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Sunday, October 30, 2011

What We Saw On The Road


In September and October, 2010 and 2011 we traveled the highways and byways of fifteen Western and Mid-Western states.  In total, we drove about 10,000 miles of Interstate highways and the blue roads that represent state and county highways.  We visited lots of cities, towns and villages.

This is a report from the road and it covers four major findings/events/observations/ questions.  This report stresses the things you never see from a seat in Air Force One.

One:  Dwight Eisenhower over saw the building of 45,000 miles of Interstate Highways that have become the crown jewel of the U.S. distribution system.  About 80% of all freight moves along the Interstate highways.  Thousands and thousands of U.S. companies have created highly sophisticated logistics systems that rely on these highways.

My estimate is that about 20% of the Interstate system is in very good, or acceptable condition.  Another 10% is under repair right now.

But something like 70% of the system is in terrible, bone jarring, teeth rattling condition. My estimates are pretty close to those of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

In addition, the blue highways are much worse.  (Kansas excepted.) And cities are incredibly bad.  The streets in Edina, Minnesota and Des Moines, Iowa, just to name two cities, are so bad it is dangerous to walk on them.

Here is the first point.  We will have to repair this road system or become a second world country.  There is no question about that.  NONE!

Here is the second point.  We have 15 million Americans without jobs who could go to work repairing these roads and streets tomorrow.  Construction has been the hardest hit segment of the economy so there are all kinds of people and equipment ready to go to work right now.

Here is the third point.  We will have to pay for these repairs sooner or later.  Robert Reich makes the point that interest rates will never be lower than they are right now.

Here is the fourth point.  Repairing our Interstate system (and bridges, dams and pipe lines) is a no brainer.  It is a win-win-win-win deal.

Win 1; reduce unemployment payments.
Win 2; increase government income from income tax payments.
Win 3; get the economy growing again as newly employed people spend their new incomes.
Win 4; improve the efficiency of our distribution system and reduce businesses costs.

So this raises two questions.  One is why can none of the idiots in Washington understand these simple facts about repairing our infrastructure.  It is not Republicans or Democrats out on those roads; it is Americans, the people who will eventually pay for the repairs.

Question two; Why aren’t the unions screaming out loud to get this repair job going?  Why aren’t the Teamsters, whose members are losing income because of these bad roads, screaming to get the job started?  Why aren’t the members of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association making a big fuss about getting the job started for the same reason?

Two:  Since Obama became President, 400,000 small businesses have gone out of business.  There is an important point here.  When big businesses go out of business by declaring bankruptcy, they leave their creditors with debts that probably won’t be recovered.  When small businesses reach the end of the line, they pay off all their debts and simply close the door.

In larger cities, when a small business goes out of business, a For Lease sign usually shows up in a window, but the vacancy is surrounded by still operating businesses so it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  But when small businesses go out of business in small towns, the results stick out like a sore thumb.  The restaurant with the large closed sign, the auto dealer with an empty lot and lights turned off, the former service station without pumps now, or the offices with the For Lease signs all along the whole building provide a major reminder that things ain’t goin’ so well here.  The loss of a single business in a small town leaves a major hole.

Three:  In South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, you drive through vast fields of corn.  The fields reach all the way to the horizon.  And every acre is there because you and I provide a subsidy to the grower.  At the same time, Ethanol plants that turn the corn into a gasoline additive are going broke and out of business.  When ethanol reaches 20%, or so, of the gasoline you buy in those states, your mileage goes DOWN about 20%.  In addition, all the soy bean processing plants built in the fields that used to grow soybeans stand empty and have no employees now.

A helluva deal that the government has given us!!

Four:  Over thirty percent of all Americans are over weight and more than 30% are, in fact, obese.  But in larger cities, like closed small businesses, they don’t seem to stand out as much.  Yes, the check out clerk at Ralph’s a few minutes ago was seriously obese, but nobody else in the store was so over weight.  However, when you travel the highways and byways of the U.S., you encounter a huge number of vastly over weight citizens.  People who can hardly walk.  People who have to sit at a table because they can’t fit in a booth.

I understand that some fat guy is suing a restaurant because he won’t fit in their booths.

What absolutely breaks your heart are the kids and teenagers who are already very over weight because you know their lives are going to be rotten.

When you have dinner at the best restaurant (and it really is good) in Liberal, Kansas, and at the table next to yours, a seriously overweight father, mother and teen age girl are having a huge dinner along with a ten-twelve year old son who is not overweight, you know that kid doesn’t have a chance.

This is not just a matter of esthetics.  Chronic diseases are the number two cost in Medicare expenses, and diabetes is the chronic disease of choice.  And diabetes is a life long medical problem, hence a very long term expense for tax payers.

There is some good news on this front, however.  First, see the McKinsey report I posted awhile back.  Next, some large companies that recognize how over weight employees cost them money, have started incentive programs and are getting some good results.

While this is all good stuff, it is small beer when you consider the size of the problem (no pun intended!)

But we have a serious problem here.  I have found two, long term, well conceived, and well executed research projects that produced diametrically opposite results.

I can find no basis for faulting either study on methodological grounds.

One study found that neighborhood had no effect upon the obesity of the people who live in the study area.  The other study found the exact opposite.  “This research shows how important the environment can be for people’s health, “says the lead researcher of the second study, a professor at the University of Chicago.

One study concluded that it didn’t make any difference whether there was healthy food available, i.e., farmer’s markets, super markets, etc. in the study area.  The other study concluded that moving people away for fast food outlets greatly improved people’s health.

When you look at MacDonald’s menu and read the nutrition stuff (and the same thing goes for other fast food places), you may want to conclude that getting people away from that stuff could actually improve their health.

But the good news is that every fast food restaurant is making some sort of effort to offer more nutritious items.  However, it is taking a very long, long time.  I remember sitting on a curb in Fort Lauderdale, Florida ten years ago (that was another long road trip) trying to eat a Caesar Salad out of a stuffed plastic container, and finally, giving up, and going back for a Big Mac.

So that is the news from the road in the West.

See to get updates and lots of opinions and some actual facts.

Spending On Health Care Per Person In 2009

United States         $7,960

Norway                 $5,352
Switzerland            $5,144
Netherlands           $4,914
Canada                 $4,363
Denmark               $4,384
Austria                  $4,289
Germany               $4,218
France                 $3,978
Belgium                $3,946
Sweden                $3,722
Britain                  $3,487
Italy                     $3,137
Spain                   $3,067
New Zealand       $2,983

We have lived in France on two separate occasions and we have had reason to avail ourselves of the French Medical System once on each occasion.

I don't care what Paul Ryan and his idiot pals say about "socialized" medicine.  We received excellent care, and once it was even better than what we would have received in California.

And worse yet.  Our health care costs are growing faster that the economy is growing and therefore has the potential to bankrupt the country.  There is absolutely nothing in Obamacare to even slow down that growth.

And even worse.  Our results are worse than just about any of those European countries that are spoken of with so much contempt.  People in just about every European country live longer than we do and our infant mortality figures would embarrass a third world country.

Nobody in Washington seems to have the slightest interest in facts!  Be warned!!

Tom Friedman Explains It Perfectly!

Tom's piece in today's New York Times takes the gloves off when it comes to the corrupt relationship between Wall Street Bankers and Congress.

October 29, 2011

Did You Hear the One About the Bankers?

CITIGROUP is lucky that Muammar el-Qaddafi was killed when he was. The Libyan leader’s death diverted attention from a lethal article involving Citigroup that deserved more attention because it helps to explain why many average Americans have expressed support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The news was that Citigroup had to pay a $285 million fine to settle a case in which, with one hand, Citibank sold a package of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unsuspecting customers — securities that it knew were likely to go bust — and, with the other hand, shorted the same securities — that is, bet millions of dollars that they would go bust.
It doesn’t get any more immoral than this. As the Securities and Exchange Commission civil complaint noted, in 2007, Citigroup exercised “significant influence” over choosing $500 million of the $1 billion worth of assets in the deal, and the global bank deliberately chose collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s, built from mortgage loans almost sure to fail. According to The Wall Street Journal, the S.E.C. complaint quoted one unnamed C.D.O. trader outside Citigroup as describing the portfolio as resembling something your dog leaves on your neighbor’s lawn. “The deal became largely worthless within months of its creation,” The Journal added. “As a result, about 15 hedge funds, investment managers and other firms that invested in the deal lost hundreds of millions of dollars, while Citigroup made $160 million in fees and trading profits.”
Citigroup, which is under new and better management now, settled the case without admitting or denying any wrongdoing. James Stewart, a business columnist for The Times, noted that Citigroup’s flimflam made “Goldman Sachs mortgage traders look like Boy Scouts. In settling its fraud charges for $550 million last year, Goldman was accused by the S.E.C. of being the middleman in a similar deal, allowing the hedge fund manager John Paulson to help choose the mortgages and then bet against them without disclosing this to the other parties. Citigroup dispensed with a Paulson figure altogether, grabbing those lucrative roles for itself.” (Last Thursday, the U.S. District Court judge overseeing the case demanded that the S.E.C. explain how such serious securities fraud could end with the defendant neither admitting nor denying wrongdoing.)
This gets to the core of why all the anti-Wall Street groups around the globe are resonating. I was in Tahrir Square in Cairo for the fall of Hosni Mubarak, and one of the most striking things to me about that demonstration was how apolitical it was. When I talked to Egyptians, it was clear that what animated their protest, first and foremost, was not a quest for democracy — although that was surely a huge factor. It was a quest for “justice.” Many Egyptians were convinced that they lived in a deeply unjust society where the game had been rigged by the Mubarak family and its crony capitalists. Egypt shows what happens when a country adopts free-market capitalism without developing real rule of law and institutions.
But, then, what happened to us? Our financial industry has grown so large and rich it has corrupted our real institutions through political donations. As Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, bluntly said in a 2009 radio interview, despite having caused this crisis, these same financial firms “are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they, frankly, own the place.”
Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery. One consumer group using information from calculates that the financial services industry, including real estate, spent $2.3 billion on federal campaign contributions from 1990 to 2010, which was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined. Why are there 61 members on the House Committee on Financial Services? So many congressmen want to be in a position to sell votes to Wall Street.
We can’t afford this any longer. We need to focus on four reforms that don’t require new bureaucracies to implement. 1) If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big and needs to be broken up. We can’t risk another trillion-dollar bailout. 2) If your bank’s deposits are federally insured by U.S. taxpayers, you can’t do any proprietary trading with those deposits — period. 3) Derivatives have to be traded on transparent exchanges where we can see if another A.I.G. is building up enormous risk. 4) Finally, an idea from the blogosphere: U.S. congressmen should have to dress like Nascar drivers and wear the logos of all the banks, investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms that they’re taking money from. The public needs to know.
Capitalism and free markets are the best engines for generating growth and relieving poverty — provided they are balanced with meaningful transparency, regulation and oversight. We lost that balance in the last decade. If we don’t get it back — and there is now a tidal wave of money resisting that — we will have another crisis. And, if that happens, the cry for justice could turn ugly. Free advice to the financial services industry: Stick to being bulls. Stop being pigs.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

In Case You Were Wondering????

This piece from the New York Times explains what is going on perfectly.  Read on..................

October 29, 2011

Wall Street Protesters Hit the Bull’s-Eye

Occupiers of Zuccotti Park and other sites around the country have been criticized for the fuzziness of their goals. Their complaint that the privileged few in the top 1 percent are getting a disproportionate share of the nation’s prosperity, however, is spot on. And Wall Streeters are taking a bigger and bigger chunk of that income.
Who exactly are the people at the top? They are 1.4 million families that made on average $1 million in 2009, the latest data available. They took a hit from the 2008 financial crisis, but no doubt are regaining lost ground. The rich always do: a report published last week by the Congressional Budget Office shows that the share of national income going to the top percentage of households skyrocketed over the last three decades, even as it fell for the vast majority of American families.
The top 1 percent’s share of the nation’s total adjusted gross income was 17 percent in 2009, down from 23 percent two years before. But those people are still earning more than the entire bottom half of the population.
The first chart shows the share of national income that goes to families at different points of the income distribution. Since the mid-1980s the top 10 percent of Americans have increased their share at the expense of everybody else. But the lion’s share of these gains accrued to the richest 1 percent; and half of those gains went to the top 0.1 percent.
Wall Street financiers were always well paid. In the last three decades their representation at the very top of the income pyramid has grown by leaps and bounds. A recent study by two academic economists and a Treasury Department analyst found that financiers — bankers, fund managers and the like — account for about 14 percent of the taxpayers in the top percentile of income distribution. There are more non-financial business executives than bankers in this wealthiest slice of income. But their share of this slice fell over the past quarter century, while the financiers’ share grew substantially. Today financiers account for 16 percent of the income of the top percentile, up from 9 percent in 1979. Their share is now almost as big as that of lawyers and doctors combined.
It’s hard to believe today, but from the 1960s to about 1980 workers in finance made little more than those in the rest of the private sector, on average. Then, things changed: from the ’80s on, administrations from both parties embraced deregulation, undoing many of the rules put in place in the wake of the Great Depression to limit banks’ riskiest, and most lucrative, investments. Gone were the limits on interstate banking, down came the wall separating commercial and investment banks.
From 1979 to 2006, the financial industry’s share in the nation’s corporate profits grew from a fifth to almost a third. By 2006, bankers and insurers were making 70 percent more, on average, than workers in the rest of the private sector. Then they set off one of the worst financial crises in living memory, and taxpayers bailed them out.
The protesters’ grievances may be aimed at Wall Street as a metaphor for broader economic forces. But there is nothing metaphorical about who is taking home the wealth. The protesters might even aim a bit higher: the real income growth is happening in the top 0.1 percent. There are lots of bankers there, too. 

Something Really Scary!!

Student loans are now at a $1 TRILLION level.  That is almost as much as the entire housing debt.  There is a huge difference in the two debts.  Housing debt represent physical buildings and land that exist now.  We can argue about how to price that debt, but we know there is something behind that debt.

Student loans are different.  They do not represent anything tangible.  They represent some kind of pay out in the future.

To mortgage today is one thing, but to mortgage the future is entirely different!!

Here is one young man's story.  I think you will find it interesting.

Student loans add to angst at Occupy Wall Street

Many of the twentysomethings protesting in Manhattan have racked up sizable debts, and some are left to wonder whether their diplomas may be worth less than their cardboard signs.

By Geraldine Baum, Los Angeles Times
6:03 PM PDT, October 25, 2011
Reporting from New York
For almost a week, Nate Grant has sat cross-legged on a wall at the Occupy Wall Street encampment, holding a cardboard sign that bears his scrawled grievance: "Students Ought Not Be a Means of Profit."

Strangers have harangued him: "Get a job, you commie." Tourists have photographed him. Others have stopped to engage in existential standoffs. "I have to pay interest on my car loan," a banker told Grant. "What's the difference between that and you paying off a student loan?"

This sparked a debate that lasted so long that the 22-year-old protester from New Jersey missed out on getting a free sleeping bag. He spent his first night at the protest sleeping on cold concrete.

With the nation's student loan debt approaching $1 trillion, the issue has also generated debate in Washington. The Obama administration announced plans Tuesday to expand a government program to help 1.2 million borrowers reduce their payments and consolidate their student debt.

Republicans, including some presidential hopefuls, have demanded in recent days that government student aid programs be reduced or eliminated.

About two-thirds of the students who were in four-year colleges in 2009 used loans to pay tuition, accruing an average debt of $24,000, said Lauren Asher, president of the nonprofit Institute for College Access & Success. One in 10 owed $40,000 or more.

And even at a time when new tools have been developed to help poor students negotiate federal payments, an increasing percentage of them are defaulting. Last year, 320,000 people who recently left college defaulted on a federal payment.

"Compared to a generation ago, a lot more people have student loans and are carrying debt that is much greater," said Asher, adding that besieged state governments are passing on costs to students at public schools by driving up tuition.

"Most people look at the sticker prices at Harvard and Yale," Asher said. "But most students go to public schools, and tuitions there are also rising rapidly."

Republicans in Congress are seeking to lower the $5,000 cap on federal Pell Grants, which aid low- and middle-income students and do not require repayment.

"Look, I worked three jobs to pay off my student loans after college," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan said last week at a town hall meeting in his native Wisconsin. "I didn't get grants, I got loans, and we need to have a system of viable student loans to be able to do this."

Presidential candidate Ron Paul also reminded voters last weekend that he had worked his way through college and medical school, and promised that if he was in the White House he would eliminate federal student loans altogether.

But President Obama has supported loan programs and tried to improve them. He also has reminded voters of his personal experience: Both he and his wife, Michelle, came out of college and law school with $60,000 in student loan debt. "We were paying a bigger amount every month than our mortgage," he said last summer. "And we did that for eight, 10 years. So I know how burdensome this can be."

It doesn't take long before any conversation in the strikingly youthful crowd in Lower Manhattan turns to the loans many of the twentysomethings have racked up. It's not a central theme, like corporate greed and unemployment, but rather a subtext to all the chanting and marching.

Grant left Ithaca College in upstate New York in May with a degree in English and $90,000 in private and federal loans.

An honor student in high school, he could have had a "free ride" if he had gone to a public university in his home state. But he loaded up on student loans so he could enroll in Ithaca's communications program to study film directing. Within a year, Grant became disenchanted with the program and switched his major.

Unable to find a good job that pays a decent wage using his degree, Grant decided this summer to join the military, hoping to take advantage of a student loan repayment program that could shave $60,000 off his debt.

"I just felt I had to do something to get this monkey off my back," he said.

Since graduation Grant has been living with his parents in Little Egg Harbor, N.J., and doing odd jobs.

This summer, while he was mowing lawns and working at a kayak concession, he began questioning his decision to attend college. His father, who wraps meat at a local grocery store, hoped it would give him an advantage. But Grant looked at his older brother, who never went to college and is a UPS driver, and wondered.

"He is married and debt free except for his mortgage, and here I am with $90,000 and a piece of paper," Grant said. "Well, in a weird way I regret the whole college thing."

But then he smiled and pulled his gray knit cap tighter over his long blond hair, as if he was embarrassed.

"College makes you cynical," he said quickly. "I guess I'm proud of my degree. I just don't see where it gets me."

Cynical, perhaps, but when he read on the Internet about the rumblings down near Wall Street, he decided to join the fray.

"I kept seeing posts that everyone there was upper-middle-class and while their hearts are in the right place, they're trying to represent something they don't know," said Grant, who hitched a ride the two hours to Manhattan on Thursday.

His first day at Zuccotti Park, he seemed baffled by some of the flakier characters around him.

" 'I choose compassion,' " he said, reading a sign near him. "What the heck does that mean?"

He figured he was seeing "my generation's hippies.… At least they're better than hipsters. We don't like them."

The longer Grant spent perusing this poor man's Olympic Village, the more he became intrigued by the variety of grievances and the spirit. At one point, a chorus of protesters called people over, announcing, "The think tank is going to be discussing corporate personhood. Right here, right now."

Grant looked interested. But before he could say anything, a man who said he was from New Hampshire photographed Grant's sign and bellowed at him: "Lame, you're lame.… Stop complaining. Get a job."

Grant had been mostly silent the last few days, but this time he fired back: "That's why we're here, buddy. We can't get jobs."

By Tuesday, Grant had found work with the organizers running a camera — something he learned in college. It won't pay, but he said it felt good to have purpose.

"I've gotten a job with the movement," he texted. "It's eating up all of my time."

A question??

I took some photographs of the Occupy Wall Street people in El Paso and talked to several people in the park.  I can't figure out how to get those photographs into this blog.  Everything I have tried so far has led to a crash.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Some Numbers That Are Real!!

If you weren't sure that the Occupy Wall Street folks had a real complaint, these facts should dispel any doubts.

Since 1979, the richest 1% of U.S Households saw their after tax incomes increase by 275%.

In that same period, the incomes of the 60% of the households that make up the middle class had an after tax income increase of 39%

While the bottom 20% of all households had an increase of 18%.

Source of these numbers?  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO)

Friday, October 28, 2011

I Am Angry!!

According to this Financial Times columnist, a lot of other people are angry.  I could forgive Obama almost everything if only one Wall Street crook had gone to jail.  The infamous Abacus scheme that Goldman Sachs schemed up to fleece its own customers should have sent somebody to jail.  Instead, GS paid a fine of something like $550 million.  End of that story.  If you ran a business and stole money from your customers, you would go to jail for sure.  Anyway, here is this timely piece.

"Take note America: the public is angry
Being stuck in traffic is more bearable if the other lanes are moving. If all lanes are jammed for a long time, tempers flare. And if the police eventually arrive and let a few selected cars get out of their lanes and move through a special path, a riot is likely to ensue. This in short is the sentiment that propels the Occupy Wall St protests. We should take note.
The traffic jam metaphor for the political consequences of economic mobility was originally proposed by Albert Hirschman, the noted economist, in 1973 to explain changes in tolerance for income in equality in poor countries. The idea was as simple as it was powerful: even a modicum of social mobility – sparked by economic growth – buys patience and political stability in developing countries. As people see their relatives and neighbours improve their lot they are willing to wait for their turn.
This idea, which was offered to explain the tolerance for inequality in poor countries, is now in theory applicable to some of the world’s wealthiest nations – except that the Occupy Wall Street crowds, the protesters in the City of London, or the Italian and Greek protesters are getting out of their “cars”, and clashing with the police not just because they see their “traffic lane” horribly jammed. It’s also because they are moving backwards.
They are also paying more attention to the fact that others are advancing thanks to what they perceive as tricks, special privileges and corner-cutting. This is not about hopes sparked by others doing well, but about the collective rage at an elite doing obscenely well while the rest backslides.
Over a century ago Alexis De Tocqueville wrote that Americans’ higher tolerance for inequality relative to Europe’s was the result of more social mobility in the US.
This is over; at least for now. The long, peaceful coexistence with income and wealth inequality is ending. Americans are now infuriated by the fact that chief executives at some of the nation’s largest companies earned around 340 times more than a typical American worker.
While the numbers are unnerving and US income disparities are growing even more unequal, this is not new. What is new is the intolerance towards the hoarding by the “few” of unfathomable wealth, and also towards their profiting even in the midst of the crisis. The rich are seen to be either benefiting from bail-outs and other stimulus measures, or to be immune to the fiscal austerity that governments in many countries have had to adopt to stabilise their economies.
Nothing makes people take to the streets in protest like public budget cuts. In a recent study, Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth, professors at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, looked at a large data base that tracked political violence in 26 European countries between 1919 and 2009. They found that “expenditure cuts carry a significant risk of increasing the frequency of riots, anti-government demonstrations, strikes, political assassinations, and attempts at revolutionary overthrow of the established order.” While such events have a low probability in normal years, they concluded, they become much more common as austerity measures are implemented.
We know we have entered new political territory when Mitt Romney, the leading contender for the Republican party presidential nomination, who initially called the Occupy Wall Street movement “dangerous”, is quoted as saying: “I look at what’s happening on Wall Street and my own view is, boy I understand how those people feel …The people in this country are upset.” Yes, they are. They will stay that way until their lanes start moving again. Or, at least, those of their friends and neighbours."
The writer is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

O.K., Now I Am Convinced!

I admit to being a climate change doubter for a long time.   I won't bother you with the reasons for doubting, but they were valid.  However, over time, as the evidence mounted, my doubts withered away.  In today's Washington Post, Eugene Robinson puts a final end to my doubts.  Make up your own mind.

The scientific finding that settles the climate-change debate

By , Published: October 24

For the clueless or cynical diehards who deny global warming, it’s getting awfully cold out there.
The latest icy blast of reality comes from an eminent scientist whom the climate-change skeptics once lauded as one of their own. Richard Muller, a respected physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, used to dismiss alarmist climate research as being “polluted by political and activist frenzy.” Frustrated at what he considered shoddy science, Muller launched his own comprehensive study to set the record straight. Instead, the record set him straight.
“Global warming is real,” Muller wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal.
Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the neo-Luddites who are turning the GOP into the anti-science party should pay attention.
“When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn’t know what we’d find,” Muller wrote. “Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that.”
In other words, the deniers’ claims about the alleged sloppiness or fraudulence of climate science are wrong. Muller’s team, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, rigorously explored the specific objections raised by skeptics — and found them groundless.
Muller and his fellow researchers examined an enormous data set of observed temperatures from monitoring stations around the world and concluded that the average land temperature has risen 1 degree Celsius — or about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit — since the mid-1950s.
This agrees with the increase estimated by the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Muller’s figures also conform with the estimates of those British and American researchers whose catty e-mails were the basis for the alleged “Climategate” scandal, which was never a scandal in the first place.
The Berkeley group’s research even confirms the infamous “hockey stick” graph — showing a sharp recent temperature rise — that Muller once snarkily called “the poster child of the global warming community.” Muller’s new graph isn’t just similar, it’s identical.
Muller found that skeptics are wrong when they claim that a “heat island” effect from urbanization is skewing average temperature readings; monitoring instruments in rural areas show rapid warming, too. He found that skeptics are wrong to base their arguments on the fact that records from some sites seem to indicate a cooling trend, since records from at least twice as many sites clearly indicate warming. And he found that skeptics are wrong to accuse climate scientists of cherry-picking the data, since the readings that are often omitted — because they are judged unreliable — show the same warming trend.
Muller and his colleagues examined five times as many temperature readings as did other researchers — a total of 1.6 billion records — and now have put that merged database online. The results have not yet been subjected to peer review, so technically they are still preliminary. But Muller’s plain-spoken admonition that “you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer” has reduced many deniers to incoherent grumbling or stunned silence.
Not so, I predict, with the blowhards such as Perry, Cain and Bachmann, who, out of ignorance or perceived self-interest, are willing to play politics with the Earth’s future. They may concede that warming is taking place, but they call it a natural phenomenon and deny that human activity is the cause.
It is true that Muller made no attempt to ascertain “how much of the warming is due to humans.” Still, the Berkeley group’s work should help lead all but the dimmest policymakers to the overwhelmingly probable answer.
We know that the rise in temperatures over the past five decades is abrupt and very large. We know it is consistent with models developed by other climate researchers that posit greenhouse gas emissions — the burning of fossil fuels by humans — as the cause. And now we know, thanks to Muller, that those other scientists have been both careful and honorable in their work.
Nobody’s fudging the numbers. Nobody’s manipulating data to win research grants, as Perry claims, or making an undue fuss over a “naturally occurring” warm-up, as Bachmann alleges. Contrary to what Cain says, the science is real.
It is the know-nothing politicians — not scientists — who are committing an unforgivable fraud.

A Three Tier Economy??

I have been ranting about the development of a permanent class of unemployed Americans.  Today's New York Times has evidence that is actually happening.  Read on.

Outside Cleveland, Snapshots of Poverty’s Surge in the Suburbs

PARMA HEIGHTS, Ohio — The poor population in America’s suburbs — long a symbol of a stable and prosperous American middle class — rose by more than half after 2000, forcing suburban communities across the country to re-evaluate their identities and how they serve their populations.
The increase in the suburbs was 53 percent, compared with 26 percent in cities. The recession accelerated the pace: two-thirds of the new suburban poor were added from 2007 to 2010.
“The growth has been stunning,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution, who conducted the analysis of census data. “For the first time, more than half of the metropolitan poor live in suburban areas.”
As a result, suburban municipalities — once concerned with policing, putting out fires and repairing roads — are confronting a new set of issues, namely how to help poor residents without the array of social programs that cities have, and how to get those residents to services without public transportation. Many suburbs are facing these challenges with the tightest budgets in years.
“The whole political class is just getting the memo that Ozzie and Harriet don’t live here anymore,” said Edward Hill, dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.
This shift has helped redefine the image of the suburbs. “The suburbs were always a place of opportunity — a better school, a bigger house, a better job,” said Scott Allard, an associate professor at the University of Chicago who focuses on social welfare policy and poverty. “Today, that’s not as true as the popular mythology would have us believe.”
Since 2000, the poverty roll has increased by five million in the suburbs, with large rises in metropolitan areas as different as Colorado Springs and Greensboro, N.C. Over the decade, Midwestern suburbs ranked high; recently, the rise has been sharpest in communities the housing collapse hit the hardest, like Cape Coral, Fla., and Riverside, Calif., according to the Brookings analysis.
Nearly 60 percent of Cleveland’s poor, once concentrated in its urban core, now live in its suburbs, up from 46 percent in 2000. Nationwide, 55 percent of the poor population in metropolitan areas is now in the suburbs, up from 49 percent.
Poverty is new in Parma Heights, a quiet suburb of cul-de-sacs and clipped lawns, and asking for help can be hard. The Parma Heights Food Pantry, which began serving several dozen families a month in 2006, and now helps 260, draws a stream of casualties from the moribund economy. Many never needed food relief before.
Like Mary W., 59, who has worked all her life, most recently at a tire company in Cleveland, and was always the one to remind colleagues to donate to charity. Now she is the one who receives it.
When she first came to the pantry, “I cried my eyes out,” said Mary, who asked that her last name not be used because she did not want her children to know about her financial troubles.
At Vineyard Community Church in Wickliffe, another Cleveland suburb, Brent Paulson, the pastor, said he had to post an employee in the driveway the day the church’s food bank was open to coax people inside, they were so ashamed to ask for help.
In a sign of just how far the economic distress had spread, one volunteer saw his former boss come to the pantry, Mr. Paulson said.
The Cleveland Food Bank, which serves six counties, doubled its distribution between 2005 and 2010. “There’s this sense of surprise,” said Anne Goodman, the director, “this feeling that this has got to be a mistake. It has got to be a bad dream.”
Calls to the United Way social services hot line from suburban areas in northeast Ohio more than doubled from 2005 to 2010, outstripping the increase in cities. “We are seeing a rise in need in places we never expected it,” said Stephen Wertheim, director of the hotline, First Call for Help.
Poverty has been growing in the suburbs for years — along with the population. But the 53 percent increase in poverty far outstripped the 14 percent population increase in the past decade, speeding the change in their status as upper-middle-class enclaves. They have been attracting immigrants following construction jobs and families from cities seeking inexpensive housing as suburbs aged.
Federal vouchers to get poor people into private housing also contributed, Ms. Kneebone said. Cleveland was No. 15 among the country’s top 100 metropolitan areas for increase in suburban share of vouchers.
Urban problems have appeared. In Penn Hills, a suburb of Pittsburgh where people have always driven, poor residents walking near yards and bus stops have created trouble with litter, said Alexandra Murphy, a Princeton doctoral student studying suburban poverty.
Warrensville Heights, a suburb southeast of Cleveland, was pristine when Fran Matthews moved there in 1987, with good schools, manicured lawns and middle-class neighbors, she said. Now for-sale signs dot overgrown yards. Break-ins are on the rise, though crime is still far lower than in the city. Over all, the suburban poverty rate — 11.4 percent in 2010 — is still far below the city rate of 20.9 percent, according to Ms. Kneebone.
“Now when you come home, you have to look around before you get out of the car,” Ms. Matthews said.
The changes have affected the school system, she said, and her grandson now attends a charter school in Cleveland.
The double punch of the recession and the foreclosure crisis — which hit Cleveland and its suburbs particularly hard — has dragged middle-class people down the income ladder. As defined by the Census Bureau, the poverty line for a family of four was $22,314 last year.
“This community is middle class, but right on the line,” said Brad Sellers, a retired professional basketball player who grew up in Warrensville Heights and is running for mayor. “Any dramatic downturn can send you over the edge.”
The unemployment rate among black Americans was 16 percent in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — nearly double the national rate, a painful statistic in a suburb that is majority black.
“Where’s that 9 percent?” Mr. Sellers asked. “Not here.”
Some communities resist the idea that poverty exists. When Ann George, who runs the Parma Heights pantry with stalwart volunteers, speaks at churches and community gatherings, “I see the skepticism on people’s faces,” she said. “They say, ‘This is Parma Heights, not Cleveland.’ ”
Other suburbs are adapting. In Maple Heights, Mayor Jeffrey Lansky embraced the idea of a food bank, setting aside a space for it in 2008 and having the Fire Department help renovate it. The Cuyahoga County Public Library now runs after-school homework centers with snacks from the food bank, aimed at the growing population of poor children.
Edward FitzGerald, the executive of Cuyahoga County, argued that the increase in the suburban poor population could help lead to a fundamental change in local government. For years Cleveland had most of the population — and resources — but policy should reflect the flip in favor of the county, he said.
And with the state slashing funds, counties and the suburbs they contain will have to ramp up social services and economic development on their own, many for the first time.
“You’re talking about governing systems that have never really done this before,” Mr. FitzGerald said.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Some Numbers To Think About

We have just finished 4,000 miles through fifteen Western and Mid-Western states.  We covered some Interstate miles, some blue highways, a few big cities and a lot of small towns.  In the next few days, I will share five significant observations we made along that ride.

We even made a Occupy Wall Street camp in El Paso.  More about that later.  For now, here are some statistics from government sources that explain why those people (include me) are so angry.

*The number of people making more than $1,000,000 (one million dollars) increased 18% over 2009.

*The median household income in the U.S. in 1999 was $53,252, but in 2010 it was $49,445.

*In 1999, the average yearly worker premium for healthcare was $2,068, but in 2011 it was $4,128.

*In 1990-91, the average annual cost of college at a public four year college was $8,483, but in 2010-2011 it was $16,140.

*The numbers for private colleges for the same years are $22,530 and $36,993.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Maybe we should elect Warren president!!

At least we wouldn't have to worry about his being bought (e.g. Bribed!)

"Warren Buffett, in a recent  interview with CNBC, offers one of the best
quotes about the debt ceiling:

"I could  end the deficit in 5 minutes," he told CNBC. "You just pass a  law
that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of  GDP, all
sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election.  The 26th
amendment (granting the  right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months
& 8 days  to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it. That was in
1971...before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc.  Of  the 27 amendments to
the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or  less to become the law of the
land...all because of public pressure.

Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email to a minimum of
twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of those to do
In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the
message. This is one idea that really should be passed around.

*Congressional Reform Act of 2011*

1. No Tenure / No Pension.  A Congressman collects a salary while in office
and receives no pay when they are out of office.

2.  Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.  All
funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security
system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system,
and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for
any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans

4. Congress will no longer vote  themselves a pay raise.  Congressional pay
will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the
same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective
The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen
made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor,
not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours
should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work."

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take
three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message. Maybe it is

THIS IS HOW YOU FIX CONGRESS!!!!!  If  you agree with the above, pass it on.
If not, just delete. You  are one of my 20. Please keep it going.

Monday, October 10, 2011

#19 The American people are extremely pessimistic about the economy right now.  According to one recent poll  , 56 percent of Americans have lost sleep due to the economy and about three-quarters of Americans believe that the nation is on the wrong track.
The nation is in a very sour mood right now, and this is causing even many in the mainstream media to ask some very hard questions.
For example, Jack Cafferty recently asked the following question to viewers on CNN....
"What are the chances the U.S. economy could eventually trigger violence in our country?"
You can view the video of Cafferty asking this question right here   or you can just watch it below....
Sadly, we are already starting to see violence erupt all over North America.
Yesterday I highlighted the horrifying violence that we saw in Vancouver this week  .
In previous articles   I have discussed the insanity that has been going on in major U.S. cities such as Chicago.
Now even the mainstream media is being forced to report on the surge in violence.
A recent USA Today article   described some of the most recent mob robberies that have been happening in Chicago....
A Chicago Tribune report tells of a 68-year-old man from Washington State who was set upon while he was smoking a cigar on a bench when youths surrounded him, attacked him and reportedly stole a phone and iPad. The report says a 42-year-old Japanese tourist also was beaten and robbed on a bicycle path by the lakefront. The paper says seven were arrested, but that the group participating in the felonies was estimated at 15 to 20 people strong. One 20something suburbanite told Chicago's WGN TV that he was hit so hard in the head with a baseball that it knocked his motorcycle helmet off. he managed to fight his way out of trouble and hail police, he said.
When people don't have hope, they get desperate.
There are millions of other Americans that are suffering through this economy quietly.
There are so many people out there that have worked hard and have followed all the rules and yet now find themselves struggling just to survive.
For example, a reader named Carolyn recently left a comment in which she shared her story with my readers....
My husband lost his long-term job in 2009 due to budget cuts. Don’t worry, I said. I’m still working, and we have a year of our salary in savings. You’re smart, you’re educated, you’re a hard worker. You’ll find a job soon.
Two months later, my long-term job was sent to India.
I still wasn’t worried. I’m smart, I’m educated, and I’m a smart worker.
A year and a half later, I haven’t found new career yet. I’m 50. No one is going to hire me. I am working – at a Home Depot. At a 79% pay cut from my prior position. But it doesn’t pay for anything. My husband found a new position in his field – at a 62% pay cut from his prior position.
We lived off unemployment and our savings, until both ran out. We put our house and investment property on the market the day after I lost my job.
We haven’t had one offer.
We just had our Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharged. Our foreclosure is still pending. No word yet when that will be done.
To add insult to injury, we owe Federal income taxes on the penalties we used to make withdrawals from our 401(k)’s to live off. My husband took a job in another state, and we were SHOCKED to learn that we owed NEW YORK STATE taxes on the income he earned in Mississippi – to New York state! Apparently there is some loophole that if you are a property owner in New York, but earn income in another state, you have to pay New York state income taxes on out of state earned income.
We’ve been told once our foreclosure is finalized, we may owe taxes on that as well.
What happened to our country?

It is so sad to see what is happening to America.
Things are so hard out there for so many millions of American families right now.
But the truth is that things are much better at the moment than they will be in a few years.
So what is America going to look like when there is no doubt that the economy has collapsed and people have no hope at all?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Surpise!!

I am in Minneapolis and I have fallen in love!!  Her name is Vanessa Dayton and here is what she has to say in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today.

"I am a staff physician at two Minneapolis hospitals, and I know how we can reduce the budget deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars per year without raising taxes.  At any given time, there is usually at least one patient in every intensive  care unit in the Twin Cities who has irreversible dementia or end stage cancer and is being kept going for his or her last few weeks with mechanical life support paid for by Medicare--at a cost sometimes in excess of a quarter of a million dollars per week.

Why?   Because they don't have an Advanced Health Care Directive instructing care givers not to use aggressive measures if there is no hope for meaningful recovery.  It doesn't mean that someone won't be made comfortable in their final hours; it just means that they won't be hooked up to a bunch of painful tubes and noisy machines.

I've already done my part.  I have an Advanced Care Directive, and I have explained to my family members exactly what it means.  You should, too."

And here is why she is exactly right.  I have found four very good research studies on this topic (there is a lot of idiotic crap out there), and they all say the same thing.  They used different criteria, but all came to the same conclusion.  60% to 80% of ALL HEALTHCARE FUNDS SPENT IN THE UNITED STATES ARE SPENT DURING THE LAST TWO YEARS, TWO MONTHS, TWO WEEKS OF LIFE!!!

Go back and read that again.  It tells you almost everything you need to know to understand how to get healthcare expenditures under control.