Friday, February 27, 2009

Darker and darker

While a good many of us could have told you that things are actually worse than we are being told (and we have been saying so for over a year) there are a lot of folks, mostly fat cat Republicans who still will insist that the economic problems are not that bad and that there were even signs of recovery late last year. For the rest of us, this confirms what we already knew was happening.
The U.S. economy contracted more sharply than initially estimated in the fourth quarter, government data showed on Friday, as exports plunged and consumers cut spending by the most in over 28 years amid a severe recession.

The Commerce Department said gross domestic product, which measures the total output of goods and services within U.S. borders, fell at an annual rate of 6.2 percent in the October-December quarter, the deepest slide since the first quarter of 1982. The government last month estimated the drop in fourth-quarter GDP at 3.8 percent.

The weaker GDP estimate reflected downward revisions to inventories and exports by the department.

The decline was worse than analysts' expectations for a 5.4 percent contraction in fourth-quarter GDP. The economy expanded 1.1 percent in 2008, the slowest pace since 2001, the department said.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of domestic economic activity, dropped at a 4.3 percent rate, the biggest fall since the second quarter of 1980, as household wealth plunged. That compared with a 3.5 percent fall estimated last month.

Exports, until recently one of the few pillars supporting the distressed economy, tumbled at a 23.6 percent annual rate, the steepest plunge since 1971. That was revised from the 19.7 percent drop estimated in last month's report.
the thing is, I don't think people realize what this continuing saga of bad news and worsening conditions portends. Our "leaders", whether they be in government or banking or manufacturing, have actually had it pretty easy so far. We are still paying them big bucks for failure or reelecting them inspite of their bad governance. There is a strong likelihood that this happy go lucky attitude on the part of the downtrodden masses will shift in a very negative direction.

Worst-case scenarios abound:

The global economic meltdown has already caused bank failures, bankruptcies, plant closings and foreclosures and will, in the coming year, leave many tens of millions unemployed across the planet. But another perilous consequence of the crash of 2008 has only recently made its appearance: increased civil unrest and ethnic strife. Someday, perhaps, war may follow.

As people lose confidence in the ability of markets and governments to solve the global crisis, they are likely to erupt into violent protests or to assault others they deem responsible for their plight, including government officials, plant managers, landlords, immigrants and ethnic minorities. (The list could, in the future, prove long and unnerving.) If the present economic disaster turns into what President Obama has referred to as a “lost decade,” the result could be a global landscape filled with economically fueled upheavals.

I still remember the downright nastiness back in the 70's when gas was in short supply. Many probably don't remember but that is when you began to see locking gas caps and anti-siphon hardware on the fill caps. It was a regular occurrence to have the gas siphoned from your car even when it was parked in your driveway. Rarely a day went by without someone getting rowdy in a gas line or even having a gun pulled when someone really got angry. It really doesn't take much to send otherwise civilized people over the edge. If gasoline shortages can do it, just imagine what bread lines will cause.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Newspaper Pots

I almost ordered a wooden die thingy to do this but it was almost $20 so I didn't. Glad I stumbled on this at La Vida Locavore. Thanks Jill.

Check this out: You can make seed-starting pots from newspapers.

I use starter trays but they are only about an inch and a half square and not really big enough to get a plant to the size needed to transplant. This is a great solution.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

About Time for the H-1B to Go Away

One of the things I really like in the stimulus package is the fact that companies hiring people under the H1-B visa program are not eligible for bailout money. About damn time we started to put a finger in this hole in the dike. The primary reason I am unemployed right now is that someone from India on an H1-B visa is doing the job I should be. The rules say they have to be paid the "prevailing wage" but I know from personal experience that they are paid a lot less than American workers in the same job. Yes, most of them are smart and seem capable but that is not the point. The thing is, India has been sending 65,000 IT workers over here every year and each one of those jobs is putting someone like me out of work. The program was originally supposed to help bridge the gap in demand for IT workers that couldn't be met with American workers but that time is long past.

Predictably, the anger is growing in India over proposed changes to the U.S. H-1B visa work program. The stimulus package forbids companies who hire H-1B workers from receiving federal bail-out money and the move could send tens of thousands of temporary workers, largely engineers, back to India. Indian labor and political parties are threatening boycotts of American companies if Indian workers are eliminated.

Let them boycott. If you take an inventory of the Indian workers in the IT departments of most major American companies, including and especially the financial sector, you will find that they outnumber Americans by a large majority. This might have been an OK thing back when there was a huge shortage of IT trained American workers but that situation is changed and the whole H1-B visa program should be scrapped for good.

We'll probably lose some good Indian restaurants but I'll willingly make the sacrifice.

Beavis and Butthead?

Krugman, as usual, minces no words on the GOP response by Bobby Jindal to last night Obama speech.
And leaving aside the chutzpah of casting the failure of his own party’s governance as proof that government can’t work, does he really think that the response to natural disasters like Katrina is best undertaken by uncoordinated private action? Hey, why bother having an army? Let’s just rely on self-defense by armed citizens.

The intellectual incoherence is stunning. Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny. The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead.

We Will Recover!

Well, while I missed the first part of it, I did see a very good speech last night by President Obama. What a change from the last impostor! That was the way a President should address a nation in crisis. He was excellent, setting the the right tone and overall very impressive. How very refreshing to have a real president again.

I didn't bother to stay up and watch what was apparently a nothing speech by Governor Jindal. From what I am reading this morning it was the exact opposite of President Obama's speech. He offered nothing to counter Obama except the worn out and discredited GOP mantra of cutting taxes. It's not surprising, as they have proven repeatedly that they've got no ideas and what Bobby Jindal demonstrated last night just reinforced that to everyone. It speaks volumes if you remember that Jindal has been billed as the GOP's next great leader. If what the GOP has to offer in 2012 is Jindal and Palin then the GOP is really a has been political party.

Here is the skinnyon the speech from Sam Stein at the Huffington Post:
Instant public surveys on Barack Obama's address before Congress showed, by in large, that the public was incredibly receptive to his speech, regardless of political party. But that did not hold true for every single study. A CBS News poll of approximately 500 people saw approval of the president rise from 62 percent before the speech to 69 percent afterward. Meanwhile, a poll on CNN showed that 68 percent of respondents -- who skewed a bit Democratic -- viewed the speech positively, 24 somewhat positively, and only eight percent not positively. Eighty-two percent supported the president's economic plan as outlined in the speech, while 17 percent opposed it.

Those results were buttressed by the findings of longtime Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. In his own dial poll, which included 50 participants of mixed gender, education and politics, Greenberg found a large swath of bipartisan support for Obama's addres. That included a 14 percent jump, from 62 to 76 percent, in the favorability rating for the president. Saying at the onset that this was an "immensely successful speech," he highlighted a few issues on which Obama won over the audience....

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Experience

Probably going to be quiet around these parts again today. I am going to brave the Georgia Dept. of Labor and file for my unemployment today. Georgia is a little backward in that you actually have to make an appearance at the state agency to online here. I have no idea how long it will take. The commute alone will be an hour or better since it is located in midtown.
If I get back before too late I need to get my onion plants in the ground. They showed up in the post on Saturday and are patiently waiting to be planted. Technically, I have a week or two to get it done but the sooner the better.
You guys play nice while I'm gone and have a nice Mardi Gras.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Update: Not too bad. Only took about 3 hours. The sad thing is most of the time was spent online on their computer filling out the form. Absolutely no reason for a personal appearance. Now to the onions.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Old Bamboo

Yes it has been quiet here today. A good part of the day was spent harvesting bamboo. I learned early today that the stand of bamboo on the historic Bulloch Hall property was going to be leveled in the name of progress this week. It is an ancient stand of giant bamboo and many of the "trees" are 4" across and 50 or 60 feet high. I need bamboo in the garden for beans to climb on and for cuke and melon support. I don't need the big stuff but the smaller stuff makes perfect garden poles. I don't know of anything stronger than bamboo pound for pound. So anyway that's where I have been all day and my aching body will testify to that. There is still a mountain for the bull dozer to chew on but I have my load.

Water, Water Everywhere

I love stuff like this:

It’s a kitchen degreaser. It’s a window cleaner. It kills athlete’s foot. Oh, and you can drink it.

Sounds like the old “Saturday Night Live” gag for Shimmer, the faux floor polish plugged by Gilda Radner. But the elixir is real. It has been approved by U.S. regulators. And it’s starting to replace the toxic chemicals Americans use at home and on the job.

The stuff is a simple mixture of table salt and tap water whose ions have been scrambled with an electric current. Researchers have dubbed it electrolyzed water — hardly as catchy as Mr. Clean. But at the Sheraton Delfina in Santa Monica, some hotel workers are calling it el liquido milagroso — the miracle liquid.

That’s as good a name as any for a substance that scientists say is powerful enough to kill anthrax spores without harming people or the environment.

Used as a sanitizer for decades in Russia and Japan, it’s slowly winning acceptance in the United States. A New York poultry processor uses it to kill salmonella on chicken carcasses. Minnesota grocery clerks spray sticky conveyors in the checkout lanes. Michigan jailers mop with electrolyzed water to keep potentially lethal cleaners out of the hands of inmates.

In Santa Monica, the once-skeptical Sheraton housekeeping staff has ditched skin-chapping bleach and pungent ammonia for spray bottles filled with electrolyzed water to clean toilets and sinks.

“I didn’t believe in it at first because it didn’t have foam or any scent,” said housekeeper Flor Corona. “But I can tell you it works. My rooms are clean.”

Management likes it too. The mixture costs less than a penny a gallon. It cuts down on employee injuries from chemicals. It reduces shipping costs and waste because hotel staffers prepare the elixir on site. And it’s helping the Sheraton Delfina tout its environmental credentials to guests.

The hotel’s kitchen staff recently began disinfecting produce with electrolyzed water. They say the lettuce lasts longer. They’re hoping to replace detergent in the dishwasher. Management figures the payback time for the $10,000 electrolysis machine will be less than a year.

“It’s green. It saves money. And it’s the right thing to do,” said Glenn Epstein, executive assistant at the Sheraton Delfina. “It’s almost like fantasy.”

Actually, it’s chemistry. For more than two centuries, scientists have tinkered with electrolysis, the use of an electric current to bring about a chemical reaction (not the hair-removal technique of the same name that’s popular in Beverly Hills). That’s how we got metal electroplating and large-scale production of chlorine, used to bleach and sanitize.

It turns out that zapping salt water with low-voltage electricity creates a couple of powerful yet nontoxic cleaning agents. Sodium ions are converted into sodium hydroxide, an alkaline liquid that cleans and degreases like detergent, but without the scrubbing bubbles. Chloride ions become hypochlorous acid, a potent disinfectant known as acid water.

“It’s 10 times more effective than bleach in killing bacteria,” said Yen-Con Hung, a professor of food science at the University of Georgia-Griffin, who has been researching electrolyzed water for more than a decade. “And it’s safe.”

Friday, February 20, 2009

Transparency is Good

The NY Times reports some changes in how our federal spending is reported:

For his first annual budget next week, President Obama has banned four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit projections look smaller. The price of more honest bookkeeping: A budget that is $2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise appear, according to administration officials.

The new accounting involves spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare reimbursements to physicians and the cost of disaster responses.

But the biggest adjustment will deal with revenues from the alternative minimum tax, a parallel tax system enacted in 1969 to prevent the wealthy from using tax shelters to avoid paying any income tax.

Even with bigger deficit projections, the Obama administration will put the country on “a sustainable fiscal course” by the end of Mr. Obama’s term, Peter R. Orszag, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Thursday in an interview. Mr. Orszag did not provide details of how the administration would reduce a deficit expected to reach at least $1.5 trillion this year.

Mr. Obama’s banishment of the gimmicks, which have been widely criticized, is in keeping with his promise to run a more transparent government.

Fiscal sleight of hand has long been a staple of federal budgets, giving rise to phrases like “rosy scenario” and “magic asterisks.”

The $2.7 trillion in additional deficit spending, Mr. Orszag said, is “a huge amount of money that would just be kind of a magic asterisk in previous budgets.”

“The president prefers to tell the truth,” he said, “rather than make the numbers look better by pretending.”

This is a really, really good idea. It is about time the politicians actually have to face the real impact of their spending and the accounting tricks of the past allowed them to hide most of their sins. The freaking whole war was "off budget" for crissakes! The first step in getting a realistic picture of where we are as a nation fiscally is to quit hiding spending in nooks and crannies. Shine the light on everything.
I do want to reiterate one thing that John Cole says over at Balloon Juice on this subject:

The first thing I would do if I were Peter Orszag and company, and this is one of the very few times I actually hope someone in government listens to me, is to go back and re-score the last decade or so of budgets using the new accounting system, so when they roll this out they can say “Here is what this year’s budget would have looked like under the old system. Here is what it looks like under the new system. Here are the past ten years worth of budgets under the old system. Here they are under the new system.” For political reasons, this simply has to be done.

If the Obama team does not do this it will be like handing a loaded gun to the GOP and painting a target on your back, forehead and butt. If this isn't done and spread liberally throughout the media and internet it won't take a half hour before the Rethugs start comparing the new deficit numbers using the "new" legitimate accounting to the old budgets under Shrub and Reagan using the "old" criminal accounting and screaming socialism, communism and Goddess knows what else. They'll still do it anyway but it will take some of the sting out if Obama is proactive.

Kicking Them While They're Down

If you can judge from the rant of CNBC's Rick Santelli against the mortgage bailout, the wingnuts still don't get it. Letting the mortgage crisis continue to fester is not going to help any of us. Yeah, yeah, a lot of the people that are going to get help probably didn't make the wisest choices when buying their homes but the banks and mortgage lenders have a lot to answer for. Let's face it, if you didn't have the financial resources to buy the house you did and yet were given a mortgage anyway then whose fault is it? Is standing by and watching the further collapse of the housing market going to do any of us any good?

We are talking a lousy $75 billion(a couple of weeks of Shrub's war) here compared to the trillions either given directly to the banks or committed in some other way. Get a grip. If you think the banks are equal partners in this mess and deserve some slack then take a look at this and then maybe rethink your position.

Edited to correct usage.
First, Arthur Santa-Maria called Bank of America to ask how to check the balance of his new unemployment benefits debit card. The bank charged him 50 cents.

He chose not to complain. That would have cost another 50 cents.

So he took out some of the money and then decided to pull out the rest. But that made two withdrawals on the same day, and that was $1.50.

For hundreds of thousands of workers losing their jobs during the recession, there’s a new twist to their financial pain: Even when they’re collecting unemployment benefits, they’re paying the bank just to get the money — or even to call customer service to complain about it.

Thirty states have struck such deals with banks that include Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp., JP Morgan Chase and US Bancorp, an Associated Press review of the agreements found. All the programs carry fees, and in several states the unemployed have no choice but to use the debit cards. Some banks even charge overdraft fees of up to $20 — even though they could decline charges for more than what’s on the card.

The bastards deserve any scorn they receive especially after taking our money.

h/t Ballon Juice

25 Things About Willy

We've have all seen the meme around the web "25 things about me" well here is one about the Bard that is very funny.

h/t Susie

Chilly Friday

Turned cold overnight...back down into the 20s this morning and it is supposed to stay cooler than normal for the next few days. I forgot to put the birdbath heater in last night and this morning all my feathered friends, the chipmunks and the skwerls were standing around the edge looking for a drink. I poured a bucket full of very hot water on it and now everyone is sipping away. It should stay thawed until the temp gets above freezing.

Not much encouraging news on the economic front. The DOW set a twenty year low yesterday, people drawing unemployment checks hit 5 million and I am going to add myself to that list next week for the first time in my life. A wee bit depressing. Paul Krugman is not very encouraging this morning either and is forecasting a very long time before we see the clouds begin to part.

So people at the Fed are troubled by the same question I’ve been obsessing on lately: What’s supposed to end this slump? No doubt this, too, shall pass — but how, and when?

To appreciate the problem, you need to know that this isn’t your father’s recession. It’s your grandfather’s, or maybe even (as I’ll explain) your great-great-grandfather’s.

I could have used a little better forecast from Paul but I guess it is better than hiding your head in the sand and banking on the lottery to get you through.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New Life

Not that anyone but me cares, but most of the tomato seeds planted on Valentines Day are now tiny little tomato plants. I kept them warm and moist and now they are popping up like crazy. I can't tell you how excited I get when those little plants appear. I moved all the peppers and stuff to the with shelves by the sliding glass door in the basement which is a nice Southern exposure and they are all busy sucking in the natural sunlight and everybody seems happy. The new tomatoes will bask under the artificial grow lights for a while longer or at least until they are all up and have true leaves. One tray of peppers has not sprouted yet...the little "bird peppers" sometimes called chili pequin. They were planted like everyone else so maybe they are just slow. Maybe it takes extra time to build up the excruciating heat they have. I haven't given up on them yet. It's getting cool again with nightime temps back into the 20's so the urge to get out and play in the dirt is subsiding a bit. I should be getting my seed potatoes in the next few weeks which is the official kick off of the outside gardening. The brocolli, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks and arugula should be ready to find their homes in the garden by that time as well. Then begins the battle with the deer and rabbits. The deer have enjoyed the cereal rye in the garden cover crop all winter but now it's time for my food to grow and not theirs. Early stuff is beginning to green so they will have enough natural food soon. Not to mention that all the subdivisions are putting out their spring beds of deer food.

My daughter(mini monk) has volunteered to help me get my trailer back in shape. The floor has rotted out again and this time she wants to put in expanded metal. She never misses an opportunity to weld and this floor should last a couple of years. She is also hoping I will quit begging for her to bring me horse manure if I have a trailer good enough to haul my own. There are all kind of horse barns around that will give you manure if you just haul it off. The stuff is black gold for us organic gardeners and I can use tons.

I have been hard at work this week generating all my my marketing material. Short paragraphs highlight my skills and accomplishments using all of the functions soft skill action words I identified last week. The goal is to create a "brand" for yourself that is both accurate and memorable. Something that will set your resume apart from all the rest of the galloots that are applying for the same job. It sounds simple enough but trust me, it is very difficult.

I spent hours working on my elevator speech. How do you wrap up over 30 years of experience and accomplishments into 50 words or less? I have also written the first draft of my script for my 45 second video. I am not one to toot my own horn and when you have only 45 seconds to summarize who you are, what you have done and what your goals are and make it different and memorable it's tough. I think it is pretty good but will definitely need some expert help.

We'll see this afternoon when I sit down with my career coach and he critiques my effort. Fortunately, he will help me refine it and punch it up.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Good Change

It's about time, as we are behind the rest of the civilized world by a decade or more. Consumers deserve the right to know the details about the food they buy. When you consider the food related issues from China and other countries last year, country of origin is important. One of the reasons I am willing to spend a lot more on food at Whole Foods is their origin labeling. I like to know where my food comes from. I can't make an informed decision about buying without knowing where its from or how far it has traveled to get here.
The Obama administration is throwing out food labeling rules proposed by the Agriculture Department just before George W. Bush left office, saying it wants labels for fresh meat and other foods that would show more clearly where an animal or food came from, according to consumer groups who've been briefed on the issue.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told several consumer groups Tuesday in a conference call that he will ask the meat industry to voluntarily follow stricter guidelines for new package labels designed to specify a food's country of origin, according to three people who were on the call. If the industry does not comply, the administration will write new rules, according to those who spoke with Vilsack.

The labeling requirements, which would apply to fresh meats and some perishable fruits and vegetables, long have been debated in Congress and were enacted as part of a wide-ranging farm bill last year. While the meat industry and retailers responsible for the labels have protested the changes — saying they are burdensome and could lead to higher prices — consumer groups and northern states ranchers who compete with the Canadian beef industry favor them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Should Have Bought Fireworks

The market didn't do anybody any favors today. The DOW was off 296. Ouch!

Sure am glad I saved all that money over the years just to watch it vanish. Should have bought fireworks with it, then I at least would have had a show.

Monday, February 16, 2009

High Fructose Corn Syrup is Poison

I've posted before here about HFCS. It is bad news for most people and especially bad for those with weight problems, insulin resistance or diabetes. I test my blood sugar at least once a day and often twice or three times a day. I also monitor what I eat pretty closely. I know from personal experience that if I allow HFCS in my diet it makes my blood sugar worse. Now there is even more evidence that this is not just me. Asinus Asinum Fricat brings together the latest research on fructose versus glucose over at La Vida Locavore.

You are also what you drink. Yet another damaging HFCS report surfaces: researchers from the Monell Center in Philadelphia report that overweight people who drank a fructose-sweetened beverage with a meal had triglyceride levels almost 200 per cent higher than the same group who drank a glucose-sweetened beverage with a meal. In plain words triglycerides are manufactured by the body from dietary fat and function as fat transporters. While normal levels of triglycerides are essential for good health, increased levels have been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Corn Refiners Association has been running cute little ads about "What's wrong with HFCS?" lately. Someone offers another a popsicle or something with HFCS and when the other refuses because of the HFCS content they get the "It's made from corn and has the same calories as sugar" speil. Of course, the person hesitating to eat the HFCS doesn't have a response. The reality is that the body doesn't understand HFCS. The body hasn't evolved to eat HFCS and therefore doesn't respond to it like it does regular sugars like glucose or even plain fructose.

You have a choice. You can eat it and suffer the consequences, which aren't fully understood but are apparently real and not good, or you can avoid it like the plaque that it is. The choice is yours. I know from personal experience that it causes my blood sugar to go up and stay up. I do not get the same result when I sin and eat something sweet with just plain sugar. Yes my blood sugar goes up but it comes down fairly quickly as soon as the body produces enough insulin to metabolize it. A significant dose of HFCS and my blood sugar runs higher for a couple of days. It's hard enough in today's environment to avoid sugar and carbohydrates when you are insulin resistant like I am. Fortunately it is not too hard to avoid HFCS but you do have to read labels like a maniac. It's in everything from salad dressings to crackers and even pickles. Look for some pickles on your grocery store shelf without HFCS(except dill) and you will be surprised. Look for some sandwich bread or crackers without it. If you read labels as religiously as I do you will find it everywhere, and everywhere you find it it is going to be bad for you.

Lots to Do

I hope everyone had a great weekend. Happy President's Day or is that Presidents Day. Whatever, it is nice to actually have a President worth feeling good about isn't it?

Looks to be a busy week for me. My career consultant has given me a load of "homework". I need to spend quite a bit of time defining my personal network, identifying all my "soft skills" and completely re-doing my resume along their guidelines. I also have to begin writing my script for my brief online video. In light of all the work I have to do, it may be a little light around here for a few days. I'll try and post when something moves me but the priority is trying to counteract Shrub's and the GOP negative impact on my career.

Play nice and take a look at the blogroll as there are plenty of good things to read there.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Peanuts, Peanuts, Who's Got the Bad Peanuts?

It is not over! Don't relax your vigilance and take a good look at the latest products that have been recalled. It's a long and very well respected list including products from Slim-Fast, Whole Foods, and lots more.

There are still being cases of salmonella poisoning from peanut bearing products reported, so in spite of the national press, people are still eating this stuff. They either have it already in the pantry or there are stores not following the protocols. If you have anyone in your circle of friends or family that may not be up-to-date on the whole peanut debacle then give them a ring and let them know.

Even yours truly discovered that the Kashi Chewy Trail Mix bars in my cupboard are verboten and only because I couldn't find any more in the stores. Madam eats a couple of these a week. Read the ingredients on boxes if you are in doubt and if there is any question look on the manufacturer's web site or the FDA site and check it out.

On a side note: I keep thinking about Kashi's television commercials and how they go to such great lengths and exotic places for their ingredients. Who knew Blakely, Ga was so exotic?

Tomato (Pomodoro) Day

It's rainy and damp today in Atlanta. It is a perfect day to plant the seeds for this years tomato garden and since it is Valentines Day that makes planting "pomodoro" or "love apple" even more significant. I have a bunch of varieties to plant. The peppers and artichokes I planted on the 3rd are mostly all up and going so it is time to get the rest cooking. It is the most fascinating thing to take these tiny, tiny seeds and put them into the dirt and then in a week or two see the little plants peek through the soil. How all that life is stuffed into that little hard seed is amazing. It is an endless fascination to me and truly a Zen moment. Here is one of the babies I am planting today. The seeds are from Italy via the Seed Savers Exchange. I can almost taste it now.

Costaluto Genovese Tomato
Lycopersicon esculentum
6-8 oz. Tender Annual
Old Italian variety that grows 6-8 ounce large, meaty, semi-pleated red fruits in abundance. While it is not the prettiest of the tomatoes, this variety rated among the very highest in our taste tests with a very earthy, old-fashioned tomato flavor.

Compare and Contrast

Here is an excerpt from President Obama's weekly address today. It reinforces a very strange concept into the national dialogue...accountability. Very strange indeed! You can view the entire address over at Americablog.

Now, some fear we won’t be able to effectively implement a plan of this size and scope, and I understand their skepticism. Washington hasn’t set a very good example in recent years. And with so much on the line, it’s time to begin doing things differently.

That’s why our goal must be to spend these precious dollars with unprecedented accountability, responsibility, and transparency. I’ve tasked my cabinet and staff to set up the kind of management, oversight, and disclosure that will help ensure that, and I will challenge state and local governments to do the same.

Once the plan is put into action, a new website – – will allow any American to watch where the money goes and weigh in with comments and questions – and I encourage every American to do so. Ultimately, this is your money, and you deserve to know where it’s going and how it’s spent.

This historic step won’t be the end of what we do to turn our economy around, but the beginning. The problems that led us into this crisis are deep and widespread. Our response must be equal to the task.
Oh! and here is the contrast from Michael Steele, the newly elected head of the RNC talking with uber ass Glenn Beck of Faux News about Republican credibility.

"You have absolutely no reason, none, to trust our word or our actions at this point."
Now that's a mouthful.

A Little Valentine

It seems we have a little Valentine in the stimulus plan that I wasn't aware of. I think it is a good thing but it appears that Wall Street is a little grumpy over it.

WASHINGTON — A provision buried deep inside the $787 billion economic stimulus bill would impose restrictions on executive bonuses at financial institutions that are much tougher than those proposed 10 days ago by the Treasury Department.
The provision, inserted by Senate Democrats over the objections of the Obama administration, is aimed at companies that have received financial bailout funds. It would prohibit cash bonuses and almost all other incentive compensation for the five most senior officers and the 20 highest-paid executives at large companies that receive money under the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“These rules will not work,” James F. Reda, an independent compensation consultant, said on Friday. “Any smart executive will (a) pay back TARP money ASAP or (b) get another job.”

So the banks 'could lose some top talent'...from my perspective it would appear that that is exactly what needs to happen.

Buhbye PCA

While, all things considered, they never should have been in business in the first place... goodbye PCA, Peanut Corporation of America, the company that caused the salmonella outbreak through severe criminal negligence, has declared bankruptcy. The company filed chapter 7 and they will liquidate their assets. Better late than never I guess but there is some bad news here. According to Jean Halloran of Consumers Union:
PCA's declaration of bankruptcy will, among other things, shield it from liability suits filed by consumers who became sick or whose loved ones died as a result of eating PCA's peanut products.

The Chapter 7 filing does not protect the owners and other principles of the company however. Federal officials are considering criminal charges against the owner Stewart Parnell and others. If the the Feds don't charge them, then both Georgia and Texas are considering charges. While I am not a lawyer I would think, with the email trail and other information they have, manslaughter charges would be a slam dunk to prosecute. Parnell needs to do some serious time in the pokey and be barred from ever having anything to do with providing food to anyone or any thing.

As to the people damaged or killed by this food debacle, I would imagine all the manufacturers that used PCA products in theirs are covered by some kind of liability insurance and they are liable or negligent for at least some of this mess.

Done Deal

Well, the stimulus package made it through both houses of Congress. Nada Rethug votes in the House and the 3 amigos in the Senate. According to Specter, a lot of the GOP in the Senate think it is the right thing but were too chicken to vote for it.

I hope President Obama and his team have learned their lesson on how successful bipartisan outreach can be with the current Republican party. I think they have. I expect the president to continue his outreach and consultations with the opposition but now will realize that they only have his and the Democratic party's failure in focus and not the well being of the nation or its people. There is still a lot to do and I think the president will forge ahead and try to get it done, with or without the Republicans. He will give them a chance to participate in the rebuilding of America but only as far as they are willing to make a genuine and meaningful contribution.

President Obama will sign the stimulus bill on Monday and we can all start the hard road back. There is still a lot of pain for millions of us ahead but I do believe we are finally headed in the right direction. I wish the bill would have been bigger but considering the political realities we are probably lucky we got what we did.

Now we need to turn our sights on a bunch of bankers.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Stimulus Plan

I previoulsy posted highlights but this is the actual plan as it currently stands. The previous post indicated that there would be money to help with COBRA...apparently that is not in the plan.

This is the final package reached by negotiators from the House and the Senate. Now both bodies have to vote one more time on the final combined package. Summary from the House and Senate majority Appropriations staff:
United States Congress

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
Creating Jobs, Supporting the States and Investing in Our Country’s Future

The United States is facing its deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, one that calls for swift, bold action. The goals of this legislation are the same as they have been from day one: to strengthen the economy now and invest in our country’s future.

This legislation will create and save jobs; help state and local governments with their budget shortfalls to prevent deep cuts in basic services such as health, education, and law enforcement; cut taxes for working families and invest in the long-term health of our economy. We do all of this with unprecedented accountability, oversight and transparency so the American people know their money is being invested responsibly.

To accomplish these goals, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $311 billion in appropriations, including the following critical investments:

Investments in Infrastructure and Science - $120 billion
Investments in Health - $14.2 billion
Investments in Education and Training - $105.9 billion
Investments in Energy, including over $30 billion in infrastructure - $37.5 billion
Helping Americans Hit Hardest by the Economic Crisis - $24.3 billion
Law Enforcement, Oversight, Other Programs - $7.8 billion

Investments in Infrastructure and Science include:

Infrastructure Improvements
- $7.2 billion for Broadband to increase broadband access and usage in unserved and underserved areas of the Nation, which will better position the U.S. for economic growth, innovation, and job creation.
- $2.75 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to secure the homeland and promote economic activity, including $1 billion for airport baggage and checkpoint security, $430 million for construction of border points of entry, $210 million for construction of fire stations, $300 million for port, transit, and rail security, $280 million for border security technology and communication, and $240 million for the Coast Guard.
- $4.6 billion in funding for the Corps of Engineers.
- $1.2 billion for VA hospital and medical facility construction and improvements, long-term care facilities for veterans, and improvements at VA national cemeteries.
- $3.1 billion for repair, restoration and improvement of public facilities at on public and tribal lands.
- $4.2 billion for Facilities Sustainment, Restoration and Modernization to be used to invest in energy efficiency projects and to improve the repair and modernization of Department of Defense facilities to include Defense Health facilities.
- $2.33 billion for Department of Defense Facilities including quality of life and family-friendly military improvement projects such as family housing, hospitals, and child care centers.
- $2.25 billion through HOME and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to fill financing gaps caused by the credit freeze and get stalled housing development projects moving.
- $1 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program for community and economic development projects including housing and services for those hit hard by tough economic times.
- $1 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation to provide clean, reliable drinking water to rural areas and to ensure adequate water supply to western localities impacted by drought.

- $27.5 billion is included for highway investments
- $8.4 billion for investments in public transportation.
- $1.5 billion for competitive grants to state and local governments for transportation investments.
- $1.3 billion for investments in our air transportation system.
- $9.3 billion for investments in rail transportation, including Amtrak, High Speed and Intercity Rail.

Public Housing
- $4 billion to the public housing capital fund to enable local public housing agencies to address a $32 billion backlog in capital needs -- especially those improving energy efficiency in aging buildings.
- $2 billion for full-year payments to owners receiving Section 8 project-based rental assistance.
- $2 billion for the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes.
- $1.5 billion for homeless prevention activities, which will be sent out to states, cities and local governments through the emergency shelter grant formula.
- $250 million is included for energy retrofitting and green investments in HUD-assisted housing projects.

Environmental Clean-Up/Clean Water
- $6 billion is directed towards environmental cleanup of former weapon production and energy research sites.
- $6 billion for local clean and drinking water infrastructure improvements.
- $1.2 billion for EPA’s nationwide environmental cleanup programs, including Superfund.
- $1.38 billion to support $3.8 billion in loans and grants for needed water and waste disposal facilities in rural areas.

- $1 billion total for NASA.
- $3 billion total for National Science Foundation (NSF).
- $2 billion total for Science at the Department of Energy including $400 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E).
- $830 million total for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

Investments in Health include:

- $19 billion, including $2 billion in discretionary funds and $17 billion for investments and incentives through Medicare and Medicaid to ensure widespread adoption and use of interoperable health information technology (IT). This provision will grow jobs in the information technology sector, and will jumpstart efforts to increase the use of health IT in doctors’ offices, hospitals and other medical facilities. This will reduce health care costs and improve the quality of health care for all Americans.
- $1 billion for prevention and wellness programs to fight preventable diseases and conditions with evidence-based strategies.
- $10 billion to conduct biomedical research in areas such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and stem cells, and to improve NIH facilities.
- $1.1 billion to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, NIH and the HHS Office of the Secretary to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different health care services and treatment options.

Investments in Education and Training include:
- $53.6 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, including $39.5 billion to local school districts using existing funding formulas, which can be used for preventing cutbacks, preventing layoffs, school modernization, or other purposes; $5 billion to states as bonus grants for meeting key performance measures in education; and $8.8 billion to states for high priority needs such as public safety and other critical services, which may include education and for modernization, renovation and repairs of public school facilities and institutions of higher education facilities.
- $13 billion for Title 1 to help close the achievement gap and enable disadvantaged students to reach their potential.
- $12.2 billion for Special Education/IDEA to improve educational outcomes for disabled children. This level of funding will increase the Federal share of special education services to its highest level ever.
- $15.6 billion to increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500. This aid will help 7 million students pursue postsecondary education.
- $3.95 billion for job training including State formula grants for adult, dislocated worker, and youth programs (including $1.2 billion to create up to one million summer jobs for youth).

Investments in Energy include:

- $4.5 billion for repair of federal buildings to increase energy efficiency using green technology.
- $3.4 billion for Fossil Energy research and development.
- $11 billion for smart-grid related activities, including work to modernize the electric grid.
- $6.3 billion for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Grants.
- $5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program.
- $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research.
- $2 billion in grant funding for the manufacturing of advanced batteries systems and components and vehicle batteries that are produced in the United States.
- $6 billion for new loan guarantees aimed at standard renewable projects such as wind or solar projects and for electricity transmission projects.
- $1 billion for other energy efficiency programs including alternative fuel trucks and buses, transportation charging infrastructure, and smart and energy efficient appliances.

Help for Workers and Families Hardest Hit by the Economic Crisis includes:

- $19.9 billion for additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food Stamps, to increase the benefit by 13.6 percent.
- Child Care Development Block Grant: $2 billion to provide quality child care services for an additional 300,000 children in low-income families who increasingly are unable to afford the high cost of day care.
- Head Start & Early Head Start: $2.1 billion to allow an additional 124,000 children to participate in this program, which provides development, educational, health, nutritional, social and other activities that prepare children to succeed in school.
- State and Local Law Enforcement: $4 billion total to support law enforcement efforts.
- $555 million to expand the Department of Defense Homeowners Assistance Program (HAP) during the national mortgage crisis.

Unprecedented Oversight, Accountability and Transparency

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan provides unprecedented oversight, accountability, and transparency to ensure that taxpayer dollars are invested effectively, efficiently, and as quickly as possible.

- Funds are distributed whenever possible through existing formulas and programs that have proven track records and accountability measures already in place.
- Numerous provisions in the bill provide for expedited but effective obligation of funds so that dollars are invested in the economy as quickly as possible.
- The Government Accountability Office and the Inspectors General are provided additional funding for auditing and investigating recovery spending.
- A new Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board will coordinate and conduct oversight of recovery spending and provide early warning of problems.
- A special website will provide transparency by posting information about recovery spending, including grants, contracts, and all oversight activities.
- State and local whistleblowers who report fraud and abuse are protected.
- There are no earmarks in this bill.

DIY Peanut Butter

While not every food manufacturer is as irresponsible and criminal as the good folks at PCA, there is a sure fire way of knowing that your peanut butter is safe, and that is to make your own. It is very simple as you will see below. This is one sure way you will know for sure that the only thing on your PBJ is what you want on it. You did make your own bread and jelly didn't you?

Here is how you make peanut butter at home. You control the sweetness and you control the salt. You also control the smoothness. I've also included instructions for roasting your own raw peanuts if you want to make absolutely sure of the purity. Back to basics baby!

15 ounces or 3 cups of shelled and skinned roasted peanuts (if you are roasting your own raw peanuts in the shell then you will need about a pound a half--see below)
1 teaspoon of sea salt or Kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of honey(any kind)
1 1/2 tablespoons of peanut oil (you can use canola or vegetable oil but peanut oil is best...duh!)

What you do:

  1. Put the peanuts, salt, and honey into your food processor.

  2. Process for a minute or so until the mixture begins to get smooth.

  3. Drizzle the oil in with machine still running.

  4. Process until creamy (2-3 minutes) or until it is whatever texture you like.

  5. Store in an airtight container.
This will safely keep for at least two months. If you don't want it sweet, leave out the honey but you might need a little more oil. You can also cut back on the salt if you want. Experiment and see what you like best.

Roasting peanuts in the shell
If you really want to go from scratch you can roast your own peanuts and it is pretty easy. Roasting yourself guarantees that you are using sterile ingredients as the roasting will kill any bacteria including salmonella.
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°.
  2. Spread raw peanuts in the shell in single layer in a shallow pan.
  3. Bake at 325° for about 20 to 25 minutes, shaking the pan or stirring frequently during that time. After 20 minutes or so you should sample one for doneness. You should be smelling roasted peanuts by now. Remember that you will get some carry over cooking as the hot peanuts will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven. Enjoy.
  1. 1 1/2 pounds of peanuts in the shell will yield 3 1/2 to 4 cups of shelled peanuts.
  2. Unshelled peanuts may be refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for up to 6 months. Peanuts may also be frozen.
Here are some more references if you would like to experiment or find out more:
  1. How to Make Peanut Butter at Home
  2. Choosing the Right Peanut Butter
  3. Health Benefits of Peanut Butter
  4. Homemade Peanut Butter Recipe
  5. Homemade Peanut Butter

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chicken Dancing

This is going to go over about as well as a screen door on a submarine. Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney are in the final stages of their merger and have decided that in order to retain all those "superstars" that screwed the business to the wall, knocked 50% off yours and my retirement savings and set the country/world up for a financial disaster deserve AWARDS. They would have been called BONUSES just a short time ago but us whiny common folk are kind of sensitive to the "bonus" word now that we have been totally screwed. They just can't seem to understand why we would be a little stressed over two failed investment banks, that have received $60 billion in federal bailout cash, plan to pay their obviously incompetent people more of our damn money. How silly of us!

Sam Stein reports:

The soon-to-be-merged financial giants — Morgan Stanley and Citigroup's Smith Barney — announced the payments during an internal conference call last week, but warned advisers against describing them in terms that would cause PR headaches.

"There will be a retention award. Please do not call it a bonus," said James Gorman, co-president of Morgan Stanley. "It is not a bonus. It is an award. And it recognizes the importance of keeping our team in place as we go through this integration."

Like I said in an earlier post...incompetence(theft?) should have consequences and it sure as hell shouldn't be a f**king reward. Why do they think there's nothing more important than keeping all these folks in place? Are they worried that some other financial institution that is rolling in cash is going to steal them away? Are there that many other lucrative opportunities in the rest of the financial industry?

Note: "Chicken Dancing" is just a term I use for stupid things.

Fries with That?

That bacon cheesburger is more than just bad for your heart.

Cutting back on beefburgers and bacon could wipe $20 trillion off the cost of fighting climate change. That's the dramatic conclusion of a study that totted up the economic costs of modern meat-heavy diets.

The researchers involved say that reducing our intake of beef and pork would lead to the creation of a huge new carbon sink, as vegetation would thrive on unused farmland.

The model takes into account farmland that is used to grow extra food to make up for the lost meat, but that requires less area, so some will be abandoned.


Greenhouse gas emissions would...fall by 10% due to the drop in livestock numbers...Together, these impacts would halve the costs of dealing with climate change by 2050.

Madam and I have reduced our meat consumption radically but we are not completely vegetarian yet. I still feel the need to have my crisp bacon once in a while or my roast chicken or my meatballs and pasta. We may have meat twice a week on average and then only half of what I would guess most people have. I got used to smaller meat portions while in France and realized that I was actually enjoying my meals more when they weren't loaded with a bunch of meat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Not a Good Sign

The markets are not reacting favorably to Geithner's plan to fix the markets. As of this writing they are down below 8,000 or down 288. Losses on the Dow were down as far as 312 at one point. We'll see what the rest of the day brings but initial indications are that the Administration missed the target.

Here is the NY Times summary of the plan. Below are the main points.

  • A new program, jointly run by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, with financing from private investors, to buy up hard-to-sell assets that have bogged down banks and financial institutions for the past year. The program, often described as a “bad bank,” is expected to spend $250 billion to $500 billion.

  • Direct capital injections into banks, which would come out of the remaining $350 billion in the Treasury’s rescue program.

  • A vast expansion of lending program that the Treasury and Federal Reserve had already announced, which is aimed at financing consumer loans. The two agencies had originally announced their intention to finance as much as $200 billion in loans for student loans, car loans and credit card debt. Instead the program will be expanded to as much as $1 trillion.

  • A separate $50 billion initiative to enable millions of homeowners facing imminent foreclosure to renegotiate the terms of their mortgages is to be announced next week.

What is not addressed are the conditions for further support of the already insolvent banks and what the impact on current management are. I don't see enough pain here and the fact that the markets aren't impressed is a bad sign. We'll have to wait and see more analysis but people smarter than I.


Very interesting excerpt from James Galbraith’s new book, “The Predator State”, over at Corrente. Does it ring any bells?

In the corporate Republic that presides over the Predator State, nothing is done for the common good. Indeed, the men in charge do not recognize that public purposes exist. For this reason, the concept of competence has no relevance: to be incompetent, you must at least be trying. But the men in charge are not trying; they have friends, and enemies, and as for the rest — we are the prey. Hurricane Katrina illustrated this perfectly….

Predation is the enemy of honest and independent and especially of sustainable business, of businesses that simply want to sell to the public and make a decent living over the long run. In a world where the winners are all connected, it is not only the prey (who by and large carry little political weight) who lose out. It is everyone who has not licked the appropriate boots. Predatory regimes are, more or less exactly, like protection rackets: powerful and feared but neither loved nor respected. They cannot reward everyone, and therefore they do not enjoy a broad political base.*

[T]o tolerate the Predator State is a formula for eventual national economic failure … [Where] the worst polluters, the flagrant monopolists, the technological footdraggers are given control over the system and capital markets reward them, their more progressive counterparts will eventually give up, disappear, or move away. Bad business practices will drive out good. …

And equally, the predators suck the capacity from government and deplete it of the ability to govern. In the short run, again, this looks like incompetence, but this is an illusion. Predators do not mind being thought incompetent; it obscures their actual agenda. Failure [on the scale of Katrina] is not due to incompetence. Rather, it is intended. There is a willful indifference to problems of competence. Inside the government, no one cares. The attention of the people in charge is focused on other goals.

Taking Care of His Own

Ian Welsh at FDL has an initial look at the new Geithner plan for the banks and let's just say it isn't too nice. It is a worthwhile read but here is the operative paragraph.

In other words, taxpayer money will be used to prop up banks. The same executives who caused the problems will be allowed to continue paying themselves huge bonuses for destroying the economy and bankrupting their banks and they won't be forced to use the money to lend to actual consumers. Nor will shareholders be replaced so that taxpayers investing hundreds of billions and taking on trillions in risk can have all the upside instead of all the upside[sic] (yes, they'll probably get some shares. They should get 100% ownership. You should get 100% ownership. It's your money Geithner's spending).
I can't say this really gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. This is not what I expected from an Obama administration.

Note: I think that second upside should actually be "downside"

Monday, February 09, 2009

Lies and Damn Lies

Devilstower has a necessary read over at the Great Satan but here are the guts. There is more there. In a nutshell, it is a damn lie that the New Deal didn't work and that it, in fact, made the depression worse. You have read it and heard it everywhere including in the comments on this very blog. Read the whole thing.

Where was the stimulus? Just take a look. From the moment FDR began to enact the programs of the New Deal, the economy began its recovery. After four years of steady declines, Roosevelt's programs brought on an immediate improvement in the national fortune. Within three years, the national GDP exceeded the level in 1929. By the time the bombs fell at Pearl Harbor, the GDP had been up every year but one since 1933, and that one downward tick in 1937 marks the exact point at which budget hawks forced cuts in the New Deal programs.

That's the story the numbers tell. The New Deal worked, worked well, and worked quickly. These days, we define recessions as two consecutive quarters of declining gross domestic product. By that measure, when did the Great Depression end? One quarter after Roosevelt took office, that's when. Yes, it took years to repair the damage of the anything goes marketeers, but the recovery started the moment the New Deal started.

But even clamping their hands over their eyes and refusing to look at the numbers isn't the strangest part of the Republican Myth of FDR Failure. The oddest idea is that "putting the nation on a war footing" was the cure that finally ended the depression when the New Deal couldn't get the job done. It's something that gets repeated every time this tall tale is told, because even Republicans realize that the Great Depression did end. They just have to think of some way to give credit to something other than Democrats.

edited to fix the link

Bush/Cheney Economy in Pictures

If you still have a job but are concerned that you may be on the edge then the following graph will not cheer you up.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has put into graphic form the Cheney-Bush Recession.
The official rate of U.S. unemployment as of the end of January is 7.6%, meaning 11.6 million people are out of work. The U6 rate, which includes discouraged workers and people forced to work part time because they can't find full-time jobs, is 13.9%, or 21.1 million.

Monday Morning Hits

Going to be another beautiful day here in Hotlanta. Forecast is for 70 + F. Just got an email from our friends in Derbyshire, UK. They have over a foot of snow on the ground and it is forecast for more today and to boot both are down with terrible colds. They have a good supply of tea, which is all an Englishman needs to survive any crisis, so they will be fine. I have posted some picures from there before of Eyam in the snow, I'll see if I can find some. Even though I will be enjoying the weather here I might be willing to trade it for a little downtime in the Peaks. I just love it there.

Off to my second session with my career consultant this morning. I've done the assigned homework and we'll see what comes this time. The first session was more of a get to know one another thing so this one should actually me work.

We'll see you guys a bit later in the day.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Weekend Rambles

Absolutely gorgeous weekend here in Atlanta. Highs in the mid sixties. Lots of yard work done and a little garden preparation. Nothing exciting otherwise.

Home Depot sent me a love letter in with the statement this month. I still owe for the 3 low flow toilets as the terms were 12 months same as cash so I don't owe them a payment. Anyhow, the love letter was to let me know that they are upping the interest rates you pay on regular purchases to 22.99% and the default interest rate to 29.99%. In other words, if you carry a balance on regular purchases your APR is 22.99% but if you miss a payment or are late then your rate goes to 29.99%. What assholes!

Basically Home Depot is saying that..."We know times are tough but if you are stupid enough to charge something on our credit card we are going to stick it to you. If you are really in bad shape and happen to have lost your job or have medical bills or whatever and are late or miss a payment we are going to charge you "payday loan rates"". They really aren't too worried about losing business I guess. This is caring and customer service with a capital C.

Guess which CC is going in the drawer to be used only for the direst emergency. The bad thing is that they have driven all the small hardware and lumber stores out of business and they are the only game in many towns. We have the option of Lowe's if you want to drive a few extra miles but there aren't any Mom and Pop hardware or lumber yards in my area any more.

Finally, can we all cross our fingers and toes(and call and write your Congress person) and hope that some sanity is brought back to the process of writing a stimulus bill. The Senate version sucks bigger than the House version but they both are too heavy on tax cuts and too small on spending. We need a bold move here.

Being Wrong Should Have Consequences

Something seems to be missing from all the debate going on around the stimulus package. That somethings is...If you are a failure at economic policy and the results of your failed policy are evident why should you have a place at the table? Why this simple fact is missing from the debate and the media reporting is a mystery. Is it that they are afraid to say it too loud? Do they not think that is clear that GOP economic policy is inherently suspect?

It's true, and it's a point that bears repeating over and over. When it comes to economic policy, now is the time when the Republican Party needs to be hiding in the john. This is a party that insisted that Bill Clinton's economic policies would be a disaster(whoops!), and then rallied enthusiastically behind George W. Bush's economic agenda with the results we are now having to face. To make matters worse, in recent weeks they have the audacity to question FDR's policies which proved correct and have embraced Hoover's which, again, were a spectacular failure.

Given all of this, why does the Republican Party believe it has any credibility on economic policy? It is a mystery and why aren't more people, especially Democrats shouting it from the rooftops? President Obama has hinted it at but, he too, should be on national TV and radio everyday driving the point home. Repeat and rinse. How can a group of supposedly intelligent people who have gotten everything spectacularly wrong for years still insist that their opinion carry any weight?

Everyone should be repeating the following phrase every hour on the hour.

Those who fail don't get to give lectures about how to succeed.

Update: Go read Steven Pearlstein

Saturday, February 07, 2009

What the Chickens have Laid

Krugman is not pleased with the “compromise” wrought by the wimps in the Senate:

I’m still working on the numbers, but I’ve gotten a fair number of requests for comment on the Senate version of the stimulus.

The short answer: to appease the centrists, a plan that was already too small and too focused on ineffective tax cuts has been made significantly smaller, and even more focused on tax cuts.

According to the CBO’s estimates, we’re facing an output shortfall of almost 14% of GDP over the next two years, or around $2 trillion. Others, such as Goldman Sachs, are even more pessimistic. So the original $800 billion plan was too small, especially because a substantial share consisted of tax cuts that probably would have added little to demand. The plan should have been at least 50% larger.

Now the centrists have shaved off $86 billion in spending — much of it among the most effective and most needed parts of the plan. In particular, aid to state governments, which are in desperate straits, is both fast — because it prevents spending cuts rather than having to start up new projects — and effective, because it would in fact be spent; plus state and local governments are cutting back on essentials, so the social value of this spending would be high. But in the name of mighty centrism, $40 billion of that aid has been cut out.

My first cut says that the changes to the Senate bill will ensure that we have at least 600,000 fewer Americans employed over the next two years.

The real question now is whether Obama will be able to come back for more once it’s clear that the plan is way inadequate. My guess is no. This is really, really bad.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Not Looking Out for You

Greg Sargent has the latest on the "so-called" fine tuning Senators Collins(R) and Nelson(D) are doing. These are the folks that are supposed to be figuring out how to optimize the stimulus but it sure seems to me that they are just plain insane. It has been shown over and over again that items such as food stamps return a lot more stimulus for every dollar spent than tax cuts or military spending. Yet what are the cutting out? Idiots! Seems there is always a need to stimulate their buddies in the military industrial business though.

Total Reductions: $80 billion


Head Start, Education for the Disadvantaged, School improvement, Child Nutrition, Firefighters, Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, Prisons, COPS Hiring, Violence Against Women, NASA, NSF, Western Area Power Administration, CDC, Food Stamps



Public Transit $3.4 billion, School Construction $60 billion



Defense operations and procurement, STAG Grants, Brownfields, Additional transportation funding


Over the Edge

Paul Krugman has another brilliant article in the NY Times today. Everyone should read it and that goes double for politicians and quadruple for Republican politicians. Every word is the painful truth.

Paul Krugman also gets credit for the quote of the month...

The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge.

Citibank and Bank of America: Pay Attention

Citi and BofA, this is how it is supposed to work. Perform or you're history. The government is now the largest shareholder and they are doing what should be done and that is clean house. Limiting salaries is a start and perquisites have to be next but dumping overpaid board members has to be a priority as well. There should be consequences for sitting there and doing little more than cash in while the banks went down the tubes.
Philip Hampton, the new chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland, is wielding the axe in the loss-making bank's boardroom in a determined effort to exert his authority over the troubled operation.

Seven non-executives are expected to leave the board as Hampton roots out some of the longest-standing members of a board that presided over as many as 24 acquisitions during the eight years in which ousted chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin was at the helm. The taxpayer will soon own 70% of the bank.

The dramatic clear-out of the RBS board will include the long-standing non-executive directors Peter Sutherland and Bob Scott, the senior independent director who was the main point of communication for disgruntled shareholders.

The former Treasury mandarin Sir Steve Robson is also expected to depart along with Jim Currie, Janis Kong, Charles Koch and Bill Friedrich.

Their departures will signal a major change in the management of RBS, which the former chairman Sir Tom McKillop was forced to defend last year when he declared there were "no patsies" on the board.

Three new government-approved non-executive directors will join the board as stipulated by the government as a condition for the injection of £20bn of taxpayer funds. Those appointments were being finalised last night and could be announced as soon as today.

It's Getting Crowded Out Here

Updated below:

Looks like we are going to have to get a bigger pool...600k jobs lost last month...

The country moved into its second year of uninterrupted job losses last month, with companies shedding another 598,000 jobs and the unemployment rate moving up to 7.6 percent, the Labor Department reported on Friday.

They (economists) were forecasting a loss of about 540,000 jobs and a unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.

No sector was untouched and job losses were once again spread across both manufacturing and services industries, reinforcing the picture of an economy that is contracting at its fastest pace in decades.

Employers in the United States have shed jobs every month since January 2008, for an aggregate decline in payroll employment of 3.1 million.

The thing is that that number doesn't yet include those like me who were able to negotiate a little severance. I won't become 'offically' unemployed until next month when the severance will have run out and I get to apply for unemployment. I wonder how many are in my situation and are a month or two away from actually having to apply for unemployment? Half a million or more I would guess.

MeteorBlades has a much better explanation over at the Great Orange Satan.

Disastrous enough. And no end in sight. But the official rate, which the BLS calls U3, has been rejiggered over the years to exclude certain categories of jobless and part-time workers. It fails to provide an accurate measure of the real damage. A better measure is U6, a figure always reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but rarely reported by the traditional media because it would require 20 seconds of scrolling and an extra paragraph of explanation. U6 today was set at 13.9%.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Webbed Out

I have had enough of the web and looking at job postings today. It is rather disheartening to know that only about 2% of the jobseekers are ever successful using the web to find a new career. I guess that is why I have opted to pay for some professional help. We shall see.

So anyway, even though it is cold and very winter-like here in the northern Atlanta burbs I have gardening urges that need to be satisfied so I am down to the basement to start tomatoes and peppers. The stuff I planted a couple of weeks ago is all up and doing nicely so it is time to hatch some more. One of my goals, before the recent change in income, was to get a small greenhouse and I sure wish I had it now. I will make do with the lights and southern windows in the basement but a nice warm greenhouse would be such a pleasure on a cold winter's day.

Correction: I just planted peppers. I ran out of plant markers! The tomatoes really can wait for a couple of weeks but the peppers take a good 8 weeks before they are ready to go out. Oh, and artichokes. If you are interested the peppers planted were Quadrato Asti Gaillo(Green Bell), Chervena Chuska(Red Banana), Buran(red Bell), Early Jalapeno, Cal Wonder(Green Bell, Tepin(Bird Pepper), and Sweet Banana. The artichokes were Emerald. Never tried artichokes but Madam loves them so...

Obama Steps Out

Looks like President Obama is tired of having the Republicans control the dialogue on the stimulus package.

Barack Obama has an op-ed in today's Wahington Post, very pointedly reminding everybody that elections have results and that it was the GOP economic strategy that caused the economic crisis we are facing today. He begins by carefully defining exactly what the crisis is, which is good because it appears that many in Congress and a lot of the media don't really grasp the severity of the situation. The next step is addressing each of the arguments put forth by the GOP while very carefully not exactly mentioning that they are, in fact, the Republican talking points. This is the bully pullpit.
In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

Every day, our economy gets sicker -- and the time for a remedy that puts Americans back to work, jump-starts our economy and invests in lasting growth is now.
Finally, President Obama reminds everyone of the fact that Americans are fed up with the partisan games in DC. He calls on members of Congress to do what's best for the country, not what they see in their myopic political vision. We will just have to wait and see if the Republicans can temporarily grow up and think straight but it is going to be a stretch.
These are the actions Americans expect us to take without delay. They're patient enough to know that our economic recovery will be measured in years, not months. But they have no patience for the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action while our economy continues to slide.

So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington's bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn't written for us but by us. We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship. We can act boldly to turn crisis into opportunity and, together, write the next great chapter in our history and meet the test of our time.
It will be interesting to see how much play this gets in the traditional media. If it were written by Newt or Karl we could guarantee hours of talking head coverage but it is just the POTUS after all.

Peanut Recall is Total

There is a new sheriff in town and it looks like the food industry realizes that it is not the same as it was when it comes to food safety. We all have ample evidence that the FDA under Bush never bothered to look into problems with food safety very seriously or at all. The good news is that there are signs that industry knows it's a different environment now that Obama is in the White House. You would not have seen the following in a Bush administration.
The Peanut Corp. of America has recalled all peanuts and peanut products processed at its Blakely, Ga., facility since Jan. 1, 2007.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the expanded recall includes all lots that begin with the number 7, 8 or 9 of dry and oil roasted peanuts and peanut butter, paste, meal and granules. Previously, PCA announced a recall of only peanut butter and peanut paste.

The Georgia PCA plant, which sells its products to institutional and industrial users for service in large institutions or for further processing by other companies, has been identified as the source of a Salmonella outbreak that has resulted in the death of eight people and more than 500 cases of illness. PCA does not sell peanuts or peanut products directly to consumers in stores.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


I am beginning to despair as to the outcome of the much needed stimulus that Obama is trying to put together. Steve at YDD points us at an article by Chris Hedges that is not very comforting but really is a must read. From my limited perspective is seems that the GOP has decided that barring a new massive terrorist attack or a complete failure of the Obama administration their hopes of political revival are lost. Krugman as usual, hits the nail on the head.

You see, this isn’t a brainstorming session — it’s a collision of fundamentally incompatible world views. If one thing is clear from the stimulus debate, it’s that the two parties have utterly different economic doctrines. Democrats believe in something more or less like standard textbook macroeconomics; Republicans believe in a doctrine under which tax cuts are the universal elixir, and government spending is almost always bad.

Obama may be able to get a few Republican Senators to go along with his plan; or he can get a lot of Republican votes by, in effect, becoming a Republican. There is no middle ground.

It sure looks like a worse case scenario developing. The GOP is going to compromise the stimulus to the point where it isn't.

Bizzy...Back Soon

Bizzy day today. I will be back later. Turned really cold here in Atlanta and it is 15F right now. BTW the title is from the "Tao of Pooh" which is an excellent little book.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

It's B.A.D.

In honor of Blogroll Amnesty Day I would like to bring your attention to a few places in Blogtopia (yes Skippy coined the phrase). All of these are worthy of a lot more attention.

Jim DeRosa over at DeRosaWorld always astute and topical and he's Italian

Steve Bates at Yellow Doggerel Democrat is always interesting and some witty doggerel and its from Texas

Bryan Dumka at WhyNow? for an always interesting look at the world and the go to place when there is bad weather coming.

Grace Nearing at Scriptoids is a good place to stop by for a different take on the world

Bobby Cramer at Bark Bark Woof Woof for some good writing and the goings on in South Florida

Jill Richardson at La Vida Locavore where you will always find some information about what you are eating and shouldn't be.

Donna Woodka at Changing Places for insights on dealing with change, a little eastern thought and other good stuff.

Barbara O'Brien at Mahablog for a veteran blogger with insights into the politics of the moment and Buddhism too!

Enigma4ever at Watergate Summer - a lovely lady with always something good to say

Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast- a prolific and gifted writer with something to say

Cookie Jill at Cookies in Heaven - food, life, California at all that stuff (you can also find her at Skippy's place.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Peanut Butter Recall Expanded Again

Jill at LaVida Locavore has the latest list of recalled products and it is absolutely huge. Too big to duplicate here for sure. Who knew that so many companies just put their own labels on some industrial cookie or cake and called it their own. Very depressing. This recall just highlights the need to limit your exposure to industrial foods. You really don't know who made them and it is obvious you can't trust them to produce a wholesome product. If you want a peanut butter cookie then bake your own...ideally from peanut butter you make yourself. Yeah, it's a little extra work but so is hanging on to the the porcelain throne for a day or so throwing up or worse spending a few nights in the hospital trying not to croak.

Remember the primary axiom...If your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food then it probably isn't. Your great grandma didn't buy cookies from some faceless person who knows where and you shouldn't either. Granny's grocery list probably consisted of sugar, flour, coffee, spices, baking powder, dried beans, freshly butchered meat and poultry from a local farmer and maybe eggs, milk and cheese. She got her vegetables from the garden or the root cellar and fruit from her trees or from a local farmer. The closer we can get that model the better off we will all be.

Haloscan is Fried

Haloscan seems to be having trouble. I am getting emails reporting comments but they are not showing up on the blog for some reason. Just so you know I am not deleting anyone. Maybe they will appear eventually.


Partying On Your Dime

Bank of America spent about 10 million of your dollars on a really big Super Bowl party. What a great use of tax payer money! Wasn't that dip just great and the wings were to die for! What? You didn't get any?

Despite a near collapse that required $45 billion in federal taxpayer bailout funds, Bank of America sponsored a five day carnival-like affair just outside the Super Bowl stadium this past week as President Obama decried wasteful spending on Wall St.

The event – known as the NFL Experience – was 850,000 square feet of sports games and interactive entertainment attractions for football fans and was blanketed in Bank of America logos and marketing calls to sign up for football-themed banking products.

The bank staunchly defended its sponsorship, saying it was a "business proposition" and part of its "growth strategy."


The bank refused to tell ABC News how much it is spending as an NFL corporate sponsor, but insiders have put the figure at close to $10 million. The NFL Experience was on top of that and was inked last summer, according to the bank.

The NFL said it was a "multi-million dollar" event and that it was also spending money to put on the event. A Super Bowl insider said the tents alone cost over $800,000.

The bastards just don't get it, do they?

Damn Woodchucks!

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. — The world's most famous groundhog saw his shadow Monday morning, predicting that this already long winter will last for six more weeks.

Evidently this was in front of some 13,000 witnesses. No report yet on the local groundhog General Beauregard.

Odd Causes for Economic Problems

Interesting article on CNN about previous economic disasters and their very odd causes. Everybody talks about the Great Depression but there have been other times when the economy tanked and you will be surprised at the reasons.

  • Disease kills 99 percent of horses in 1872, causing business failures, bankruptcies
  • Dry summer, record cold winter in 1886 wipes out half the cattle in West
  • 1907 copper scheme causes run on banks, banker uses own money to stop it
It's always something!

Enoki Mushrooms Recalled

There is another food recall, this time for enoki mushrooms. I, personally, haven't used any for probably a year or more but they are very popular in Oriental cooking. If you are having Chinese food in the near future pay attention.

(CNN) -- A recall has been issued for enoki mushrooms produced by Phillips Mushroom Farms in Pennsylvania.

The recall covers 3.5-ounce packages of enoki mushrooms bearing UPC 33383 67540.

The mushrooms were packed in clear plastic bags with blue or green graphics and sold from January 13 to 30. Enokis are long, thin white mushrooms, often used in Asian cuisines.

Preliminary test results showed potential listeria contamination, but no illnesses have been reported, according to Phillips Mushroom Farms.

Listeria can cause flu-like symptoms, including fever and muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It affects primarily the elderly, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems.

Retailers are asked to remove the mushrooms from their shelves, pending further instructions.

Consumers are asked to return the mushrooms to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Visit or call 800-722-8818 for more information.

Good News or Bad News?

The good news is that, Americans are saving again. Unfortunately, that is also the bad news.
Economists call it the "paradox of thrift." What's good for individuals — spending less, saving more — is bad for the economy when everyone does it.

On Friday, the government reported Americans' savings rate, rose to 2.9 percent in the last three months of 2008. That's up sharply from 1.2 percent in the third quarter and less than 1 percent a year ago.

Like a teeter-totter, when the savings rate rises, spending falls. The latter accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity. When consumers refuse to spend, companies cut back, layoffs rise, people pinch pennies even more and the recession deepens.

The downward spiral has hammered the retail and manufacturing industries. For years, stores enjoyed boom times as shoppers splurged on TVs, fancy kitchen decor and clothes. Suddenly, frugality is in style.
We should never lose sight of the fact we are where we are because of the mistaken Republican belief that easy credit was how to build an economy. Now that this has proven, once again, to be false we are now faced with the reality that when things get tight we pull back and hold on to our money. If we had spent the last 20 years adding wage earners and good salaries to the economy encouraging both spending and saving we would be a whole lot better off. Now we face the awful prospects of a deflationary spiral and a continued weakening of the economy.