Fraud on CC

A first for me .... credit card fraud

I checked out my Chase card this morning and there was a charge to http://www.billccnow.com/ on my card. Looks like some kind of portal to a porn site. Later (4:30 pm) I checked again and there were 2 more charges for $ 58 each. I called Chase and they canceled the card.


"Possible links between convicted murderer Charles Manson and yesterday’s traffic jams in the downtown area"

Media Fear Tactics


It would be interesting if the standards of Truth in Advertising were applied to television news as they sometimes are to television commercials. In that unlikely situation, TV news writers would be required to use phrases and words that convey accurate information – as opposed to the phrases and words they use today.

Comment: Entire article is worth a read. I only posted first paragraph.


The stupidity of student loans

The Subprime Crisis of Student Debt


Ms. Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of New York University, has nearly $100,000 in student loan debt from her four years in college, and affording the full monthly payments would be a struggle. For much of the time since her 2005 graduation, she’s been enrolled in night school, which allows her to defer loan payments.


Meanwhile, universities like N.Y.U. enrolled students without asking many questions about whether they could afford a $50,000 annual bill. Then the colleges introduced the students to lenders who underwrote big loans without any idea of what the students might earn someday — just like the mortgage lenders who didn’t ask borrowers to verify their incomes.

Ms. Munna does not want to walk away from her loans in the same way many mortgage holders are. It would be difficult in any event because federal bankruptcy law makes it nearly impossible to discharge student loan debts. But unless she manages to improve her income quickly, she doesn’t have a lot of good options for digging out.

It is utterly depressing that there are so many people like her facing decades of payments, limited capacity to buy a home and a debt burden that can repel potential life partners. For starters, it’s a shared failure of parenting and loan underwriting.

But perhaps the biggest share lies with colleges and universities because they have the most knowledge of the financial aid process. And I would argue that they had an obligation to counsel students like Ms. Munna, who got in too far over their heads.

How many people are like her? According to the College Board’s Trends in Student Aid study, 10 percent of people who graduated in 2007-8 with student loans had borrowed $40,000 or more. The median debt for bachelor’s degree recipients who borrowed while attending private, nonprofit colleges was $22,380.

The Project on Student Debt, a research and advocacy organization in Oakland, Calif., used federal data to estimate that 206,000 people graduated from college (including many from for-profit universities) with more than $40,000 in student loan debt in that same period. That’s a ninefold increase over the number of people in 1996, using 2008 dollars.

Comment: Colleges don't care!

Future unknown for Gulf ecosystem

Gauging Harm to Ecosystem Could Take Years


Globs of thick, gooey petroleum have washed ashore along the south Louisiana coast over the past week, landing on beaches and washing into marsh reeds. Oiled birds have been collected and dolphins and sea turtles have been found dead, though officials cautioned they were still conducting tests to determine whether the deaths resulted from the spill.

But the environmental impact that most worries experts along the coast is the kind they can't see. Some birds and sea mammals affected by the spill are likely to die far offshore and never be detected, scientists say. Oil from the mile-deep well may be collecting in underwater clouds, potentially endangering a cornucopia of life from the sea floor to the surface, preliminary sampling by university researchers suggests.

And more than 800,000 gallons of chemical "dispersants" sprayed onto the oil in a frantic attempt to keep the bulk of it offshore pose little-understood risks to organisms in the Gulf's depths, scientists and government officials say.

The dispersant that has been used in the largest amounts on this spill, Corexit 9500, is among the most toxic to certain organisms of all those approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for use in oil spills, according to EPA tests.

The big question is which poses a greater environmental risk: oil washing ashore, or a mixture of oil and dispersant at sea. "This is a Hobson's choice," said Steve Murawski, chief science adviser for NOAA's fisheries unit and one of the officials working to assess the spill's environmental damage. "We're in uncharted territory."

A research ship from the University of South Florida this week found what researchers believe is a plume of oil concentrated about 1,300 feet below the surface, said David Naar, an oceanographer at the university. Researchers are awaiting lab tests to confirm that what they saw in the water is oil, he said, but "indirect evidence suggests that that's the case." The suspected oil particles are invisible to the naked eye, which is worrisome, Mr. Naar said. "In other words, they have become dissolved in the water."

Comment: I won't be eating seafood for a long long time!


Obama needs Truman's desk sign

BP Resumes Effort to Seal Oil Well After Daylong Halt


Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Washington that he was angry and frustrated about the catastrophe, and he shouldered much of the responsibility for the continuing crisis.

“Those who think we were either slow on the response or lacked urgency, don’t know the facts,” Mr. Obama said. “This has been our highest priority.”

But he also blamed BP, which owns the stricken well, and the Bush administration, which he said had fostered a “cozy and sometimes corrupt” relationship between oil companies and regulators at the Minerals Management Service.

Comment: "The Buck Stops Here" Desk Sign

Excerpt: Obama's hobby .... passing the buck!

Joe Sestak deal: "it smells like a fish"

Joe Sestak's lying or he's protecting a felon in Barack Obama's White House


Well, it looks like we have an answer now to the question raised in that Monday Ticket item here: Obama White House probe of Obama White House finds no Obama White House impropriety on Sestak.

This Joe Sestak/Obama White House job mess does have legs. The public and the media are not buying the White House's self-cleansing, self-serving explanation that everything was appropriate, just move along.

The issue of what Democrat Sestak was offered by an Obama aide to drop out of his ultimately successful Pennsylvania Senate primary challenge of what's-his-name-the-old-former-Democrat-ex-Republican-now-Democrat Specter may well come up this morning at President Obama's first White House news conference in months. (As usual, we'll have the full transcript here this afternoon.)

It's a lesson that White House after White House fails to learn, incomplete answers only raise more questions. If it smells like a fish, good chance it's a fish.

Comment: Smells like rotten fish or eggs or something!

Moonshine or a mosquito net

Moonshine or the Kids?


The Obamzas have no mosquito net, even though they have already lost two of their eight children to malaria. They say they just can’t afford the $6 cost of a net. Nor can they afford the $2.50-a-month tuition for each of their three school-age kids.

“It’s hard to get the money to send the kids to school,” Mr. Obamza explained, a bit embarrassed.

But Mr. Obamza and his wife, Valerie, do have cellphones and say they spend a combined $10 a month on call time.

In addition, Mr. Obamza goes drinking several times a week at a village bar, spending about $1 an evening on moonshine. By his calculation, that adds up to about $12 a month — almost as much as the family rent and school fees combined.

I asked Mr. Obamza why he prioritizes alcohol over educating his kids. He looked pained.


Well-meaning humanitarians sometimes burnish suffering to make it seem more virtuous and noble than it often is. If we’re going to make more progress, and get kids like the Obamza children in school and under bed nets, we need to look unflinchingly at uncomfortable truths — and then try to redirect the family money now spent on wine and prostitution.

Comment: A good article on the limits of charitable help! Giving this family $ 10 per month (an amount of which would be amazingly easy for all of my readers) might make us "feel good" but it would not solve the Obamza's real needs. Only the gospel can radically change the heart and only a change of heart will change Mr Obamza's priorities! (A math lesson may be in order too! If he spends $ 1 per night drinking that would seem to be more like $ 30 per month, not $ 12)


Leaf sold out

Nissan Says Electric Car Is Sold Out for This Year


Nissan’s chief executive, Carlos Ghosn, said Tuesday that the company had already received 19,000 orders in the United States and Japan for the electric car that it would start selling at year-end.

More than six months before the car, the Nissan Leaf, arrives at dealerships, the preorders mean that the car is sold out for this year and that the company might stop taking reservations, Mr. Ghosn said during a visit to the Detroit Economic Club.

“The preorders are such that we are very comfortable with what we have undertaken,” Mr. Ghosn said after the speech. “The more we advance into it, the more comfortable we are with it.”

Nissan plans to break ground Wednesday in Smyrna, Tenn., for a plant to build batteries for the Leaf and eventually other models, part of its goal to sell at least 500,000 electric cars worldwide starting in 2013. The first Leafs will be made in Japan, with assembly in Tennessee planned to start in 2012.

Comment: I made a $ 99 deposit to reserve one.

"With the Old Breed"

Comment: You'll need to click over to the 4BYA site to read these.

God’s comfort on Peleliu

Remembering those who served

Did Sestak offer violate Federal law?

Sestak White House scandal called 'impeachable offense'


"This is a pretty extraordinary charge: 'They tried to bribe me out of the race by offering me a job,'" he said on Greta Van Susteran's "On the Record" program on the Fox News Channel. "Look, that's a violation of the federal code: 18 USC 600 says that a federal official cannot promise employment, a job in the federal government, in return for a political act.

"Somebody violated the law. If Sestak is telling the truth, somebody violated the law," Rove said. "Section 18 USC 211 says you cannot accept anything of value in return for hiring somebody. Well, arguably, providing a clear path to the nomination for a fellow Democrat is something of value.

He continued, citing a third law passage: "18 USC 595, which prohibits a federal official from interfering with the nomination or election for office. ... 'If you'll get out, we'll appoint you to a federal office,' – that's a violation of the law."

Staffers with Sestak's congressional office did not respond to WND requests for comment. But the congressman repeatedly confirmed that he was offered the position and refused and that any further comments would have to come from someone else.

"I've said all I'm going to say on the matter. … Others need to explain whatever their role might be," Sestak said on CNN this week. "I have a personal accountability; I should have for my role in the matter, which I talked about. Beyond that, I'll let others talk about their role."

That's not fulfilling his responsibilities, Rove said. He said Sestak needs to be forthcoming with the full story so "the American people can figure out whether or not he's participating in a criminal cover-up along with federal officials."

Comment: White House mum on this! More from CSMonitor: Did the White House offer Joe Sestak a job?

The issue has been percolating for weeks. Last month, Philadelphia TV newsman Larry Kane asked Congressman Sestak if he had been offered “a high-ranking job in the administration” to get him not to run for the Senate. “Yes,” Sestak replied.

$ 13 Trillion and counting



North Korea: Land Mines better than Nukes

The Case Against the Land-Mine Treaty


Land mines remain a critical part of America's 21st century security architecture.

The demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea contains massive minefields. They guard against surprise attacks by numerically superior North Korean infantry who are poised 20 miles from the outskirts of Seoul.

Deterring nuclear-armed and consistently erratic North Korea (its most recent provocation was sinking a South Korean warship) is a challenge requiring all the tools in the U.S. military arsenal. Ratifying the Ottawa Convention means dismantling the DMZ minefields. That means an American president might face the unpalatable choice of watching South Korea (and the U.S. forces stationed there) overrun—or using nuclear weapons.

Comment: Good read

Save money on your wedding

5 ways to save on your wedding


When it comes to wedding spending, bridal couples are tightening their sashes and cummerbunds. Since it peaked in 2007, the cost of the average American wedding has fallen by nearly a third, from $29,000 to $20,000, according to the Wedding Report.

Fortunately, couples are discovering that it's easy to cut wedding costs without skimping on food or subjecting guests to cash bars. Here are their top strategies:

The list

  1. Don’t use the 'w' word (read the article for the explainaton!)
  2. Have your reception in a restaurant
  3. Bring your own music
  4. Time it right - from Nov. 1 to March 31
  5. Use nontraditional retailers - wedding rings at Costco!

Comments - I'll add my list

  1. For Fathers. Set an amount well in advance. We've set the amount and told our daughter what our max contribution to the wedding will be (the exact amount is private to the Peet family!). I've told her that she can spend as much as she wants on her wedding, but my maximum contribution is $ ____. Why is this a good strategy? Because it is easy to spend someone else's money. (ask the Federal government).
  2. Keep the guest list low
  3. Don't have a meal at the reception. K and I had cake, nuts and mints. 35 1/2 years later we are still married.
  4. Don't serve liquor at the reception. I recently heard of a reception with a $ 15,000 bar tab on Daddy's Visa
  5. Buy a used wedding dress. You will only wear it once! Or just get married in a real nice dress!
  6. Honeymoon in Minnesota or a state close to your home (like the North Shore of Minnesota!) (On the other hand avoid North Dakota or Iowa!)

Feel free to add to the list with your comments

The Horsepower Wars

Automobiles and the Environment

Some of my cars:

  • 1968 Beetle (my first car) = 53 horsepower
  • 1973 Plymouth Satellite (400 ci engine) = 250 - 300 HP (guessing based on this) (pic below)
  • 2007 Buick Lucerne with Northstar V-8 = 292 HP


Sources of Retirement Income

The 10 Biggest Sources of Retirement Income


Working Americans tend to have one major source of income: their job. But once you retire, your income is likely to come from several different sources, including retirement account withdrawals, monthly Social Security payments, and increasingly, a part-time job. Here are the 10 biggest sources of retirement income.

The list:

  1. Social Security
  2. Retirement Accounts
  3. Pensions
  4. Savings Accounts and CDs
  5. Stocks and Stock Mutual Funds
  6. Home Equity
  7. Part-Time Work
  8. Inheritance
  9. Annuities or Insurance
  10. Rent and Royalties

Comment: I would consider working part time. I think that could be fun. Some technical job. I don't wish to draw on home equity. Options 8, 9, and 10 are not viable for us


Speed Test home and at the office

At the office on Friday 5/21/2010 at 3:00 pm

At the house on Friday 5/21/2010 at 6:00 pm

Speakeasy Speed Test


Try it and post your results (date / time / location) in the comments


Rumors of wars

NKorea warns of war if punished for ship sinking


Tensions deepened Thursday on the Korean peninsula as South Korea accused North Korea of firing a torpedo that sank a naval warship, killing 46 sailors in the country's worst military disaster since the Korean War.

President Lee Myung-bak vowed "stern action" for the provocation following the release of long-awaited results from a multinational investigation into the March 26 sinking near the Koreas' tense maritime border. North Korea, reacting swiftly, called the results a fabrication, and warned that any retaliation would trigger war. It continued to deny involvement in the sinking of the warship Cheonan.

"If the (South Korean) enemies try to deal any retaliation or punishment, or if they try sanctions or a strike on us .... we will answer to this with all-out war," Col. Pak In Ho of North Korea's navy told broadcaster APTN in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang.

An international civilian-military investigation team said evidence overwhelmingly proves a North Korean submarine fired a homing torpedo that caused a massive underwater blast that tore the Cheonan apart. Fifty-eight sailors were rescued from the frigid Yellow Sea waters, but 46 perished.

Ahmadinejad's chief of staff says if Israel attacks, 'Zionists will have no longer than week to live'


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, said Wednesday that if Israel attacked Iran it would be destroyed within a week.

Speaking at a political conference of ultra-conservatives in Iran's north, Mashaei said, "If the Zionist regime attacks Iran, the Zionists will have no longer than a week to live."

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted him as saying that the Islamic Republic would destroy Israel "in less than 10 days".

Comment: Post title from Matthew 24:6, "And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for allthese things must come to pass, but the end is not yet."

Exaggerations coming back to bite him

Critics weigh Blumenthal's words


"I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back to all kinds of disrespect. Whatever we think of war, we owe the men and women of the armed forces our unconditional support."

The occasion was the Stamford Veterans Days parade: Nov. 9, 2008.

The speaker was Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, as quoted by The Advocate.

A trove of potential bulletin board material was unearthed Tuesday by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers from its archives quoting the once seemingly unflappable U.S. Senate candidate on his military record, one that he has been accused of embellishing.

During a May 18, 2009, military board tribute to veterans in Shelton, Blumenthal was quoted by the Connecticut Post as saying, "When we returned from Vietnam, I remember the taunts, the verbal and even physical abuse we encountered."

A year later at a Stratford Memorial Day event covered by the Post, Blumenthal dropped the "we" reference but didn't go out of his way to say that he never went to Vietnam.

"I am called general all the time in my role, but the highest rank I will ever have in life is as a sergeant in the United States Marines," said Blumenthal, who went on to comment how tough it was for veterans of the unpopular conflict to return to "taunts and jeers."

Blumenthal's critics claim that the Democrat's veiled references to serving in Vietnam, which the candidate himself qualified as rare and unintentional misstatements but now number at least five, establish a pattern of duplicity that calls his credibility into question.

"At one point I wanted to go up to him a couple of years ago and say, 'Hey Dick, you're giving the impression you were on the battlefield," said former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., "I thought that might come back to bite him."

Comment: Update on "since the days that I served in Vietnam"

Euro Debt Crisis - 2 views

Europe 2020: Things are pretty bad these days for the economies of Europe. But the crisis paves the way for an incredibly strong future.


[While] Europe's crisis could very likely worsen. But if there is a positive scenario, it's this: by 2020, Europe's governments will—out of simple necessity—have become more efficient and less intrusive, the EU will have turned itself into a borderless and dynamic single market, and the continent's least competitive economies will have been forced to reform and innovate. If, that is, Europe's leaders don't let this crisis go to waste.

Comment: From Newsweek ... the "through rose-colored glasses", "Pollyannish" view

AND then there is the George Will view!

European Union: A coalition of irresponsibility


Greece represents a perverse aspiration -- a society with (in the words of Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan) "more takers than makers," more people taking benefits from government than there are people making goods and services that produce the social surplus that funds government. By socializing the consequences of Greece's misgovernment, Europe has become the world's leading producer of a toxic product -- moral hazard. The dishonesty and indiscipline of a nation with 2.6 percent of the eurozone's economic product have moved nations with the other 97.4 percent -- and the United States and the International Monetary Fund -- to say, essentially: The consequences of such vices cannot be quarantined, so we are all hostages to one another and hence no nation will be allowed to sink beneath the weight of its recklessness.

Recklessness will proliferate.

"The coining of money," said William Blackstone more than two centuries ago, "is in all states the act of the sovereign power."

But the European Union is neither a state nor sovereign enough to enforce its rules: No euro-zone nation is complying with the E.U. requirement that deficits not exceed 3 percent of gross domestic product.


If money represents, as Emerson said, the prose of life, the euro reflects a determination to make European life prosaic. It is an attempt to erase nationalities and subsume politics in economics in order to escape from European history. The euro pleases dispirited people for whom European history is not Chartres and Shakespeare but the Holocaust and the Somme. The euro expresses cultural despair.

It also presupposes something else nonexistent. The word "democracy" incorporates the Greek demos -- people. As the recent rampages of Greece's demos, and the reciprocated disdain of Germany's demos, demonstrate, Europe remains a continent of distinct and unaffectionate peoples. There is no "European people" united by common mores.

Comment: The US is next .... "The U in the E.U. -- the unifying thread -- is indiscipline. Increasingly, it also is the unifying characteristic of the USA. "

Olympic mascot a lamprey eel?

London Olympics 2012: Meet Wenlock and Mandeville, drips off the old block


Wenlock and Mandeville, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascots, elicited mostly baffled reactions as to just what they were at their unveiling today.

With a metallic finish, a single large eye made out of a camera lens, a London taxi light on their heads and the Olympic rings represented as friendship bracelets on their wrists, they resemble characters dreamed up for a Pixar animation.

But London 2012 organisers, for whom the launch of the mascots marks the start of a crucial period in which the games will become public property, pointed to the delighted reaction of a hall full of primary school children at today's launch as evidence that they would connect with their target audience.

"They remind you of aliens, which is really weird and cool," said 10-year-old Ali.

Comment: Postmodern mascots!



Trying the Trackball

Kensington Expert Mouse Optical USB Trackball

Comment: Different than a mouse but an interesting experience. Only complaint is that the CD software was not for Intel based Macs. I found the correct software at the Kensington website.

My complaint about Sharper Iron

Scott Pakin's automatic complaint-letter generator


The last thing I wanted to do this Saturday night was spend several hours writing, editing, and typing this letter. However, I needed to do it because it's decidedly the best way to do something about the continuing—make that the escalating—effort on Sharper Iron's part to make us too confused, demoralized, and disunited to put up an effective opposition to Sharper Iron's obiter dicta. When writing this letter, I had originally intended to segregate the pure errors of fact in Sharper Iron's comments from the assertions of questionable judgment where there could be room for dispute. I eventually decided against that approach because Sharper Iron's commitment to racialism is only part of the story. That's too big of a subject to get into here so let me instead discuss how it should work with us, not step in at the eleventh hour and hog all the glory. Sharper Iron has been turning over our country to filthy, exploitative shysters. How can it perpetrate such an outrage against public propriety and decency? It doesn't want you to know the answer to that question; it wants to ensure you don't enhance people's curiosity, critical acumen, and aesthetic sensitivity.

I am not trying to save the world—I gave up that pursuit a long time ago. But I am trying to develop a rational-empirical base for dialogue about Sharper Iron's belief systems. Whether you call it "colonialism", "libertinism", or "poststructuralism", it is alive and well in Sharper Iron's excuses. It's what convinced me that Sharper Iron's positions are a mere cavil, a mere scarecrow, one of the last shifts of a desperate and dying cause. Please pardon this brief divagation, but in every country there are acrimonious skinheads who are every bit as brassbound as Sharper Iron. I won't dwell on that except to direct your attention to the debauched manner in which it has been trying to justify, palliate, or excuse the evils of its heart. If we don't remove the Sharper Iron threat now, it will bite us in our backside any day now.

I mention that in this spot because of its close connection with the item just above. This means, in particular, that anyone—you or I or a Martian just arrived in a flying saucer—who wants to remove the misunderstanding that Sharper Iron has created in the minds of myriad people throughout the world should realize that it's not necessarily difficult to reveal the truth about Sharper Iron's off-the-cuff comments. We can begin simply by converting retreat into advance. See? I told you it wasn't necessarily difficult. We just need to remember that some day, in the far, far future, Sharper Iron will realize that its hired goons are once again out begging for signatures for some vindictive petition that makes it legal for Sharper Iron to give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments. This realization will sink in slowly but surely and will be accompanied by a comprehension of how you, of course, now need some hard evidence that this conviction of mine is as firm as a rock. Well, how about this for evidence: Its ventures are an icon for the deterioration of the city, for its slow slide into crime, malaise, and filth. Sorry for going on for so long about Sharper Iron. I guess I just have a burr under my saddle from seeing Sharper Iron violate the basic tenets of journalism and scholarship.

Comment: Use Scott Pakin's automatic complaint-letter generator to generate complaint letter text about a person or a company!

Below is a 1 paragraph "complaint" against my Brother!

I've got a beef with Mr. Roger A Peet. Perhaps before going on, I should describe Roger to you. Roger is unctuous, bumptious, and ruthless. Furthermore, he yearns to introduce absurd, baseless, terror-ridden lawsuits intended to destroy the lives of countless innocent people. And that's it. Words fail me in describing my pure distaste for Mr. Roger A Peet's complaints and gin-swilling animadversions.

Obama and his minions can't control what's happening at the grass roots

Why Arlen Specter Lost


Specter's defeat at the hands of two-term House member Joe Sestak is yet another sign this election year that familiar figures, usual suspects -- especially though not exclusively if they are Democrats -- are an endangered species.

The White House and Democratic strategists will try to take some comfort from the fact that they held onto the House seat in Johnstown, Pa., and the fact that Sestak is probably the stronger general election candidate to face Tea Partyish Republican Patrick Toomey.

But the plain fact is that Obama and Co. tried to wire this race for Specter and and failed miserably. At first they tried to brow beat or bribe Sestak out of the race. Then they poured a lot of money and organizing help in. They begged the Philly machine, rickety as it is, to do its work.

It all fell flat. Sestak won 40 percent of the Philly vote -- a humiliation for the machine. Sestak won the Pittsburgh area by 53-47 -- even tho the mayor, the county executive and the AFL-CIO all endorsed Sen. Specter.

One thing this means is that Obama and his minions can't control what's happening at the grass roots.

Comment: The mid-term elections should be interesting.


Debt Snowball

Fears Intensify That Euro Crisis Could Snowball


For Europe’s banks, the problems are twofold. Short-term borrowing costs are rising, which could lead institutions to cut back on new loans and call in old ones, crimping economic growth.

At the same time, seemingly safe institutions in more solid economies like France and Germany hold vast amounts of bonds from their more shaky neighbors, like Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Investors fear that with many governments groaning under the weight of huge deficits, the debt of weaker nations that use the euro currency will have to be restructured, deeply lowering the value of their bonds. That would hit European financial institutions hard, and may ricochet through the global banking system.


The world’s budget deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product now stands at 6 percent, up from just 0.3 percent before the financial crisis. If public debt is not lowered back to precrisis levels, the I.M.F. report said, growth in advanced economies could decline by half a percentage point annually.

Comment: Soon to roll over the US!


"since the days that I served in Vietnam"

Candidate’s Words on Vietnam Service Differ From History


“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records.


In at least eight newspaper articles published in Connecticut from 2003 to 2009, he is described as having served in Vietnam.

The New Haven Register on July 20, 2006, described him as “a veteran of the Vietnam War,” and on April 6, 2007, said that the attorney general had “served in the Marines in Vietnam.” On May 26, 2009, The Connecticut Post, a Bridgeport newspaper that is the state’s third-largest daily, described Mr. Blumenthal as “a Vietnam veteran.” The Shelton Weekly reported on May 23, 2008, that Mr. Blumenthal “was met with applause when he spoke about his experience as a Marine sergeant in Vietnam.”

And the idea that he served in Vietnam has become such an accepted part of his public biography that when a national outlet, Slate magazine, produced a profile of Mr. Blumenthal in 2006, it said he had “enlisted in the Marines rather than duck the Vietnam draft.”

My own lack of service in Viet Nam: I was 2S all through college. In the draft lottery of 1969 my number was 311 (August 19th). Selective service did not draft that deep (that high). Had I to do life over again, I would join the Marines. One of the big mistakes of my life!


Unparalleled ecological disaster

Scientists Find Giant Plumes of Oil Forming Under the Gulf


Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick.

Comment: Hard to imagine.

US: “gross financing needs”

US faces one of biggest budget crunches in world – IMF


Exhibit a is the fact that under the Obama administration’s current fiscal plans, the national debt in the US (on a gross basis) will climb to above 100pc of GDP by 2015 – a far steeper increase than almost any other country.


Then there’s the fact that the US has a far shorter maturity of government debt than most other countries, meaning that even if it weren’t borrowing any extra cash it would have to issue a large chunk of new stuff each year as things are.

Comment: Read on about our country’s “gross financing needs”


Volcker: need common government to make Euro work!

White House's Volcker: Future of Euro in Doubt


Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman and a widely respected economist, told students at the London School of Economics that it was difficult to have a common currency without a common government.

"Initially I thought the euro was a good idea," Volcker said.

Comment: I've long thought that a widespread financial crisis would lead to further globalization. Interesting to hear it voiced aloud!

"Right sizing" Detroit - 1860 Balmoral Drive

Detroit Shrinks Itself, Historic Homes and All


In leveling 1860 Balmoral Drive, the boyhood home of one-time presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Detroit is losing a small piece of its history. But the project is part of a demolition effort that is just now gaining momentum and could help define the city's future.

Detroit is finally chipping away at a glut of abandoned homes that has been piling up for decades, and intends to take advantage of warm weather and new federal funding to demolish some 3,000 buildings by the end of September.

Mayor Dave Bing has pledged to knock down 10,000 structures in his first term as part of a nascent plan to "right-size" Detroit, or reconfigure the city to reflect its shrinking population.

When it's all over, said Karla Henderson, director of the Detroit Building Department, "There's going to be a lot of empty space."

Mr. Bing hasn't yet fully articulated his ultimate vision for what comes after demolition, but he has said entire areas will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. For now, his plan calls for the tracts to be converted to other uses, such as parks or farms.

Even when the demolitions are complete, Detroit will still have a huge problem on its hands. The city has roughly 90,000 abandoned or vacant homes and residential lots, according to Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that tracks demographic data for the city.

Google street view: Click

The "Dollar" stores

Dollar stores face challenge in recovery - Super-discounters have drawn more business in recession


Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree. The small-box retailers generally have seen sales pick up in the recession and their market has expanded beyond their traditional lower-income demographic. But as the economy improves they could face a problem hanging onto some of their newest customers, analysts say.

The companies will have to pay attention to areas where they sometimes have been lacking, including keeping stores clean and aisles clear. And in a rebounding economy they will have to overcome the perception that their goods are lower quality or less trustworthy.

“When you’re not feeling quite as financially strapped, you might get a little fussier about what it’s like to go into the store,” said Meredith Adler, a senior research analyst with Barclays Capital Equity Research.

Still, Adler said the dollar store segment is likely to benefit from the difficult economy for years to come, because many Americans are still struggling and others have adopted thriftier habits.


I don't think I've ever been in any of these stores. But look how the stock has gone up since January!


Brookdale Pipe Dream

Entrepreneur Donald Jackson: A man with a plan for Brookdale mall


Donald Jackson -- DJ for short -- said he plans to create badly needed jobs by restoring the Brooklyn Center mall as a retail hub and adding studios for his TV and film business. One interested tenant, he said, is a Bloomington trade school that's looking to expand.

Jackson knows it's a formidable goal. Brookdale's previous owners defaulted on a mortgage of about $52 million. Investment experts point to maintenance costs and taxes as further proof that buying and operating a regional mall is an expensive proposition.

Jackson made a purchase offer of more than $12.5 million, despite limited resources, no experience as a retail developer and recent financial bruises of his own, including bankruptcy and foreclosure.

"I will buy the mall if you let me," he said, dressed in his trademark black suit and sunglasses. "Right now the only thing stopping me is money, and that doesn't scare me."


The website for Jackson's company, Poor No More Inc., features a page on the Minnesota Vikings' stadium situation, raising questions about whether he hopes to flip the property to the team. He said anything was possible, although he acknowledged that he hasn't talked to team officials about it.

Willson said the city doesn't have enough money to buy the property. As for the Vikings, he said that he hasn't heard from team officials. He said he understands the site is big enough for a stadium but too small for the amenities and infrastructure of a pro football complex.

Comment: Pipe dream: "A pipe dream is a fantastic hope or plan that is generally regarded as being nearly impossible to achieve."

European Union must become a federalised fiscal union (in other words with central power to tax and spend)


  • He's right .... US is on the same path as Greece
  • But the second "nugget" is interesting

US faces same problems as Greece, says Bank of England


Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, fears that America shares many of the same fiscal problems currently haunting Europe. He also believes that European Union must become a federalised fiscal union (in other words with central power to tax and spend) if it is to survive. Just two of the nuggets from one of the most extraordinary press conferences I have been to at the Bank.

Facebook's privacy policies a concern

Why I left Facebook - The social networking service’s privacy policies should give users pause


Why not simply set everything up for opt-in rather than opt-out? Facebook seems to assume that users generally want all the details of their private lives made public.

Comment: I haven't left Facebook. Some features like photo sharing are really great. But the friends of the friends of the friends connections concern me. Also I have had at least 2 "friend requests" that appeared to come from prostitutes or women trying to sell porn.


Today's Democratic Party default is always higher taxes

The Minnesota Prelude - Land of 10,000 tax increases


Earlier this week Democrats who control both legislative houses passed a three-year $1 billion income tax increase. This would raise the top tax rate to 9.1% from 7.85%, taking the rate even higher than that in New Jersey and New York (outside of Manhattan).

Yesterday Mr. Pawlenty vetoed this tax foolishness, as he has three previous tax hikes as Governor. The tax increase was targeted at the rich, but it applied to individuals with an income of $113,100 for singles and $200,000 for joint filers. Note how the definition of "rich" keeps becoming more expansive.

An analysis by the state department of revenue found that nearly six in 10 filers hit by the higher rates would be farmers or small business owners—i.e., the people who write paychecks. The higher rates would go away in 2013 if the state has a $500 million surplus, though the spenders would make sure that day never arrived.

This budget brawl was precipitated by a 4-3 Minnesota Supreme Court decision to invalidate $2.7 billion in emergency budget cuts, technically called "un-allotments." Mr. Pawlenty made those line-item cuts earlier this year to close a $3 billion budget deficit. One reason for the budget gap is that Democrats in St. Paul, much like Democrats in Washington, D.C., approved nearly $1 billion in new health-care entitlements. The practical solution here would be for the legislature to approve the Governor's cuts, which won't put the fragile economy at risk.

This Minnesota drama is typical of the fiscal battle taking place in at least a dozen state capitals, and soon to occur in Washington. Today's Democratic Party default is always higher taxes. Dominated by government-employee unions, they refuse to rethink government spending despite the steep recession. Last year six states raised income tax rates, and this year another five are attempting to do so.

That didn't work so well in 2008 or 2009 in Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey or Wisconsin—states that still have budget holes even after trying to soak the rich. Maryland lost revenue from millionaire tax filers after it raised rates.

Mr. Pawlenty's veto sets the stage for an extended budget showdown that should help him politically. Higher tax rates don't produce prosperity or balanced budgets—as we can see in New Jersey and New York, or Greece and Portugal.

Comment: I really appreciate how Pawlenty has held the line against tax increases!


Obit for co-worker

David E. Koopmeiners


David was born on February 1, 1957 in St. Cloud, Minnesota to Norbert and Ann (Poepping) Koopmeiners. David was a St. Cloud native who graduated from Cathedral High School in 1975 and he received his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Cloud State University in 1982. Immediately following graduation from SCSU, he was employed by Norwest Bank (currently Wells Fargo) for 28 years as a Quality Assurance Analyst and an Information Systems Data Security Manager.

Comment: Dave and I were on the same team for a couple of years. Praying for his wife.

California: “terrible cuts”

Schwarzenegger Preps ‘Terrible Cuts’ to Close Deficit


California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will seek “terrible cuts” to eliminate an $18.6 billion budget deficit facing the most-populous U.S. state through June 2011, his spokesman said.

Schwarzenegger, 62, who will introduce his revised budget plans on May 14, has said he won’t seek tax increases to bolster California’s finances. The Republican’s forecast for the budget gap may rise after revenue fell short of his targets last month.

“We can’t get through this deficit without very terrible cuts,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear told reporters in Sacramento. “We don’t believe that raising taxes right now is the right thing to do.”

California’s revenue in April, when income-tax payments are due, trailed the governor’s estimates by $3.6 billion, or 26 percent. The gap wiped out gains from the previous four months, leaving collections $1.3 billion behind projections for the budget year that ends in June.

Schwarzenegger’s newest plan will revise the proposals introduced in January to account for the tax-collection shortages. In January, the governor said California may have to eliminate entire welfare programs, including the main one that provides cash and job assistance to families below the poverty line, without an influx of cash from the federal government.

Comment: Coming soon to Minnesota

Gov. Tim Pawlenty quickly vetoed a DFL balanced-budget proposal Tuesday that included a $435 million income tax increases for the state's highest earners. The veto came barely 12 hours after the House granted final passage to a budget package designed to eliminate an estimated $3 billion budget deficit. Pawlenty's veto letter was not immediately available.

With less than a week to go in the legislative session, the Republican governor and DFL-controlled House and Senate are no closer to balancing the state's budget. Pawlenty remains unwaveringly opposed to higher taxes.

Quebec sinkhole photos

Family of four 'swallowed by sinkhole'


ALL four members of a Canadian family are feared dead after their farmhouse was swallowed by a massive sinkhole.

Photos: Gallery: Sinkhole swallows home

Europe TARP'd itself

The Real Euro Crisis - The EU's bailout postpones the day of fiscal reckoning.


A trillion dollars is a lot of money, even these days, and the European Union has demonstrated that a check for €750 billion ($972 billion) can produce a rally in European debt markets and global equities. Too bad the larger price for Sunday night's "shock and awe" intervention is likely to be paid in the further erosion of Europe's fiscal and monetary credibility.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde noted Monday's exuberant market reaction with satisfaction, saying that the "message had gotten through" that Euroland would defend its currency. Yes, creditors no doubt love that governments have guaranteed their high-yield loans to Greece, Portugal, Spain and any other profligate government that comes under bond-market siege. What investor doesn't like a risk-free loan that pays 9%?

But there is no such thing as a free sovereign bailout, and the EU's intervention merely transfers those risks from banks and other creditors to taxpayers and the European Central Bank. The real gamble is being made by politicians who are calculating that, by taking the risk of sovereign default off the table for now, they are giving the global economic recovery time to build and making it easier to address Europe's fiscal woes.

In a sense, Europe has decided to TARP itself. German taxpayers have undertaken to underwrite the spending of Southern European governments, with Greece playing AIG, and Portugal starring as Citigroup. Spain, we suppose, is Goldman Sachs. Perhaps it will all work. But our guess is that Germany and France will have a harder time shedding responsibility for the fiscal policies of entire nations than the U.S. Treasury has had selling shares in bailed-out banks.

There is also the small matter of the rule of law. Such bailouts are expressly prohibited by the 1992 Maastricht treaty, and that promise is now in tatters. In the euro's first serious test, the political class blinked. The resulting moral hazard will haunt the single currency for years and reduce the incentive for governments to keep their fiscal houses in order.

Comment: One senses a coming fiscal collapse! A Biblical perspective ... "fat cows .... thin cows" (Genesis 41)

"The Pacific"

Comment: History and particularly WW II and USMC history fans would appreciate this series.

No Enchanted Evenings in This Pacific Warfare


MIDWAY through the first hour of “Band of Brothers,” HBO’s 2001 mini-series about a company of paratroopers during and after D-Day, there’s a scene on a troop ship that’s jampacked with new recruits on their way to hard fighting in the European theater. “Right now some lucky bastard’s headed for the South Pacific,” one soldier says to another, envious. “He’s going to get billeted on some tropical island sitting under a palm tree with six naked native girls helping him cut up coconuts so he can hand-feed them to the flamingos.”

Now comes “The Pacific,” an HBO mini-series by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and the rest of the “Band of Brothers” crew that spends 10 grueling hours and almost $200 million showing just how inaccurate that newbie’s idyllic image was. The series, in one-hour episodes that begin next Sunday, follows three real-life Marines from Pearl Harbor to homecoming after V-J Day. There are no naked native girls or flamingos. Instead there are bloody battles against well-fortified enemies on small islands. There are heroic deaths and random ones; unrelenting rainstorms, tropical diseases, nervous breakdowns.

Mr. Spielberg, who was born in 1946, said the seed that became “The Pacific” was planted in his childhood, when he was confused by the disparity between the formulaic war films he would watch — central hero, romance, defining battlefield moment — and the stories he would hear from his father and an uncle, who both served in the Pacific.

Further comments: Check out With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa


The 9 ¢ Nickel, the 2 ¢ Penny

Will Nickel-Free Nickels Make a Dime's Worth of Difference?


It costs the federal government up to nine cents to mint a nickel and almost two cents to make a penny. So, in addition to overhauling Big Finance, President Barack Obama wants to tinker with America's small change.

The president's plan to save money by making coins from cheaper stuff seems simple on its face. But history shows it would rekindle an emotional debate among Americans who fear changing the composition of their currency will hurt its value.


Like many things produced in Washington, U.S. coins aren't what they seem. A penny is a copper-coated token made mostly of zinc. The nickel contains more copper than it does actual nickel. And no coin contains silver anymore.

Market forces, not metal prices, determine the value of American currency. Yet Americans persist, on websites like coinflation.com, in tracking the value of the metal in their currency.

"People believe that we are still on some sort of precious-metal standard," says Rod Gillis, educator at the American Numismatic Association.

As the White House looks to cut costs across government, "making coins from more cost-effective materials could save more than $100 million a year, which isn't just pocket change," says Dan Tangherlini, the Treasury Department's chief financial officer.

The government isn't saying which new materials it might use in coins. Most coin experts say creating non-metal coins would go over like a wooden nickel. Still, industrial porcelain, embedded with an identification chip, is seen as an outside possibility. A more likely candidate: an aluminum alloy, used by other countries for coins. But any switch is likely to be controversial.

Comment: Dump the penny. Have a 3 ¢ and a dime, quarter. Dump the $ 1 bill and just have the $ 1 coin!


A country whose government borrows beyond its capacity must eventually pay the price

America has good reason to worry about Greece


At the end of last week, the US looked hard at Greece and was scared. So tiny an economy should not be bringing all of Europe low and even threatening to explode the euro, but it is. What started as a US financial crisis plunged Europe into recession; was Europe about to return the compliment? What, Americans began to wonder, did Europe’s problems tell them about their own?

The cause of the present turmoil, Greek public debt, has aroused fears of a wider sovereign-debt crisis and heightened concern about US government borrowing. More immediately, investors are asking, what if the European Union keeps making a hash of the problem? Will there be a second European banking crisis, and would it infect the US financial system? Even if the answer is no, the US recovery is still fragile. The economy would not be immune to another slump in EU demand.

These fears can be exaggerated, but none is unfounded. In any event, fears do not have to be well-reasoned to make a bad situation worse and justify themselves.

The least substantial line of alarm is Greece as fiscal harbinger. The US might not be Greece, say pessimists, but California could be. Here is a state so strapped for cash that it recently resorted to paying its workers with IOUs rather than money. (If that is not default, it is the next best thing.) Could California do for the US what Greece is doing for the EU?

Comment: Interesting to watch unfold. LA is in serious debt ... State of California as well. When will we pay the piper?

US spiraling debt like a "shock collar, and its jolt may await like an invisible pet fence"

U.S. Debt Shock May Hit In 2018, Maybe As Soon As 2013: Moody's


Moody's Investors Service has brought new transparency to its sovereign ratings analysis — so much so that 2018 lights up as the year the U.S. could be in line for a downgrade if Congressional Budget Office projections hold.

The key data point in Moody's view is the size of federal interest payments on the public debt as a percentage of tax revenue. For the U.S., debt service of 18%-20% of federal revenue is the outer limit of AAA-territory, Moody's managing director Pierre Cailleteau confirmed in an e-mail.

Under the Obama budget, interest would top 18% of revenue in 2018 and 20% in 2020, CBO projects.

But under more adverse scenarios than the CBO considered, including higher interest rates, Moody's projects that debt service could hit 22.4% of revenue by 2013.

Comment: At that point of time our debt securities will be downgraded and low interest rates for the Federal government will be no more! (Think Greece!)


So easy a caveman could do it!

Signs of Neanderthals Mating With Humans


Neanderthals mated with some modern humans after all and left their imprint in the human genome, a team of biologists has reported in the first detailed analysis of the Neanderthal genetic sequence.

Comment: If a Neanderthal could get "a date" anyone should be able to!

A "B" instead of an "M"

Stock Selloff May Have Been Triggered by a Trader Error


In one of the most dizzying half-hours in stock market history, the Dow plunged nearly 1,000 points before paring those losses—all apparently due to a trader error.

According to multiple sources, a trader entered a "b" for billion instead of an "m" for million in a trade possibly involving Procter & Gamble, a component in the Dow. (CNBC's Jim Cramer noted suspicious price movement in P&G stock on air during the height of the market selloff.)

Sources tell CNBC the erroneous trade may have been made at Citigroup.

Comment: Interesting

Stuck in elevator

For the first time in my life I was stuck in an elevator briefly today in the 100 Washington building. The doors did not close completely. The inner door was open about 6" and the outer door was open by about 3". People on the outside were trying to no avail to open the outer doors. We called security from the elevator call button and the issue resolved itself in about 5 minutes.

Ways to Ruin Your Financial Life

44 Ways to Ruin Your Financial Life By Age 30


It was not until I reached 30 that I started to turn my own financial life around. Unfortunately, by then, the damage was done. In retrospect, I often knew the decisions I was making were not-so-smart, but I did them anyway because I could always “pay it off later” or “just save more money when I’m older.” One of the cruel facts of life is that it gets harder when you get older.

Hopefully, by sharing a few of these bad money moves, it will prevent others from doing the same. And don’t worry, if you are over 30 and still doing these things, it is never too late to start living frugal.

Comment: Good read ... share with teens!


A giant underwater funnel

Giant Dome for Gulf Oil Leak


Crews for contractor Wild Well Control were putting the finishing touches Tuesday on the 100-ton containment dome. A barge at about midday would haul the contraption to the spot 50 miles offshore where a mile-deep gusher from a blown-out undersea well has been spewing at least 210,000 gallons of crude a day into the Gulf for two weeks. BP spokesman John Curry said it would be deployed on the seabed by Thursday.

It's the latest idea that engineers from oil giant BP PLC were trying since an oil rig the company was operating exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers. It sank two days later, when the oil started pouring into the Gulf. BP is in charge of the cleanup and President Barack Obama and many others say the company also is responsible for the costs.

BP capped one of three leaks at the well Tuesday night, a step that will not cut the flow of oil but that BP has said will make it easier to plug the gusher.

''It doesn't lessen the flow, it just simplifies the number of leak points they have to address,'' Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley said.

Comment: Photo here (right side of the page). If I understand this correctly (layman's terms): they will place this dome over the top of one of the leaks and then have a giant pipe convey the oil to a surface collection point.


Incredulity over Arizona's immigration bill

The real immigration scare tactics


"Physician, heal yourself," said the founder of the church in which Roger Mahony is a cardinal. He is the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, and he should heed the founder's admonition before accusing Arizonans of intemperateness. He says that Arizona's new law pertaining to illegal immigration involves "reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation."

"Our highest priority today," he says, "is to bring calm and reasoning to discussions about our immigrant brothers and sisters." His idea of calm reasoning is to call Arizona's law for coping with illegal immigration "the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law." He also says that it is "dreadful," "abhorrent" and a "tragedy" and that its assumption is that "immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder and consume public resources."

The problem of illegal immigration is inflaming Mahony, who strongly implies, as advocates for illegal immigrants often do, that any law intended to reduce such illegality is "anti-immigrant." The implication is: Because most Americans believe such illegality should be reduced, most Americans are against immigrants. This slur is slain by abundant facts — polling data that show Americans simultaneously committed to controlling the nation's southern border and to welcoming legal immigration.


Today's liberals favor indignation over information, but lawyer Obama must know that since 1952 federal law has said: "Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him."

Comment: Direct quote

Sec. 264. [8 U.S.C. 1304]


Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him pursuant to subsection (d). Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both.

Comment: Arizona acted because the Federal Government is feckless!

Zettabyte: Use this in a sentence

Zettabytes overtake petabytes as largest unit of digital measurement


Humanity’s total digital output currently stands at 8,000,000 petabytes - which each represent a million gigabytes - but is expected to pass 1.2 zettabytes this year.

One zettabyte is equal to one million petabytes, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 individual bytes.

The current size of the world’s digital content is equivalent to all the information that could be stored on 75bn Apple iPads, or the amount that would be generated by everyone in the world posting messages on the microblogging site Twitter constantly for a century.

The rapid growth of the “digital universe” has been caused by the explosion of social networking, online video, digital photography and mobile phones.

Around 70 per cent of the world’s digital content is generated by individuals, but it is stored by companies on content-sharing websites such as Flickr and YouTube.

The latest figures were released in the annual survey of the world’s digital output by IDC, the technology consultancy.

The first survey, which was conducted in 2007, estimated that the digital universe was equivalent to 161,000 petabytes.

Adrian MacDonald, vice president of EMC, the IT firm which sponsors the survey, said: "There has been mammoth growth in the types of media that make up the digital universe.

"A huge increase in video and digital photography – in the old days people would take one photograph, now they can knock off 20 photos and rather than store just one, people store all 20. Then there is the fact that the number of devices where information can be generated and stored has also increased."

As a result the digital universe is forecast to expand by a factor of 44 over the next decade, according to the survey.

Comment: More info. I'm sounding old but I remember 48Kb computers and 5 MB drives

Tax the big banks?

On Hill, Geithner Makes Case for a Bank Tax


Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, urged Congress on Tuesday to impose a 10-year, $90 billion tax on the largest financial institutions to recoup the costs of the 2008 bailouts. But he faced skeptical questions from lawmakers on the design and purpose of the fee.

The administration proposed the tax, which it calls the Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee, in January, amid public anger over the bank bailouts. The tax is not part of the overhaul of financial regulations being debated by the Senate.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday, officials from the American Bankers Association and the Financial Services Roundtable sharply criticized the proposal. While lawmakers did not reject the idea outright, some questioned its impact on consumers and small businesses, as well as the timing.

“This is a simple and fair principle: banks, not the taxpayer, should pay for bank failures,” Mr. Geithner said. “And this is a principle with ample historical precedent.”


Even so, the math of the new tax proposal is complicated. Banks have largely repaid their share of the bailouts, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and taxpayers are expected to actually make a profit from the federal rescue. In contrast, other recipients of aid from the program — notably General Motors, Chrysler, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — might never be able to repay and would not be affected by the fee.

“It’s no surprise that bank institutions are not enthusiastic about the proposal,” said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee.

“We need to understand the best way to design the tax so that it’s fair and achieves its purpose,” Mr. Baucus said. “We need to understand who should pay the tax, and we need to understand the impact the tax would have on small businesses and the economy.”

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the committee, called the fee an excise tax, as he did in a previous hearing, and urged that the proceeds from a tax be used to reduce the deficit, suggesting that he was open to the notion.

“I completely agree that taxpayers should be paid back every penny of TARP losses,” Mr. Grassley said, while adding that the bailout legislation called for calculating those losses in 2013, not now.

Mr. Grassley added: “If a TARP tax is imposed and the money is simply spent, that doesn’t repay taxpayers one cent for TARP losses. It’s just more tax-and-spend big government, while taxpayers foot the bill for Washington’s out-of-control spending.”

As proposed, the fee would apply to financial institutions with more than $50 billion in assets and that were eligible for an array of emerging assistance programs, including the TARP and lending programs set up by the F.D.I.C. and the Federal Reserve. American subsidiaries of foreign-owned banks would also be covered.

Comment: Let's take a bank like Wells Fargo. It did not want to take the TARP money but did at the government's insistence. Then paid it back with no loss to the government. And it should pay a tax for this? See my earlier post Misperceptions on Wells Fargo and the TARP

Wells Fargo / Wachovia integration map

Store Integration Map

Comment: Interactive map showing store integration.


North Carolina mines for Amazon tax

In a State’s Search for Sales Tax, Amazon Raises Privacy Concerns


NORTH CAROLINA last month began an audit of online businesses, assuming that millions of dollars in sales taxes owed to the state had disappeared into the Internet.

“This is really an issue of fairness and equity for small businesses, the brick and mortar, corner store operations,” said Kenneth R. Lay, the state’s secretary of revenue. “These businesses are at a competitive disadvantage when they have to collect sales taxes that other businesses do not.”

The response of one of those online businesses, Amazon.com, was succinct: back off.

In a complaint filed in Federal District Court in Seattle, the company said that the audit violated the First Amendment and privacy rights of the customers, as well as the company itself.

The case offers a glimpse at the changed landscape of privacy in the United States. Under the old model, the law was meant to protect the public from a snooping government. And the government was generally the only entity with the resources to snoop on people in a systematic way.

Today, the online snooping (make that “data collection”) never stops. Can the old tools really prevent the government from closely monitoring its people when so much information is a mere Internet search away? And is the government the one we really need protection from?

Amazon’s lawyers say the Constitution protects the company so that it “may sell — and customers may read, hear or view — a broad range of popular and unpopular expressive materials with the customers’ private content choices protected from unnecessary government scrutiny.”

The complaint gave examples of books Amazon had shipped to North Carolina: “Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families,” by Francis Mark Mondimore, and “He Had It Coming: How to Outsmart Your Husband and Win Your Divorce,” by Stacy Schneider. The movies, the complaint said, included “Lolita,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Comment: Earlier post

Gulf oil spill: The mile deep challenge

Safety Device Questioned in '04


The shear rams are an integral part of the giant blowout preventer, which sits on the sea floor, 5,000 feet below the surface. R. Scott Amann, a spokesman for the sheer ram manufacturer, Cameron International Corp., said he did not know exactly what happened.

"We remind you that our devices have never been involved in an accident like this," he said.

The cause of the oil well blow-out remains unclear. Petroleum engineers say it was probably related to the cementing process, which is supposed to secure the well and prevent oil and natural gas from escaping by filling in the space around the pipe and plugging the well.

But once workers lost control of the well, which was spewing a flammable mixture of crude oil and natural gas, the blowout preventer became the only option for stopping the flow.

Investigators are expected to focus on whether the blowout preventer received a signal from workers on the rig. The Deepwater Horizon wasn't equipped with a backup remote trigger that is a common drill-rig requirement in other oil-producing nations, but not the U.S.

If the blowout preventer did receive the signal, experts say, a critical question is why the rams didn't seal off the well.

Some newer rigs have blowout preventers with two separate pairs of shear rams—providing an added safeguard in case one shear malfunctions or hits an obstruction in the pipe. The Deepwater Horizon had a single pair of shear rams.

Comment: The WSJ article has a helpful graphic. Click through to view! A detailed drawing of a blowout preventer is here.

Chinglish examples

Shanghai Is Trying to Untangle the Mangled English of Chinglish


For English speakers with subpar Chinese skills, daily life in China offers a confounding array of choices. At banks, there are machines for “cash withdrawing” and “cash recycling.” The menus of local restaurants might present such delectables as “fried enema,” “monolithic tree mushroom stem squid” and a mysterious thirst-quencher known as “The Jew’s Ear Juice.”

Those who have had a bit too much monolithic tree mushroom stem squid could find themselves requiring roomier attire: extra-large sizes sometimes come in “fatso” or “lard bucket” categories. These and other fashions can be had at the clothing chain known as Scat.

Comment: More Chinglish signs. I would presume that a Super Big Gulp would be the “lard bucket” size!


Greece bailout deal

£95bn bailout for the Greeks agreed in largest ever financial bailout of a country


He unveiled austerity measures and tax rises worth 30billion euros (£26billion) including:

* ˜An increase in the retirement age from an average age of 53 to 67;
* ˜Government workers to lose annual bonuses worth an extra two months' pay;
* ˜Ten per cent tax rise on alcohol, cigarettes and petrol;
* ˜Three-year wage freeze in the public sector;
* ˜Early retirement will be limited or abolished altogether;
* ˜VAT increase from 21 per cent to 23 per cent.

Comment: That retirement deal has got to hurt

Europe's Web of Debt

Europe's Web of Debt

Comment: Click link for full sized graphic

European debt map

Debt Rising in Europe - Greece is not the only country in Europe with problems with credit and debt.

Comment: NYTimes graphic ... worth a look!