Thursday, January 29, 2009

Republican whining

Fox news has put on several Republican to complain that Obama and the democrats have not consulted with them over the content of bills, in particular the super spending stimulus bill.
These complaints are childish. "They won't let me play with them". The Republicans ought to be pointing out how little of the $819 billion dollars is "stimulus" and how much is pork. They ought to be exposing the port by name, rank and serial number. They ought to be pointing out how little of the money will be spent immediately. And how $819 billion is $2730 for every man woman and child in the US. There are plenty of real arguments against the super spender bill. Don't waste your air time with procedural complaints. We voters don't care about the procedure, we care about results. Like how much is this going to cost me. And what's in it for me?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

NH state income tax sneaking in the back door

First on the NH House list of bills is constitutional amendment CACR1, "relating to taxes. Providing that all revenues raised by a state income tax shall be dedicated to funding public education."
Sponsored by three Democrats, Charles Weed, Jessie Osbourne, and Barbara Richardson.
Last time I looked, I thought an NH state income tax was off the table. They fooled me, this is a back door way of slipping an income tax thru.
Since we don't have a state income tax (yet!) this bill to earmark income tax revenues for school funding is clearly an attempt to make a state income tax look virtuous, and perhaps over come some of the opposition to such a tax.
This is a bad bill and ought to be defeated for several reasons.
1. It encourages Concord to slap us with an income tax.
2. It gives school spending priority over the other responsibilities of the state. As incomes rise, income tax receipts rise, and education funding automatically rises. This earmark will channel more and more money into schools, without requiring the educators to justify their expenses. Nice work if you can get it, I'm sure the teacher's unions approve. But it is undemocratic. Democratic means we vote appropriations every so often, and the Legislature can allocate money where it is needed most. This amendment favors schools over everything. Schools are important, but they are not THAT important.
3. Earmarks don't belong in the state constitution. The constitution states general principles and assigns powers. This amendment is an attempt to lock in a priority for schooling and deny the Legislature the power to allocate state funds.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Europe, A History by Norman Davies

A one volume history of Europe, from Neanderthal times to the fall of the wall in 1365 pages. Fairly current, copyright 1996. I borrowed it from the town library 'cause it looked interesting. The author spends the entire introduction nattering about just what constitutes Europe, and are the Russians Europeans, and the importance of countries other than England and France.
I got some 500 pages into it and gave up. Davies doesn't believe in narrative history, where the historian tells the story of kings and peasants and nations and religions. Half the text is little one page monographs, set off in boxes, discussing interesting little details, but otherwise unconnected from the main text. Each monograph breaks the continuity of the main text.
Davies clearly believes the cliche "there are no facts in history". He constantly throws doubt upon generally accepted historical facts but never offers an explanation for his doubts. For instance he says "If it really happened" right after Luther's posting of the famous 95 thesis on the cathedral door. Great. He offers no evidence that the generally accepted history is false, he just casts doubt and moves on. If he really thought that Luther didn't do what most historians think he did, he ought to offer a reason for his doubts, or quote a contrary source, or something. The book is full of revisionist stuff like this but with no backup. I'm as ready as the next man to accept revisions, but I want some evidence in favor of the revision.
Or, he will pass over an important, controversial, historical thesis like the relationship of the Protestant work ethic to the rise of capitalism in a single sentence. I'd like a page or two discussing that one.
So, bottom line. Read another historian.

Global Warming Part 3

Vermont Public radio was giving air time to the global warmers yesterday. Walking thru a Massachusetts state forest, and wailing about the terrible things that global warming was doing to the forest. It was eight below zero that night and it's still damn cold today. What global warming?
Plus, this is a forest. They grow just fine from Georgia to Maine. Even if global warming were to make Massachusetts are warm as Georgia (unlikely) the forest would thrive.

Banks, need therefore

Last year Bush and Congress decided that banks were so important to the national economy as to deserve $750 billion "Troubled Assets Recovery Program" (TARP for short) to bail them out. So far, we taxpayers have given out half of that ($350 billion) to banks. The banks have put the money into the vault, to make themselves look solvent as their piles of mortgage backed securities, credit default swaps, and other dodgy paper have steadily lost value. They haven't been lending it much.
If we really want want money lent out, let's authorize the Fed to directly lend money to US corporations. The commercial banks are shot. They are loosing money as their trash securities fall in price faster than Uncle Sam can pour taxpayer money into them. Why bother to bail out Citi's bad investments. Bypass the banks, and lend taxpayer money directly to US companies that need it. Let the banks sink or swim.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stimulus vs Pork

$850 Billion is enough money to choke a hog (but not a congress). Skimming shows the bill full of all kinds of stuff, medicare, money for TV converter boxes, welfare, unemployment.
In my book, stimulus ought to be limited to investment in real assets that make the US more productive. Building dams, power plants, oil and gas pipelines, airports, bridges, power lines, wifi hotspots. Things that produce wealth, or facilitate producing wealth by improving transportation and communication and basic utilities count.
Paying medical bills, paying routine maintenance costs, repaving, repainting, buying "energy efficient" vehicles don't count. They just consume money that could be better spent.
Also, we need it now, this year, next month. Spending targeted for 2010 and the outyears isn't stimulus, its special interests locking in their funding so they don't have to worry about lobbying for money next year.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

New Tube

Yesterday (Friday) my old faithful NEC Multisync 75 monitor croaked. Something let go in the vertical drive circuit resulting in all the video squozed into the middle third of the screen. The poor NEC is at least 10 years old, so it didn't owe me anything. I'll drop it off down at the "transfer station" (town dump) next trip.
The only place in Littleton with computer stuff AND open on Saturday is Staples, the office supply place. I spent a half an hour looking at the array of flat panel monitors (no CRT's anymore) wondering what to buy. There was a smallish Compaq for only $109, Samsungs, Acers, Dells, HP's and AOC (who ever they may be) for prices running from $175 to $279. I couldn't see any real difference in video quality and the sales guy didn't either. I finally settled on a 19" Dell 1908WFP. Dell was the only maker with a matte finish black bezel and screen, which I like 'cause it cuts down on reflections in the monitor. HP had a high gloss screen and bezel and I could clearly see every lamp in the store reflecting off it.
The instructions were mostly boilerplate to keep the lawyers happy. Not a word about what to do with the software CD. So I plugged everything in, monitor lit up and presto, video. Then I loaded the driver and wonder upon wonders, it was able to make my 4 year old Compaq SR 175oNx motherboard produce right shaped video. The Dell monitor is one of those wide 16:9 aspect ratio screens whereas the tried and true CRT monitors are all 4:5 aspect ratio. When I first powered up, the monitor worked, but the video was all stretched out sidewise. The clever driver loaded from the CD was able to work some magic on the "Radion 200" video driver on the Compaq's mother board and make things come out square again. That's kind of impressive when you consider that four years ago, when the motherboard was new, CRT monitors were common and flat screen monitors were rare and pricey.
So, success, I can use the computer again, and the new monitor is crisp, sharp, and bigger than the poor old NEC.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Over Lawyered

After taking the oath of office on national TV, in front of the entire US establishment, some lawyer suggested that a minor verbal stumble by the Chief Justice rendered the whole thing invalid. Obama, a man with no practical experience in the real world, and a lawyer himself, fell for this line. So the chief justice comes over the the White House and does it again, just for grins. There are a few pool reporters and the White House photographer did the pictures.
Now the newsies are complaining that they didn't get enough "access" and "transparency". This whining must be coming from the vast majority who didn't get the opportunity to crowd around and then pontificate about a not terribly significant event.
In actual fact all the voters and taxpayers consider Obama the legitimate president because he won the election. Only the wingnuts who are still contesting Obama's citizenship would give a hoot. And nothing will convince a wingnut of anything. So why did he bother?

Drinking Age

Good blog posting here. The best argument for lowering the drinking age is safety. The safest place to drink is a pub within walking distance of home or college dorm. Since this is illegal now, the under aged drink where ever they think they can get away with it. Often at a great distance, requiring a drive home after drinking. The bad part about youth drinking, is the drive home after imbibing. Lot of deaths, and permanent injuries, to say nothing of the number of smashed up automobiles.
Our children would live longer and get into less trouble if they could drink in on campus or local pubs.
I don't believe the current drinking age prevents teenagers from drinking. I am a parent and have some experience in this matter. I know that preventing them from drinking on campus increases the risk of death.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welfare for Lawyers

New Hampshire has a medical malpractice reduction law which requires malpractice cases to be presented to a state malpractice board BEFORE going to court. The board reviews the case and issues an opinion (doctor is innocent/doctor is guilty). Lawyers are free to sue no matter what the board opinion is. However the board's opinion will be presented to the jury at trial. This board has been in operation since 2005, and in that time only one half the cases presented to the board actually went on to trial. Our own Senator John Gallus supported this law back in 2005.
Apparently the board opinion carries great weight with juries. Malpractice lawyers complain presenting the case to the board is as expensive as presenting it at trial, which doubles their costs to win a malpractice case.
Now a REPUBLICAN rep, Robert Rowe of Hillsborough has submitted House Bill 50, to repeal the law requiring a board presentation.
Arrgh. How can a man call himself Republican who is in the pocket of the trial lawyers? How can this man's voter's stand for such cost enhancement and prosecution of their doctors?

What's in the hopper?

Time enough has passed for the annual flock of new laws to get written up and posted to the NH legislature's website. So far we have 392 proposed new NH laws. I just spent some time reading all 392 titles just to see what badness might be hidden there in. Surprise. NO titles calling for income tax or a sales tax. Will wonders never cease?
Nearly all the law titles start off with the phrase "Relative to" which seem wordy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Great Depression II hits the Borg

Stopped by the Littleton Lowe's this afternoon, needing a can of wood stain. Place was nearly empty, more employees in red Lowe's jackets than customers. On regular days (back before the October crash) finding a counter person used to be hard. Not today, store was empty and the clerks are looking for things to do to keep busy. On the way home I eyeballed the Home Depot parking lot, and it was even emptier than the Lowe's parking lot.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Zero degees outside this morning

It ain't as cold as some places, but zero is chilly enough for me.

What to spend on for economic stimulus

The quest for the magic economic bullet to pull the country out of recession. We know a couple of things that don't work. Giving free money to citizens doesn't work, citizens are to shell shocked to spend it on anything. Giving free money to Wall St doesn't seem to do much either. The banks are so shell shocked they don't dare lend it out, even if anyone wanted to borrow it.
Some IBM guys suggested investing in broadband and something they called "smart power grid", and computerize the nation's medical records. I can buy the broadband argument, especially up here where a lot of places can't get broadband, no way, no how. Broadband is a necessary utility now, like phone and electric and water. No new businesses are going to start up in places they cannot get broadband.
The "smart power grid" argument was less compelling, partly because the writer didn't bother to explain what it was. Probably because he didn't understand the concept himself. All I can think of is the old utility dream of load leveling. Electric power demand peaks in the morning and evening (when customers are home and cooking) and on hot summer afternoon's when every air conditioner runs full blast. If some loads could be turned off during peak times, the peaks would get smaller, and the utilities wouldn't need as many generators as they do now. Things like hot water heaters, air conditioners, and refrigerators could be switched off during peak periods. Give the customer's an incentive to install "smart" appliances and some how send a signal over the power lines in peak periods telling the "smart" appliances to conserve electricity.
The biggest most expensive part of this would be getting customers to replace perfectly good appliances with "smart" ones. Maybe we just pass a law requiring all new appliances to be "smart" ones and let the normal replacement cycle phase them in gradually.
Either way, I don't see how "smart power grid" really stimulates the economy.
I'd get more behind computerizing all the medical records except I fear that once computerized, hackers and crackers will steal them and offer them for sale. Do you really want your medical records available to anyone on the Internet?

Would you buy a used car from this company?

The Wall St Journal had a short piece discussing the wisdom of buying a used car, as opposed to a new one. They wound up recommending used European luxury cars. They missed the best deal on the planet. Used Cadillac DTS's are the way to go. This is the large sedan, they used to call Deville before GM marketing decided to abolish car names and replace them with obscure code letter groups. New they cost $43K. Used, they can be had for as little as $3K, although $10K is more usual. They are large enough to hold a family, or fit all the gear a college kid wants to take with him to school. Well built, will run happily up to 200K miles, get excellent gas mileage (27 mpg highway). Comfortable as you can get. Advanced engine, all aluminum, double overhead cams, 10.3:1 compression, 275 hp, and runs on regular gas. Front wheel drive, anti skid brakes, and a limited slip differential give a secure feeling driving in the winter up here.
New Caddy's are too expensive for most of us, but a used one is a deal.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Just watched Obama on the ABC Sunday pundit show. He is still going to close Guantanamo Bay, at least the terrorist prison camp part of it. There was a lot of talk about trying the inmates. Trouble is, most of the Guantanamo inmates are in Guantanamo because they were captured on a foreign battlefield for bearing arms against the US. They aren't guilty of war crimes, and no US court or court martial is going to convict them for war crimes they didn't commit. These guys are enemy soldiers. If and when released they will take up arms against us again.
We have to adjust to the fact that enemy soldiers have to be locked up without a trial just because they are enemy soldiers. We had no trouble doing it in WWII or Korea. Few voters and taxpayers have a problem with this, although it upsets the MSM and liberal Democrats.

Economic Stimulus

The news has been talking about a $300 billion tax break/rebate/handout to citizens. That's about $1000 per person. The theory is, we will all rush out and spend the $1000 on something. Or at least, be grateful to the Obama administration for the money. If everyone spends $1000, then stores will order $1000 worth of merchandise, and factories hire workers and buy raw materials and we are out of Great Depression II.
Does this rosy scenario work in real life? Most Americans are worried about loosing their jobs, have humungous credit card debts, and have seen their savings vanish in the stock market crash and the real estate disaster. Most rational Americans will use the free money to pay down debt or save up for a rainy day. Although it's raining pretty hard now, a pink slip makes things get a lot wetter. In short, much as I like the idea of free money for me, I don't think it's going to do much to stimulate the economy.
Give the tax breaks to business. One of the reasons so much manufacturing has moved to China is that taxes on business are lower in China. US businesses pay 35% on profits, higher than nearly every other developed country. Lower that tax rate and more US businesses will survive Great Depression II and/or decide to retain operations in the US as opposed to outsourcing them to China.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fixing Wall St. Part II

What's the difference between a futures market and a casino? Very little. Futures markets began with farmers needing to find buyers for their crops before harvest time. Partly to have an arrangement for the harvest (what do you do with tons of crops if you don't have a buyer lined up?) and partly to lock in a good price. Crop buyers found the futures market leveled out prices over the year. Used to be, crops were dirt cheap right after harvest, and got steadily more expensive as harvest time receded into the past. Companies making bread or corn flakes or what ever, liked the steadier and more predictable prices provided by the futures market. All well and good, commodities futures markets have real economic value.
Now let us consider futures markets in stocks, crude oil, and God knows what else. Neither stocks nor crude oil has a harvest time. Production stays steady year round. Price fluctuation is unpredictable. Lucky buyers like Southwest Airlines can save them themselves lots of money, Unlucky buyers loose their shirts. This is really gambling and serves no economic purpose. Money sunk into commodities speculation isn't available for real economic investment. The recent spike in oil prices had a lot to do with tipping the economy into Great Depression II. And the even more recent fall has bankrupted a whole bunch of speculators.
In a free market economy we cannot prohibit buying and selling, but we can tax the bejesus out of it. And we can forbid Federal y insured banks from speculating in, our lending to speculators in the commodities markets.

Too many codes.

Blogger is Word hostile. Cutting and pasting from MS Word brings in a raft of invisible HTML codes which causes Blogger to choke. Saving from Word in plain ASCII helps a bit but someone (Blogger or Notepad or Word) turns quote marks and apostrophe's into question marks. That's a bug somewhere, both quotemark and apostrophe are in the ASCII character set, have been in ASCII since the beginning, and they should convert. Pain in the tail.
Blogger really ought to accept cut and paste from Word. It wouldn't take all that much code for Blogger to merely discard any HTML that it doesn't understand.

Republicans organize

North Country Republicans gathered for an evening of fellowship, good cheer, and organization at Liam Shaw's tavern in Franconia on Friday evening. A good turnout was present, filling the room to capacity. Much discussion of the last election, and what is needed to win the next one, ensued. All those present agreed that the Republican Party does still stand by "the Pledge" (no broad based state taxes).
It was decided to form the Northern Grafton County Republican Committee. All present voted in favor. David Starr was elected chairman, and Melanie Kerr treasurer, both by unanimous votes. Dues were collected, and a membership list created.
The Committee plans to increase its membership, all Republicans, Independents and Libertarians are welcome. Everyone present pledged to bring at least one new member to the next meeting. The next meeting is planned for Friday February 6; same time and place (Liam Shaw's, 5:30 PM).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fixing Wall St. Part I

Many clueless Wall Streeters bought sub prime mortgage backed securities because the rating companies, Moody's and Standard and Poor's, gave them AAA ratings. Unfortunately, those AAA ratings had been paid for by the issuer of the securities. "Give my security a AAA rating or I will take my business, and your fee, elsewhere". Naturally the rating agencies issued a lot of AAA ratings that shouldn't have been issued. And even more clueless brokers bought trash on the strength of a AAA rating.
In real life, rating a security is fairly simple, and any real broker ought to do his own rating, just in case the agency rating is phoney. All you have to do is look at the borrower's cash flow and decide if his cash flow is large enough to pay off the security on time.
Ratings should be based upon cash flow, never upon collateral. In a collateral loan (like a car loan) the borrower pledges to turn over the collateral to the lender if he cannot pay off the loan. Problem with relying upon collateral, is that when times are bad, the value of the collateral falls, in extreme cases the collateral becomes unsalable (worthless).
Lender's should look at cash flow, is this borrower making enough money to pay off the loan. No cash flow, no loan.
And never again believe a rating agency.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to testify without saying anything

Congress had the SEC up in front of a Congressional hearing yesterday. Question before the committee; Why wasn't Madoff discovered earlier?
Testifying was a fresh faced youngish guy from the SEC. His answer to every question was "Yes I agree completely and I will look right into it". And the congress critters let him get away with it.
The SEC was created after the first great depression to prevent it from happening again. It has clearly failed in that mission. Congress ought to abolish the SEC completely, and since the SEC people have been totally derelict in their duty, their employment by any branch of the federal government should be forbidden. Ever. Again.
To prevent today's economic catastrophe from happening again Congress should abolish the secondary mortgage market, outlaw the practice of insuring bonds against default, and revise the accounting rules to prevent carrying imaginary assets on the books. Just last year GM revealed that it had been carrying $36 billion dollars of purely imaginary assets on its books for years.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Firefox up, Internet Exploder down

Internet Explorer's market share fell to 68%, down from 74% in May. Firefox is up to 21%. Down with the evil empire.

Gaza, the ground offensive

What ever happened to the do or die Hamas fanatics who were going to defend every inch of Gaza? The news I read has the Israeli army driving right across Gaza to the Mediterranean with only one combat death. Sounds more like Hamas has thrown away their rifles and run.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Flaming telephone pole, Part II

The day after the pole put on its great light show, the telephone company shows up, with a brand new pole on a little dolly hitched behind the truck. The truck[s] have all been repainted to show "Fairpoint" on the doors, rather than the older "Verizon". The telephone guys started out looking like they were planning a pole change, which would put our lights out for another day. What fun. Fortunately, they thought better of it, and decided to do what the electric guys did, namely live with a short pole and just move all their stuff down a little lower. A couple of hours swinging in the air from the cherry picker, on a very cold day, and off they went.

Gaza exit strategy

There are only two exit strategies for a war, victory or defeat. Maybe the best long run strategy for Gaza is to allow the war to continue until there is a victory for one side and defeat for the other? Imposed ceasefires don't solve anything, they just postpone it to another day.

Only blockbusters need apply

The publishing industry is pursuing the big block buster book deals, offering authors six figure advances, and doing massive publicity campaigns to sell the expensively advanced book. Result?
Fewer books published. As a book buyer this is an unpleasant trend, reducing the number of new books in the stores, and limiting them to "mainstream" fiction. Many readers don't like mainstream fiction, they perfer genre fiction or history or biography. It also chokes off the supply of new writers. Few agents or publishers will talk to a first time author attempting to publish his/her first book. That trend goes way back. Best selling author Tom Clancy finally got his "Hunt for Red October" into print via the Naval Institute Press, after the ordinary publishers turned him down repeatedly. If the publishers won't publish first time authors, eventually their stable of published authors retire or die, and then what's to print?
Could this concentration on block busters be responsible for the overall slow down of book sales? Something like this happened to the CD business. The suits running the music business have failed to find new singers, and CD sales have been falling for years now.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hamas calls down the airstrikes

The Israeli Air Force is running out of targets in Gaza. Not surprising, there is little worth the cost of a bomb in Gaza. According to Fox, the Israeli Army is about to cross into Gaza and kick some ass and take some casualties. And Hamas is still launches rockets into Israel.
The Israeli's would gladly call the whole thing off, if only Hamas would stop launch rockets into Israel. Hamas apparently doesn't care, they are still launching. If they are that stupid, let the Israeli's bomb them back to the stone age.

Ninja Mortgage

Today's Wall St Journal has a front page story "Would you pay $103,000 for this Arizona fixer-upper?" The photo shows a worthless shack, hardly big enough to house a German Shepherd. The story goes one to explain how a sleazy mortgage lender did a $103,000 mortgage with a divorced woman with drug and alcohol problems and no job, and then sold that mortgage to bigger suckers on Wall St. For for list price.