Monday, August 31, 2009

Natural Gas Naturally


A couple of articles caught my eye this weekend as I read Barron's [August 31 print version].

First was an article about gasoline consumption [p.23 ... abbreviated online version here]. As noted in the article,

"U.S. gasoline consumption fell more than 7% from its 2007 peak in the first quarter, before rebounding slightly in the second. Yes, that in part reflects the effects of the punishing economic downturn. But the sliump actually has maked the beginning of a profound, long-term shift that will affect oil and auto stocks for years. Thanks to a confluence of factors - a legislative push to wean the nation of foreign oil, an end to very cheap fuel, a global rush toward fuel-efficient cars, fewer people driving to work and more citizens becoming concerned about the environment - U.S. gasoline consumption might never surpass the high of the summer of 2007, when we guzzled 400 million gallons a day."
The article continued to relate how pricing of oil will remain high... "$3 or more might be the new norm"... and how consumers are "having second and third talks about buying that huge all-wheel-drive Toyota Sequoia[!]." Most of the rest of the article was about the impact on refiners [this is a publication about investing after all].

Farther into the newspaper was another article speculating about the various various natural gas related funds and companies making devices for the natural gas market [page 33 ... abbreviated online version here].

"The plan is to offer tax credits worth up to $12,500 on the purchase of new cars and trucks. The catch is that your new vehicle must run on natural gas -- compressed natural gas, or CNG, to be precise. A Senate bill, the counterpart to the House's NAT GAS Act, also would offer up to $64,000 in tax credits on fleet vehicles, and up to $100,000 to anyone opening a CNG filling station."

The article went on to state that, "Washington is beginning to wake up to the value of using this plentiful, home-grown fuel for transportation - and that in turn could open up some intriguing investment opportunities."

It looks as if someone at Barron's has been reading this blog:

May 31, 2009

I also wrote that if the EPA gave each non-petroleum fueled vehicle an arbitrary rating of 150 mpg that the standard might be met with a full push toward compressed natural gas powered vehicles (CNG). There is precedent within the ....

May 28, 2009

So, if the vehicle runs on hydrogen fuel cells or natural gas or propane or just plugs into the wall, they get the manufacturer a credit of 150 mpg per vehicle against the mandated 30 mpg in 2016, 35 mpg in 2020, 40 mpg in 2025, ....
Given the propensity of Congress and the Obama administration to look for high-cost alternatives to oil, it might be to our advantage to look for less exotic and less expensive alternatives... such as natural gas.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Liberalism: Not Seeing The Obvious


Living in Michigan is not that different from other north-central states. Cold winters, cool summers, and liberal politics. Having spent my first 21 years in Wisconsin, I was pretty much used to political activism as the norm. Being raised in Milwaukee, my world-view was pretty much hard work, hard fun, and a strong sense of community.

Milwaukee had a socialist mayor name Frank Zeidler. He ended his last term while I was still in high school. It may have been his particular brand of socialism or it may have simply been the post-WWII boom, but Milwaukee was a pretty prosperous and provincial town that seemed to be a pretty nice place to live.

My dad wasn't necessarily enamored with the mayor's approach to things... especially the high taxes. But it seemed as if the taxes went toward efforts that made the community a better place for everyone... not just this or that group. There was a fine park system. Public transportation ran pretty well and was ubiquitous. There didn't seem to be charges of corruption hitting the papers every week. It was a socialist government that did redistribute wealth, but for the things that seemed to make the community a better place for everyone.

Things change. Milwaukee became more like other large northern cities. The practical socialism of Mayor Zeidler morphed into the liberalism of the 60s and 70s. Instead of government focusing on the larger needs of the city, the politicians began focusing on groups that ensured a continuing voter base. People began to move outward to smaller communities that felt like communities rather than staying in a city that was divided into zones of interests. Milwaukee started to resemble Detroit and Chicago in its politics and its problems.

I moved to Michigan in the early 70s after a stint in the Air Force. It was a few years after the infamous riots in Detroit and that gave me significant pause before accepting the job I had been offered. It was only because we would be living and working in a community some distance from Detroit that I felt comfortable moving there. We were not disappointed. We found an area of homes built in the 1920s and 30s that had the charm of a small town and access to all of the amenities of a larger city. Government worked for all of the people and the people made their voices known to the government to be sure it stayed that way.

In the almost 40 years since moving to this area, I've seen the city of Detroit become the poster child for big, bad, liberalism. Government officials worked for their own power, not the welfare of the community. Special interests connived with the government officials to gain wealth and benefits at the expense of the city. People only saw the government as a source of handouts; they didn't see themselves as responsible for contributing to the betterment of the community.

The conservative socialism [yes, that sounds like an oxymoron] of Frank Zeidler was much closer to the community spirit of the pilgrims and the Founding Fathers than the corrupt liberalism that followed. Yet we think of socialists as farther "left" than liberals. The big difference is that the socialism practiced by Zeidler was more of a partnership with the people. It was a two-way street of cooperation and common goals. It depended on a high degree of ethical behavior by the governing and a high degree of responsibility by the governed.

Today, Detroit is a city that represents the nadir of social evolution in America.

Nearly 30% of the people are unemployed. Nearly 40% of the geography of the city is abandoned or derelict. The last mayor was sent to jail. The city council was a combination of has-been entertainers and slightly psychotic frauds. The people have little sense of community or responsibility as evidence by the repeated election of the idiots they elected... by the small percentage of people that actually bothered to vote. Crime is rampant and schools are warehouses for the ineducable.

The liberalism of Kennedy and Carter and Johnson and Clinton and Obama is a dead end for our nation. It is divisive and corrupting. The laissez faire approach of Reagan and Ford and the Bushes simply added big business and big military to big government. There are few models among big cities or federal government administrations that I find admirable today. Certainly the socialism that was practiced in eastern Europe isn't the answer either.

In Michigan, the state government is chaotic and contentious. A few counties such as Oakland County are generally well-run fiscally, but that reflects the wealth and education and constant involvement of its residents, not necessarily the party affiliation of government officials.

What is obvious to me is that we get the government we deserve. If our goal is for government to provide us with handouts and appeal to our group with special favors, we get the kind of government that creates a modern-day Detroit... or a Cuba... or a Venezuela... or perhaps a future U.S.

It takes two to tango: the government and the governed. Sometimes the dance can look pretty ugly. I find a ray of hope in the "Tea Parties" that have been so roundly denounced by the party in power... and the gray-haired "thugs" who, at Town Hall meetings, stand up and say they don't like what Congress is doing... even if they do get physically abused by certain special interest groups. People are standing up and telling their representatives that they expect to be represented ethically, responsibly, and within the bounds of the intentions of our Founding Fathers. The process is disturbing and antagonizing, but necessary for the future health of our nation.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem obvious to too many people...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sweet Tip For The Day - Low Carb Chocolate Candy


To give my oldest son a break from my posts about global warming, the economy, and politics... this is a recipe for a healthy, 30-minute low carb chocolate candy for weight conscious and diabetics with a sweet tooth [10 minutes of work and 20 minutes of waiting]:

  • 4 Lindt extra dark 3.5 oz. chocolate bars [85-90% cocoa]
  • 4 oz. unsweetened and shredded coconut
  • 1 cup salted mixed nuts chopped coarsely [I use almonds, walnuts, and pecans that I have heated in cold-pressed coconut oil and sea salt to lightly brown them... also makes a great snack]
  • 1/8 tsp. KAL brand stevia [a VERY CONCENTRATED natural sweetener with no carbs - other brands may have some bitter aftertaste... DON'T OVER-SWEETEN]
  • [optional for non-diabetics] handful of dried cherries or raisins [which do raise the carbs but give you the taste of an old-fashioned "Chunky" bar]
How to:
  • sprinkle stevia on chocolate bars and melt for about 2 min. in 1 quart microwave dish [about 2"x7"x7"]
  • stir softened [but not real hot and bubbling] chocolate and stevia until mixed
  • in a separate bowl, mix the chopped nuts, shredded coconut, and dried fruit [optional] and add to softened chocolate mixing thoroughly
  • on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicone pad, spread the mixture to a square about 1/2" thick... no more than that
  • place in freezer for 15 minutes
  • remove and cut semi-hardened mixture into 1" to 1-1/2" squares using a flat-bladed stiff knife [press down slowly]
  • place cut mixture back in freezer until hardened [about 5 - 10 more minutes]
  • remove frozen mixture, break up into the individually scored pieces, and put in sealed container in refrigerator
Makes 50-100 pieces depending on size. The chocolate does not harden so keeping the pieces cold reduces the melting on your fingers. 1" pieces are nice because you can just pop one in your mouth and don't have to hold a half-eaten piece.

Try not to eat the whole batch in one sitting.

Part of a diet my wife and I used to lose 35 lbs. each.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Daily Crisis


The war in Afghanistan is going badly. The Health Care "reform" initiative is going badly. Banks are failing and the FDIC may be in trouble. The budget deficit is skyrocketing and the national debt is crushing. Hence, the latest distracting crisis from The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. named a veteran federal prosecutor on Monday to examine abuse of prisoners held by the Central Intelligence Agency, after the Justice Department released a long-secret report showing interrogators choked a prisoner repeatedly and threatened to kill another detainee’s children.

Which makes this worth reiterating:

Management By Crisis

Can you fool some of the people all of the time?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Has Ben Bernanke Learned?

... New fashion statement... no ties?

Aug 13, 2009

Banks Are In Trouble


It doesn't take more than a quick read of financial publications to realize just how much of the TARP iceberg is still below the water waiting for another Titanic experience.

In yesterday's The Wall Street Journal there was the headline "Fewer Catching Up On Lapsed Mortgages." In the article was the statement, "Barclays Capital projects the number of foreclosed homes for sale will peak at 1.15 million in mid-2010, up from an estimated 688,000 as of July 1."

There was also the editorial opinion titled "Private Equity and the Banks" that dealt with regulations by the FDIC for imposing bank-holding regulations if ownership exceeds 24.9%.

The private equity investors don't want the regulations, even if they exceed the 24.9% threshold. The Journal rightly muses: "The still weak U.S. banking system doesn't need investors looking mainly for a quick spinoff that could leave a bank in poor hands within a year or two." Yes, this is the time that the manipulators come out in force. [Note: for those of you who think the WSJ represents the interests of manipulators... have another think.]

Meanwhile, Bank of America "Denies Misleading Its Investors On Bonuses" ... "and it was "widely understood" that billions of dollars would be awarded for 2008 performance."

There was also an article about "Price for RBS Assets in Asia in Doubt" but the Royal Bank of Scotland is Great Britain's problem [I hope].

Skipping over to Monday's Barron's, a pithy paragraph on page 12... "Analyst Meredith Whitney said that U.S. bank failures will quadruple as a result of bad loans She told Bloomberg Television that she expects more than 300 closings."

But the final word goes to banking guru, former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan who was also quoted in Barron's: "We're OK for the next six months. We are getting a recovery... but the process doesn't have legs to it."

You can decide if the last part refers to the slowness of the recovery... or that the recovery doesn't have a leg to stand on.

The big question for most of us is: in which mattress do we keep our money?


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Next Big Bubble


We've gotten used to "bubbles." You know, those phenomena where something expands beyond reason... when the "value" placed on something goes significantly beyond any reasonable or intrinsic value. We've had a lot of them, but the next big one is going to make all of the previous bubbles... combined... look like tiny specks.

You might remember the gold and silver bubble when everyone was selling their old jewelry and flatware for outrageous prices. We've had a couple of oil bubbles that have caused major economic disruption. There was the dotcom bubble that created "billionaires" out of air. The housing bubble made owning a home the ultimate investment... until it wasn't. Commodities, energy, technology, housing... what's left?

The next big bubble is this:

[click image for more details]

The Obama administration has opened Pandora's Box by starting investigations into the Bush Administration's action.

Prediction: the Obama Administration will be the subject of investigations for the largest corruption scandal in the history of the world! The Republican administration will simply point out how may special interest groups, such as Acorn, received billions of taxpayers' dollars under the most dubious of excuses.

The Obama administration has obligated each of you give your money to special interests such as Acorn as part of its special interest laden stimulus spending. Each of you is now on the hook for almost $200,000 of federal debt... and it is going to get much worse. Your future is shot; when are you going to do something to protect the future of your children?

Too late. While you were mulling that over another $ million went down the tubes.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Gender Education


Being grandparents lets you see things for the second time. Obviously, there is the happiness of new life coming into the family. Then there is the fun of watching your grandchildren discover their surroundings.

With two new grandsons, ages 7 months and 4 months, it is possible to see some "wired" differences from girls already. There is a way of constantly moving from one thing to the next that our educators would classify as "short attention spans" or "hyperactivity" that seems to characterize a large portion of the male population. Sure, young girls have a lot of energy and curiosity. It just seems to manifest differently.

About 3-1/2 years ago I wrote:

Males just seem to be more hands-on learners. They generally do not do well sitting for hours in class, followed by sitting for hours doing homework. There is a tactile, spatial element of male learning that is missing. I would guess that the ratio of avid video game players is roughly 9:1 male versus female. Oh sure, call it a macho thing. Sure the games are macho themes for the most part... war, racing alien-invasion... but guys love the interactive, hands-on aspect of the games. It's just a whole lot different from Jeopardy.

Perhaps that's why so many guys gravitate to computer and high-tech stuff. It's a hands-on challenge. They guy who daydreams during English literature is a prodigy when it comes to wireless interconnectivity. Jane Eyre doesn't have that mixture of visual-tactile that really intrigues and interests so many young males. Years ago, the high school day was a combination of math, science, language and literature, punctuated with wood-working or automotive or metal shop. A sedate environment all day just puts boys to sleep. At least that's my opinion.
What I am observing in my very young grandsons was confirmed a couple of years ago here. At Carpe Diem, testing results in various subjects show what I believe to be the inherent tactile/spatial learning bias in boys versus the quiet/contemplative learning of girls. Then there is the matter of long tests in themselves....

Sure, this is a generalization, but generalizations generally have some basis in observation.


Internet Access


If you went to a grocery store for food and you bought bananas, would you expect to pay multiple times for your bananas if you ate them at home, at the office, and on a park bench? Stupid question.

So why do you pay multiple times for internet access from the same company? If I access the internet from my home, then I have the $30 or so per month for that. If I access the internet from my cell phone, that's probably another $30 or so per month. And, of course, if I want to access the internet from my laptop while I'm out of the house, well that's another $30 or so per month. I don't recall ever using three modes of accessing the internet at the same time. Usually, it is one mode at a time. I'm not using 3 times the broadband, but the bills say I am.

I happen to be an AT&T customer and that's the reality of "eating my bananas" in different places. Oh, and my wife's cell phone is another $30 or so per month. Same bunch of bananas. What if I wanted to "tether" my cell phone to my laptop to access the internet? Another $30 or so per month for that privilege.

No matter how many ways I slice that bunch of bananas, each slice costs another $30 or so per month.

I bet grocery stores would love to figure out how to do that. That 1 pound of bananas is really 3 pounds of bananas because you are eating them in three different places.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

MaineCare... ObamaCare


Okay, this is anecdotal, but wait until it's your turn.... Names have been "redacted." From within my wife's extended family.

Let's talk about Maine:
I use Obamacare in Maine for -----. It's called, in fact, MaineCare. Great idea.

----- is now blind because of it. The ophthalmologist disregarded urgent signs of glaucoma until ----- was tripping badly over curbs and things and one of his social workers called me (begging to not be named because s/he would lose the job if "they" knew) to ask if I'd pay to have his eyes checked again because he wasn't due for his annual checkup for another 9 months and the 'doctor' who'd checked him 2.5 months before said he didn't need another check up. You see, he's retarded [ ----- had some birth problems that has affected some mental and motor skills] and we can't expect "them" to walk well and it could be his shoes after all. Of course, the woman who worked with him 5 hours a week and saw him every day in activities, wouldn't know anything, would she? New doctor, the kind you pay for, found glaucoma, advanced [after another 1.5 months had passed]. Too late. I didn't tell him anything and he excoriated us for not bringing him in for annual checkups; said it could have been prevented with a simple annual test; said ----- would have shown signs for at least 18 months. Then when I told him he'd been seen every year, in fact 4 months previously, he stopped talking and although he took good care of ----- he wouldn't say another word about any of this ~ he won't get involved.

FACT: after the morally bankrupt incompetent, fully-protected doctor blinded him, it took 9.5 months to get someone to come teach him to use the blindman's walking cane. The man who owns
-----, the music store in downtown -----, called me to say that he was very worried about ----- walking into the 4-lane divided Main Street, holding his cane aloft to the 4 Corners of the Wind, to let people know he was crossing. [That's how I found out he was 'teaching' himself to use the cane; then it took 9.5 months to get the trainer scheduled.] Meanwhile, we read up on it ourselves and ----- and I went up and trained him the best we could ~ we took turns: whoever wasn't sobbing because of what these evil bastards had done to this beautiful person would work with ----- until the next tear-choked collapse and then the other, who might have recovered a little, would take over. But of course, it was probable that we taught him incorrectly and he has had to unlearn and relearn. Difficult for anyone.

I'm just ready to have some of them [ObamaCare politicos] go into MaineCare. They are all damned liars building their power empires and protecting each other. We need to get the first chapter of Hannah Arendt's "Totalitarianism"
in a form people can easily access.

That's just one little vignette. I'm sure the country is ready for it, though.
I don't understand why so many of our leaders fail to see these problems. Why aren't they paying attention to what's happening where the very ideas they are advocating are already in effect?
Sure, just anecdotal. Would you believe a pediatric ophthalmologist?

Sure, that's just eye problems.... The other parts of our bodies will probably be okay under ObamaCare. Please line up for your cancer and heart examinations. The next available doctor will see you. Please wear your name tag for identification. Treatments will commence in one year... or 9.5 months if you have someone pushing things along for you.

Okay, let's be fair here. Government run/managed health care does work for some people.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Normal Weather For August - Maybe


The first 3 weeks of August have been pleasantly "normal" in SE Michigan... especially after a very cold July. The last two weeks have even been somewhat warmer than historical averages. So, that means summer has arrived.

Yes, but... for the rest of the month, average temperatures should be right around 70°F with the highs around 80° and the lows right around 60°. That's essentially perfect weather. The forecast, which is always subject to change shows that the expected temperatures will average about 5° below normal for the rest of the month. So we can only conclude that, when the last 1/3 of the month is added into the equation, the monthly string of below normal temperatures will be extended.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Where Did The TARP Money Go?


With all of the noise about health care, CAFE, and Cap and Scam, the small matter of $700 billion has quietly been forgotten. I'll be glad to investigate in detail where it has gone for a 15% finder's fee.

Back in March... almost 5 months ago... the Washington Post reported that:

A special inspector general at the Treasury Department recently started asking all companies that received government TARP funds for a "narrative" of where that money was going.

What I'm hearing is that at least some of the companies that got money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program could answer by saying: "Part of the money is going to hire criminal attorneys to defend ourselves because of stupid requirements like this."

TARP banks are nervous because tracking the government's money isn't as easy as Washington thinks. The Treasury said this week that it has only $134.5 billion left of the original $700 billion allocated for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Full article here....

A more recent article by Forbes stated:
TARP Remains Troubled
Alexandra Zendrian, 08.13.09, 04:00 PM EDT

The Congressional Oversight Panel has concerns about the still very much present troubled assets on banks' balance sheets.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program has being in place for 10 months. The program was originally designed to purchase troubled assets off the banks' balance sheets; when the financial crisis became dire and the previous plan wouldn't fly, the funds' intention morphed into a cash injection for the banks. So in these 10 months, we still have many of the troubled assets that were previously on banks' balance sheets but we're $700 billion in the hole. The Congressional Oversight Panel has a problem with this.

In a recent report about the TARP funds, the panel cited the lack of transparency and available information about how many troubled assets are out there. "It is likely that an overwhelming portion of the troubled assets from last October remain on bank balance sheets today," the report says. Likely, as in "we're not totally sure because we don't have all the data."

Full article here....

Sure, that's clear enough. Money went into the banks; money disappeared; nothing happened... and the problems still seem to be there.

This makes Bernie Madoff seem like a petty shoplifter... and gives me all the confidence in the world that the government's plan to spend $ trillions on health care schemes will actually improve health care.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

From Endangered To A Nuisance


As a young boy in Wisconsin, I seldom saw a Canadian goose [Branta canadensis]. As I got older and traveled a bit, I noticed more of these birds, notably in the spring and fall. Then it seemed, as if by magic, that they were everywhere... literally.

Our office building had a small reflecting pond, walks, and benches so that the employees could enjoy their lunch breaks. The geese took it over. No one wanted to walk through the bird "droppings" which were more like slime-covered rotting cigars... much less sit next to it.

Golf courses where I played became mine fields of these droppings. I dreaded picking up my golf ball for fear of what might be clinging to it.

The commons behind our home seemed like a goose hotel. Yuck!

Last night, traffic on the 4-lane highway was stopped going south as a flock of geese decided that the 2 southbound lanes were a good place for a family reunion. The drivers of the cars that were first in line were patient... too patient. Traffic backed up. Horns sounded. Finally the lead car in the right lane move forward slowly. The geese slowly moved to the left lane. The driver of the lead car in that lane sat patiently... obviously entranced by birds he had never seen before... at least in the middle of a highway. Finally that car moved forward slowly.

The birds seemed a little miffed at first. The walked randomly back and forth. Suddenly, the geese gave up on the game of "chicken" and flew off toward a nearby lake.

Are these birds really endangered and require protection? This 1996 document from American University argues that the geese of the 1990s are much different than the geese of decades earlier.

The controversy over Canada geese concerns whether or not they
are, in fact, migratory and hence privy to federal protection.
Canada geese--as their name implies--until recent years regularly
migrated to northern Canada for the summer. But over the last 20-
25 years, many geese have chosen to remain south of the border, and
the populations of these non-migratory geese have grown into the
millions, with geese situated in eastern states from Maine down to
Virginia. Aerial observations of some flocks have led to the
conclusion the number of geese has doubled since 1975 and will
continue to grow if present trends continue.

Why have the geese lost their biological impulse to migrate?
Besides protection from game-hunters, the geese have been
encouraged by the spread of suburban developments, corporate parks
and recreational areas. Canada geese prefer the short-cut,
manicured grass found on golf courses and on the properties of
suburban corporate headquarters over the wild tundra of Canada.
The shorter grasses, besides providing a plentiful source of food,
afford the geese security--they can better monitor predators with
the clearer views. Furthermore, the pools and ponds that normally
accompany these developments are perfect sources of still drinking
water. In a short time, then, the geese have learned that the
environment created by humans was much closer to goose paradise
than they would experience in Canada, and chose to stay.

... Thus new methods have
been experimented with to simply chase the geese away from private
and commercial areas. For instance, some people have invested in
grape Kool-Aid powder to sprinkle on lawns; the geese have a
digestive aversion methyl anthranilate, a natural compound found in
grapes that causing a burning sensation in their
stomachs. Border collies have also been employed to shepherd
Canada geese on public spaces onto trailers for transport to
wildlife refuges.
I see a problem with having to sprinkle grape Kool-Aid all over the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cooperatives Versus Non-Profits


The latest "spin" for government legislated health care "reform" is to have cooperatives competing against for-profit insurance companies.

Cooperatives Being Pushed as an Alternative to a Government Plan

Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

As prospects fade for a public, or government-run, option as part of health-care reform, key senators are considering another model to create competition for private insurers: member-owned, nonprofit health cooperatives.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the chief advocate for including cooperatives in reform legislation, has cited examples as disparate as the Land O'Lakes dairy concern, rural electricity cooperatives and Ace Hardware.

Read more here

All well and good... and nothing new except the name. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is not a cooperative, but it is a not-for-profit insurance company. Cooperatives, on the other hand, may make profits which are returned to the members. So, if non-profit A charges $100 and cooperative B charges $120 for the same service or product, but cooperative B returns $20 to the members, how is that reducing costs?

There is the argument that members of a cooperative are involved in decisions about how the cooperative is run. That may be true for butter or hardware, but given the panoply of insurance regulations already imposed by the government, how will a cooperative be much different from a non-profit insurance corporation? Will the 47,000,000 new members be polled?

I am called a "member" of USAA and each year receive a refund check representing premiums in excess of needed reserves. I also have a "members savings account" into which excess premiums are placed and which continues to grow. I don't really have a say as to the policy offerings or the rates, but I'm satisfied with the arrangement. Now, how am I going to benefit more from an Ace Hardware type of cooperative? Perhaps I'm missing the obvious.

Well, the obvious part that is missing is that government-controlled cooperatives [controlled by regulations, etc.] will be just another name for the government-option policies to which there is so much objection.

You say tomAto and I say tomAHto. So, let's call the whole thing off.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Problems With Temperature Data


Last week I proposed a question to Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., Anthony Watts, and Joseph D'Aleo:

I'm wondering if there is subset of the data used to track/calculate global average temperatures that is rural ['dark"] only?

It occurs to me that if there is such an unadjusted subset that can be filtered for stations that have a consistent location and cover the entire last century, it may provide a unique sampling basis for looking at global temperatures that have fewer environmental variables than the total subset. That might give a different perspective of the trend in world temperatures than the total population of reporting stations which are subject to all sorts of problems reported by Anthony. Certainly the data may be sparse in many continents, but it might be worth a look.

Are any of you aware of such an analysis?
The responses from Dr. Pielke and Joe D'Aleo were not as encouraging as I had hoped, but certainly illustrate the problems inherent in the present methodology for calculating a global average temperature:
  • Such a binning (into rural/urban sites) is useful, however it is not as straightforward as one might suspect as there are a diversity of problems even with rural sites; e.g. see
    Pielke Sr., R.A., C. Davey, D. Niyogi, S. Fall, J. Steinweg-Woods, K. Hubbard, X. Lin, M. Cai, Y.-K. Lim, H. Li, J. Nielsen-Gammon, K. Gallo, R. Hale, R. Mahmood, S. Foster, R.T. McNider, and P. Blanken, 2007: Unresolved issues with the assessment of multi-decadal global land surface temperature trends. J. Geophys. Res., 112, D24S08, doi:10.1029/2006JD008229.
    For example, rural sites can be poorly sited (e.g. next to a building; adjacent to an irrigated field on one side, etc).

    My bottom line conclusion is that the surface data has so many problems with respect to multi-decadal trends as a metric for global warming and cooling, it should be scraped all together. The upper ocean is the more appropriate metric; see
    Pielke Sr., R.A., 2008: A broader view of the role of humans in the climate system. Physics Today, 61, Vol. 11, 54-55.
    Pielke Sr., R.A., 2003: Heat storage within the Earth system. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 84, 331-335
    The surface temperature data is still valuable with respect to weather patterns, and certainly agricultural interests can use the values for their needs. But as a climate metric, it has many problems. [Pielke]

  • Anthony mentioned to me many moons ago that none other than Gavin Schmidt argued that you could get a climate signal from just 60 well placed stations worldwide.

    We talked about how we could find them and access the raw data before homogenization which is akin to mixing pure spring water with sludge. Claiming you improved the sludge but in the process made the spring water undrinkable.

    Phil Jones claim, that he no longer has the original data but only the 'value-added' adjusted data is scary. I am sure there is raw data out there we can find but as Roger says, I don't know how easy it will be to get at the metadata needed to determine station history and whether it is one of the true desired rural locations.

    One place to start may be the late and great John Daly's WHAT THE STATIONS SAY He picked what he thought were representative worldwide stations with links to plots. [D'Aleo]
This may be a possibilty if enough sites in the sampling were both truly rural and high quality, but looking at John Daly's site [above], it appears that many of those sites may have disappeared in the recent purge... with a lot of data ending at 1999 or 2000.

Perhaps you will find it disconcerting, as I do, that very respected individuals in the scientific fields of climate and weather have such serious concerns about the temperature history that is being used to establish our government's policy and spending priorities... and the influence on the rest of the world.

And if it's that difficult to come up with a clean sampling, how messed up must the total data set be?


Mini Power Stations For Homes


This 4-month old news item via Motley Fool from Utah's Daily Herald:

ASHLEY FRANSCELL/Daily Herald Ceramatec President Ashok V. Joshi and his team John Gordon (from left to right), John Watkins, Grover Coors and Anthony Nickens at Ceramatec in Salt Lake City. The team has been working on developing a storage battery for homes and businesses. Photo taken at Ceramatec in Salt Lake City.

In a modest building on the west side of Salt Lake City, a team of specialists in advanced materials and electrochemistry has produced what could be the single most important breakthrough for clean, alternative energy since Socrates first noted solar heating 2,400 years ago.

The prize is the culmination of 10 years of research and testing -- a new generation of deep-storage battery that's small enough, and safe enough, to sit in your basement and power your home.

It promises to nudge the world to a paradigm shift as big as the switch from centralized mainframe computers in the 1980s to personal laptops. But this time the mainframe is America's antiquated electrical grid; and the switch is to personal power stations in millions of individual homes.

Former energy secretary Bill Richardson once disparaged the U.S. electrical grid as "third world," and he was painfully close to the mark. It's an inefficient, aging relic of a century-old approach to energy and a weak link in national security in an age of terrorism.

Taking a load off the grid through electricity production and storage at home would extend the life of the system and avoid the expenditure of tens, or even hundreds, of billions to make it "smart."

The battery breakthrough comes from a Salt Lake company called Ceramatec, the R&D arm of CoorsTek, a world leader in advanced materials and electrochemical devices. It promises to reduce dependence on the dinosaur by hooking up with the latest generation of personalized power plants that draw from the sun.

Read full article.

However, if you live in an area where sunshine is particularly weak at times... like Seattle when it rains [when doesn't it?] or the Great Lakes region from November through April, you may not want to give up your connection to the "dinosaur" power grid.

Any new news since April?


Monday, August 17, 2009

Management By Crisis


It wasn't until Rahm Emanuel uttered the words, "Never let a serious crisis go to waste," that people realized this administration was not about crisis management... it was about management by crisis.

Having a problem with financial institutions? Then it's time for a crisis about automobiles. War in Afghanistan not going to plan? Time for a health care crisis. FDIC about to get overwhelmed? Don't worry, we'll find another crisis to divert attention.

This is not an administration with a plan. This is an administration with a strategy. We must have more crises! Nothing gets done without a crisis. If we have a crisis, we can push anything past the objections of the American people. And do it fast. And they will love us for it.

Not so much.

President Obama is hoping he can fool enough of the people all of the time so that his strategy to manage by crisis will allow him to "reform" everything he finds objectionable about our country... that's about everything.

How's that wind and solar power coming, Mr. President? Widespread blackouts coming?
Well then, we'll just have to have another crisis. Cows... cows are killing our climate. We have to stop drinking milk! Wait, not to worry. With the rash of banks failing and the FDIC going broke, people won't be able to afford electricity anyway. Demand will drop and the blackouts will be solved! Forget the cows. I'll name another czar!
Sure, Mr. President. And we'll just keep watching those Rasmussen Reports.

H/T: Kathy

Sunday, August 16, 2009

U.S. Economy Flattening


These data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on August 14:

United States

United States - Monthly Data
Data Series Back

Unemployment Rate (1)

Jump to page with historical data
8.1 8.5 8.9 9.4 9.5 9.4

Change in Payroll Employment (2)

Jump to page with historical data
-681 -652 -519 -303 (P) -443 (P) -247

Average Hourly Earnings(3)

Jump to page with historical data
18.46 18.50 18.50 18.53 (P) 18.53 (P) 18.56

Consumer Price Index (4)

Jump to page with historical data
0.4 -0.1 0.0 0.1 0.7 0.0

Producer Price Index (5)

Jump to page with historical data
-0.1 (P) -1.1 (P) 0.3 (P) 0.2 (P) 1.8

U.S. Import Price Index(6)

Jump to page with historical data
0.0 0.5 (R) 1.1 (R) 1.7 (R) 2.6 (R) -0.7

(1) In percent, seasonally adjusted. Annual averages are available for Not Seasonally Adjusted data.
(2) Number of jobs, in thousands, seasonally adjusted.
(3) For production and nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls, seasonally adjusted.
(4) All items, U.S. city average, all urban consumers, 1982-84=100, 1-month percent change, seasonally adjusted.
(5) Finished goods, 1982=100, 1-month percent change, seasonally adjusted.
(6) All imports, 1-month percent change, not seasonally adjusted.
(R) Revised
(P) Preliminary

The unemployment rate does not include people who have simply dropped out of the labor market from frustration. The most recent 3-month trend indicates an average monthly drop of about 300,000 jobs continuing.

More information about your state here.

In China It Must Be Appropriate To Be Unethical


I haven't been a big fan of China or Chinese products in general. China has built its industrial expertise and product offerings the old fashioned way: they steal it.

An AP business writer, RYAN NAKASHIMA, wrote this article, which appeared in many online sites, about China's propensity to lie, cheat, and steal its way into prosperity at the expense of others. If you grow up in a country where the government controls everything and you are used to not questioning anything, this attitude is understandable:

"I don't care whether it's pirated or legitimate so long as they look good and are convenient," said Linda Nie, 30, a researcher at a Beijing university who recently bought a pirated Chinese-language edition of Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat."

She said 70 percent of her books and DVDs at home are pirated. "The pirate stuff is good quality and well-wrapped. It's so easy to get. It's available everywhere."

Or this attitude:

"Consumers buy pirate copies maybe because it's very slow for legitimate copies to enter the Chinese market," said Xiao Wei, manager of the FAB music and movie store in Beijing. "For example, pirate copies of the movie 'Slumdog Millionaire' were available right after it won the Oscar award, but we just started to sell the legitimate copies recently, half a year later."
That's understandable for markets that the government controls. You wait a lot for a small selection. The government likes control and dislikes competition.
Foreign movies are allowed to run in theaters just two or three weeks before being pulled, and the government shuts them out during peak viewing periods such as school vacations to protect Chinese cinema.
I wonder if U.S. government-run health care might operate like that? You know, pirated copies of doctors that are a lot cheaper, but packaged nicely, where people go instead of waiting a long time for an expensive real doctor who is not available during peak hours?

Other earlier posts on this topic include this and this.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Economy Surges... Nowhere


Three months ago, I wrote:

Just some observations:

  • Unemployment has not peaked and the "hunker down" mentality is increasing which will have a suppressing effect on the economy
  • The economy has yet to feel the impact of General Motors and Chrysler declaring bankruptcy... and the bankruptcy court decisions that will ripple through the supplier base and have a suppressing effect on the economy
  • Oil prices have gone up over $15 per barrel from their lows and that will have a suppressing effect on the economy
  • The federal government's deficit spending increases will lead to either or both tax increases and higher inflation which will prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates... all of which will have a suppressing effect on the economy
  • Federal energy policies are being pushed by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman that will dramatically increase the cost of energy and create burdens on domestic manufacturers which will have a suppressing effect on the economy
I'm still not sure what hope I am to have from all of this change. But don't worry; China will buy our debt and continue to subsidize us... or will they?
Now The New York Times writes:

Halfway through the back-to-school shopping season, retail professionals are predicting the worst performance for stores in more than a decade, yet another sign that consumers are clinging to every dollar. Fears about the job market have resulted in sluggish customer traffic over the last few weeks, spurring the gloomy sales projections. Parents who do shop are aggressively trading down, informing status-conscious teenagers that notebooks from the dollar store or shirts from Costco will have to do this year.
The stock market has been optimistic, but recovery may need more than hope and some pocket change. It looks as if the Federal government is the only source of spending these days. Oh, wait! Those are our dollars, aren't they?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Doctor Supports Obama Health Plan... But Why?


I find this a case of right brain not communicating with left brain.

What does it take to shake one's faith?


Blog Changes


As time goes by, material in a blog becomes more difficult to find and navigating all of the visible material becomes tedious. As a result, I've added a few features that you may find helpful.

RECENT POSTS: Short extracts of the most recent 7 posts with links to the posts.

SEARCH THIS BLOG: In addition to the traditional Search Blog box at the very top of the blog, I've added a "Search This Blog" gadget above the top post that allows you to search my posts, links to other sources, and the web in general. Once you've entered the word or phrase, a list of posts containing those words will appear along with a short extract of the post. Above the list will be links to other choices where information might be found, including the Web.

GO TO TOP OF BLOG A navigation feature that will appear beginning with this post and also appears at the very bottom of the materials in both column.

GO TO BLOG'S COMPLETE ARCHIVE: A navigation feature that will appear beginning with this post and takes you to a chronological listing of all posts to this blog.

There may also be navigation links within some posts to items on the sidebar or below the posts. These links may or may not be functional after a period of time depending on whether the items are still there.
Hope you find these changes useful.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Watching The Federal Reserve


Ever since the Federal Reserve realized that the economy was tanking [a couple years too late] and dropped interest rates that they had just finished raising to fight inflation [when dropping prices portended possible deflation], the Fed has been sitting quietly in the background doing banking "stuff" with banks that were have problems doing their banking "stuff."

The Fed has seen itself as the guardian of our banking system, whereas the rest of the nation has thought of it as the stabilizer of our economy. Not so much. As long as banks were solid, the Fed's whipsawing of our economy [which increased in frequency after 2000] was seen as a necessary action to prevent our economy from overheating or freezing.

The reality was that the Fed was trying to protect banks from the dilution effects of inflation on their loans and assets whenever the economy was growing fast enough that demand caused price increases. On the flip side, if the economy was slowing and bank profits were thinning, then a bit of rate dropping was in order. If that benefitted the economy, that was a nice side effect.

It wasn't until the Fed's last series of interest rate hikes [on the erroneous fear of inflation] starting in 2004 exacerbated a developing financial crisis that people began to notice something amiss. With the housing market collapsing followed by energy prices crushing the economy, why was the Fed still focused on raising interest rates?

Certainly, interest rates were not high in absolute or historical terms, but they were increased so quickly that individuals and business were caught in a large relative increase in costs. Money borrowed on equity was subject to variable rates that followed the Fed's rates. Suddenly those home improvement loans because home wrecking loans. And small business owners that used their home equity for loans to increase their businesses found themselves in a cash flow crunch. The rush of loans being defaulted caught banks and the Fed by surprise. This was not supposed to happen just because of manipulations to protect banks against inflation.

In 2007, while the Fed funds rate was 5.25%, I thought that a quick, decisive cut to 4% might restore some confidence that the Fed was on top of the situation... with more cuts to follow as necessary. A few months later the Fed cut the rate to 4.75% which only triggered dismay. Another cut a month or so later to 4.25% was now too little too late. It triggered panic as people were convinced the Fed simply didn't understand the scope of the problem. From that point on, the Fed was in a canoe following the tidal wave of collapse. There was nothing it could do.

The best laid plans....

Now there are rumblings about possible Fed actions to raise the funds rates. Well, they are at 0% so it is difficult to lower them. The question is: when is it appropriate to return rates to a more "normal" level and how fast? The last part of the question is even more important than the first part. Given the huge value losses of real estate and investments, at what point do we say everything is "normal" again? When the DJIA reaches 10,000? When home foreclosures return to the average rate of the past 10 years? When unemployment falls below 6 percent?

That's the big question for the Fed: when and how fast should the economic brakes be applied? There is no more accelerator for the Fed to press, so all the Fed can do is apply the brakes. How much slower should the economy go from here?

Go to the very bottom of this column to read some excerpts from blog posts going back to the beginning of 2006. It explains much. You can also do a blog search on "Federal Reserve" using the search box at the top left.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Other Issues Around The U.S. House Health Care Plan


Nearly everyone concedes that the Democratic Party Health Care Plan simply doesn't address basic reform needs:

First and paramount, is the need for tort reform. This gargantuan issue has been successfully ignored by the trial-lawyer happy Democratic Party and they will continue to do so. But the effects have been recognized for a long time. It's in the Congressional Record. Of course, being in the Congressional Record doesn't make it so, but do your own math. The billions of dollars in added health care cost from jury awards leads to higher malpractice insurance costs which leads to millions of unnecessary tests ordered by physicians to cover their asses so that they don't have to face an award-happy jury.

Second is health maintenance versus damage control. If the Democratic Party feels it is necessary to penalize wealthier Americans for the poor habits of the poor Americans, then it once again has successfully avoided a major problem within our system. Lousy eating habits and smoking/drugs/alcohol... among other things... will chew up a great portion of the Democratic Party damage control plan because there is nothing in the plan to say to people contributing mightily to their own poor health that they have to change or don't look to anyone else to rescue them when their bodies fail. But that might lose the Democratic Party a lot of votes.

Third is the government's own antiquated health advice about eating a high carbohydrate, low fat diet that has led to all sorts of innovative fat and meat substitutes that have created several generations of sick hearts and diabetes-racked bodies. Eat a lot of grains and fruit... loaded with sugars or starch that convert to fat through over-production of insulin... that leads to insulin resistance... that leads to diabetes.
Why do you suppose so many pasta lovers are so fat? The fact that grain-based food is so cheap [corn, wheat, and rice are subsidized by the government] and the government continues to push bad advice makes the government about as bad for our nation's health as drug dealers on the street corners... and affect the poor who can't afford the damage control system more than any other class. This is perhaps the most misunderstood and neglected area of health care and maintenance.

Fourth is the drug industry that is continued to be incentived to produce pills as the solution for governmental and individual stupidity or ignorance. You can hardly blame entrepreneurs for recognizing a money-making opportunity when the government throws one at them. Billions of dollars for costly pills to control problems that wouldn't occur with some good information and personal effort. Sure, our bodies are not perfect and drugs do a lot of good for a lot of people. But there is a lot of misinformation leading to unnecessary poor-health conditions leading to unnecessary consumption of expensive pills.
No, its just so much easier to take away our liberties, over-tax the most productive segment of our population, and create a bureaucracy-laden system that delivers "you can't have it your way health care."

For a slightly different perspective, look here. [h/t Carpe Diem] Yes, and this can only be done if the four points above are addressed. Otherwise, you do what you did and you get what you got.


Can"t Find It?

Use the SEARCH BLOG feature at the upper left. For example, try "Global Warming".

You can also use the "LABELS" below or at the end of each post to find related posts.

Blog Archive

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CO2 Cap and Trade

There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
It was beautiful and simple, as truly great swindles are.
- O. Henry
... The Government is on course for an embarrassing showdown with the European Union, business groups and environmental charities after refusing to guarantee that billions of pounds of revenue it stands to earn from carbon-permit trading will be spent on combating climate change.
The Independent (UK)

Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)