Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rising wages?

I was prepared to eat my own words about wage stagnation when I started reading this article: Household income posts first gain in 6 years. But the article quickly provides an alternate explanation:

Although real household income was up, wages and salaries lost ground. Wages for men fell 1.8 percent to $41,386; wages for women fell 1.3 percent to $31,858.

The difference between rising household income and falling wages and salaries may be traced to two factors, according to David S. Johnson, the chief of the Census Bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division: Household income can include other sources of income, such as from stock dividends. And some households may have added low-income workers - they would raise the income of the household, but at the same time bring down the median wage.

That could explain why consumer confidence is at a 9-month low. Extra family members are taking odd jobs or returning to the workforce as underemployed, artificially boosting the employment numbers that Bush is so happy about. But consumers aren't buying it. There's a strong sense that something isn't right with our economy. The wealthy are proclaiming the benefits of tax reductions, businesses are showing record earnings again, and government tax receipts are increasing. But most Americans aren't so ebullient, and the talking points from this administration are more broadly distrusted.

Lastly, I wanted to point to an interesting post on a new blog I like, Job's Anger. The post discusses a trial balloon that Republicans are floating to test a way to turn the economic weakness against Democrats. From the Dallas Morning News:
But economic experts say the biggest reason for a six-year slump in median household income has been the migration of more low-income people into the region.
This is a classic (and cynically brilliant) Rove strategy of projecting his candidates' weaknesses as faults of the opposition. It insinuates that the "liberal" approach to immigration is behind the wage decline, so they are trying to turn this issue around on Democrats and attack on two fronts at once. It's clever, but nasty and counterproductive to our nation's pressing issues by associating the two issues when they've been unable to fix either.

I am not a morning person...

... so I found this hilarious!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Chickenshit chickenhawks

A chickenhawk is an aggressively pro-war person who has no military experience and typically avoids all opportunities to serve.

A peacenik comes from the other end of the political spectrum, arguing that war is never productive, nor do the ends ever justify the means.

Both are very ideological positions. But chickenhawks are hypocritical in their desire to risk others' lives and not their own, and I've never heard a sincere and respectable justification for their ideology. On the contrary, most of their public statements fall into this pattern:

  • "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service." Dick Cheney was of military age and a supporter of the Vietnam War but he did not serve in the war, applying for and receiving five draft deferments. On May 19, 1965, Cheney was classified as 1-A , "available for service" by the Selective Service. On October 26, 1965 the Selective Service lifted the constraints on drafting childless married men. Cheney and his wife then had a child after which he applied for and received, a reclassification of 3-A, gaining him a final draft deferment.
  • "They may be with you for the first shots," Rove said of Democrats, "but they're not going . . . to be with you for the tough battles." Rove received his first deferment in 1969 "because of his enrollment at the University of Utah in the fall.... He maintained this deferment until Dec. 14, 1971, despite being only a part-time student in the autumn and spring quarters of 1971 (registered for between six and 12 credit hours) and dropping out of the university in June of 1971."
  • ... and now Anthony Mantova, a 24-year-old neo-conservative working for the Leadership Institute, who writes pieces such as “It is Time to Invade Iran." When confronted on his aggressive stance, Mantova "flatly refused to concede to serving the United States in the military. The money quote from these conversations came when Mantova berated me for what he said was my 'hillbilly, intellectually vacant and morally repugnant belief that 'those who call for war must serve.''"
Peaceniks may have their failings, but intellectual dishonesty is not one of them.

(source: the News Blog)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

McCain is not likely to succeed in fixing America

Great post from Digby, finding McCain's true stripes.

"What they need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit." - George W. Bush.

"One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the bullshit.'" John McCain.
McCain is not a good "alternative" to the neocon agenda. He's no alternative whatsoever. He claims his beliefs are different than Bush's, but he won't speak them: "I'm not sure right now that I'd like to criticize this administration because I think they're doing the very best they can."

But his only attempts to go against the grain are when he wears his "Maverick" codpiece and rams something through Congress like his anti-torture amendment. He didn't blink when Bush attempted to veto the legislation through a signing statement. It was all a setup, preparing America for a man who can buck the ills of the Bush administration while secretly working to bring the true conservative agenda to the White House. It's not much different than you could expect from Sen. Clinton, but the calculations and machinations are a little less obvious.

In a war to pander to the middle, the right is most apt to win. They've "stood for principles" for so long it couldn't possibly be pandering if coming from the GOP. So McCain, despite the Maverick stance with his own base, is a strong contender. Perhaps even because of his past stance with his base.

If Democrats want to be known for having a spine and strong convictions, they need to stand their ground on every issue for the next two years. Or until the Republicans, if they are true patriots, admit their massive, ridiculous mistakes and voluntarily request the Dems' assistance in fixing our country's problems. There is no issue more important right now.

I know some of my readers share my distrust of McCain. Please drop a comment since I've been meaning to ask you to elaborate your thoughts, so you might as well leave them here!

Keeping an open mind

This article contradicts almost every belief I hold about the economy, even its quoted data points. Since statistics can lie you need many data sets and perspectives to help make informed decisions about how to manage your money. This article is well written and has given me some pause. But I'm still very happy with my investment reallocation. Q3 earnings will be very interesting, and by Q4 I'll know when I want to get back in the market (though I'm still very bullish on a few companies).

Interesting perspectives on Israel

This batch of articles is worth posting to contrast with my prior condemnations of Israel's and Hezbollah's behavior in the recent conflict.

"Israelis are far quicker to criticize their government during and immediately after a war than Americans are.... An even starker contrast is noticeable between Israel-supporters in Israel and Israel-supporters in America. Israel’s partisans in the U.S. often talk as though Israel rarely makes any mistakes, that because Israel is a democracy with a right to defend itself it can do no or little wrong. Israelis themselves rarely do this." - Michael J. Totten

"A poll in Israel showed a 63 percent of respondents want [Israel's] Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign for what they see as failure to handle the conflict in Lebanon." - United Press International

"Israel's military chief acknowledges failings in war" - China Daily
On the Hezbollah side, an equally bizarre about-face:
"We did not think, even 1 percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not." - Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, from the Associated Press.
I honestly never expected either side to be so forthcoming, which shows my ignorance of the region. But I still have very low expectations for future civility. Something about a region that's dominated with religious extremists makes me think that there's little hope for peace.

Little Miss Sunshine

Mrs. Hippie and I recently saw a terrific movie called Little Miss Sunshine. All because I trusted a random person with similar tastes. Go see the movie!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The social impact of body acceptance

As a person who enjoys being naked myself, I found this article interesting in how it "covers" nudism in a very positive and amusing light:

"I don't see why it's such a big deal," said Alec McPherson, a recent high school graduate as he sat at a coffee shop table, browsing a thick volume of artwork from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Everyone's naked in this book."

His companion, Jeremiah Compton, a high school junior who plays in a local metal-and-punk band, agreed. "It's just that we're bored and expressing our right," he said.

"We have a nuclear power plant a few miles away and a ridiculous war in the Middle East, countries getting bombed," said Ian Bigelow, a 23-year-old who had gathered with some of his friends outside a bookstore. "So why's it such a big problem if we chose to get nude?"

There are disproportionately fewer nudists amongst Gen-X / Gen-Y than their parents' generation, so the demographic from this article is a good sign.

When I attended college at Rice University I participated in a tradition called Baker 13 that involved streaking through campus wearing only shaving cream. It is such a significant tradition at Rice that many undergraduates feel compelled to participate; they want to experience something wildly divergent from their normal personality types in order to challenge themselves and their inhibitions. But that doesn't mean they aren't nervous about it. Women especially have been conditioned to outsource approval of their figure, and are typically the most fearful of running Baker 13. They're also the most brave, because they participate in equal numbers despite these artificial but pressing concerns.

What I discovered after running Baker 13 for years was that the throng of streakers began the run with all thoughts directed at themselves and their awkward discomfort. In nearly every run, within 10 minutes people began to realize that everyone was so preoccupied with themselves that they weren't gawking at each other as they had feared would happen. It became evident that nobody was in a position to judge, nor were they doing so. And the thrill of freedom from judgement, especially in contrast to intense self-criticism, is exhilarating and liberating. This positive experience generates the word of mouth interest that keeps such strange traditions alive on many campuses and across many waves of student bodies, so to speak.

Challenging social norms and personal inhibitions is a powerful way of understanding who you are and what makes you tick. You can study your response to your biggest fears and develop confidence that you can take on future challenges and inevitable societal changes. This is why college has been important for so many people in discovering themselves. For these high school kids in Vermont to open their minds so early is terrific, and I applaud them.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Schmidt Sting Pain Index

I saw a piece on local TV about the invasion of scorpions in the central Texas area (btw, this is the first local news segment I've watched in 3 months). I've been wondering about this for a long time: how bad are stings from different wasps (including hornets and yellowjackets), bees and ants? Now I know. But I couldn't recall each type of insect sting I've received, and I've always been curious about the differences between the types of pain. It's hard to describe, but the pain from different stings is composed of very different unpleasant sensations.

I've not been stung by a scorpion despite having encountered 10 in my old apartment in one summer. But they supposedly feel no worse than a strong bee sting. I have however stepped barefoot and firmly on a Tarantula hawk (a.k.a. Pepsip wasp); its dying efforts focused on filling my foot with poison. This one in particular was a Pepsis formosa, a shiny black wasp with "metallic blue" sheen.

The sting, particularly of Pepsis formosa, is among the most painful of any insect.
Cool, so I wasn't just being a pantywaist. It felt like I stepped on a burning hot shard of glass which splintered in the arch of my sole. I couldn't focus my eyes by the time I looked down at my foot, but I could see a black shape that shouldn't be there, and I knew it wasn't blood. I swiped the crushed wasp away and gimped towards the bathroom sink where I sat with my foot under cold water until somebody found me 10 minutes later. I had immense difficulty walking the next day. Stay away from black, shiny wasps.

This segment of the Hippie Nature Show was brought to you by my favorite website for undirected web surfing and edu-tainment, Wikipedia.

Conflict of interest?

This USA Today story is claiming that the recent ruling against Bush's warantless wiretapping program may be tainted by undisclosed bias from the judge. The concern in particular is that she is "a trustee and secretary of the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan." This organization donated "$45,000 in recent years to the ACLU of Michigan for programs serving gay men and lesbians."

The ACLU is the primary actor in this civil suit, but it is not about gay rights in Michigan. Neither is it about censorship of internet access in our public libraries. Nor is it about protecting the privacy of Rush Limbaugh's medical records. The ACLU is a very broad organization with many independent goals. I respect the need to scrutinize possible conflicts of interest, but I get the feeling this is no more than a swift-boat attack on this judge's character to mitigate the damage to the reputation of the spying program and its ilk.

Update: Glenn Greenwald does an excellent job explaining the legal misunderstandings that support the scattershot of attacks on the quality of the decision in this case.

Misplaced concerns

Crap, Blogger Beta posted my draft instead of saving it. To properly attribute this quote I guess I'll finish my post:

There is a much greater risk from lifestyles that hurt you - smoking, walking across the street without looking both ways, not putting bars in the window if you've got kids and you live above the first floor, those kinds of things. - Michael Bloomberg on Rolling Stone
This is an important narrative to emphasize. The fear that terrorism is as great a threat as Mutually Assured Destruction from nuclear attacks in the cold war is overblown, and if we were really concerned about the potential for irresponsible parties to wield nuclear weapons for massive civilian death and destruction then we should be much more worried about Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel, which actually have these weapons and have shown little compassion for loss of civilian lives, which they dismiss as "collateral damage".

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fear drives oil prices high through speculation

This article posits that uncertainty is driving the price of oil at 25% higher than appropriate. We've seen this before in the 80s with uncertainty caused by Saudi Arabia nationalizing its oil fields. Unfortunately with uncertainty comes speculation, and the speculation is causing higher prices for consumers at the pump. The "supply and demand" profits that Exxon insinuates is the consumers' fault is actually the supply and demand of oil futures. But unlike an overvalued bubble of speculation that can occur in the stock market, the futures contracts drive up the real price of this commodity and consumers foot the bill for massive profits at Exxon. And oil companies have done very little with their windfall profits. They've neglected their pipelines and delayed building new refineries to reduce our dangerous over-reliance on gulf coast refineries.

Maybe we need a market where cynically manipulative investors cannot profit at the expense of the unknowing public. But first, let's get the public educated and see if they feel the same way.

Mandatory laws "for our own good"

I rarely trust the government when it decides to limit our liberties for "our own good." For this reason I can understand why some people want more freedom to invest their Social Security money as they see fit. But today's subject is the proposal for a law mandating the use of bicycle helmets in Austin.

Reader D'Amico posted thoughts on an old blog post of mine, and the Burnt Orange Report has a new post discussing this subject. I agree that we should not have a mandatory bicycle helmet law. For three years I had a commute that involved waiting at an intersection where people ran the red light from a turn lane nearly every single day. I have called the police a number of times to request better enforcement or delayed signal changes; there would some times be as many as three cars in a row coming across the intersection when my light was green. The problem was never addressed.

The only argument for requiring bicycle helmet use is for the safety of the bicyclist. Bicyclists can decide their own fate without impacting the lives of others (with a few exceptions, although a helmet is not a likely cause of injury). If our law enforcement is not paying attention to existing traffic laws that allow people to endanger themselves and others, there is no reason to support the bicycle helmet law.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Attended an investors conference in Dallas, TX

On my way back to Austin I attended a conference in Dallas that had a guest speaker from Investors Business Daily, Fred Richards, who was a very entertaining, curmudgeonly septuagenarian. He is extremely bearish on the market and bullish on gold. Here are some key points:

  • Every time since 1914 when the Fed has paused its rate hikes, it was done for the time being. This time will be the exception.
  • Fred expects the Fed rate to rise to as much as 8% within a year. I don't agree with the magnitude, but our sentiments are similar. This is a very big deal, and I'll go into more details below.
  • Overall Fred feels like the government is practicing "Enron Accounting".
  • He also believes there's a fair chance that Ford will declare Chapter 11 and GM will follow shortly, sending the markets in a tailspin.
More details on the Fed's monetary policy:

The Fed has stopped announcing its M3 metric of monetary liquidity, playing with numbers just as they have done recently with inflation measures in order to mask the work they're doing behind the scenes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing since the Fed has a major role in preventing needless market panic, and perhaps they are trying to hide just how bad things are until they get a handle on what they can do about it. Some things such as the housing market are so outside of the Fed's control right now that they may decide to sacrifice it in favor of reducing inflation by raising rates much higher. But the market sentiment shows that people are still not ready to accept the reality of our current situation.

Though the Fed paused its rate hikes, it is still increasing liquidity while other nations are reducing liquidity (e.g. Bank of Japan) and raising interest rates. Increasing liquidity means that the Fed is dumping dollars onto the market, effectively lowering the value of each person's dollar. A more direct effect is that the dollar remains undervalued compared to its previous stance against the Euro, Yen, etc. While this helps reduce our trace deficit by attracting more international interest in purchasing American goods, it also lowers the value of the tremendous treasuries (US debt) held by foreign investors and foreign banks. Fred also notes that the "risk spread" in treasuries between short-term and long-term rates is very low, indicating that investors are as uncertain about the near future as they are about the long-term prospects of the economy. In order to combat inflation without damaging the economy too heavily, I agree with Fred that the Fed appears to be maneuvering towards a policy of increasing liquidity and increasing interest rates, but after this pause I'm less certain of the Fed's intentions.

Foreign banks will likely start to dump their treasuries unless they see further incentives to hold them. Politics still plays heavily into this however, and countries like China have massive holdings of US treasuries to help stabilize their currency but also to garner political favor with the US (and offset the painful trade deficit). There's no easy strategy here. But overall the increasing liquidity may also require a significant rate hike to attract more buyers of US debt. And without any leadership in the White House to reduce our debt and trade deficit, we become increasingly at the economic mercy of other countries. Fred pointed out that the Euro is the basis currency for almost as much international trade as the Dollar (both of which outpace the Yen slightly). And while the Dollar is still the basis for most oil trading, OPEC has diminishing incentive to maintain this.

Returning to monetary policy, Fred sees a very high risk that the Dollar will lose much of its value against other currencies. This may be intentional from the Fed's increasing liquidity, or unintentional due to massive liquidation of dollar assets from disinterested foreign banks and investors. The way to fight this is with strong rate hikes, which will pummel the American housing market and wash through the rest of our economy. But the alternative with keeping rates low and reducing liquidity will also hurt the economy, with high inflation and a low risk-spread on Treasuries causing worried investors to sit on their assets and not reinvest in the market (further reducing liquidity).

Some believe that our economy needs a cold shower to recover from our hangover of partying too hard for the past 6 years. The bursting tech bubble was combating by Alan Greenspan with record-low interest rates, driving money sideways into the housing market and causing a bubble there. That didn't solve our problems, but merely shifted them to a different asset class. A recession can be like a controlled burn, clearing out the "underbrush" of waste, mismanaged money and excessive consumer spending; at this point it may be a necessity. The question is just one of timing: is Bernanke maintaining the status quo until after elections?

While I keep hearing shouts that "cash is king", a weak stance on inflation will turn much attention towards commodities (gold, platinum, etcetera). A stronger stance on inflation may still cause dollar devaluation, again drawing attention to commodities. Fred is very, very bullish on gold and copper. I plan to research these more and I will post my findings soon.

Bear 2, Cat 1

Before leaving NJ I decided I really wanted to know which could win in a fight: a tiger or a bear. A quick YouTube search rendered this (disregard the cheesy animation at the end). The internet provides instant gratification for ADD/OCD folks such as myself. Aside from compelling YouTube footage, I learned from Wikipedia that Tigers are the most powerful of the cat family (not lions?) and grow to 700 pounds, while a Grizzly Bear is as large as 1,550 pounds and can run 35 mph... and climb trees! Crap!

I don't watch much TV, and my brain isn't compatible with devices such as TiVo. Maybe I get bored too quickly to wait for entertainment to come to me?

Perhaps not. I'm addicted to the Ze Frank show, and his latest two pieces are terrific. Watch them!

This is Texas Hippie, searching the massive tubes for glorious time-wasters so you don't have to.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Another seat bites the dust...

Maybe party hopping happens more regularly than I presumed. It's like leaving one great keg party for another; nobody's feelings are hurt since there's plenty of tax-payer abuse to go around! If Lieberman switches too then I'll think this is just politics, but I am starting to wonder if the Democrats have some kind of (cliche alert) "sex appeal" going on all of a sudden?

Death by Chocolate

A man nearly drowns in chocolate, and this article feels in necessary to specify that it was dark chocolate? The mainstream TV news bullshit is infecting our internets! Damn you Ted, it's not something you just dump something on!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

On the road again

Just can't wait to get on the road again.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"US involved in planning Israel's operations in Lebanon"

US involved in planning Israel's operations in Lebanon. Even if one doubts this story, it's clear that the US is seen internationally as being complicit with Israel. We already have a damaged image internationally and specifically in the Middle East, and we can't even hope to spread democracy in the region if our intentions aren't trusted. Bush is undermining his own stated goals.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Protecting our country against terrorism in part requires getting rid of those who strive to maintain a tremulous American public, thus supporting the efforts of terrorists; this specifically includes the Bush administration. This administration has repeatedly stoked terror for political gains, and in turn terrorists help support a fumbling, divisive White House that makes global enemies. The White House and terrorists use each other for mutual political advantage.

Some feedback I've received from my friends and family suggests that I should avoid long excerpts that break my train of thought. (And I should not fear to discuss important commonplaces such as boogers and poo). But I often find a piece so eloquent and succinct that I have to post an excerpt. Instead of doing that today, I strongly encourage you to watch (or read) the apropos Ze Frank show.

Americans have largely adapted to the realities of this disquieting "new" world, from which we had been insulated for so long. People began to criticize the color-coded terror alert system as merely a political tool. It was never effective as an anti-terrorism tactic, but the administration is still hard at work exploring new ways to keep us in fear.

A majority believe that the administration and Congress have their priorities all wrong. Should it surprise you at this point that most Americans know better than this administration what's best for our country? Maybe so; I've not built up to that confidence yet but I'm working hard to help get us there.

It is our duty as patriots to ensure that America isn't duped yet again into the false construct that the GOP is the supreme protector of our country's health and prosperity. It is not.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Cargo Cult of Science, by Richard Feynman

This is a very interesting article by a very strange man, Richard Feynman.

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they're missing.... It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science.... a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.
We could learn from this in trying to make compelling political arguments. I'm still not very disciplined in that respect, and while I try to discount false constructs that other liberal bloggers tend to run with, I still make mistakes. Feedback from readers can help but it doesn't take the place of personal discipline, and it does not preclude the trappings of Group Think in political circles.

I've got some thoughts on how to remedy this in a broader fashion... stay tuned.

P.S. Engineers in the audience would also enjoy this article about Feynman's surprising use of partial differential equations to design a router for a 64,000 processor machine. The article is also the only direct reference I've seen to Feynman's supposed misogyny.


Bookmarks on Lieberman

I don't want to gib the Lamont / Lieberman subject, mostly because I've exhausted interest after these two threads I posted on from Austin blogs that supported Lieberman.

But I did want to bookmark this post from the Next Hurrah covering some poll data in case I need to reference it later. You might find it interesting too. Lastly I wanted to summarize one simple reason for the widespread opposition to Lieberman: his unfailing support for the Bush administration, specifically on the Iraq war. His own words:
It'’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation'’s peril. - Sen. Lieberman (original video here)
So much for checks and balances. The response to Joe's supposed efficacy as a centrist can be summarized as follows:
Let's break free of our learned helplessness.

"Conservatism never fails. It is only failed."

Digby knew this day would come. I referenced it a few times too. Now we hear this from Rush Limbaugh:

"The Republican Congress has a problem. It is working without the presence of an elected conservative leader. George W. Bush is conservative but he is not a conservative. He's Republican, but he's not a conservative. He is not leading the conservative movement."
Here are the choice quotes that predicted this:
  • "In conservative intellectual discourse there is no such thing as a bad conservative. Conservatism never fails. It is only failed." - Rick Perlstein
  • "There is no such thing as a bad conservative. 'Conservative' is a magic word that applies to those who are in other conservatives' good graces. Until they aren't. At which point they are liberals." - the inimitable Digby
It's amazing that they're actually preparing a CYA so they can give their failed political philosophy another try.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Word of the Day: solipsistic

I've not done this segment in a while, but here goes:

Solipsism (noun):

1) a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing; also : extreme egocentrism

- adjective
..."centrists" who see themselves next in line if Lieberman falls... want Joe to hold back the barbarian horde for all of them. It'’s a stupid, shortsighted and solipsistic construct. The self-righteous indignation of people like Lanny Davis and Martin Peretz are buoying Lieberman into a wholesale purchase of the myth that he is a great man and a great wrong has been done to him. (link)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Excellent one-post summary about Housing

The Housing sector cool-down will have a profound impact on our economy. Along with indicators and trends that I use to track the "what" of market cycles I look for true causality to explain the "why" and guide my investment strategy. This single post effectively summarizes the raw data that shows our economy's risk to a housing decline. Let's just hope my marketplace combo-strategy of rhythm method and "pull and pray" work.

It's not easy being green, but it's a terrific thing

CNNMoney reports that homeowners are looking for ways to combat their mounting energy bills. This past spring I bought a truck-load of cellulose insulation and got an insulation blower rented to me for free with the purchase. Filling my attic to a minimum R-30 value has already reduced my energy costs 25% and should pay for itself within a year or two.

The article mentions a green builder from Austin, which isn't surprising given the city's green focus. For example Austin Energy provides free thermostat with programmable A/C levels based on the time of day; but the coolest feature is the passive radio communications used to allow the city to turn off AC units across much of the city, synchronizing the units to a staggered schedule during peak demand. This prevents rolling blackouts or brownouts which stress their equipment, and it also saves the city from having to purchase very expensive additional power at peak demand. It's green and financially savvy!

You can see from the Austin Energy website that they have numerous energy efficiency programs, including a solar panel promotion with amazing rebates and surplus energy deduction that allows an installation to pay for itself within approximately seven years.

We have gained the initiative

In chess, gaining the initiative (hat-tip to DG) is the act of making a bold move that forces the opponent to play defensively. It's an accepted generalization that if both players are of equal strength then the best black can do is draw; by definition black is a reactionary player since white makes the first move. Thus as the underdog, it's extremely important that Democrats gain initiative if they want to define the political battleground, even internally. The GOP may be bad at governance, but they're terrific at winning elections, and this has more to do with skillful gameplay than it does their inherent approval by Americans.

Ned Lamont has gained the initiative on Lieberman, forcing Lieberman to distance himself from Bush in a belated attempt to represent his constituents' distaste for the war in Iraq. The Democratic party needs to recognize that this race is a message from their base, a hitherto recently unengaged bloc from a very liberal state. Energizing the base is key to winning elections, period.

My thoughts were spurred by this surprise: the GOP is watching this race carefully, and they don't know quite yet how to capitalize on either outcome. The fact that they are responding to Democratic momentum shows just how vulnerable they are, and is a far cry from the hubris they have shown the past 12 years. Let's maintain the tempo and return the Democratic Party - and Congress - to the people of our great country.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Link for myself

This is a reminder to myself of a great image explaining the cyclical nature of the market and the power of autosuggestion, courtesey of the Big Picture.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Kay Bailey Hutchison: you're poor if you own less than $10 million

Another great post on the Burnt Orange Report discusses our hypocritical "representative." Kay Bailey Hutchison, one of two Texas Senators who hates America, said the following:

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison claimed that the failed estate tax bill seeking to give away $268 billion in tax revenue to couples with estates worth more than $10 million was a tax break intended for "middle class and poor people."

Complaining yesterday about the defeat of her efforts to give $268 billion to only the wealthiest families (couples with estates worth over ten million dollars), Hutchison said, "“It is an excuse to make it a do-nothing Congress. And we are turning our back on the middle-class and poor people in this country who depend on the minimum wage and death-tax relief."

Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate Barbara Ann Radnofsky responded: "If she had said this under oath, it would have been perjury." Sen. Hutchison described perjury as a "mere technicality" in 2005 on "Meet the Press."

Sen. Hutchison voted against raising the minimum wage in March 2005 and November 1999.

Apparently in her eyes you're poor if you own less than $10 million.

Excellent refutation of GOP talking points on the economy

There's very little I can add to this analysis from bonddad at the Burnt Orange Report. It's a great study of the fallacies that riddle the GOP talking points on the economy.

Even using the Republicans incorrect figures, the economy is only creating about 158,000 jobs/month. The economy has to create 150,000/month to keep up with population growth. In addition, the compound rate of establishment job growth for the Republican figures is 1.4% -- still the lowest in the last 40 years. In other words - using their numbers - the rate of job growth still sucks. The Republicans can't even rig this number to look good.
My bearish pessimism about the marketplace is directly tied to my distrust of the intentions and capabilities of this administration, and they have shown time and again that they are at best complete fuck-ups (Katrina, No Child Left Behind, Iraq) and and worst cynically manipulating the system (Social Security, balancing our budget, Medicare/Medicaid, the Patriot Act, signing statements, etcetera). Do you trust them with your pocketbook?

"Is our citizens learning?"

Citizens in small towns around the country are fighting back against socio-economically abusive "big boxes" like Wal-Mart.

In 2003 several of my friends and coworkers were involved in the fight to prevent Wal-Mart from building on top of an economically sensitive aquifer recharge zone that would affect the health of the community and the survival of indigenous species that exist nowhere else in the world. Mayor Will Wynn voiced very strong disapproval of building on that site, and while the city council admitted they had very little recourse to prevent development at that site, the pressure and negative press caused by citizen opposition caused Wal-Mart to back down.

You don't have to sign petitions or have a blog to make a difference, and I feel that these people have done far more to improve life in America than I have by simply writing about it.

The "culture of corruption" resurfaces in Texas

The meme "culture of corruption" is very clearly tied to Republicans in power, and it is apparent in Texas as well. This story describes the $1.5 million loss of money from the Texas Employee Retirement System, caused by a 41% drop in stock price of KCI.

  • The Texas ERS purchased 80,000 shares of KCI under the direction of ERS boardmember Bill Ceverha.
  • Bill Ceverha was appointed to the ERS board by Texas Speaker of the House, Tom Craddick.
  • Independently Bill Ceverha was found to have illegally funneled money to Republican candidates as Treasurer of Tom Delay's Texans for a Republican Majority.
  • But by then he had left his mark on the Texas ERS, which still held 80,000 shares of KCI.
  • KCI is owned by Republican multimillionaire James Leininger, one of the largest donors to Republicans in Texas.
  • The Republicans have yet again demonstrated their penchant for playing financial circle-jerk with other people's money, and the taxpayer is typically the victim.
Not all Republicans suffer from this malady, however the Republicans in power are notorious for strongarming their own kind into supporting the current administration. There's very little room in such an environment for conscientious Republicans, and even a supposed "maverick" like John McCain can't get their legislation signed into law without the administration stamping it out with a presidential signing statement.

I guess I understand why this GOP congresswoman, Oklahoma state Senator Nancy Riley, has switched parties to join the Democrats.
"The treatment I received in the last legislative session was abhorrent," she said, adding that her focus in the Senate has been "on families, children and the average Oklahoman."

"I was totally disregarded," Riley said. "The moderate Republican no longer has a voice."

She said her shabby treatment was in part because she is a woman. "We're supposed to be the cheerleaders and not be serious-minded," Riley said. "A pat on the head and a roll of the eyes is basically what I've gotten over the last four years."
Let's hope that the Democrats can regain control at the national level this fall from the frat boys that are drunk with power and pissing all over our country. Democrats have also shown a history of abusing power, but the left won't tolerate it. Conservatives however have done very little to put the brakes on this administration. Democrats, despite their flaws, are our only hope for saving our constitution and our country.

Update: A fun bit of schadenfreude from PinkDome.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Retail employment a bellwether of recessions?

I never thought I'd find things like monthly employment reports interesting, but it's undoubtedly important. Calculated Risk notes that two areas impacted the past several months have been residential construction employment and retail employment. An earlier post at Calculated Risk discusses the relationship between these two numbers: the housing market is weakening, and retailers are concerned enough by this to brace for a downturn by cutting back on hiring.

From the same Dallas Morning News article that Calculated Risk quotes:

During the housing boom, home-equity withdrawals were a big contributor to consumers' ability to spend. But in the first half of 2006, nearly 90 percent of refinancings were cash-outs, up from 20 percent in 2003. In other words, it used to be that people refinanced their homes to lower their payments. Today almost all go through the exercise just to unlock cash.
It stands to reason that retailers would be the first to detect the diminution of this source of disposable income, which is at least partially to blame for the 86,000 jobs the sector has shed in the last three months.
The diminution of this disposable income is due to the weakening housing market. The first domino in a chain may make a soft landing as many have suggested the housing market will, but the ripple effect can be immense. The withdrawal in retail hiring portends volatile times ahead.
Goldman Sachs chief economist Jan Hatzius wrote, "the year-on-year growth rate has plummeted from 1.3 percent in 2005 to -0.2 percent as of June 2006. Year-on-year declines in retail employment are unprecedented outside of recessions."
My position in equities is now well under 20%, and I'll drop it further if the market tests another careless rally.

The futility of religious wars

Nonie Darwish, an Arab woman, castigates her own people in a recent opinion piece on the HuffingtonPost. She grew up in Gaza and her father was an Egyptian Lt. Colonel who was killed in conflict with Israel. She internalized the experience by viewing the greater picture of what caused that conflict and many more since.

We Arabs must abandon this obsession to destroy Israel and tend to more important issues, such as honor killing of Muslim girls, stoning of Muslim women, killing and torturing of gays, amputation of limbs of criminals, female genital mutilation, the murder of apostates who leave Islam, polygamy and its devastating effects on family relations, and the imprisonment of Arab reformists and writers and cutting the tongues of those who speak out. We must speak out against the self-anointed and hateful Ayatollahs and Sheikhs who incite violence, rage and anger from the pulpits of mosques. They are condemning the beautiful Middle East society to a permanent condition of war, terror and jihad.
She urges fellow Arabs to show restraint and distance themselves from Hezbollah, and she points out the myopia of tribal associations with any perpetrator. But Israel's response to Hezbollah's initial provocation is equally short-sighted.
The latest violence brought Israel's death toll to 70, including 42 soldiers. Lebanon's confirmed death toll is about 700, mostly civilians killed in Israeli strikes.
The 10-to-1 death toll could have been predicted given Israel's order(s) of magnitude greater firepower. The obscene disproportion of collateral damage was avoidable simply by not retaliating in the first place, so the debate is not about whether Israel has the right to self defense but rather at what cost? And Israel is certainly aware of America's failure in muting the Iraq insurgency without preventing innumerable civilian deaths. The subsequent Arab reaction could have been predicted too, and this should come as no surprise to anybody:
Hundreds of thousands of Shiites chanting "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" marched through the streets of Baghdad's biggest Shiite district Friday in a massive show of support for Hezbollah in its battle against Israel.
The only thing they seem to have in common is strong convictions rooted deeply in religious/cultural ideology. That, and a lust for violence.

Among many quotes about the futility of war, this one in particular by Rich Jeni comes to mind in times like this.
You're basically killing each other to see who's got the better imaginary friend.
Our association with and/or support of either side is further damaging our country's already fragile reputation.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Women love gadgets

Women prioritize gadgets over shoes, according to USA Today. I've known this about Mrs. Hippie for a while; for example, she recently decided to postpone a purchase of Manolo Blahnik shoes until someone finds a way to attach lasers than can vaporize sidewalk gum stains as she walks. With those shoes already so expensive, I'd insist on that too!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ned Lamont

When Joe Lieberman was running for president in '04 I hoped he wouldn't win the primary. I wouldn't have been able to support him in the election, and I told Mrs. Hippie at the time that'd I'd rather have a painful four more years of Bush than an agonizing eight years of Lieberman, should he get that lucky. This Republican-Lite has truly enabled the current administration, and he is so full of hypocrisy and lies that you cannot trust him to be on your side.

Ned Lamont, another Democrat, is running against him for Senate in Connecticut. Unseating a 3-term (18 year) incumbent is no easy task, especially someone with as much name recognition as Lieberman. Lieberman is also flush with cash, but I'd like to point out something other liberal bloggers haven't: while he may be one of the biggest recipients of donations from defense, finance and pharmaceuticals, the other names on that list dilute the implication that these donations undermine the Democratic "principles", whatever those are. Lieberman is also the biggest recipient of alternative-energy "investments". Let's be fair with the facts and focus our energy on the real issues here.

Back to the real topic: Ned Lamont's campaign represents the direction the Democratic party needs to take. The campaign has shown that we can't wimp out in the face of a strong incumbent (e.g. the current administration) and that we must attack on every issue we hold dear. No compromises, because the current power-holders will not compromise their beliefs for anyone.

Try to name a counter-example, please, because I'd love to educate you.