Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Dam Busters

Turner Classic movies played this delightful WWII period piece the other day. I hadn't seen it since childhood. The movie was made in England, right after the war. The story is one of those incredible how-did-they-ever-pull-it-off tales. Dams are the hardest of hard targets, being solid piles of concrete, off of which ordinary bombs merely bounce. Brilliant aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis comes up with an absolutely weird plan to crack the dams, with a bomb light enough to be carried by existing aircraft. Somehow Wallis convinces the RAF to take him seriously and devote the considerable resources needed to execute. It was a all British show, no American assistance on this one.
The movie is full of lovely British details. The doors of the Austin staff cars slam with a tinny clang quite unlike the bank vault "kachunk" of Detroit iron. Wallis's cottage has a ledge around the living room to give room for a collection of decorative bottles and vases. My grandmother's house in Montreal had the same ledge and the same bottles. The flying photos are all done with real aircraft (the movie was made early enough that the WWII aircraft were still in service) rather than models or CGI trickery. Shots of four engined bombers skimming across the water at only 60 feet altitude, or taking off in formation, are impressive.
Great flick.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What do Republicans believe in? Part II

In addition to free enterprize, Republicans believe in sound money and secure banks. Today's Great Depression II was kicked off by bonehead lending courtesy of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. Federal deposit insurance from Great Depression I secured the banks against total failure, but, given seventy years to do it, the ever ingenious bankers have invented whole new ways of loosing money. To limit the damage these morons can do, the FDIC ought to crack down/regulate the riskiest of these schemes.
Firstly, we need to subject all the banks to the same set of regulations and regulators. Right now we have real banks, credit unions, stock brokers, investment banks, thrifts, brokerage houses, savings and loans, "Government Sponsored Entities" (aka Fannie and Freddie), money market funds, insurance companies, and God knows what else. Each little group has their own regulations and their own regulator. The stock broker's regulator, the SEC, is totally worthless as far as consumer protection goes. The others are probably little better. Step one is to treat all these "financial service organizations" (aka banks) the same. Write one set of regulations and have one Federal bureau to enforce them. Make sure the regulators and enforcers are accountants not lawyers.
Second, regulate the risks that taxpayer insured banks are allowed to run. Anyone who wants to run bigger risks, doesn't get insurance, and cannot call itself a bank. Forbid any dealing in secondary mortgages. No mortgage backed securities, no selling mortgages to brokerage houses or other suckers. No credit default swaps (aka bond insurance). No buying/selling of commodity futures.
Third, tighten up procedures. Each loan requires a signed statement from the responsible officer explaining how the borrower will be able to make the payments. If the loan goes sour, fingers can be pointed. Each security purchase to have a similar statement explaining why the responsible officer thinks the security will pay off when due.
Then we can do some fun stuff. No corporate aircraft. Bonuses and dividends to be paid ONLY out of profits. No profit, no bonus, no dividend. Require bank to retain cash reserves equal to 10 percent of all outstanding loans, just in case some of the loans don't get paid back.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Water Projects, Franconia NH

The state Department of environmental services has been on Franconia's case about water quality. The water is somewhat acid, which eats the pipes and fills the water with zinc and iron corroded off said pipes. Plus the water pressure is lower than they would like. They fear that under heavy demand, say a fire, water pressure would drop below zero and suck ground water and sewage back into the drinking water. The current Franconia water system dates back to the 1930's, and so replacement now, after 70 years, is not totally unreasonable.
Franconia's budget meeting last night revealed the plans and costs to us citizens. They plan to install a big 350,000 gallon storage tank up on Cole Hill road, and replace the water mains from the new tank thru out the downtown area. We are talking about a 12 inch water main here. The project will cost $3.8 million. One million to be contributed by the state, the rest borrowed on a 30 year 2.75% loan from the state. Annual payments of $64,000 are required to service the debt. Town water bills will rise 23% to pay for this AND the town real estate tax will go up $0.18 per thousand, so everyone has the opportunity to contribute, even if they don't use town water.
If approved at Town Meeting in March, detailed engineering will start. Bids will go out 1 August, and accepted 15 September. Construction is expected to start immediately after bid acceptance. The project is supposed to finish by December 2010.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wheels for Daschle

How did Daschle get assessed $80,000 a year for use of a chauffeur driven Caddy? Brand new, a Caddy Deville lists for only $43K. You ought to be able to hire a decent chauffeur for $30K a year. That's only $70K assuming they bought a new Caddy, and crushed the old one, every year.
Me of course, would never think of letting anyone drive me to and from work. Out on Rt 128, I want control, I don't want some flunky deciding whether or not to take the breakdown lane to pass that semi. I'd feel the same about rushhour DC traffic.
That's two things that don't quite add up. The price for a chauffeured Caddy is kinda high, and what kind of real guy would not want to drive himself?
Australia's newspapers are still covering Iraq. They bring this horrible story to light. Al Quada's "mother of female suicide bombers" a 50 year old, recruited more than 80 women over her disgusting career. What's truly awful is the method. She arranged for the women to be raped, and then, after the victim's feelings of self worth had been destroyed, she pursuaded them to give their lives for the Jihad.
The "mother" was arrested by Iraqi police and confessed in a video taped interview.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Six out of eight constititional amendments...

Concern education in the state of New Hampshire. And none of them do what needs to be done. Up until a few years ago, Kindergarten thru 12th grade New Hampshire education was run by the cities and towns and financed off the property tax. Then the state supreme court "re interpreted" the state constitution. The Supremes decided that the state must insure equality of opportunity by insuring equal amounts of education funding all over the state. The state had to come up with extra money to subsidize the lower spending towns. To do this, the state now demands that the cities and towns send local property tax money to Concord, where it is divvied up according to a complex, opaque, and controversial formula.
Net result, my property tax goes up, cause of the money sent off to Concord. Concord first skims something off the top and then sends the remainder somewhere, not back to my town.
What we need is a constitutional amendment to put things back the way they were before the Supremes "reinterpreted" the constitution. None of the six amendments before the house do that.

Judd Greg, please stay home

We New Hampshire voters need Judd Greg in the Senate. The Commerce Secretary job offered by Obama is a paperwork job, much less important than serving as Senator. I hope Mr Greg turns down the cabinet post and devotes his considerable talents to supporting the citizens of his home state.