully funded the various states' pension plans. Instead they have gone to pad the bottom lines of well connected companies who have provided substandard, shoddy, and over priced projects in a foreign country. The first part of the post ties into the 'culture of cruelty' mentioned yesterday. Note especially the argument Chernus' host provided for his seemingly contradictory behavior: he knows his near neighbors are hardworking and disciplined people and he will willingly help them but those across town he doesn't know. And they may be lazy, shiftless and immoral for all he knows and so is unwilling to expend his precious time and money on them. I doubt he is very willing to find out if his prejudice is justified. (The notion of the Myth of American Security (or Insecurity, as Chernus puts it) is also interesting but one I have read about for a number of years. It formed a significant part of Tom Englehardt's End of Victory Culture, which is a very good read.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Good morning, everyone, from what will be, for the next couple of days, the Northern Indiana freezer. Our patio thermometer registered a blistering 20 degrees and the weather report told us that is the expected high today. As I mentioned yesterday, we will be hibernating. We decided that today is as good a day as any to do laundry and I will vacuum the bedroom. Then I want to sit down with the seeds and get a planting schedule with notes on any special requirements. The Burpee order came in yesterday so all of the seeds I ordered a couple of weeks ago are on hand. We also hit a nice sale at our year-round farm market where I picked up four packets of seeds for $1.

HuffingtonPost picked up on this story which had barely a blip on one of the news shows I watch on TV. The report is right on the money when it concludes that a college education may not be worth the money and time it costs. Here at MaryContrary's house we have thought that for some time for many of the same reasons outlined in the story. The first two years of any college program covers basics the student should have mastered in high school, if not before. If students haven't mastered those basics, what the hell have the high schools been doing? If they have, then the colleges are collecting two years of tuition and fees and delivered no benefit to the student. That is just shy of fraud. But we don't see that as the end of the story. A college or university education, with a diploma at the end, once was a royal road to middle class (or better) life. That was a time when most people had less than an 8th grade education so education had a significant value. I know what the 'statistics' are supposed to show about the lifetime earnings of college graduates compared to those who have 'only' a high school diploma but statistics are something I am very skeptical of, as any who have read earlier posts know. Statistics can cover up a multitude of sins. While I have a lot of sympathy for the students in Europe and the U.S. who have protested the increased cost and the cut in funding that threatens their hopes of a prosperous adult working life, I think they are operating on an outmoded assumption that the education will result it a career that will justify the cost. The uprising in Tunisia should provide a cautionary message. Our news media has mentioned the increasing food prices most prominently but the second prong of dissatisfaction has been the high unemployment of college educated young people. That message should resonate with both college students and our government. Boosting college graduation may not do what either group wants it to.

We saw another not-unexpected evidence of rising food prices yesterday. As I said above we went to our year-round farm market. We do that about once a month during the winter mainly to buy eggs. They have jumbo cage-free eggs for about the same price our local supermarket has large industrial-production eggs. This is a no-brainer even with the longer distance to the farm market. Well, the price has gone up. Anyone who has read about the drastic increase in corn, soybean, and wheat prices would be expecting that increase. We have been reading about the commodity prices and easily made the connection to our food prices. No we won't be changing over to the industrial eggs--the cage free eggs simply taste much better and we would rather not encourage a system which abuses the animals that provide our food.

Henry Giroux has posted an interesting opinion piece on this morning that is well worth a read. A number of bloggers have posted in the recent past on the topic of an "I've got mine, screw you" attitude that seems to be growing in the country. Giroux label may be better: a 'culture of cruelty.' What do you all think?

The news has carried the return of Jean Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier to Haiti. It is interesting that he decided to return now and that the government has charged him with corruption for his 15 year rule which ended 25 years ago. But another little snippet caught my attention: his supporters. They showed one what surely was too young to remember the end of the Duvalier dynasty but who now supports the former dictator because he thinks that the Duvalier regime 'took care of the people.' This says much more about what the current government is not doing in the present than about what 'Baby Doc' did in the past.

Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By published a post today which includes a letter from Senator Bernie Sanders urging President Obama to stand by his previously stated commitment to Social Security. Let's hope the President and the conservative Democrats listen.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Good morning, everyone. We are about to enter the coldest stretch of weather yet this winter. For the next few days the temps are supposed to fall to below zero or very low single digits and the highs will not reach 15 degrees. And snow along with it. Oh, well, hibernation time.

Happily, I will be contemplating my gardens because I just received the first of my two seed orders. I have to sit down and write up my seed starting schedule and get my shopping list together. We had to go to Menards (one of the local home improvement/lumber yards) and walked by the section the usually set up for gardening supplies. They already have the peat pots, peat plugs, mini-greenhouses (shelf size), and tomato kits, etc. It won't be long before they have the full shelves of seeds and the rest of the gardening section up.

The first story I came across this morning was this one concerning the 'creative' use of statistics by House Republicans hoping to repeal the health care reform laws. I file it under the 'figures don't lie but liars figure' tab. It struck me, not for the first time, that the more we hear talk about 'transparency' the more we wind up wandering in opacity. Isn't it marvelous how the Republicans take a statement which asserts minimal job losses due to workers deciding that they can work less because their health needs are being met outside their jobs to '650,000 jobs lost' with the implication that the job losses are due to employer responses to onerous government demands?

I was amused by the news reports last night because the media suddenly discovered two trends I have been reading about for the last 2 or three months. The first involved the shrinking product packages manufacturers have put out to mask price increases. I have also posted else where on this blog my own experiences with this aggravating phenomenon. I was glad to see the expert interviewed for the story take on the claims manufacturers made that they either had to raise prices or reduce the package--reducing the package is a price increase. The other story concerned the precarious budgets of cities across the country that are forcing some very nasty choices--major cuts in fire and police services. The mayor of one city was quoted as saying that if negotiations with the police union resulted in 'concessions' they might be able to hire back 100 of the 160 police officers they let go. This is another issue I have been reading about for some while now and it will only get worse because the Federal stimulus money, which has mitigated the effects so far, runs out this year.

The link to this story came by way of an e-mail alert from NaturalNews which also announced a boycott of General Mills they want their readers to participate in. I can't participate because some time back we stopped buying the kinds of cereals that sparked their rage and for much the same reason--we couldn't find the fruit they supposedly contained and we didn't want all the sugar and artificial flavorings. We have gone to straight oatmeal or farina (usually getting the generics and not the instant or quick varieties) to which we add dried fruit or nuts when we want them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Good Monday morning to you all. Weather is much the same--January. What else can you say? We are one third through winter.

Last fall I read several items on the stuxnet computer worm. I thought then it was a nasty piece of work but no one had any idea of who was responsible. The sneaky thing about this malicious bit of programming was its target--industrial control systems, particularly those involved in uranium enrichment, ant the fact that it was a precisely targeted program, focused on the Iranian nuclear program. Now, according to the New York Times, there is evidence pointing at the U.S. and Israel. Even if you subscribe to the notion that Iran is dangerous (and I do), and to the notion that they shouldn't develop nuclear weapons (and I do), I think there is much about this that should give all of us serious second, third, and fourth (and more) thoughts. The nasty thing about such destructive technology is that what one person or group can develop another person or group can either steal or develop on their own. How long before someone deploys the next generation of stuxnet against those who developed it in the first place? And against what targets?

Tomdispatch has a post this morning by Stephen Salisbury which puts the Tucson shooting into an interesting context and asks an interesting question: why is it that shootings by white, right-wing, crazy men are simply labeled as the acts of white, crazy men and not terrorism even when the targets are clearly racial or political? Somehow the political angles on these stories is purged and the crazy angle disappears. But insert another factor--make the shooter Muslim--and suddenly the terrorism angle is magnified even if the shooter is clearly mentally disturbed. What political correctness is at work here?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Good morning, everyone. I spent yesterday dealing with an equipment problem--no, not the computers. They are working very nicely, thankfully. Some time ago we suddenly started having trouble with our DVD collection. A couple of months ago, and with increasing frequency, the disks we viewed would hang up, the sound would become choppy and the pictures would freeze. I have rarely had to clean a disk so I figured that maybe it was time and cleaned the disks. But I looked at them first and I just couldn't find a smudge or scratch anywhere. Lately, the just cleaned disks stuttered and froze when we put them back in the player and newly purchased disks did the same. We weren't sure what was going on until I decided to put a couple of the disks into the computer. They played perfectly. So we decided that the problem was likely with the player. We don't know now how old that machine was--Mom can't find the receipts now. We did remember the struggle we had to set up the monster--at least three long calls between us and Best Buy (where we bought it) and/or our cable company and several hours figuring out how the connections worked. Remembering that struggle we have watched the transition from DVD to blu-ray with some trepidation. And we were not at all happy at the thought that the nice collection of movies we have would have to be replaced. But with the DVD player going out (after such a nice long life) we had to bite the bullet.

We considered two options. Hooking up our computers to play through the tv or replacing the player with blu-ray. The decision was made easier when the very nice sales associate at Best Buy told me that the blu-ray players all had to be able to decode not just blu-ray formatted disks but DVD and CD as well. Evidently that was part of the agreement that opened up the adoption of blu-ray. If we had read some more on the specifications of the blu-ray players we would have known that but we are like many people, I think, we use these things but don't really know all that much about their workings. And we run on past experience and our past experiences with such technological changes hasn't been very pleasant. This time, however, it has been quite uncomplicated and pleasantly surprising. We have lost the ability to play the tapes we still have but that isn't much of a loss. We have been gradually replacing the ones we wanted anyway. We were able to very easily hook up the blu-ray player and we found the navigation on the machine very easy. We tried out a couple of the DVD that had been giving us problems and they played flawlessly and, we think, with better picture quality. And, as an added bonus, the blu-ray player is internet wireless capable so we could, if we really wanted to, tap into Netflix (which we don't want at this time) and Pandora (which we enabled right off the bat.) The transition has been a very nice surprise. I just found Tosh McIntosh's blog thanks to Ronni Bennet at Time Goes By and he has a marvelously funny piece about elders and technology.

On to other things. Kay mentioned a few days ago that she was getting very sick of politics. I know how she feels. I often think a prerequisite for going into politics is that one would have to have the rational parts of one's brain shut down. What I hope is that the seemingly irrational tone of politicians today is really just an artifact of the 24/7/365 news cycle which has given way too much coverage to the nut cases, the irrational, and the over the top pronouncements. The problem for most of us is to find those politicians who are reasonable, balanced, and thoughtful. There is so much noise out there that that is, increasingly, difficult.

Here is a bit of disturbing news that, as the writer of the article says, has flown under the news median radar for the last two years. It seems that many of our states could join Little Orphan Annie in singing Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow.' They funded the increasing costs of paying for the extended jobless benefits by borrowing from the Federal Government. Now they have to figure on how to pay the first interest payments which are due this coming fall. In case anyone thinks that the financial bind on the states stems from the extension of benefits beyond the 'normal' 26 weeks originally mandated, the extended benefits were paid by the Federal Government. The problem for the states came in paying for the original 26 weeks because they had not fully funded the unemployment compensation 'trust' funds they were supposed to maintain.

So, the mainstream media has, at least in this case, discovered the connection between the weather, which has been very weird over the entire globe, and food prices. Although, the Tunisian situation only surfaced on our national broadcast news when this week, I have seen it simmering in the blogosphere and on alternative news sources for a while longer. Why do I follow such depressing stories? Self preservation. If I know what may be coming I can figure out how to deal with how it may affect me and what I might be able to do to mitigate the negative effects. I don't intend to die of a heart attack worrying about what might happen--but thinking about the implications of what is happening on what might happen gives me a chance to find alternatives before the crunch.

Here is a prime example of why I am so cynical about politics. At first I thought this had to be a joke but I was wrong. There really is a bill that has been introduced titled the 'Free Industry Bill' which would indeed specifically not include CO2, methane, perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, nitrous oxides, and sulfur hexafluoride as pollutants. My first reaction--what the f##k else is there? My second reaction--how much have the 79 co-sponsors been paid by and/or how much stock do they have in which industries? My third--well, legislators did try, once upon a time, to define pi as equal to 3.0 so I guess this is just a little less hubristic. I guess the bill's title must be a short form of "Free Industry (to do whatever it damned well pleases) Bill." The rest of us can just go and choke on what they spew but, what the hell, we'll have jobs (maybe). For anyone who wants to look at this piece of crap it was introduced as H.R. 97.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Good Morning, everyone.

The weather is about the same so I will get right into some comments. First up, Sarah Palin's self serving hypocrisy. I do agree with her a little bit. Criminal acts are the responsibility of the criminal. That is why Loghner has been arrested and will, eventually, stand trial. However, for Palin to disavow any responsibility for the climate of hate that has grown in this society is like saying that Joseph Goebbels (Hitler's Minister of Propaganda) and other Nazi leaders weren't responsible for the Holocaust (which claimed the lives of 12 million people) because he didn't personally assign specific individuals to labor and death camps or pull the trigger of a gun aimed at any specific person. I doubt very much that many of Hitler's 'willing executioners' (from the title of a social history of Nazi Germany focusing on the participation of 'ordinary' Germans in the Holocaust published a few years ago) would have done more than make nasty jokes about Jews, the mentally ill, eastern Europeans, Gypsies and others consigned to oblivion by the Nazis without the permissive climate fostered by Goebbels and others that tapped into and fostered deep seated resentments. In disavowing any role in inciting the gunman Palin basically claims that words don't matter but in the next breath she blames the media and liberal politicians for their words that she claims inflame hatred. She can't have it both ways. If her words don't matter, her opponents' words don't either. If their words matter, her words must also. And if words don't matter, incitement of certain crimes wouldn't be criminal. And for my final observation (unless she utters some other idiocy which irritates me beyond endurance), the notion that somebody else has uttered inflammatory words does not, in any moral universe, absolve her of responsibility for uttering her own inflammatory words. Nor does the notion that, at some infrequent points, she expressed revulsion for violence and vitriol wipe out her other expressions of violence and vitriol. That would be like absolving a thug of beating up and robbing his victim because he stuck around long enough to bandage the wounds and call 911.

On a different aspect of this story--is anyone really sure that the Tucson shooting was a political act? So the idiot had had a copy of the Marx (and god knows what else), whoopee. I have (or have had) copies of (and have read large parts of) Mein Kampf, Das Kapital, The Book of Mormon. It doesn't mean I am a Communist-Nazi-Mormon or that these writings have inspired me to act in any particular way. I think it is very possible that any fairly large gathering of people would have suited Loughner's purpose--it didn't have to be a Congresswoman's meeting with constituents.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Good morning, everyone. While the east coast gets socked in (again) we also have our own nasty snow event to contend with. We handle such things by staying put. The weather may have caused us one inconvenience--our cable is screwed up. The only thing we can get is some damned infomercials and we noticed that the time hadn't been updated (and didn't change) through the hour and a half we were drinking our coffee. Looking outside we may have gotten the eight inches they were forecasting and the local weather reports now say the snow won't end till tomorrow. A couple of days ago, when the news was showing the scenes from Atlanta and other points south, Mom echoed my sentiments--we can't remember any time when so much of the country has been hit simultaneously with severe weather. CNN has this blog post that provides some back up for our conjecture on how odd this weather is.

Various news articles (like this one) say that one result of the Tucson shooting has been a significant surge in gun sales--especially of the Glock model the shooter used. I don't know which trend I find more offensive. The a##holes who demand that everyone be deprived of the right to own a gun because some other a##hole decides to use is irresponsibly and tragically; or the a##holes who respond to even the slightest threat to almost unlimited gun ownership by arming themselves to the teeth. Has everyone in the crazy world gone as insane as Loughner? Then there is the other phenomenon that is nauseating: those who have been most guilty of spewing violent, hate-filled imagery trying to excuse themselves of any complicity by claiming, as most ten-year-olds caught in bad behavior, that everyone does it or that, since the shooter is so obviously mentally deranged, they their vitriol isn't really culpable at all. But I don't have that much sympathy with the other side. Yes, the nasty, malicious, and violent spewing of people like Palin, Beck, and Limbaugh create a poisonous atmosphere but do they really need to create such a cocoon of saccharine niceness around all of us that even the most deranged won't get bad notions? Mark Morford at SFgate is in find form on this subject, as usual.

The floods in Queensland, Australia, have, finally, made it onto our national news. The scenes are horrific. I found this interesting set of pictures this morning. Depending on which report you get, the flooded area is either the size of Texas or the size of Germany and France together. And it still hasn't stopped raining. Evidently, the flood waters have reached Brisbane, the third largest city in Australia. I hope the Aussie government does a hell of a lot better job than ours did at rebuilding. MSNBC has this article this morning.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Good Monday morning to you all. We are in a cold lull between snow showers today. We had about four inches over Saturday and Sunday which was light and fluffy enough to clear with a broom. We are supposed to get almost another 4 inches over night tonight. Thankfully we are not in the South. The weather person this morning said that anyone planning to travel that was 'wasn't going.'

I have been watching the news on the shooting in Arizona. I don't have much to say on it that other bloggers aren't already saying. I will I have noticed something interesting. Yesterday many of the news casts carried excerpts from Sarah Palin's exhortations to her followers to 'reload' and the map with gunsight crosshairs on various congressional districts. They aren't doing that at all today. Perhaps they read the would-be assassin's My Space pages and realized that he has no coherent political agenda beyond not trusting the government. From what I have read so far, I am not at all surprised that he was able to acquire his gun legally. He had a history of 'acting out,' of being disruptive, but nothing that would have led to mandatory psychiatric treatment. The authorities now say that the gunman was 'aggravated' by an earlier meeting with Congresswoman Giffords because she didn't understand his question and didn't answer it. Given the incoherence of his My Space ramblings, I am not at all surprised. But I also have to say that simply because this appears to be the work of a lone, mentally unhinged gunman we can't let the poisonous political environment where so many feel free to use violent imagery and cast their ideological and political opponents as demons worthy of assassination off the hook. The only thing the hate-mongers among us haven't done is promise the assassins among us a direct ticket to heaven as reward for murder. I wonder when that will come.

Something else I am not really surprised about is this from HuffingtonPost. About twenty-five years ago, when I was still a graduate student in history, I came to the same conclusion and nothing I have seen since has changed my mind. The U.S. preeminence in world politics and economics rested on several fortunate accidents: a large population which formed a large internal market for our own manufactured goods, an abundant supply of natural resources to exploit to make those goods, a very productive agricultural sector which exploited fully new technologies so that increasingly smaller numbers of people were able to feed not only our own people but much of the world as well, and, at the end of WWII, during the late 1940s and 1950s the only undamaged industrial economy in the world. Read down that list and see how many are still accurate descriptions of our condition. We still have a large population but it is a market for goods manufactured elsewhere. One economic commentator and advisor a couple of months ago took issue with the notion that 'America doesn't make things any more.' He cited John Deere and Caterpillar specifically as counter examples. To which I simply ask how many of us are going to buy a Deere tractor or a Caterpillar earth mover this year? And how many of us are going to buy a shirt (or several shirts) made in Asia? Most of our everyday needs are made overseas which was not the case even 50 years ago. As for the abundant supply of natural resources--oil production in the U.S. peaked around 1973, the highest grade iron ore peaked even earlier, and we don't have many internal sources for the rare earths that are so important for new high tech applications like batteries and electronics. On the agricultural front we face a number of limitations that no one really wants to talk much about--a growing number of insect pests and weeds that are resistant to the chemicals we use to control them. New high yield seeds (whether hybrids or genetically modified) require large applications of oil based fertilizers and pesticides/herbicides. Our fantastic machines require large quantities of oil based fuels. And much of our industry has moved overseas taking the jobs with them. But back in the late 1960s and early 1970s our industrial plants were outmoded and less efficient than those being built overseas. Back in the 1950s my grandfather told me that the Japanese were only capable of making cheap toys and trinkets. By the 1970s the Japanese were taking our auto makers to the cleaners. What goes up must, eventually, come down. It looks like we are coming down.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Good morning, everyone. C-c-c-c-old this morning. The thermometer registered 12 degrees when I first looked at it and then promptly lost another couple before we finished our morning coffee. Luckily we only got a couple of fluffy inches of snow which we should be able to sweep off the patio and car without much trouble. Yesterday the landscaping service our landlord hires sent workmen around to clear the snow--with leaf blowers!!! I am very glad that I don't have to drive in this very much.

Yeah, Kay and Lois. I am looking forward to taking and posting more pictures this year. I have a number of exotic plants going into the garden this year, besides the ground cherry. And, as usual, there will be some surprises. I decided at the last minute not to order a particular variety of pepper. Instead I will see what the garden centers have. And I discovered that I no longer have any of a particular variety of tomato seed and so I have spaces for a couple of fairly large plants but no idea of what will go in them. Ah, surprises!!
I agree with you, Kay. Being old, poor, and/or disabled seems to be a mortal sin in this country although this story from HuffingtonPost makes me believe that the notion transcends the U.S. With stories like this I have to wonder if anything much works any more. Our so-called 'compassionate' conservatives tell us that government can't do anything much right except squander and all activities should be moved to the private sphere. But what can private charity do when promises of donations (by governments especially) are reneged upon? People forget that one of the reasons that government stepped into so many areas that had previously been the responsibility of private organizations (particularly charities) was that the economic catastrophe was too big and their resources too small to deal with the need. It seems to me, as I think I have said before, that Thomas Hobbs description of man's condition in nature (a war of all against all) can be easily applied to our modern industrial society. Any attempt at a collective, social response to problems is met with the disparaging cry of 'Socialism!!!' And, yet, without a collective effort many of our most cherished achievements would never have come about.

The news on unemployment seemed good this week--until you look beneath what the mainstream media presents. Another HuffingtonPost gives you some indication of what I mean. Unemployment dropping from 9.8% to 9.3% (I think that is what the reports said) sounds good until you notice that, very simply, a large number of people have dropped out of the 'official' labor market. The story I linked to also gives you some idea of how uneven any 'improvement' in the economy really is. Wall Street is doing wonderfully well. Major banks and corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars (yes that was a 't'). Economists gush about the uptick in temporary, part-time, or private contracting work as a sign that, surely, companies are going to have to start hiring again. Yes, the fact that only a little over 100k jobs were created when the economy needs to create 300k+/month for the next 5 years to get us back to pre 2007 levels of employment. The old saying says that 'every little bit helps' but you can starve to death on little bits that collectively don't add up to enough calories to sustain life. It just takes you a little longer.

The ghost of the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster simply won't go away. I am absolutely amazed that the Federal agencies involved have no plan for cleaning up the environment eight months after the initial explosion. What ever happened to the notion of contingency planning? This was certainly not out of the realm of imagination. I can understand (though not condone) BP's slipshod and ridiculously inadequate plans for dealing with such a disaster--after all where is the profit in planning for a contingency you are absolutely convinced will never happen? But the profit motive should not have entered into the calculations of the Coast Guard, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Agency, or the Environmental Protection Agency.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Good morning to you all. We have had on-and-off snow showers yesterday and may have the same today. No great accumulation, thankfully. Most of this is lake effect and we are in a trough that may or may not get it. Other points east of us are getting as much as 2 ft. It is still early winter, after all.
I find I am anticipating gardening season--I mean actual, get-your-hands-dirty gardening season. I will take some pictures when I get the mini-greenhouse up (in about two-and-a-half months.) I will post some for everyone (especially you, Kay and Lois.) Right now my gardening is all in the planning stage--figuring what I can plant where. By next week I should have my seed orders ready to go. Seed packets last me three to four years and unless we really don't like a particular variety I don't by many new seeds each year.

The political situation and how it is likely to develop over the next two years continues to be a major topic of discussion here. Our consensus is--prepare for a very bumpy ride. Politics is messy even when the parties aren't busy trimming the 'facts' to their particular preconceived notions. Now-a-days the ideological knives are being wielded with particular gusto. I noticed that yesterday when the news clip showed the new House Majority Leader dismissing the recent report of the (usually respected) Congressional Budget Office as merely the CBO's 'opinion.' This HuffingtonPost article also noticed the change in tone. Of course, Rep. Boehner
didn't like being told that the proposal to repeal the health care reforms would cost a couple hundred billion. Question--what data does he propose to use in place of the CBO? He didn't say.

First we had blackbirds dying en mass in Arkansas and Louisiana. The similar deaths elsewhere along with dying fish and crabs washing ashore in Arkansas, Maryland, and Brazil. Now turtle doves falling from the sky in Italy. Experts tell us that these are not really out of the ordinary events. They may be right and the spate of stories may simply be the now pervasive of a 24/7 news cycle that demands the airwaves be filled with something. My brain tells me that may be the case but somewhere deep down these are troubling--deeply troubling.

So Defense Secretary Robert Gates is proposing to cut another $78 billion from the Defense Department budget on top of the $100 billion over the next five years already in the pipeline. Actually, I am not so sure that these are really cuts since the appropriations will actually modestly increase each year and do not include the costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We still spend more than the rest of the world as a whole on defense. It is nice that they recognize that we can't 'have a rich man's defense on a poor man's budget.' But this seems simply lip service when we aren't talking about actual cuts in money which a large number of ordinary people are experiencing.

The next questions though are rarely if ever asked even when discussing how the military can transition from the 'seven fat years (decades?)' to the 'seven lean years (or more?)' This post by William Astore on tomdispatch indicates a great need for some serious national soul searching in place of the hyperbolic praise that has been so in evidence over the last 20 or more years. We're Number One!!?? Perhaps, as with health care, in dollars spent (or misspent) but certainly not in results. As a companion to Astore's facts on the unfitness (physical and educational) of large numbers of American youth to serve in a modern military, check out June Calendar's post today on dealing with the new nearly illiterates (and innumerates).

This story from the New York Times sounds eerily familiar. Substitute salmonella for dioxin and cast your minds back to last fall in this country. Both stories show a major weakness in the modern industrial model of agricultural production. A small mistake can have major consequences far from the initial source. And once again we have officials reassuring the consuming public that the danger isn't really all that bad. That sounds to me like someone assuring you that a one in six chance of dying while playing Russian Roulette with a revolver isn't all that bad. It can really mess up you whole day if you are on the wrong side of the probabilities. CNN has this update which indicates that the situation may be more serious than originally thought. The company at the heart of the contamination may have known for months that its product was contaminated.

Well, the Republicans in the House had their little drama with the reading of the Constitution yesterday. It was mildly interesting on two counts: their decision to ignore certain portions of the original document and the (sarcasm alert) enthusiasm all of the Republicans and Tea Partiers had for the whole process. They said that they ignored parts of the original because they wanted to focus on the Constitution 'as it operates today.' That simply erases the fact that those parts have a great influence on the present.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Good Morning, Everyone. We had a dusting of snow overnight. No troublesome accumulation. The weather people say we may get a bit more tonight. Most of the snow that dumped on us in early December and stayed for Christmas is gone--just patches in the shady areas left.

The mini-greenhouse we ordered from Jung arrived. It is a nicely compact package and we hope that we will be able to get it easily back in the box to store it for next winter. It looks like a simple snap together system and should work quite nicely in the area I plan to put it. They included two trial packets of seeds that look very interesting--a double sunflower that looks like a chrysanthemum and a ground cherry. I never heard of ground cherry but it is supposed to be sweet and have a strawberry-like flavor. I need to do some research on it.

I agree, Lois. When ever the political news is quiet I look for when the sledgehammer is going to fall. I may not have to wait for long. Already the Republicans in the house are backpedaling on their campaign promises of transparency and procedure. Take a look at this article on Politico to see what I mean.

And then what should I read right after the Political piece on the shenanigans the Republicans are pulling with the effort to repeal the health care reform law but this from the L.A. Times. Just this time last year Anthem Blue Cross tried the same thing. I just love the argument the company used to justify an increase on as many as one-fourth of their customers of 59% (the rest will suffer the relatively mild increase of 30-35%). They say they have to contend with rapidly rising health care costs and the costs imposed by the new health care reforms (most of which have not even kicked in yet and many of which won't until 2014).

If this article on HuffingtonPost is accurate perhaps the Federal Reserve is going to get serious about regulating the mortgage industry. I still have a major problem with the notion that fraud (the signing and filing false affidavits) is not being prosecuted as the crime it is. But so far I haven't heard of a single criminal case. But the article raises another set of alarm bells in my mind. One would think that we wouldn't need such a simple regulation as the requirement that payments be promptly credited to the correct account. That is simply good business practice. Or would be in a sane business world not run by thieves and grifters. What does this say about our current business climate? What does it say about our political system when the Federal Reserve has to be brought kicking and screaming to accept the need for such rules by a revolt by the FDIC?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Good morning, again, everyone. The weather is, so far, what we should expect for early January--cold with possibilities of some light snow. Perfect garden planning weather since actual gardening isn't possible--except for tending the few indoor plants that are destined for the garden come warmer weather.

I agree, Kay. Blogging is much more fun than Facebook.

The political scene seems to be in the "quiet before the storm" phase. Nothing much is happening but there is definite thunder on the horizon. The Republicans have announced a vote on a bill to repeal all of the health care reform law though it will likely (hopefully) be symbolic since the Senate probably won't go along and Obama probably wouldn't sign it if it got that far. I don't expect anything good to come out even when things heat up and this article from Seeking Alpha explains why. None of the alternatives are good and all are likely to yield a lot of pain for a considerable time. The question is: who will feel the pain?

Well, that was Tuesday. Today is Wednesday. I forgot to come back in and post the above section. We'll see what happens today.

Hey, Kay, I heard that your Buckeyes won the Sugar Bowl. Celebrate, girl, celebrate!!

The news this morning had a segment on the newly elected first time Congresscritters from the Chicago area. The Tea Bagger among them made his sanctimonious announcement that he would forego the government provided health insurance and pension. Instead he will provide those 'from the open market' for himself. That is nice and, given that Congress members and Senators get $174,000/year, I guess he can afford it. Now why doesn't he show real solidarity with the middle and working classes by refusing one-third to one-half of his salary? Given that his position is really a part-time gig, he would still be making double (if he took the larger cut) the average income of the ordinary American.

The first item I read this morning (after scanning the MSNBC home page) was this Mike Morford blog. It is humorous and a very accurate assessment of our 24/7/365 news cycle and its vast importance. (Yeah that last bit was my sarcastic comment.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Good morning, everyone. We are back to near normal (maybe a slight bit below normal) temps here after a couple of days in the 40s and one that hit a balmy 50. That nasty storm that spawned that swarm of tornados to the southwest of us and that nasty blizzard to the northwest only caused some high winds here. We are supposed to remain seasonally cold with a couple of slight bouts of snow (maybe) for this week. Most of the mountains of snow and the thick blanket that covered the grass (and my gardens) has melted. It is amazing how much snow temps above 40 with rain will eat.

Keep up with your needlepoint, Kay. Every now and then (more frequently over the last couple of years) I find my hands just don't want to work with the same pain-free dexterity or my eyes focus as readily on my needlework. But I am a stubborn old girl. I will do my needlework and I intend to learn new skills, or relearn old ones, along the way. If brain stimulation is really the preventative for the various age related dementias they say it is, I intend to get plenty of it.

I am not on Facebook much anymore either, Lois. Most of the games are just boring or frustrating. I do have a couple of groups I check in on but that is about all. It is such a time waster.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year to you all and I hope that however good, bad or indifferent 2010 was that 2011 will be wonderful.


As you can see I intended to post yesterday. I got side tracked in reading. I found a large number of the 'resolution' blogs some of which were interesting. I don't make resolutions and haven't for many years. It was too easy to fail in keeping them which was a bit of a emotional downer. Instead, I have some more general goals. I would like to take up my tatting needles again and really learn the craft. I have been lackadaisical about doing that. I should also get more serious about using my knitting looms. They have been sitting around taking up space and gathering dust since I yielded to the impulse and bought them I don't know how long ago. I have (finally!!!) collected all my UFOs in one place and will spend time this year completing at least some of them.

Then there are my garden containers. I have already made the first cut of seeds I won't be planting this year and will make a second cut shortly. I am also diagraming my containers so I can have a clearer idea of what I can put where. It goes without saying that I will put in tomatoes and peppers. I have all the tomato seeds I need though there are a couple of varieties that are awfully tempting to try out. We are in the process of deciding what peppers to put into our extremely limited spaces. First is a little hybrid from Burpee--the False Alarm. That is a jalapeno style pepper with a mild heat that goes so well in everything. I won't do the cow's horn cayenne this year--last year's plant was very prolific and provided enough cayenne flakes for the next two years. I won't do the gypsy or poblano peppers again--they are readily available at our various farmers' markets all season and we really like supporting our local growers. Instead I am looking at the seed catalogs to see if I can find something different that isn't available from local sources. I also want to expand the herbs I grow but am undecided as to whether I will buy seed or look for plants. Probably will do a bit of both. I only have a little more than a month before I start putting up the plastic over the containers.