Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

$10,000 limit. Can’t fill the tank

Seems another sign of the new era of banking fraud awareness comes from the price of gasoline/fuel. You can’t pump more than $75 worth.

The $75 limit “ensures merchants and customers are protected from fraud,” says MasterCard spokesman Tristan Jordan.

Visa and Mastercard are worried about you and the station getting ripped off. Really? Interesting though how the station owners say it is the policy of the card companies but Visa said it’s the fault of the owner.

Visa and MasterCard have no immediate plans to go higher. “It’s something we always look at,” Wilke says.
Visa raised its pump limit from $50 in April, but $75 isn’t keeping up with gas prices. At $4 a gallon, $75 buys 18 3/4 gallons. A 2008 Toyota Sequoia SUV’s tank holds more than 26 gallons, a Chevy Avalanche sport pickup totes up to 31 1/2 gallons, and a 33-foot or longer Winnebago Adventurer RV hauls 75 gallons.

Of course there is a solution. Swipe it twice, or in the case of the RV, 4 times. Too much? Then they offer that you can run your card inside. Frankly, I’m not sure what difference there is in protection if you swipe the card inside. The card company is still going to be on the hook if the cashier doesn’t ask for ID.

Where are you goin to
What are you gonna do
Do you think that it will be easy
Do you think that it will be pleasin, hey

Stand back, whatd you say
Stand back, I wont pay
Stand back, Id rather play
Stand back

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Unused oil drilling permits: 9300

Watching Cspan at lunch of the House debt on taxes and energy Rep Emanual stated there are currently 9300 unused oil drilling permits in the US. The counter to the statement was from Rep McCrery: There must be a reason for them being unused.

Yes, obviously if they are unused there is a reason. Any guess? Of course, that they are unused McCrery noted is the reason why we need to drill in ANWR and all 3 coasts; East, West, Gulf. Rep

McCrery seems to imply here that the permits are unusable. Well, if they are unusable, then why are they still open? Why have they not been returned as unusable and thus the ares of permit removed from the list of viable drilling property.

Fascinating. Being that we are not opening up any new refineries which is blamed on all sorts of things (usually those tree hugger types) where would all this oil, whether from the republican wish list of holes in the ground or the current 9300 ok’d potential holes in the ground be refined? If not here, then we are exporting crude. Will that offset our import costs?

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In the eye of the beholder

Came across a couple of videos. This first one is an issue of perspective on the thought of what is terroism or what is a terroist act.

This second one is just plain funny (at least to me). It spoofs on the Annie Oakley comment by Senator Obama.

On the economy side of things using my GFP (gross flower production), things were not as good as last year. What started off as a year with a bang, is now looking to be equal to last years numbers. We were up 21% end of March. End of April we were up 4.7%. As of Mother’s Day, 2.6% on the year. Interestingly, looking at credit card use for the holiday months Valentines was up 23%, Easter was up 13% and now Mother’s Day is down 27%. This is the shift I saw starting last August. But, cash sales are up for May 33%. They were up for January and February, but cash sales were down both March and April.

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Best use of the rebate check is…

How to use Your IRS Rebate check…
As you may have heard, each of us will be getting 
a tax rebate check to stimulate the economy.
If we spend that money at Wal-Mart, all the money will go to China .
If we spend it on gasoline it will go to the Arabs. 
If we purchase a computer it will go to India  
If we purchase fruits and vegetables it will go to Honduras & Guatemala.
If we purchase a good car it will go to Japan.
If we purchase useless stuff it will also go to China.
And none of it will help the American economy.
We need to keep that money here in America .
The only way to keep that money here at home is to spend it at
Yard Sales , since those are the only businesses left owned by Americans !!

There is another version suggesting one use it to indulge their risque side. With that, is there some truth to this suggestion? Is the spending of the money in some place other than a small business like my flower shop, or a yard sale just making the rebate another channel for money to move out of the government (us) and into the hands of the few leaving us to also pay the taxes…some day?

If anything, buying used or at a yard sale will reduce the consumption of more resources. I mean, I love Craigslist.

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You, Me and China make Three, part II

Back on April 20th I presented my introduction to a book by Will Hutton: The Writing on the Wall.

First, the book is 334 pages. The list of references 39 pages. There is a lot I could cover. But this is the Angry Bear which I view as being about US(of A). It is this part of Mr. Hutton’s writing that caught my attention. As much as I am interested in China’s life influencing ours, I am more interested in understanding what happened to us.

I presented his concept of values coming out of the Enlightenment as being the basis for what the USA (as a stand-in for referencing Western processes) had achieved and what China has to move more toward. It is not that China must model us exactly, but that it’s current structure is limited. It needs to be more democratic based on values from the Enlightenment. Mr. Hutton presents the democratic Enlightenment concepts as four: “accountability; representativenesss; respect for the rule of law; and the capacity, through free speech, for debate, exchange, and interaction.”

As much as the book looks at China and how it does not meet these concepts sufficiently to allow it to grow such that it will meet the needs of it’s people, I want to focus on his view of us. In this case, the USA specifically. I believe he points to the USA because it was the leader in the world, as he presents the case, for manifesting the democratic Enlightenment concepts. I believe, his view of the Enlightenment is in agreement with Wiki’s presentation:
The Enlightenment is held to be the source of critical ideas, such as the centrality of freedom, democracy and reason as primary values of society. This view argues that the establishment of a contractual basis of rights would lead to the market mechanism and capitalism, the scientific method, religious tolerance, and the organization of states into self-governing republics through democratic means. In this view, the tendency of the philosophes in particular to apply rationality to every problem is considered the essential change.

The discussion of Enlightenment begins with free trade and that the USA is “not a natural candidate to support an open world trading and financial system…” We benefit, but we are “ambivalent”. “An open trading system tempts every country to pursue strategic trade policies that are much more mercantilist in their rationale…All genuflect to the rules-based openness of the trading system as regulated by the World Trade Organization. But they believe in it more because it is the means to secure their strategic, mercantilist aims than because of any desire to create gains in which everyone would share.”

Mr Hutton is pro free trade. He makes a case that America’s growth was less do to protectionist positions taken early on and more the result of a growing population with access to free land. Space and ambition were the key. As the coasts were joined, we moved to substitute foreign trade for the loss of our frontier. “The aim was not to create an overseas empire but to export the American idea…” unlike the European expansionism. And as expected, he flatly states that free-trade is not the cause of the condition we find ourself in currently. Though he thinks both sides, one portrayed by Lou Dobbs and the other by Friedman need to be “cooled down”. They are both “vastly exaggerated”.

The source of our mis-thinking is found in how we view liberty. “Liberty, in the American narrative, is the sun under which everything flourishes. Liberty permits individuals’ hard work, courage, and application to produce wealth and happiness. Government should not get in the way…Liberty and the American dream are linked…The great conservative counterrevolution …has been grounded in its brilliant capacity to exploit these cultural icons to support its own cause.”

But this is an error of our self perception. It is more correct to view liberty as a goal within “…a highly sophisticated Enlightenment political infrastructure.” Look at the United States…and you will see an economy and society characterized by pluralism, diversity, and investment in individual capabilities.”

He bolsters this view by presenting Alexis de Tocqueville’s work about America. “Public engagement and never-ending argument leavened what otherwise might have been a culture of egoism…and transmuted it into a culture in which egalitarianism and individualism enriched each other. Self-interest was not only a matter of bettering oneself; it was also a mattter of ensureing that there would be a vigorous public life and opportunity for others…The same impulse–wanting the best for oneself and for others— prompts much of American civic activism.” Our liberty “always included conceptual egalitarianism, which provided the tension between the ambition and appetites of the propertied rich and their accountability to society.” “This is not the egalitarianism of income or opportunity; rather, it is the equality of self-esteem, self worth and possibility…there is no obstacle of title, birth, accent or social rank…”

It make you feel proud, does it not? Unfortunately he notes we are losing it through “neglect and willful disparagement of their importance, in particular by American conservatives.” We are losing the “fecund interaction” of markets and the price mechanism with the Enlightenment infrastructure and resultant culture. Mr Hutton states it was our genius.

This is where I will go next. What has changed. I believe it was my very first post via an invite from Cactus (he posted it for me) that I made the statement that we had changed. We no longer were making money as we had. We no longer were focused on what we use to. It was more than just tax rates that changed in the Reagan years.

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The Longest Recession Ever!

The other day Spencer posted a chart that Cactus had sent and then Cactus posted the link to the data. After looking at the data, and considering the question being asked: Are we seeing a recession? I thought, maybe looking at just median weeks of unemployment or number of unemployed is not going to capture the true picture.

During a recession or in determining a recession would not the amount of idle labor be more of a factor? If we have 5 of 10 people unemployed for 5 weeks, is that worse than 6 of 10 unemployed for 4 weeks?

For this chart I used average weeks unemployed times the number of unemployed looking at the first day of the first month and the first day of the seventh month to come up with a factor we can call Person Weeks Unemployed: PWU.

As you can see, our economy has been performing worse as time goes on. The Y axis number need to by X1000.

We are leaving a lot of work on the table and the swings have gotten larger. Larger swings in labor sitting idle is the opposite of what we are praising in the GDP swings. And, note when the big swings started, right when we de-coupled the rise in productivity from the rise in wages: 1974 Up until that time, the lost labor fluctuates around the 50,000 mark. During the first oil shock, we hit a new high of 125,000 person weeks. No wonder the mood sucked during Carter’s years. At least it came back down to the upper end of the range we had been in since 1958. Unfortunately, since we decided to focus on money (yes Reagan) we seem to waffle around 125,000. A full 75,000 person weeks of lost work.

However, what is more interesting is the peaks of PWU in relation to the official recession dates.
Recession 11/48 to 10/49 but the PWU peaks 1/1950 3 month delay
Recession 7/53 to 5/54, PWU peaks 7/1954, 2 month delay
Recession 8/57 to 4/58, PWU peaks 7/1958, 3 month delay
Recession 4/60 to 2/61, PWU peaks 7/1961, 5 month delay
Recession 12/69 to 11/70, PWU peaks 1/1972, 14 month delay
Recession 11/73 to 3/75, PWU peaks 1/1976, 10 month delay
Recession 1/80 to 7/80, PWU peaks 1/1981, 6 month delay
Recession 7/81 to 11/82, PWU peaks 1/1983, 2 month delay
Recession 7/90 to 3/91, PWU peaks 7/1992, 16 month delay
Recession 3/01 to 11/01, PWU peaks 7/2003, 20 month delay (updated to correct math error)

Some may say: Hey, Reagan did good! But, if we ignore the blip of economic reprieve it is 30 months from the end of the first recession to the peak of PWU after the second. And he set it good, going from a previous high of 125,000 to 223,000!

So what do you think? I think that what matters to people regarding a recession is whether they are working and not when the government states the turn-around began. Thus, the peak of a recession is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re a person earning money from labor, a recession these days can last a very long time. This data would suggest that what we are seeing in the Spencer post is not a decreased risk but a lull before the storm. One other thing. It appears the Republicans fail again. As a group they have the longest turn-around to seeing a reduction in lost labor. In fact, the recent Bush years could be considered the longest lasting recession ever based on my PWU metic.

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Some color for the Angry Bears

It has been great weather here in Riland, today included. In the spirit of celebrating growth renewing (as we count down the days to the election) I thought I would put up some pictures of the shop and add some color to the blog. Some of the none language kind of color that is.


No, I do not do any of the designing. I have never had the eye for such work.

These are all silk arrangements of our own design. Good silks are so real you have to touch them to tell the difference.

The indoor plant room. Usually this looks like a jungle, but the season dictates outdoor plants. We have herbs also.

The greenhouse. We will be moving these to the second house to provide more room for them to grow out.

And the plug…

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Enlightenment: You and Me and China make Three

I have been reading the book: The Writing on the Wall. Mr. Will Hutton is the author.

The book is billed as a look at what makes China tick and what the west should do about it. I chose it on the strength of the reviews as I wanted to learn more about China in regard to our discussions concerning globalization. I also wanted to hear a voice not from the US. Mr. Hutton is very established in the economic world in England. Maybe he is their Mr. Krugman?

You can read a summary regarding the subject of China by Mr. Hutton here.

In the book, he looks at the history of China and makes note of the similarity throughout time of the Chinese thinking of life. He seems to have asked: What is their heritage and how does it inform us as to their future? The conclusion: China needs to move through the period of enlightenment just as the west has. China needs to allow the development of the culture that the Enlightenment Period birthed giving rise to people such as Tom Paine, our founders and Adam Smith if they want to succeed in applying a western capitalistic system. This is the hitch in China’s current functioning. Their communist ideology of one party rule can not hold if they are to sustain their historic annual growth. And they must sustain the growth because they are such a large population.

From the above article by Mr. Hutton:

…but there are limits to how far the reformers can go without giving up the basis for the party’s political control. Conservatives insist that much further and the capacity to control the country will become irretrievably damaged; that the limit, for example, is being reached in giving both trade unions more autonomy and shareholders more rights. It is the most urgent political debate in China…
The maxims of Marxist-Leninst-Maoist thought have to stand, however much the party tries to stretch the boundaries, because they are the basis for one-party rule…
Enterprises are accountable to no one but the Communist party for their actions; there is no network of civil society, plural public institutions and independent media to create pressure for enterprises to become more environmentally efficient. Watchdogs, whistleblowers, independent judges and accountable government are not just good in themselves as custodians of justice; they also keep capitalism honest and efficient and would curb environmental costs that reach an amazing 12 per cent of GDP. As importantly, they are part of the institutional network that constitutes an independent public realm that includes free intellectual inquiry, free trade unions and independent audit. It is this ‘enlightenment infrastructure’ that I regard in both the West and East as the essential underpinning of a healthy society. The individual detained for years without a fair trial is part of the same malign system that prevents a company from expecting to be able to correct a commercial wrong in a court, or have a judgment in its favour implemented, if it were against the party interest.

Over stir-fried curried chicken and crispy fried flying sea bass, the Chinese guests repeated politely and persuasively that China was making up new economic and political rules.

Does that last sentence sound familiar?
The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

This brings me to why I’m writing about Mr. Hutton’s book. He’s not just writing about China and what the west needs to do, he is writing about us and what we are loosing. By loosing our enlightenment heritage, we will loose our way with China. The most striking thought I had as I read through the chapters on China was that his descriptions were familiar.

Even though the book is in chapters, the layout is in two parts; China and then the US. Though, the US does stand as a sort of proxy for the west in part as Mr. Hutton’s other writings have noted the trends away from enlightenment derived ideology within his country; just not too the extent of the US. I do not recall reading or hearing of anyone of position within the European Commons presenting such a thought as relayed in Ron Suskind’s article quoted above. It is a thought that is not so harmful from the life of delusion it relays as much as it is harmful from the resultant action begot of condescension and dismissal of all other people. I have not heard such personality coming from Europe. Not hearing such, means Europe is more real than US and that means (if Mr. Hutton is correct) that the US of A is no longer the example to be followed by developing nations. It means we are becoming irrelevant in the discussions regarding how to create a better world. The light is on in the Statute of Liberty, but no one is home.

As he describes what China needs to create specifically, I could not help think “but we’re going in just the opposite direction.” There is the distinct possibility that we could meet China half way. This would be a great loss for the world because we would have pulled back from the gains Mr. Hutton attributes to our passage through the enlightenment as much as China would have move toward it. Essentially the movement would result in leaving two mega economic powers in a state of half-fastness. The US having not sustained it’s progress of enlightenment derived social structure, thus a half-fast job of living and China not completing it’s progress through enlightenment derived social structure, thus a half-fast job of living. Where does that leave the rest of the world?

I believe we have seen such a reversal from enlightenment derived social structure in Putin’s Russia. We have in Putin a living example of the danger to a nation that let’s it’s fears pull it away from enlightenment. He has undone much of what Mr. Gorbachev sacrificed for. Mr. Putin has copied the posture of our current president Bush. Most notably was Mr. Putin reserving the right to preemptive strike within I believe 2 weeks of President Bush establishing such a policy. Mr. Putin’s governance is the manifestation of the harm of the implementation of “… and when we act, we create our own reality”. Bush et al acted in all their glory of condescension and begot Putin who happens to be sitting on a lot of raw material the world needs for economic production.

It is Mr. Hutton’s theory, that passing through the Enlightenment Period is the explanation for what we and Europe had accomplished and ably implemented in Japan and post WWII Germany that I want to discuss in the next posting. I believe it will help us understand a lot of what we have discussed here at Angry Bear concerning what has happened in this nation. Why do Cactus’ graph show what they do. Why does PGL say we do not have to fear globalization. Why Mr. Hutton states:

Britain and the West take our enlightenment inheritance too easily for granted, and do not see how central it is to everything we are, whether technological advance, trust or well-being. We neither cherish it sufficiently nor live by its exacting standards. We share too quickly the criticism of non-Western societies that we are hypocrites. What China has taught me, paradoxically, is the value of the West, and how crucial it is that we practise what we preach. If we don’t, the writing is on the wall – for us and China.

END

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Experiment: How would you advise Sen. Clinton?

Twice now in this political session we have had the opportunity to move beyond the Carl Rove/Frank Luntz school and system of communication. The first was Sen. Obama’s speech on race. The second is this current statement discussed in PGL’s post.

I understand the current structure of our MSM and their strategy to earning viewers and thus money; stir the crap. Even Olberman had one guest ask if the public was smart enough to understand Sen Obama’s speech on race as oppose to running after the handoff of the baton of: Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk…

That was it. The biggest opportunity to step out from the focus on the word or words and into the focus on the message the person speaking was attempting to relay. Less emphysis on one’s interpretation of the words used and more focus on the interpretation used by the one you are communicating with for the sole purpose and desire to fully commune.

This current statement by Obama is now the second opportunity for the US to step away with no penalty of loss of honor from the inward focus on the word/words into the outward focus on the message.

I’m not really expecting the MSM to make the change. Would be nice, but it will not happen until our elected ones make the change. That Sen. Clinton did not and has not recognized these two opportunities and run with them is evidence of the lie of her political prowess. She has failed to sense that the common thread in all of the “change” dialog regarding political change evolving into policy change is the cessation of the focusing on the word/words for the sake of winning the argument. Such a focus is a selfish life approach.

Our loss of respect in the world, our feelings of distrust, our decline of a sense of comfort, even the bank issue, the war, all of it began with shift to an approach of dialog of word/words. Our dialog has been dominated for 3 decades by a style of communication that manifests out of selfishness. It is the “lazy” in the presentation of the fat American, the me generation, the welfare queen, the illegal immigrant.

It’s easier to focus on the word. Every word has an emotional response and every emotional response has a physical response. It is physiology. Thus it is simple to generate a belief in one’s self that you are what I say you are and to feel good and confident in your righteousness. It is the style of dialog one becomes engaged in when holding a conversation with another who is drunk or stoned, or high or manic, or schizophrenic or panicked or shocked. It is the irony of the framing of Bush as being capable of relating because you could sit and have a beer with him. You can. You just won’t be able to communicate to any point of resolution. With no ability to truly comprehend the message of the one you’re talking to, you have no ability to trust that person. Consequently you have no ability to commune with that person. In terms of economics, no ability to trade.

Sen. Clinton has shown twice now that she either: 1. does not understand this most basic of lessons of communication or 2. does understand, but for selfish intent will use it against those she professes a desire to serve or 3. does understand, but has little faith or trust in those she professes a desire to serve.

With that, how would you advice Sen. Clinton to respond to Sen. Obama’s statements knowing that he put the following out there: Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk…
END

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US Legislators Profiting from War? Say it ain’t so, Joe

Seems it’s not just the executive branch and their friends that have “invested” in this war. From IPS comes a news article about the money invested by our legislators.

Members of Congress invested nearly 196 million dollars of their own money in companies that receive hundreds of millions of dollars a day from Pentagon contracts to provide goods and services to U.S. armed forces, say nonpartisan watchdog groups.

The article is based on a report by the Center for Responsive Politics, via their site: Opensecretes.org

Before we get to the meat of this, consider that I found this via Common Dreams.org’ copying the news article. The article is not a US based media article. Oh nooooooooo! It is a nonprofit, global news organization out of Rome publishing an article on a report by a US based watch dog group. THANK GOD FOR THE INTERNET!
Ok, I feel better. Don’t you?

The original article, Strategic Assets has a wonderful chart. Of the top 10 legislators invested in our military industrial complex, can you guess who has the most tied up? A hint: Of the top 10, 3 are democrats and they don’t include Nancy or Diane.

According to the most recent reports of their personal finances, 151 current members of Congress had between $78.7 million and $195.5 million invested in companies that received defense contracts of at least $5 million in 2006. In all, these companies received more than $275.6 billion from the government in 2006, or $755 million per day, according to FedSpending.org, a website of the budget watchdog group OMB Watch.

In 2004, the first full year after the Iraq war began, Republican and Democratic lawmakers—both hawks and doves—had between $74.9 million and $161.3 million invested in companies under contract with the Department of Defense.

Our esteemed colleagues have seem to have no concern about the image such investing may present:

The minimum value of Congress members’ personal investments in these contractors increased 5 percent from 2004 to 2006,…

Granted, some of the companies counted may seem unlikely candidates for being considered defense until you read:

As the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have expanded and transformed, so, too, has the need for goods and services that extend beyond helicopters, armored vehicles and guns. Giant corporations outside of the defense sector, such as Pepsico, IBM, Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson, have received defense contracts and are all popular investments for both members of Congress and the general public. So common are these companies, both as personal investments and as defense contractors, it would appear difficult to build a diverse blue-chip stock portfolio without at least some of them.

So, what’s a person to do with their 401K money if they want to be in the good, secure companies but does not want to promote war profiteering? As noted in the article, even without war, the solder needs tooth paste. But we are exercising our military currently and we’re using it up, which means replacement costs are accelerated. Though maybe tooth paste is used at no greater rate. Though we did call in all those reserves. Which might explain Pepsico getting $187 million in 2006 but it does not explain:

In the case of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, his stock in Pepsico, which is worth at least $1 million, is actually held by his wife, who is on the food and beverage corporation’s board of directors.

Nor does it explain this:

Petraeus will speak on April 8 and 9 to the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees. In 2006, members of these two committees had between $32 million and $44 million invested in companies with DOD contracts. Foreign Relations member Kerry’s investments accounted for most of it—between $28.9 million and $38.2 million. Members of the two committees held between $3 million and $5.1 million in defense-only companies.

What is there to say? Military spending of war does increase GDP for the good? Privatization of the military goes far beyond mercenaries? The USA is an economy of war making? It’s just business? I’m a fool for not riding the money wave?

The army and the empire may be falling apart
The money has gotten scarce.

One mans word held the country together
But the truth is getting fierce.

END

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