Monday, December 29, 2008

Why does Hamas want Israel to bomb Gaza?

Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel. Granted the rockets are home made and not very powerful, but still, bombarding your neighbor has always been an act of war. The Israelis put up with the bombardment for a few days while asking Hamas to cease and desist. They don't, and the Israelis call in their air force to do a little bombing to send Hamas a message.
Hamas has got to know that firing rockets into Israel is always going to provoke Israeli retaliation. That means that Hamas wants Israel to bomb them. But why? Surely the Gaza strip population is as radicalized as they are ever going to get, they don't need another sirstrike to get them psyched up. Unless Hamas is stuck on stupid (really stuck hard) they know Gaza can't beat Israel in any kind of fight. The Israelis out number them and the Israeli population is highly educated, highly motivated, well organized and well armed. Picking a fight with Israel means certain defeat for Gaza and Hamas.
Can Hamas be stupid enough to think that Israeli airstrikes will get other Arab countries, Eygpt, Saudi, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan to come to their aid? Or the Europeans? Do they crave expressions of international sympathy enough to take casualties? Do they think the incoming Obama administration, already up to its ass in alligators, is going to take their side?
So what is really going on?

Flash, Bang, Zap, and the lights go out

Was just sitting at my desk this morning minding my own business when Flash and Bang get my attention. Loud and bright. I look out the window and see the power pole on the road burst into flames. Followed by more flashing and banging. This pole is serious. I dial 911. Franconia Police are first on the scene with Franconia Fire Dept a minute or two later. Pole is still burning, and gives a tremendous flash and another big bang to welcome the firemen. More smoke. Since the juice is still on (my lights are burning even though my service entrance comes off the burning pole) everyone decides to wait for the power company (PSNH) to show up and turn off the power.
PSNH finally shows up after an hour. Pole is still burning on top. They get the juice off, and for extra safety the linemen connect a shorting cable across all three hot wires, before they take the cherry picker up. The linemen borrow a fire extinquisher from the firemen and put the pole fire out. By this time it has burned the pole halfway in two, below the top set of cross arms.
They don't have a replacement pole, that's handled by Fairpoint Communications (the telephone company). So, since the pole is only burned at the top, they decide to just lower all the crossarms below the burned spot. Cause of fire, one of the hot wires came loose from the insulator and touched the pole and arced to ground.
Four hours later we get the juice back on. That does put some life into a Monday.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


"The United States has, for example, had trouble recently with its national leadership. One president was assassinated for reasons not yet known which we prefer not to ask about. Another president resigned to avoid impeachment. A more recent president from Hollywood lived a fantasy life, lying to himself and the public to mek us feel good, while creating an underclass beneath our democracy and ending the Cold War with the Soviet Union".
From the introduction of "China, A new History" by John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman, copyright 2006.
After displaying such a balanced view of their own society, what spin are they going to place on a foriegn society? (I haven't read far enough yet to judge) Both authors are Harvard professors. With flakes like this on the faculty I wonder what kind of education Harvard students get these days?

Global Warming returns to Cannon

It's 55 outside and last week's two feet of snow is melting. There is nothing drearier than a ski resort melting out. Especial during Christmas week.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Save Money, Shut down the SEC

The SEC was created during the great depression to regulate the stock market and prevent the great depression for ever happening again. It has clearly failed in that mission. It failed to investigate the Bernie Madoff swindle dispite allegations of fraud going back ten years. It has created Sarbanes-Oxley regulations onerous enough to drive business off shore to London to avoid them.
Since it doesn't work, harms the economy, and costs $1 billion dollars a year to operate, let's just shut it down.
While we are at it, we could shut down the CIA too. They don't work,they failed to warn of 9/11, claimed that Saddam had nukes, and have harmed the war on terror thru a series of treasonous leaks. And attempted to destabilize the Bush Administration thru the Valerie Plame affair. All the real intel comes from NSA any how. Why do we keep funding those losers?

Stimulate the economy, fund fusion research

Fusion burns hydrogen, yielding helium, an inert gas of some commercial value. The oceans are 20% hydrogen by weight, so we will never run out of fuel. No radioactive wastes. No carbon emissions, if that is important to you. Fusion research has been ongoing for the last 50 years with little success so far.
Now two small projects, the Polywell project and the Fusion General project might produce workable fusion reactors. Both projects are small and cheap. A few million dollars of funding would accelerate both projects.
With the rewards so great, and the costs so small, the funding is worthwhile, even if the odds of success are unknown. It's a better use of taxpayer money than bailing out brain dead banks and auto makers.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The "Don't talk about it in public" issues

Earlier I posted about real political issues and "hot button" issues. Since then it came to me that there is a third class of political issues, the "don't talk about it in public" issues. Second Amendment rights, decriminalization of marijuana, repeal of the Digital Millennial Copyright Act, reform of patent and copyright law, net neutrality, and tort reform, come to mind. There are probably others. These are real issues, that effect citizens directly. But for some reason, fear of offending the interest groups that support them, or journalists too clueless to understand them, or something, you never hear a candidate speak out on these issues at all. There are plenty of voters who care about these issues. Maybe the Republican party should take a public stand on some of them.

Global Warming brings 2 feet of snow to Cannon

Friday put down 8 inches and Sunday put down 16 inches. All light powder. This is the most snow for this early in the season ever at Cannon. Town of Franconia did it's usual exception plowing job, we are all plowed out and the sun is barely up. Skiing is superb.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Vista causes Great Depression II

Computer sales used to be the driving force behind the economy. Then Microsoft burdened the industry with Windows Vista and deprived us of our beloved Windows XP. Vista is so detested that people stopped buying new computers, preferring to keep their old ones that ran XP. The result? Computer sales dropped across the board, triggering the current economic down turn.
You can beleive as much that as you like

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Real Political Issues vs Hot Button Issues

Coming out of the serious losses of '08, Republicans ought to be taking stock and finding a new direction. Republicans used to be a party of ideas (issues). We remember Ronald Reagan for "Morning in America" and Newt Gengrich for "Contract with America", ideas and issues. Whereas in this election Obama never expressed a single concrete idea (he still hasn't) and McCain just said "Vote for me 'cause I am a distinguished war hero". In the absence of ideas from either side, the election went to the pretty face and the resonant voice. Obama won 'cause he looked good on TV, not 'cause he expressed any good ideas.
If issues are the coin of the realm, Republicans need to distinguish between real political issues, foreign policy, financial regulations, immigration law, energy supply, taxes and spending, copyright revision versus "hot button" (aka social) issues ( abortion and gays). Sensible voters are concerned about steering the country safely thru a dangerous world, protecting the homeland from attack, and growing the economy. Although there are a bunch of voters attracted by the hot button issues, there are an equal number of voters driven away by them. For example, abortion isn't a winning issue, half the country is for it and the other half is against it. Plus the issue is moot, the Supreme Court has made it legal and there isn't much you can say after that.
The crucial independent voters care more about real issues and are often repelled by the hot button issues. Republicans need not repudiate their anti abortion and anti gay marriage stands but surely they don't need to talk about them all the time. Do like Sarah Palin did, although she is clearly against abortion, she never talked about it on the campaign trail.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bush Caves to Detroit

Just now, Bush was on TV saying that he would give Detroit $15 billion out of the TARP money. No specific requirements for reform were laid upon Detroit. This ought to keep them out of bankruptcy court for a few months, long enough for the mess to land on Obama's desk.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

GM was building yet another plant.

According to The Truth About Cars, GM was building a brand new plant to make engines for the upcoming Chevy Volt. But, running out of money, they have postponed or canceled the project after spending a wad of cash on it.
More brain dead GM management. Here is a company with about twice as many plants as they need, yet they are building a brand new one? Dumb move.
Here is a company pinning its hopes on the new hybrid Chevy Volt, a technological first for GM, cutting edge battery, all new electric drive design. This is a high risk project, there is a good chance something won't work, or something breaks after they sell them. So, rather than picking an existing engine already in production, a low risk strategy, they were gonna use a brand new engine built in a brand new plant. And if anything were to go wrong with the new engine or the new plant, the entire Chevy Volt project is jeopardized. Only a brain dead project manager would make that decision.
First thing the GM bankruptcy judge should do is replace ALL of GM management.

They shut down theplants, but the UAW still gets paid

The big three auto companies are getting ready for Christmas shut down. Due to horrible sales, they plan to stay shut down for longer than usual. So far so good.
Except, the workers still get paid during shutdown. Nice deal and all, but with the auto companies broke and begging for Federal bailouts, it seems a little much to give the work force a month of paid vacation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Will any amount of "stimulus" improve the economy?

Probably not. Consumers are fearful of losing their jobs, their health insurance and their homes. Plus money they thought they had in their houses and the stock market has been taken away. Given those two bummers, nobody in their right mind is going to buy anything that they don't absolutely have to have. Nobody has to have a new car, not this year anyhow, make the old one run a year or two longer. Likewise new houses, new clothes, appliances, luxuries, trips, sports gear and on and on and on. The only things we have to buy are food, furnace oil and gasoline. Lotta people are even passing on Christmas presents.
Until the economy looks less scary sales are gonna be in tank, no matter how much stimulus is thrown around.

And, while on the subject of Detroit

Ignore UAW's Ron Gettelfinger when he whines that only the union has been asked to make sacrifices. The stockholders have already lost heavily, GM stock is down to a couple of dollars a share. Banks and bond holders were willing to forgive 70% of GM's debt. But the wily and well connected UAW knew that Bush would cave to them even if the Senate Republicans wouldn't.

Don't Bailout Detroit

The big three automakers are in a death spiral. Their labor costs $75 and hour where their competitors, the transplant makers, pay only $50. They have too many me-too models of cars, and none of them are as desirable as Toyota or Honda. They are afflicted with brain dead management, particularly GM. No way can Detroit be profitable with higher costs and inferior products. Detroit's small cars must sell better than Corolla and Civic for them to stay in business. Giving them $14 billion now just lets them keep on losing money for a few more months.
Put them into chapter 11, rewrite their labor contracts to $50 an hour like the transplants, reduce the number of car models to something reasonable, replace their senior management and boards of directors, write off their debt, and close excess car plants. Reduce executive salaries to $250,000 max. Require that dividends and bonuses be paid out of profits after taxes. No profit, no dividends or bonuses. And clean up their books. Last year GM "wrote off" $35 billion of phantom assets they had been carrying on their books for years. What other scams are still hidden by the big three accountants?
Chrysler has a parent company, Cerberus, which has plenty of money to keep Chrysler afloat. I see no reason why us taxpayers should subsidize Cerberus.
GM is too big to be profitable ever. Break it up into four companies, Corvette, Chevrolet, Cadillac, and General Motors Acceptance Corp (GMAC). Ford might be able to make it on their own. Don't merge Chrysler and GM. Tying two troubled firms together merely assures that they both sink together. Leave them independent, there is chance that one might float by itself.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How Fannie and Freddie caused the 2nd Great Depression

Let's work backwards. Wall St brokerage firms failed after it became impossible to sell their "mortgage backed securities" when they needed cash. The "mortgage backed securities" promised high yield with low risk, and the brokerage houses printed huge amounts of them and sold them to gullible investors and to Frannie and Freddie. They were so profitable that the brokerages became willing to buy sub prime and "liar's loan" mortgages, because turning them into "mortgage backed securities" was profitable.
Things came unglued in 2006 when the gullible investors discovered that the price of houses had dropped so much that the mortgages were worth more than the houses. All of a sudden the "mortgage backed" part of the securities began to look risky. The gullible investors wised up and stopped buying them. Leaving the brokerage houses with barrels of "securities" that no one would buy. "Illiquid" is the Wall St jargon for "so crummy no one will touch it".
Why did the price of houses fall in 2006? A better question is why did the price of houses rise the rapidly in the previous decade? Answer, the price of houses went up because the banks were willing do higher loans on the properties. Remember a mortgage is a simple deal, I loan you money, you pay it back or I take the house. This only works if the house is worth MORE than the mortgage. Successful banks are good at assessing property values and would not do mortgages that exceeded their idea of what the property was really worth.
But then, a horde of eager stock brokers descended upon the banks offering to buy the bank's mortgages for cash. So they could turn them into "mortgage backed securities". Such a deal. Once sold, the bank was free of risk, if the mortgage defaulted the gullible buyer had a problem, not the issuing bank. The bank gets to keep the closing fees, points, and perhaps a markup, and hustles out to do more mortgages.
Now that the bank can sell mortgages, it ceased to care that much about the quality of the mortgage. Do a low quality mortgage, offer to finance a little more than the property is worth, offer to waive the down payment. Sell the result before something goes wrong. Result, price of housing goes up, 'cause the bank is willing to loan more money on the same old property.
Why were the brokerage houses so willing to do mortgage backed securities? Simple, Fannie and Freddie were willing to buy enormous quantities of them. They had the money (borrowed on the credit of the United States) and the returns promised by the brokerage houses looked sooo good.
What's the moral of the story? Simple, shut down the entire secondary mortgage market, force the banks to risk their own depositor's money. To a large extent this has happened, the market for "mortgage backed securities" has dried up, no one will touch them any more. When the bank risks it's own money, it will be more careful. Just to make sure the secondary mortgage market stays closed, close down Fannie and Freddie for good.
And, remember that Barnie Frank and Chris Dodd defeated all attempts to limit Fannie and Freddie's borrowing power, leaving us taxpayers stuck with the horrendous losses they racked up.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Great Ice Storm of 2008

Up here, north of Franconia Notch, it was too warm to freeze. We got rain and snow. Came down all day, but no ice, the trees stayed upright and the electric power stayed on. Town plows did the roads, twice. About noon it started to cool down. The driveway had a inch of very very wet snow which I decide to shovel off before it froze hard and gave me an ice coated driveway from the entire winter.
Down south, the ice put a lot of people in the dark. It also messed up our cable TV. Most cable channels froze up, leaving a frozen image and no sound. Channels 2 thru 13 and the Weather Channel stayed alive. Dunno how they managed that, I would have thought that dead channels would go dark rather than freezing up. The didn't get the cable working until just a few minutes ago.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What's in Concord for 2009?

Looks like another busy year for our state legislature. We have about a 1000 bills in the hopper. The hopper is online, click on the link to view it. When you think of it, that's an awful lot of new laws being proposed. We don't seem to have any text for the bills yet, just the names of the sponsors, and a title. Skimming the list we have quite a few bills related to school funding. The hopper has some funny formatting that I was unable to strip off, which accounts for the ragged look of the list.

2009-H-0022-L establishing a state income tax to adequately fund public education.
Sponsors: (Prime) Delmar D Burridge

2009-H-0557-L establishing a flat rate income tax and relative to a statewide enhanced education tax and certain other taxes.
Sponsors: (Prime) Jessie L Osborne

2009-H-0571-R relative to establishing number plates supporting New Hampshire public higher education.
Sponsors: (Prime) Sarah A Hutz

2009-H-0036-R relating to funding of public education. Providing that the legislature shall define standards for education, determine the level of state funding thereof, establish standards of accountability, and allocate state funds in a manner that mitigates disparities in educational opportunity and fiscal capacity, provided that a reasonable share of state funds shall be distributed on a per pupil basis
Sponsors: (Prime) David W Hess Sherman A Packard Shawn N Jasper W. Douglas Scamman

2009-H-0044-L establishing the cost of an adequate education. Sponsors: (Prime) David W Hess

2009-H-0072-R relating to public education. Providing that: the recognition of local control of education in the New Hampshire constitution is reestablished. Sponsors: (Prime) Daniel C Itse
Robert H Rowe

We have two representatives proposing a state income tax to fund education. We have one representative who thinks we can raise enough money from vanity license plates fund education. Lots of luck on that one. We have one bill to take control of education away from local school boards and give it to the state. We have one bill to set the cost of education by law.
The last bill proposes a constitutional amendment to make grade school and high school education a city and town responsibility, the way it was before the State Supreme Court messed things up years ago. This is the best solution. It restores "The Pledge". If the state doesn't fund education, the justification for an income tax is removed. No one wants a state income tax, except maybe the teachers. Local school boards, who have to meet their taxpayers face to face, can make better decisions about educational costs and quality than bureaucrats in Concord can.

Crummy camera work drives off Extreme Trains

Been watching "Extreme Trains" on the History Channel. Like many guys, and kids, I like trains and seeing them on TV is a reasonable substitute for going out and finding real ones to watch. Especially as they don't run trains in New Hampshire any more. The train was pretty extreme, a big 1940's steam engine, lovingly maintained by the Union Pacific, with 18 streamline passenger cars in tow, rushing across the prairie from Denver to Cheyenne.
Too bad the cameraman couldn't hold his camera steady long enough to watch this fine big hunk of iron rolling along. He panned, he scanned, he zoomed, he cut from one view to another. The camera never stood still long enough to actually see the train. As soon as my eye steadied in on the train, the cameraman would move the viewpoint and throw my eye off. It got so bad I finally turned the show off.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Chicago Tribune goes Chapter 11 & no one knows why

The Newshour with Jim Lehrer had a long discussion about the Tribune's bankruptcy. But never did the phrase "advertising revenue" pass the lips of any of the newsies doing the talking. Apparently they have never heard of it. One guy who used to edit the Tribune opined that ad revenue was un necessary, he wanted to print an ad-free paper of 36 page and thought he could make money selling it. Good luck to him.
The reason newspapers are in trouble all over the country is the ad revenue that used to fund them is going to the internet, to Vehix, to Craiglist, and to Google. All that ad revenue that powers Google came from competitors, like newspapers. Newspapers used to make money selling classified ads to sell cars and houses. Not any more. Cars and houses are advertised on the internet in the 21st century. Lot of their other advertising has gone the same way.
Surprising that three experienced newsies know so little about the economics of their business.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Public Radio, standing up for federal bureaucrats

Early this week Public Radio ran a couple of pieces complaining about the use of contractors instead of using government employees. Daniel Zwerdlinger never talked about why the government contracts work out, he just claimed it was bad, bad, bad, and ought to stop. I'm sure all the well paid government bureaucrats loved those pieces. Government contracts out work, 'cause it saves the taxpayer money. Government workers get wonderful (and expensive) health care, cushy retirements at an early age, and are impossible to lay off. Once hired, they are on the payroll til they die. Contractors get paid less, get less health care and can be laid off anytime. That makes contractors cheaper. I'm a taxpayer, I like cheaper.
Then this morning Public Radio came to the defense of the suffering bureacrats at the EPA. They are demoralized and unhappy because the Bush administration wouldn't accept their scientific evidence and allow them to shut down nearly everything in sight. The show opined that the incoming admistration has a mighty task to rebuild the EPA into the tower of obstructionism that it deserves to be.

Bailout or green car mandate?

In the tugging and heaving over bailout of the big three automakers, the greens have blinked. Last night Nancy Pelosi announced that the $25 billion already authorized for Detroit can be used to keep the automakers afloat. Apparently this money was supposed to be used to make "green" automobiles, not to pay suppliers, make payroll, pay off debts, the sort of thing money is needed for. Seems like Nancy only just now has figured out that jobs are the only reason to subsidize the car companies. We don't care about green cars, we do care about workers getting laid off.
The big three CEO's were on TV Friday. They didn't make all that much sense to this taxpayer. Plus the Congressmen did most of the talking. Several things did come thru. Apparently the car dealers have to pay the factory for the cars on their lots. They call this "floorplanning". Dealers borrow the necessary money from the finance arms (GMAC etc) of the automakers. And then customers borrow from the same place to pay for the cars. GMAC got stupid last year and lost a bundle of money playing in the sub prime mortgage market. All three of the car company finance operations are running out of money to loan to car buyers and car dealers to buy cars. It might be reasonable to call these finance operations "banks" and give them the same access to the Federal Reserve money as conventional banks get.