Comment: Others in the field

Does Stuxnet target Iran?

In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Clue


Deep inside the computer worm that some specialists suspect is aimed at slowing Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon lies what could be a fleeting reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.

That use of the word “Myrtus” — which can be read as an allusion to Esther — to name a file inside the code is one of several murky clues that have emerged as computer experts try to trace the origin and purpose of the rogue Stuxnet program, which seeks out a specific kind of command module for industrial equipment.

Not surprisingly, the Israelis are not saying whether Stuxnet has any connection to the secretive cyberwar unit it has built inside Israel’s intelligence service. Nor is the Obama administration, which while talking about cyberdefenses has also rapidly ramped up a broad covert program, inherited from the Bush administration, to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. In interviews in several countries, experts in both cyberwar and nuclear enrichment technology say the Stuxnet mystery may never be solved.

There are many competing explanations for myrtus, which could simply signify myrtle, a plant important to many cultures in the region. But some security experts see the reference as a signature allusion to Esther, a clear warning in a mounting technological and psychological battle as Israel and its allies try to breach Tehran’s most heavily guarded project. Others doubt the Israelis were involved and say the word could have been inserted as deliberate misinformation, to implicate Israel.

“The Iranians are already paranoid about the fact that some of their scientists have defected and several of their secret nuclear sites have been revealed,” one former intelligence official who still works on Iran issues said recently. “Whatever the origin and purpose of Stuxnet, it ramps up the psychological pressure.”

So a calling card in the code could be part of a mind game, or sloppiness or whimsy from the coders.

The malicious code has appeared in many countries, notably China, India, Indonesia and Iran. But there are tantalizing hints that Iran’s nuclear program was the primary target. Officials in both the United States and Israel have made no secret of the fact that undermining the computer systems that control Iran’s huge enrichment plant at Natanz is a high priority. (The Iranians know it, too: They have never let international inspectors into the control room of the plant, the inspectors report, presumably to keep secret what kind of equipment they are using.)

The fact that Stuxnet appears designed to attack a certain type of Siemens industrial control computer, used widely to manage oil pipelines, electrical power grids and many kinds of nuclear plants, may be telling. Just last year officials in Dubai seized a large shipment of those controllers — known as the Simatic S-7 — after Western intelligence agencies warned that the shipment was bound for Iran and would likely be used in its nuclear program.

Comment: Interesting stuff!


The Machine is Us/ing Us

The Chris Farley school of political motivation

Blaming the Voters


Democrats seeking to boost voter turnout this fall are beginning to sound like the late comedian Chris Farley's portrayal of a "motivational speaker" on Saturday Night Live. Farley's character sought to inspire young people by announcing that they wouldn't amount to "jack squat" and would someday be "living in a van down by the river."

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who prefers sailing vessels to vans by the river, recently tried out the Farley method. Said Mr. Kerry, "We have an electorate that doesn't always pay that much attention to what's going on so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what's happening." Bay State voters are surely thrilled to be represented by a man so respectful of their concerns.

This week President Obama chimed in with another uplifting message about the American electorate. Mr. Obama told Rolling Stone that the tea party movement is financed and directed by "powerful, special-interest lobbies." But this doesn't mean that tea party groups are composed entirely of corporate puppets. Mr. Obama graciously implied that a small subset of the movement is simply motivated by bigotry.

The President said "there are probably some aspects of the Tea Party that are a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the President." The tea party is now supported by a third of the country in some polls.

Comment: We're sitting on the couch laughing!


Cold relief

Gargling with Salt Water Actually Helps a Cold or Cough


According to the editor of The Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies, warm salt water circulated at the back of the throat does two things to help cold sufferers:

A saline solution can draw excess fluid from inflamed tissues in the throat, making them hurt less, said Dr. Philip T. Hagen ... (He also) pointed out that gargling also loosens thick mucus, which can remove irritants like allergens, bacteria and fungi from the throat.

Comment: This works for me along with a saline solution nasal spray.

California: Broke but the "no cussing" and the cows are happy

There's No Budget, but California Is All Over the Foreign-Cow Issue


Awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature, for example, is a bill that would bar the state from filming cows in New Zealand. It's the fruit of five committee votes and eight legislative analyses.

California lawmakers also voted to form a lobster commission. They created "Motorcycle Awareness Month," not to mention a "Cuss Free Week."

And they kept the California state rock safe. Senate Bill 624 had sought to bust the rock, serpentine. Adamant opposition protected it, but sponsor Gloria Romero declared this "an issue we should address again."

Failure to pass a budget has reinforced the most populous state's image as also the most ungovernable. Mr. Schwarzenegger proposed his budget in January. Legislators have had all year to revise it and pass one more to their liking. It's the only state with a fiscal year that began July 1 that hasn't passed a budget.

California paid bills with IOUs for two months last year, and the state controller says he may resort to them again in the next weeks if lawmakers tarry. Legislative leaders say they hope to have a preliminary budget this week to deal with a shortfall currently projected at $19 billion. It still may take weeks of wrangling to wrap up final details.

Lawmakers lined up votes more quickly to pass the "Happy Cows" bill, as Assembly Bill 1778 has been dubbed. The legislation would bar publicly funded commercials that promote California products from being filmed outside the state. The bill's author, Ted Lieu, a Democrat, says it would keep jobs in Hollywood.

The commercials feature "unhappy" foreign cows auditioning, American Idol-style, to come to the state and be "happy California cows." Mr. Lieu learned that the state-supervised California Milk Advisory Board, which makes the spots, had filmed some in New Zealand.

"You're promoting California dairy because we have happy cows, and you say, 'Well, let's go to New Zealand,'" he says indignantly. "It's a very misleading thing to be doing." His bill included a thorough analysis by the Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media.

The milk board says antipodean animals starred strictly as unhappy foreign cows, such as "Anna" from the Alps and "Soo" in Korea. "The only images of cows filmed in New Zealand are foreign cows, unhappy cows from all the world, auditioning to become a California cow," says Michael Freeman, the board's vice president of advertising. "We've never filmed California cows any place other than here in California."

Comment: When states have a solid Democratic legislature and a Democratic governor, they are anti-business and going broke. California has a GOP governor but still is a mess. Imagine a Governor Dayton with a Democrat controlled legislature!

Obama and Fox News

Obama: Fox News is 'destructive' to America


President Obama is pulling no punches when it comes to Fox News, declaring the cable news outlet to be "destructive to [America's] long-term growth."

In a more than 8,000-word interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Obama compared the cable news channel to papers owned by William Randolph Hearst at the turn of the 20th century that unabashedly pushed the media titan's own political views.

"You had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition – it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view," Obama told the magazine.

Officials in the Obama White House have long made Fox News a punching bag, launching a full blown offensive last year when aides declared the network to be "opinion journalism masquerading as news." Then-White House Communications Director Anita Dunn said the cable outlet "operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party," and top aide Valerie Jarret called Fox "clearly biased."

But the new comments from Obama constitute the president's most direct attack yet on the network owned by business mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Fox News pushes "a point of view that I disagree with. It's a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world," Obama said.

Comment: Fox balances MSNBC and CNN

Obamacare kicks in .... Harvard Pilgrim drops out

Harvard Pilgrim cancels Medicare Advantage plan


The decision by Wellesley-based Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurer, was prompted by a freeze in federal reimbursements and a new requirement that insurers offering the kind of product sold by Harvard Pilgrim — a Medicare Advantage private fee for service plan — form a contracted network of doctors who agree to participate for a negotiated amount of money. Under current rules, patients can seek care from any doctor.

“We became concerned by the long-term viability of Medicare Advantage programs in general,’’ said Lynn Bowman, vice president of customer service at Harvard Pilgrim’s office in Quincy. “We know that cuts in Medicare are being used to fund national health care reform. And we also had concerns about our ability to build a network of health care providers that would meet the needs of our seniors.’’

Under Medicare Advantage plans, the federal government pays private health insurers to sell customers over 65 years old enhanced policies, many of which offer prescription drug coverage not covered by standard Medicare. But the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been seeking to reduce the amount it pays to private insurers for such programs.

Medicare told Harvard Pilgrim to notify customers that its Medicare Advantage program, known as First Seniority Freedom, was being canceled. In a mailing, the insurer was required to list alternative Medicare Advantage plans, including those offered by its competitors.

Harvard Pilgrim in a second mailing this week will urge customers to switch to a new Medicare Supplement plan it will begin offering in October. Unlike Medicare Advantage, which is overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the new Harvard Pilgrim plan will be overseen by the Massachusetts Division of Insurance.

It will be “slightly more expensive’’ than the Medicare Advantage plans, but competitive with supplemental insurance plans offered by rivals such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state’s largest health insurer, Bowman said.

She said the Medicare Supplement plan will feature some benefits not covered by the current plan, such as fitness reimbursements, but won’t pay for prescription drugs, which are covered by some versions of the current plan. Instead, seniors can buy separate supplemental drug coverage through a partnership with Coventry Health Care, in Bethesda, Md.

Comment: Not unlike State Farm to exit Florida property insurance

Florida has been hit by several large hurricanes in recent years, leaving property insurers responsible for billions of dollars in claims. The companies have asked regulators in the state for permission to increase premiums to cover future catastrophe risks.

However, the requested rate increases have been large, making coverage very expensive, so regulators have blocked some of them.

In July, State Farm's Florida unit filed for an overall statewide homeowners insurance rate increase of 47.1%. The request was rejected on Jan. 12 by the state Office of Insurance Regulation, the insurer said.

"Faced with steeply declining resources to cover future claims and expenses, State Farm Florida has little choice," Jim Thompson, president of State Farm Florida, said in a written statement. "This is not an action we wanted to take, but one we must take given the realities of the Florida property insurance market."

Comment: When the government mandates prices and coverage, companies weigh whether it is a valid business proposition. Obamacare reduces competition and reduces customer choice.

The TX-2 computer

Resource Page on Early HCI Research by the Lincoln Lab TX-2 Group

One of the most influential groups in shaping interactive computing as we know it was based at MIT's Lincoln Lab between about 1953 and 1969. The focal point of the group was the TX-2 computer (and its predecessor, the TX-0), designed by Wesley Clark.

Comments: Love the monitor! More on: The MIT Lincoln Laboratory TX-2 computer and Sketchpad (Sketchpad ran on the Lincoln TX-2 (1958) computer at MIT)

Taking all of "the rich's" income isn't enough!

The 2% Illusion - Take everything they earn, and it still won't be enough.


President Obama has laid out the most ambitious and expensive domestic agenda since LBJ, and now all he has to do is figure out how to pay for it. On Tuesday, he left the impression that we need merely end "tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans," and he promised that households earning less than $250,000 won't see their taxes increased by "one single dime."

This is going to be some trick. Even the most basic inspection of the IRS income tax statistics shows that raising taxes on the salaries, dividends and capital gains of those making more than $250,000 can't possibly raise enough revenue to fund Mr. Obama's new spending ambitions.

Consider the IRS data for 2006, the most recent year that such tax data are available and a good year for the economy and "the wealthiest 2%." Roughly 3.8 million filers had adjusted gross incomes above $200,000 in 2006. (That's about 7% of all returns; the data aren't broken down at the $250,000 point.) These people paid about $522 billion in income taxes, or roughly 62% of all federal individual income receipts. The richest 1% -- about 1.65 million filers making above $388,806 -- paid some $408 billion, or 39.9% of all income tax revenues, while earning about 22% of all reported U.S. income.

Note that federal income taxes are already "progressive" with a 35% top marginal rate, and that Mr. Obama is (so far) proposing to raise it only to 39.6%, plus another two percentage points in hidden deduction phase-outs. He'd also raise capital gains and dividend rates, but those both yield far less revenue than the income tax. These combined increases won't come close to raising the hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue that Mr. Obama is going to need.

But let's not stop at a 42% top rate; as a thought experiment, let's go all the way. A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable "dime" of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion.

Comment: One wonders if he understands basic accounting


Why Southwest's purchase of AirTran is good for the consumer

Southwest Airlines to Buy AirTran


The deal promises to be transformational for Dallas-based Southwest, the largest U.S. carrier of domestic passengers, by providing access to the large Atlanta business-travel market for the first time, as well as potential expansion to smaller cities and international destinations.

"This absolutely changes things," said Gary Kelly, Southwest's chairman and chief executive, during a call with analysts.

The definitive agreement marks the first combination between major U.S. low-cost carriers.

Mr. Kelly said an enlarged Southwest would retain its distinct existing brand, avoiding bag fees and offering a single-class service. "This fits in beautifully with the strategy we've laid out, probably for the next decade," he said.


  • Whenever SouthWest enters a market, overall airfares decline. We saw this when SouthWest entered the Minneapolis St Paul marketplace. When NorthWest air dominated, the consumers suffered.
  • The fees for checked bags really irritates people! Southwest has the bag police (if you have seen their recent commercials, they are funny!)
  • SouthWest has a business model that is profitable. They trade under LUV

For a really interesting NYTimes graphic check out Converging Flight Paths Prediction: American Airlines (AMR) had better look for a merger partner! Fast!

Competition to the USPS needed

The Post Office Hustle


Today the average postal worker makes $83,000 a year in wages and benefits, roughly 50% above the average compensation for private workers, according to federal wage data. Those benefits are already so generous the post office could save $560 million a year if the mailman paid the same 28% share of employee health premiums that other federal employees pay, which is still below the norm in the private economy. Normally when a company is losing $16 billion a year in revenues, unions see the need for concessions.

Rubber stamping one more postal rate hike without at least a plan to cut labor costs only rewards union intransigence and postal service inefficiency. The time has come to free the mail by amending the private express statutes—which confer a legal monopoly on first-class mail—and allow expanded choices for letter delivery. Yes, we know the ritual claim is that this will end universal delivery, but even people living in remote areas would benefit from an injection of competition into the antiquated mail system.

If someone can deliver a letter for less than 46 cents or a postcard for less than 30 cents, by all means let them. Contract with Wal-Mart and grocery stores to sell stamps and collect packages. The postal service won't avoid its coming financial catastrophe by continuing to raise prices, but it might if it has to compete for customers.

Comment: We should not reward bloated bureaucracy

The “double Windsor chairs without a division.”

Couched in History


Craftsmen on both sides of the English Channel tried out many prototypes before inventing sofas that resemble the models we use today.

  • AKA, the sofa, the couch, the lounge, the canapé, the davenport, the divan, the settee, or the chesterfield. (see also futon!)
  • Growing up, we called them davenports!
  • When I had my first job and moved to Tampa, I bought an entire living room set used - a couch, a recliner, 2 end tables, and a coffee table. All of the 'early American' style. It was upholstered in a red floral print. Kathee absolutely hated it. When we got married I sold it (hard to believe it had a third life!)
  • As newlyweds, our first couch was from Kathee's parents (used but serviceable)
  • We still have the first couch that we bought new. Now 35 years old. It is an Ethan Allen convertible sofa bed. We had it reupholstered about 18 years ago. Still looks nice!
  • Because of my handicap, I have a very hard time standing up from a seated position on a couch. I need at least one armrest and two are better to stand up from sitting.
  • The last time I sat on a couch was when Kathee had some sort of ladies' meeting at the house. I was banished to the basement (we call it the "lower level"). I sat on our green leather couch. A cat was beside me. I browsed the internet until the meeting was over.

Be sure to click through to the article for the photos! It took another 250 years of technological advances before the La-z-boy was invented!

Corruption in the Karzai government undermines Afghanistan mission

Curb Corruption or Lose the War


While I was in Afghanistan last year to help monitor the presidential elections, I heard that important Afghans had been taking advantage of their association with the CIA to engage in corruption, thus undermining the counterinsurgency effort. Among those alleged to be involved in corruption were the president's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar Provincial Council. He also was rumored to have received agency money for supplying gunmen against the Taliban.

Comment: Nation building in Afghanistan won't work if the government is corrupt

On amber-colored water

There's a big conference of beer producers. At the end of the day, the presidents of all beer companies decide to have a drink in a bar.

The president of 'Budweiser' orders a Bud, the president of 'Miller' orders a Miller Lite, Adolph Coors orders a Coors, and the list goes on. Then the waitress asks Arthur Guinness what he wants to drink, and much to everybody's amazement, Mr. Guinness orders a Coke!

"Why don't you order a Guinness?" his colleagues ask.

"Naah. If you guys won't drink beer, then neither will I."

Comment: Found on-line

Why Pentium chips still rule space

Space exploration: The computers that power man's conquest of the stars


To this day, Nasa still uses elements of technology that powered the moon landings of the 1960s and 1970s, while the International Space Station (ISS) - the manned station circling the Earth 250 miles above our heads - relies on processors dating back more than two decades.


When it comes to spacecraft, design reliability - and not bleeding edge technology - is the watchword, with onboard chips having to undergo extensive testing to prove their robustness and compatibility with the spacecraft's onboard software.

Each of its computer chips has to be "hardened" to protect it from the high-energy radiation that permeates outer space, a complex process that means the newest processors are almost never used onboard spacecraft.


Just speccing out and procuring the three Pentium chips for the upgrade has taken years, due to budgetary constraints and the need to design the hardware to minimise conflicts with the onboard system software.

"The challenge is trying to build new technology that looks like the old technology - you don't want to impact the software so it has to look as much like the old hardware as possible," said David Pruett, a former software and computer system manager for the space station who now works for Nasa contractor GeoControl Systems.


According to Dr Norman Kluksdahl, systems engineer with the mission operations facilities division at Nasa mission control, upgrades must be performed in parallel with the normal station operation.

"Then we have to seamlessly hand over [from the old software to the new software]," he told silicon.com. "I would equate it to driving your car down the road at 80km an hour and changing the tyre while you're moving."

To avoid any unwanted surprises, every new software revision goes through two and a half years of development, planning and testing before being uploaded to the station.


Due to the complex and costly nature of upgrading ground control systems in ESOC, ESA will sometimes run an entire satellite mission - which can last several years - without performing an upgrade to the original hardware, OS or applications.

Consequently ESOC runs computers of varying ages, with the oldest machines dating back at least 15 years, with ESOC staff having to support these legacy machines alongside the modern HP workstations used to control the newer satellite missions.


Maintaining such aged hardware unsurprisingly brings challenges such as getting hold of spares to repair computers that are no longer being made or finding staff with the skills needed to maintain software written in old languages.

"You have a problem with the availability of expertise: to find a good Fortran programmer or someone that can work on the VMS [Virtual Memory System] OS is not easy today - you don't find many young people who want to do that," Merri said.


Today Mission Control Center has 550 workstations linked to 150 servers running 23 different sub-systems.

Since 1996, Nasa has used standardised Unix workstations in both the shuttle and space station flight control rooms, which system engineer Kluksdahl said has greatly simplified their running.

Before the 1996 revamp the flight control rooms relied upon a patchwork of incompatible computer hardware of varying ages, which needed custom-built interfaces to get them to work together.

"If you replaced one piece of it, you either had to redevelop the old interface [between the machines in the flight control room] for the new hardware or you had to replace the whole building at once.

"Because the machines were obsolete, procuring spare parts was difficult and it became almost impossible," Kluksdahl said, adding that Nasa staff had to hunt out spare parts on the second-hand computer market.

Comment: The simplicity of the Apollo computer is interesting. A simulator of the Eagle lander is available for XP


[BLANK] stands up to the UN

______ president tells UN to stay out of economics


_________ on Saturday criticized U.N. calls for increased "global governance" of the world's economy, saying the world body should leave that role to national governments.

The solution to dealing with the global economic crisis, _________ told the U.N. General Assembly, did not lie in "creating new governmental and supranational agencies, or in aiming at global governance of the world economy."

"On the contrary, this is the time for international organizations, including the United Nations, to reduce their expenditures, make their administrations thinner, and leave the solutions to the governments of member states," he said.

Comment: I wish I could fill in my President's name in the blank


Auto manufacturing quiz

Comment: This may surprise you ...

The US-sold Toyota Sequoia:

  • Where are the engines manufactured?
  • Where are the transmissions manufactured?
  • Where are the vehicles assembled?

The cars and trucks that are currently built in __________

From bad to worse!

Obama's Stimulus Made Economic Crisis Worse


“Obama did exactly the opposite of what should have been done,” Taleb said yesterday in Montreal in a speech as part of Canada’s Salon Speakers series. “He surrounded himself with people who exacerbated the problem. You have a person who has cancer and instead of removing the cancer, you give him tranquilizers. When you give tranquilizers to a cancer patient, they feel better but the cancer gets worse.”

Today, Taleb said, “total debt is higher than it was in 2008 and unemployment is worse.”

Comment: Plus brought out country to the brink financially, devalued the dollar, and encumbered generations to come!

Turn a Pogoplug into a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) web server

Turn a Pogoplug into a Fully-Featured Linux Web Server


Pogoplugs are great little storage devices, but they can do more than they let on. Let's take a look at how you can hack a Pogoplug into a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) web server.

Comment: Dan S .... thought this would interest you


FBI investigating 'Here you have' worm

FBI investigating 'Here you have' worm


Representatives from the FBI’s Miami field office spoke with IDG News Service this week seeking information on the hacker behind the worm. A hacker using the name Iraq Resistance has exchanged a number of e-mails with IDG over the past two weeks discussing the incident.

“Here you have” was a big deal in North America, temporarily gumming up e-mail systems in large organizations such as Disney, Proctor & Gamble and NASA. On the day it was unleashed it accounted for between 6 percent and 14 percent of all spam on the Internet, according to Cisco Systems.

Iraq Resistance has never revealed his (or her) identity, but there are a few clues.

His YouTube profile lists his location as Spain, but SecureWorks researcher Joe Stewart has analyzed the worm and believes Iraq Resistance is a Libyan hacker who has been trying to build support for a cyber-Jihad group called Tariq ibn Ziyad. The group’s stated goal is to break into systems at U.S. Army agencies.

A look at the IP addresses in Iraq Resistance’s e-mail messages shows he was using the mobile network belonging to Hutchison 3G UK, better known as 3, as well as proxy IP addresses used by the Opera Mini browser.

That doesn’t mean Iraq Resistance is in the U.K., however. He may have hacked into a computer that was using 3’s mobile network or simply purchased a SIM card used by the network while in the U.K.

Indeed, he implied as much in an e-mail message Thursday. “I can appear from wherever I want, so its hard to know where am I,” he wrote. “You must know that hackers can use lots of proxies or hacked computers to send messages from and I don’t need to say what I do.”

After Iraq Resistance was told his IP address made him appear to be in the U.K., he sent an e-mail from another address, this one belonging to a service provider in the U.S., Placentia Reliable Web Services. That IP address has been associated with malicious scripts, according to the Honeypot project, indicating that it is probably being used by hacked computers.

Timestamps in Iraq Resistance’s messages indicate he is in the UTC +3 time zone, which could mean he is based in Iraq, Saudi Arabia or East Africa. This is not the time zone used in Libya, however, where SecureWorks’ Stewart thinks he may be based.

Stewart says that 3’s network was also linked to a backdoor Trojan horse program used in the attack, but he doubts that Iraq Resistance is located in the U.K., which has extradition treaties with the U.S. It could be the case, he said in an e-mail, “but I think it would be risky for him.”

Comment: Previously mentioned here: E-Mail Worm Hits Offices Worldwide

A lesson about Title Insurance

Lafayette-based Jaguar Group is accused in a $3.4 million Ponzi scam


When Rose bought his home, his lender JPMorgan Chase Bank paid an entity related to Jaguar, which failed to forward the money to Citywide. A promissory note was not presented, meaning there was no evidence the bank had paid the proper party.

"People are at risk if they don't have the note brought to the table," Sweetbaum said. "People don't realize that the law says they have to get the promissory note. That doesn't happen anymore. People don't know where the notes are."

Citywide president Marty Schmitz declined to comment because of pending litigation, saying only, "We don't anticipate any losses."

There have been a number of similar cases nationwide, including at least 20 in Colorado, where insolvent mortgage companies have received payoffs from borrowers but have failed to pass the money along to the investor to whom they assigned their interest in the property.

The common practice for closing a home sale is for the title company to request a current loan payment coupon from the seller or ask to whom the monthly payments are made, a method that generally leads to the holder of the loan or the loan servicers who would have the authority to provide payoff information.

Comment: So the buyer goes to the closing and expects that the check from his lender will pay off the previous mortgage holder. In this case the money was fraudulently misdirected. Title insurance saved the day for him. More on Title Insurance here.

Not commonly know is that there is buyers title insurance and lenders title insurance. The first protects the buyer, the later the lender. Let's say you buy a home for $ 300,000 and put $ 100,000 down. The lender's title insurance protects the Mortgager for $ 200,000. Most people only buy lender's title insurance (which is required by the lender. In the case of a cash sale, eg. a retired person who has fully paid off his previous home, sells it and has cash proceeds to buy another; no lender's title insurance is required (because there is no lender!). Buyers beware ... have buyer's title insurance to avoid financial risk!


Phone book opt out


New Website To Opt Out of Getting Phone Books


The consumer has to click on the opt-out option for each of the phone book providers on the website and then fill out an online form that asks for the phone number, mailing address and email address. The website planners say this is only for confirmation purposes and that information is kept private

Comment: With Google and Dexknows who needs a Phone book?

C-sections and qualifications for the Presidency

In a Purdue University classroom, they were discussing the qualifications to be President of the United States. It was pretty simple. The candidate must be a natural born citizen of at least 35 years of age.

However, one girl in the class immediately started in on how unfair was the requirement to be a natural born citizen.

In short, her opinion was that this requirement prevented many capable individuals from becoming president.

The class was taking it in and letting her rant, and not many jaws hit the floor when she wrapped up her final argument by stating.....

"What makes a natural born citizen any more qualified to lead this
country than one born by C-section?"

Comment: Sent to me by Gary Blessman who added: "Yep, these are the same kinds of 18-year-olds that vote in our elections!". One wonders whether she was blond!

Warren Buffett: "We're still in a recession"

Warren Buffett: "We're still in a recession"


Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said the U.S. economy remains in recession, disputing this week's assessment by a leading arbiter of economic activity that the downturn ended more than a year ago.

"We're still in a recession," Buffett told CNBC television in an interview broadcast on Thursday. "We're not gonna be out of it for a while, but we will get out."

On Monday, the National Bureau of Economic Research said the world's largest economy ended an 18-month recession in June 2009, but cautioned that its assessment did not mean normal activity had resumed.

Buffett said he defines a recession differently from the NBER, saying it ends when real per capita gross domestic product returns to its pre-downturn level.

Comment: Whether one calls where we now are "in a recession" or not, it sure feels like it to the 9% unemployed (and that number is understated!)

Blockbuster's beginnings

The Rise and Fall of Blockbuster


Before Blockbuster became a video store behemoth—and, now, a firm that has filed for bankruptcy—it was, in fact, an oil company.

That's right—if Blockbuster were a movie, the opening scene of The Blockbuster Story would be set 25 years ago in the Dallas offices of an oil-equipment provider called Cooks Data Services.

Cooks Data, a supplier of tools and computer software to the Texas oil and gas industry, had been founded in 1978 by a man named David Cook. Cook—who Fortune Small Business once called the video world's Pete Best—was an entrepreneur with a penchant for building databases. After the collapse of the oil market in the mid-eighties, Cook, at the urging of his wife, decided to try his luck in the video rental market. He opened the first Blockbuster store in Dallas in October of 1985.


From the beginning, Blockbuster was an immediate success -- and soon devised a model that would revolutionize the industry: With more than 8,000 VHS tapes in more than 6,500 titles, Cook's Blockbuster store was three times larger than its nearest competitor. Unlike other video chains that stored movies behind the counter, Blockbuster displayed titles on shelves. Cook kept his doors open later than traditional video stores. He used a computer system and scanner to track of tapes and ease checkouts. And in perhaps the most crucial move for future growth, Cook determined that Blockbuster would be a family-friendly destination, and he refused to stock adult films.

Cook, realizing he had something powerful in his hands, decided to completely abandon the oil industry, renaming the company Blockbuster Entertainment and issuing a new ticker on Nasdaq.

Comment: My Blockbuster story is that one of my kids was our own Blockbuster card and would rent movies and not return them on time. Even after I had his name taken off the account, I would be billed for his late returns. So finally I canceled it altogether.

Jean-Paul Sartre at a Cuban lemonade stand

George Will: Cuba's Castro learns what most of us already knew


Sartre's pilgrimage took him, with Castro, into Cuba's countryside. There they stopped at a roadside stand for lemonade and an epiphany.

The lemonade was warm, so Castro got hot, telling the waitress that the inferior drink "reveals a lack of revolutionary consciousness." She said the refrigerator was broken. Castro "growled" (Sartre's approving description) that she should "tell your people in charge that if they don't take care of their problems, they will have problems with me." Instantly Sartre understood "what I called 'direct democracy'":

"Between the waitress and Castro, an immediate, secret understanding was established. She let it be seen by her tone, by her smiles, by a shrug of the shoulders, that she was without illusion."

Comment: Almost sounds like the start of a joke: "Sartre and Castro were at a lemonade stand and ..."

For more on Sartre!

A home ... "a ball and chain"

The American Dream of Home Ownership Has Become a Nightmare


Culturally a decent house has been a symbol of middle-class family life. Practically, it has been a secure shelter for the children, along with access to a good free education. Financially it has been regarded as a safe store of value, a shield against the vagaries of the economy, and a long-term retirement asset. Indeed, for decades, a house has been the largest asset on the balance sheet of the average American family. In recent years, it provided boatloads of money to homeowners through recourse to cash-out refinancing, in effect an equity withdrawal from their once rapidly appreciating home values.

These days the American dream of home ownership has turned into a nightmare for millions of families. They wake every day to the reality of a horrible decline in the value of the home that has meant so much to them. The pressure to meet mortgage payments on homes that have lost value has been especially shocking—and unjust—for the millions of unemployed through no fault of their own. For the baby boomer generation, a home is now seen not as the cornerstone of advancement but a ball and chain, restricting their ability and their mobility to move and seek out a job at another location. They just cannot afford to abandon the equity they have in their homes—and they can't sell in this miserable market.

American homeowners have experienced an unprecedented decline in their equity net of mortgage debt. The seemingly never-ending fall in prices has brought an average decline of at least 30 percent.

Comment: For many it is blessing not a ball and chain. Of course if one buys a home (say in 2005 in Florida) for $ 350,000 and now 5 years later they are forced to sell and the house is worth $ 100K less; that's a ball and chain! Our own home per Zillow is worth 18% less than it's "value" at the end of 2005. But fortunate for us we did not buy it in 2005 AND we are not selling it in 2010.

Housing Buy - Rent calculator

Is It Better to Buy or Rent?

Comment: One of the nicest ones I've seen on the Web


Time to "run away from President O'Carter"

The Carter-Obama Comparisons Grow - Walter Mondale himself sees a parallel


Walter Mondale, Mr. Carter's vice president, told The New Yorker this week that anxious and angry voters in the late 1970s "just turned against us—same as with Obama." As the polls turned against his administration, Mr. Mondale recalled that Mr. Carter "began to lose confidence in his ability to move the public." Democrats on Capitol Hill are now saying this is happening to Mr. Obama.

Mr. Mondale says it's time for the president "to get rid of those teleprompters and connect" with voters. Another of Mr. Obama's clear errors has been to turn over the drafting of key legislation to the Democratic Congress: "That doesn't work even when you own Congress," he said. "You have to ride 'em."

Mr. Carter himself is heightening comparisons with his own presidency by publishing his White House diaries this week. "I overburdened Congress with an array of controversial and politically costly requests," he said on Monday. The parallels to Mr. Obama's experience are clear.

Comparisons between the two men were made frequently during the 2008 campaign, but in a favorable way. Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz, for instance, told Fox News in August 2008 that Mr. Obama's "rhetoric is more like Jimmy Carter's than any other Democratic president in recent memory." Syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg noted more recently that Mr. Obama, like Mr. Carter in his 1976 campaign, "promised a transformational presidency, a new accommodation with religion, a new centrism, a changed tone."

But within a few months, liberals were already finding fault with his rhetoric. "He's the great earnest bore at the dinner party," wrote Michael Wolff, a contributor to Vanity Fair. "He's cold; he's prickly; he's uncomfortable; he's not funny; and he's getting awfully tedious. He thinks it's all about him." That sounds like a critique of Mr. Carter.


Liberals increasingly can't avoid making connections between Mr. Carter's political troubles and those of Mr. Obama. In July, MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked his guests if Democrats up for re-election will "run away from President O'Carter." After much laughter, John Heileman of New York Magazine quipped "Calling Dr. Freud." To which Mr. Matthews, a former Carter speechwriter, sighed "I know."

Pat Caddell, who was Mr. Carter's pollster while he was in the White House, thinks some comparisons between the two men are overblown. But he notes that any White House that is sinking in the polls takes on a "bunker mentality" that leads the president to become isolated and consult with fewer and fewer people from the outside. Mr. Caddell told me that his Democratic friends think that's happening to Mr. Obama—and that the president's ability to pull himself out of a political tailspin is hampered by his resistance to seek out fresh thinking.

Comment: President Obama can give a great stump speech, but people are tired of hearing it again and again.

Pogoplug for Business


  • I previously mentioned Pogoplug

  • New (and nicer looking) models have been released
  • This past weekend I upgraded to Pogoplug Biz - see product comparison. Which supports

    • Multiple users
    • Multiple platforms (Linux, Windows, and Mac) (as does the regular Pogoplug
    • Access from any computer ... even an IPod, IPad, or IPhone
    • RSS feeds off a file share (I used it for a photo feed. Upload a photo and a reader picks up the feed)
    • Upload via email (see the 2nd photo above)

Also there are now 4 USB ports! One can be used for remote printing (we have not tried this as we have wireless printing on our LAN at home).

Hooked up to our Pogoplug ... a .5 terabyte drive for our MP3s, Photos, Word, Excel and other documents.

Popoplug would be a good option for a church, business, or home. I highly recommend it!

The official site is here. Check out the product demo video. Setup is incredibly easy!

Top 5 Banks

Top 5 U.S. banks


Assets Total equity Tier 1

in billions ratio*

Bank of America $2.3 trillion $233 11%
Charlotte, N.C.

J.P. Morgan Chase $2.0 trillion $171 12%
New York

Citigroup $1.9 trillion $155 12%
New York

Wells Fargo & Co. $1.2 trillion $121 10%
San Francisco

U.S. Bancorp $283 billion $29 10%

*Compares bank capital to risk of its assets. Well-capitalized banks have a Tier 1 Capital Ratio of 6 percent or more.

Comment: More on US Bank

Big deal ahead for U.S. Bancorp?


Since Davis took the helm of U.S. Bancorp in 2007, the Minneapolis-based bank has acquired four small banks and thrifts with combined assets of $35 billion -- far less than some of his big-bank counterparts. Davis avoided a major deal while Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo & Co. and Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services all made headline-grabbing acquisitions that, in some cases, enabled them to double in size.

Yet even Davis, a CEO known for his caution, seems to be warming to the idea of a larger transaction. At a conference last week, Davis promised investors he would not miss an opportunity to do a deal if a good one came along. "If it's small or big, if it's bank or payments or trust, we will not miss a single opportunity," he declared.

Though Davis later tempered his remarks, saying he would "be just fine" if U.S. Bancorp did not do a major deal, his comments set off speculation that a large transaction might happen by year's end. Wall Street analysts rattled off a long list of banks with depressed market values that would make for likely takeover targets. They include SunTrust Banks Inc. of Atlanta, Regions Financial Corp. of Birmingham, Ala., KeyCorp of Cleveland, Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati and Zions Bancorp of Salt Lake City.

Comment: We've had 2 banking relationships with US Bank. 1st was a Visa Buxx card that we used to give money to our daughter when she was in college; 2nd was our mortgage. Positive experiences with both.

Steering Error Sank the Titanic?

Author Claims Steering Error Sank the Titanic


Titanic was launched at a time when the world was moving from sailing ships to steam ships. My grandfather, like the other senior officers on Titanic, had started out on sailing ships. And on sailing ships, they steered by what is known as ’tiller orders’ which means that if you want to go one way, you push the tiller the other way.

It sounds counterintuitive now, but that is what tiller orders were. Whereas with ‘rudder orders,’ which is what steam ships used, it is like driving a car. You steer the way you want to go. It gets more confusing because, even though Titanic was a steam ship, at that time on the North Atlantic they were still using tiller orders. Therefore Murdoch gave the command in tiller orders, but Hitchins, in a panic, reverted to the rudder orders he had been trained in. They only had four minutes to change course and by the time Murdoch spotted Hitchins’s mistake and then tried to rectify it, it was too late.

Comment: Interesting


Apple does not fall far from the tree!

Rep. Jackson: I did nothing wrong but 'deeply sorry' over 'social acquaintance


U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said Tuesday he is “deeply sorry” for having “disappointed some supporters” regarding his relationship with a female “social acquaintance.”

But the congressman vowed to stay in office in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times report that a major political fund-raiser has told federal authorities that Jackson directed him to offer former Gov. Rod Blagojevich millions of dollars in campaign cash in return for an appointment for Jackson to the U.S. Senate, to succeed President Obama.


The Sun-Times reported on Tuesday that sources said Nayak told authorities that on Oct. 8, 2008, Jackson directed him to offer Blagojevich $6 million in exchange for the Senate appointment.

Sources said Nayak also told authorities that Jackson asked him to pay to fly a Washington, D.C., restaurant hostess named Giovana Huidobro — described as a “social acquaintance” of the Democratic congressman — to Chicago to visit him. Nayak did so twice, according to the sources.

Jackson didn’t address Nayak’s allegation involving payment for those flights, which could raise ethical questions under the U.S. House of Representatives’ gift ban act.

But Jackson acknowledged knowing Huidobro and that the relationship was something he an his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson, have had to deal with.

“The reference to a social acquaintance is a private and personal matter between me and my wife that was handled some time ago,” Jackson said in his statement. “I ask that you respect our privacy.

Comment: He learned "the shakedown" from Daddy ... also apparently the womanizing!

Machinations in the Vatican Bank

Money Laundering Inquiry Touches Vatican Bank


Italian monetary authorities said Tuesday that they had impounded $30 million from the Vatican bank and placed its top two officers under investigation in connection with a money-laundering inquiry. The announcement amounted to another potential storm confronting the papacy of Benedict XVI, who is struggling with the effects of a priestly abuse scandal.

In a statement, the Vatican expressed “perplexity and surprise” that the bank’s chairman, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, and its director general, Paolo Cipriani, had been placed under investigation. It added that it had the “greatest trust” in the two men and that it had been working for greater transparency in its finances.

The investigation is the first into the Vatican bank since the early 1980s, when it was implicated in the collapse of an Italian bank whose chairman, nicknamed “God’s banker,” was mysteriously found dead, hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London.

Italian authorities have historically shied away from investigating the Vatican’s finances — owing as much to a sense of deference to the church as to the complex relationship between Italy and the Holy See, a sovereign state.

“The era of omertà is over,” said Gianluigi Nuzzi, the author of the 2009 best seller “Vaticano S.p.A.,” using the Italian term for the code of silence. S.p.A. stands for joint-stock company in Italian.

The investigation was undertaken because of a new practice by the Bank of Italy. Aimed at preventing financing of terrorist groups and money laundering, it requires all foreign banks operating in Italy, including the Vatican bank, to provide detailed information about the origins of the money they transfer.

Officials said Mr. Gotti Tedeschi and Mr. Cipriani were under investigation for having failed to adequately explain the origins of funds transferred from one account held by the Vatican bank to two others it holds. They said that the seizure of money was preventive and that neither man had been formally charged or placed under arrest. In the coming months, a judge is expected to rule on whether to proceed with the investigation.

Comment: Life imitating art - Godfather 3. Plot point:

Michael busies himself with the biggest deal of his career: he has recently bought up enough stock in Immobiliare, an international real estate holding company known as "the world's biggest landlord", to control six of the 13 members of the company's board of directors. He now makes a tender offer to buy the Vatican's 25% interest in the company, which will give him majority control. Knowing that Archbishop Gilday, who serves as head of the Vatican Bank, has run up a massive deficit, he offers to pay $600,000,000 to the Bank in exchange for the shares.

The US is "engaging in Enron accounting"

US Government 'hiding true amount of debt'


THE actual figure of the US' national debt is much higher than the official sum of $US13.4 trillion ($14.3 trillion) given by the Congressional Budget Office, according to analysts cited on Sunday by the New York Post.

"The Government is lying about the amount of debt. It is engaging in Enron accounting," said Laurence Kotlikoff, an economist at Boston University and co-author of The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know about America's Economic Future.

"The problem is we're seeing an explosion in spending," added Andrew Moylan, director of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union.

In 1980, the debt - the accumulated red ink incurred by the Federal Government - was $US909 billion.

This represented some 33 per cent of gross domestic product, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Thirty years later, based on this year's second-quarter numbers, the CBO said the debt was $US13.4 trillion, or 92 per cent of GDP.

The CBO estimates the debt will be at $US16.5 trillion in two years, or 100.6 per cent of GDP.

But these numbers are incomplete.

They do not count off-budget obligations such as required spending for Social Security and Medicare, whose programs represent a balloon payment for the Government as more Americans retire and collect benefits.

In the case of Social Security, beginning in 2016, the US Government will be paying out more than it is collecting in taxes.

Without basic measures - such as payment cuts or higher payroll taxes - the system could be on the road to bankruptcy, according to officials.

"Without changes," wrote Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, "by 2037 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted. There will be enough money only to pay about $US0.76 for each dollar of benefits."

Mr Kotlikoff and Mr Moylan agree US national debt is much more than the official $US13.4 trillion number, but they disagree over how to add up the exact number.

Mr Kotlikoff says the debt is actually $US200 trillion.

Mr Moylan says the number is likely about $US60 trillion.

Comment: Image source. The image is dated .. need to plug in Obama, Pelosi, and Reid. But you get the idea.

Carter's Superiority complex

Carter: 'Probably superior' to other ex-presidents

What he said:

"I feel that my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents."

What he meant:

"What I meant was, for 27 years the Carter Center has provided me with superior opportunities to do good."

Comment: He was not as distant from people as Obama. But his administration did not accomplish much.


Be thankful I don't take it all. 'Cause I’m the taxman

UK Proposes All Paychecks Go to the State First


The UK's tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.

The proposal by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) stresses the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid.

Currently employers withhold tax and pay the government, providing information at the end of the year, a system know as Pay as You Earn (PAYE). There is no option for those employees to refuse withholding and individually file a tax return at the end of the year.

If the real-time information plan works, it further proposes that employers hand over employee salaries to the government first.

"The next step could be to use (real-time) information as the basis for centralizing the calculation and deduction of tax," HMRC said in a July discussion paper.

HMRC described the plan as "radical" as it would be a huge change from the current system that has been largely unchanged for 66 years.

Comment: Consider the lyrics of the Taxman!

Economic tidbits

Recession Ended in June 2009


The business-cycle dating committee met by phone on Sunday and came to the determination. “In determining that a trough occurred in June 2009, the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity. Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began in that month,” the committee said in a statement. The 2007-2009 recession is the longest in the post-WWII period.

The decision by the NBER means that any future downturn in the economy would be considered a new recession and not a continuation of the recession that began in 2007.

Comments: Probably accurate (the official ending of the recession), but it sure does not feel like a recovery! Eg: The very high unemployment, the underemployment, the chronically unemployed, etc.

Defaults Account for Most of Pared Down Debt


The sharp decline in U.S. household debt over the past couple years has conjured up images of people across the country tightening their belts in order to pay down their mortgages and credit-card balances. A closer look, though, suggests a different picture: Some are defaulting, while the rest aren’t making much of a dent in their debts at all.

Comment: Defaulting debt may look good for the borrower, but for the lender it is just a write-off.

What Obama could learn from Russia and Cuba

Russia to cut 100,000 bureaucrat jobs by 2013


Russia plans to slash 100,000 bureaucrat jobs by 2013, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said on Monday, in a drive to reduce costs and modernize the country's bloated bureaucracy.

"We expect that in the three years more than 100,000 federal civil servant jobs will be cut," Kudrin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.

Comment: But he won't! (For Cuba case click here)


They "morphed with Democrats into one party called the Demopublicans"

What on Earth Happened to the New York GOP?


A dozen years ago, Republicans held a majority of New York's statewide elected offices and controlled the state Senate. Now they are a hapless minority. What happened?


"Republicans morphed with Democrats into one party called the Demopublicans," says Rob Astorino, who last November defeated an incumbent Democrat with 58% of the vote to become county executive in tony Westchester County, which includes Scarsdale and White Plains. "Voters couldn't detect much difference and didn't see most Republicans as a vehicle for reform and change."

Comment: Enter Carl P. Paladino.


The economics of 1 World Trade Center

Sentiment Trumped Numbers in Ground Zero Skyscraper


With an expected completion date of 2013, 1 World Trade Center is the most expensive skyscraper ever constructed in the United States, with a price tag currently estimated at $3.3 billion. By contrast, the spanking new Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan cost about $2 billion. That is pretty much the going rate for building new skyscrapers in New York City. Just to break even, 1 World Trade Center will require rents far higher than the going rate in Midtown, much less downtown New York, where the building is located and where rents are considerably lower.


It turns out that there are plenty of people, including former New York State officials and New York City developers, who believe that 1 World Trade Center is folly. “An emotionally induced misuse of money,” said one such person. “You can only understand this as a political statement,” said another. “It makes no sense as a commercial real estate endeavor.”


When the twin towers went down, New York City lost 10 million square feet of office space. But the initial impetus to rebuild had less to do with reclaiming that lost office space and more to do with showing the terrorists that we wouldn’t be cowed. Over time, however, as the rebuilding got bogged down in disputes over design and financing, it gradually became clear that the city didn’t really need the 10 million square feet it had lost on 9/11. It had a glut of office space. Rents were falling. Especially after the bubble burst in 2007, commercial real estate developers struggled.


One World Trade Center is going to cost somewhere on the order of $1,300 a square foot to build, more than double the cost of most new skyscrapers. And because it is what’s called Class A office space, meaning that everything is top of the line, maintaining the building is also going to be very expensive. My real estate sources say they believe that the Port Authority will need to charge $130 a square foot to break even on the building.

But of course the Port Authority can’t possibly charge anything close to that — not in this real estate market or any market in the foreseeable future. The average rent for a downtown high-rise is $55 to $60 a square foot. Even if the Port Authority were able to charge higher, Midtown rents, it would still only be getting, at best, $80 a square foot.

Comment: Interesting read and some things I had never considered. In my mind they had to rebuild to make a statement. A giant hole would have been to admit defeat! An emotional topic. Thoughts

The Tea Party: "The yardstick, and the clock"

The populist movement is more a critique of the GOP than a wing of it.


So far, the tea party is not a wing of the GOP but a critique of it. This was demonstrated in spectacular fashion when GOP operatives dismissed tea party-backed Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. The Republican establishment is "the reason we even have the Tea Party movement," shot back columnist and tea party enthusiast Andrea Tantaros in the New York Daily News. It was the Bush administration that "ran up deficits" and gave us "open borders" and "Medicare Part D and busted budgets."


I see two central reasons for the tea party's rise. The first is the yardstick, and the second is the clock. First, the yardstick. Imagine that over at the 36-inch end you've got pure liberal thinking—more and larger government programs, a bigger government that costs more in the many ways that cost can be calculated. Over at the other end you've got conservative thinking—a government that is growing smaller and less demanding and is less expensive. You assume that when the two major parties are negotiating bills in Washington, they sort of lay down the yardstick and begin negotiations at the 18-inch line. Each party pulls in the direction it wants, and the dominant party moves the government a few inches in their direction.

But if you look at the past half century or so you have to think: How come even when Republicans are in charge, even when they're dominant, government has always gotten larger and more expensive? It's always grown! It's as if something inexorable in our political reality—with those who think in liberal terms dominating the establishment, the media, the academy—has always tilted the starting point in negotiations away from 18 inches, and always toward liberalism, toward the 36-inch point.

Democrats on the Hill or in the White House try to pull it up to 30, Republicans try to pull it back to 25. A deal is struck at 28. Washington Republicans call it victory: "Hey, it coulda been 29!" But regular conservative-minded or Republican voters see yet another loss. They could live with 18. They'd like eight. Instead it's 28.

For conservatives on the ground, it has often felt as if Democrats (and moderate Republicans) were always saying, "We should spend a trillion dollars," and the Republican Party would respond, "No, too costly. How about $700 billion?" Conservatives on the ground are thinking, "How about nothing? How about we don't spend more money but finally start cutting."


The second thing is the clock. Here is a great virtue of the tea party: They know what time it is. It's getting late. If we don't get the size and cost of government in line now, we won't be able to. We're teetering on the brink of some vast, dark new world—states and cities on the brink of bankruptcy, the federal government too. The issue isn't "big spending" anymore. It's ruinous spending that they fear will end America as we know it, as they promised it to their children.

So there's a sense that dramatic action is needed, and a sense of profound urgency. Add drama to urgency and you get the victory of a tea party-backed candidate.

Comment: I appreciate Noonan's analysis. The Republican party has failed to reign in government. When in power, they act like Democrats


On: "insubordination toward government that knows everything"

A nickel for big government


The National Recovery Administration was an administrative mechanism for the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which envisioned regulating the economy back to health by using, among other things, codes of fair competition. The theory was that by promoting the cartelization of labor by encouraging unions, and the cartelization of industries by codes that would inhibit competition, prices would be propped up and prosperity would return.

Soon there were more than 500 NRA codes covering the manufacture of products from lightning rods to dog leashes to women's corsets.


Pick at random any three letters from the alphabet, put them in any order, and you will have an acronym designating a federal agency we can do without.

Comment: Excellent read on Big Government. More on the National Recovery Administration. Not to be confused with the good NRA!


France: "stay on the job until 62 to collect a full state pension"

France Makes Crucial Move to Raise Age of Retirement


Despite vocal protests, French lawmakers approved President Nicolas Sarkozy's sweeping retirement reforms Wednesday, including a highly contested measure to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62.

The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, voted 329-233 to pass the broad retirement package, clearing a crucial first legislative hurdle and sending it onto the Senate for debate starting Oct. 1.

The retirement reforms are one of the pillars of Sarkozy's conservative agenda and a prime target of France's powerful unions. Wednesday's vote puts France on track to become the latest European Union country to require workers to stay on the job longer because of a deficit-plagued pension system.


The central and most controversial reform requires workers to stay on the job until 62 to collect a full state pension.

Even then, France would still have one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe. In contrast, Germany recently raised its retirement age from 65 to 67 to offset a shrinking, aging population, and the U.S. is also gradually raising its retirement age to 67.

Comment: In the US, retire at 62 and one's Social Security is 75% of what it would be at full retirement.

In praise of OpenDNS

Simplifying the Lives of Web Users


... the topic is your Web browsing, and the magic wand is a free service called OpenDNS.

You know how every Web site has an address, like www.google.com or www.nytimes.com? Turns out that’s just a fakeout. It’s a convenient crutch for you, the human with limited brain capacity.

Behind the scenes, the actual address is a string of numbers (called an I.P. address, for Internet protocol) that looks something like this: (That happens to be Google’s address.)

Nobody can remember those addresses, though they are no longer than a phone number, so the Web’s thoughtful designers came up with a secondary system: plain-English addresses like www.whatever.com. When you type that into your browser, a computer at your Internet provider performs a quick lookup. “Aha,” it says to itself in its little digital way, “you just typed www.google.com. What you really want, of course, is Please hold; I’ll connect you.”

That, in a nutshell, is how D.N.S. works. (It stands for domain name system, in case that helps.)

Unfortunately, from time to time, your Internet provider’s D.N.S. computer goes down. To you, it seems that the Web itself has gone out, because you can’t pull up any sites at all. In December 2008, for example, 1.2 million Los Angeles citizens thought that the entire Web had gone offline, because of a crashed Time Warner D.N.S. computer.

That story was gleefully provided by OpenDNS, the one-of-a-kind company with a killer idea: to provide a free, alternative D.N.S. service that works better than your Internet provider’s. Faster, more reliably and with more features. You don’t pay anything, sign up for anything or install anything. All you have to do is make one change to your network settings, and you get all of these benefits:

NO D.N.S. CRASHES The company claims that in its five-year history, its D.N.S. computers have had zero downtime. In fact, had you been using OpenDNS in 2008, the Time Warner crash would not have affected you at all. You’d have kept right on surfing while your next-door neighbors were gnashing their teeth and playing board games.

A similar feature called SmartCache lets you pull up individual Web sites even when, because of broken addresses, they are unavailable to everyone else.

FASTER PAGES To speed up the conversion of plain-English addresses to numeric ones, every Internet provider caches, or preloads, the addresses of thousands of the most popular Web sites. This trick can save you microseconds or fractions of seconds with every page you open. When you visit a site that’s not on that “most popular” list, though, you may wait a bit.

But OpenDNS caches the entire Web. Every Web site appears slightly faster. If you don’t actually feel the difference, you can measure it using Google’s free Namebench program. It told me that OpenDNS was performing that looking-up business 14.8 percent faster than what I’d been getting before.

TYPO CORRECTIONS As long as OpenDNS is inserting itself between you and the Web, it can do you some favors. One is correcting typos. If you type “nytimes.cmo” or “wikipedia.og,” for example, OpenDNS quietly and instantly corrects the typo and sends you where you wanted to go. Most of the time, you never even realize your fingers misfired.

Unfortunately, this feature auto-fixes only the suffix (.com, .org, .gov and so on). If you type “dinseyworld.com” or “wikipeida.org,” you’re on your own.

PHISHING PROTECTION Phishing is the Internet scheme where you get a fake e-mail note from your bank about a problem with your account. When you click the link to correct the problem, you get a fake Web site, designed to look just like your bank’s — and by logging in, you unwittingly supply your name and password to the bad guys.

OpenDNS intercepts and blocks your efforts to visit the fake sites. It works like a charm.

SHORTCUTS Web address shortcuts are short, memorable abbreviations for your favorite sites. You can set up “nyt” so that, when you type it into your address bar, you go to a much longer Web address like http://www.nytimes.com/pages/todayspaper/index.html.

Shortcuts are great. There’s limited space on your bookmarks toolbar, and the bookmarks menu is clumsy for people who like to keep their hands on the keyboard. And unlike the similar feature in Firefox, OpenDNS’s shortcuts work in any browser on any computer or phone in the house.

PARENTAL CONTROLS The latest OpenDNS feature is site-blocking. Here again, having an account means that you can create a setting that applies to every computer in the house — and block your choice of 57 categories of Web sites, including Pornography, Nudity, Lingerie, Instant Messaging, File Sharing, Game and Humor. (Honestly. What kind of parent would block humor?)

How can OpenDNS possibly track every Web site on earth and put it into the right 57 categories? It doesn’t. Its fans do. Anyone can submit a site to the master database of categorized sites, whereupon other people vote on its placement. This Wikipedia-style crowdsourcing is ingenious, and, as far as my testing was concerned, bulletproof.

(Teenagers often subscribe to mailing lists that publish the addresses of proxies and anonymizers, special sites that they use to get around traditional Web blockers installed by schools or parents. But I was amused to learn that the engineers at OpenDNS subscribe to those lists, too. They block the proxies as fast as they are created.)

Comment: Previous posts . I've been using OpenDNS since July 2007!

Time to buy a home?

10 Reasons To Buy a Home


  1. You can get a good deal
  2. Mortgages are cheap
  3. You'll save on taxes
  4. It'll be yours
  5. You'll get a better home. In many parts of the country it can be really hard to find a good rental
  6. It offers some inflation protection
  7. It's risk capital. No, your home isn't the stock market and you shouldn't view it as the way to get rich. But if the economy does surprise us all and start booming, sooner or later real estate prices will head up again, too.
  8. It's forced savings. If you can rent an apartment for $2,000 month instead of buying one for $2,400 a month, renting may make sense. But will you save that $400 for your future?
  9. There is a lot to choose from
  10. Sooner or later, the market will clear. Demand and supply will meet.

Comments: I question the validity of # 6 and 7. # 8 is a wrong reason to buy. # 10 may be later rather than sooner. My advice, if you can project staying in that home for at least 7 years consider it.

Plymouth: South Shore Drive Bridge Replacement

Comment: We cross this rustic bridge to and from church. It will be rustic no more

South Shore Drive Bridge Replacement


The South Shore Drive project is located from 10th Avenue to the City of Medicine Lake and from the City of Medicine Lake to the cul-de-sac, and 13th Avenue from South Shore Drive to Nathan Lane.

The improvements will include a full depth mill and overlay for this project. A full depth mill and overlay will remove the entire bituminous surface, between 4-6 inches in the area, to the existing gravel section that is between 17 to 37 inches deep. It is proposed to install and grade approximately two inches of recycled aggregate material to direct storm water runoff off of the new street and to bring the new street to the proper elevations. Finally, it is proposed to install four inches of bituminous on the aggregate material. In most cases the street widths will be installed to match the existing widths, which are generally 22 to 25 feet wide, with some areas between 33 and 40 feet wide.

Map - Street view

Western Sky Financial

Western Sky Financial

Comment: APR = 194.70% . For the truly desperate!