A nice way to stay in touch with loved ones, and a convenient way to share my opinions without having everyone just walk away...wait a minute, where are you going? I wasn't finished..

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I feel happy

Our apartment was cold during January and nuch of February, then Louie showed me how to bleed the air out of the radiators to let the steam in. Now we're warm and comfy. It's easier to be happy when you're warm.

Kim has spent some time with Janett each day this week. Kim is a very easy person to be with, and so Janett is feeling good, aside from the discomfort resulting from her surgery. I was thinking last night that it took about two monthes for me to get my strength back after my surgery. It surprised me at the time that it took so long.

Steffy and Mark are peeling wall-paper in their kitchen and will be painting it soon. Steff asked Louie how much it would cost to have the job done. I think Lou told her a couple thousand dollars. Well, that settled that. Maybe we'll have a painting party at Steff's house next week. Finding a job for Malachy will be a challenge. Maybe they'll assign him to keeping me out of the way.

I haven't spoken to Lauren this week, but Janett has. Lauren is going to come by and pick up Audrey for a trip to the vet's on Friday. Naming that cat Audrey is typical Noah. That cat has none of the winsome waifish qualities of her presumed namesake. Just when you think you're making some inroads with her, you'll walk by her recumbent form and she'll give you a whack with claws out . Pointless to ask a cat "What was that for?"

Sunday, February 25, 2007

On a lighter note

I like Vince Gill

Sunday Morning

I feel a little disconnected. All the situations that generally hold my attention continue to develop: Politics, the economy and financial markets, international affairs and military misadventures. Other than to say I continue to support John Edwards and regret that it's been hard for him to get media attention his positions deserve (no surprises there). Just hang in there, John. It's not really necessary for the other candidates to self-destruct, it's a matter of people tiring of the horse race aspects, and having time to recognize who really speaks to the issues closest to their interests. In that connection the early start and the long campaign may work to our advantage.

One promising sign of a shift in the political balance is reports the National Labor Relations Board may be forced by the Democrats to revise the procedures for recognising unions to represent workers.
Right now it's too easy for WalMart/McDonalds to fire anyone who even suggests organizing. As noted previously, the Clinton/McAuliffe leadership has supported a corporate agenda to get access to the big business campaign contributions. That rat-faced conniver Rahm Emanuel has run a bunch of big business Democrats for Congress. This labor reform movement could develop into an issue that will force these Big Money Democrats to show their true colors at a time when the impending presidential election will focus attention on which way they flop.

But the thing that really had all my attention this week was Janett's surgery. Everything seems to have gone well. After surgery on Monday, she came home Friday. The kids have been sweet and helpful. Lauren even brought me some great dinners; pepper garlic pork tenderloin, eye of round steak, and chicken and dumplings. I was trying to save the chicken and dumplings for Janett's first big dinner, but she's running out of time. I'm eating it tonight.

I'm sure we all said prayers for Janett. Now we should all say a prayer of thanks, and include a thankfulness that we have health insurance, and a prayer for all those folks who don't.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sen Edwards Health Care Plan

For those not paying close attention, here's an example of how Senator Edwards is coming to grips with problems other candidates are not.

New York Times: Edwards Gets It Right Paul Krugman, Op-Ed

Columnist New York Times Column Feb 9, 2007

What a difference two years makes! At this point in 2005, the only question seemed to be how much of America’s social insurance system — the triumvirate of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — the Bush administration would manage to dismantle. Now almost all prominent Democrats and quite a few Republicans pay at least lip service to calls for a major expansion of social insurance, in the form of universal health care.
But fine words, by themselves, mean nothing. Remember “compassionate conservatism?” I won’t trust presidential candidates on health care unless they provide enough specifics to show both that they understand the issues, and that they’re willing to face up to hard choices when necessary.
And former Senator John Edwards has just set a fine example.
At first glance, the Edwards health care plan looks similar to several other proposals out there, including one recently unveiled by Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. But a closer look reveals extra features in the Edwards plan that take it a lot closer to what the country really needs.
Like Mr. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Edwards sets out to cover the uninsured with a combination of regulation and financial aid. Right now, many people are uninsured because, as the Edwards press release puts it, insurance companies “game the system to cover only healthy people.” So the Edwards plan, like Schwarzenegger’s, imposes “community rating” on insurers, basically requiring them to sell insurance to everyone at the same price.
Many other people are uninsured because they simply can’t afford the cost. So the Edwards plan, again like other proposals, offers financial aid to help lower-income families buy insurance. To pay for this aid, he proposes rolling back tax cuts for households with incomes over $200,000 a year.
Finally, some people try to save money by going without coverage, so if they get sick they end up in emergency rooms at public expense. Like other plans, the Edwards plan would “require all American residents to get insurance,” and would require that all employers either provide insurance to their workers or pay a percentage of their payrolls into a government fund used to buy insurance.
But Mr. Edwards goes two steps further.
People who don’t get insurance from their employers wouldn’t have to deal individually with insurance companies: they’d purchase insurance through “Health Markets”: government-run bodies negotiating with insurance companies on the public’s behalf. People would, in effect, be buying insurance from the government, with only the business of paying medical bills — not the function of granting insurance in the first place — outsourced to private insurers.
Why is this such a good idea? As the Edwards press release points out, marketing and underwriting — the process of screening out high-risk clients — are responsible for two-thirds of insurance companies’ overhead. With insurers selling to government-run Health Markets, not directly to individuals, most of these expenses should go away, making insurance considerably cheaper.
Better still, “Health Markets,” the press release says, “will offer a choice between private insurers and a public insurance plan modeled after Medicare.” This would offer a crucial degree of competition. The public insurance plan would almost certainly be cheaper than anything the private sector offers right now — after all, Medicare has very low overhead. Private insurers would either have to match the public plan’s low premiums, or lose the competition.
And Mr. Edwards is O.K. with that. “Over time,” the press release says, “the system may evolve toward a single-payer approach if individuals and businesses prefer the public plan.”
So this is a smart, serious proposal. It addresses both the problem of the uninsured and the waste and inefficiency of our fragmented insurance system. And every candidate should be pressed to come up with something comparable.
Yes, that includes Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. So far, all we have from Mr. Obama is inspiring rhetoric about universal care — that’s great, but how do we get there? And how do we know whether Mrs. Clinton, who says that she’s “not ready to be specific,” and that she wants to “build the consensus first,” will really be willing to take on this issue again?
To be fair, these are still early days. But America’s crumbling health care system is our most important domestic issue, and I think we have a right to know what those who would be president propose to do about it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Marginal Utility

I'll probably email the Edwards campaign with a suggestion. I can see the staff somewhere in Iowa sitting around a folding table at their lap tops waiting a good idea to come in.

Well here its "Marginal Utility". The economic justice arguments (sounds soft even to me) can best be made employing this phrase. It has the ring of scientific validity*, and appeals to common sense. I'll even propose an illustrative comparison. Scrooge McDuck and his nephew Donald. An extra ten dollar bill for Scrooge goes into that big vault where it does no good what-so-ever, except for when Scrooge feels like taking a dip. An extra ten dollars for Donald goes to fix the flat tire on his jalopy, so he can drive to work. Hell, you could come up with hundreds of illustrations/anecdotes that would resound with folks.

*more economic validity than the specious "Laffer Curve" which President Reagan used so effectively to rationalize income tax cuts in the early eighties.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Obama Watch

The night after announcing his candidacy Barak went to a party in Chicago thrown by Penny Pritzker and walked away with a million dollars in campaign funds. On the twentieth of this month he'll go to a party in Hollywood hosted by Spielberg, Geffen and Katzenberg where he could collect twice that much.
For all his popularity, Barak didn't have much in the way of funds. He's taking care of that little problem, but at what cost? If he's sliding into that "bought and paid for" swamp, it sure won't be the Palestinans who hold all his IOU's. So much for the new vision.
The pro-Israel folks will keep a foot in both camps, contributing "generously" to both Clinton and Obama. Makes me like John Edwards even better.
One guy to keep an eye on is Rahm Emanuel. He chairs the Democractic Congressional Campaign Committee - not a bad gig for a congressman first elected in 2003, but he's known to be the guy who decides which candidates get Jewish financial support in their primary and election campaigns. He even goes out and recruits candidates who support his pro-Israel, pro-big business ideology.
If he cozies up to Obama, Hillary will be very, very upset. It would almost be worth the pain of seeing Obama selling out to see Hillary's apoplexy when she gets the news. Oh, look who's on the guest list for the Hollywood party - Rahm's brother, Ari.
PS If you think I'm "making it up" about Emanuel, Google his name and check it out.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Barak Obama

Just saw Obama's announcement of his candidacy. I've been skeptical because of his short history on the national scene; I haven't had time to figure out if if he's bought and paid for and if so who owns him. So far, in my mind, he's only slipped up once - when he criticized Senator Durbin for comparing Guantanamo to the Gulag.

I still think I favor Senator John Edwards, in terms of having both the ideals and the organization, but Obama continues to impress. I'd like to see both my guys whack away at the AIPAC candidate, that cold conniving political knife fighter. How come the media is so ready to annoint her, and provide her so much (favorable) coverage. Probably because they share her strong devotion to the state of Israel.

Bad News, but HFC probably deserves it.

I think the weakening in the stock market this past week was largely a result of the following announcement. (There was also some bad news about "flash" technology that hurt the chip manufacturers.)

HSBC Reports Rise in Troubled Loans


HSBC Holdings said its charge for bad debts would be more than $10.5 billion for 2006 because of problems in its mortgage portfolio.By REUTERSPublished: February 8, 2007

LONDON, Feb. 7 (Reuters) — HSBC Holdings, a bank based in Britain, said on Wednesday that its charge for bad debts would be more than $10.5 billion for 2006, some 20 percent above analysts’ average forecasts, because of problems in its mortgage portfolio.HSBC said in a trading update late on Wednesday that slowing growth in house prices was being reflected in accelerated delinquency trends across the subprime mortgage market, particularly in more recent loans.Analysts had expected HSBC’s 2006 loan impairment charge to be $8.8 billion, according to the average of 11 analysts’ forecasts, the bank said.That figure is now expected to be about $1.8 billion higher, or about $10.6 billion.

In a nutshell, mortgage defaults are rising.

As I commented before, this is bad news for the housing industry, because fire sale prices on foreclosed homes undercut the market for other sellers. It's bad news for the banking industry, too.

The banks have been trying to get away from default risk on their loans by selling them to other investors. The banks now write the loans, collect the fees, bundle 50 $200,0000 loans together and sell the bundle to some pension fund for a million dollars. I suppose the buyers of the bundle insist on some buy back provisions if the borrower defaults within a the first two or three years. So the banks aren't entirely off the hook. And a lot of these mortgages that are being defaulted on are loans written in 2005 and 2006 when home prices were high and lending practices were relaxed.

HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Company) decided to get into the American mortgage market by buying Household International, a lender with the worst of reputations, so their problems are popping up first but this is just the beginning of the mortgage default trend that's got a long way to go.

The folks who hold these bundled mortgages think of them as secured loans and may not appreciate the risk level. Also credit insurance is available and has been fairly cheap for these big investors, but the problem isn't always in getting insurance. Often it's collecting on the insurance. A lot of the insurance they have is written in the derivative market by hedge funds. The insurers were betting nothing bad would happen, and nobody knows if they have the money to pay off if they lose the bet. The harder I look at these insurance policies (credit risk swaps) the more confused I get. This is the old "counter party risk", and it's very hard to quantify- which means its probably worse than you think.. (See Enron)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Weird Week

Steffo told me she thought the moon was in Libra this week, and she thought that meant I would have a good week. Well, so much for astrology.

Wednesday my Nissan wouldn't start so I drove Janett's Buick to work. It steered funny. A couple of weeks ago I told her the allignment was bad, and it seemed to get worse. I checked the tires because turning at low speed it felt as though I was driving on a flat. On ice and snow on the way home it felt even worse. like I was slipping and sliding, and that I could even have slid into the wrong lane. Also, I forgot my lunch. Also my glasses broke at work. When I got home I ran the battery down on the Nissan tryng to start it and then I couldn't get the hood open to recharge the battery. Thursday I didn't go to work. Pretty much sulked the day away.

Lou's mom died Monday. The wake was Thursday evening. Kim gave me a ride because I wasn't going to drive the Buick, and the Nissan still would not start. Lou and his kids seemed to be OK. Sally's health had been deteriorating for some time. I worry abouy his dad.

When we got home Kim helped me open the hood on the Nissan and I charged the battery. then I got the damn thing running. They say since the invention of electronic ignition you're not supposed to pump the accelerator to start the car. Well I ended up pumping it alot, and eventually holding the pedal to the floor to get it started.

So, today things got better. I went to the memorial service. Then Janett, Kim and I went to a fun lunch Then we dropped by the hospital so Janett could make arrangements for a test on Monday. then we stopped at a mall for some light shopping. Oh, and Janett found my spare glasses,

Yeah, Baby. ND #1

We don't have frats, but we got our Bluto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZiuzbRj5_I

(I'm having trouble linking)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ron Zook's Recruiting Success

From SMQ Sunday Morning Quarterback

Read it all, or start halfway down to learn Coach Zook's recruiting secret.

"In his ongoing effort to expand his knowledge and passion for the usually ignored, slightly disconcerting and irredeemably corrupting meat market of college football recruiting in its final hours before Signing Day, SMQ tracked down Illinois commit Arrelious Benn in the nation's capital for his perspective on the trials and triumphs of the recruiting process.

The 6-foot 2-inch D.C. native played both ways at Dunbar High last year and starred at linebacker, but signed with the Illini as the number two prospect in the nation at wide receiver and the twelfth-best overall recruit by the online service Scout.com after catching more than 100 passes for 1,139 yards and 25 touchdowns over the last two years. Benn sat down with SMQ over light tuna and coconut ceviches with avocado at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the majestic reflecting lake on the Washington Mall to talk about his decision to attend Illinois, overcoming adversity in a rough urban neighborhood and his expectations within the Illini offense as a freshman next fall.

SMQ: Okay, first of all, I have to know: where does the name come from?

Arrelious Benn: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah, I get that a lot. 'Arrelious,' I don't know. My mom just liked it, I guess, I hadn't ever asked her. People ask me, I'm just like, "Damn, I don't know. Get off me," so it's not something I really think about. But there's only one Arrelious.

SMQ: Well, obviously your talent and your play over the last couple years speaks to that. You're moving away from home, though, pretty far from D.C. How's that adjustment going to work?

AB: Well, you know, the weather's a little different, it's just like, a different sorta town, know what I'm sayin'? D.C. is like, a straight city, right? But it's different to go to a place that's more like a campus-type environment, which is totally different than what I know here. But I'm excited. I'm looking forward to the challenge of competing. Football is football. I'm just gonna go out and do what I do. Big players make big plays in big games.

SMQ: You have a 3.25 GPA, which is better than me in high school, let me tell you. How much did academics factor into the decision?

AB: Aw, grades were huge, definitely, the school part is a big deal. I could have wound up somewhere else where maybe I could have played a little earlier, maybe had it a little easier in the classroom, but my mama wouldn't have it. Wouldn't have none of it. She said, "You going to a place you can get a degree people will respect," and there was no arguing with that.

SMQ: Did Coach Zook make any promises about playing time?

AB: No, no, definitely not. I know what a competitive situation it is there. I'm excited to compete with a couple of the guys they got coming back at receiver to compete for the job. I was excited that I might have the opportunity to run the ball a little bit by what they're doing, opening it up a little more, I think. I don't expect it to be easy at all, but they're making the transition to a more athletic quarterback who might be a little bit better fit in the offense, he's just going to be a sophomore. So he'll be getting better, and we're all adjusting with one another and we'll have a couple years to keep getting better and better and in sync.

SMQ: All things considered, your commitment was somewhat of a surprise. How did Coach Zook bring you on board?

AB: Coach Zook, man, that man is a trip. They see he's got one spped - 100 miles and hour, and he goes that fast all the time. And they ain't lyin'. He took me out, like, jet skiing and that kind of thing, you know. On my visit...

...he took me out on this huge ass lake and we just tore it up in this little boat he had. Coach Z was cool, he was cool, definitely. Introduced me to some girls on campus, took me out on the field and had all the lights on and we tossed the ball around and he was acting all like he was the P.A. guy, throwing it and making me run routes and the whole thing, calling it, like "Benn at the 15, at the 10, Benn's gonna go!! Touchdown, Arrelious Benn!" And he'd do the crowd noise with his mouth and run up to me in the end zone and do the chest bump and everything. He made me douse him with Gatorade. That was kinda weird. But he was kind of more like a buddy than a coach, not like some of the coaches I talked to who felt like they'd be looking over my shoulder all the time. He definitely made me see myself in the orange and blue.

SMQ: It was a bit of a surprise that you chose to go to Illinois, which is a team that has historically struggled and hasn't won recently...

AB: Wait, man, say what? I'm going to play for Ron Zook at Florida, dawg.

SMQ: Wait, I thought you committed to Illinois. [Looking through notes]

AB: Naw, dawg, naw, Florida, man. National champions.

SMQ: But...you signed with Ron Zook.

AB: Yeah. Florida. Tim Tebow, baby.

SMQ: Ron Zook's the coach at Illinois.

AB: No way, he was decked out in Florida shit, we were in the Swamp. Florida cheerleaders huggin' on me with their little garters way up the thigh.

SMQ: Are you sure?

AB: They had little Florida uniforms on...but they were a little pale, come to think of it. And they did call him 'dad.' And the old one had a sweater tied around her neck. [Long pause] He's where?

SMQ: Um, Illinois. The Fighting Illini? He was decked out...he didn't mention he got fired at Florida, like, more than two years ago?

AB: The Fightin' what? Where the hell is that?

SMQ: Illinois? It's...Illinois.

AB: [silence]

SMQ: They were, um, 2-10 last year. Last place in the Big Ten.

AB: This be some bull shit.

Arrelious Benn is rated as the second-best wide receiver prospect in the nation by Scout.com.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Letter to the Editor

Today (Friday Feb 2) The Chicago Tribune printed a letter to the editor that read something like this:

If an actual colt went up against an actual bear, the bear would win.

That was it. It took me several moments to recognize the letter for what it was, a sly commentary on the content of the Trib's editorials on the page next to the letters to the editors. The writer was attempting to mimic the wisdom and integrity of the Tribune's editorial staff.

It used to be that in the rest of the newspaper you found the facts, in the editorials you found the truth. Now you find Opinions. That's how the Tribune titles their editorials: Opinions. And whose opinions? Two right wing ladies
so lightweight they must carry rocks in their purses to keep from blowing away on their way to the Tower, one black lady for local color, a "historian" from the Hoover institute who features his middle name so prominently he may be an aspiring assassin, and that poisonous toad from the New York Times.

And they wonder why readership is declining. I am a loyal (daily) reader. When they lose me they can turn out the lights, and they're almost there.