10.31.2009

The Wachovia branch with Wells Fargo tellers

Wachovia and Wells Fargo put a new spin on bank mergers

One Door, Two Stores

Excerpt:

A Wachovia branch in Phoenix is now home to a completely independent Wells Fargo banking center in addition to its own operations. Two separate banks share one building. Or, as the Wells Fargo-Wachovia Blog calls it, "One Door, Two Stores."

It started when a grocery store closed earlier this year, and the in-store Wells branch found itself homeless. But across the street, recently acquired Wachovia waited with open arms. Now the two banks share the building, but they remain completely independent. Two staffs, two teller lines, two vaults, even two different signs in front of the building.

Wells Fargo and Wachovia still operate their bank branches on different computer systems. When the systems merge sometime next year, the shared bank building will become exclusively a Wells Fargo store.


Comment: Unusual

How much government debt is too much?

Robert J. Samuelson: Up Against a Wall of Debt - How much can governments borrow?

Excerpts:

The idea that the government of a major advanced country would default on its debt—that is, tell lenders that it won't repay them all they're owed—was, until recently, a preposterous proposition. Argentina or Russia might stiff their creditors, but surely not the likes of the United States, Japan, or Great Britain. Well, it's still a very, very long shot, but it's no longer entirely unimaginable. Governments of rich countries are borrowing so much that it's conceivable that one day the twin assumptions underlying their burgeoning debt (that lenders will continue to lend and that governments will continue to pay) might collapse. What happens then?

...

Deprived of domestic or international credit, defaulting countries in the past have suffered deep economic downturns, hyperinflation, or both. The odds may be against a wealthy society tempting that fate, but even the remote possibility underlines the precariousness and novelty of our present situation.


Comment: Sounds like the answer is "we don't know but we don't want to find out".

10.29.2009

Lipitor and Zocor AND the flu

Cholesterol drugs may improve flu survival

Excerpt:

A new treatment for swine flu may already be on pharmacy shelves — cholesterol-lowering statin drugs like Lipitor and Zocor.

A large study found that people who were taking these drugs when they caught seasonal flu and had to be hospitalized were twice as likely to survive than those who were not on such medicines.

This doesn't prove that statins can cure flu, or that starting on them after catching the flu would help. A federal study is under way now to test that. Doctors are optimistic, because previous studies also found that statins may improve survival from infectious diseases.


Comment: Of interest to me because I take Zocor

First-Time homeowner tax credit fraud

First-Time Fraudsters

Excerpt:

It's hard not to laugh when viewing the results of the federal first-time home-buyer tax credit. The credit, worth up to $8,000 for the purchase of a home, has only been available since April of last year. Yet news of the latest taxpayer-funded mortgage scam has traveled fast. The Treasury's inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George, recently told Congress that at least 19,000 filers hadn't purchased a home when they claimed the credit. For another 74,000 filers, claiming a total of $500 million in credits, evidence suggests that they weren't first-time buyers.

Among those claiming bogus credits, at least some of them were definitely first-timers. The credit has already been claimed by 500 people under the age of 18, including a four-year-old. This pre-K housing whiz likely bought because mom and dad make too much to qualify for the full credit, which starts to phase out at $150,000 of income for couples, $75,000 for singles.

As a "refundable" tax credit, it guarantees the claimants will get cash back even if they paid no taxes. A lack of documentation requirements also makes this program a slow pitch in the middle of the strike zone for scammers. The Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department are pursuing more than 100 criminal investigations related to the credit, and the IRS is reportedly trying to audit almost everyone who claims it this year.

Speaking of the IRS, apparently its own staff couldn't help but notice this opportunity to snag an easy $8,000. One day after explaining to Congress how many "home-buyers" were climbing aboard this gravy train, Mr. George appeared on Neil Cavuto's program on the Fox Business Network. Mr. George said his staff has found at least 53 cases of IRS employees filing "illegal or inappropriate" claims for the credit. "In all honesty this is an interim report. I expect that the number would be much larger than that number," he said.

...


Comment: If the government cannot control this and make it fraud-proof, it should not be extended!

Big Mac leaves Iceland ... and why you should care

The Big Mac's Currency Lesson - McDonald's departure from Iceland is a suggestive economic indicator

Excerpt:

.... McDonald's Icelandic franchisee noted, in explaining his decision to throw in the patty, that unlike his local competitors, McDonald's imports most of its raw ingredients, from beef to special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and, we assume, sesame seed buns. This reliance on imports has undercut McDonald's margins in the island nation, which saw the krona plummet by more than 80% after the financial panic took down the country's major banks.

But the lesson here is not about the dangers of globalization or the virtues of buying local. Since Iceland's banks collapsed last fall, and its currency with them, the cost in local currency of all imports, and not just fast food, has soared. This has done nothing to "cushion" the blow to Iceland's economy from what amounted to an international run on its banks. What it has done is added a currency panic to a financial panic, and made Iceland's prospects bleaker than they otherwise might have been.

In countries such as Ireland, some critics of the euro have claimed that membership in the currency bloc has made its economic woes that much more painful, and that Ireland would have been better off if it could have depreciated its way out of trouble. In the U.S., too, there's a chorus arguing that we can devalue our way toward prosperity. But debasing one's currency makes a country poorer, not richer. Just ask the residents of Reykjavik ...


Comment: Why you should care: Because that national debt clock that keeps ticking (upper right on this blog) and that just a little more than a year ago was 7 trillion and now has passed 12 Trillion (in just a year!!!), is an indicator that we as a nation are digging a deeper and deeper debt PIT. And that the dollar is worth less and less!

On stadiums and subsidies

A new Vikings stadium? L.A. shows us how

Excerpt:

It is in that context that Zygi Wilf and the team's lobbyists are asking for public money. Lester Bagley, their chief lobbyist, recently stated that the cost to taxpayers to retire the debt for a new stadium could be $50 million annually. For this price, Wilf would build a 65,000-seat stadium. Every year, the Vikings would play eight home games there, plus two preseason ones.

To put this into terms to which we can relate, Bagley wants taxpayers to subsidize each of the 65,000 seats at every Vikings home game to the tune of $77 per ticket. That is $77 in taxpayer money for each ticket, at every game, including preseason ones, for decades to come!

That's a lot of money. Especially when many Minnesotans are struggling to make ends meet and to pay for health care, and government is slowly shutting down core services.

What about the supposed economic benefits of keeping the Vikings? Businesses seeking public money hire consulting firms to produce studies showing "new" tax revenues generated by the business, revenues they claim would not exist without that business.

But neutral economic studies show the opposite. The difference is easy to explain. Studies produced by the team imply that revenue for salaries and profits that generate those taxes comes out of thin air. In fact, those revenues are paid by spectators, fans and advertisers — who, if they didn't spend it on the Vikings, would spend it on other things, enabling other businesses to hire people and make money, all of which also generates tax money, perhaps more money than would be generated by the team. The economic reality is that these subsidies do not pay for themselves.


Comment: I oppose public subsidies to build a new stadium! Just charge the true cost of the ticket. See who can afford to go! (I can't afford to go now!)

Edmunds crunches the numbers on clunker program

Cash for Clunkers was a lemon

Excerpt:

American taxpayers paid a lot of cash for those clunkers: $24,000 for each new car sold, according to a study released Wednesday.

That’s a lot of money, especially when the so-called “cash for clunker” stimulus program offered only a maximum $4,500 in cash for each person who traded in an old gas-guzzler and bought a new car.

The government could have done almost as well by just giving away cars for free, instead of creating an elaborate incentive program, according to an analysis by the automotive information firm Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, Calif.

What happened?

Well, it’s in how Edmunds crunched the numbers. A valid way to evaluate the program economically, it says, is to look at how many people purchased cars that otherwise wouldn’t have been bought. The firm says that number is about 125,000 cars. By that measure, the government spent $24,000 to generate each sale of a new car.

For comparison, the average price for a new vehicle in August 2009 was $26,915, minus an average cash rebate of $1,667.

In all, the government spent $3 billion on a program that provided cash toward 690,000 car purchases - about $4,348 per car. That makes 565,000 people who got as much as $4,500 to buy a car they would have bought anyway, according to the Edmunds analysis.


Comment: Tax cuts would a be better way to stimulate the economy!

White House Overstates Job Growth

CBS: White House Overstates Job Growth - Number of Jobs Created or Saved Because of Stimulus Program Exaggerated, Review Finds

Excerpt:

An early progress report on President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan overstates by thousands the number of jobs created or saved through the stimulus program, a mistake that White House officials promise will be corrected in future reports.

The government's first accounting of jobs tied to the $787 billion stimulus program claimed more than 30,000 positions paid for with recovery money. But that figure is overstated by least 5,000 jobs, according to an Associated Press review of a sample of stimulus contracts.

The AP review found some counts were more than 10 times as high as the actual number of jobs; some jobs credited to the stimulus program were counted two and sometimes more than four times; and other jobs were credited to stimulus spending when none was produced.


Comment: We can't trust this White House

10.28.2009

H1N1 vaccine: adjuvants, thimerosal, and chicken eggs

Why You Can't Get the Swine Flu Vaccine

Excerpt:

Though the swine flu is widespread in 46 states many Americans are still waiting to get their vaccines. The Obama administration blames the shortage on manufacturing delays at the five firms making these products. But production issues only explain part of the shortfall. Also to blame are a series of policy decisions that reflect our extreme caution when it comes to these products.

From a regulatory standpoint, vaccines are unique in many ways. Since we distribute them widely to otherwise healthy people, they deserve careful oversight. But right now we are shunning new, superior vaccine science by being overly cautious.

On Saturday, when President Obama declared the outbreak a national emergency, he enabled the suspension of federal rules in order to speed the distribution of treatments. Yet less than half the projected vaccine has been actually shipped. Supply is far below the government's estimate of 40 million ready vaccines by November.

The first fateful policy decision, made last spring, was to forgo vaccine additives—called adjuvants—that activate the immune system and make shots more potent. Adjuvants allow a smaller supply of vaccine stock to be stretched across more doses. These adjuvants are included in H1N1 vaccines world-wide, but not in the U.S.

Why do adjuvants matter? An adjuvanted H1N1 vaccine being used in Europe contains 3.75 micrograms of vaccine stock. The same vaccine in the U.S., without the adjuvant, requires 15 micrograms of vaccine for equal potency. If we used adjuvants, we could have had four times the number of shots with the same raw material.

The second cautious decision was to require that the H1N1 vaccine be a single shot. The government demanded single-dose syringes because they contain smaller amounts of thimerosal than multi-dose vials. This mercury-containing vaccine preservative continues to stir concern it can trigger childhood autism, even though this has been firmly disproven.

The third policy decision was to stick for too long with a proven, but slow process for making flu shots that uses chicken eggs to grow the raw vaccine material. Shots can be made much faster using mammalian cells to grow vaccine, and this process is already being used in Europe. The cell-based vaccines are unlikely to be approved in the U.S. Our precaution when it comes to vaccines means we don't easily embrace novel technologies, even if the Europeans would part with some of their limited supply.


Comment: Interesting!

States "in residents' rear view mirrors"

Escape From New York - A new study says taxes are driving people away

Excerpt:

Between 2000 and 2008, the Empire State had a net domestic outflow of more than 1.5 million, the biggest exodus of any state, with most hailing from New York City. The departures also have perilous budget consequences, since they tend to include residents who are better off than those arriving. Statewide, departing families have income levels 13% higher than those moving in, while in New York County (home of Manhattan) the differential was even more severe. Those moving elsewhere had an average income of $93,264, some 28% higher than the $72,726 earned by those coming in.

In 2006 alone, that swap meant the state lost $4.3 billion in taxpayer income. Add that up from 2001 through 2008, and it translates into annual net income losses somewhere near $30 billion. That trend is part of a larger march for New York: In 1950 the state accounted for 19% of all Americans, but by 2000 that number had fallen to 7%. The city's main saving grace has been its welcome mat for foreign immigrants, who have helped to replace some of those who flee.

As the study's authors, E.J. McMahon and Wendell Cox, suggest, no single reason can be fingered for a million migrants seeking their fortunes across state lines, but one place to start is New York's notorious state and local tax burden. According to the Tax Foundation, between 1977 and 2008, New York has ranked first or second in the country for its state-local tax burden compared to the U.S. average.

In the years considered by the Empire Center study, New York's state and local tax burden ranged between 11% and 12% of income. The peak year for taxes, 2004, was followed by the peak year for departures—as New York lost nearly 250,000 people to other states in 2005. And that's before another big tax hike this year.

That pattern is consistent with the annual migration patterns, showing that highly taxed and economically lackluster states were most likely to end up in residents' rear view mirrors. According to the annual study by United Van Lines, states like New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Illinois have been big losers in recent years.


Comment: A EZ way to compare states taxes is Bestplaces.net. We looked at housing in Tennessee while we were away on vacation there. A nice executive style house in a premier neighborhood had property taxes 40% of what we pay in MN .... AND TN has no State income taxes!.

Bravo for Joe!

Lieberman Steps Up - Opposing Reid's public option gambit

Excerpt:

The health-care debate isn't over, notwithstanding the White House-Nancy Pelosi attempt to make it seem inevitable. Majority Leader Harry Reid had barely announced his plan to include a public insurance option when Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman declared yesterday that he'd join a filibuster against such a Senate bill.

"We're trying to do too much at once," Mr. Lieberman said. "To put this government-created insurance company on top of everything else is just asking for trouble for the taxpayers, for the premium payers and for the national debt. I don't think we need it now."

Bravo, Joe. It's a relief to see at least someone standing up to the Washington rush to rearrange 18% of the U.S. economy without carefully inspecting the cost and the consequences. (See above for what the Senate Finance bill that is the basis for Mr. Reid's bill would do to insurance premiums.)


Comment: One of my favorite Democrats (err ... Independent!).

10.27.2009

Obama's whining sounds like "I'm not up to the job"

The Post-Gracious President - Whenever he must make a difficult decision, Mr. Obama complains it's Bush's fault.

Excerpts:

Far from one-off asides, Mr. Obama's jabs at his predecessor have been a common feature of his speeches, fund-raisers and the like. They seem especially to pop up whenever Mr. Obama discovers some decision he must make is not as easy as he'd thought. And they date back to the first moments of his presidency.

After a perfunctory thank you to Mr. Bush, a newly sworn-in President Obama declared that Americans had gathered for his inaugural "because we have chosen hope over fear," that his administration would "restore science to its rightful place," and that he would never allow America to "give [our ideals] up for expedience's sake." In other words, President Bush had chosen fear over hope, was being "expedient" rather than defending the nation, and had chosen religious fundamentalism over science when making decisions in areas such as embryonic stem-cell research.

...

Policy differences, of course, are fair game for sharp debate, and in the end history will apportion the credit and blame due Mr. Bush. By any measure, however, Mr. Obama's ongoing snipes against a predecessor who is no longer involved in setting policy are extraordinary. They are more extraordinary still issuing from a president who campaigned on a promise to transcend the political divisions of the past.

Barack Obama may believe that his incessant whining about all the challenges his predecessor left him lets America know how tough he has it. The danger to his presidency is that it can sound awfully like "I'm not up to the job."


Comment: History will judge him as "not up the job". I suspect the electorate will as well!

"Are we going to ban lowercase t's in the alphabet?"

Cross-Like T-Shirt Design at Penn State University Sparks Controversy

Excerpt:

The shirts — intended to foster school spirit — sport a vertical blue line down the center with the words "Penn State White Out" emblazoned across the chest, forming a design that some say resembles a cross. The back of the shirt depicts the same blue line obscured by the words, "Don't be intimated … It's just me and 110,000 of my friends." Roughly 30,000 of the shirts have been sold.

Penn State says it has received six complaints about the shirt, including one from the Anti-Defamation League's Philadelphia branch, from people who say it connotes a Christian cross. The logo design also has become the focus of controversy in the student newspaper, "The Daily Collegian," which has received several letters to the editor on both sides of the issue.

Michal Berns, a junior majoring in media law and policy, said she refused to buy the $15 shirt because of its religious connotations.

"At first glance, you don't necessarily think that's what it looks like, but when you look at it more, it does look like a cross," Berns told Foxnews.com. "That's the reason I didn't purchase it."

Berns said students can purchase the shirts when they buy season tickets for the university's nationally ranked football program or during the football season at the campus bookstore and other stores. The shirts are typically worn at Penn State's annual "White Out" game, at which a crowd of 100,000 screaming Nittany Lions fans creates a virtual sea of white at Beaver Stadium.

While Berns acknowledged the shirt's single blue stripe resembles the stripe on the team's football helmet, she and others at the university's Hillel Jewish organization plan to show their school pride in other ways.

"There always has to be some sort of separation," said Berns, referring to the state-funded school and religious affiliation. "Me personally, I'm not going to buy the shirts and I know others at [Penn State Hillel] who won't, either."

Bill Mahon, vice president for university relations, said six people have contacted Penn State to voice their objections to the shirt's design.

"Six complaints is not a controversy," Mahon wrote Foxnews.com. "Students submit shirt designs to the student paper each year. Students then vote for their favorite design and they are sold in the campus bookstore."

Mahon said the design was based on the single blue stripe on the football team's helmets and will not be pulled from store shelves as some have asked. "The shirts have sold out and no changes are planned," he said.

Stephanie Bennis, a senior at the school, said she created the shirt's design in March with fellow public relations major Emily Sabolsky, and in no way did they intend to create religious overtones. Like Mahon, she said the single blue stripe is a nod to the university's football program.

"That was the entire idea," she said. "And all we thought was normally wording goes right across the chest. That's truly the reason why we did it."

Bennis said she was "very shocked" when she learned the university had received complaints about the design.

"It's just sad to see that in this day and age, the most offensive thing on a shirt can be what people see as a religious symbol," she said.

"Are we going to ban lowercase t's in the alphabet? Where do you draw the line?"


Comment: View article for image of the T-Shirt

Bank Of America, Citigroup: annual fees for perfect credit

Got Perfect Credit? You Could Be Charged For It!

Excerpt:

Loraine Mullen-Kress carries a Bank of America credit card and religiously pays off her balance.

"Flawless credit," she boasted.

Yet now, her good credit habits could cost her. Earlier this month Bank of America started notifying customers like Mullen-Kress that they will be charged a new annual fee of $29 to $99.

"There is a big segment of their population that they will have never made money on, which is people who pay their bills on time every month," said Ben Woolsey, Director of Consumer Research at CreditCards.com.

Bank of America said in a statement: "At this point we're testing the fee on a very small number of accounts and haven't made any final decisions." Citigroup is also trying out an annual fee with some card holders, and analysts expect more banks to follow their lead.

The banks are starting to charge fees to reliable customers in response to a slew of new credit card industry regulations that will limit when banks can hike interest rates. Cardholders who get a new annual fee notice in the mail will be in a no-win situation.

"They can either pay that fee or they can close the account, and if they have had the account for a while and they close it, they are potentially going to hurt their credit card score," said Woolsey.

Analysts say right now the banks are trying to figure out what their customers will tolerate. Many say they'd cancel cards with a high new annual fee.


Comment: I would close the account! It's easy enought to find a card with no annual fee! As an aside banks make money on those with with perfect credit: 1.) transaction fees paid by the merchants AND no loss on the credit.

10.26.2009

H1N1 vaccine bottlenecks

H1N1 vaccine production running weeks behind

Excerpt:

The federal government originally promised 120 million doses of swine flu vaccine by now. Only 13 million have come through.

As nervous Americans clamor for the vaccine, production is running several weeks behind schedule, and health officials blame the pressure on pharmaceutical companies to crank it out along with the ordinary flu vaccine, and a slow and antiquated process that relies on millions of chicken eggs.

There have been other bottlenecks, too: Factories that put the precious liquid into syringes have become backed up. And the government itself ran into a delay in developing the tests required to assess each batch before it is cleared for use.


In depth article on egg based vaccine production: Egg-Based Production of Influenza Vaccine: 30 Years of Commercial Experience

10.24.2009

H1N1 vaccine: low yield and FDA footdragging behind delays

Vaccine Output Falls Short - Less Than Half of Expected Supply Is Delivered

Excerpt:

The U.S. has purchased H1N1 vaccines from Sanofi-Aventis SA, Novartis AG, CSL Ltd., GlaxoSmithKline PLC and and MedImmune, which is a unit of AstraZeneca PLC.

The process has been slower than usually seen with seasonal vaccines. Viruses for both vaccines go through a purification process after being grown in eggs.

One problem is that Glaxo, which has contracted to provide 7.6 million doses of vaccine to the U.S., has yet to get Food and Drug Administration approval for its vaccine.

A Glaxo spokeswoman said she couldn't speculate on the timing of approval. The FDA declined to comment.

Novartis, which contracted to make 90 million vaccine doses for the U.S., saw a yield just one-fifth of what was expected after working with the first H1N1 "seed" virus to grow the vaccine. Novartis and other manufacturers are now working with another seed virus that they hope will yield better results.

Novartis officials said they expect to be able to produce 90 million to 120 million doses by year end, suggesting the U.S. likely won't get its entire order filled until the first part of next year, as the company is also supplying vaccine to other countries.

The head of Novartis's vaccine business, Andrin Oswald, said the low yield was the main reason for production delays. But he also said the U.S. request for a greater amount of its vaccine order in single-dose syringes was slowing the process.


Comment: Is there a way to develop the vaccine without eggs?

10.21.2009

Married priests?

Pope’s Offer Raises Idea of Marriage for Catholic Priests

Excerpt:

“We face the prospect in the future of going to a Catholic church in London and it being normal to find a married Catholic priest celebrating at the altar, with his wife sitting in the third pew and his children running up and down the aisle,”


Comment: Interesting article.

On GM: "appalled by the absence of sound analysis provided to justify these expenditures"

The man who led the auto bailout tells about his shock at the state of the carmaker's finances and management

Excerpt:

Everyone knew Detroit's reputation for insular, slow-moving cultures. Even by that low standard, I was shocked by the stunningly poor management that we found, particularly at GM, where we encountered, among other things, perhaps the weakest finance operation any of us had ever seen in a major company.

For example, under the previous administration's loan agreements, Treasury was to approve every GM transaction of more than $100 million that was outside of the normal course. From my first day at Treasury, PowerPoint decks would arrive from GM (we quickly concluded that no decision seemed to be made at GM without one) requesting approvals. We were appalled by the absence of sound analysis provided to justify these expenditures.

The cultural deficiencies were equally stunning. At GM's Renaissance Center headquarters, the top brass were sequestered on the uppermost floor, behind locked and guarded glass doors. Executives housed on that floor had elevator cards that allowed them to descend to their private garage without stopping at any of the intervening floors (no mixing with the drones).


Comment: My initial take is .... not surprised at all. But second is this "Physician heal thyself". What about the colossal waste and mismanagement in Washington. And where do we see "sound analysis provided to justify expenditures"?

“Medicare Part E”?

House Dems want Medicare for everyone

Excerpt:

The strategy could benefit Democrats struggling to bridge the gap between liberals in their party, who want the public option, and centrists, who are worried it would drive private insurers out of business.

While much of the public is foggy on what a public option actually is, people understand Medicare. It also would place the new public option within the rubric of a familiar system rather than something new and unknown.


The Problem:

Republicans also note that Medicare is already $37 trillion in the hole and is projected to go bankrupt by 2018. “Has anyone noticed that Medicare is completely broke?” said Andrew Biggs, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who worked in the White House on President George W. Bush’s plan to overhaul Social Security.


Comment: It's a big problem!

XP To Windows 7: "rip and replace"

Windows 7 Debut Launches An Upgrade Debate

Excerpt:

Windows XP users represent the largest population of PC users. Unfortunately, the upgrade for this group isn't simple. The process of migrating from XP to Windows 7 is "ugly," says Steve Fox. "It's not an upgrade. It's basically XP To Windows 7." Here's why: You'd have to back up your hard drive, reformat it, install Windows 7 and then restore all of your personal files and your application software. The other option, says Jeff Fox of Consumer Reports, would be expensive because you'd have to upgrade to Vista first and then to Windows 7.

"One of the missteps with Windows 7 [is that] the upgrade process for those who skipped Vista — which is most of the world — is pretty tortuous," says Carl Howe of Yankee Group. "And I think that's going to put a damper on Windows 7 sales."


Comment: The upgrade from MAC OS Tiger to Leopard to Snow Leopard was EZ. Glad I am on a Mac

A tale of reckless spending

Rising Debt a Threat to Japanese Economy

Excerpt:

How much debt can an industrialized country carry before the nation’s economy and its currency bow, then break?

The question looms large in the United States, as a surging budget deficit pushes government debt to nearly 98 percent of the gross domestic product. But it looms even larger in Japan.

Here, years of stimulus spending on expensive dams and roads have inflated the country’s gross public debt to twice the size of its $5 trillion economy — by far the highest debt-to-G.D.P. ratio in recent memory.

Just paying the interest on its debt consumed a fifth of Japan’s budget for 2008, compared with debt payments that compose about a tenth of the United States budget.

..

The Obama administration insists that it understands the risks posed by deficits and ever-increasing debt. Its critics are doubtful. But as Washington runs up a trillion-dollar deficit this year, with trillions in debt for years to come, it need look no farther than Tokyo to see how overspending can ravage an economy.

Tokyo’s new government, which won a landslide victory on an ambitious (and expensive) social agenda, is set to issue a record amount of debt, borrowing more in government bonds than it will receive in tax receipts for the first time since the years after World War II.

“Public sector finances are spinning out of control — fast,” said Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics in a recent note to clients. “We believe a fiscal crisis is imminent.”

One of the lessons of Japan’s experience is that a government saddled with debt can quickly run out of room to maneuver.

“Japan will keep on selling more bonds this year and next, but that won’t work in three to five years,” said Akito Fukunaga, a Tokyo-based fixed-income strategist at Credit Suisse. “If you ask me what Japan can resort to after that, my answer would be ‘not very much.’ ”

How Japan got into such a deep hole, and kept digging, is a tale of reckless spending.


Comment: Soon coming to America! A deep hole with few options

Charlotte’s banking bust

The bust hits the boomtown that banks built

Excerpt:

A monument to the financial crisis is rising amid this city's thicket of skyscrapers: a gleaming, glass-walled trophy tower that was intended as a fitting headquarters for Wachovia's national banking empire.

It will open instead as the headquarters of a regional power company. Wachovia, unable to survive a run of bad decisions, was swallowed by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo during the depths of the crisis last year.

Few American cities prospered more over the past two decades than Charlotte, its growth propelled and gilded by Wachovia and its crosstown rival, Bank of America. Executives shoehorned gaudy mansions into old neighborhoods around downtown. Workers poured into vast subdivisions on the city's ever-expanding periphery. With coffers overflowing, giddy public officials spent tax dollars on a manmade river for whitewater rafting.


Comment: Of interest to me on several counts: 1.) the WF / Wachovia merger; 2.) Charlotte is a possible retirement location

10.20.2009

007 and climate change

Carbon Is Forever

Comment: FUNNY!

Excerpt:

"Global warming, James. You know, rising sea levels, the whole catastrophe. That's what I needed your help with. I need to know how many feet the Thames has to rise for London to be flooded. I have to give my boss an analysis of the long-term risk that climate change poses for every city. It's a bit of a hassle. I thought you might be able to tell me off the top of your head. That's why . . ."

"Pull the other one."

"I'm serious. CIA Director Leon Panetta launched a Center on Climate Change and National Security last month. You may have seen the news reports. Director Panetta announced, 'Decision makers need information and analysis on the effects climate change can have on security.' That's my new assignment."

"Climate change? You mean there's something going on with all that unseasonable snowfall? Is some megalomaniac controlling the weather? I've heard that one can cause global cooling by shooting missiles to disperse particulates into the stratosphere. Who could be so fiendishly diabolical—is it Hugo Drax we're after? Maybe it's the work of Dr. No."

"I wish," said Leiter. "Nothing quite that sexy. Just gathering data . . ."

"I get it," Bond said with a sly smile. "You've discovered that the U.N. climatologists are out to destroy the economies of the West, something even the Reds couldn't pull off. Your job is to subvert them. Brilliant."

"No, no. We're not allowed to question the science, James. There's no room for skepticism in intelligence."

"I'm all in favor of science," Bond said. He signaled the waiter for another medium dry Martini, shaken. "You can't very well give Fidel a poisoned scuba get-up if you don't know how to make a properly powdered preparation of Madura foot fungus to dust the inside of a wetsuit with. But climate change? Wouldn't you be better off putting that manpower into more immediate threats—say, Iranian nukes?"

"It's interesting you should bring that up," said Leiter, brightening. "If Iran goes nuclear it might cut its carbon footprint, which would really be great. That's why we're recommending to the president . . ."

"You're barmy." Bond slapped a few bills on the table and stood to go. "Call me when you've got some real work to do."

"James, you have to understand," Leiter said, chasing after him. "It's not really the CIA anymore, it's the CYA. At least no one gets prosecuted for doing his job at the Center on Climate Change and National Security."


The CIA is now the CYA

Government programs always exceed their spending estimates

Health Costs and History

Excerpt:

Washington has just run a $1.4 trillion budget deficit for fiscal 2009, even as we are told a new health-care entitlement will reduce red ink by $81 billion over 10 years. To believe that fantastic claim, you have to ignore everything we know about Washington and the history of government health-care programs. For the record, we decided to take a look at how previous federal forecasts matched what later happened. It isn't pretty.

Let's start with the claim that a more pervasive federal role will restrain costs and thus make health care more affordable. We know that over the past four decades precisely the opposite has occurred. Prior to the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, health-care inflation ran slightly faster than overall inflation. In the years since, medical inflation has climbed 2.3 times faster than cost increases elsewhere in the economy. Much of this reflects advances in technology and expensive treatments, but the contrast does contradict the claim of government as a benign cost saver.

Next let's examine the record of Congressional forecasters in predicting costs. Start with Medicaid, the joint state-federal program for the poor. The House Ways and Means Committee estimated that its first-year costs would be $238 million. Instead it hit more than $1 billion, and costs have kept climbing.

Thanks in part to expansions promoted by California's Henry Waxman, a principal author of the current House bill, Medicaid now costs 37 times more than it did when it was launched—after adjusting for inflation. Its current cost is $251 billion, up 24.7% or $50 billion in fiscal 2009 alone, and that's before the health-care bill covers millions of new beneficiaries.

Medicare has a similar record. In 1965, Congressional budgeters said that it would cost $12 billion in 1990. Its actual cost that year was $90 billion. Whoops. The hospitalization program alone was supposed to cost $9 billion but wound up costing $67 billion. These aren't small forecasting errors. The rate of increase in Medicare spending has outpaced overall inflation in nearly every year (up 9.8% in 2009), so a program that began at $4 billion now costs $428 billion.

The Medicare program for renal disease was originally estimated in 1973 to cover 11,000 participants. Today it covers 395,000, at a cost of $22 billion. The 1988 Medicare home-care benefit was supposed to cost $4 billion by 1993, but the actual cost was $10 billion, because many more people participated than expected. This is nearly always the case with government programs because their entitlement nature—accepting everyone who meets the age or income limits—means there's no fixed annual budget.


Comment: Worthwhile chart in the article. Meanwhile look at the National Debt clock. It was 10.7 Trillion 11 months ago and 7 Trillion back when I added it my blog. Politicians don't worry about this because they are secure in their jobs! Too secure!

The real jobless rate - 21%?

‘Official’ job numbers don’t tell the whole story

Excerpts:

So let’s take a deeper dive past the so-called “headline” number. The BLS publishes various series of jobs data every month, based on two separate surveys. The “household” survey, which covers only 60,000 households a month, asks people whether they have a job, or are looking for a job, or have given up, or gone back to school, or retired.

The problem starts with the official definition of who is unemployed. For example, if you’ve decided that you’re never going to find a job like the one you lost, and you go back to school to get retrained, you’re not in the work force, and you're not unemployed. Likewise, if you’re in your late 50s, and every potential employer tells you you’re just too old or overqualified, you may give up looking and hope your savings will carry you over until you can collect Social Security. In that case, you’re considered “retired” — again, not unemployed.

...

There are plenty of economists and analysts who take issue with the “official” number. John Williams, who runs a Web site called Shadow Government Statistics, does his own calculations each month that adjusts U-6 to include an estimate of the number of “long-term” discouraged workers - those who have been in that category for more than a year - and fall off the BLS radar. By his count, the unemployment rate hit 21.4 percent last month.


Comment: Check the website out (link above).

Is the next Viking's stadium in .... LA?

Los Angeles, Are You Ready For Some NFL Football?

Excerpt:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he's going to sign an environmental exemption bill that will clear the way for construction of the LA Stadium.

State senators approved the bill, which would nullify a lawsuit over the project's environmental impact report by citizens in neighboring Walnut. Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the bill in support of the stadium because its impact on the local economy and its ability to generate jobs.

There will be more than 6,700 new jobs created because of the stadium, causing an addition $21 million in new tax revenue and $762 million in new economic activity, said LA Stadium spokesperson.

Schwarzenegger hopes developer Majestic Realty Co., the driving company behind the project, doesn't poach any California teams to play in the proposed venue. They have indicated their plan to approach seven teams in hopes of luring one to LA. The list includes the three California teams: San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers.


Comment: My own view is that LA won't support an NFL team (not sufficient fan support)

10.19.2009

"Mall of America Field": WHAT?!!

Vikings reach deal to play on 'Mall of America Field'

Excerpt:

The Minnesota Vikings and Mall of America® announced a partnership Thursday for the naming rights to the field that has served as the team's home since 1982. The agreement states that the field will be called Mall of America Field at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for a three-year period beginning October 5, 2009, and ending February 28, 2012.

"Branding the field as Mall of America Field represents an opportunity to share our name and image with an even larger nationwide audience," said Maureen Bausch, executive vice president of business development at Mall of America. "It also connects two treasured Minnesota brands - Mall of America and the Minnesota Vikings - which adds value to both companies."

As part of the agreement, Mall of America Field will be branded with new exterior and interior signage, as well as various promotional materials.

"This was a great opportunity for the Vikings to uniquely partner with a very prominent business that has a deep commitment to the Minnesota community," said Steve LaCroix, Vikings vice president of sales and marketing and chief marketing officer. "As another step in rebranding the stadium for the short-term, we hope Mall of America Field continues to give the team an important home field advantage while providing many exciting memories for our fans."



Media outlets (mostly) reject Mall of America Field moniker

Excerpt:

Three weeks ago, the Vikes announced that the Metrodome's playing surface would be re-branded "Mall of America Field." Technically, it's "Mall of America Field at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome." More cash for the team, more aural diaper rash for the rest of us — so it goes in corporate sports.

But corporate media, at least on the home front, isn't giving MOAF its due. The Strib studiously refuses to use the moniker, except sarcastically or on its Vikings cheerleader blog.

The Associated Press has no rule against MOAF, says Minnesota news editor Doug Glass, but "If context required mentioning the venue, our sports writers would certainly be more likely to use Metrodome given the building's long-established identity for sports fans both here and nationally."


Comment: It's the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

Michael Mukasey: Military tribunals best for terrorists

Civilian Courts Are No Place to Try Terrorists

Excerpts:

... the rules for conducting criminal trials in federal courts have been fashioned to prosecute conventional crimes by conventional criminals. Defendants are granted access to information relating to their case that might be useful in meeting the charges and shaping a defense, without regard to the wider impact such information might have. That can provide a cornucopia of valuable information to terrorists, both those in custody and those at large.

Thus, in the multidefendant terrorism prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and others that I presided over in 1995 in federal district court in Manhattan, the government was required to disclose, as it is routinely in conspiracy cases, the identity of all known co-conspirators, regardless of whether they are charged as defendants. One of those co-conspirators, relatively obscure in 1995, was Osama bin Laden. It was later learned that soon after the government's disclosure the list of unindicted co-conspirators had made its way to bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan, where he then resided. He was able to learn not only that the government was aware of him, but also who else the government was aware of.

It is not simply the disclosure of information under discovery rules that can be useful to terrorists. The testimony in a public trial, particularly under the probing of appropriately diligent defense counsel, can elicit evidence about means and methods of evidence collection that have nothing to do with the underlying issues in the case, but which can be used to press government witnesses to either disclose information they would prefer to keep confidential or make it appear that they are concealing facts. The alternative is to lengthen criminal trials beyond what is tolerable by vetting topics in closed sessions before they can be presented in open ones.

...

Nevertheless, critics of Guantanamo seem to believe that if we put our vaunted civilian justice system on display in these cases, then we will reap benefits in the coin of world opinion, and perhaps even in that part of the world that wishes us ill. Of course, we did just that after the first World Trade Center bombing, after the plot to blow up airliners over the Pacific, and after the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

In return, we got the 9/11 attacks and the murder of nearly 3,000 innocents. True, this won us a great deal of goodwill abroad—people around the globe lined up for blocks outside our embassies to sign the condolence books. That is the kind of goodwill we can do without.


Comment: Michael Mukasey served as the 81st Attorney General of the United States.

50 days to save the earth!

Britain’s Brown Warns of Climate Catastrophe

Excerpt:

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that failure to strike a new global deal on reducing greenhouse emissions would be catastrophic, and urged other national leaders to personally attend a climate summit in Denmark later this year.

Amid fears that momentum for agreement at the December meeting is stalling, Brown urged countries to compromise with one another to avoid ''the catastrophe of unchecked climate change.''

The British leader plans to attend the Copenhagen summit, intended to cap two years of negotiations on a global climate change treaty, and has called on fellow leaders to join him. So far, few have said they will go.

Brown told a meeting of the world's biggest economies in London that efforts to agree on a new global pact to tackle climate change are a historic test of international cooperation.

''There are now fewer than 50 days to set the course of the next few decades,'' Brown said.

''We cannot afford to fail. If we fail now we will pay a heavy price ... If we falter, the Earth will itself bet at risk.''


Comment: Global warming hysteria!

10.18.2009

Balloon-boy: State was planning dramatic (and dangerous) rescue


State planned to drop rescuer from helicopter to balloon

Excerpt:

The state made daring plans to rescue the boy believed to be floating free in an experimental balloon Thursday, but not everyone knew about the rescue plans or other help available to find the boy, 9Wants to Know has learned.

"I lost my temper a few times talking to some of my command staff about why the hell we didn't have a helicopter in the air yet," Larimer County Jim Alderden said.

The sheriff did not realize the Colorado National Guard had two helicopters, including a Black Hawk, available to him to search for 6-year-old Falcon Heene after law enforcement discovered he was not inside the space-like balloon when it landed Thursday.

While the balloon was still in flight, the state had come with various ideas to rescue Falcon.

One plan included flying the Black Hawk high above the balloon so that the rotor wash wouldn't damage the balloon, then lower a Search and Rescue crew member in a basket to try to grab Falcon.


Comment: Image captured from article

College: Graduate in 3 years

The Three-Year Solution: How the reinvention of higher education benefits parents, students, and schools.


Excerpt:

Hartwick college, a small liberal-arts school in upstate New York, makes this offer to well-prepared students: earn your undergraduate degree in three years (six semesters) instead of four, and save about $43,000—the amount of one year's tuition and fees. A number of innovative colleges are making the same offer to students anxious about saving time and money. The three-year degree could become the higher-education equivalent of the fuel-efficient car. And that's both an opportunity and a warning for the best higher-education system in the world.


Comment: A great idea.

I like this quote (as it could apply to any organization):

In The Reckoning, his chronicle of the American auto industry's troubles, the late David Halberstam wrote about George Romney, the square-jawed, upstart president of American Motors who saw the Big Three as a "shared monopoly … musclebound and mindless in the domestic market—increasingly locked into practices that their best people knew were destructive but unable to break out of so profitable a syndrome." Romney warned, "There is nothing more vulnerable than entrenched success."


Summer ... a wasted season (but on the other hand some students need to work to earn $ for tuition!)

But as I discovered myself during my four-year tenure as president of the University of Tennessee in the late 1980s, in some ways, many colleges and universities are stuck in the past. For instance, the idea of the fall-to-spring "school year" hasn't changed much since before the American Revolution, when we were a nation of farmers and students put their books away to work the soil during the summer. That long summer stretch no longer makes sense. Former George Washington University president Stephen J. Trachtenberg estimates that a typical college uses its facilities for academic purposes a little more than half the calendar year. "While college facilities sit idle, they continue to generate maintenance, energy, and debt-service expenses that contribute to the high cost of running a college," he has written.


Six years to graduate?

Meanwhile, tuition has soared, leaving graduating students with unprecedented loan debt. Strong campus presidents to manage these problems are becoming harder to find, and to keep. In fact, students now stay on campus almost as long as their presidents. The average tenure of a college president at a public research university is seven years. The average amount of time students now take to complete an undergraduate degree has stretched to six years and seven months as students interrupted by work, inconvenienced by unavailable classes, or lured by one more football season find it hard to graduate.

Maureen Dowd: Obama "cav[ed] to Chinese dictators"

Fie, Fatal Flaw!

Excerpts:

In an interview with Alison Smale in The Times last week, Vaclav Havel sipped Champagne in the middle of the afternoon and pricked Barack Obama’s conscience.

Havel, the 73-year-old former Czech president, who didn’t win a Nobel Peace Prize despite leading the Czechs and the Slovaks from communism to democracy, turned the tables and asked Smale a question about Obama, the latest winner of the peace prize.

Was it true that the president had refused to meet the Dalai Lama on his visit to Washington?

He was told that Obama had indeed tried to curry favor with China by declining to see the Dalai Lama until after the president’s visit to China next month.

...

The tyro American president got the Nobel for the mere anticipation that he would provide bold moral leadership for the world at the very moment he was caving to Chinese dictators. Awkward.

Havel reached out to touch a glass dish given to him by Obama, inscribed with the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. “It is only a minor compromise,” he said. “But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems.”

Our president would be well advised to listen. Havel is looking at this not only as a moral champion but as a playwright. Obama (who, as Robert Draper wrote, has read and reread Shakespeare’s tragedies) does not want his fatal flaw to be that he compromises so much that his ideals get blurred out of recognition.


Comment: And she's a friend!

'[They] put on a very good show for us, and we bought it."

Larimer sheriff: Balloon event a hoax

Excerpts:

Alderden said all three of the Heenes' sons knew of the Thursday hoax, but likely won't face charges because of their ages. The oldest son is 10. One of the boys told investigators he saw his brother get in the balloon's box before it launched.

Alderden said 6-year-old Falcon may not have even been in the rafters in the garage, as originally reported, based on where the investigators were when the boy entered the house.

"For all we know he may have been two blocks down the road playing on the swing in the city park," he said.

...

A Colorado State University physics professor, using dimensions given by Richard Heene, had told sheriff's officials as they were tracking the balloon Thursday that it was plausible for it to lift off with 37-pound Falcon inside.

Once the device landed, sheriff's officials discovered it was made with plastic tarps taped together and covered with aluminum foil, with a utility box made of a very thin piece of plywood, cardboard on the side, held together with string and duct tape, Alderden said.

Using the true dimensions, the professor determined it could not have launched with the boy inside, Alderden said.


Comment: Suspicions confirmed. Details coming to light

10.17.2009

Balloon-boy parents: False reporting / Class 3 misdemeanor

Charges pending in "balloon boy" saga

Excerpt:

The Larimer County Sheriff's Office announced Saturday night it is drawing up search warrants and expects to file charges in the "balloon boy" saga.

Sheriff Jim Alderden made the announcement after Richard Heene and his wife voluntarily met with officials at the Larimer County Sheriff's headquarters for several hours.

The sheriff did not give specifics, but he said the charges would likely be a class 3 misdemeanor. False reporting is a Class 3 misdemeanor.

Alderson said that the misdemeanor charges "hardly seem serious enough" and that he would be talking to the district attorney and federal officials to see what other charges could be considered.



Comment: Interesting developments

Proof of Balloon-boy hoax?

Exclusive: I Helped Richard Heene Plan a Balloon Hoax

Excerpt:

When my friends called me about the whole balloon episode I was working. I had just moved to a new place and didn't have my television set up. I probably would never even have heard about this, except that a good friend of mine remembered me telling him about Richard several months ago. He told me, "Rob, you need to turn on the tv immediately! That Richard guy you worked with just pulled a massive publicity stunt!"

Richard's story doesn't add up. He is saying he thought Falcon was in the balloon, and that Falcon ran and hid as a result of Richard yelling at him. I've spent a lot of time with them, and Falcon is, first of all, not afraid of his father. I've never once seen Richard's children afraid of him — and I've definitely never seen Falcon go hide. He was one of the most social of the three children.

Secondly, Falcon supposedly hid in that attic in the garage. I've spent a lot of time in his garage, which has a drill press and various welding tools. It's unorganized and chaotic. There's really not so much an attic as some support beams connected with plywood. Being an adult of average height, I couldn't get up into the attic if I'd wanted to, so I don't know how a six-year-old child could have gotten up there. There's not an easy way to access that overhang. Maybe if I'd lifted that child up into the attic, he might have been able to rest up there, but not comfortably.


Comment: The plot thickens

10.16.2009

The Nobel Prize, with an asterisk


The Nobel Prize, with an asterisk

Excerpt:

Despite the graciousness of his speech at the White House last Friday, President Barack Obama's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize did have an air slightly reminiscent of Abe Lincoln's story about the man who was tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail -- if it weren't for the honor of the thing, he'd just as soon walk.


Comment: The asterisk Peace Prize!

Minnesota October fortnight 16 degrees below normal

Brrrr! First half of October the coldest ever - High temperature averaged a chilly 47 degrees for the first two weeks of the month - 16 degrees below normal.

Excerpt:

With 19 consecutive days of below normal temperatures and accumulating snow falling a few weeks before normal, news that this has been the coldest start to an October on record in the Twin Cities probably isn't all that shocking.

On Friday, the National Weather Service confirmed that there has never been a colder first two weeks of the month ever. Typically the average high temperature for the Twin Cities from Oct. 1-14 is 63 degrees but this year the average high temperature was only 47 degrees, or 16 degrees below average. That breaks the old mark of 52 degrees set back in 1875. The last time we experienced cold of this magnitude was in 1979 when the average daily high temperature was 54 degrees, the Weather Service said.

On the other end of the scale, the average low temperature for the first two weeks of October is 42 degrees. This year the average low temperature was 36 degrees, which ties it for 10th place on the list of coldest starts to October. The 36-degree low was matched in 1985, 1987 and 1993.

With an official total of 2.8 inches of snow for the month thus far, 2009 is now seventh all time in terms of snowy Octobers and the snowiest since 1977. The snowiest October was in 1991 when 8.2 inches fell on Oct. 31. This month also is one of the 10 wettest of all time.


Comment: On the good side, the moisture is needed!

115 PG girls at same HS

Why Are 1 Of 8 Girls Pregnant At Robeson High?

Excerpt:

It is a Chicago public school full of energy and spirit. It has about 800 girls, and 115 of them have something in common – something you might find disturbing.

CBS 2's Kristyn Hartman reports.

All those young ladies are moms or moms-to-be at Paul Robeson High School. It's not a school for young mothers, it's a neighborhood school. And all of the pregnancies have happened, despite prevention talk.

If you want to know why, the people closest to the situation say there's no simple explanation.

Chicago Public Schools says it does not track the overall number of teen moms in the district. But Robeson Principal Gerald Morrow knows the count at his school in Englewood: 115 young ladies who are expecting.

To put it in perspective, their school pictures would fill roughly six pages of their high school year book.

Why is it happening at Robeson?

"It can be a lot of things that are happening in the home or not happening in the home, if you will," Morrow said. Absentee fathers are another factor, he said.

LaDonna Denson and two other Robeson students say parents not talking to teens and, in some cases, the pursuit of public assistance also factor into the pregnancies. None of them thought they'd be moms at such a young age.


Snarky Comment: Guess we need more "sex education"

Was Balloon-Boy incident a staged hoax?

Interview Sets Off Skeptics of Balloon Drama

Excerpt:

In a posting typical of many found on an array of Web sites, one person commented on the Denver Post site: “Clearly a hoax. The kid said he had all of his toys and snacks up there with him in the attic. Now how would he have that if he accidentally released the balloon and then ran up there to hide? I really hope something is done about this.”


Comment: Too early to tell but something smells about this

10.15.2009

Balloon-Boy Attic-Boy!

6-year-old Colorado boy found alive after setting balloon adrift

Excerpt:

After scouring northern Colorado by foot and air, frantically chasing a Mylar balloon for miles and repeatedly interviewing his big brother, authorities ended the search for 6-year-old Falcon Heene where it began -- at his house.

He was in a box. In the attic. The whole time.

"I played with my toys and took a nap," Falcon told a group of reporters outside his home Thursday afternoon.

"He says he was hiding in the attic," said Falcon's father, meteorologist Richard Heene, clutching his son. "He says it's because I yelled at him."

"I'm sorry I yelled at him," added Heene, tearfully hugging the boy.

The situation grabbed the nation's attention early Thursday afternoon, after authorities reported that the experimental helium balloon was set adrift with the 6-year-old apparently riding in it.

His brother had said he watched Falcon get into the balloon before he untied the tethers, setting it free. Heene later said Falcon was videotaped getting into the vessel by his brother, but "obviously he got out."

Heene said the family was in the early stages of working on the balloon -- a "3D low-altitude vehicle" -- when the contraption and the boy went missing.

Once it was untethered, the saucer-like craft flew eastward from the Heenes' neighborhood, though officials couldn't immediately confirm how fast it was going. Video Watch the balloon float thousands of feet over Colorado »


Comment: These boys need some closer supervision!

Should Medicare be the Public Option?

Leading Blue Dog suggests opening Medicare to all

Excerpt:

Blue Dog Rep. Mike Ross, who made headlines by rejecting a compromise he'd negotiated on a public health insurance option, has suggested to Democratic leaders that the government-run Medicare program be opened to those without insurance.


Here's the problem: # 1 - It's complex

Nearly 65? Time for the Medicare Maze

Excerpt:

NOW that you’re about to retire, there’s good news and bad news about your health insurance. The good news: When you turn 65, you’re eligible for Medicare — all in all, a pretty affordable way to get coverage for doctor bills, hospitalizations and, more recently, prescription drugs. The bad news: You’ve got a big job ahead of you, sorting through the Medicare bureaucracy.

For someone new to the system, the hundreds of options Medicare provides can be daunting. “We’ve seen C.P.A.’s get stymied,” said Paul Gada, personal financial planning director at Allsup, a provider of Social Security and Medicare consultation services that is based in Belleville, Ill. “The process can be difficult for even the most savvy individuals.”

More important, the choices you make now as a new retiree may have consequences down the line when your health care and financial needs change. Confusing as Medicare may be, it is better to learn the ins and outs of the system early than to try to figure it out 20 years from now. The newly eligible have a seven-month period to enroll, starting three months before their 65th birthday. And numerous resources are available to help both newcomers and veteran Medicare users.

Not long ago, retirees simply went to their local Social Security office and signed up for Medicare A, which covers hospitalization, skilled nursing facilities, hospice and some home health care. Then they signed up for Medicare B, which provides coverage for doctor’s fees for a premium ($96.40 a month in 2009). That was the end of it.

[Read on (link) for the complexities!]


Here's the problem: # 2 - It's going broke!

Medicare Will Go Broke By 2018, Trustees Report

Excerpt:

The financial troubles daunting the Medicare system have deepened during the past year, according to a government forecast that says the federal fund that pays for hospital care for older Americans will become unable to cover all its bills a dozen years from now.

The annual report, issued yesterday by the trustees who monitor the fiscal health of the Medicare and Social Security programs, said the trust fund for the health insurance system for the elderly will run out of money in 2018 -- two years sooner than predicted a year ago and 12 years sooner than had been anticipated when President Bush first took office.

The problem, the report says, has accelerated largely because hospital costs last year were greater than expected.


Comment: And the above article is 3 years old .... Latest

Medicare insolvency due to high MA payments

The recent report on the deteriorating financial condition of the Medicare trust funds heightens the sense of urgency in overhauling the nation's high-cost but inefficient healthcare system. The Medicare hospital fund now faces depletion by 2017, two years earlier than the previous projection. The nation's economic decline has reduced tax revenues to support the program, while healthcare spending continues to climb.

Medicare expenditures are expected to increase at a faster pace than either workers' earnings or the overall economy, with outlays rising from 3.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) last year to 11.4% by 2083. These gloomy projections reflect continued growth in the volume and intensity of healthcare services over the next 75 years; an increase in the number of beneficiaries as the baby boomers begin to hit age 65; and the addition of the Part D prescription drug program in 2004.

Latest on Balloon Boy


Balloon craft down, Fort Collins boy not inside

Excerpt:

Rescuers and paramedics are with a "homemade flying saucer" that just came down in a field, but the fate of a 6-year-old who was on board is unknown.

Rescuers on the ground told their dispatcher the boy was not inside.

Officials and the boy's family had said he was in the gondola when it went airborne this morning; it's unclear what happened to the boy.


Comment: Weird story!

Balloon Boy in jeopardy


6-year-old Colorado boy floats away in balloon

Comment: hard to believe this will have a good ending! Please pray!

Excerpt:

Margie Martinez of the Weld County Sheriff's Office said a sibling saw the boy climb into the basket before the balloon took off. Since the door on the balloon was unlocked, Martinez said it's possible the boy had fallen out.

The balloon appeared to be a saucer-shaped, Mylar-coated helium balloon, not unlike a party balloon. The craft was drifting eastward, authorities said.

The helium balloon was tethered to the boy's family home in Fort Collins, the Larimer County Sheriff's Department said. The boy got into the craft Thursday morning and undid the rope anchoring it.

The aluminum-covered, dome-shaped balloon is 20 feet long and 5 feet high, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office said.

...

The Federal Aviation Administration is trying to track the aircraft on radar and has notified the Denver International Airport. Shortly after noon (2 p.m. ET), the balloon was sighted two miles south of Evans.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers estimated the wind would keep the vessel moving at 30 mph. Authorities say the craft is about 7,000 feet above the ground.

Kathy Davis, spokeswoman for the sheriff's department, said a dispatcher received a call Thursday morning, and emergency services personnel were contacted.

Davis said a balloon company had been contacted and several media outlets offered to help track the balloon with their helicopters.
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The family has described the structure as a a dome-shaped "homemade flying saucer," Larimer County Sheriff's Office Spokeswoman Kathy Davis said.

"We're trying to determine the best course of action," Davis said. "This is a first and we'll do what we need to do."


Note to self: Don't make a craft like this and let the kids in it!

More from Denver Post! (graphic above captured from this article)

Nobel Peace Prize committee not convinced

Majority of Nobel jury 'objected to Obama prize'

Excerpt:

In a surprise move last Friday, the Nobel committee attributed the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama less than nine months after he had taken office.

The committee, appointed by the Norwegian parliament, honoured Obama for "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

"The committee was unanimous," its influential secretary Geir Lundestad told AFP on Friday.

But Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, who represented the right-wing populist Progress Party on the committee, led the way in objecting to the choice of Obama because she questioned his ability to keep his promises, the newspaper said.

It also said the representative of the Conservative Party, Kaci Kullmann Five, and Aagot Valle, the representative of the Socialist Left, had objections.

The choice for Obama was however strongly supported by committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland and Sissel Roenbeck, both representatives of the Labour Party.


Comment: It's a joke! (See yesterday's post about someone who truly earned it)

10.14.2009

Who Obama beat out for the Nobel Peace Prize

The Last Thing Obama Needs Is the Nobel Peace Prize

Excerpt:

At this moment, many Americans are longing for a President who is more bully, less pulpit. The President who leased his immense inaugural good will to the hungry appropriators writing the stimulus bill, who has not stopped negotiating health-care reform except to say what is nonnegotiable, whose solicitude for the wheelers and dealers who drove the financial system into a ditch leaves the rest of us wondering who has our back, has always shown great promise, said the right things, affirmed every time he opens his mouth that he understands the fears we face and the hopes we hold. But he presides over a capital whose day-to-day functioning has become part travesty, part tragedy; wasteful, blind, vain, petty, where even the best-intentioned reformers measure their progress with teaspoons. There comes a time when a President needs to take a real risk - and putting his prestige on the line to win the Olympics for his hometown does not remotely count.

Compare this to Greg Mortenson, nominated for the prize by some members of Congress, whom the bookies gave 20-to-1 odds of winning. Son of a missionary, a former Army medic and mountaineer, he has made it his mission to build schools for girls in places where opium dealers and tribal warlords kill people for trying. His Central Asia Institute has built more than 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan - a mission which has, along the way, inspired millions of people to view the protection and education of girls as a key to peace and prosperity and progress.


More on: Greg Mortenson

Cub Scout Who Brought Camping Utensil to School Has Suspension Lifted



Update on: 6 year old suspended over Cub Scout utensil

10.13.2009

Washington State: a "heaving, moving mass"

A massive landslide that closed a section of State Route 410, destroyed at least two homes, blocked and changed the flow of the Naches River

Excerpts (be sure to check out the photo link below):

Calling it a "rotational landslide," Washington State Patrol Sgt. Tom Foster said the blockage appears to be a result of earth shifting under the surface of the hillside -- and not a classic landslide.

Soil from the slide area continued to slough off the hillside late Sunday afternoon, according to Ty Brown, a lieutenant with the Nile Fire Department and one of the incident commanders at the scene.

"Our main concern is the river is changing its own channel, trying to find its own way around the slide. We are dealing with flooding in that area," Brown said. "Our next problem is to try to take care of the folks who live up the valley. They aren't going to have power for some time."

...

Among those evacuated were 12 boys who live at the Flying H Ranch, a Christian residential program for troubled boys, situated south of the Nile Loop Road off State Route 410.

Chris Rodriguez, a counselor at the ranch, described the slide: "It was like a knife had cut through the hill and moved everything to the side."

Some ranch employees who stayed behind after the evacuation reported some ranch buildings being threatened by water from the Naches River.

As the boys unloaded from a van at Naches Valley High School, a dazed-looking family wandered into the parking lot.

"Our house got hit," said a woman in the family, before making her way into the school to speak with American Red Cross volunteers. "We knew we were going to get hit -- we're right up against the hill."

...

Transportation officials closed a 47-mile stretch of State Route 410 -- from Mount Rainier National Park's Lake Tipsoo to its junction with U.S. Highway 12 at the Y west of Naches.

Emergency personnel described the landslide as a "heaving, moving mass" that pushed chunks of earth and pavement into the Naches River, damming its width.


Comment: DOT photos ...

Washington State Department of Transportation Photo Stream

Blue Dog statement on H/C reform

Blue Dog statement Senate Health Care Reform Legislation

Excerpt:

.. our health care problem is our deficit problem, and as Blue Dogs we are committed to ensuring that legislation in the House is not only deficit neutral, but contains costs and is fiscally responsible over the long term


Comment: I seriously doubt that it can be produced! (a bill that is deficit neutral!)

Obama: ‘Let me be clear’

The phrases President Obama can't do without - Some of his favorite rhetorical expressions pop up in almost every speech

Excerpts:

For all his flourish, President Barack Obama sure falls back on a few familiar phrases.

Make no mistake. Change isn't easy. It won't happen overnight. There will be setbacks and false starts.

Those who routinely listen to the president have come to expect some of those expressions to pop up in almost every speech.

...

Yet in the portfolio of presidential phrases, none is more pervasive than Obama's four-word favorite: Let me be clear.

It is his emphatic windup for, well, everything.

"Let me be clear," he said in describing his surprise at winning the Nobel Peace Prize. "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations."

"Let me be clear," he said in one of his dozens of pitches for a health insurance overhaul. "If you like your doctor or health care provider, you can keep them."

Presidents talk so much in public that is not surprising to find rhetorical patterns. Although Obama is known for a flair with the written and spoken word, his hardest mission is often to make complicated matters relevant to the masses.

So clarity, it seems, is of the highest order.

Terrorists? "Now let me be clear: We are indeed at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates."

Student testing? "Let me be clear: Success should be judged by results, and data is a powerful tool to determine results."

Iran? "Let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies."

Auto bailouts? "Let me be clear: The United States government has no interest in running GM."

The president takes the phrase everywhere.

In Moscow: "Let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia."

In Ghana: "Let me be clear: Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at perpetual war."

In Italy, bemoaning poor U.S. leadership on climate change: "Let me be clear: Those days are over."

In Trinidad, announcing new aid: "Let me be clear: This is not charity."


Comment: How about clearly responding to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s troop request!

"I'm not a member of any organized party, I'm a Democrat"

Discord among Dems 'par for the course,' experts say

Excerpt:

[After] nearly a year after the election, Democrats have little to show for this legislative session, despite holding a majority in both chambers of Congress.

The Democratic leadership, most recently, has butted heads over health care, and, throughout Obama's term, the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats have had a hard time swallowing the massive increases in government spending.

"A lot of citizens and a lot of journalists think that government should be a smooth-running machine. There's never been a smooth-running machine called government," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

The party infighting, Sabato said, is "absolutely expected."

"Where you stand depends on where you sit in American government. So to me, it's par for the course. It always seems more dramatic and important at the time from the perspective of history," he added.

The first nine months of the Obama administration have put to rest any Republican fears of a rubber-stamp Congress. That point was made painfully clear earlier this month in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch chastising Obama for the unfulfilled items on his to-do list.

Democratic strategist Phil Noble says the tug-of-war among Democrats is just the nature of the party, pointing to a quote by Will Rogers, who said, "I'm not a member of any organized party, I'm a Democrat."


Comment: Good Will Rogers quote. More on the Blue Dog Coalition. Members.

10.12.2009

6 year old suspended over Cub Scout utensil

Cub Scout's "Weapon" Earns him Suspension

Excerpt:

Zachary Christie was suspended from his 1st grade class in Delaware's Christina School District after bringing a camping utensil - a combination knife/fork/spoon - to use at lunch, prompting calls to reexamine schools' zero-tolerance policy for bringing weapons to school, according to a New York Times report Monday.

Zero tolerance policies were instituted in many school districts across the country, at least in part due to violence at Columbine and Virginia Tech, the report notes. Their rigid enforcement is designed to eliminate the appearance of bias or discrimination on the part of school officials.

But residents, and some lawmakers, are now wondering why schools can't apply a more common-sense discretion to such instances.

"It just seems unfair," said Zachary, who is being home-schooled while his mother, Debbie Christie, tries to fight the suspension. That involved Zachary appearing before a district disciplinary committee with his karate instructor and mother's fiancé vouching for him as character witnesses.

"Zachary wears a suit and tie some days to school by his own choice because he takes school so seriously," his mother said. "He is not some sort of threat to his classmates."

Christie started a Web site, helpzachary.com, to drum up support for her son.

State Representative Teresa L. Schooley wrote the disciplinary committee, asking each member to "consider the situation, get all the facts, find out about Zach and his family and then act with common sense for the well-being of this child."



It’s a Fork, It’s a Spoon, It’s a ... Weapon?

Excerpt:

Zachary’s offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school.


Comment: Support site: Please Help Zachary

Excerpt:

The School District committee recommended that he be alternatively placed at The Douglass School, a reform school for juvenile delinquents. This is the same school where they place children who have severe behavioral problems and who are guilty of such offenses as assault and battery, rape, drug offenses, concealing a deadly weapon, and more.

1918 flu deaths - aspirin aggravated?

Aspirin May Have Had Role in 1918 Flu Epidemic

Excerpt:

Dr. Karen M. Starko, author of one of the earliest papers connecting aspirin use with Reye’s syndrome, has published an article suggesting that overdoses of the relatively new “wonder drug” could have been deadly.

What raised Dr. Starko’s suspicions is that high doses of aspirin, amounts considered unsafe today, were commonly used to treat the illness, and the symptoms of aspirin overdose may have been difficult to distinguish from those of the flu, especially among those who died soon after they became ill.

Some doubts were raised even at the time. At least one contemporary pathologist working for the Public Health Service thought that the amount of lung damage seen during autopsies in early deaths was too little to attribute to viral pneumonia, and that the large amounts of bloody, watery liquid in the lungs must have had some other cause.

Dr. Starko acknowledged that she did not have autopsy reports or other documents that could prove that aspirin was the problem. “There was a lot of chaos in these places,” she said, “and I’m not sure if there are good records anywhere.”

But of the many factors that might have influenced the outcome in any particular case, Dr. Starko wrote, aspirin overdose stands out for several reasons, including a confluence of historical events.

In February 1917, Bayer lost its American patent on aspirin, opening a lucrative drug market to many manufacturers. Bayer fought back with copious advertising, celebrating the brand’s purity just as the epidemic was reaching its peak.

Aspirin packages were produced containing no warnings about toxicity and few instructions about use. In the fall of 1918, facing a widespread deadly disease with no known cure, the surgeon general and the United States Navy recommended aspirin as a symptomatic treatment, and the military bought large quantities of the drug.

The Journal of the American Medical Association suggested a dose of 1,000 milligrams every three hours, the equivalent of almost 25 standard 325-milligram aspirin tablets in 24 hours. This is about twice the daily dosage generally considered safe today.


Comment: Interesting.