Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in Review

Well, not really. Besides, what's to review? I have 28 posts in 2010, not counting this one. That's the least I've blogged since I started. (Those 2 in 2005 are right at the end of the year as I set this up. Plus, I was blogging at a now defunct site that year too.)

I've had a lot going on this year despite my continued unemployment. So I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. In fact I'm not.

I also have no idea what I'll do here next year, if anything. I have plenty I'd like to write about but I just don't have the uninterrupted time to do so. Also I have other writing projects I'd like to do, but again, no time.

So I guess I will continue to putz along, posting when I can. Not that anyone is left to read this other than me. Hell, even the Chinese spam-bots haven't hit me in a while.

SO I guess I will end this year of weak blogging with a weak post.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Does this look like an economic recovery?

My wife, my mother and I have been shopping the last couple of weeks. We've been shocked by the lack of shoppers we've seen. The only places I've seen a good deal of activity are the grocery store and Sam's, and neither place has seemed any more busy than usual.

But don't just take my word for it. I was at Target yesterday, the Saturday before Christmas, and I snapped some pictures. These were all taken between 12:48 PM and 1:40 PM on 12/18/2010.

First the front end of the store.



Not terribly busy. Let's check Electronics.

Hey, that almost looks like a crowd. But not really. Mostly it's just four people walking by in the foreground. Here's what it looked like about ten seconds later.


Now for the back end of the store. First we're looking from the halfway point back towards the grocery section.


Now from the same spot looking towards the toy and sporting goods section.


Pictures don't convey everything. People could have been in the smaller side aisles that don't show up in these pictures. And some were. But not that many. The store just wasn't that busy. Neither the Electronics section nor the Toy section were crowded, not even on the Saturday before Christmas. (And the section of Christmas decorations looked like it had just been put up. Not many people were buying decorations either.) Not that long ago I remember when the Target I shopped at was busier than this on a random weekday in the middle of summer.

Also note that none of the carts look particularly full.

These pictures are from a Target on West Colonial Drive in Orlando. Admittedly it's only one store. And West Orlando isn't doing terribly well even by Orlando's standards. (The U-3 unemployment rate in the Orlando Metro area was 11.9% in November, up from 11.3% the previous month. More on this in a moment.) I'm sure the local Walmart is doing better business.

Our leaders insist we're in a recovery. I'm not convinced. As I mentioned the local employment situation got worse in November. But let's look at the broader picture of the whole state of Florida. From an article in the Orlando Sentinel last Thursday:
The statewide figure [of 12.0% U-3 unemployment] represents about 1.1 million jobless in a labor force of about 9.2 million. Total non-agricultural employment grew by 300 jobs from the previous month.
Three hundred jobs! Let's say we want the unemployment rate in Florida to get down to 5%, which is actually higher than it was pre-recession. That means that 640,000 currently unemployed Floridians (on net) need to find a job. At 300 jobs a month it will take approximately 2,133 months for the U-3 rate to return to normal. (That's over 177 years.)

Now you can accuse me of looking at the worst case. You would be wrong (we could easily lose jobs), but I can find a better case from the same article.
Since last year at this time, Florida has added 36,200 jobs – an annual growth rate of 0.5 percent. The national growth rate over that time has been 0.6 percent.
Okay, so the monthly average job gain of the last year has actually been a little over 3,000. So that means that it would take only about 213 months, or over 17.5 years, for the employment numbers to improve. And none of that takes increases in population into account.

And it's not just Florida. Consider California - the Golden State is turning into the Lead State. The most recent monthly unemployment report shows that unemployment in California is now as bad as Michigan. Michigan!

Then there was this sad story about letters to Santa Claus - increasingly children are asking for warm coats for their parents and money for the electricity bill. It's really sad, so I don't recommend the story for everyone. But here's the paragraph I found most telling.
Though many considered last year to be the toughest financially since the economic downturn began, Fontana said, it appears that more people are struggling this year, judging both from the letters and the decreased number of volunteers who sign up to fulfill some of the writers' wishes.[emphasis added]
I ask you again, does this look like a recovery?

UPDATE: My mother-in-law reports that the stores seem quite busy in Palmdale California. No reports on whether or not people are buying lots of stuff, but she did say that the Best Buy was missing several of the items she wanted - apparently sold out. I'm still not buying this as a recovery. Does anyone else have any observations?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Extending the Bush Tax Cuts

I've been having a conceptual problem with the politics involving the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

The argument for extending the tax cuts for income over $250,000 has been that increasing taxes at that level will hurt at the margins for small businesses. This seems sensible.

The argument for allowing the tax cuts to lapse has been that millionaires and billionaires don't need the break. I get that to a certain extent, although someone making $250,000 isn't necessarily a millionaire, and they're certainly NOT making millions in any given year. After all some Wall Street jerk making a $10,000,000 bonus isn't going to get hurt by a few extra percentage points on his income taxes.

I don't see why a compromise (prior to Obama's announcement yesterday) couldn't have been reached whereby tax rates wouldn't be raised on those making less than a million a year. (Or two million or three million... The idea is the important part, the level is negotiable.) That would help the smaller businesses at the margins and still tax the real whales. It would at least be an attempt at fiscal prudence.

I did hear that idea floated a couple of times but it didn't seem to catch on. The whole thing has been proposed as a strict dichotomy - either extend the tax cuts for everyone, or only for those making less than $250,000. No room for negotiation, just those two ideas. The whole thing makes me suspicious that both sides have actually been planning on extending everything but wanted the show to set up their talking points for the next election cycle.

...

I have one other thought about these extensions. Suppose the tax cuts are allowed to expire for the wealthiest segment. Are the Buffets, Gates, and Brins of the nation really going to pay that much more income tax? Or will their tax attorneys and accountants merely find different ways to shelter their money?

...

The more I think about it the more suspicious I get of the whole thing. It seems like nothing more than show.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Two observations about the local economy

The following two observations are anecdotal but still indicative of what's going one in the Orlando area.

Driving through downtown Orlando yesterday (on I-4) I noticed that there were no construction cranes up at the moment. There haven't been since the completion of the new arena downtown a few months ago and there probably won't be any more anytime soon. By way of comparison I could count 13 before losing track when driving through downtown in 2005.

Last week I took our Camry down to a Toyota dealership for maintenance. I noticed several things. First, they have a lot more used cars on the lot than in the past. Second, most of the used cars were trucks or SUVs. The dealership mostly sells Camrys and Corollas, so this is another sign of people scaling back their lives. Third, the dealership only sometimes does the complementary car wash now, and they've discontinued the free pastries for their customers in the waiting area.

I give thanks for our robust recovery.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Yep, that's what I thought.

I've been saying for a while now (elsewhere) that the USA's immigration policy can only be interpreted intelligently one of two ways.

The policy as it has stood for the last few decades has been to make it very difficult for skilled people to immigrate to the country legally, while encouraging millions of un(der)educated Third World peasants to immigrate here illegally and then back-dooring them into citizenship some how.

This only intelligent explanations for this are that the elites are looking to either dilute the citizenship of current citizens, or that they're looking to replace the population almost entirely so as to make it more docile.

Yes, the second explanation is just a more extreme interpretation of the first.

The ruling class* is not homogeneous, and their reasons for wanting to replace the current population aren't homogeneous. But here's a nice quote from some Democratic party insiders making it explicit why they're doing this - to insure their future electoral success.

"When you get into a presidential electorate, it decidedly favors Democrats, and every year it’s going to decidedly favor them more and more,” [James] Carville said. “Demographics don’t do anything but get better for Democrats. Every election becomes less white.”
Incidentally one can also catch various politicians speaking with forked tongues on both this issue and education**. Virtually all pols speak of the need to have a highly educated work force to compete in the new global economy. If that's the case, why import millions and millions of ignorant peasants?

* I hesitate to call them a governing class for two reasons: first, not all of them are in the government; second, they do a half-assed job of governing.

** Here's a bonus bit on education. Notice how often Obama speaks of the need to educate more scientists and engineers. In this he is like many pols of both parties. But you can be damned sure his precious daughters won't go into science or engineering. They'll go into law/politics or into finance. You won't find many children of the powerful working their asses off studying mechanics or electrodynamics.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sigh.

CNN botches a report on the space program. In the piece entitled What will inspire tomorrow's rocket scientists? Lauren Russell writes

Ferguson and most other astronauts paid for their shuttle tickets with post-graduate degrees and years in the military.

But, if commercial organizations take over NASA's suborbital shuttle missions, the next generation's astronauts might purchase their ticket as they would a bus or plane ticket.
The only problem with this is that the space shuttle does not perform sub-orbital operations - it was designed and is used for low Earth orbital missions. Perhaps I'm just being pissy, but this kind of thing bothers me. Reporters should know the subject that they report on.

NOTE: Several hours after I first spotted this mistake it is still up on their website. I've saved the page just in case.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

THIS is why I'm NEVER leaving the USA!

NOTE: I started work on this post back on the night of March 23 2008. A few weeks later my life fell apart so the post never got completed. (I don't know why I didn't complete it before then. I have a huge volume of stuff "under construction".) But this post at Ambiance reminded me of all the fun. I've made a couple of minor changes, but I'm mostly just publishinig my draft as I don't know what else I had in mind.

...

Wherein it gives added weight to the phrase "Don't drink the water!"

WARNING: The contents of this post are quite disgusting!

Of all things, a blog post about Kate Beckingsale's eating habits led me to detailed instructions concerning the proper procedures for use of the dreaded Squat Toilet. ("Rule One: Exhaust all other possibilities." - My wife comments that this is the Golden Rule of Squat Toilets.)

Apparently squat toilets are very common in China. With the Olympics being held in China this year in 2008, many people are now were trying to discover how exactly one uses a squat toilet. Well, the interwebs, amazing things that they are, helpfully provide the answer! (Note that the blog post in question is almost two four years old.)

Proceed as follows:

Most stalls do not have toilet paper. This is the best time to realize this. Either take paper from the general dispenser in the bathroom area or preferably bring your own as it will be made of tissue and not plywood carpaccio.

Approach the squat toilet apprehensively and make sure it's not covered in stool. If it is covered in stool, choose another stall. If another stall is not available, accept the cards that have been dealt you. This is a good time to come up with a title for your experience such as My Great B.M. Adventure or Disgusticon One.

Close the door to the stall, knowing full well the handle has more germs on it than the entire population of Botswana.

Place your feet on the appropriate foot grids, assuming they are not covered in stool. If they are covered in stool, place your feet on the least fouled space you can find, being careful to maintain balance.

Unfasten and drop your trousers and underpants, making sure that they do not make contact with the urine and stool covered surface area.
The post goes on at great length from there, and gets no less disgusting.

Not enough "Ick!" in the world.

To completely misquote Douglas Adams, "Panic!" Although this does provide the perfect reason to always carry a towel.

I can't even begin to imagine how a woman would use this thing while wearing pantyhose.

As the Banterist asks
Grimace and ask yourself if a country with such a toilet can or should ever be a superpower.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

World Cup!

Mostly I've been annoyed by all the World Cup coverage. Really, I do not know a single person that gives a damn. Yet everywhere I turn I find coverage. On the opening day of the Cup the local paper (Orlando Sentinel) featured a page ONE above the fold story in its print edition. The World Series doesn't get that kind of coverage, and the NBA only merits that kind of attention when the Magic are deep in the playoffs. Only the Super Bowl (always) and the Olympics (sometimes) normally receive that kind of front page attention.

Honestly, we do not care! I don't have a problem with the rest of the world loving the sport, but we do not. Stop with all the rah-rah internationalist BS.

I do have to admit, however, that I find it particularly funny that the first World Cup held in Africa is being dominated by Europe. The more things change....

But then, soccer is one of the whitest sports this side of water polo.

NASA may as well engage in group therapy ...

... since it won't be putting Americans in space any longer.

Obama's NASA apparatchik Charles Bolden outlined Obama's goals for NASA on Al Jazeera:

I am here in the region - its sort of the first anniversary of President Barack Obama's visit to Cairo - and his speech there when he gave what has now become known as Obama's "Cairo Initiative" where he announced that he wanted this to become a new beginning of the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. When I became the NASA Administrator - before I became the NASA Administrator - he charged me with three things: One was that he wanted me to re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, that he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with predominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering."
For those that don't want to read the full quote, Obama's goals for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are:

  1. Get children to do their math and science homework
  2. Make the world love us
  3. Make Muslims feel good about their contributions to science, math and engineering

No mention of aeronautics or space. No wonder Obama has moth-balled efforts to for more US manned space vehicles - that has nothing to do with his stated goals for NASA.

TPM attempts to spin this to the Administration's benefit, but I don't see how this helps:

At issue is an interview NASA administrator Charles Bolden gave to Al Jazeera while on a trip to Quatar[sic] recently. The interview came as Bolden was in the Middle East to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Obama's Cairo speech, where he called for renewed ties between the U.S. and Muslim nations around the world.
And
NASA spokesperson Bob Jacobs told me that any suggestion that Bolden was describing a new mission for NASA in the interview was false. NASA will still spend its time exploring the cosmos and advancing aeronautics, he told me.

"I think unfortunately this has gotten caught up in some political rhetoric," Jacobs said.

Jacobs said he is "not aware" of any "specific efforts" to include Middle Eastern know-how in future space projects "at this point" -- but said that since the Muslim world is "part of the international community," it made sense that Bolden would refer to the area when discussing the administration's plans to leverage international cooperation for the future of the space program.

"The interview took place in Qatar," Jacobs said. "I don't think it would be strange that he would make a specific reference to a local audience in his remarks."
Why is the Administrator of NASA in the Middle East working on a strictly political mission? Moreover, if NASA is NOT looking to add "Middle Eastern know-how" to future projects, then the NASA Administrator has even less reason to be in the Middle East.

One wonders if the State Department will now be in charge of developing new spacecraft. That would make at least as much sense.

....

Side note: Do those Arab Muslims have any know-how worth exploiting? NASA doesn't seem to think so. However the commenters at TPM seem to think that Muslims inventing Algebra means that they are critical to the NASA effort. But the last Arab Muslim contribution to engineering had something to do with finding the critical stress loads at which large structures lose integrity. Yeah, that's the critical kind of help the US space program needs....

Obama's Parsimony

Accusing Obama of stinginess seems strange on the face of it, but consider:

(a) The Obama Administration has been reluctant to spend BP's money to enhance the clean-up effort in the Gulf of Mexico.

(b) Obama has cut NASA's budget. Instead he has NASA attempting group therapy so that the Muslim world can feel good about themselves. (Yes, I know Obama has promised more money in the future. But $6 billion isn't much, and who really believes that Obama's budget commission won't cut that and more from NASA's budget this fall?)

(c) Obama has been very reluctant to spend any money to enforce the nation's immigration laws.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

About fucking time.

The useless Obama Administration is finally going to accept international assistance for help with the Gulf Oil Spill. That's 70 days into the mess for those who want to keep score.

Meanwhile, Obama doesn't want to be reminded about the oil spill. I guess it interferes with his mental equilibrium, and probably adversely affects his golf game. Remember, it's good for America when Obama golfs - his aides have told us so.

Words cannot express my anger or contempt for the worthless piece of shit we have as a President right now. He could have accepted this help almost 70 days ago! Why didn't he? WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T HE ACCEPT HELP WHEN IT MIGHT HAVE DONE SOME GOOD?!!? I can't wait to hear what lies his staff will tell to explain his malfeasance on this issue. At this point one either has to assume he's dumber than Forrest Gump, more evil than Nero, or some combination of the two.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How high unemployment saved the economy.

By reducing costs for corporate America, of course. In 2009 Corporate America, in the form of the Fortune 500, saw its second largest annual increase in profits in the list's 56 year history. mostly this was achieved through ruthless cost cutting of labor expenses.

For 2009, though, the big story is how the Fortune 500 managed that jump in earnings when the number that usually pulls profits up or down -- revenues -- dropped sharply. Last year, Fortune 500 sales fell 8.7% to $9.8 trillion, the largest percentage decline since 1983. It was the frantic response to falling sales that laid the groundwork for the earnings renaissance.

In late 2008 and early 2009, volumes and prices, two contributors to sales, both shrank drastically as GDP contracted at an incredible rate of around 6%. Fearing the onset of a depression, companies raced to lower expenses even faster. "Producers practically panicked," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "They cut costs incredibly aggressively."

The crucial reductions came in the item accounting for two-thirds of their costs: labor. In 2009, the Fortune 500 shed 821,000 jobs, the biggest loss in its history -- almost 3.2% of its payroll. By mid-2009, companies were making fewer goods with far fewer workers.

A pivotal turn began midyear. Sales bottomed, then began to rise gently, as headcounts continued falling. "The largest part of the gain came from lower payrolls rather than the sluggish rise in sales, but they both contributed," says Dirk van Dijk of Zacks Equity Research. The result was a wondrous surge in productivity, defined as the hours needed to make a bicycle, a PC, or a ton of insulation.

At the same time, wages rose only slightly. So for all of U.S. industry, the labor costs of creating a good or service -- a measure known as unit labor costs -- fell by 4.6%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That's the sharpest drop in postwar history.

As sales started rising in the second half of 2009, all of the extra revenues and cost reductions fell to the bottom line. Today employers are maintaining the super-low cost regimes they imposed during the crisis while the economy is finally growing. That explains the explosion in Fortune 500 profits. [emphasis added]
So next time you hear that we're in a recovery, remember that it was achieved by slashing headcount and payroll, and that the resultant productivity gains mean the corporations aren't likely to rehire anyone soon. Nor will they have to give people pay raises, because someone else out there will be willing to do the job.

Once again, the middle gets squeezed out. But hey, green shoots! Recovery! Happy days are here again!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Have you heard the good news?

Speaking of our debts....

Obama Paying More Than Buffett as Bonds Show U.S. Losing AAA

That's slightly unfair. Obama looks to be the biggest single abuser of debt in the history of the world, but he's had many accomplices - about 200,000,000 of them.

Not that we're about to stop this madness. The elites have no idea what to do other than keep pumping out debt. Not that it will do any good. (Warning, I haven't checked the source data on this one, but it looks correct.)

In other words, the government has become our pusherman. They don't know anything but debt. What the fuck are they gonna do but hustle? Meanwhile

I.M.F. Warns Wealthy Nations about Debt

CR points out that Lipsky of the IMF also expressed the need for the rebalancing of global trade, although he was too much of a wimp to call out the Chinese when he had their ear. That leads to

Report: China Losing Support of American Business Community

The possibility of a trade war seems more real every day, although still somewhat remote at this point. The Chinese are saying we have the most to lose. They might be right, but they'd be fools to bank on it. We're fools to bank otherwise. Just because a trade war would most likely be foolish doesn't mean it won't happen. We're a nation of Buellers.

That low sound you hear from the horizon? It might be the sound of distant thunder. But it's probably the just the Piper playing a low note. And he's a lot closer than you think.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spinning at a Tea Party

They held another Tea Party in Orlando today.

The frigid Downtown Orlando wind could not keep conservative voters from airing their discontent on the way Washington and Tallahassee politicians are running the show.

President Obama and Democrats were not the only targets of the hundreds of Tea Party activists, as many of those gathered outside of City Hall felt that their own Republican candidates had failed them.

"We're upset with [both] parties. That's why we're standing out here today – we have no friends," said event-organizer Jason Hoyt of the Tea Party Patriots Live radio show.

The stimulus package and health care bill were main targets, but complaints about the pending construction of the SunRail commuter-rail system was prominent.
Now for some background. SunRail is a proposed light rail system for the Orlando area. The idea is to use existing tracks owned by CSX for a route that would run from Poinciana in Osceola County to Deland in Seminole County, with downtown Orlando as the center.

CSX is not planning to enter the light rail business. They plan to sell their tracks, build a new inter-modal facility in Winter Haven and run their freight trains through Lakeland to the west of Orlando. Currently those trains run through Orlando, Winter Park, and surrounding areas.

Local opponents of SunRail have concerns about the cost and utility of the system - everything from complaints about paying CSX for the rails to concerns about the volume of riders.

Personally I'm ambivalent about it. I'm concerned that too few people will ride it to justify the cost. On the other hand, routing freight rail traffic out of Orlando would be a definite plus. But a lot of the opposition comes from the same stupid "We Don't Want to Pay for ANYTHING" attitude that defines so many of the "locals". I put locals in scare-quotes for this reason: Many of those people have moved here because of the (once) low taxes, and they do not want to pay for anything. That includes building new schools, roads and other public facilities needed by the population growth that they represent. Their parsimony wouldn't be so bad if the idiots wouldn't constantly bitch and moan about the lack of schools, roads and other public facilities. (Yes, I'm quite annoyed with these idiots. They've spoiled Paradise with no awareness of their own role in the despoiling. And I've been listening to such foolishness for 30 years now.)

Now back to today's Tea Party. Several Florida elected officials turned up, including gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland). Dockery is a state senator, and well-known for her opposition to Orlando's proposed light rail system, SunRail. She made much of that today.
Long-time opponent of the rail, gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland), headlined the 30 candidates that attended the event, and didn't mince words about what she would do in Tallahassee.

As state senator, Dockery failed to defeat the $1.2 billion SunRail deal in December. But she promised voters on Saturday she will derail the project and return the money to taxpayers if she's elected as governor.

"The first thing I'd like to do as governor is stop the bad stuff," Dockery said, referring to the SunRail. "When I'm governor, I'll take my veto pen and stop that bad stuff."
It's true that Dockery has been an opponent of SunRail, perhaps the most effective elected official standing against it.

At times it seems she has been a one-woman veto, thwarting the will of the Governor, both US Senators, several other members of our US Congressional delegation, the state House of Representatives and the State Senate. She has been masterful in in her procedural fights, and it took forever to finally defeat her efforts. Light rail has been discussed as a tool to lower road congestion in greater Orlando since at least 1986 that I remember. Dockery hasn't been around that long, but in recent years she has been the biggest stumbling block.

But her opposition has nothing to do with saving money for the taxpayers of Florida. Paula doesn't have any problem with the billion dollar boondoggle that high-speed rail will become but opposes SunRail's $600,000,000 price-tag. Ostensibly she has been fighting against the SunRail project because the shift in CSX freight rail traffic to Lakeland will mean more noise and traffic congestion in Lakeland. (Nevermind that Lakeland-Winter Haven has one quarter the population of Greater Orlando.) There is also a bit of personal vendetta involved - and that involves high-speed rail.

Paula's husband "Doc" Dockery had been a long-time proponent of high-speed rail for the state of Florida. Doc has been something of a mover-and-shaker in Florida Politics for some time, and helped get Jeb Bush elected governor in 1998. Our tale continues:
In 1999, his first year in office, Bush had grave reservations about the work of the commission and especially the contractor. He stopped the high-speed rail program, saying the money would go to interstate construction instead.

Doc Dockery was not happy, so he spent $3 million of his own money on a campaign that convinced voters to pass an amendment to the state constitution requiring the state to build a high-speed rail system eventually connecting at least five major urban centers.

Bush considered the Doc Dockery-led passage of the amendment in 2000 to be an affront to his decision to kill the old high-speed rail program.

Relations grew worse between the two former friends. Bush spent much of the rest of his two terms in office fighting high-speed rail while his administration was apparently secretly working on an Orlando commuter-rail system, according to documents later requested by Sen. [Paula] Dockery.
Doc Dockery has had a take-no-prisoners attitude towards high-speed rail. Everything else is secondary. Given the relative price-tags involved, I doubt that Paula Dockery truly cares about saving the taxpayers money, contradicting her spin to the Tea Partiers.

And there's one other thing. In opposing light rail, Paula has allied herself with a group that probably isn't terribly popular with the Tea Partiers - trial lawyers. One of the wrinkles of the CSX deal to sell their tracks included a waiver of liability for CSX. Let me rephrase - after the deal, CSX could not be sued for anything that went wrong with the tracks.

I'm not certain of all the details so I can't say if it's a bad deal or not. But if it means that once the tracks are determined to be in good shape, that CSX can't be held liable for future problems, that seems fair to me. But the trial lawyers have screamed bloody murder. They want the ability to sue anyone and everyone ever involved with the tracks in the almost 100% likelihood of future accidents. And that has been the secret of Paula Dockery's ability to block the SunRail deal until recently - the immense money and influence of the trial lawyers has been the wind at her back. Paula Dockery is playing the role of fiscal conservative and outsider for the Tea Partiers. It remains to be seen if they have the wits to see through her charade.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

If you question the Obama Administration ...

... then the terrorists have won. Obama has sent out one of his minions to question the motives (and by inference, the patriotism) of the critics of Obama's handling of the Christmas Day Pantie Bomber Attack:

Politics should never get in the way of national security. But too many in Washington are now misrepresenting the facts to score political points, instead of coming together to keep us safe.

...

Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.
Thus wrote John Brennan, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism in the current edition of USA Today.

This would be another example of President Obama "expecting us to just kind of sit down and shut up". As per usual with this Administration of hypocrites and assholes, it's only bad if Republicans do it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

More financial worries....

Remember how the Democratic Congress was going to increase the US Debt Ceiling by $1.9 trillion ($1,900,000,000,000) so that they wouldn't have to raise it again later this year, right before the mid-term elections? Well, it won't work. From the AFP:

The US debt is on track to hit a congressionally proposed debt ceiling of 14.3 trillion dollars by the end of February, the Treasury said Wednesday, a day ahead of a key vote to raise it to that level. [emphasis added]
I know that the government expects more revenue as we approach April 15, but I don't see how they will be able to get by without upping the limit again. Moody's Investor Service has once again issued a warning, according to the Financial Times:
Moody’s Investors Service fired off a warning on Wednesday that the triple A sovereign credit rating of the US would come under pressure unless economic growth was more robust than expected or tougher actions were taken to tackle the country’s budget deficit.

In a move that follows intensifying concern among investors over the US deficit, Moody’s said the country faced a trajectory of debt growth that was “clearly continuously upward”.
In other good news, the mortgage delinquency rate has hit 10% (total non-current rate at 13.3%) and the BLS should revise the number of jobs lost upwards by 824,000 this Friday.

That last bit is old news, though. The government announced this change several months ago. The BLS revises its methodology once a year, and that change is incorporated into the January report (released in early February) each year. It's old news, but most people probably haven't heard this before.

ADDED: CNN/Money has a better story about the adjustment to the employment numbers, complete with graphical goodness. Two things about the story jumped out at me. First, this story fails to mention that this revision had been publicized many months ago. (Here's a link to the BLS announcement itself, last updated October 2, 2009 as of this update.) Second, it contains this nugget of bad news.
There is a concern that this problem didn't end in March of 2009. In fact, the adjustment added even more jobs -- 990,000 -- in the nine months reported since then.
In other words, the adjustment should probably be 1,814,000 fewer jobs instead of 820,000 fewer jobs.

This is not good news.

A Conflict of Interest? [UPDATE]

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has called for drivers of Toyotas subject to the recent recall to stop driving their cars until fixed.

LaHood's warning came Wednesday in testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation. LaHood says his advice to owners is to "stop driving it. Take it to a Toyota dealer because they believe they have a fix for it."

LaHood told reporters earlier in the day that Toyota owners should contact their dealer immediately and "exercise caution until repairs can be made."
The article goes on to rake Toyota over the coals for its many sins.

I assume that the recall has some merit. But one has to wonder if the government has other reasons for being so forceful. Two things spring immediately to mind. First, the government has an interest in GM doing well. Given that auto sales are falling and likely to remain low, the only way for GM to do well is at the expense of someone else. Second, the Administration is famously in the tank for unions, and I wonder if this is attempt to punish a non-UAW auto-maker.

I doubt whether the second bit has anything to do with this. But I can't help wondering about the first point. Yet another problem with massive government intervention in the economy - one can never be sure of the government's actual intent.

UPDATE: From AP:
LaHood told reporters it was "obviously a misstatement" when he told a House panel earlier Wednesday that he would advise owners not to drive recalled vehicles. The remark came during testimony to the Appropriations subcommittee on transportation.
Nice rollback now that the damage has been done! Now I'm really suspicious....

Thursday, January 21, 2010

And another thing!

I forgot to mention the first thing that occurred to me when I read the Wall Street Journal article about Obama's banking proposals. Incidentally, the article I linked to earlier has changed, and a part that I had quoted appears to be missing from the current article. So to refresh your memory:

"This renewed focus on financial services reform by the Obama Administration is clearly a transparent attempt at faux-populism, in light of the outcome of the Massachusetts Senate race," said Rep. Scott Garrett (R., N.J.).
Does this congressman really believe that Obama cooked this up in less than two days? Paul Volcker has been pushing these ideas for months before Congress and whoever else would listen.
Now I don't doubt that the tenor of Obama's remarks reflect Tuesday's results. Of course they do. But the policy itself? Please.

I don't mind (much) that politicians play at politics. But Rep. Scott Garrett shouldn't insult my intelligence with this kind of stupid utterance.

Drawing the wrong conclusion

Republicans are ecstatic over Tuesday's election in Massachusetts, rightly so. But they had best not get too cocky. The sentiment in the country isn't pro-Republican. It isn't even completely anti-Democrat. It's more anti-incumbent and anti-political establishment.

Yesterday the Obama Administration was trying to claim that Brown's election on Tuesday was driven by the same sentiment that put Obama in office. That's partly true, but not the way the spun it. (They claim that it is the anti-Bush anti-Republican sentiment of 2006 and 2008 that caused Massachusetts to vote for a Republican in 2010. Riiiight.) It's slowly dawning on the masses that the governing class (both parties) doesn't know what its doing, and doesn't give a damn about the concerns of the people. In 2008 that meant voting anti-Republican. On Tuesday that meant voting anti-Democrat.

But the Republicans can't rely on only being the "Not Democrats". They may be able to win back both houses of Congress this fall with that message, but once in office people will expect them to govern. I'm still not seeing any indication that they can do that any better now than when Bush was in office. They may get swept back into office in 2010 only to be swept right back out again in 2012.

In 2006 and again in 2008 I stated that the Democrats didn't deserve to win but that the Republicans deserved to lose. Now the Democrats deserve to lose as well. That doesn't mean the Republicans now deserve anything other than what they got in 2006 and 2008.

Tuesday was a good start. Now this fall we need to follow through and vote all the bums out, in both parties.

PS Several times in the past year or so I have made the point that I don't intend to vote Republican in 2010. I still don't. For years I voted for them because the alternative was worse. Maybe it still is. But just because the other guys are catastrophes doesn't mean I want to vote for the mere disasters. I'm tired of that. Plus, even though in my local congressional district I would be voting against the execrable Alan Grayson, I can't stomach the idea that a vote for the local Republican would be a vote to put John Boehner in charge of the House of Representatives. Similarly, a vote for Rick Rubio for the US Senate would be a vote for Mitch McConnell to run things. Not a change one can believe in!

Re-elect no one. It's the only way to get the attention of the bastards in charge.

Obama proposes new regulation

... and it sounds like a good start. The devil is in the details, of course, but Obama's new proposals today sound mostly like steps in the right direction. I don't like the tone of all the President's comments today (the one's I have read in the linked article, anyway) but I'm willing to let the man have his rhetorical flourishes if the policy is good.

I hope to look at this more later, and may or may not have more comments, but I do want to point out something really stupid: the initial Republican response:

The initial reaction from some Republicans has been sharply critical, with several saying the White House is trying to hammer big banks to score political points.

"This renewed focus on financial services reform by the Obama Administration is clearly a transparent attempt at faux-populism, in light of the outcome of the Massachusetts Senate race," said Rep. Scott Garrett (R., N.J.). "The American people have rejected extreme government expansion into the private sector, be it in the health care, financial services or auto industry."
Several points can be made off the top of my head.
  1. Of course the President is trying to score political points, as are his critics. Football players play football, and politicians play politics.
  2. Big banks may not deserve to get hammered politically right now - but the banksters running them certainly do deserve it. The common perception is that the bankers got bailed out by the government, and are now pocketing the profits while screwing everyone else. The common perception is correct in this case, at least in regards to the Too Big To Fail institutions.
  3. Government has the responsibility to regulate banks and financial institutions. Currency is issued by the US government, and banks play a role in how that currency is used. As such they are not operators in a free market. Good regulation doesn't mean over-regulation. But it doesn't mean no regulation either. Clearly the banks (and other organizations like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) did not manage their affairs well over the last 12 years. And the regulatory agencies got much wrong as well. It is time to address those issues.
  4. If the banks were free operators, they should have been allowed to fail. But several of the biggest institutions control too much of the market to allow that to happen. The size of the banks means that the government WILL have to get involved if times get rough, and not just through the FDIC. Reducing the size of the largest institutions would mean that we could let individual banks fail. That would reduce the intrusion of government into the market, not increase it.
  5. Hand in hand with the fourth point, regulations could insure that separate business models don't operate under the same roof, extending systemic risk.

So for toady, right now, Obama is proposing better policy. That is new - most of his proposals have been terrible. And the Republicans are proposing bad policy. That's the same-old same-old.

Update: I forgot to mention the first thing that I thought of reading Garrett's comment. I've made it a separate post.

Ever get the feeling your government is trying to replace you?

I do all the time.

The Obama administration is preparing to handle applications from as many as 200,000 undocumented Haitian immigrants who want to live and work legally in the United States under a new immigration program unveiled last week in the aftermath of Haiti's destructive earthquake.
I understand there's a disaster in Haiti, but I also have no doubt that these people will be allowed to stay indefinitely. And that's not to mention the 45,000 or so that the Red Cross is flying into Florida in addition to those already here. Not that I necessarily believe the 45,000 number either. More from the article:
Those Haitians approved will be allowed to stay in the United States for 18 months and be issued work permits to find jobs.

To be approved, Haitian immigrants must submit proof of Haitian citizenship and must show they were in the United States before Jan. 12 -- the day the devastating earthquake struck Haiti.

Local immigrant advocacy groups say that between 34,000 and 68,000 potential TPS applicants may be in South Florida and almost 100,000 statewide. They had earlier pegged the number of Haitians eligible for TPS at 30,000 nationwide. [emphasis added]
Their earlier estimate had been off by nearly an order of magnitude? They might hit 30,000 in Orlando alone, with more than half of that coming from Pine Hills.

Florida currently has over one million people officially unemployed. (Yes, I'm one of them. So are at least four friends that I can think of.) This isn't going to help that situation. But then, it isn't intended to.
USCIS officials said they are increasing staffs at various offices and service centers where applications are processed to expedite decisions.

The goal is to fast-track work permits for applicants, delivering them within 90 days or sooner, said USCIS' Mayorkas. TPS applicants typically wait six months. [emphasis added. Why doens't the government try fast tracking stuff for its own citizens? My brother spent most of the last ten months of his life trying to get SSI. The first check arrived a few days before he died, and the government is sitting on all of the back SSI they owed to him. Another friend has been trying for months to get SSI approval for a valid reason, and keeps getting turned down - but only after months of waiting each time. Our government takes more care being responsive to the shitholes of the world (Haiti, Afghanistan, Somalia) than it does into governing America. Fucking useless bastards.]

``All applications will be treated as urgent,'' he said.

Authorization to work is a key priority for the majority of undocumented Haitians, particularly now that they are desperate to send money to relatives affected by last week's earthquake.

USCIS will try to waive the hefty application fees -- almost $500 -- to as many applicants as possible, said Mayorkas. But he would not commit to waiving fees for all applicants.

``We are aware that some people are financially vulnerable and we will be reviewing the applications with a generosity of spirit,'' Mayorkas told reporters.

Some aid group members pressed Mayorkas to also waive the requirement for government-issued identification for applicants. [Yes, for the love of God, let's not actually document anything. No doubt these Haitians will all be voting come November.]

USCIS officials at the meeting said they will consider accepting Haitian IDs after a Miami Haitian consulate official -- commercial attaché Karlo Pelissier -- said at the meeting that his office can issue ID papers for the applicants.

The consulate generally charges $30 for an ID, but Pelissier said he will check with his government on whether the fee can be waived.

By obtaining work permits with the possibility of getting a job, tens of thousands of undocumented Haitian immigrants in the United States are likely to send tens of millions of dollars to homeland relatives. [Remember, each job these immigrants get is one less job for a native.]

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Announcing ...

... that in approximately five months my wife and I will be welcoming a daughter into this world. We found out the sex yesterday, and we already have a name picked out. (In fact, we've had the name for both a daughter and a son picked out for years prior to actually starting to have children.) I'm not sure I want to share the name, but I can tell you that if she were Sarah Palin's daughter she might well be called Nixon Hailstorm Palin.

And yes, K and I are very excited!

Wedding Gear

A friend is getting married in a couple of months and I've been asked to be a groomsman. I accepted, of course, and even had some helpful recommendations on how we should dress. I sent the following email:

How could I possibly say ‘No’ to the man that drove all over Hell and Creation with a half-shaved face to figure out a scheme to get me to the Super Bowl. “We’s gonna catch ourselves a feee-ush.” [*]

For the tuxes, I recommend lavender, with very wide lapels, very big matching bow ties (“It must be – the BOOOOOW tie….”), and shirts with massive amounts of ruffles. Or is the Leisure Suit Larry thing not what we’re going for?

Of course, we’d all have to grow mustaches for the look to work.

[* But that is another story....]
Naturally, there have been questions. Another groomsman asked:
Question - should the pant legs need to just barely show the white socks at the bottom?
I replied:
I don't think so. I believe they should be of the correct length. But they should definitely be flared. Not quite bell bottoms, but definitely flared.
Truth be told, I'm not sure what to do about shoes - shoes and accessories are always the trickiest part.

But just to make everything clear, here's how it breaks down.

The tux:

The shirt:

The bow tie:

The 'stache:

If we can just get the right shoes and belts....

A fun waste of time ...

The Sarah Palin Name Generator

My real name translated to Flex Gunship Palin. (I am strongly considering changing my first two names to Flex Gunship.) My wife didn't like hers so much, so I won't post that. I WILL mention that every time through you will get a different response.

Here are the names some of my friends got:

Muzzle Mammoth Palin
Pie Gallon Palin
Bomb Locomotive Palin (possibly my favorite)
Blitz Harden Palin

There are many more in the comments to the post. Check it out.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Blue Grass = Accoustic Thrash Metal

I've stated on many occasions that Blue Grass music and Thrash Metal are very similar. For those that doubt I present the following two-fer:


Wankers

A favorite show of mine over the last two years or so has been Whale Wars. It's a tale of intrepid adventurers, the Sea Shepherds, set on stopping the Japanese whaling industry from killing more whales - by any means necessary!

Well, not exactly. Actually, it's a group of dreamy young volunteers being led by an incompetent old environmentalist whack-job and liar. (South Park brilliantly parodied the show.) Mostly these guys are a bunch of "ineffectual Vegan pussies", as Not-Really Larry King called them, and they seem clueless as to their best possible strategy to achieving their goals.

For example, last season they had an extended stretch in which the Japanese whaling fleet killed and butchered several whales while the Sea Shepherds watched helplessly. While they couldn't stop the Japanese from killing those particular whales, they got excellent footage of the slaughter. It was PR gold! Put those images on Japanese television and one might actually sway Japanese public opinion, which is what really matters. (Most people would probably be less inclined to eat meat if they saw what happened in an abattoir. We're so civilized now that most of us have little idea what it takes to create our food.) But the clueless dolts didn't even realize what they had.

Regardless, the show is more entertaining than not, as the Sea Shepherds are staggeringly incompetent. Bad decisions, bad strategy, and worse execution make the show seat-of-the-pants viewing - one never knows if the SS will manage to get one of their own killed. While I don't like the killing of whales, and the scenes I described in the last paragraph are disturbing, the Sea Shepherds are little more than idiots playing at piracy. In short, they're a bunch of wankers, as my wife first noted to me some time back, and it's fun to watch them try to improve the gene pool by deletion of defective specimens.

And it's looking like the new season will be even more entertaining! The Sea Shepherds got a new skiff with which to harass the whalers. The Japanese responded to the new provocation by running over the new skiff and leaving six SSs to die in the sea - Doh! For those looking to breed more stupid people, fret not: the crew were rescued by another ship, the Bob Barker. There's footage of the incident over at CNN. There's also outrage of the news anchor that the Japanese could be so callous. True enough, the Japanese didn't seem interested in saving the lives of the SSs in the water.

But it's also true that the Sea Shepherds have actually rammed Japanese ships with their own ship (not a skiff) on two other occasions. The man in charge of the Sea Shepherds seems even less concerned with human life than the Japanese. The Sea Shepherds have also engaged in piracy (assaulting and boarding ships on the high seas) and they're probably lucky the Japanese haven't actually sent a destroyer to sink their ship. Not to mention that the captain of the Sea Shepherds has regularly put his own crew in jeopardy by his own poor decision making.

So why no outrage from CNN about the Sea Shepherds ramming ships? Well, that's obvious. Since they're on the side of whales angels they can do no wrong. Just another sign of the decline of civilization, or at least the decline of critical thinking in the news media.

Programming Note

I hope to blog more this year. From March through December of 2009 I only put up 20 posts, and ten of those were in March. Hopefully I will have more time and energy this year for a variety of reasons. At least until June! After that all bets are off....

Dominance

Alabama won the BCS National Championship Game tonight, edging out Texas. The game was actually much closer than the final score might indicate (37-21), and one has to wonder if Texas would have won if Colt McCoy hadn't been knocked out of the game. Regardless, the SEC has won another National Championship. In the BCS Era the SEC has been THE dominant conference, winning all six National Championship Games in which it competed. For those not keeping track at home, the SEC has won the last four National Championships in a row.

A couple of years ago I sat down and worked out the stats on how the various conferences had fared in the BCS title game. Unfortunately I didn't blog that info at the time. I probably left it in an email or a comment on someone else's blog. Fortunately for me someone at Wikipedia has updated the work for me in the meantime, and made the helpful chart seen below:


Besides the perfection of the SEC, three other results stand out. First, only one other conference has won more than a single title, the Big 12 with two wins. Second, the Big 12 has lost two-and-a-half times as many as it has won - five loses! Third, only one other conference has even hit 50%, and that's the PAC 10 with a 1-1 record. In other words, no other conference is even close.

One other result stands out for the truly observant. Save for a horrible call and some bad luck, the Big East would actually be 2-1 and the Big Ten 0-3. Them teams from the upper mid-west ain't all they're cracked up to be.

PS: Here's the rude emoticon mentioned in the last link:
Added: Something else caught my attention. Three of the conferences have been completely dominated by one team. If a PAC 10 team plays for the title, it is USC. For the ACC it has been FSU (a good reminder for those that forget how dadgum good Bobby Bowden was as a coach), and the Big Ten only sends Ohio State. That makes two of those conferences (PAC 10 and Big Ten) look awfully thin, at least at the elite level.

The ACC doesn't look as thin for two reasons. First, the Big East's two championship contenders have now switched conferences and joined the ACC. Second, it's going to be a while before ANY of those teams compete at the championship level again. They're not thin, they're anorexic! And the Big East currently does not have one single team that has played for the BCS title. They're not thin, they're dead!

Note that this also points out the depth of the SEC - it's the only conference to have had four teams play for the BCS title, and all four have won. The Big 12 has had three teams compete for the title, with only two winners.

All this doesn't mean that the SEC Champion should automatically be placed in the championship game. But it makes a good case that Auburn really got screwed in 2004.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Tricks played by clogged ears

I'm sick with a cold/walking pneumonia and my ears are a bit clogged up. Thus I'm hearing some funny things that haven't been said. Example: Tonight on NBC's national news broadcast I heard Andrea Mitchell say

Into the cold, the Obama family returned from bombing Hawaii....
It took a few seconds of pondering to realize she must have said "returned from balmy Hawaii." So far this has been the only upside of being sick.