The Great White Wedding and the wedding-industrial complex

Is Chelsea Clinton Setting a Bad Example?


I'm constantly amazed at how much some money people blow on the Great White Wedding.

But Chelsea Clinton's forthcoming extravaganza takes the cake. The $11,000 cake, reportedly.

So in honor of this weekend's crazy Gilded Age circus, here are seven financial messages for would-be brides, grooms—and their parents.

  1. The wedding-industrial complex marches on - "a recession-resistant industry"
  2. Spending a fortune on a wedding is a choice, not a necessity. [read article for interesting comment about Bush's daughter's wedding!]
  3. Spend what you can afford. - The average family ... spend[s] about $17,500 on a wedding.
  4. Look at the hourly costs.
  5. The lifetime cost is off the map.
  6. You might—possibly—be able to profit from others' extravagance.
  7. How do you cut costs and still have a great wedding?

Comment: Great article ... now a quote: "Three groups spend other people's money: children, thieves, politicians. All three need supervision.” Dick Armey




Minnesota Job Site

Considering a second home?

If It Causes Stress, Is It Really a Vacation Home?


EVERYONE needs a place to live, but no one needs a second home. So choosing which vacation home to buy and where should be enjoyable. Still, people routinely buy second homes that end up being less than they expected, or worse.


Bad neighbors abound everywhere, but they seem particularly bothersome when they are in places where you go to relax. Shouldn’t everyone just be grateful to be sitting in the sun or at fireside near the ski slopes?

The dynamics of second homeownership often conspire against this, said Milton F. Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, an organization that does research on wealthy consumers. “People become slaves to their homes. They buy into the headlines and that makes them pretty miserable with their vacation homes.”

Mr. Pedraza said one common cause of second-home misery was that owners failed to factor in how much time and money were needed to maintain a place from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.

My colleague Ron Lieber recently wrote about answering the tough financial questions that children ask their parents. That made me think that adults buying second homes should ask equally tough questions — of themselves. Why, after all, do you want a second home? What are you going to use it for? Do you have any idea how much it is really going to cost?

While many parts of the country are still struggling with falling home prices, a survey from the National Association of Realtors said sales of second homes were up 7.9 percent last year, compared with a 7.1 percent increase for primary residences. And this is the time of year when people begin to look for the winter rentals that often turn into second homes.


here’s a look at what you should know before buying a second home

  1. It's not an investment:

    • The value of a home can go down. Vacation properties are certainly not immune
    • Most buyers underestimated the maintenance costs of a second home.

  2. It's less relaxing
  3. It's time consuming: Since people do not use their second homes regularly, they cannot just walk in as if it were their primary residence. At a minimum, they have to open up the house when they arrive, make sure everything still works and close it down when they leave.
  4. It's confounding

Comments: Both my parents and Kathee's parents had two homes. Kathee's folks had a simple rural home on 2 acres in Phlox Wisconsin and a double wide mobile home in Florida. My folks had a Summer home in Dallas and a simple trailer in Pharr TX. For us we don't want two homes. We want to be one place for all of the year and then perhaps travel 3 weeks out of the year. I don't want 2 homes to take care of! Additionally I don't want to divide my time between two worship communities. I want to have one church in which to serve and worship. It may not be in Plymouth MN. But only one home!


Land of Fruit and Nuts

One in five Californians say they need mental health care


Almost 5 million California adults say they could use help with a mental or emotional problem, according to a survey released Wednesday by researchers at UCLA. About 1 million of them meet the criteria for "serious psychological distress."

However, only one in three people who perceive a need for mental health services or are in serious distress have seen a professional for treatment, the survey found.


The survey showed that lack of health insurance coverage was a major reason why people didn't seek help -- a situation that may be rectified somewhat by state and national mental health parity laws now in effect that require insurers to cover mental health conditions similarly to they way they cover physical conditions. (The final phase of the federal law went into effect on July 1.)

Comment: So it's not just a cliche


"Assassin" Jack Tatum dead

Report: Jack Tatum dies at 61


Notorious Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum, whose hit on Darryl Stingley during a preseason game in 1978 left Stingley a quadraplegic, has died at the age of 61.

According to 10TV.com, Tatum suffered a heart attack.

Tatum suffered from diabetes for years. He lost all five toes on his left foot, and his right leg was amputated.

The hard-nosed safety's autobiography was titled They Call Me Assassin.

Comment: Please consider earlier post Remembering Darryl Stingley


Coming to an IHOP near you

A robot learning to flip pancakes from Sylvain Calinon on Vimeo.

Comment: I've never flipped a pancake


We borrow 41¢ for every $ 1 spent

White House predicts record $1.47 trillion deficit


New estimates from the White House on Friday predict the budget deficit will reach a record $1.47 trillion this year. The government is borrowing 41 cents of every dollar it spends.

Comment: This should scare any sane person


Democrats saying unkind things about Team Obama

Friendly Fire on Capitol Hill


Describing the White House last week, Congressional Democrats used words like "ineptness," "neglected" and "disconcerting," and phrases like "isn't aggressive enough." President Barack Obama has only himself to blame for these protests.


Mr. Obama's arrogance, coolness and diffidence also make it difficult for him to nurture close friendships, personal trust and mutual respect with the poobahs on the Hill. And so House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the president's press secretary "politically inept" and condemned the "friendly fire" from the White House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid snapped, "I do not work for Barack Obama, I work with him."

This problem is exacerbated by the poor or nonexistent ties between many of Mr. Obama's top aides and Democrats on the Hill. Some of his aides were Congressional staffers, but senior advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett are virtual unknowns to Congress. And while Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was the congressman who chaired the Democrats' campaign that reclaimed the House in 2006, he is not known for his warmth, empathy and easy working relationships.

Then there's a belief around Capitol Hill that the White House is already pointing the finger at them for the coming fall's losses. That's in keeping with a pattern: After all, Team Obama publicly trashed its gubernatorial candidate in Virginia last fall and its Massachusetts senatorial hopeful last winter, weeks before their elections.

Comment: With friends like this ... who needs enemies! Obama is rehabilitating the Carter Presidency!


Hey Nancy .... pick this out of your swamp!

Rangel charged with multiple ethics violations


A House investigative committee on Thursday charged New York Rep. Charles Rangel with multiple ethics violations, a blow to the former Ways and Means chairman and an election-year headache for Democrats.


Nancy Pelosi had once promised to "drain the swamp" of ethical misdeeds by lawmakers in arguing that Democrats should be in charge.


The investigation of Rangel has focused on:

  • His use of official stationery to raise money for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at City College of New York.
  • Whether he had the Ways and Means Committee consider legislation that would benefit donors to the Rangel Center at the same time the congressman solicited donations or pledges.
  • Preserved a tax shelter for an oil drilling company, Nabors Industries, which has a chief executive who donated money to the center while Rangel's committee considered the loophole legislation.
  • Used four rent-controlled apartment units in New York City, when the city's rent stabilization program is supposed to apply to one's primary residence. This raises the question of how all the units could be primary residences. One was a campaign office, raising the separate question of whether the rent break was an improper gift.
  • Whether Rangel, as required, publicly reported information on the financing and rental of his ownership interest in a unit within the Punta Cana Yacht Club in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Rangel also had to pay back taxes on the rental income.
  • Intentionally failed to report — when required — hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in assets. The amended disclosure reports added a credit union IRA, mutual fund accounts and stock.

Comment: See earlier post Charles Rangel's Special Deal

Obama's Economic Fish Stories

Obama's Economic Fish Stories


President Obama says "every economist who's looked at it says that the Recovery Act has done its job"—i.e., the stimulus bill has turned the economy around. That's nonsense. Opinions differ widely and many leading economists believe that its impact has been small. Why? The expectation of future spending and future tax hikes to pay for the stimulus and Mr. Obama's vast expansion of government are offsetting the direct short-run expansionary effect. That is standard in all macroeconomic theories.


The president does not say that economists agree that the high future taxes to finance the stimulus will hurt the economy. (The University of Chicago's Harald Uhlig estimates $3.40 of lost output for every dollar of government spending.) Either the president is not being told of serious alternative viewpoints, or serious viewpoints are defined as only those that support his position. In either case, he is being ill-served by his staff.

Mr. Obama's economic statements are increasingly divorced not only from competing viewpoints but from those of his own economic advisers. It is surprising how many numerically challenged pronouncements come from this most scripted and political of White Houses. One slip is eventually forgiven, but when a pattern emerges, no one believes it is an accident.

For example, on the anniversary of the stimulus bill, Mr. Obama declared, "It is largely thanks to the Recovery Act that a second Depression is no longer a possibility." Yet his Council of Economic Advisers just estimated the stimulus bill's effect on GDP at its trough was 1%-2%.


On his recent "Recovery Tour," Mr. Obama boasted, "The stimulus bill prevented the unemployment rate from "getting up to . . . 15%." But the president's own chief economic adviser, Christina Romer, has estimated that the stimulus bill reduced peak unemployment by one percentage point—i.e., since the unemployment rate peaked at 10.1%, it prevented the unemployment rate from rising to just over 11%. So Mr. Obama claims that the stimulus bill was several times more potent than his chief economic adviser estimates.

Perhaps the most serious disconnect concerns the impending expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which will raise the top two income tax rates and the rates on dividends and capital gains. If these growth inhibiting tax increases occur—about $75 billion in tax increases next year, $1.4 trillion over 10 years—there will be serious economic damage.

In the most recent issue of the American Economic Review, Ms. Romer (and her husband David H. Romer) conclude that "tax increases are highly contractionary . . . tax cuts have very large and persistent positive output effects." Their estimates imply the tax increases would depress GDP by roughly half the growth rate in this so-far-anemic recovery.

If Mr. Obama is really serious about a second stimulus, by far the best thing he can do is have Congress quickly extend the expiring Bush tax cuts, combined with real spending cuts set to take effect as the economy improves.

The president badly needs to make more realistic pronouncements. No one expects him to say his policies have failed (although most have delivered far less than claimed at large cost). A little candor about the results of experimentation in uncharted waters would go a long way. But at the very least, his staff needs to avoid putting these exaggerations on the teleprompter. It undermines confidence and raises concerns about competence. It's doing nobody any good—not the economy and certainly not Mr. Obama

Comment: On "raises concerns about competence" .... that's an understatement!

Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except that it ain't so. ~Mark Twain, Notebook, 1935

One life jacket short

As the storm raged, the captain realized his ship was sinking fast. He called out, "Anyone here know how to pray?" One man stepped forward. "Aye, Captain, I know how to pray." "Good," said the captain, "you pray while the rest of us put on our life jackets - we're one short."

Comment: From a co-worker

Harry Reid doesn't get it!

Harry Reid: Auto Bailout Probably Saved Ford

Comment: Ford did not take any bailout money from the government. (I have stock in Ford. I bought it was the auto market was really down and it looked like a bad investment. F. Meanwhile my dear mother had stock in GM and basically lost it all. More on GM's timeline from the Wall Street Journal)


Wells Fargo earnings announcement

Wells Fargo’s Earnings Top Estimates as Loan Losses Ease


The bank’s $3.06 billion profit, which amounts to 55 cents a share, beat analyst expectations. However, it compares with a profit of $3.17 billion, or 57 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue in the quarter was $21.4 billion, down 5 percent. Net income applicable to common shareholders rose 12 percent, to $2.88 billion.

Mr. Stumpf said that the bank was making “strong progress” on its merger with the Wachovia Corporation, the troubled lender it acquired during the financial crisis to give it a foothold in the Eastern United States. The process, Mr. Stumpf said, was about half finished, and had already achieved about 80 percent of the projected annual cost-savings. By the end of July, Wells Fargo expects to have converted Wachovia branches in markets like California, Texas and Kansas where the two banks competed. The bank is expected to convert Wachovia branches in the New York area in early 2011.

Bank executives were also pleased with the improvement in credit performance. The bank said charge-offs fell 16 percent in its consumer and corporate loan books, and fewer borrowers were falling behind on their credit card, home equity and mortgage loans.

“We have seen credit quality improve earlier and to a greater extent than we had previously expected,” Michael J. Loughlin, Well Fargo’s chief credit and risk officer.

In particular, the so-called Pick-a-Pay option-ARM mortgages and commercial loans that it acquired with the purchase of Wachovia are performing better than expected. That will allow the bank to book a gain of $506 million in the quarter, and could result in at least another $1.8 billion in additional income over the next several years.

Comment: Good news for WFC investors!

Change I can believe in!

Obama Approval Drops To Lowest Point Ever, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Independent Voters Turn On President Since Honeymoon


A year after President Barack Obama's political honeymoon ended, his job approval rating has dropped to a negative 44 - 48 percent, his worst net score ever, and American voters say by a narrow 39 - 36 percent margin that they would vote for an unnamed Republican rather than President Obama in 2012, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Comment: I like Romney!


Who owns Facebook?

Facebook Lawyer `Unsure' Whether Founder Mark Zuckerberg Signed Contract


A lawyer for Facebook Inc. said she was “unsure” whether company founder Mark Zuckerberg signed a contract that purportedly entitles a New York man to 84 percent of the world’s biggest social-networking service.

Paul Ceglia sued Facebook and Zuckerberg in state court June 30, claiming that an April 2003 contract entitles him to ownership of most of the closely held company. Ceglia’s lawyer produced a copy of the document for U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara today at a hearing in federal court in Buffalo, New York.

“Whether he signed this piece of paper, we’re unsure at this moment,” Facebook lawyer Lisa Simpson told Arcara.

Palo Alto, California-based Facebook, which hasn’t claimed the alleged contract with Ceglia is a phony, has “serious questions” about its authenticity, Simpson said.

The case is the latest challenge to the origins of Facebook, which is worth $24.6 billion, according to SharesPost.com, a marketplace for closely held firms. Facebook’s paternity was questioned in a suit by a group of Zuckerberg’s former Harvard University schoolmates, who claimed he used code developed on their ConnectU project to start Facebook. They settled in 2008.

Comment: Read the complaint Ceglia v. Zuckerberg complaint

More from Forbes Mark Zuckerberg Sued For 84% Stake In Facebook

Retiring? What to do with your 401(k)

Retiring? What to do with your 401(k)


Bottom line: before you make a decision, take some time to think about such issues as when you'll need access to your money, how much flexibility you'll have getting to it in your 401(k) vs. an IRA rollover and, of course, how much you'll pay in expenses staying in your plan vs. doing a rollover. I suspect that most people will opt for the IRA, especially if they're 59 ½ or older. But the only way to know which is the better choice is to think it through

Comment: The question came from Plymouth MN (my own home)

Question: When I retire, should leave my money in my company's 401(k) or roll it into an IRA? --Mark, Plymouth, Minnesota

Although it is more than 5 years away, I think we will choose the IRA option.

Sunglasses: Bet you didn't know this!

Are Designer Sunglasses Worth the Price?


Before you spend big money on your next pair of designer shades, here are six things you should know:

  1. Most sunglasses are made by the same company: Do you prefer the "quality" of Ray-Ban to Oakley? Do you think Bulgari is better than Dolce & Gabbana, or Salvatore Ferragamo is better than Prada? Wake up. They're all made by one company, Italian manufacturer Luxottica–one of the biggest consumer companies that consumers have never heard of. Luxottica also makes sunglasses branded Burberry, Chanel, Polo Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith, Stella McCartney, Tiffany, Versace, Vogue, Persol, Miu Miu, Tory Burch and Donna Karan.

    "We manufacture about 70% of those brands in our factories in Italy, and the balance in America and China," says Luxottica spokesman Luca Biondolillo. "We do the design, the manufacturing, and the marketing," he adds. The company makes most of those brands under license, working closely with designers at the relevant fashion houses. But it owns several brands itself, including Ray-Ban, Oakley, Oliver Peoples and REVO
  2. In many cases, the same company is also selling you the glasses. Luxottica also owns LensCrafters, Pearle Vision and Sunglass Hut.
  3. The markups are as big as they seem
  4. Those expensive sunglasses may not be any better for your eyes, either
  5. An inexpensive pair of sunglasses from the pharmacy isn't the worst thing in the world
  6. Those fancy glasses are really costing you a lot more than you realize

Comment - could be a good investment: Luxottica Group SpA (LUX). Kathee (my uber-financially conservative wife) has a cheap gas station variety pair of sunglasses that are probably 5 years old. I have an old pair of prescription sunglasses. Image: Tom Cruise in Ray Bans

While Android is a success ... Nexus One was a flop

Google Hangs Up on Its Nexus One


Google says it has received its last shipment of Nexus One phones, which are touchscreen devices that carry Google's brand and are powered by Google's Android operating system. In May, Google said it would shutter its Web store selling the handset once supplies were exhausted.

The Nexus One's demise stands in contrast with other phones running Google's Android software. Demand for Motorola Inc.'s new Droid X has outstripped inventory in Verizon Wireless stores. The phone, which went on sale last week, is backordered to July 27.

Nexus One, released in January, was seen as a bold experiment by Google to sell phones directly to consumers over the Web—with or without a cellphone contract. It failed amid what some industry executives said were poor sales, as well as complaints about customer service.

Comment: I sense that consumers want the customer service that Verizon or T-Mobile provides.


The dominance of mega-banks

A City Feels the Squeeze in the Age of Mega Banks


Bank of America, J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo now have 33% of all U.S. deposits, up from 21% in mid-2007—the fastest shift of such a large chunk of deposits in U.S. history. Much of the gain came from their acquisitions of Countrywide Financial Corp., Washington Mutual Inc. and Wachovia Corp., respectively.

The three huge banks made 57% of all home mortgages in the first quarter, up from 28% in 2008, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, an industry newsletter.


Measured in loans and other assets, Citigroup Inc. and the three other giants had $7.7 trillion as of March 31, up 56% since the end of 2007. Their combined assets are nearly twice as big as the assets of the next 46 biggest banks, according to SNL Financial, a research firm in Charlottesville, Va.

By providing more branches, ATMs and features like free online bill payment, the newly consolidated banks have made many basic services more convenient and cheaper for customers. The banking giants often offer lower mortgage rates and other types of loans than smaller players.

"At the end of the day, consumers and small businesses will benefit" from consolidation, says Bank of America executive Mark Hogan, who runs retail branches on the East Coast.

To keep their costs down, however, the big banks generally pay lower rates on certificates of deposit and other types of savings products than the small players, meaning less interest income for millions of depositors.

Comment: Discerning consumers have options in the IngDirects, LendingTrees and PenFeds. TCF is a good local hometown bank. I work for one of the mega-banks. It's a great place for full banking services. But we did our last home re-finance with LendingTree. We have the bulk of our savings at ING. We have credit card relationships with two other banks. Our last auto loan was with the Postal Credit Union. Consider earlier post Banking oligopoly


Backyard farming

A Michigan Teen Farms Her Backyard


Lawn mowing and baby-sitting are standard summer jobs for the enterprising teenager. Alexandra Reau, who is 14, combines a little bit of each: last year, she asked her dad to dig up a half acre of their lawn in rural Petersburg, Mich., so she could farm. Now in its second season, her Garden to Go C.S.A. (community-supported agriculture) grows for 14 members, who pay $100 to $175 for two months of just-picked vegetables and herbs. While her peers are hanging out at Molly’s Mystic Freeze and working out the moves to that Miley Cyrus video, she’s flicking potato-beetle larvae off of leaves in her V-neck T-shirt and denim capris, a barrette keeping her hair out of her demurely made-up eyes.

Comment: This is for Bert Perry!

More: My dear Mother-in-law (died in 1989) had a huge garden in her backyard in Phlox Wisconsin. It was like heaven to visit her and the rural (very remote) Phlox!

Invisible jobs

Three Million Imaginary Jobs - The White House says the stimulus worked beyond even its hopes. Seriously.


It may be that the last people in America who believe that the $862 billion economic stimulus of February 2009 created millions of net new jobs are Vice President Joe Biden and the staff economists in the White House. Yesterday, President Obama's chief economist announced that the plan had "created or saved" between 2.5 million and 3.6 million jobs and raised GDP by 2.7% to 3.2% through June 30. Don't you feel better already?

Christina Romer went so far as to claim that the 3.5 million new jobs that she promised while the stimulus was being debated in Congress will arrive "two quarters earlier than anticipated." Yup, the official White House line is that the plan is working better than even they had hoped.

We almost feel sorry for Ms. Romer having to make this argument given that since February 2009 the U.S. economy has lost a net 2.35 million jobs. Using the White House "created or saved" measure means that even if there were only three million Americans left with jobs today, the White House could claim that every one was saved by the stimulus.

The White House also naturally insists that things would be much worse without the stimulus billions spent on the likes of Medicaid payments, high speed rail projects, unemployment benefits and windmills. Mr. Obama said recently in Racine, Wisconsin that the economy "would have been a lot worse" and the unemployment rate would have gone to "12 or 13, or 15 [percent]" if government hadn't spent all of that money.

This is called a counterfactual: a what would have happened scenario that can't be refuted. What we do know is what White House economists at the time said would happen if the stimulus didn't pass. They said the unemployment rate would peak at 9% without the stimulus (there's your counterfactual) and that with the stimulus the rate would stay at 8% or below. (See the nearby chart.) In other words, today there are 700,000 fewer jobs than Ms. Romer predicted we would have if we had done nothing at all. If this is a job creation success, what does failure look like?

All of these White House jobs estimates are based on the increasingly discredited Keynesian spending "multiplier," which according to White House economist Larry Summers means that every $1 of government spending will yield roughly $1.50 in higher GDP. Ms. Romer thus plugs her spending data into the Keynesian computer models and, presto, out come 2.5 million to 3.6 million jobs, even if the real economy has lost jobs. To adapt Groucho Marx: Who are you going to believe, the White House computer models, or your own eyes?

Comment: Word of the day - counterfactual

Longing for Hillary

Hillary Clinton for President


America's economy is failing to produce jobs, increase growth or raise confidence, and it will likely get even worse next year. Our federal government's spending has increased to $3.7 trillion this year from $2.98 trillion in 2008. Publicly held national debt is up by $2.4 trillion in less than two years, to about 63% percent of GDP from 40%, and is expected to reach 70% by 2012. Add in the unemployment rate, which has remained above 9.4% for over a year, and America is clearly failing economically.

Next January the economy will be further depressed by increasing tax rates. The top income tax rate will rise to 39.6% from 35%, and the phase-out of itemized deductions and personal exemptions will effectively lift the top bracket to about 40.8%. On New Year's Day the tax on dividends is scheduled to go up to 39.6% from 15%, and come 2013, ObamaCare will add another 3.8%.


So what can be done to change America's policies and make our economy stronger? For one thing, we could elect a president with different thinking. Almost any Republican candidate would have that, and, as we will see in a moment, there is one obvious Democrat who would change our course too.

And why would the Democratic Party want to do that? Because the re-election of President Obama is becoming more problematic. The latest Rasmussen Reports polls show the dramatic decline of the presidential approval index, the difference between those who "strongly approve" of Mr. Obama's performance and those who "strongly disapprove." It began at plus 25% when the new president was sworn in, and has steadily declined to minus 13%.

It isn't just the president whose poll numbers are falling fast. According to recent Harris polling, Vice President Biden viewed favorably by 26% of the public and unfavorably by 45%. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does even worse, 20% positive to 49% negative. A June Nevada poll gave Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, 33% approval and 52% disapproval.

But the greatest contrast and most interesting statistic is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's ratings: 45% favorable and only 35% unfavorable.

That is not surprising, and there are some obvious factors that suggest she might have a chance of defeating President Obama if she were to challenge him for the 2012 Democratic nomination.

Comment: Think when Edward Kennedy challenged President Carter.


Election advice from beyond the grave

Charlotte zings Reid from beyond the grave


Election 2010 has just heard from a member of the Silent Majority.

You know, from a deceased person.

Chances are good you never met Charlotte McCourt during her 84 years, but I’m willing to bet you’ll be hearing about her in the coming days now that her obituary has taken Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to task. It’s the kind of small story that has the potential to ricochet like a bullet through the campaign showdown between incumbent Reid and Republican challenger Sharron Angle.

Not because McCourt, who died July 8 after a long illness, was a political player or business powerbroker, but precisely because she was neither of those things. She was a homemaker, proud mother and grand mother and wife of 67 years to Patrick McCourt.

And she was at one time a loyal supporter of Harry Reid.

Her obituary, printed in Tuesday’s Review-Journal, reads in part, “We believe that Mom would say she was mortified to have taken a large role in the election of Harry Reid to U.S. Congress. Let the record show Charlotte was displeased with his work. Please, in lieu of flowers, vote for another more worthy candidate.


McCourt was born Dec. 25 in Wellington, Utah and was a 40-year Nevada resident. She was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Perhaps by coincidence, Reid’s re-election hangs in no small part on his ability to encourage conservative and religious Democrats to support him. He is also a member of the LDS faith.

Comment: Sound advice!

There out to be another law!?

Joy ride ends in deaths of two teens - Minneapolis crash that killed two teens is the latest in a series of crashes; 25 young people have died this year


The unmistakable sound of a car careening off the road woke Mariann O'Keefe early Tuesday, but when she ran outside and looked down the street, she saw only darkness. Then she looked the other way, and a horrible sight emerged: A mangled car sat in an intersection. It had gone out of control and slammed into a utility pole, snapping the pole off at its base.

"The driver was caught in the car and was yelling, 'Get a knife, get a knife!'" said O'Keefe. He wanted someone to cut him from his seat belt.

The crash took the lives of two teenagers, including the driver, who succumbed to his injuries hours later. Three other teens who had been in the back seat remained hospitalized Tuesday night with varying degrees of injuries.

The crash was the latest in a series of fatal wrecks involving Minnesota teenagers this year -- 25 people ages 16 to 19 have died so far in 2010, compared with 35 all of last year, according to the state Department of Public Safety. Authorities said they believe high speed and alcohol were factors in the latest crash.

Police said the moments leading up to the accident, which happened shortly after 3:20 a.m., bore some of the hallmarks of some of Minnesota's deadliest accidents this year: a teenager driving at night with other teens in the car. In the spring, some officials suggested that state laws governing younger drivers, which had been toughened in 2008 and were followed by a decline in severe crashes, be made tougher still.

Comment: This is a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to the parents who lost their children. But what new laws do we need?

  • The car was in essence stolen. It was taken without permission
  • The driver did not have a license
  • It sounds as if underage drinking was involved
  • Speeding was involved

How about this law! Parents ... when you go to bed make sure your kids are at home! And get them up early enough (like 7:00 a.m.) and give them chores so that they are exhausted by bed time!


George Steinbrenner picked a good year to die

Too Rich to Live?


When the Senate allowed the estate tax to lapse at the end of last year, it encouraged wealthy people near death's door to stay alive until Jan. 1 so they could spare their heirs a 45% tax hit.

Now the situation has reversed: If Congress doesn't change the law soon—and many experts think it won't—the estate tax will come roaring back in 2011.

Not only will the top rate jump to 55%, but the exemption will shrink from $3.5 million per individual in 2009 to just $1 million in 2011, potentially affecting eight times as many taxpayers.

The math is ugly: On a $5 million estate, the tax consequence of dying a minute after midnight on Jan. 1, 2011 rather than two minutes earlier could be more than $2 million; on a $15 million estate, the difference could be about $8 million.

Of course, there is a "death incentive" whenever Congress raises the estate tax. But it hasn't happened in decades; the top rate has held steady or fallen since 1942, according to tax historian Joseph Thorndike of Tax Analysts, a nonprofit group. In fact, the jump from zero to 55% would be "the largest increase in a major tax that we've ever seen," Mr. Thorndike says.

Steinbrenner's final business move - Billionaire's death ensured wife, four children millions more in inheritance


By dying in 2010, the billionaire and long-time New York Yankees owner's wealth avoids the federal estate tax, likely saving his heirs enough money to field an entire team of Alex Rodriguezes.

Steinbrenner's death Tuesday came during an unplanned year-long gap in the estate tax, the first since it was enacted in 1916. Political wrangling has stalemated efforts in Congress to replace the tax that expired in 2009.

That deprives the government of billions of dollars in annual revenue but represents an unexpected bonanza for those who inherit wealth.

"If you're super-wealthy, it's a good year to die," said Jack Nuckolls, an attorney and estate planner with the accounting firm BDO Seidman. "It really is."

The death of the 80-year-old Steinbrenner, who had been in poor health for years, highlights a quirky tax situation that has drawn much scrutiny among the moneyed but little on Main Street. Only those with estates valued at more than $3.5 million had to pay under the old law.

Comment: Not minimizing the death of George Steinbrenner

Christians need to avoid this ...

The Problem with Pastor as Rock Star


Somebody once said, “The Gospel came to the Greeks and the Greeks turned it into a philosophy. The Gospel came to the Romans and the Romans turned it into a system. The Gospel came to the Europeans and the Europeans turned it into a culture. The Gospel came to America and the Americans turned it into a business.” And business is booming. Millions of churchgoers file in to buildings each week, line up in rows like shelves at Walmart, and watch the stage. They come for one purpose: to see a show and hear a pastor.

Comment: Come to be a part of a body to glorify the Lord and serve one another


One in four consumers now a poor risk for lenders

Americans’ credit scores at new lows


Figures provided by FICO Inc. show that 25.5 percent of consumers — nearly 43.4 million people — now have a credit score of 599 or below, marking them as poor risks for lenders. It's unlikely they will be able to get credit cards, auto loans or mortgages under the tighter lending standards banks now use.

Because consumers relied so heavily on debt to fuel their spending in recent years, their restricted access to credit is one reason for the slow economic recovery.


FICO's latest analysis is based on consumer credit reports as of April. Its findings represent an increase of about 2.4 million people in the lowest credit score categories in the past two years. Before the Great Recession, scores on FICO's 300-to-850 scale weren't as volatile, said Andrew Jennings, chief research officer for FICO in Minneapolis. Historically, just 15 percent of the 170 million consumers with active credit accounts, or 25.5 million people, fell below 599, according to data posted on Myfico.com.

More are likely to join their ranks. It can take several months before payment missteps actually drive down a credit score. The Labor Department says about 26 million people are out of work or underemployed, and millions more face foreclosure, which alone can chop 150 points off an individual's score. Once the damage is done, it could be years before this group can restore their scores, even if they had strong credit histories in the past.

Comment: Article continues with the % of consumers with FICO scores above 800.

Crooks put Franken over the top

Felons Voting Illegally May Have Put Franken Over the Top in Minnesota, Study Finds

The six-month election recount that turned former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Al Franken into a U.S. senator may have been decided by convicted felons who voted illegally in Minnesota's Twin Cities.

That's the finding of an 18-month study conducted by Minnesota Majority, a conservative watchdog group, which found that at least 341 convicted felons in largely Democratic Minneapolis-St. Paul voted illegally in the 2008 Senate race between Franken, a Democrat, and his Republican opponent, then-incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman.

The final recount vote in the race, determined six months after Election Day, showed Franken beat Coleman by 312 votes -- fewer votes than the number of felons whose illegal ballots were counted, according to Minnesota Majority's newly released study, which matched publicly available conviction lists with voting records.

Furthermore, the report charges that efforts to get state and federal authorities to act on its findings have been "stonewalled."

"We aren't trying to change the result of the last election. That legally can't be done," said Dan McGrath, Minnesota Majority's executive director. "We are just trying to make sure the integrity of the next election isn't compromised."

He said his group was largely ignored when it turned over a list of hundreds of names to prosecutors in two of the state's largest counties, Ramsey and Hennepin, where fraud seemed to be the greatest.

A spokesman for both county attorneys' offices belittled the information, saying it was "just plain wrong" and full of errors, which prompted the group to go back and start an in-depth look at the records.

"What we did this time is irrefutable," McGrath said. "We took the voting lists and matched them with conviction lists and then went back to the records and found the roster lists, where voters sign in before walking to the voting booth, and matched them by hand.

"The only way we can be wrong is if someone with the same first, middle and last names, same year of birth as the felon, and living in the same community, has voted. And that isn't very likely."

The report said that in Hennepin County, which in includes Minneapolis, 899 suspected felons had been matched on the county's voting records, and the review showed 289 voters were conclusively matched to felon records. The report says only three people in the county have been charged with voter fraud so far.

A representative of the Hennepin County attorney's office, who declined to give her name, said "there was no one in the office today to talk about the charges."

But the report got a far different review in Ramsey County, which contains St. Paul. Phil Carruthers of the Ramsey County attorney's office said his agency had taken the charges "very seriously" and found that the Minnesota Majority "had done a good job in their review."

The report says that in Ramsey, 460 names on voting records were matched with felon lists, and a further review found 52 were conclusive matches.

Carruthers attributed differences in the numbers to Minnesota Majority's lack of access to nonpublic information, such as exact birth dates and other court records. For example, he said, "public records might show a felon was given 10 years probation, but internal records the county attorney has might show that the probation period was cut to five and the felon was eligible to vote."

Carruthers said Ramsey County is still investigating all the names and has asked that 15 investigators be hired to complete the process. "So far we have charged 28 people with felonies, have 17 more under review and have 182 cases still open," he said. "And there is a good chance we may match or even exceed their numbers."

McGrath says the report shows that more still has to be done.

"Prosecutors have to act more swiftly in prosecuting cases from the 2008 election to deter fraud in the future," he said, "and the state has to make sure that existing system, that flags convicted felons so voting officials can challenge them at the ballot, is effective. In 90 percent of the cases we looked at, the felons weren't flagged."

"If the state had done that," he said, "things might be very different today."

Comment: I'm not surprised

What Wells Fargo's Move Really Means

Wall Street Whispers: What Wells Fargo's Move Really Means


It's just going to charge more for deposits, stop making risky loans and stop maintaining the employees and branches that it uses to achieve that end. For investors this is a good thing; for consumers it's a bad thing; and for the company and broader banking industry it's a sign of the times.

As of July 1, Wells Fargo began implementing a $5 monthly fee for basic checking accounts that fall below a $1,500 minimum balance. On Wednesday the San Francisco-based bank also announced plans to "restructure" its consumer-finance business by shutting down the Wells Fargo Financial division that has been operating for roughly a century.

As a result, Wells will stop originating subprime mortgages that were once part of the division -- something it indicated in regards to auto finance months ago -- and merge the rest of the division into the broader franchise. The change will result in 638 branch closures and up to 3,800 layoffs. Investors will see near-term charges of $185 million, or less than 3 cents per share, before taxes, which will be offset by cost savings by mid-2012.

Comment: Avoidance of the checking account fee is EZ (check the Wells website). Getting out of subprime is a sign of the times!

PenFed for all

Credit Unions for All: Pentagon Federal


As I mentioned in the column, PenFed takes all comers as long as you are willing to pay a one-time fee of $20 to join the National Military Family Association.

Once you are a member of the credit union, you can apply for its Platinum Cashback Rewards Visa, one of the best cash rebate cards for people who want just one card that is hassle-free (as opposed to using different cards in different places depending on how much they kick back to you at each type of merchant).

With the PenFed card, you get 5 percent cash back on gas, 2 percent back on groceries and 1 percent on everything else. The credit union gives you the cash each month; you do not have to remember to ask for it or wait a year to get a rebate check, which is how some cash-back credit cards work.

PenFed is also currently advertising a 3.795 percent annual percentage rate on a mortgage called a 5/5 ARM. It adjusts once every five years, can only rise (or fall) by a maximum of two percentage points every five years and won’t ever rise beyond 8.795 percent. There are a few other mild restrictions, and PenFed pays many of the closing costs.

Comment: PedFed. On of my relatives banks almost exclusively with USAA (she is retired Army)


Prohibition and the law of unintended consequences

Another round of Prohibition, anyone?


Americans abolished a widely exercised private right -- and condemned the nation's fifth-largest industry -- in order to make the nation more heavenly. Then all hell broke loose. Now that ambitious government is again hell-bent on improving Americans -- from how they use salt to what light bulbs they use -- Okrent's book is a timely tutorial on the law of unintended consequences.

The ship that carried John Winthrop to Massachusetts in 1630 also carried, Okrent reports, 10,000 gallons of wine and three times more beer than water. John Adams's morning eye-opener was a tankard of hard cider; James Madison drank a pint of whiskey daily; by 1830, adult per capita consumption was the equivalent of 90 bottles of 80-proof liquor annually.

Although whiskey often was a safer drink than water, Americans, particularly men, drank too much. Women's Prohibition sentiments fueled the movement for women's rights -- rights to hold property independent of drunken husbands; to divorce those husbands; to vote for politicians who would close saloons. So the United States Brewers' Association officially opposed women's suffrage.

Women campaigning for sobriety did not intend to give rise to the income tax, plea bargaining, a nationwide crime syndicate, Las Vegas, NASCAR (country boys outrunning government agents), a redefined role for the federal government and a privacy right -- the "right to be let alone" -- that eventually was extended to abortion rights. But they did.

Comment: Consider earlier post

If the Vatican were a business

Vatican posts financial loss for third year in a row


The effects of the global financial crisis put the Holy See's budget in the red for the third consecutive year, the Vatican said in a statement on Saturday.

The Holy See ended the year 2009 with a loss of 4.1 million euros (5.2 million dollars), compared to its loss of 911,514 euros in 2008. In 2007 it had lost nine million euros.

Over the course of the year, the Vatican spent 254.2 million and had income of 250.1 million euros.

In 2009, the Vatican absorbed "the negative fluctuations that had been suspended in 2008," the statement said.

Vatican Radio said that the Holy See would have posted a profit, had it not been for the absorption of 2008 losses.

Donations from churches around the world to the Holy See, also known as Peter's Pence, grew to 82.5 million dollars, compared to 75.8 million dollars in 2008.

The largest donations came from the United States, Italy and France, the statement said.

Comment: Either Queen Elizabeth II or the Vatican is probably the largest land holder in the world!


More on Wells Fargo Financial

More detail: Wells Fargo cuts division, plus 3,800 jobs nationwide


Currently, Wells Fargo Financial has approximately 14,000 team members throughout the country, and 3,500 in Des Moines. The remaining 10,600 jobs will transition to other Wells Fargo units, including mortgage and community banking.

Laid off employees will receive 60 days' working notice and a severance package.

Affected Wells Fargo employees also are encouraged to apply for other jobs throughout the company. Wells Fargo currently has more than 400 open positions in the Des Moines area, Kvamme said.

Wells Fargo is Iowa’s largest bank in terms of deposits and Central Iowa’s largest private employer with about 12,900 employees in the Des Moines area.

Kvamme says the company is committed to the Des Moines area, including its buildings downtown. Wells Fargo Financial built a second headquarters building downtown in 2005.

Wells Fargo Financial grew out of the Des Moines-based consumer finance company known as Dial Finance that was acquired by Wells Fargo’s predecessor, Norwest Corp. in 1982.

“I’m incredibly sad,” said Des Moines businessman Richard Levitt, whose family owned Dial Finance and who engineered the sale to Norwest. Richard Levitt is a grandson of Jacob Levitt, who started the business in 1897.

“I didn’t see it coming,” he said.

Levitt said he did not know details of the decision but said the shutdown of Wells Fargo Financial could create opportunity for others to launch businesses in any areas of banking that Wells Fargo exits. “Any time there is a vacuum, it gets filled,” Levitt said.

With the elimination of Wells Fargo Financial, Wells Fargo will no longer originate non-prime mortgage loans. Subprime mortgages are largely blamed for the housing finance crisis over the past few years.

Rick Carter, a finance professor at Iowa State University said: “It sounds to me like one of the things they want to do is lower their risk by getting out of the subprime business.”

“The other thing is they are trying to add some efficiency by closing offices,” Carter said.

Comment: I would liken this to Ford dropping the Mercury brand. Ford is still going to sell cars but not branded with that logo. It's an efficiency move!

How PING.BAT works


  • See previous post
  • Command line options on the PING

    • -n Count, Determines the number of echo requests to send. The default is 4 requests. In the BAT file this is set to 2
    • -w Timeout, Enables you to adjust the time-out (in milliseconds). The default is 1,000 (a 1-second time-out). In the BAT file this is set to 750

  • Click on images above for larger view
  • If the PING is successful, "TTL=" is found in the return string ... else
  • If the PING fails, "TTL=" is not found
  • If PING is successful, the device name plus "was PINGABLE" is written to the comma delimited file
  • Else, the device name plus "was NOT pingable" is written to the file
  • See below for the PING log file

Retire the DUKWs

Murky waters foil search for missing boaters


The 37 people aboard the six-wheeled duck boat were tossed overboard when the tugboat-pushed barge hit it after it had been adrift for a few minutes with its engine stalled, police said. Most were plucked from the river by other vessels in a frantic rescue operation that happened in full view of Penn's Landing, just south of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Comment: Remember 1999's accident

Hot Springs Arkansas Duck Boat Tour Accident

Comment: Of WWII vintage! DUKW

Seagull Steals From World's Laziest Cat

Comment: Sister sent it my way!


Neat PING BAT file

Comment: I'm troubleshooting why we were unable to remotely upgrade several hundred computers. I had been manually pinging each one ... like this


I decided to write a BAT file to do the work. Well someone had done this for me.


With this as the basis:


@echo off

(Set InputFile=C:\temporary\list.txt)

title,Pinging list of computers &color 9e

for /f "tokens=2-4 skip=1 delims=(-./)" %%i in ('echo.^|date') do (
for /f "tokens=1-4 delims=-./ " %%m in ('date /t') do (
(set dow=%%m)&(set %%i=%%n)&(set %%j=%%o)&(set yy=%%p) ) )
For /F "tokens=1,2 delims=:, " %%i in ('TIME /T') Do (Set HHMM=%%i%%j)

(Set OutputFile=c:\temporary\Pinglog %yy%-%mm%-%dd% %HHMM%.txt)

If Exist "%OutputFile%" Del "%OutputFile%"

For /F "usebackq eol=;" %%* In ("%InputFile%") Do (
Ping.exe -n 2 -w 750 %%* | Find/i "TTL=" >Nul && (
echo.%%* "was PINGABLE">>"%OutputFile%")|| (
echo.%%* "was NOT pingable">>"%OutputFile%")
echo.done %%*,)

The input file (computer names changed!):


The output file:

WFC1A000AE0C975 "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWLRESBOX5 "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWLH39MXC1 "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWLDN6MXC1 "was NOT pingable"
WFC2300D74C069C "was PINGABLE"
WFCPTXWLF43MXC1 "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWL7RFMXC1 "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWL5L8MXC1 "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWLTRAIN19 "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWL979MXC1 "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWLRESBOX4 "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWL363MXC1 "was NOT pingable"
WFC120097EAA8AB "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWL3P8MXC1 "was NOT pingable"
WFCPTXWL8JP9YF1 "was NOT pingable"

Wells Fargo Financial to close ... no more non-prime mortgages

Wells Fargo & Company to Consolidate Its Wells Fargo Financial Consumer Finance Division into the Company's Newly Expanded Coast to Coast Community Banking Network; 638 Independent Consumer Finance Offices to be Closed


Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC - News) today announced the restructuring of its Wells Fargo Financial division, including closing its 638 Wells Fargo Financial stores across the U.S. and exiting the origination of non-prime portfolio mortgage loans. The remaining consumer and commercial loan products offered through Wells Fargo Financial will be realigned with those offered by other Wells Fargo business units and will be available through Wells Fargo’s expanded network of community banking and home mortgage stores, now the nation’s largest.

Because of its 2008 merger with Wachovia, Wells Fargo’s customers now have access to the company’s 6,600 Wells Fargo and Wachovia community bank stores and its 2,200 Wells Fargo Home Mortgage locations, eliminating the need for a separate network of Wells Fargo Financial local offices. Less than 2 percent of all Wells Fargo’s real estate loans were originated in Wells Fargo Financial stores in the first quarter of 2010. The company expects the consolidation to result in increased operating efficiencies, streamlined processes and controls, and a more consistent experience for customers.

“Our network of U.S.-based consumer finance stores, which have historically operated as an independent sales channel from our bank operations, have served customers well for more than 100 years,” said David Kvamme, president of Wells Fargo Financial, “but the economics of a separate Wells Fargo Financial channel are no longer viable, especially now that our customers have access to the largest banking and mortgage store network in the United States.”

The restructuring of Wells Fargo Financial will not impact the number of community banking or home mortgage stores currently in operation.

Customers with existing Wells Fargo Financial consumer loans and clients of Wells Fargo Financial’s commercial businesses will continue to be served without disruption, the company said. FHA home loans, auto loans and credit cards previously offered by Wells Fargo Financial will be consolidated with similar products across the company and will be offered through the company’s network of community banking stores, mortgage stores, phone banks and wellsfargo.com. Wells Fargo Financial’s commercial businesses will be realigned with business units within Wells Fargo over the next 12 months. However, Wells Fargo will no longer originate non-prime portfolio real estate loans.

Comment: History goes back to old Dial Finance: Wells Fargo Financial was founded in Des Moines in 1897 as State Loan Company. Changing its name to Dial Finance, it was acquired by Wells Fargo predecessor Norwest Corporation in 1982.


More on EBill

Comment: In this example, I've signed up for EBilling (through Wells Fargo Bill Pay). Website indicates that an EBill is available for payment. Saves paper! Easy

The Parcel Post Bank

Comment: Speaking of postal rates (previous post!):

The Parcel Post Bank


PARCEL POST BANK September, 1886, Samuel R. Bennion was sent here to establish a banking institution called the "Ashley Co-op." In 1903 the first pioneer bank was opened for business. In 1916 W.H. Colthorp erected this building with Salt Lake City brick. A full car load of brick was used, each wrapped seperately and sent Parcel Post U.S. Mail to Watson, Utah by train. From there they were hauled to Vernal by freight wagon and teams. It is known as "The Parcel Post Bank of the World," with N.J. Meagher, Sr. cashier. This bank has been a great factor in the development of Uintah Basin. UINTAH COUNTY LANDMARK REGISTER (3/23/1989) The Bank of Vernal was built with bricks shipped from Salt Lake City to Vernal in 1916. Bank officials wanted hard-fired bricks for their enduring building. Because Vernal was in Salt Lake City's second postal zone, mailed bricks cost half the amount of freighted bricks. Due to the distance, weight and difficulty of the flood of bricks mailed, postal regulations were changed across the country, and the Bank of Vernal became known as the "Parcel Post Bank." The Bank of Vernal is also on the Utah Register of Historic Places.

More: The Bank That Was Sent Through the Post Office


Mr. W. H. Coltharp, a young businessman in the town of Vernal, Utah, wanted to build a building and dedicate it to the memory of his father. After consulting with the directors of the local lending institution in the city, Coltharp proceeded with plans to build a building in which the front corner would be used as a new bank.

The bricks which Coltharp selected were made by the Salt Lake Pressed Brick Company, located about 120 miles away from Vernal, Utah by straight line, and even longer on the trails that weaved through Utah. Coltharp's problem was that the freight costs to haul 80,000 bricks from Salt Lake City to Vernal was prohibitive. The freight charges to ship the bricks to Vernal were about 4 times more expensive than what the bricks cost. In a stroke of creative genius, Coltharp decided he would have the bricks mailed to the small town, taking advantage of the cheap parcel post rates.

In order to meet the postal regulations of the day, Coltharp had the bricks carefully packaged in crates weighing less than 50 pounds, the upper limit of what the post office would permit. News accounts indicate that 40 or so crates were shipped each time, meaning that each attempted shipment was equivalent to one ton.

The trek from Salt Lake City had to take a very circuitous route in order to get to Vernal. First, the bricks were sent to Mack, Colorado, using the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. From there, they went to Watson, Colorado by way of a narrow gauge railroad. Finally the bricks were hauled the final 65 miles to Vernal by freight wagon. The total length of this route was over 400 miles.

As the post offices began to get overwhelmed by the cartons of bricks, the postmasters began to get frantic. Ultimately the entire quota of bricks were delivered, but the post office changed their regulations. The new rules stipulated that the sender and receiver could only ship or receive a total of 200 pounds of goods in a single day. In a clarification of the rule, the postal administration indicated that "it is not the intent of the United States Postal Service that buildings be shipped through the mail."

The Bank of Vernal was completed and was nicknamed "The Parcel Post Bank" by some of the town's residents. The building still exists and is still used as a bank; it now serves as a branch office of Zion's Bank and is located on West Main Street in the city of Vernal.

No Saturday mail: "slippery slope" or efficiency?

Sides Form Over Threat to Saturday Mail Service


Some, like Donald J. Hall Jr., chief executive of Hallmark Cards, said that eliminating Saturday delivery and raising prices even incrementally would drive more business away from the United States Postal Service, resulting in a “slippery slope.”

But others, like Andrew Rendich, the chief service and DVD operations officer at Netflix, said five-day delivery would be a better alternative to significantly higher postal rates. “Big rate increases will absolutely squash business and will absolutely slow growth for a company like Netflix,” Mr. Rendich said.

The post office estimates that cutting Saturday delivery would result in savings of $3 billion a year, though the Postal Regulatory Commission, which will make a recommendation to the post office on its proposal, estimates smaller savings, about $2 billion a year.

The commission begins hearings on the service changes on July 12. In addition to eliminating most Saturday deliveries, the post office has proposed cutting its work force through attrition and wants the option to raise prices above the rate of inflation for some classes of mail.

Comment: From a guy who actually remembers when first class postage was raised to 4 ¢ from 3 ¢ (August 1, 1958 (18 days from my 9th birthday!), I vote for 5 day delivery! By the way, we are moving to every bill being e-delivered. How: EBill on Wells Fargo Bill pay, Email notifications of other bills for pick up via logging onto a website (eg our Allstate insurance, Chase, Discover). I don't have a statistic but I think that 80% of our mail is junk. The GOP and the NRA could send much less mail! Seems like at least once a week I receive a mailing from the GOP asking for money!

You've majored in "women’s studies" ... now what?

It's off to feminist summer camp


Activists Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards started the program for college students after visiting university campuses around the country and realizing that lots of women’s studies students wanted to work as feminists, but didn't know where to look for jobs. They planned the week in order to introduce the campers to as many different feminist organizations as possible: They vary from the Guttmacher Institute, which collects statistics about things like the number of abortions performed each year, to Babeland, a female-friendly sex toy shop.

Angi Proehl, a working mom who's finishing up her bachelor's degree from Minnesota State-Mankato, says she was most touched by meeting members of the group Sistas on the Rise, which is run by and for young women of color in New York City. "They're creating a space and a place and for young women in their community who may not have anything, who don’t know the system, who don’t know how to budget for diaper ... That's something I can take back to Mankato, and hopefully build ideas."

Proehl, who's of Filipina descent, says she came to the camp to learn skills that she can apply to her work at the YWCA back home. "I have a hard time asking for money," she says, laughing. "More than anything, fundraising is having the confidence to do it. And I'm working on that confidence. All this, this whole experience, just learning to speak with people -- I naturally don’t have that. But seeing all these women who've done so much, it's amazing to me."

Comment: So you can ...

  • Count number of abortions performed each year
  • Work at a female-friendly sex toy shop
  • "budget for diaper"
  • "ask[] for money" for the YWCA


Microsoft's Kin debacle

Microsoft Calling. Anyone There?


Microsoft’s engineers and executives spent two years creating a new line of smartphones with playful names that sounded like creatures straight out of “The Cat in the Hat” — Kin One and Kin Two. Stylish designs, an emphasis on flashy social-networking features and an all-out marketing blitz were meant to prove that Microsoft could build the right product at the right time for the finickiest customers — gossiping youngsters with gadget skills.

But last week, less than two months after the Kins arrived in stores, Microsoft said it would kill the products.


In 2008, Microsoft acquired a start-up, Danger, that had built popular mobile phone software, hoping that technology would revitalize its waning phone software business. But Microsoft stumbled as it took longer than expected to create a new product with the technology. In April, Microsoft finally introduced the fruits of this labor when it unveiled the Kin phones.

In contrast, Google, a chief Microsoft rival, also bought a mobile technology start-up — Android. Both Android and Danger were co-founded by Andy Rubin, who joined Google.

Google has since turned the Android software into the foundation of a fast-growing mobile phone empire with carriers all over the world releasing products that use the technology.

Microsoft, however, has reassigned the Kin development team and put them to work on Windows Phone 7, yet another mobile phone platform, expected later this year.

Comment: I don't think the Smartphone market will support 4 platforms: IPhone, Palm, Android, Windows


How can one broke country lend money to another broke country?

Comment: Bob Zemeski, missionary to Ireland, sent this my way. Somewhat humorous in a tragic kind of way. Watch all ... wait for the last line .... towards the end ... the US is mentioned (guess with what other country)

Droid X: the latest and greatsest Android

Big Phone, Big Screen, Big Pleasure


Last November, you might have been tempted by the Motorola Droid, “the best Android phone on the market.” A month later, the HTC Hero was “the best Android phone on the market.” By January, “the best Android phone yet” was the Nexus One. In April, “the best Android device that you can purchase” was the HTC Incredible. In May, “the best Android phone on the market” was the Sprint Evo.

Either “the best Android phone on the market” is a tech critic’s tic, or we’re witnessing one seriously crazy game of leapfrog.

The latest buzz is about the Motorola Droid X, which Verizon will offer in mid-July for $200.


The most notable physical characteristic, though, is the Droid X’s size. It’s absolutely huge (5 by 2.6 by 0.4 inches). It’s easily the biggest app phone on the market. You feel as if you’re talking into a frozen waffle.

You know what’s intriguing? Apple seems to think that people prefer smaller phones; Android phone makers keep making them bigger.

The point, of course, is to have bigger screens — and wow, does the Droid X deliver. As on its blood rival, the Sprint Evo, this phone’s immense 4.3-inch screen does wonders for e-books, maps, photos, movies, e-mail, calendars and so on. Oh, and for typing: the keyboard is so big, you don’t have to switch to a special punctuation layout for the period and comma.


The Droid X is loaded. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, two mikes for noise cancellation, powerful speaker, unusually powerful vibrate mode (hurrah!), FM radio and Verizon’s expensive but not-call-dropping network.

Like the Evo, the Droid can turn into a portable Wi-Fi hot spot; up to five nearby laptops and other gadgets can get online almost anywhere. This feature slurps battery power like a thirsty Labrador, so it’s best when the phone is plugged in. Verizon charges $20 a month extra for this feature (it’s $30 on the Evo).

In general, the Droid X is a speed rocket, much like its recent rivals. It’s impossible to overstate how satisfying it is to use a snappy, responsive gadget.

Comment: Still haven't bought one (an Android).

Illinois - another Democratic party fiscal mess

Illinois Stops Paying Its Bills, but Can’t Stop Digging Hole


For the last few years, California stood more or less unchallenged as a symbol of the fiscal collapse of states during the recession. Now Illinois has shouldered to the fore, as its dysfunctional political class refuses to pay the state’s bills and refuses to take the painful steps — cuts and tax increases — to close a deficit of at least $12 billion, equal to nearly half the state’s budget.

Then there is the spectacularly mismanaged pension system, which is at least 50 percent underfunded and, analysts warn, could push Illinois into insolvency if the economy fails to pick up.

States cannot go bankrupt, technically, but signs of fiscal crackup are easy to see. Legislators left the capital this month without deciding how to pay 26 percent of the state budget. The governor proposes to borrow $3.5 billion to cover a year’s worth of pension payments, a step that would cost about $1 billion in interest. And every major rating agency has downgraded the state; Illinois now pays millions of dollars more to insure its debt than any other state in the nation.

“Their pension is the most underfunded in the nation,” said Karen S. Krop, a senior director at Fitch Ratings. “They have not made significant cuts or raised revenues. There’s no state out there like this. They can’t grow their way out of this.”

Comment: Name the states dominated by Democrats: New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois .... and they are all in fiscal crisis


About those "bars"

Apple Acknowledges Flaw in iPhone Signal Meter


Apple Inc. said Friday that it was ''stunned'' to find that its iPhones have for years been using a ''totally wrong'' formula to determine how many bars of signal strength they are getting.

Apple said that's the reason behind widespread complaints from users that the latest model, iPhone 4, can show a sudden plunge in signal strength when they hold it in a way that covers a small black strip on one edge of the phone. Users online have jokingly called this the ''death grip'' for the phone.

That drop seems exaggerated because the phone can wrongly display four or five bars of signal strength when it shouldn't, Apple said.

''Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place,'' the company said in a letter to users.

.... It maintains that iPhone 4's wireless performance is better than previous models. And it said the incorrect signal-strength formula existed in the original iPhone, launched in 2007.


''We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see,'' Apple said.

Comment: Hard to believe .... "incorrect signal-strength formula ... [since] ... 2007"


Housing: What the US could learn from Canada

Why Canada's Housing Market Didn't Crash


"In the U.S., the whole idea of owning a home, there is almost a national obsession," Atkinson says. He knows because he's an American citizen as well. But he also knows that the banking system in Canada does not allow for the type of irresponsible buying and borrowing that we saw in the U.S. at the height of the recent housing boom (2004-2006).

For one, there are just six big Canadian banks that own the bulk of the mortgage market, and they don't securitize and sell off loans at nearly the rate U.S. lenders do. They hold nearly three quarters of their loans on the books, and 80 percent of Canadian loans carry mortgage insurance.

Canadian banks also had and have no such thing as the Alt-A, or low-doc, no doc loans that fueled bad borrowing and consequent defaults. At the height of the Canadian housing boom barely 5 percent of loans were considered "subprime," while a full third of U.S. loans were either subprime or Alt-A.

"Nobody stopped a Canadian bank from lending in the subprime market, they chose not to," says CIBC's Benjamin Tal. "It was not the government, it was not monetary policy; there were no regulations whatsoever regarding how much you can lend in the subprime market. Canadian bankers decided not to do so, because it was too risky."

Finally, the biggest difference is that if a Canadian borrower goes into foreclosure, the bank can and will come after that borrower's assets until the balance is repaid.

There is no easy way to walk away.

These are full recourse loans.

Canada certainly sees ups and downs in its housing market, and all you need do is look at the downtown Toronto skyline to wonder if there isn't perhaps a Miami-like condo boom going on right now. But experts say the booms and busts are far more measured there. The condo buildings going up are all presold, and there is not nearly the speculative condo investment there that we saw in Miami.

"There is an element of conservatism that runs right through the Canadian housing industry, from the banking, financing element, to the homebuilders and even in the resale of homes," says Phil Soper, CEO of Brookfield Real Estate Services - Royal LePage. "The innovation has safety valves."

Comment: Summary:

  • Banks don't (at least to the extent that US Banks do) sell off loans
  • Little subprime lending - No "Alt-A, or low-doc, no doc loans"
  • Canadian mortgages are "full recourse loans". Can't just walk away
  • No condo building unless it is presold

And everyone is better off!