Saturday, April 30, 2011

SAR #11120

The mission is still not accomplished.

Change You Can Believe In: over 5,000 civilian protesters have been tried by the Egyptian military since Mubarak was deposed. Typically 5 to 30 defendants share a 20 minute trial, are found guilty and disappear. In Bahrain, 4 men have been sentenced to death for protesting such things. Riots continue in Kampala, Uganda, sparked by rising food and fuel prices and President-Forever Museveni's vicious response to a peaceful protest. In Syria, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Damascus and other towns and cities to decry the military's attempt to crush the movement with tanks and machine guns.

US Healthcare Explained: Insurance companies only make money if they do not pay your claims. Health insurance companies make lots of money. Death panels, indeed.

Job Fair: McDonald's held a National Hiring Day and over a million applicants showed up for the 50,000 jobs. In Chicago 75,000 applied for the 2,000 available jobs. Don't get excited, Panasonic will cut 40,000 workers from its world-wide payroll over the next two years, assuming the economy doesn't get any worse and tsunamis and nuclear reactors behave.

Lost In Translation:Russia has again boosted – to 44% - the export tax on gasoline in a doomed attempt to keep fuel at home available and cheap. This didn't work in the 1990's and is unlikely to work now – after all, Gaddafi is still selling oil.

Shock Doctrine: The IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank insist that as a condition for a bailout, Portugal must streamline the labor market, “facilitate the sacking of workers” and reduce or eliminate various social support programs, including unemployment compensation. Naomi Klein warned us.

A Reminder: Paste a picture, any recent picture, of Donald Trump – the Republican id - on the refrigerator, just to remind you what Republicans see when they look in the mirror.

Gotcha!A lot of headlines like this one: “SORRY, AL: Tornadoes whipped up by wind, not 'climate change'... Let's do a little experiment and see what causes wind... Oh, hot air rising. And global warming predicts more heat in the atmosphere, which leads to more of that hot air rising... Damn. Let's just say an increase in tornadoes (and hurricanes and snowfall) is not contra-indicative of global climate change.

Land of the Rising Sun: The Fukushima disaster is spreading through the Japanese economy, with a 15.3% plunge in February's industrial production and household spending sliding at an annualized 8.5% rate.

Noted: The world's central banks pumped $5 trillion into the global financial system in a desperate attempt to save the bankers. All that “liquidity” accounts for the rising stock markets and zooming commodity prices. These are bubbles and not indicative of any underlying strength in the economy. They are bubbles and they will burst. This time we won't be able to say “nothing like this has ever happened before.” Even Greenspan should be able to see this one coming.

Look Ma, No Responsibility: In lieu of addressing any of the substantive problems facing the nation, the Republicans intend on passing a sweeping anti-abortion bill that would eliminate employer deductions for health plans that cover abortion, essentially making insurance-paid abortions impossible to obtain. The Senate will kill the measure, once the GOP gets to take its bows.

Ben's Boys: Mr. Bernanke's efforts to pump up the stock market are appreciated by the 54% of Americans who still have at least $47 left in their 401(k)s.

The Beat Goes On: The five corporate appointees to the Supreme Court have ruled that companies can insist that customers agree to individual binding arbitration as a condition of purchasing the item or service, thus preventing future class action lawsuits.

Porn O'Graph: Goldfingers.

Friday, April 29, 2011

SAR #11119

We have forgotten the lessons from the Great Depression.

Words At Work: The good news hidden in today's job numbers is that there is even more work for the spin doctors. In the past year at least 1 million unemployed have fallen off the unemployment benefits gravy train. But they've still got food stamps, at least until the GOP passes the Paul Ryan budget or someone slips up and lets Ron Paul win in 2012.

Finger/Problem:There was a headline to the effect that the iPhone 4 is now available in white! Are you sure we've got our priorities straight?

Happy Days... US 1Q GDP grew at an annualized 1.8%, a big decrease following last quarter's reported 3.1%. If inventory builds are ignored, the growth was an anemic 0.8%. But it was better than the UK, where for the last six month there has been zero GDP growth; thanks to their austerity program that was going to revive the economy. Good times just around the corner?

Campaign Stopper: Ron Paul, in a bid for the youth vote, says that if he is elected he would kill both Medicare and Social Security. And a lot of the elderly, soon thereafter.

Growth Factor: One thing that's growing in this economy is unemployment. This week's number is 429,000 (highest since January) and an increase of 25,000 from last week and the third week in a row with numbers over 400,000 and growing. The 4-week average is also back above 400,000 and growing.

Q & A: How can resources be infinite on our small planet? Easy, let an economist, politician or an oil man do the estimates.

Emptying the Bench: Coach Obama has switched Panetta from CIA to Defense and will switch Petraeus from Afghanistan to the CIA in hopes he'll do better in the new position. Replacing Petraeus will be Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen, who played in the Iraqi league for a while, and Ryan Crocker, a seasoned diplomat, will take over as ambassador in Kabul.

Put It Down & Back Away: Research shows that armadillos can transmit leprosy to humans.

Teaching Point: Our goal should be to get everyone out of abject poverty, even if it necessitates some income redistribution. Because we have way overstepped sustainable levels, the greatest challenge will be in redesigning lifestyles to emphasize quality of life while quantitatively reducing our demand levels.

Hier stehe ich... Alan Greenspan has come to believe that the modern economic system has a life of its own and is not amenable to regulation nor control by mere humans, because regulators – being human – can never get more than the briefest glimpse at the actual workings of the modern financial system and the hand that churns the wheels. For Adam Smith's “invisible hand” has become opaque. Greenspan may or may not be right, either way this view explains why he stood on the sidelines – he could do nothing else.

Porn O'Graphs: Buy the numbers.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

SAR #11118

Collapse: First the quality of life goes, then life itself. Plan accordingly.

McCain's War: John McCain says the US should arm the Libyan rebels just like we did the Afghans in the 1980s. Because that turned out so well...

Papers, Please: France and Italy, fearing an influx of North Africans, want to go back to full scale national passport checks, dissolving the passport-free travel agreement among the EU states. At the same time you will be able to exchange your euros for francs and lira.

Watch The Birdie: When Steve Jobs insists that "Your precise location is never transmitted to Apple," the word 'precise' is 1) an adjective 2) a qualifier 3) disingenuous or 4) a lie.

The Long View:When asked if the Fed could do more about unemployment, Bernanke responded: "Going forward we'll have to continue to make judgments about whether additional steps are warranted.” If unemployment/underemployment above 16% of the workforce doesn't 'warrant' additional steps, what would?

Interesting Idea: What if Medicare required a living will?

Either/Or: Wal-Mart's CEO says that the company's core shoppers are running out of money earlier in the month these days, and blames it on their stopping to fill up the car in the parking lot before coming into the store. Either way, they're getting the money – just not so much of it. Wal-Mart has had seven straight quarters of declining sales.

Overtime: In his spare time, an al-Qaida operative accused of bombing two churches and a hotel was working for British intelligence. They had a better medical plan.

Avoidance: Three reasons not to read Jeremy Grantham's latest letter: 1. It's accurate. 2. It's depressing. 3. You've heard it all before. Teaching point: Compound growth is not sustainable. Growth in a closed system must end.

Keep On Keeping On: Halliburton doubled its first quarter earnings to a record $5.3 billion. And they still get billions in subsidies from Uncle Sam. Good work if you can finagle it.

Just So Story: In Afghanistan in late 2005 both NATO forces and the US military began turning their “detainees” over to the Afghan security service. The British and Dutch did so because they wanted to distance themselves from the reputation for torture that the US had earned. And the US did so because they felt the Afghans were better torturers. Results vary.

Not Necessarily News: Profit has replaced democracy as the citizens of at least one Michigan town have been ruled to be incapable of self-governance and a fiscal manager appointed. And the GOP drive to the past continues.

Shifty Paradigm: Instead of the old-fashioned wage-price spiral, the new inflation is a commodities-price spiral. It's the Bernanke Bubble.

ET Windows Call Home: Windows 7 phones do not save your GPS and Wi Fi network location data like Apple and Goggle devices do.  Instead, they transmit the data directly to Microsoft. It was not possible to locate a Microsoft representative to explain this, as he had apparently disabled the GPS tracking on his cellphone.

Diplomatic Humor: Syria is slated to take up a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.

True, True: Social Security has not contributed to the national debt. Social Security is not responsible for even one penny of the deficit this year. Social Security will not cause even a one cent increase in the national debt for at least another 25 years. Social Security is fully self funded for that long. It is paid for directly out of funds paid in by workers. When the workers put in a surplus they lent it to the Congress. But that did not do away with the surplus and won't unless the government defaults on its debts. Which it may do, but it will not be the fault of Social Security. Ask John Boehner and Paul Ryan to stand in front of the American worker and say “Yes, we stole borrowed your money and we are not going to pay it back.”

Good Point: Most Americans are unsure where Donald Trump was born. Or why.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

SAR #11117

Economic fantasies are bad for your health.

Teaching Point: Greece's and Spain's latest horrific numbers confirm that severe austerity measures (like the GOP wants the US to adopt) do not save the economy, it does not even help the government lower its deficit – which has risen to 10.5% of GDP - it makes the situation worse. Much worse. But let's not take the lesson yet; let's make the poor suffer, at least until we are “shocked” when the UK deficits come in much higher than promised. Funny how cutting government spending, cutting government social support, cutting government employment cuts into the economy just like old John Maynard said it would. In the end banks will be forced to mark-to-market, which will be a problem for German banks, and Greece will abandon the euro, Greek banks will fail, and the citizens will lose all their savings. But don't worry, the US isn't Greece. Not quite. Not yet.

By the Sea, By The Sea... Because nuclear fission continues inside Fukushima's reactors, just burying them in a concrete sarcophagus is not sufficient – they must also build an impervious wall underground -way, way, underground, so far underground that it meets bedrock – to keep it from contaminating groundwater. And the ocean.

Logical: Medical coverage for all, in four easy steps. Nah, if it was that easy we would'a done it already. Oh wait, we did.

Thinning the Herd: Freddie Mac cut the amount of mortgages it purchased for secuitization by 31% in March, purchases are now down 46% from December 2010.

This, Just In: Government security forces have arrested, beaten, and shot protesters – leaving hundreds of dead – following protests focused on ending official corruption and the chronic shortage of food, water, electricity and jobs. Libya? Yemen? Syria? No, in Iraq. In February. You didn't hear about it because the freedoms we've imposed on Iraq did not include freedom of the press.

Scarce, Defined: About 1 out of 4 renters are spending more than half their pre-tax income on rent and utilities. And this beats a mortgage you can't afford?

Let's Be Reasonable: Do you have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you walk down the street? Can you reasonably expect privacy when you drive around town? Is it reasonable to expect that the cops have put a GPS tracking device on your car?

Banknote: About 20% of full-time American workers pulled money out of their retirement accounts in the past year. Emergencies seem to be multiplying. Elsewhere, the S&P 500 reached its highest level since 2008.

In Case: The Case-Shiller index shows another 3.3% annualized decrease in house prices across the country in February. Not a dramatic worsening from the January number, just new lows. The bright spot was Detroit, where prices edged up.

Yes, If Only... Presidential Wanna-be Rick Santorum says that gays already have enough rights. Agreed; now if the Supreme Court would just uphold them.

Bias Behinds: Fox News personality Sean Hannity says that the media claims the GOP is racist, evil and stupid. It was unclear if he was bragging or complaining.

Fine Print: The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than the poorest 155 million – those 400 have more money than half the entire population of the country. We're not poor because we don't work – we're poor because we've been robbed. Repeatedly. Don't think so? How underwater is your mortgage?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

SAR #11116

Better build more drones.

Negotiations: Syrian tanks rolled into the home of the five-week-old uprising, leaving the dead in the streets as object lessons. In the poorer areas on the outskirts of Beirut, army troops carried out sweeping arrests dumping people into the dungeons previously reserved for US-sponsored 'detainees'.

Wording: EPA rules force Shell to abandon oil drilling plans... Or. Shell Oil has chosen to forgo drilling off the northern Alaska coast rather than operate responsibly within EPA guidelines.

Sound and Fury: So-called western leaders (mostly failed American presidential candidates) are calling for NATO to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi. Keep in mind "who and what is a legitimate target depends on their behavior." And point of view.

Optimists:Wells Fargo Securities projects “a modest increase” in sales of new houses over the next two years. Maybe as much as 55% of the old normal.

Get That Education: Along with democratic pressures and economic conditions, the final straw in the Middle East – North African unraveling is education. You cannot teach them to read without teaching them to think. Education turned out to be a self-hoisting petard.

Taxing Lies: The claim that only rich people pay taxes is a lie pedaled by people who are deliberately trying to deceive you.

Quick Study: It seems likely that a few small tweaks to drone technology will make warfare – by those possessing the drones – easier, cheaper and more likely. When they get shot down, they don't bleed. Their parents don't complain to their government. Plus they are cheaper than mercenaries.

Homework: Please define “reasonable” and “acceptable” as used in this sentence: “A world oil price of $120 a barrel is reasonable and acceptable.”

Undo It Yourself: Republicans, at the behest of their hyper-rich supporters, are set on destroying all of the social gains of the last 100 years and more. They are working to destroy unions in order to cut the pay and diminish the influence of teachers, police and firefighters. The want to abolish the social safety nets of Medicare and Social Security or at least privatize them for the profit of their controllers. Their mantra is the survival of the fittest (for which read richest, greediest) and the elimination of all regulations that prevent complete destruction of the commons and the commoners. Do they think we joined the NRA just for the neat logo?

Bargains! About half of all the houses on the market now are distressed properties. That'll drive up the prices.

Clip & Save: The IMF says that China's economy will surpass the US in 2016.

Porn O'Graph: And that's what you get for the money...

Monday, April 25, 2011

SAR #11115

The future? I can't feel that far.

Cookie, Crumbling: The US is proud to have negotiated a deal for Yemeni President (and long term US ally) to quietly slink away to safety dragging his bundle of spoils along. Too bad no one thought to ask the Yemeni citizenry. They say no immunity and no running off with the loot, and most certainly a trial and punishment. The Yemenis are uppity and ungrateful, after all our support for democracy aren't they?

Just Because: Apple is not only actively tracking your precise GPS location data, information about nearby cell towers, and neighboring Wi-Fi networks. They store the data and restore the database across backups and migrate it to new devices... including iPads, Macs and Windows machines running Safari 5. Why? Mostly to sell it, of course; this is America.

Sleeper Cells: Surviving 9/11 first responders will have to pass screening against a terrorism watch list before they can get compensation for their injuries. Wouldn't want any unAmerican firefighters, EMS and police taking advantage of our generosity just because they risked their lives for us.

Next Up: Moroccans staged peaceful pro-democracy protests. The list reads: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Iraq has been at it so long it is not eligible for this competition and Sudan's oil belongs to the Chinese.

Steal Magnolias: Citi says that in order for Greece to get its Debt/GDP ratio down to 60%, the country must take a 76% haircut now, or a 94% cut by 2015. Did you miss the reports on the last weeks rioting?

Here's My Plan... Taliban insurgents dug a 1,000-foot tunnel to spring over 450 Taliban fighters from the main Kandahar city jail. We're making progress; the last time they got more than 900 of their guys out.

Payback: The US government's investment in AIG has lost $18 billion in value in the last four months and another $11 billion has drained out of 'our' share of General Motors. We should have stuck with the gold.

In Sincerely: If the fiscal sky is falling, falling, falling so quickly that we have to put the old folks on bread and water – shouldn't we give some thought to raising taxes? Does it make sense to claim we are in a massive debt crisis and suggest the solution is to cut taxes to pre-1931 levels and increasing the national debt by $6 billion while deliberately kicking the poor, the old and the needy to the curb?

Understandable Mistake: What was originally thought to be a column of refugees from the ruined reactors at Fukushima turned out to be a massive protest demanding the end of nuclear power in Japan.

Hand Me Down Those Hand-me-downs: Michigan Republican State Senator Bruce Casswell proposes that children in foster care be forced to buy their clothes from places like the Sally, Goodwill and other used clothing outlets. He says it will help the state's budget and improve the children at the same time. His father forced him to wear hand-me-downs and see how he turned out: Embittered, mean-spirited, vengeful...

Unintended Consequences: A dramatic rise in WI teacher retirements has been linked to collective bargaining changes. Apparently their union contracts prevent involuntary servitude.

To Catch a Thief: In order to make sure Monsanto and friends get favorable environmental impact statements, the USDA is going to let them either do the studies themselves, or pay to have them done. This will “help move crops through the process more quickly” and without all those negative comments.

Houses of Cards: The IMF commodity price index rose 32 per cent between June 2010 and February 2011. Plan accordingly.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

SAR #11113

We are a nation of lawyers, not laws.

Shadow Dancing: Congress does not want to raise the debt ceiling. But for the government to keep operating on the budgets that Congress passed, the debt ceiling must be raised. So, Congress is aghast at its own actions? Lord knows, most of us are.

Revival: Suddenly the President is all concerned about speculators driving up the cost of petroleum and has promised “to root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices...” Relax, he said something similar about Wall Street a couple of years ago and see how that worked out.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Americans and Europeans have lost interest in global climate change, while Latin Americans and sub-Saharan Africans see it as a growing threat. It isn't the science that has changed.

See-saw: Observe how the price of oil goes up as the value of the dollar goes down. It isn't the demand for oil that's the problem, but the lack of demand for dollars.

Spring, Sprung: Just in time for the spring house-shopping season, reports show that nationwide house prices have now fallen to levels last seen in March 2003, down 4.3% y/y and down 36% from the high in 2007. In some areas there are stupendous bargains: in Atlanta prices fell 16.3% in the last year, 13.6% in Jacksonville. But don't tell the prospective suckers buyers.

Just So Story: Sir David Attenborough notes that the world’s resources cannot sustain current levels of population growth and that “there cannot be more people on this Earth than can be fed.” Not for very long, anyway.

Drilling Bably, Drilling: Those arguing for increased oil production (actually the cries are for more drilling, blindly assuming that drilling leads to production) are wrong for a number of reasons. One, oil companies are trying to make a profit; if drilling at point A in the USA would produce a greater profit than spending the money elsewhere, they would. Two, the price of the oil keeps going up; the longer we keep ours the more valuable it becomes. Three, the time span between drilling the exploratory well and bringing the oil on line is years, so drilling now will not solve any of today's problems. And increasing the US supply by 10% (an enormous task) would have little effect on the price of oil – which is an international commodity – and thus not have much impact on the US economy. Or my gasoline bill.

Victory! After 10 years and tens of billions of dollars, Iraq has doubled its electricity capacity. Now most folks can get power 4 hours a day.

Casper: Missing from a list of shocking facts about Colombia's $10 billion illegal drug industry are the names of the too big to fail bankers who take a taste of all the money transfers.

Silence of the Lambs: Let's see: Cellphones store all sorts of personal information about you in secret files. Cops, and others, can snatch data from you cellphone nearly at will. Now we learn that Google and Apple gather information about where you are, at least several times an hour. Why? Well, first because they think they can sell the information. The rest? Maybe someone asked them to add those features. The question is, why are you still using one?

Quoted: “Discussions like this [on the usefulness of taxes] really disturb me; they indicate that there are a lot of people with Ph.D.s in economics who can throw around a lot of jargon, but when push comes to shove, have no coherent picture whatsoever of how the pieces fit together.”

Porn O'Graph: Complete completions.

Friday, April 22, 2011

SAR #11112

Nature's laws do not suggest a majority is necessarily right.

Where's Waldo? John McCain is wandering around Benghazi telling the rebels they are heroes – which they are – and raising Libyan expectations that America will save the day. That's an easier sale in Libya than on Main Street.

Steady As She Goes: Jobless claims came in at 403,000 this week, a bit down from last week, and the four week moving average settled at 399,000. Seems to have reached a plateau, not getting better, not getting worse. Which is worse.

Pot & Kettle: BP is suing Transocean, Halliburton, and Cameron for causing the Global Horizon fiasco. Sort of like the Tweed Ring.

Koch 'ya: Koch brothers' companies send out handy lists of who their employees should vote for if they want to keep their jobs. McDonald's does too. Both suggest that if the right people are elected, the company will be able to continue with raises and benefits. If not, hard times will descend. McEmployees better want fries with that.

Explicate: Christian minister and political activist David Barton cites “the Biblical principle of free markets”. Chapter and verse, please.

Joe Friday: The claim that cutting taxes increases revenues, besides being counter-intuitive, is simply not true, according to PolitiFact, a fact-checking website. For example, As George W. Bush trimmed taxes (mostly for the rich) in 2001, 2002, and 2003, income tax revenues fell and deficits soared. Lest ye forget.

Cowed Control:Bahrainian secret police are rounding up doctors who have the termity to treat protesters wounded by the regime. The government – a friend of both the US and the Saudi regime – went to quite a lot of trouble to put holes in these people and doesn't want the doctors patching them up.

True Grit:The FHFA reports house prices fell 1.6% m/m in February, and 5.7% y/y. January was revised down from -0.3% to a full -1%. It's the recovery, y'know.

Choosing Choosers: Sooner or later, and sooner is better, health care services under Medicare will have to be curtailed. The logical way is by extending the scope of the Independent Payment Advisory Board to limit services as well as fees. But the Republicans want to let insurance company CFOs make these decisions, not medical professionals.

Instructions: Here's how you can have a billion-dollar income and pay no taxes: 1) Get a billion dollars.

In Recovery: There are currently 130.7 million payroll jobs in the US – the same number we had in 2000. Median household income (in constant dollars) is $49,777, down from $51,100 in 1998. Currently there are 5 million fewer jobs than before the Great Whatever began, with 13.5 million government-approved unemployed, 8.4 million part-time because they can't get a full time job, and 4 million who have gone AWOL. Tell me more about how cutting government spending is going to make this better.

Can't Dance: Governor Perry has told Texans to turn to God and pray for rain this weekend. Apparently his plea for 'National Disaster' status wasn't enough and now he's working his way up the chain of command.

Myth Takes: Existing home sales were up! a smidgen in March, and existing home inventory decreased 2.2% Y/Y. But that's 2.2% of 4 million, which isn't even counting the 2 million-plus in the shadow inventory. "Distressed homes – typically sold at 20% or more in discount – accounted for 40 % of the sales. Yep, sales were up. A smidgen.

Asked and Answered: “What Will Happen If Gay Marriage Is Legalized?” Gays will get married and the majority of Americans will approve. So?

Circular Logic: In that the United Arab Emirates has outlawed civil rights protests (they outlawed civil rights a long time ago), detaining rights activists indefinitely without trial is “fully in line” with the law. Like in the US.

Magic Wallet: The US is doling out more money than it's taking in. Just like its citizens, more than half of whom get some sort of government assistance. Since 2007, four out of every five dollars in household income growth has come from the government.

Porn O'Graph: Healthy difference. (They all live longer than we do, too.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

SAR #11111

Bipartisan = bought and paid for.” Yves Smith

The Iceman Cometh: Oil prices have increased by over $22 a barrel in the last 2 months. The U.S. currently consumes just over 19 million barrels a day – even at $110 a barrel. We are now spending $400 million a day more filling up than we did two months ago. What gives first, the food budget or the whole enchilada when the IMF’'s predicted 60% price increase sets in?

License, Registration, Cell Phone: Michigan police are using the CelleBrite UFED, a device that can grab all of the photos and videos along with call history, texts, address book and geolocation from a driver's cell phone in less than 2 minutes. Without being physically attached to it. Search warrant? We don't need no stinking search warrant...

Poorcast: Saudi Arabia, without mentioning its famed 12 mbd 'capacity', now claims its production “will not rise” during the next five years, but that it can lift its output to 10.8 mbd by 2030. This is going to sorely chafe the IEA which is depending on Saudi Arabia being “able to increase oil production by 75% (to 15 mbd) through 2030.”

Strategy: When the Republican plan to substitute vouchers for traditional Medicare is explained clearly, more than 80% of Americans oppose the idea. The Republicans will come up with a misleading name and a dishonest story and try to cram it down our throats so the insurance companies can reap the rewards. Business as usual.

Non-sequitur: Yes, of course Homeland Security is out of control. Why do you ask?

Rusts Belt: Aggressive new strains of wheat rust diseases have ruined up to 40% of wheat fields in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucuses. In these areas, wheat provides 40% of the calories and 20% of the protein in a typical diet. Researchers claim rising temperatures and the increasing variability of rainfall contributes to the spread and severity of rust diseases.

Up to No Good: NYU's Courant Institute is developing a bird-sized, self-flying plane that can navigate through both the urban environment and in forests.

Because We're Bigger Than You Bradley Manning: The Pentagon has moved PFC Manning into Limbo, a new holding facility in Kansas. After holding him for 11 months, they've decided to simply keep him “in pre-trial confinement” indefinitely. The Pentagon has made it clear this could happen to you.

Why? Apple iPhones keep track of where you go (via GPS) and stores about a year of the data in a secret file on the phone, ready for the DA to download. It's a feature.

Bad Idea: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam announced a joint decision on the future of the proposed Xayaburi dam on the Mekong in Northern Laos. In that preliminary work on the dam is well underway, the decision is rather anticlimactic, But what could go wrong with damming such an important river?

Resolved:The euro-world continues to waste away. The yield on Greek 2-year bonds is now over 22% and the 10-year can be had for 40% off. Also, there's a rumor of Greek default as early as this weekend.

9 Month Plan:Russia is spending $53 billion to increase the birth rate and lengthen life expectancy in order to reverse Russia's declining population. They don't call it Mother Russia for nothing.

Freedom Means Not Having to Clean Up After Yourself: The US Supreme Court has indicated it does not view favorably an attempt by the states to make polluters cut their carbon emissions. Power companies are 'people' and everyone exhales a little CO2.

Birther of A Nation: Donald Trump is a proud birther, which means he thinks that 50 years ago a massive conspiracy began that included state officials, doctors, Honolulu newspapers and various civil servants and resulted in a Kenyan Socialist from Chicago... etc. Okay, that's hard to imagine. So is Trump as president.

In The Beginning: Taking advantage of some intentional vagueness in the UN Libya resolution, France and Italy are sending a small numbers of advisers to professionalize the rebels. The EU is sending armed guards to accompany humanitarian aid to Libyan civilians. The camel's nose is in the tent.

Porn O'Graph: Studying for credit, or vice versa.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

SAR #11110

It's only called class warfare if we fight back.

Enthusiasm: the State Department says the US is not trying to undermine the Syrian government but is trying to support democratic goals in Syria, as it does elsewhere in the world except for Saudi Arabia. And Bahrain. And Yemen, where the US-supported tyrant's security forces continue to prune protesters from the crowd. Syria said that shooting protesters at a sit-in was a security measure aimed at getting the protesters safely home. Iran and Egypt have “friended” each other and exchanged ambassadors for the first time in 3 decades. Britain is sending more military advisers to the rebels in Libya (more?), and Donald Trump is running for president of these United States.

Hard Labor: The average pay package of the average S&P 500 CEO was $11.4 million in 2010, an increase of 23% from 2009. What's in your wallet?

Terminology: The government has come up with a new term for pre-trial detention – that is putting you in jal before they put you in jail – it's called a “long-term pre-trial stay”. PFC Bradley Manning has been moved to a brand new “pre-trial jail” at Fort Leavenworth. Nice to know its not an after-trial jail.

Asterisk: Housing starts climbed 37,000 units last month (on an annualized basis). But that was mostly apartment buildings with 5 or more units. Completions came in at an annual rate of 374,000, which is about the most anemic on record.

Three Thousand Days Late and $4 Trillion Short: Famous Mumbler and Former Fed Chairman Alan 'Don't Blame Me' Greenspan now, now at long last, now after it is way, way too late, is urging Congress to let the Bush tax cuts expire. Turns out they were a bad idea after all. Speaking of the deficit, the Maestro explained “This is a very big number.”

Collateral Damage: Japanese exports fell 2.2% in March, mostly due to the tsunami and nuclear disaster. Car shipments were down 28% and Toyota said it will extend its 70% production cuts in North America for lack of parts.

Quoted: "The real-life effect of the Republican policy [on Medicare] is the same as a perpetual tax increase machine on Medicare recipients, to subsidize a perpetual windfall profits machine for price-gouging companies."

Job Fares: Good news: US multinationals are hiring again. Bad news: The big name companies that employ about 20% of all Americans are hiring overseas. It has been a balancing act; while 2.9 million Americans were cut from their payrolls, 2.4 new employees were hired overseas.

Death and... Don't tell the Tea Party, but US federal tax rates are at historic lows. Federal, state and local taxes combined are lower than any time in the last 50 years. No wonder 59% of Americans think the rich aren’t paying enough taxes. But neither are they.

Factoid: The CBO projections show that under the Ryan plan, seniors would soon be spending more than half of their income to buy a Medicare equivalent plan.

Leveling the Playing Field: Budget compromises have eliminated $88 million of funding for non-profit housing counselors, and a $65 million reduction in foreclosure counseling efforts. Apparently the Republicans thought it might give the homeowners too big an advantage against the banks.

Fever: Housing sales in major Chinese cities dropped d40% y/y in March, while prices of new homes in Beijing fell 26% in the same period.

Self-Confidence:Yesterday I saw a young girl – about 5 or 6 – walk up to the door of a busy restaurant, ahead of her parents. Just then the door opened and a three middle-aged ladies came out, chatting with each other, oblivious of the girl. The girl saw the door open just as she got there, so she loudly said “Thank you!” with a smile in her voice and marched on in. Reminded me of the Republicans after the last election.

Precis: The financing needs of the advanced economies are equal to 25% of their total GDP output, the public debt of advanced countries will exceed 100% of their GDP this year, the world's banks need $3.6 trillion in the same period – who is going to buy all these bonds? With what?

Porn O'Graph: The bear went over the mountain.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SAR #11109

We are easily fooled into thinking that we are not being fooled.

Demanding Supply: Saudi Arabia has reduced its output by about a million barrels a day, claiming the market is 'oversupplied'. It is oversupplied with $110 oil, and those who can afford it can buy lots. But $60 or $80 a barrel oil is hard to find. Gasoline is over $4 a gallon in the US and oil is well over $100 a barrel on world markets. The modern industrial world is completely dependent upon cheap accessible oil. Globalization, consumerism, suburban sprawl, food production and distribution, and all means of transportation are dependent upon oil. The US has already stepped up its payments to the oil producers by an annualized $100 billion. ExxonMobile's CEO says that the price today represents the increased cost it will take to replace the current supply. JPMorgan says that demand will increase by 2.7 mbd by August and that if supplies are not sharply increased gasoline at $5 a gallon in the US is inevitable. The only way the market is “well supplied” is because those who can't afford $100 oil won't be buying any, leaving lots for those who can afford it.

Noted: Tim Geithner: “It Would Be Catastrophic If People Start To Doubt Whether The U.S. Can Pay Its Obligations.” And, yes, I know the government can always print enough dollars to “pay” the debt, but you can bet nobody would lend them another farthing for a long, long time.

Failure to Farm: If gasoline and diesel prices remain high (or go even higher) food prices will rise with them and some forms of energy-intense farming will no longer be profitable. Think tractors, planters, harvesters, trucks, refrigeration.... Hoe, hoe, hoe.

The Lucy Moment: At least 30% of Medicare expenditures come in the last year of life, much of it in the last month. Is this a reasonable burden to place on the country? Who will take the football away? Why don't we hear these same complaints from the do-gooder socialist countries of Europe?

Revised Standard Version: Estimates for 2011 real, annualized growth have descended from the 4.0 range to 1.75% and falling. And that's before petroleum goes to $145 or whatever. 

Signs& Resigns: Wells Fargo's CFO has resigned, joining Bank of America's CFO who developed an urgent need to spend more time with his family last week. Are bank CFO's resigning rather cook the books sharpen their pencils any further? Are banks trying excessively hard to spin dross into silk? Mortgage debt is no better than it was quarters ago, and may be worse, and the backlog of delinquent yet un-foreclosed homes continues to grow. Maybe it's nothing, just a convenient time to take up sailing.

Progress: The European bailout of Ireland is going so well that Moody's has downgraded the rest of Ireland's surviving banks to “junk” status.

Plot Lines: The last days of the British Empire were not the last days of the British Empire, nor the best days, either. A horde of documents detailing the horrific measures taken to cling to empire as long as possible were gathered up, then squirreled them away in a house in Buckinghamshire, from which they have suddenly, and embarrassingly, surfaced.

Texas Two Step: Gov. Rick Perry, who wants Texas to secede from the union, first wants the President to declare Texas a disaster area and send lots of money. Then go away.

Alphonse and Gaston: A spade having been called a spade and the Ryan plan exposed for the cruel nonsense that it is, the Republicans want an apology. For what? Is one of our two major political parties run by people so immature that they will refuse to do what the country needs because the president hasn’t been nice to them?

Another Thing: Stockpiles of edible oils are expected to drop to their lowest level since 1974 – just enough to meet 23 days of demand. Prices will climb. Maybe this is a good time to think about a low fat diet.

Porn O'Graph: How high is too high?

Monday, April 18, 2011

SAR #11108

We’ve tried madness, and it hasn't worked.

Terms Of Engagement: Let's be clear, all the noise about budgets and debt and deficits and entitlements is not about the size of the government, nor about the role of the government in our lives. It is all about how much more money the rich are going to squeeze out of the rest of us. It is about redistributing the money upwards and the pain and suffering downward. And they will keep doing it until we the people stop them.

Critical Criticism: Deutsche Bank expects $4 a gallon gasoline this summer, but says the economy will be fine as long as household income continues to grow. I don't think they intended that as a joke.

Emergency Rule: Under Michigan's Emergency Financial Management legislation (a gift of the GOP-dominated state government) The emergency manager appointed over Benton Harbor, MI has emasculated all the elected officials, ruling that he alone had the power to “exercise any power or authority of any office, employee, department, board, commission, or similar entity of the City, whether elected or appointed.” In Wisconsin, Governor Walker is planning to take over administration of municipalities whose finances fail to meet his standards. Or whims. Lawsuits will follow. Then the revolution.

The Ayes of Texas: The University of Texas Investment Management Company voted to take delivery of nearly $1 billion in gold bullion. That's a lot of bull... ion. If they are right and the dollar goes to pot and the economy disintegrates, who are they going to sell the gold to when it's $20,000 an ounce?

I No Longer OU: A Morgan Stanley real estate fund failed, mailed in the keys, and walked away from ownership of 32-story Shinagawa Grand Central Tower in lieu of a $3.3 billion payment. They don't like it when you do that to them.

Dieting for Dollars: The prices of corn and wheat have doubled in the last year. And yet one-quarter of the US corn crop goes to ethanol.

Massey Energy, Anyone? An Italian court sentenced the Italian director of ThyssenKrupp to 16.5 years in jail, finding that the company – under his direction – has skimped on safety standards that lead to the deaths of seven workers, which were termed “voluntary homicides".

Rebuttal: Ask a libertarian to build a pencil, then count how many government projects, agencies and services it takes for the rugged individualist to actually make one. Or even a toothpick.

The Path Leads Back: The Republicans do not want to repeal the Great Society and the New Deal. They want to turn back to at least 1890, before the Federal income tax, before the Federal Reserve, before labor unions, before child labor laws. They want to repeal ”this hundred year, European-originated social democracy welfare state experiment” according to Mayr Matlin, former Cheney aide.

Without Comment: “The entire US healthcare industry is a giant scam.” Free sample: “Between 2000 and 2006, wages in the United States increased by 3.8%, while health care premiums increased by 87%.”

Over There: The US is choking to death on our profligate and unsustainable spending on social entitlements. Or so “they” claim. Yet the US spends relatively little on its citizenry – of OECD's 34 countries, we are last, spending but 7.2% of GDP on social welfare. Canada, France, Australia, Germany, Denmark, and more all spend well over 20% of GDP and are not running around claiming the sky is falling. Why not?

Q & A: Why does Pakistan resist CIA Drone Strikes and Special Operations killing? Duh. It upsets the survivors.

Spade / Spade: Whenever you hear anyone - Paul Ryan or the Gang of Six or those two troglodytes on the financial Reform Commission, Obama - anyone talking about “reforming Social Security” and reducing Social Security entitlements, remember this: The Congress owes Social Security $2.5 trillion. That's right, they borrowed it and used the money instead of taxing the public directly to pay for their spending. So now it is up to Congress to tax the public sufficiently to pay back that money to Social Security – to those of us who have paid the money in based on the promise. Anyone who wants to “reform” Social Security simply wants to finish stealing the money that was lent to the government. It is theft, not reform.

Porn O'Graph: Up-slope, Down-slope, X marks the spot.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

SAR #11106

They say we've been bad and must do without supper.

The Neighbors: Politicians who confidently point to “entitlement reform” are making the same mistake that has been made, disastrously, in the UK, Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain. Plus they still think we don't know that “reform” means cut beyond all recognition.

Just So: “Saudi Arabia Did Not Make Up For Libyan Oil Production.” $108 a barrel wasn't worth the effort?

Imagine All The People...How nervous are the Saudis? To the west, Libya is in flames. To the south, Yemen. And Oman. Just offshore is Bahrain. Syria and Jordan are restive, Iraq's a basket case and Iran wishes them ill. Their only friend is Israel. And the US Navy.

Hope, Prayer: Double-digit increases in corporate earning are not enough to lead corporations to hire more people. Driving current workers harder works just fine.

Because they Can: It would be a rather trivial undertaking for the US government to put an end to banks standing outside every store demanding protection money from both the merchant and the customer and the robbery-by-fee on every debit card transaction. There is no reason that credit and debit verification on a national basis could not be accomplished in seconds for fractions of a cent per transaction through a single, not-for-profit agency. Electronic money is where we are headed, so why not save the economy billions of dollars a year that the banks now skim off? Oh, right. Banks.

One Less Worry: After Fukushima, worries about running out of uranium for our power plants have diminished greatly, and running out seems a mixed blessing.

An Enemy of the People: Rand Paul, another of those crammed into the Republican presidential clown car, says e has the right to piss in the middle of the street cause as much global warming as he wants, that it would be “consistent with a free society...”

Details, Details: I sit here watching tornadoes track across the great American mid-west, wondering how all the Republicans out there in Oklahoma and Arkansas and the rest feel about the GOP's promise to stop wasting taxpayer money on weather satellites.

Being Number One: The US prison population is 760 out of every 100,000. Next worst rate is South Africa at 329/100,000. The OECD averages 140/100,000. There's an area we could cut spending in.

Data Banking: A family of four needs $67,920 a year to be “economically stable” - by which the authors mean “getting by: no cable TV, no Internet. Too bad the median family only makes $47,127.

Just Wondering: Why is little Timmy Geithner running around telling everyone the sky isn't falling, the sky won't fall, and the US can most certainly repay its debt? Who asked? And by the way, we need to raise the debt ceiling again.

What, Me Worry? Apparently US police forces are bombarding internet providers with “requests” for private electronic communications information. Quite why this should trouble anyone is beyond me; NSA has been scooping it all up for years.

Cows In The Meadow:Republican voters are more likely than Democrats to oppose any cuts in Medicare. They’re also in favor of small government and low taxes. And magic.

Not Necessarily News: Today we celebrate Freedom for Financial Felons, for so far no Wall Street miscreants has even indicted, much less strung up for crimes against the people. Truly, “America is a 'Failed State' with a "Dual Justice System, one for ordinary people and one for those with enormous wealth and power.” But it always has been, so what's the fuss?

Instructions: BP – playing the role of the sheriff in Cat Ballou - has told Alaska that until the state lowers its tax on oil production, it will not increase oil production.

On Fishing: The Republicans want to increase offshore oil drilling, believing that such drilling will either solve our energy problems or at least get them votes. The problem isn't the drilling. The problem is finding the oil and getting it ashore. My nephew likes to grab his pole and some worms and go 'catching'. Doesn't care much for just fishing.

Wording: “Food price hikes could push millions to poverty.”  Could?  Global food prices are up 36% over a year ago.

Full Faith & Credit: At a basic level, the requirement for food and energy becomes inelastic - if you don't eat or drink, you die and if you cannot get to work, you eventually die. But the free market, in all its supposed benevolent wisdom, doesn't care whether masses of people die, and there is not much a central government can do beyond a minimum threshold.

Porn O'Graph: Steep decline ahead, use lower gears.

Friday, April 15, 2011

SAR #11105

Dueling anecdotes get you only so far, then you need data.

Plastics: It took 11 cement pump trucks several months to entomb Chernobyl. It will take a whole lot more to entomb Fukusima, once the disaster stops mutating. Investment opportunities abound.

Going to the Poorhouse: The military-industrial oligarchy is whining in pain – Obama wants to cut $40 billion a year from Defense spending that is now well over $800 billion annually. There's that much slack in the budget just for mercenaries.

Love Truth Hurts: “America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus. America was actually on track to becoming completely debt free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.” Then we elected George W. Bush.

Good Question: Where is Saudi Arabia's 3 million barrels a day in excess production capacity now that we need it? Or is it that they still have the “capacity” to pump more oil, but the oil isn't down there to be pumped?

Entertainment Weakly: CNN reports that 19% of Republicans want to see Donald Trump run for President, while 10% of them do not want him in the race. I think watching The Donald waddle around the primary circuit would be entertaining, so I'm all for it – it'll be a joy watching him and Rick Santorum go at each other.

The Problem: If 1 = The historical growth of federal expenditures on health care is unsustainable and 2 = Changing the path requires denying some medical services for someone who would otherwise receive them. Solve for 3 = A solution

Willful Suspension: Most accounts of the end of fossil fuels contain a rose-colored solution where we change the type of cars we drive and continue on, no big economic contraction, no decline in our living standards, just a nearly invisible changeover. This is not really the way it is going to work out.

Antigonish: Less than half the population has a job – lowest percentage in the last 30 years. Think of it as a clue.

Wand waving: If you're keeping score, Representative Ryan's plan would give the wealthy hundreds of billions a year additional revenue, give the health insurance industry hundreds of billions of dollars of additional revenue each year, and would deny healthcare to tens of millions of retirees and sick people. Don't worry, it is all posturing and has no chance of passing.

Too Clever By Half: The Supremes, by the traditional 5/4 split when riding roughshod over common sense, ruled that giving churches tax money for education it is wrong, but exempting from taxation the money people pay churches for education is perfectly fine. Same money, same result, process is everything.

Distressing: Reports claim 2 million foreclosed homes are being held off the market by banks, mostly because they are reluctant to actually record the losses they will eventually suffer. Meanwhile, another 6.7 million mortgages are delinquent, with a “cure rate” of essentially zero. Will this drive down house prices? Do geckos sell insurance?

Yadda Yadda, Get a Job: The economy's embryonic winning streak came to an abrupt halt as unemployment claims zoomed up 27,000 to over 412,000 last week. Excuses abound, reality not being one of them.

Tattletale: Among “9 Things The Rich Don't Want You To Know About Taxes”, David Cay Johnston reports that the poor and middle classes pay taxes, the rich mostly do not. Poor and middle class incomes are stuck at 1973 levels, but since Reagan the wealthy have raked in increasing amounts. Not news, but nicely displayed.

First Do No Harm: What if the politicians took a long vacation and stopped trying to fix things they don't understand and don't agree on? Many of our debt/deficit problems would cure themselves – or at least not get any worse due to tinkering.

Porn O'Graph: Why so many people have so much leisure.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

SAR #11104

Banks rob taxpayers because that's where the money is.

Monkey See: Obama just gave a talk about budgets and deficits. It will be taken seriously, ponderously dissected and in the end matter about as much as the one that Ryan guy gave a week ago. Talk, like the dollar, is cheap.

Fine Print: When is a budget agreement not a budget agreement? Why, when it's Republicans doing the agreeing.

Suddenly I'm a Birther, Too. Like others, I thought Sara was the granny but couldn't see the advantage she would gain except some sort of twisted attempt at a sympathy vote and no one could be that cynical, could she?

Love Hurts: The big banks are actually government-sponsored entities, allowed to gamble and keep their profits while their losses are underwritten by the taxpayer – witness the ongoing bailouts. So says Thomas Hoenig, President of the Kansas City Fed. They are, he said, “a public utility, for crying out loud”.

If a train leaves... House prices are falling because they are still well above the level that can be supported by the fundamentals of the market. It's a train called deleveraging and it hasn't reached the end of the line yet.

Cleaning Up: The corporate free-market capitalists at Proctor & Gamble and Unilever have admitted they conspired to set prices and divide up the European market. The companies management said the $456 million in fines would be covered by surplus funds they had set aside in case they got caught.

Assignment: Read Matt Taibbi's The Real Housewives of Wall Street  (Rolling Stone), then explain in detail why there are homeless children in America.

Some Data: In 1959, the poverty rate among the elderly was 37.% By 1969 it had dropped to 27% and by 1979 it was down to 13%. By 1999 it was at 7%. Medicare was one of Johnson's 1965 socialist programs that have ruined the country and forced the government into people's lives.

Simon Says: "The executives of the top 14 financial institutions took out in cash $2.6 billion between 2000 and 2008. The top 5 took out $2 billion.” They “earned” this by running too-big-to-fail firms onto the rocks and then demanding (and getting) taxpayer bailouts for taking stupid risks. And they will do it again.

Failure: Under the general heading of “There's got to be a better way.” the French have such a veil of fear they don't see what they're doing. In Paris, Rosa Parks is called …

Diagnosis: The economy is not growing and not generating jobs because people don't have any money to spend and if they did they would pay off some of their debt and if they managed that they might even think about trying to save a bit to make up for what they lost to Wall Street and they don't need a loan and don't want a loan. The big problem is that things won't get better until they get better.

Once Upon A Time: Remember the raging inflation that crippled Carter and ushered in the Reagan era? Inflation, using pre-1980 rules would be 9.6% today.

Kill Bill: Why do “entitlement reform” discussions always talk about cutting the entitlement and not about reforming the costs? And most certainly, the end-of-life discussion must be had, painfully and as adults. Should healthcare be a for-profit enterprise, and how did all our hospitals become their hospitals?

Explicate: "If you cut welfare without cutting taxes, you're just being mean."

Two For One: The US drone program, having pretty much finished off US/Pakistani relations, has now turned to accidentally killing US troops.

Sausage-making 101: Republicans now support the $450 billion in Medicare cuts that are part of Obama's health care reform – the very same cuts they criticized before the elections. Another case where the public mistakenly thought that what the Republicans said had some relationship to the truth. They now make up a large part of Paul Ryan's $5.8 billion shell game – which will ultimately turn out to be just a talking point for illustrative purposes.

I'm With Harry: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) does not say "under God" in reciting the pledge of allegiance. Harry and I grew up in the era before God became a partisan political idea.

Scrapbooking, Bonus Round: Via Michael Panzner we get some delicious bed wetting time reading.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

SAR #11103

Why do we think we deserve better?

Didn't Take Long: The briefly benevolent Egyptian Army has thrown a blogger in prison for three years for first-degree criticism. Habits.

Let's Just Be Friends: Pakistan is losing all interest in a long term relationship with the US. Pakistan has asked for its sovereignty back and for Obama to take back the CIA, the CIA contract killers, the Special Operations troops and most especially the damn drones. There never was a honeymoon, and apparently the check bounced.

Not Actually News: Goldman Sachs Takes Information From Its Clients And Uses It To Trade Against Them

Disgusting: An anti-gay Catholic group (yes, that's redundant) claims that what the priests have been doing all these years was not rape, nor pedophilia, nor even really wrong, because the youngsters were really participants, not victims - “they were not children and they were not raped.” Lying, for non-Republicans, is still a sin.

Most Excellent Question: Why Not a No-Fly Zone for Gaza?

I'm with Shorty: The people of Iceland still do not understand why they should have to pay the British and Dutch governments for reimbursing their own citizens for the money they lost when their ill-advised investments in an Icelandic bank went south. If that had been an Icelandic fish-stick factory, would we be having this conversation?

The Game Of Nations: Gaddafi would do well to remember that the only reason he was ever allowed to be part of the game was because he controlled Libya's oil. Blowing up the oil infrastructure may help him defeat the rebels but it will also remove him from the game. No oil, no toleration for the dictator. On the other hand, no one will care, so he can be despot for life among the ruins.

Name Game: Calling it Quantitative Easing instead of “printing money” wasn't ever going to work here. You cannot make someone drowning in debt take out another loan and companies with idle factories don't build new ones. It didn't work in Japan and it isn't working here. Now what? More, under another name. If all you've got is a hammer, the problem looks like a nail.

Consistency: The UK once again reveals that cutting wages, employment and public safety-net spending leads to lower retail sales. The worst drop in retail sales since the mid 1990s has resulted from their aggressive austerity program. Those that don't have, don't spend. Fellas in DC might make a note.

Taking it on the Chin: Populations of young chinstrap penguins are dropping rapidly due to the reduction of sea ice by global warming. Only about 10% of the youngsters survive now, compared to abut 50% 40 years ago. Apparently increased melting of sea ice leads to a decrease in krill that feed the fish the juveniles harvest, leading to an 80% reduction in survival rates.

I Remember, Mama: A new study claims that drinking alcohol primes certain areas of our brain to learn and remember better.

Cup/Lip: Fracking may provide great supplies of methane for our future energy use, but the process leads to about 5% of the extracted gas escaping into the atmosphere – and methane is far more efficient greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So while it may burn 'cleaner' than coal, the full-cycle effect of using fracked natural gas instead of coal may be to increase, not decrease, global warming.

Sharp Stick/Eye: So far the EU has stepped in and “saved” Greece, Ireland, Portugal (and been roundly ignored by Iceland). So far it seems on a par with the salvation offered on hot summer nights in Baptist tents throughout the South. Showy, but not very long lasting nor effective.

Say Amen: “Only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights."

Memories: I need a little help putting a couple of incidents in perspective and would like any reader who has been to Bologna in the last 15 or 20 years and willing to answer three or four questions to contact me at the ckm3 address on

Saturday, April 2, 2011

SAR #11092

Gone Fishing. Eating.

Spring break is upon us. This year the Fallen Empire Tour takes us to Ravenna,Italy, which was  briefly the capital of the Western Roman Empire (402 – 476) and then the seat of the Ostogoths and an outpost for  Arian  Christianity.

After touring the mosaics, we will, of course, be forced to eat our way through neighboring Bologna, Modena and Parma.

Be of good cheer; sarcasm returns about April 12th.

Friday, April 1, 2011

SAR #11091

Running from a mob does not make you a leader.

The Big Squeeze: The US economy is growing faster than most of the industrialized world, profits are up and production is expanding. But the growth in production per-capita means that there are few if any jobs for the unemployed, while the growth in profits means that the rich don't care that the poor have no jobs. Yet.

Quickie: The European Monetary Union is resembles Nude Descending a Staircase in oh so many ways...

Angels on Pinheads: The banks are all upset because federal regulators have decided that the definition of a good mortgage under Dodd-Frank means “a good mortgage” - one that is unlikely to go into default, with 20% down and a mortgage payment around 30% of proven income. The banks are not sure there are such things anymore, as they've not written one in four or five years.

Seems Fair: Turns out the biggest threat to future GOP electoral victories are the GOP's past electoral victories.

Blind Date: The Fed, having been backed into a corner by the Supremes, has finally released documents detailing which banks borrowed how much from the emergency discount window at the height of the financial crisis. They released it to a small group of reporters, on disks, in pdf format. Why not an open-access website? Because they still don't think you should know.

Theme Song: US Factory orders dropped “unexpectedly” in February by 0.1% after a 3.3% gain in January, while European inflation “unexpectedly” grew at its fastest rate since October 2008. Expect the unexpected.

What the Dickens? Maine Republicans want to repeal child labor laws and make it legal for kids to work 50 hours a week and up 11 pm on school nights, while earning only $5.25 an hour. That'll put a lot of family breadwinners back to work.

Mirror: Look to India to understand where the growing gulf between the rich and the rest is leading the US. Don't pretend it doesn't worry you.

Apostasy: The new report card for the Irish banks is expected to be so bad that “a radical new approach” will be needed to resolve the problem – bondholders who have been milking the Irish taxpayers to keep these failed banks afloat will be forced to lose some of their own money. Gasp!

Kids For A Day: Dan Quayle's boy Ben was elected to Congress to represent Arizona's third district posed with children that weren't his in an election mailer... Family values?

Brave New World: Obama says the US must reduce its dependence of foreign oil because the price is too high. But, Sir, oil is a fungible product on the world market. The price is set by the world market and not by where it was produced. If that's the level of his understanding of the problem, god help the Libyans.

Let's Make A Deal: Putative Democrat Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, has delivered a state budget that gives tax breaks to millionaires while making devastating cuts to education in the poorest school districts. Sound familiar? Like any politician dreaming of being president, the first thing he's traded away are his principles.

Re-Run: The top 1% honestly believe they’re immune, having successfully beaten down the average American for 3o years. They have fallen under the spell of the Great Gatsby, believing they are different from you and me. They are not. They are not immune from consequences. Can a revolution happen here? Perhaps. Certainly nobody predicted the revolutions throughout the oil-rich Arab world.

Way Back Home: Claiming that women will say anything just to get an abortion, Indiana Republicans have voted not to make an exception in their anti-abortion for cases of rape or incest. They also contend that there should be no exception in the case of women whose life is threatened by their pregnancy. They should have known better than to have sex in the first place.