Saturday, August 28, 2010

Competing rallies in DC today mark MLK "I have a dream" anniversary

Well, yesterday Ben Bernanke spoke in Wyoming, and reassured everyone he would to what it takes to prevent a Japanese-style deflation, admitting that the recovery is stalling, and staying away from too much negativity. The speech at the Fed site is here.

I’m left wondering if all this comes to a question about all of us living within our means.

Also, yesterday, news media reported a story about a Mississippi school district that had to retract a three decades old DOJ policy that mandated rotating racial mix of student body offices, as unbelieveable as that sounds now (MSN story here; note the embedded PDF document of the school system policy). At the same time, a federal judge had to order another Mississippi school district to end de facto segregation, Reuters link here.

So today I took off, however late, for the Glenn Beck’s Tea Party – sorry, Restoring Honor – rally near the Lincoln Memorial, and Al Sharpton’s competing march, recalling Martin Luther King’s speech this day in 1963. There is plenty of black-and-white footage of that day. I remember that the “new” Washington Senators had baseball postponed two days, and lost a doubleheader to the Minnesota Twins, 14-2 and 10-1, the following Thursday (the Senators finished 56-106 in 1963, their worst year). That was a difficult time in my own life, at age 20.

As for Beck, yup, you can’t expect your government to behave honorably if you don’t behave honorably yourself. He also spoke about "patriotism", respect for the miltiary, and reported alluded gently to family values. The Honro and patriotism matter was a theme of former midshipman Joseph Steffan’s “Honor Bound’ (1992). 

As for the Beck rally, the crowds returning to the Metro stops were overwhelming, but one look told a lot. A lot of them were lean and fit enough to be in the heat for hours, just like to be on a disco floor. They’re not the sort to use socialized health insurance much. The Beck side of things sounded, from what I personally saw, less “moralistic” that Sharpton’s. I saw no posters about abortion or gay marriage or “polarizing” social issues. The Beck rally was supposed to be non-partisan and more about "responsibility" and accountability than politics per se. OK. Beck did get into "God". Other reporters discuss Sarah Palin's speeches.

YouTube from The Daily Beck

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Some companies have stolen employee benefits, wages when they go bankrupt

On Tuesday, Aug. 24, ABC Good Morning America presented a story about companies that misappropriated their employees’ health insurance premiums and pensions before going bust, just to keep going, leaving employees stranded without insurance and with final paychecks that bounced.

The story concerned a steel production company (Phezer) in Illinois that went bankrupted and liquidated in 2008.

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA, link)  at the Department of Labor is supposed to investigate cases like this.

Elisabetg Leamy gave the report.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

At least, foreign held public debt may be going down gradually

Here is something helpful in the New York Times Business Day from Floyd Norris, “Off the Charts: U.S. Debt Is Staying in the U.S.”, link (website url) here.

At least since the 2008 crisis and bailouts, the foreign debt problem and leverage that countries like China could have hasn’t gotten worse. Americans are buying the T-bills because they’re scared of everything else, and aren’t getting back to work.

46% of public debt is held overseas, down from 49% in early 2008. But foreigners still seem to be buying those $10 high rise condos in New York and elsewhere.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bedbugs are returning, lying in homes and apartments in ambush; a horror movie scenario?

The latest scourge to come back, or at least get attention from the media, is bedbugs. They bite and feast on humans like vampires, but amazingly they are not known to transmit specific infectious diseases.

According to the media, they have been making a comeback since the mid 1990s, partly because pesticides are not as effective as they once were (when DDT was used), and partly because of so much travel.

They seem to be coming back more in some states, like Ohio and Kentucky, but recently a movie complex near Times Square closed down for a day to deal with them.

One treatment that has been touted is superheating the room, expensive and labor-intensive, as explained in this story by Maureen MacDonald for the Detroit News, “Decontamination company finds success with bedbugs; firm boosts sales by adding eco-friendly pest eradication,” link here.  The company is BioGreen Solutions (not the same as “Biogreen Energy Solutions), link.

The Harvard School of Public Health has a useful reference here.  It seems as though they tend to get brought in on luggage, clothing from travel, and sometimes in apartment moves, sometimes with old furniture. For tenants, a landlord’s need to treat for bedbugs could be disruptive, necessitating putting some items in storage for a while.

Contrary to popular conception, bedbugs are not related very much to housekeeping effectiveness.

The Mayo Clinic also has a reference here.

Wikipedia attribution link for bedbug picture of “traumatic insemination” here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Hindenburg Omen" instance predicts a stock market crash before the end of 2010

There is a rumor on the Internet (when isn’t there?) that a technical confluence in the stock market called the Hindenburg Omen has arrived, according to a blog posting on ZeroHedge by Tyler Durden on Aug. 12. The link is here. Call it an "instance" if the Hindenburg Omen is a java class. When you read the technical definition, you want to get on to coding methods..

That’s supposed to mean a strong likelihood of a stock market crash within the next 120 days, at least on the scale of the 2008 crash. Of course, the Hindenburg Omen was also observed in early 2009.

The theory is that when too many highs and lows occur on the same day or in a short time, the market is essentially unstable and will eventually topple, like a top that has stopped spinning,

The phenomenon is named after the crash of the crash of the German Hindenburg blimp (hydrogen filled) on landing in New Jersey in 1937, subject of a 1976 film.

Eric Rosenbaum also had a story on “The Streethere today Aug 16

Is this another “Chicken Little – Sky Is Falling” urban legend on the Web? Remember, in the film, Chicken Little is criticized by his dad for ruining his “online reputation” with his predictions.

Does somebody out there understand this?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

New battle in W Va pits mountaintop removal against wind power

The Business Day section of the Sunday New York Times, Aug. 15, leads off with a big photo story about mountaintop removal and strip mining for coal, mainly in the southern Appalachians. The title is “A Battle in Mining Country Pits Coal Against Wind”, by Tom Zeller Jr. It discusses the proposed Coal River Mountain expansion of the huge Kayford mine. In an area called Rock Creek, near Whitesville (and Charleston WVA) there is a proposal to build windmills on top of the ridge, a practice already done on Allegheny Mountain in Pennsylvania.

The article has a map showing the areas of surface mining and mountaintop removal. It does not (yet) encroach on the Spruce Knob and Dolly Sods area, but does occur in the Mt. Storm area to the north of that. I wrote about Spruce Knob in Friday Aug 13 on my main “BillBoushka” blog after a day trip. The strip mine area covers most of the mountainous area of eastern Kentucky, and a little of southwestern Virginia; I saw a lot of strip mining damage there in May 1972.

The link for the story is here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New bacterial gene could increase antibiotic resistance, pose a public health problem

The Associated Press is reporting a new “suberbug gene” called NDM-1 which can be transmitted to many bacteria and which can make many common bacteria (staph, e-coli, etc) resistant to almost all known antibiotics.

The gene seems to occur in India and Pakistan, and might be brought back to Europe, the UK, and eventually the US and Canada through “medical tourism.”

The Washington Post ran the AP story, orginal link here (from Mississippi) on Aug. 11.

The problem could make, for example, ordinary dental infections had to treat. Or it might lead to more superbug "flesh eating" bacteria infections, as in horror movies, and impossible to treat without amputations.

A problem like this exists with MRSA in hospitals and in sports locker rooms, with hospital patients being screened by nasal swabs for MRSA and treated with extra hygiene procedures and visitor restrictions. Yet, MRSA is common in the general population and causes no symptoms in many people, whose immune systems seem to keep it in check.

The presence of bacteria amplified by a gene like NDM-1 could greatly complicate public health and infection control.

The Lancet article is at this link. The title is “Emergence of a new antibiotic resistance mechanism in India, Pakistan, and the UK: a molecular, biological, and epidemiological study”, and there are numerous authors listed.

Similarly, public health officials have become concerned about drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis, untreated TB is undetected and walled-off in many people for decades, only activated after some event (HIV, malignancy, chemotherapy) releases it; but mutations could lead to more drug resistance (as with the Andrew Speaker case, as in this blog discussion link.

Monday, August 09, 2010

More on "America's parent trap" (and perhaps the loss of "the tender trap")

Robert J. Samuelson has an important op-ed in the Washington Post, Monday, Aug. 9, p A13, “America’s parent trap”, where he discusses frankly the issue of population replacement and a society’s future growth. The link is here. The writing is soft in tone, avoiding the stridence of the right wing’s “demographic winter” and concern about the potential racial, relgious or political implications of population especially in Europe but eventually in the US.

A look at Samuelson’s career as a journalist shows that he is persistently concerned about western societies living beyond their means. Wikipedia says that he does not vote, because he believes that would interfere with his impartiality as a journalist. That’s interesting: I would never take the “impartiality” in that direction, but I do wonder if journalists can have direct reports in the workplace (except when carefully structured), or can run for office.

The “meaning between the lines” of Samuelson’s essay is that western society has structured notions of consent and personal responsibility, while socializing care for the elderly, to the extent that many people, with some degree of cynicism, decide that they cannot take on the responsibility or particularly the “risk” (or, rather, uncertainty, not quite the same concept) of becoming parents. (There is some legitimate debate as to how much eldercare is “socialized” [with an “anti-parenting” effect] if one looks at social security has become (largely) an annuity where the “premiums” are the FICA tax and Medicare is likewise viewed as partially a Medicare savings account through the Medicare tax.)

The United States indeed maintaining a replacement rate of about 2.1 children per woman (compared to many countries in Europe (and Japan [China is its own special case]) where, despite parent-friendly policies, birth rates are still low). But 40% of the births occur outside of marriage, and more of them occur in economically challenged groups with less “individualistic” cultures.

From a practical perspective, the situation in the West can become unsustainable. Adults who never “chose” to be parents find themselves pulled “personally” into eldercare (which will overwhelm the system) and, perhaps with some increasing frequency, being confronted with “opportunities” to raise other people’s children (the “Raising Helen” and “Summerland” situations). It is certainly interesting to analyze how this intersects with the debate on gay marriage and, moreover, gay adoption or even surrogate parenting (a point that makes “natural family” or “full cradle” advocates like Allan Carlson, Paul Mero or Philip Longman wince).

Samuelson writes that public policy (or tax policy) always promotes some activity and discourages others. He plays on my “area of mutual agreement” and suggests that instead of subsidizing people’s having mortgages that they cannot afford, we provide a new child tax credit, referring (with some preparation) to Robert Stein (“Taxes and the Family” from National Affairs” (here) ), who says that policy should have a pro-family bias because parenting is “one of the most important services any American can perform.” Stein proposes a new $4000 per child tax credit that offsets both social security and regular income taxes.

Qucik Update:

I noticed one paragaph in Stein's essay that is so blunt and unmincing in words that I have to quote it in full:

"Instead, those seeking to restore the incentives for producing new generations of Americans should push to reduce taxes on families with children. Such a reform would offset the negative bias imposed by the public retirement system. It would also communicate to Americans that people living in societies with public retirement systems must meet two obligations in order to sustain those systems: first, work and pay taxes to support the previous generation; second, raise children to support today's workers when they retire. Those who do not raise children are, in effect, enjoying a partial free ride at the expense of those who do. (Emphasis added.) The next great tax reform should thus begin by cutting taxes for parents."

Again, though, social security is an annuity for one's own retirement; it's not a subsidy to parents!

I did place this comment on the article at the Washington Post site:

Right, our "ground rules" on personal responsibility and having children -- and eldercare -- are shifting. I wrote a post this morning on yours and Stein's piece here (this url) Stein doesn't mince words, effectively calling the childless freeloaders. Elinor Burkett had written a book about this "The Baby Boon" back in 2000; also check Philip Longman's "The Empty Cradle" and Allan Carlson's "The Natural Family: A Manifesto" on Amazon. How does this debate intersect with the gay marriage issue?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Special education teachers from Philippines may be scammed; KIPP results in DC challenged

A class action suit alleges that many Filipino teachers recruited to teach in the United States, especially special education, were manipulated into indentured servitude, with massive fee payments resulting in debt, according to a USA Today story by Mike Hasten of Gannett, Thursday Aug. 5, link here. The suit specifically deals with teachers in Louisiana.

According to the story, two companies named in the suit include Universal Placement International (UPI), based in Los Angeles, and a related company, PARS International Placement Agency of Manila..

Many teachers were expected to send money to family back home.

Around the country, many of the special education jobs were relatively hard to fill two or three years ago, although the budget crisis and teacher layoffs may have changed things. School districts were unaware of the “job placement” fees being charged to teachers.

The story was covered on Anderson Cooper’s AC360 on CNN late Friday night. The video clip is called “Migrant teachers claim scam”.

The Washington Post has another important education story today (Saturday Aug. 7), by Bill Turque, “Reading and Math Scores fall sharply at two KIPP schools in the District”, link here.  The KIPP falloff occurred in elementary grades. KIPP places extreme demands on teachers. But the general population, especially middle schools, in the District has a way to go, despite Michelle Rhee’s “cleaning house”. Her latest wave of teacher layoffs are still in dispute with the unions and as to what exactly will happen this fall.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Saw lots of new windmills in Allegheny mountains in central PA

Today, after visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial (the Kecksburg 1965 “UFO crash site” is also nearby), I noticed lots of rows of windmills on top of the Allegheny Mountain Ridge in south central Pennsylvania. They seem to have been built recently. Viewed from the west, they tend to make the Ridge look small (but one is up on top of a plateau there). They look a bit like the falling towers from Stephen King’s “The Langoliers”.  I presume landowners get a royalty and sell power.

But it’s good to see some rapid progress on renewable energy production.

I saw one small instance of strip mining off US 219 near Mt. Davis (no picture).
If anyone wants to see the power of mountain removal, even for highway construction, look at the Sidling Hill cut on I-68 west of Hancock, MD.  I'd rather have seen a tunnel.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Are we on the "cusp" of deflation?

Nikhil Hutheesing has a video on “Daily Finance” interviewing Gary Schilling with a warning “U.S. is on the cusp of deflation,” link here.

Despite the growing national debt (or maybe because of it), Schilling thinks that the US economy faces 2-3% deflation a year for the next decade.

This sets up depressionary psychology where consumers keep waiting for prices to get lower while inventories rise. Schilling also predicts a W-shaped recession, and then a long drepressionary period.

That’s the classic essay question in freshman college history on the Great Depression.

Nevertheless, with health care, eldercare, and education costs rising, one wonders. Why can’t more unsold condos be refurbished into senior retirement homes and step-downs to assisted living where necessary. That would sell some inventory in Sunbelt cities. Donald Trump should get to work on that idea.

Other stories today suggest that a housing shortage could again develop quickly.

I see on Amazon that back in 2002, Schilling had a book "Deflation: How to Survive & Thrive in the Coming Wave of Deflation".  He has a new book coming from Wiley in two months, not om Amazon yet.

In AP calculus, a "cusp" is  max or min point, isn't it?  Anybody remember their last calculus test?  It's summer, I know. Mathematics really matters in finance and economics.

Here's another take on Daily KOS, "If deflation is bad, bailouts are worse", from Aug. 5, link.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Mothers with kids are not keeping up in the workplace

The Business Day section of the New York Times leads off with an “Economic Scene” story by David Leonhardt, “A Market Punishing to Mothers,” link here.

Essentially, the article maintains that workplace and career parity for women exists for women who don’t have any children. Once a woman has children and takes any leave at all, or tries the Mommy track for a while, it’s very difficult to climb back.

This observation rings true even in European countries with aggressive paid maternal (and sometimes paternal) leave policies imposed on employers.

And the problem its low income women harder, as they are more likely to have become single mothers.

The article reinforces the conclusions in the book by Cahn and Carbone “Red Families v. Blue Families” discussed on my book review blog Aug. 2.

The problem doesn’t lend itself to an easy policy solution, the article says – unless there is a lot of rethinking of the social contract.


As if moms didn't have enough controversy today, supermodel Gisele Bundchen told a British magazine that women should be required by law to breastfeed for the first six months. Here is the Huffington Post story.

Monday, August 02, 2010

On national defitics and debt: "What 'THEY' just aren't telling us"

Imagine if the Earth’s orbit were slowing decaying into the Sun (causing global warming) and “they” just didn’t tell us!

Fiscally, the New York Times ran an editorial Sunday about the US debt crisis, “What they’re not telling you”, link here. (There are shades of The Washington Times here.)

Didn’t anyone tell the Times that “There is no ‘They’”? “They” is “we”!  (Back around 1960 at college freshman hazing sessions, "they" shaved the boys' legs.  Okay, there is a horror movie called "Them"!)

Bill Clinton (one of our most fiscally responsible presidents, however “Republicrat”) left us a budget surplus, but the actuarial mathematics of entitlements, plus two Bushie wars, plus the Bush tax cuts, they say, put us in the hole.

So, he we go, stopping “kicking the can down the road.” Entitlement reform? Maybe even means testing, sooner than is thinkable? Or maybe a value added tax, just like in Europe?

Rescinding Bush tax cuts just on the wealthy won’t make that much difference, they say. Ordinary citizens and what they “need” become the problem.

Conservatives will want a world where you take care of your own. (Bill Clinton does know how to take care of his daughter’s wedding.)

Picture: Raindrops make for some nice accidental artwork, Warhol style.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Congress considers substantial Internet gambling ban repeal

Legislation has been introduced to partially repeal the US ban on Internet gambling. This would be The Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act (H.R. 2267), as reported in a story by Mike Sachoff in Webpronews, link here.

The Govtrack link for the bill is here.

A couple of the key provisions mentioned in the summary are “Shields a financial transaction provider from liability for engaging in financial activities and transactions on behalf of a licensee, or involving a licensee, if such activities are in compliance with federal and state laws. Permits states and Indian tribal authorities to opt-out of Internet gambling activities within their respective jurisdictions.”

After I discontinued my old domain name hppub in 2005 (transferring everything to doaskdotell), an overseas casino picked it up and used it for about three years, despite the supposed Internet gambling ban, which was apparently very difficult to enforce.

Wikipedia attribution link for Las Vegas picture.