Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hello, all, on this cold Wednesday.  The temps are in the 20s but the wind chill drops that into the teens.  At least the winds have died down.  And the snow stayed east and north.  I looked out to make sure that nothing had blown out of place and saw everything is where it belongs.  The wind had the over-the-fence pot hangers swinging like pendulums with the pots inside.  I have them hanging on the cross bars of the mini-greenhouse.  I thought it looked like a good storage space and so it his turned out.  The weather person on our local (Chicago) TV station reported that one of her regular e-mail correspondents has already figured that we have 111 days till spring.  He is already tired of the cold.  I look at all the moisture coming through this late in the year and figure we have worse to come.

I agree, Lois.  College today is not worth the investment of time and money.  But then so much of our educational system is not worth the amount of money (private and public) that has been put into it.  Our local news this morning carried a snippet on a recent evaluation of Chicago's charter schools and it wasn't good.  The way our Federal Secretary of Education and various politicians at all levels of government have touted charter schools you would think they were the magical road to educational success.  I think the key word there is 'magical.'  The students at most of those charter schools scored no better than the students in the regular public school system and those in at least half a dozen did significantly worse.  No panacea there.  You may be right and a system of apprenticeship programs would be more effective.

Tom Englehardt has a nicely satirical piece by Steve Fraser that touches on most of the ills of modern society dominated as it is by predatory capitalism.  Englehardt's intro is as entertaining as Fraser's article.  And both are absolutely right--this system is rapidly consuming our dreams, our futures, and our children. I find it amazing that most of us would find cannibalism abhorrent unless we are talking about fiscal and psychic cannibalism.

Just glanced at the list of items on my Google alert page for 'drought.'  I noticed on which claims that the drought in Texas is now the worst on record since records began in 1895.  That means it beats the benchmark most of us use--the Dust Bowl.  And the recent rains, though welcome, missed many of the hardest hit regions and much, much more is needed to provide real relief.  I couldn't read the article because it was taken down by the time I found the link.  Mexico, especially northern Mexico, is suffering the worst drought in 60 years.  That isn't good for two reasons: Mexico is the world's fifth largest supplier of corn and many of the early veggies for the American market come from Northern Mexico.  And to make matters worse many crucial reservoirs are at 30-40% of their normal levels which means water is going to be a scarce commodity this coming season.  And the lower Danube in eastern Europe is at its lowest level since 2003.

Leigh at 5 Acres and a Dream has a good post this morning that crystallizes many thoughts I have had over recent years.  I grew up at a time when debt had become an 'investment' in the future that would be paid off from future financial gains.  I never really fell for the notion of debt as 'wealth' that has come to dominate much of high finance.  But debt is, as we have increasingly found out over the last 20 years, a drain on our futures.  Debt-as-investment relies on trust: the trust that future will be more prosperous and the debtor can pay off the debt.  Anyone who has that kind of trust now is either extraordinarily lucky or extraordinarily oblivious.  I also grew up with the notion of insurance as a good form of protection against catastrophe: a breadwinner dying unexpectedly, a car damaged, a house destroyed, an unpredictable major medical problem.  But I have questioned it more of late.  We have renter's insurance and there are clauses I simply can't understand.  Some seem to contradict others.  And I have seen too many people who thought they had coverage for whatever disaster they encountered and discovered they did not.  As far as medical insurance--I believe the pervasiveness (until a couple of years ago when so many lost benefits) has been a major factor in the increase in medical costs.  The people who receive the medical services do not pay for those services directly and have no incentive to incorporate economics into their decisions.  The doctors and hospitals provide services but bill the insurance companies whose deep pockets make it all too tempting to inflate the costs for a higher return.  The insurance companies pay but have no real gauge of how effective or efficient the services provided really are.  Disconnect on all levels.  And again much depends on trust--the trust that the treatment is really worth the cost.  I don't have that much trust in the medical establishment.  And on the notion of retirement instruments--that also depends on trust that the money will be there when one retires.  And I don't have any faith beyond when I see my next check has been deposited.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Good Tuesday morning to you all.  Wet this morning.  The weather people say we may get 1 to 2 inches of snow but I don't really expect it.  East of us will get that but the system appears to be fizzling out before it reaches us.  We were surprised when the sun came out for a bit yesterday afternoon.

Oh, yeah, Kay.  I think we must be founding members of the 'I'm staying home on Black Friday Club.'  And I would love to see the bought congress critters get tossed out in sufficient numbers to do some good.  I would love to see the so-called 'safe districts' most of them (mis-)represent suddenly become totally unsafe and up for grabs.  And one piece of good news from the morning broadcast:  the recall movement in Wisconsin has more than half of the signatures needed with a month and a half to go.  Maybe Walker will be a half-term governor.

I don't know how often I watched news that someone (usually the Germans and the French) had come up with a solution to the sovereign debt problem and that story alone caused an orgiastic buying frenzy on the stock markets.  Then suddenly some bright person discovered that the 'solution' was anything but and the markets sold off.  This little piece from Zero Hedge puts a bit of light on the darker possibilities.

I am about two-thirds through Michael Lewis' Boomerang and it is a fascinating take on the financial meltdown as it manifested in Europe.  It is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it.  I can summarize it so far in a few short sentences.  The Icelandic bankers borrowed foreign money to buy foreign assets which they then sold to each other at inflated prices giving the appearance of fantastic prosperity.  The Irish bankers borrowed foreign money to buy Irish assets that they sold to each other at inflated prices or loaned to land developers who built overpriced homes and commercial property.  The Greek government borrowed foreign money to support inflated government expenditures and inefficiency.  And then Lewis presents the German situation.  The sober German bankers, who would never have approved such loans to German customers in Germany, provided the foreign money that fueled the debt frenzy.  I find it amusing that the Germans are now insisting that their frugal ways be adopted by the spendthrift peoples of the European periphery when part of the problem was the much-less-than-frugal actions of their bankers.

I found this Psychopathic Economics 101 post both apt and amusing.  Is your house insured??  Against what dangers??

Monday, November 28, 2011

Good morning, all.  We had rain yesterday with falling temps.  For the week it will be cool and wet with some snow possible.  But then it is the last week of November.  The rain should end later today for a bit so we should be able to get out weekly shopping done without getting wet.

I saw a snippet of this story on the morning broadcast news but no details.  The reporter did say that the total (for now) was $1.2 trillion.  What wasn't said was how many big FOREIGN banks got our money.  That is one aspect that pisses me off.  Another is the fact that these are private businesses whose risks (and costs) have been shifted from them to the private sector to the taxpayers.  So a significant portion of the bailout went to foreign private businesses which simply compounds my disgust.  And the Federal Reserve and the banks fought tooth and nail to keep the details secret.  Once upon a time, we were told that a democracy required an educated and informed electorate.  Another indication that democracy is functionally dead no matter the pronouncements of our political class.  Firedoglake also points out that the Fed earmarked $7.7 Billion to rescue the financial sector or 11 times the amount of TARP.  These are mind boggling numbers.  And I have to ask a question that has come to mind frequently over the last four years:  when is the red ink so deep that there is not enough money in the world to wipe it out?  And when do the printing presses break down from a long period of excessive use?

The New York Times posted this article which reflects many of the conclusions I have come to over the last decade.  They still tell us that a college degree is the way to a comfortable middle class life.  But I noticed nearly ten years ago that blanket prescription had a lot of holes in it.  It depends upon the subject, the school, the connections the student has, and other factors as well.  For many they will never recoup the cost of their education.  Furthermore, many graduates will find that the career they trained for has been eliminated by technology.  The pundits used to tell us that technology created as many jobs as it erased.  That was a lie.  Combine that trend with government policies and globalization and you get the current split between low level jobs they used to describe as 'entry level' and upper level professional jobs with no bridge between.

The news readers tell us that Black Friday sales set records.  The first question in my mind was how much was on credit and how many of those consumers will file for bankruptcy in January or February.  It is amazing how many of our pundits are almost orgasmic over the sales figures as though it really signals an economic revival.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Good morning, all.  Well, Black Friday is gone and we now have Small Business Saturday.  Then, of course, after a brief respite for Sunday (once a day of rest), we will get Cyber Monday.  Lovely, we have almost wiped out Thanksgiving and in its place have three shopping holidays.  Perhaps we should have expected that development given that the economy is 60+% consumer driven.  I wondered this morning if we would soon see a 'Consumerist' Advent Calendar.  You remember this calendars with little windows and you opened one each day leading to Christmas?  Well, soon after that thought I saw the new Wal-Mart commercial which touts 'Cyber Week.'

The news talking heads are still talking about the stupid idiot who pepper sprayed others in line to get an X-box.  Really??? An X-Box??  If I were starving I might do that to make sure I (or my family) got food but an X-Box??  But I am really offended by the attention this a$$ got from the media.  And I can't even express my disgust with the ones who brought guns and knives.

But then insanity seems to pervade our lives.  Consider this story.  Corporate tax rates both too high and too low?  Well, I guess a company would find it worth while to have a tax corporation charging them millions if that company can create a 57k page return and reduce the tax burden on $14 billion in profits to zero.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Good morning to you all.  And no I am not shopping today.  I have never engaged in the Black Friday madness.  If I were still giving Christmas gifts as I did ten years ago, I would probably have finished it already.  But I soured on the consumerist version of Christmas long ago.  However, one holiday at a time--I hope your Thanksgiving was pleasant and satisfying.  Ours was.  We joined my sister and her partner for dinner.  Our brother and sister-in-law, nephew and his daughters joined us.  It was a nice gathering: good company and good food.

Just when I think I have heard a story that illustrates how low we have fallen as a civilized society another pops up that has me shaking my head in disbelief.  Like this one.

As many of you may realize, I am an extreme skeptic on anything political and I think with good reason.  I always have questions in my mind when I read political articles and blog and take any pronouncements with a ton, rather than a pinch, of salt.  This Burning Platform post indicates why.  I never now whether those idiots are talking about real absolute cuts in the total spending or just a reduction in the increase in total spending.  One would think that the automatic 'cuts' required with the failure of the (faux)-supercommittee would reduce our troops to eating dog food and fighting with broken bows from the bleating coming from Leon Panetta's mouth.

We have all said that the weather has been weird this year and the year isn't over yet.  Check this out.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Good morning, everyone, and Happy Thanksgiving.  Hope you all have a lovely day with friends and family.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Good morning, all, on this day before Thanksgiving.  We have a couple of errands to do today but otherwise it should be an easy day.  Not that any of our days are hard or rushed.  In fact, we refuse to be rushed.  It makes life so much easier and controls the blood pressure.

This story sums up the mishigas of the (not-so-)supercommittee.  Most had little hope that it would really succeed in the first place but are disappointed anyway.  Many of us feel a strange combination of disappointment and relief: disappointment that these morons couldn't come to a compromise and relief that they didn't come to a compromise that would severely shred what is left of our social safety net while giving the wealthy another free pass.  I understand the rationale for the committee.  After all, a similar committee managed to reduced the number of military bases in the U.S. after congress failed to deal with the matter.  But the very different result this time reveals just how broken the entire system is; and that is reflected by the comments of those who find their faith in the system seriously challenged.  Phil at Phil's Favorites has some wonderfully biting comments on both the failure of the committee and on the current Repthuglican Scrooge-like attitude towards anyone not in the upper 1% or associated with a defense contractor.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Good morning to you all.  We did get a bit of sun yesterday--enough to tease.  They say rain today but sun for the next three.  Good.  That covers the holiday when we will be driving over to my sister's for dinner.  Hope the weather is good for your holiday.

The news said that the Republicans have another (the 11th they say though it seems they have had 1000 or more) 'debate' tonight.  I am using quotation marks because the candidates don't really disagree on much of anything--except which of them should be the nominee.  I saw a cute cartoon yesterday which showed a pair of Republican voters looking at three little scaly creatures (one labeled Newt).  One comments: 'Great!! We have a choice between a newt, a chameleon, and a horny toad.'  That about sums it up.

I am totally amused by all of the talking heads and Repthuglicans blaming Obama for the failure of the not-so-Supercommittee.  He, they say, should have inserted himself directly in the process and got this thing done.  Point one: that is not the job of the President.  It is the job of the legislative branch of the government to propose and pass legislation, particularly budgetary bills.  The President can propose and can push for his pet projects which Obama has done.  Point two:  even if Obama had taken a more active role there is no guarantee he would have gotten a deal.  The committee was created out of an ongoing stalemate that, in the end, doomed the committee itself.  Remember the debt ceiling debate?  The formation of the committee did absolutely nothing to change that dynamic.

However, this story indicates that the impasse might actually accomplish what the committee was supposed to do and do it better, or at least produce deeper cuts in the deficit sooner.  I noticed the 'Catch-22' in the story, however.  In a recessionary economy where the consumer isn't consuming to the same heroic extent as in the recent past and business is sitting on as much of their cash as possible, government spending is the only factor keeping it from sliding from recession into depression.  The cuts will probably result in a further deterioration of the economy.  Damned if you do; damned if you don't.  But I hope Obama keeps his pledge to veto any measure each party's partisans have been floating to reduce the impact on their pet programs and thereby evading the repercussions of their failure.

I sympathize with you completely on the effect of the do-nothing committee on the blood pressure.  I think that is why I have taken to limiting my exposure to the broadcast media news.  I keep wondering how those talking heads can 'report' on the clowns  and keep a straight face.  And I am not talking about 'ha ha' funny.  It is more of an 'I can't believe that moron really said that.'

My aren't we such a shining example to the world!!!  I can't say more without raising my blood pressure to dangerous levels and with out becoming totally and profanely incoherent.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Good morning to you all.  We have sun!! At least for a while.  We are supposed to get rain later this evening.

I am a bit conflicted about snow, Kay.  I don't like the notion of having to shovel out the patio or driving in the mess but I also would like a nice blanket of snow to further insulate my containers.  Well, ready or not it will come and probably not in a convenient quantity.

I am not surprised about the failure of the Occupy movement to take off where you are.  I haven't seen any here either.  But then the Tea Party never took off in my area.  I saw only one of those demonstrations here.  I noticed a story on this morning's Good Morning, America that covered a 'backlash' anti-Occupy demonstration in the Northwest (sorry, I forgot exactly where).  I was cynically amused by one of the signed which objected to the annoyance of the Occupy demonstration.  So Americans now seem to want dissent so long as they are not in any way inconvenienced.  I was also somewhat amused by the continued criticism that the Occupy movement has no real expressed demands.  They have about as many specific demands as the Tea Party.  What these two movements tell me is that the whole damned system is broken.  In other words, specific demands make sense when a bit of tinkering will remedy problems but when the entire system is broken a bit of tinkering simply won't cure the situation.  And a good many of us will be more than annoyed by that process.

I absolutely love the title on this article.  That (not-so-)Supercommittee was indeed an end-run around democracy.  But then, perhaps, we should get used to this tactic.  After all, we saw the same thing in Greece and Italy where 'technocrat' (non-elected, non-politician economicst) governments were installed because the politicians (who depend on voters' approval) couldn't do what is being demanded of the without committing political suicide.  I also saw a story over the weekend that claims that Angela Merkel was at odds with David Cameron (Germany and England, respectively) over whether a referendum on certain aspects of the EU treaties should be held.  She thought not (as she also did with respect to the proposed referendum on Greek austerity).  I said when the Greek drama was going on that the governments of Europe (and elsewhere) are in favor of democracy in theory but not in fact.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Good morning, everyone.  It was so dismal yesterday.  Cloudy all day and no rain at all to show for it.  Today is starting out the same way.  So far, thankfully, the real cold and snow has stayed north.  I am not really ready for winter.  Thursday and Friday (Thanksgiving and day after) are supposed to be in the high 50s or low 60s and sunny.  Time to give the plants outside a good watering.

I can only hope the fears expressed in this article comes to pass.  I also am very amused to see how differently the these guys view the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street protests.  I don't remember any misgivings expressed when Repthuglicans embraced the Tea Party.

This is a some pile of tires--visible from space they say.  And it is smaller than a pile found in the 1990s.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Good morning, everyone.  Not much to say on the garden or needlework.  I noticed some ice in the cedar shavings I have as mulch in the containers.  Another sign that the winter is coming.  We had some flurries early last but not accumulation.

CNN had this story yesterday and I notice the local news decided it was news worthy this morning.  The FBI and Homeland Security are investigating, and the attack came through an internet provider in Russia which means nothing much.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good morning on this chilly Friday.  We expect high winds and the weather reports carried the 'wind chill' as well as the expected temperatures which will probably stay in the 40s.  I checked the plants outside yesterday and found the edges are beginning to freeze.  I may need to water them later.

CNN had a teaser for a new show that details the problems of drawing voting district lines.  That is a hot topic since the census.  Republicans in normally Democratic states, like Illinois, are up in arms because the redistricting favors the majority Democrats while the Democrats in normally Republican states, like Texas, are howling for the mirror image complaint.  The talking heads discussed the strange boundaries in Chicago where the boundaries were drawn, they claim, to protect Democratic politicians.  Problem: I remember when the first of those boundaries were drawn way back in the early 1970s often by court order to remedy a situation where black votes were diluted because they were split among several white majority districts.  That doesn't even take into account the Asian and Hispanic voters.  I don't know which is fairer.

Another CNN piece annoyed me.  They interviewed a black Republican legislator (I don't know if he was a Senator or Representative because I missed the identifier) who touted the Repthuglican position of massive cuts in spending coupled with restructuring the tax code to lower the rates so the 1% pay less.  He bleated pitifully about the '47% who don't pay Federal taxes.'  Well at least he specified Federal taxes as opposed to local and state taxes of which they pay a larger percentage.  Problem:  many don't pay because they don't earn enough to pay after the deductions are taken off.  So somehow it is more reprehensible for a person who earns say $42k a year to take off the standard deduction for self, spouse, and children plus the mortgage deduction and any others they may be entitled to take and find that their net income is so low that they aren't required to pay than those companies who manage to reduce their tax bite to the point where they pay their CEO more than they return to the treasury???  By the way, the $42k is just about the average yearly income in this country.  The median income?  That is about $25k.  Why do I bring that up.  Well the median is the point at which half of the data points (in this case people and their yearly income) fall below and half below.  Of that 47% who don't pay Federal taxes how many fall below that $25k line??  Also consider the fact that the 2011 poverty line for a family of four was set at just a bit over $22k.

Firedoglake has this assessment of the not-so-Supercommittee and its likely output.  I find it amazing that the ratings agencies and the snews media have been so silent on this matter.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good morning to you all.  There wasn't much to say yesterday.  Let's see what I find today.

Well, I checked the lemon verbena yesterday.  It has been going down hill rapidly over the last week.  I don't know why but the root system was dying.  The soil was moist so I don't think it was the watering.  My books say it likes moist soil.  I will have to do some research.  Next year I will start with a new plant and try the process again.  Everything else is still doing well.

They had a bit of a story this morning about a Target employee who has started an on-line petition against Target's plans to open at midnight on Black Friday.  I totally agree but I doubt my agreement will do much.  I don't shop on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  In fact, I don't shop the whole weekend.  Nor do I shop on Christmas Eve.  I hate crowds and, having spent way too much time in retail, I seriously question the veracity of the 'sales.' And I absolutely hate how our holidays have degenerated into sales opportunities.

Another story rather irritated me.  Some perky financial reporter gushed about the fact that 2 states posted unemployment rates that matched pre-recession levels and the at the others could expect to reach that mile stone by 2012.  We are supposed to be happy that in five more years we might get back to about a 5% unemployment rate??  That, of course, assumes that Europe doesn't go any further down the sewer and drag us with it.

One of the last of the Munchkins from the 1939 Wizard of Oz has died at the grand old age of 93.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Good morning to you all.  I can hardly believe that it is already half past November.  Mom just pulled out her stock of Christmas cards to see if she has enough to cover this year's list.  She doesn't mail them till after December 1, but that isn't that far away.  We have a bit of a warm spell.  Yesterday was in the mid 60s.  Today and tomorrow are forecast to be near 60.  I did get the leaves swept up into my compost bin before the wind picked up.

The mainstream picked up on this story--briefly.  I don't know why we should be surprised.  After all these guys and gals are just following in footsteps of Boss Tweed 130 or so years ago.  Isn't it nice to be able to exempt yourself from the laws others have to follow?  However, as this story proves, we have to be careful about slinging around accusations.  And, it seem, we can't trust the news media to get the facts straight.  I don't much like Boehner but I don't want to see the man pilloried for something he didn't do.

And while they play the market with what amounts to insider information, we pay them $174K/year for a part-time gig and they produce this cockamamie do nothing notion.  So the less-than-Supercommittee agrees on revenue enhancing 'targets' by the Nov. 23 deadline and then refer the details to the regular congressional committees.  Those committees then have to somehow, magically produce legislation that will pass both the committees and congress with a house controlled by Repthuglican/Tea Partiers.  Like that is going to happen!!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Good morning, all.  We have a wind warning today.  I thought I heard it pick up last night.  That takes a bit out of the warmer temperatures expected today.  I have to sweep another bunch of leaves but that will wait until another day when the wind is calm and everything has dried out a bit.  The patio is a bit wet so we got some rain last night with more later.

We just turned off the TV and put in The Fellowship of the Ring.  We will make it a Lord of the Rings day.  Mom asked if I didn't want to finish off Good Morning America but I really don't.  I am rather ticked off with the news media generally.  I didn't see the Repthuglican debate last night but I am not surprised by the reports of what was said.  We haven't even extricated ourselves from Afghanistan and Iraq and these idiots think we should go into Iran to keep them from building a nuclear weapon.  And they all endorse torture.  Instead of focusing on those issues the blathering idiots moved on to whether Rick Perry could recover from his gaff last Wednesday.  They glided over the issues of Iran, nuclear weapons, and torture as though they were inconsequential.  What does it say about us that the press lets pass the moral obscenity of a bunch of 'serious' candidates for 'leader of the free' world get a pass on advocating war and torture?  I will take honest entertainment over entertainment dressed up as news any day.

The news readers did notice that the price of Thanksgiving dinner has gone up and that gas is expected to pass $4/gal (again) by spring.  That, however, is hardly news to those of us who visit the grocery stores on a regular basis.  Or who have watched the prices at the gas stations.  This Washington Post story headline tells us that the Thanksgiving dinner has increased 13% over last year.  But, of course, the government has massaged the inflation data to minimize the effect of food and energy in the calculation.

Well, China has certainly come a long way in a short time.  The first cohort of only children have come of age and many don't want more than one child themselves.  In some cases they don't want any.  I have read some reports that indicate serious social problems from the first iteration of the one child policy:  serious shortage of marriageable women, serious problems with an elder generation without many social supports.  Anybody want to conduct a thought experiment where this is headed?

And considering where things are headed is exactly what this opinion piece posted this morning is all about.  I like the notion of tangible assets.

I have seen stories like this one for a couple of years now.  It is rather unsettling because it is so reminiscent of stories out of the 1920s and 1930s and the Nazi rise to power.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Good morning, all.  It is starting cold but sunny.  They say, however, that clouds will increase later this afternoon.  Supposed to have warmer temps--high 50s or low 60s.  I got the last of my dried herbs ground yesterday.  Plenty of oregano, rosemary, ginger mint, lemon balm, and lemon verbena until next season.  Mom was able to smell the lemon verbena as soon as I opened the baggie.  I love the smell of the herbs.

This surprised me.  Since when do we expect truth in political ads?  (Yeah, that is sarcasm.)  I wish I could believe that this would mark a real change in politics but the ad is still running in other areas.

I notice that the MF Global scandal has, for the most part, disappeared from the broadcast media--even the financial media.  I continue to follow it in comments on the blogosphere like this post at Jesse's Cafe Americain.  The story confirms several of my own assessments of the American financial system.  First, the vast majority of us are outsiders in a system that really only works for insiders.  Second, most of it is just a vast casino and we are not the house.  And, as everyone knows, the house always wins in the end.  Third, the rules don't apply to the well connected movers and shakers.  Bernie Madoff is only the exception that proves the point.  I doubt we will see any prosecutions for the MF Global mess and very little of the missing funds (if any) will be recovered.  And then there is this indication of just how classy the new management (the bankruptcy trustee) is--but then termination by e-mail or news report seems to be the norm now-a-days.  (And, yes, that was also sarcasm.)

Here is one for the 'what's old is new again' file.

I rather like this article.  Since Alabama passed its restrictive immigration law the field hands (mostly Hispanic and, many, illegal have disappeared.  The farmers can't find Americans willing to do the work.  The author notes the most commonly accepted syllogism: there are jobs available but they are dirty jobs; Americans won't take those jobs even in hard times; therefore, Americans are too soft to do those jobs.  But, he also notes that there are plenty of 'dirty' jobs that Americans are very willing to take.  But those jobs differ from the agricultural jobs in that they pay better and most have benefits attached.  Perhaps American business, including agricultural business, does need a new business model; one that respects the workers who do the work by providing a living wage and benefits.

Something went click as I was perusing the internet news and commentary this morning.  The thought crystalized when I saw this story about the Penn State scandal and this one about the disciplining of SEC employees for their parts in the Madoff scandal.  In each case the miscreants got away with their crimes for so long because they are 'like us.'  Sandusky and Madoff both had sterling reputations with only a few seeing and taking seriously the warning signs.  However, the failure of those individuals and of the institutions that should have investigated and taken action chips away at our faith both in the possibility of individual ethics and institutional integrity.  I wondered as I watched the news coverage if the rage displayed by the rioting students wasn't in part the result of loss of trust in a formerly trusted person and institution.  Unfortunately, those ethical, moral, and, often, legal failures are occurring much too frequently.

Those blasted Repthuglican a$$holes in Ohio must be powered by the Energizer Bunny.  They never quit.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Good morning to you all on this bright, sunny but cold Friday.  Temperature at about 30 degrees.  Everything outside doing well so far.  The blueberries have developed a red tinge but they are doing very well.  I have high hopes for next year.  The mums, roses, lemon balm, thyme are all looking very good.  Still have a couple of blossoms on the roses and the mums are doing very nicely.

I have already turned off the tv news.  They are giving way too much attention to Perry's 'brain freeze.'  I have already received all the information I care to get on the Penn State child rape scandal.  It is in the legal system now and that is where I leave it.

Huffington Post has a good article on unemployment benefits and the big banks.  I have some experience with prepaid debit cards and unemployment because that is how I got my meager benefits the couple of months I qualified for them a while back.  I don't know what company serviced the card though it wasn't JPMorgan.  But I do remember the contortions I had to go through to avoid fees.  I couldn't make more than four withdrawals per month and there were fees for using the wrong ATMs.  I was able to avoid the whole thing by transferring all of the money at once to my bank checking account.  But if I hadn't had that account somebody would have been raking in a slice of what little I got.  Unfortunately, this set up is good for two of the three parties involved.  States get someone else administering the program and have eliminated the cost of paper checks.  The banks get a fee from the state for administering the program and get the fees from the unemployed as well.  What is worse I don't know if the first person featured in the article would do any better getting a checking account because many banks are phasing out the free checking services so, if her balance dipped below what ever amount the bank set, she will be assessed a fee.  Damned if you do; damned if you don't.

I don't think it is any kind of an accident that at the same time increasing numbers of this kind of report are appearing that the oil and gas industry are stepping up their ad campaigns emphasizing the environmental safety of their processes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Good morning and, oh boy!, did we get wind yesterday.  Supposed to have more high winds later today.  A number of the trees that had kept their leaves so far were stripped bare.  When things dry out I have a nice lot of leaves to sweep up into my compost bin.  I will have to press the last batch down a bit to make room.  The temps reached 32 or 33 degrees last night and we expect temps a bit lower tonight.  But all the outside plants are still doing well.  Kuma isn't at all happy--I refused to let him out.  He may have a fur coat but I don't.  My quick excursion to check on the plants lasted a whole 30 seconds.

The news media has spent a good bit of time on the Rick Perry gaff on the 'debate' last night.  All of it has been focused on how well this candidate would do in negotiations with foreign leaders if he can't even remember the three departments of government he would eliminate if he were elected.  My problem is more with the departments he would eliminate.  If I remember the Constitution, the management and regulation of interstate commerce is a mandated responsibility for the Federal government.  It seems logical to me that you would need a department of commerce to do that.  I don't have a problem with a 'brain freeze,' as one commentator called it.  I do have a problem with a candidate who doesn't seem to know the responsibilities of the level of government to which he aspires.
Matt Browner Hamlin at Americablog brings up another point that has been in the back of my mind but which no moderator at any of the debates have bothered to ask: what about the effect of any of the various programs and proposals on people--the people who work with or depend on the programs affected to begin with.  But then they may be just as blind as Joe Walsh was when he was asked by a reporter about the people who would be left without jobs if his plan to substantially reduce the Postal Service went into effect:  he didn't care about government jobs only private sector jobs.  These guys simply don't believe that government jobs are 'real' jobs.  But no one is telling them--to their faces-that they are full of bull crap.

I read this story and had a bit of mental whip lash.  I thought I remembered a story on our nightly news showing dramatic pictures of sedated rhinos being transported by helicopter upside down tethered by their feet.  But, I wondered, how can they transport extinct animals and I was sure the story mentioned black rhinos.  Well, I don't , thankfully, have incipient Alzheimer's.  According to Wikipedia there were four subspecies of black rhinoceros and the Western subspecies was recently declared extinct.  But there are three others.

I have been reading about this mess for a bit better than a year now.  Anyone surprised by the filing hasn't been paying attention.  Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone has another story that goes into more of the sordid history.  This one has everything required of a good soap opera (except the sordid love angle): crooked politicians, greedy banks pushing credit default swaps, and screwed taxpayers. 

We had a bit of a laugh here yesterday as we watched the CNBC commentators as the stock markets did their swan dive.  What is so funny about a market melt down, you wonder?  Well one talking head wondered why the markets were so gloomy.  After all Greece was in the process of setting up a new government and replacing Papandreu.  Italy was finally getting rid of Berlusconi.  Both of those moves had to be good news.  Just then I quipped that the traders had 'sobered up,' remembering Bushie's description of Wall Street in the aftermath of that collapse.  And another of the pundits replied, as though reading my mind but want to be nicer about it, said that reality had set in.  And then went on to ask, as I have been here in our living room, whether any change of government can really help the situation.  For me the question is rhetorical--I doubt anything can really help.  It needs time.  The pundits haven't got to that stage yet; but they, at least some, are asking the question.

John McCain is, according to Reuters, again predicting the rise of a third party as Americans become more disenchanted with the current two.  Well we already have other parties (Libertarian, Green, Socialist, et al.,) but none have been able to command the loyalty of enough voters to challenge the Repthuglicans and Damnocrats.  We have had a few examples in our history when a large enough third party has done just that.  In the 1840s and 1850s the Republican Party (now degenerated to Repthuglicans) entered the political arena to contest elections with the Whig and Democratic parties.  They eventually replaced the Whigs and, thanks to a Democratic party divided along a North/South axis, put Lincoln in the White House in 1860.  The populists of the late 19th century we never able to overcome internal splits (east-west/urban-rural) but did cause some concern for the Republican and Democratic organizations.  The Progressives were also a bit of a challenge around the turn of the 20th century but by about 1920 the movement had dismantled and absorbed with the business oriented Progressives going to the Republicans and the more liberal and labor oriented going to the Democrats.  I wouldn't mind seeing a viable third party develop; I just wouldn't want the history of the 1840s and 50s resurrected today.  That was way too messy.

Several people have reposted this story, or linked to it, over the last week.  I haven't commented or linked to it because it takes a bit to get through the charts.  But I think I can simplify it from my own experience.  As some readers may remember, I am one of those highly over-educated people who have dived into several disciplines.  In the course of my academic life I have a lot of biology courses including some in microbiology.  One of the first things micro students see is a lovely little bell curve describing the growth of bacteria in a fresh medium.  Those look just like those Hubbert used to describe peak oil production.  (And note: he correctly predicted both peak American production and peak world production.  World oil production has been flat for the last 6 years inspire of the price spikes and falls.)  The author notes Hubbert's criticism of our industrial society--it depends on continued growth.  And growth in our economy has been following a bell curve pattern.  It is approaching exponential growth for a brief time and the fall can't be far off.  As pointed out, nothing in nature (no system, no population, no resource) grows at an exponential rate for very long.  Only with pure numbers can one work with an exponential curve.  But the numbers don't reflect physical reality.  That is something our politicians either don't know or can't admit.  Perhaps you are ahead of me on this one.  We are in a box: our system requires continued growth for stability but we obviously aren't growing.  If Greece, Italy, Spain, and other of the PIIGS can't grow how are they going to solve their debt problem?  Worse, the latest info (at least some of it) shows that Germany and China are also slowing down.  How are the saviors going to save themselves?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Good morning, all, and it is a very good morning in spite of the leaden skies and heavy rain.  Why, you wonder?  Because Ohio's voters handed the Repthuglicans an big defeat.  Read all about it here.  Perhaps democracy isn't as dead as the Repthuglican a$$holes would like it to be.  Also, the electorate rejected the "personhood" amendment to the Mississippi constitution.  Christianist a$$holes pushed that one.  CNN has the story here.

We had a three hour interruption in cable and internet.  Finally, we seem to have everything back.  We did get some dusting done (which we really needed to do) and I got my paper garden journal caught up.

Our town had some city elections yesterday.  The incumbent Republican won and with my vote.  Notice I used the term Republican not Repthuglican.  Mom remarked that he didn't seem to have much competition as the 68% return indicates.  At least our incumbent has a good and visible track record.  The streets are finally getting repaired and several areas that were badly run down have been given nice facelifts.  But throughout the so-called campaign the challengers simply didn't seem to put any effort into getting out the vote.  No fliers, no publicized meetings, no meet-and-greets that we were aware of.  Nothing that would induce us to vote for them.

Robert Reich presented a notion I can agree with: a corporate pledge of allegiance.  I also like the notion that, if corporations are persons, they should be subject to a corporate death penalty for certain crimes--negligence that results in death, manufacturing defective products that result in death, producing contaminated foods that result in death, releasing pollutants that seriously impact the health of large numbers of people.  And lesser crimes should result in serious economic penalties not slaps on the corporate wrists.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Good morning to everyone out there.  We didn't get the low 30s predicted for last night.  The weather people have moved that to later in the week.  Right now the temps are in the mid 50s with fog.  Rainy and miserable for the most part.

Is anyone else as tired of Herman Cain as I am?  The focus on sexual impropriety would be tragic if the man had any really good ideas on the economy.  He doesn't.  I could ignore the whole thing if it was only one woman but now we have four two of whom received settlements, one of which was equal to one year's pay.  I am beginning to see a pattern.  I wasn't inclined to support Cain before but I am certainly not interested in what the man is selling now.

I read something yesterday concerning Rick Perry's claims to be a lean, mean job creating machine.  He proudly touts the 1 million jobs 'created' in Texas during his governorship.  The article (sorry I didn't keep the link) notes that during that same time the U.S. as a whole lost 2 million and most of the jobs 'created' in Texas came from companies Perry's administration had lured in from other states.  That is why the word 'created' is in Texas were actually lost in other states.  In other words, Texas poached on other states.  I wish someone would ask Perry how he can replicate that on a national level.  Trying to lure companies back from overseas will be difficult without slashing worker's pay by half, allowing the companies to pollute the environment with impunity, and escape any responsibility for worker health and safety.  I don't think that is an acceptable trade off.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Good Monday morning to you all.  Overcast with possible rain.  And for tomorrow as well.  The weather people say we may get below freezing temps overnight Tuesday into Wednesday.  I have carefully checked the plants that I have still in the outside containers.  They all are doing well so far.  As is everything inside.  I recently repotted the mints.  I may do the bay soon also.  We'll see.

Anyone who has visited this blog for any length of time know that I have several recurrent questions when it comes to our economic mess.  One, frequently asked when massive numbers of workers were losing their jobs and those who managed to keep theirs did so by accepting lower hourly pay (or salaries), so-called furlough days, loss of benefits and other economic losses, asked when is something indistinguishable from nothing.  Now, according to this story in the New York Times, Greeks may be asking the same thing about their membership in the European Union and participation in the Euro.  And the big economic story this morning, as Greece goes to the back burner to simmer, involves Italy and the future of Berlusconi.  The most interesting quip that came out on that issue over the weekend was that "Italy is too-big-to-fail but also too-big-to-bail."  Sounds like a no-win situation.

This seems to be a day for the New York Times.  Here is another article that says some interesting things about the U.S. economy and asks a question that isn't often heard today--Can politicians really create jobs?  And, clearly, the politicians don't want to answer the question honestly because then we don't have any real reason to vote for any of them.

I agree with Millie at My Mom's Blog--this is the way to follow a doctor's advice.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hello, everyone.  Let's see what is happening on the internet today.  

The first item is the coverage one of the local TV stations gave to Bank Transfer Day.  I don't know whether they wanted to blunt the news or if they wanted to appear 'fair and balanced' but they managed to give as much time to customers who weren't moving their money while generally muddling the message of the customers who were transferring their money.  They did manage to get in the statistics I was reading yesterday--some 650k people transferred their money in the last month.

Well, this is the fourth earthquake in Oklahoma in the last two days and, according to report, the strongest since they started keeping records.  Thankfully, no serious injuries.  Update:  broadcast news says they had another 4.7 after the 5.6.  That makes five.

The commentators were almost orgasmic over the 80k new jobs reported this last week.  However, I think this story gives a good balance to that enthusiasm.  I seem to remember a report a couple of months ago claiming that as many as 1.5 million long term unemployed would exhaust their benefits in the first two months of next year.  I also heard a report, not repeated since, that some 30k of those 80k new hires were people who got second jobs.

Just had a thought on the topic of contradictory information.  Last week CNBC had an interview with the CEO of Starbucks who was overjoyed by the fall in coffee prices.  That came just after we decided to buy two 34.5 oz cans of coffee on sale for $6.99 because all the other coffee was 33 oz for $13.99.  That last is becoming the norm.  Considering what I have read about the coffee harvest projection which were down thanks to weather extremes, I think our experience more accurately reflects reality.  But then confirming the stories with trustworthy sources is difficult and there was mention of speculators whose influence on the markets all the way down to the consumer has been debated with no resolution.  But the bottom line is, who do you trust on anything?  I have no idea.

Here is another entry in the 'we bailed them out and they shafted us' file.  We don't really have capitalism in any classic sense.  Adam Smith and John Locke are probably spinning in their graves.  We have predatory capitalism and we are the prey.  I agree with the sentiment one of the bloggers expressed: I will accept the personhood of corporations when Texas executes one.

David Dayen at Firedoglake posted this this morning which highlights a movement among Federal legislators to evade the automatic 10% cuts in the Federal spending that would come if the Supercommittee fails.  If you all remember, the Supercommittee was established in the legislation that expanded the debt limit--the nasty little stalemate that cost the U.S. its AAA rating with S&P.  It also caused a bit of a bobble on the world stock markets.  So now a couple of the Repthuglican powers in the Senate (McCain and Graham) are proposing to exempt the Defense part of the budget from the automatic cuts while unspecified Damnocrats are doing the same for "entitlements."  I don't know which his worse.  Greek politicians came up with a way to deny voters the right to pass judgement on their actions with regard to the bailout and the austerity demanded in return.  At the same time, elected officials in this country, claiming to act in accordance with the alleged mandates from their voters, refuse to act.  Either way, democracy is dying if not already dead.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Good morning, all.  We had a nice sunny day yesterday.  We still haven't had a freeze.  The lows have only fallen to the mid-thirties.  Everything still in the containers are still green with the roses and mums blooming well.  The blueberries are starting to get a red tinge on the leaves.  Plenty of leaves remain on the taller trees and some of the hardy shrubs around the neighborhood.  I should get out and sweep up the leaves, few as they are, that blew onto the patio so they can go in the compost bin.

Well the Christmas ad season has started.  But I saw a cute cartoon that expresses my feelings perfectly.  It showed Santa confronted by an irate Turkey who says "Get back in line, fat boy.  My holiday is next!!"  Maybe we should just cancel Black Friday and make it Black November?

Resilient Family presents an interesting idea.  I wonder how many long term unemployed are engaged in the "System D" economy.

Andy Rooney has died at age 92 only a little over a month after leaving 60 Minutes.

MSNBC posted this story this morning.  I am almost too disgusted to comment.  Unfortunately, food processing companies that have multiple food safety citations against them are a dime a dozen.  However, this company provided 'reconditioned' bulk, moldy applesauce that has been incorporated into school meal programs and baby food.  Evidently the 'reconditioning' process didn't take care of all of the molds and their toxins resulting in several sick children and the FDA had informed the company that their process was not effective.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Good morning, everyone.  Cool and windy this morning.  We may get some rain.  But we don't have any outside work or errands to do so it does't matter to us.  It was nice yesterday because we were able to leave the patio door open a crack so Cat Monster could go in and out as he wanted.

I agree with you, Kay.  I was lucky when I moved here about 12 years ago because someone recommended the bank I have used since.  I don't remember who made the recommendation now but I have been very happy since.  I was old enough to qualify for their special senior checking account--an interest bearing account with no charge for the basic checks.  That bank has given very good service--in person, on the phone, and on line.  Mom moved her money to the same bank after hers had been taken over twice within about 5 years with a marked deterioration in service with each take over.  And that wasn't even one of the big banks--they hadn't yet made a concerted effort to move into this area.  I think everyone should deal locally--in as much of their financial/economic dealing as possible.

I remember a conversation a couple of years ago as Mom and I watched a news report concerning a number of states borrowing from the federal government to pay for the rising cost of unemployment benefits having exhausted their own funds.  I asked then what they would do if the bill for the interest on those loans came due and the economy hadn't recovered.  I guess we are finding out.  Or rather the business owners in Wisconsin are finding out.  Someone is going to have to pay the bill.  The only question is who will pay.

In another entry in the 'Someone is going to have to pay but we aren't sure who and how much' file--the situation in Greece is as fluid as Herman Cain's responses to sexual harassment claims.  I discounted the radio news story that cited some official who openly discussed the possibility that Greece might leave the euro.  Till now that had only been whispered by bloggers.  However, here is another news story on the same issue.  But the author makes another point which I think Merkel, Sarkozy, et al., have missed--the Greek government can agree to anything but if the Greek people don't agree the agreements are meaningless.  The question isn't how many are rioting in the streets.  The real question is how many of those who aren't rioting will cooperate.  MSNBC has further details.  Update:  recent stories indicate that Papandreu may scrap the referendum if the opposition parties can get together to form a national unity government.  In other words, he is trying to cover his ass and get broad support for the bailout.  With the kind of austerity that the bailout has required and will require in the future they need a unified government--not slender majority party with a bunch of snipers ready to open fire.

These were some very brazen thieves.

But then--there are thieves and there are THIEVES.  As this piece from Ann Jones posting on Tomdispatch makes clear.  I ought to read the book she cites but I am afraid my blood pressure wouldn't stand the stress.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Good Wednesday morning to you all.  We should have another 60 degree day with sun which is nice for so late in the year.  Monster Cat should be able to go out at will later.  So long as we don't have a hard, cold wind we should be able to leave the patio door open just wide enough for him to get through.  Yesterday was also nice, as predicted.  I got my little spearmint cuttings transplanted.  I also noticed a whole bunch of buds on the Christmas cactus.  We are looking forward to it blooming.  Everything else is also doing well.  Moving the verbena, rosemary, and bay to the south doorway for the sun has helped them.  They are putting out new growth that is nicely thick and healthy.

As the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the Thai floods highlighted the problems our long distance supply lines and just in time delivery manufacturing/retail economy can face, this story highlights another. Just imagine an exploding refrigerated container.

And this is why we are paying these idiots $176k a year???  They are way, way overpaid.

Bank of America's decision (following similar decisions from its largest competitors) to cancel its planed debit card fees on its customers is welcome.  It does show that too-big-to-fail doesn't mean too-big-to-listen.  However, winning the battle doesn't mean the war is over--as this story reminds us.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Good morning to you all.  The weather people say we should have another nice day before the temps drop again and the rain returns.  The kids (small and not so small) had a nice evening for Trick-or-Treating.  We didn't have all that many come by but the number changes year-to-year.  This is largely a rental area so turn over is also variable.  I think we are among the longest term tenants here.  Most move on rather quickly as they find a house to buy or find a job elsewhere and move on.

We haven't had a killing frost yet so the plants I left in the containers still look nice and green with the mums and roses blooming yet.  Next year I definitely have to put in more cold hardy plants for a late, cool weather garden.  We had blueberry/buttermilk pancakes for supper last night using some of the blueberries we froze.  Oh, I do hope my plants produce next year.

Well, it doesn't take much to get the markets upset, or to call into question the so-called solution Merkel and Sarkozy thought they had hammered out last week (the latest as these things go.)  The New York Times has a piece on the new mov by Greek Prime Minister Papandreou to hold a referendum on the austerity measures and that latest rescue plan.  I can well imagine that Papandreou might like some broader support for what he has agreed to on behalf of the Greek people.  I also wondered if it might be a safety valve measure.  Something like what happened in Ireland when the election results threw out the government that had 'negotiated' the deal to save the banks and the party that had ruled for most of the last century.  But they made sure that the incoming government would be unable to undo any of the measures they took.  The people got to vote but couldn't affect the arrangements already in place.  I notice that the NYT piece raises a possibility that has only been whispered in the blogs: Greece might default and leave the European Union.  I get the feeling in all of the political and economic unrest that political leaders are all for democracy so long as the demos (the people) do as they are told.

And then there is the latest entry in the big company going bust amid whiffs of possible fraud.  And another CEO with a supposedly sterling reputation and links to Goldman Sachs.  What really puzzles me is that at the same time we have a circus parade of ineffectual CEOs, some of whom are still raking in mind-boggling compensations and bonuses, at the same time we have two Republican candidates for President who are trying to sell the electorate on the notion that businessmen, by their very nature, are best suited to run the country.  Think of what kind of shape we would be in if we really did have one of those idiots running the country like it were a business.  Now that is a scary thought on this day after Halloween. I don't know about you all but I still have a hard time getting my mind around the notion of 'hundreds of millions of dollars' being 'missing' from any company's accounts.

To reinforce that last thought, consider poor Herman Cain and the charges of sexual harassment.  Perhaps the most ineffectual effort to explain away the charge came this morning when Cain, with some difficulty, tried to recall an encounter with one of the two women.  He said he made a gesture, but never touched the woman, while commenting that she was as tall as Cain's wife.  My question--why was her height even a topic for conversation when they were supposed to be at work?

The news media carried a string of stories on the '7 billionth person' added to our population which came sometime yesterday.  The U.N. had a series of celebration focusing on several babies around the world since it would have been impossible to determine which, in fact, was number 7 billion.  The Daily Beast has a nice article on the milestone and its implications for the future.  A couple of the factoids that interested me include the notion that soon India will replace China as the world's most populous state and that the world's population will, likely, exceed 8 billion by the time the babies born yesterday reach 14.

Lawrence Wechsler has an interesting post on Tomdispatch this morning.  One of the factors listed in the Daily Beast article which will determine whether the teeming millions on this planet, now and in the future will live a decent life is whether government will be conducted honestly and without corruption.  And the U.S. may not be all that great a model for corruption free government.  Which leads me to Kay's comment on yesterday's blog.  The Ugandan example Wechsler cited is rather crude corruption perpetrated most obviously on the lowest levels, the cab driver and the local cop.  We don't have a lot of that type of corruption over here.  But at higher levels the apparatus of government is bought and sold repeatedly and glossed over with pious statements about the 'good of the people.'  I agree Kay that the 1% have bought the government and the 99% have gotten shafted.  But I disagree when you say your life isn't important and so you are working for the children who are the future.  Your life, my life, my mother's life, my siblings' lives are all important and if we can't expect our political representative to keep promises made to our generation how in the world can we expect them to keep the promises made to future generations?  That is the biggest corruption of all!