Monday, March 30, 2009
On the leisurely stroll down to the gate, I noticed that RDU's terminal 2 kiosks are all automated. For instance, if you fancy buying the Rosetta Stone software to learn Tagalog or Russian (something to consider if the delay extends beyond 90 minutes), you will do it without interacting with a salesperson.
People tend to blame immigration, off-shoring, and other external processes for the declines in employment and wages, especially for less-skilled workers. However, they overlook how technology and physical capital substitute for workers.
I'm glad that I didn't walk by an automated graduate economic statistics kiosk, but I don't doubt that something like it is on the way.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Senator Dianne Feinstein is planning to introduce legislation designating part of the Mojave Desert off-limits to solar and wind power projects. Sen. Feinstein is concerned that the development of these projects "will lead to the wholesale destruction of some of the most pristine areas in the desert." She is also concerned that development would break a promise to groups that donated the land. Fair enough.
However, as Fortune's Green Wombat blog reports
Although Sen. Feinstein states that she "would welcome the opportunity to work with the Department of the Interior on legislation to ... encourage energy development on more suitable lands within the California desert," the offer is hollow as she fails to identify any alternative lands.
The area of the desert in dispute is some 600,000 acres formerly owned by Catellus, the real estate arm of the Union Pacific Railroad, and donated to the federal government a decade ago by the Wildlands Conservancy, a Southern California environmental group. About 210,000 of those acres are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which opened part of the land to renewable energy projects.
The Catellus land controlled by the BLM forms something of a golden triangle between the Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve in Southern California and are particularly coveted for renewable energy development because of its proximity to transmission lines.
Alan Stein, a deputy district manager for the BLM in California, told Green Wombat that the solar and wind lease claims are in areas that are not designated as wilderness or critical habitat for protected species like the desert tortoise. 'This is public domain land,' he says.
It was that long ago that California was suffering from brown-outs and power shortages. Energy production, especially non-polluting production, is much needed. However, production, whether the sources are renewable or not, comes at a cost. For renewable sources, these costs can sometimes include environmental harms (Joe Guarino has recently gone to bat about this issue). Sensible policy should balance benefits with the costs; it should not be based on the fantasy that energy can be produced with no costs whatsoever.
In this case, development with the most modest impacts imaginable would occur on the most marginal land imaginable--land that is already designated for some economic uses AND that would reduce other impacts because of its proximity to existing transmission infrastructure. If the U.S. can't develop a clean, renewable facility in the middle of a desert, it's unlikely to be able to develop it anywhere.
But for Sen. Feinstein and others, maybe that's the point.
Please Sen. Feinstein, let the sunshine in.
The Department of Commerce released its final estimates of 4th quarter GDP, revising the contraction in output to an annual rate 6.3 percent, instead of the preliminary estimate of 6.2 percent. Corporate profits also plunged a quarter of a trillion dollars (16.5 percent) in the 4th quarter.
The seasonally-adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance for this last week are also back up, though the unadjusted figures were down and the four-week moving average of seasonally-adjusted claims dipped.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.There are some hopeful signs that the freefall of the economy may be ending. A few positive statistics don't make a trend, but we should appreciate hopeful news when we get it.
Winston Churchill, 1942 following the allied victory at El Alamein
There have been a number of positive developments in the beleaguered housing market. Building permits, housing starts, and housing completions all rose in February relative to a month earlier. Existing and new home sales also rose modestly in February. Mortgage applications, which include new purchases and refinancing applications, also jumped 30 percent in the last week. The news is tempered by falling prices and large numbers of foreclosure sales. Also, the housing figures are generally much worse than a year ago. Nevertheless, the numbers are improvements and may indicate a bottoming out of the housing market.
Initial UI claims fell slightly in the beginning of March. The numbers still indicate rising unemployment, but if they hold up, the rate of increase would slow.
Orders for durable goods are also up, and the stock market has made up more than half the ground that it lost since the beginning of the year.
I'm not looking forward to opening my retirement or investment statements this quarter, but I might be able to do it sober.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Sen. Grassley today backtracked from those comments but continued to offer keen insights into Japanese business practices. "Japanese CEOs either go out and commit suicide, and probably in most cases they don't, and when they don't they come before the public and bow very, very deeply, and express regret, and may resign or may stay on, but the point is they accept full responsibility."
Grassley may have gotten those insights from this deli owner.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
baked spicy fish
|Lots of good vegetables and easy to fix. Cut up pork pieces would have been better than ground pork.||We lucked out with this--it was also a tasty and easy-to-fix dish.|
spanish baked fish
|This has to be the least flavorful chili that we've ever tasted. Think about what a book looks like after it's fallen in a puddle and then dried. That's how this chili tastes. To compound the misery, the recipe calls for mustard, which turns the glop an unnatural orange.||Hands-down, this dish, with its gag-inducing sauce, was the worst meal that we had during the two weeks, though the saucy noodle bake comes in a close second (to last). Whoever thought to desecrate a perfectly good fish filet with this glop has issues, very serious issues.|
|It's hard to go wrong with spaghetti and meatballs; they were a big hit with the boys. Be careful though with the recipe. The meatballs should bake for 25-30 minutes, not the 10-12 in the directions. Hamburger tartar is seldom a good idea.|
An immediate initial question is, "how thrifty were we?" Our goal was to follow the USDA recipe guide, Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals, for our major meals and see where we ended up budget-wise.
Since Feb. 28 (our first shopping day for the diet), we have spent $480.28 on groceries. Besides the groceries for the diet, this figure includes groceries that were purchased for the weekend before the diet, for the upcoming week, and for a Greensboro Urban Ministry food drive. If we subtract those foods from the total, the grocery bill comes out to $383.11. That figure is closer to a half-month total because we have unused food that will be available for upcoming meals.
Besides the ingredients for the diet, the $383 grocery figure includes things like sodas, bottled water, paper napkins, chips, snacks, etc. However, it omits one lunch that Cathy was served at work and three lunches that the boys had on school trips. There were no other restaurant meals or other meals out.
We can compare the expenditures to what SNAP families receive and to the USDA food cost amounts. Recall that the maximum SNAP allotment for a household of our size would only be $588, or $294 for half a month. So, our spending ran 30 percent over the prorated SNAP allotment. SNAP benefits follow the June 2008 Thrifty Food Plan figures, rather that the most recent figures. The SNAP allotment is also based on the TFP for a particular type of family (two adults ages 19-50, one child 6-8, and one child 9-11). In our case, the TFP has to be adjusted for two voracious teenagers of the male variety, making the half-month TFP figure for our household $318. So, even there, our spending was 20 percent over the TFP.
The half-month budget amount for our household under USDA's second least expensive food plan, its "Low-Cost Food Plan," is $427. The USDA reports that the Low-Cost plan is often used in bankruptcy cases to set household budgets. Our two-week spending was 90 percent of that amount. So, by USDA standards and apparently bankruptcy standards, our spending was very modest.
We should point out that following the menu for dinners as closely as we did actually cost us extra money. The portion sizes were different from what we would have eaten, and we didn't make as complete a use of left-overs as we normally would. More generally, the meals weren't as coordinated as a regular two weeks of shopping. So, with more flexibility in the menu, we could have brought the food costs down.
Also, all but one of our purchases were made at the Harris Teeter at the nearby Friendly Center, which is convenient but pricey. We could have done better if we had taken advantage of our Costco membership or shopped more at Food Lion.
We're going to continue to track food costs, including meals out, through the end of the month. The difference between those costs and the $383 will indicate our savings. A donation in that amount will go to World Vision.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
To fight earmarks is to fight for an even more powerful executive branch. It is popular these days to condemn earmarks in the name of fiscal conservatism. The truth is that they account for less than 2 percent of the spending bill just passed. And even if all earmarks were removed from the budget overall, no money would be saved. That money would instead go to the executive branch to spend as it sees fit. Congress has the power of the purse. It is the constitutional responsibility of members to earmark, or designate, where funds should go, rather than to simply deliver a lump sum to the president.You would expect this sort of defense from someone who sponsored or co-sponsored a total of $75 million in earmarks in the recent omnibus spending bill (this put the 9th highest total among representatives; see http://www.taxpayer.net/). In a delightfully hypocritcal twist though, this same Representative voted against the bill.
Earmarks actually provide a level of transparency and accountability to federal spending. Consider the $350 billion that was recently given to the Treasury Department for the Troubled Assets Relief Program. The Treasury has not been forthcoming about where much of that ended up. If every bit of it had been earmarked, at least we would know something about how it was spent.
At Slate, Timothy Noah points out that 6 of the 10 largest earmark hauls in the Senate also went to Republicans.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
What was the response of the Catholic Church to the mother and doctors saving the girl's life? To compound the tragedy by excommunicating the mother and the medical team, a decision that was supported in Rome.
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Roman Catholic Church’s Congregation for Bishops, told La Stampa, an Italian daily newspaper, that the case was sad, but that 'the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated.'Apparently, the Church's respect for life doesn't extend to nine-year-old rape victims. It also seems to have a bit of difficulty in identifying "real problems."
If you're wondering, the stepfather, who had been abusing the girl since she was 6, has not been excommunicated. The Brazilian bishop who made the decision helpfully explained the disparity in treatment between the mother and stepfather, "A graver act than (rape) is abortion, to eliminate an innocent life."
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
North and South Carolina had the largest year over year change in unemployment, with the rate increasing 4.7 percent in each state. For North Carolina, the change represents more than a doubling of unemployment in the last year.
The report also indicates that North Carolina is losing jobs, 38,000 from December to January, and nearly 160,000 over the past year.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Everything tonight was easy to make. The chuck roast for the pot roast got browned and then simmered for two and a half hours. The egg noodles were boiled for ten minutes; the peas and carrots were microwaved for about three, and did I mention that we had left-over peach cake.
We'll get left-over pot roast for the upcoming week. The rest of the menu is as follows:
|Monday||orange juice; cereal; English muffins; milk||cold cut sandwiches; apples; store cookies; carrots||stir-fried pork and vegetables; rolls; orange slices; milk|
|Tuesday||orange juice; cereal; English muffins; milk||cold cut sandwiches; apples; store; carrots||pot roast left-overs; noodles; green beans; lettuce; milk|
|Wednesday||orange juice; cereal; English muffins; milk||cold cut sandwiches; apples; store cookies; carrots||baked spicy fish; noodles; peas & carrots; milk|
|Thursday||orange juice; cereal; bagels; milk||cold cut sandwiches; apples; store cookies; carrots||turkey chili; macaroni; peach-apple crisp; milk|
|Friday||orange juice; cereal; toast; milk||peanut butter & jelly sandwiches; apples; store cookies; carrots||spanish baked fish; rice; peas; peach-apple crisp; milk|
|Saturday||orange juice; scrambled eggs; turkey ham; bagels; milk||chicken noodle soup; crackers; orange slices; oatmeal cookies; milk||baked meatballs; spaghetti sauce; lettuce; bread; milk|
|Sunday||orange juice; scrambled eggs; hash browns; milk||tuna pasta salad; crackers; orange slices; oatmeal cookies; milk||turkey cabbage casserole; orange slices; crackers; chickpea dip; milk|
We'll end the menu the way it started with the turkey cabbage casserole.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
The USDA guide didn't include instructions on how to bake the chicken, so we were on our own (baked with rosemary from the garden, Montreal seasoning and butter).
All of the baking (the cake, then the chicken) took a while. As you can see in the picture, one of the diners was a tad impatient.
Besides skipping the bread, we also managed to down just half of the cake, so we've got dessert leftovers for tomorrow.
Friday, March 6, 2009
The potatoes took a few extra minutes to prep; otherwise it was relatively easy. Start to finish, dinner took an hour to prepare with most of that time spent cooking the potatoes.
The only mishap was that the potatoes boiled over in the oven, but that was okay as it was time to clean the oven anyway.
The kids seemed to like everything; they thought that the salad was a treat. Although Cathy and I had to steel ourselves for the fish with cheese, the dish actually worked.
I bet Kim Jung Il wished he ate with us.
We know from recent experience that marginal tax rates of 36 percent and 39 percent aren't wealth killers. I was around in the 1990s, when tax rates were at that level, and when capital gains and dividend taxes were significantly higher than they are today. And I seem to remember that we had a stock market boom, a broad rise in incomes (with the wealthy benefitting handily), and strong economic growth.Meanwhile, Cal Thomas spices up his "class warfare" arguments with some good 'ol fashioned trick-down economics.
...we also know from recent experience that lower marginal rates on income taxes, and lower rates on capital gains and dividends, aren't necessarily wealth producers. The Bush years, which had lower marginal rates and capital gains taxes, were a fiasco. In fact, if you tally up the vast destruction of wealth in the late Bush years—caused by foolish hedge funds, investment banks, and other financial services companies, it seems like the wealthy have in fact been waging war on one another.
Class warfare has costs, but not for the people at whom the rhetorical mortars are aimed.He piously concludes.
The drumbeat of anger by the many at the few who travel on private planes and live in big houses is having a negative effect on those who don't.
This isn't about politics; it is about doing what works. We know what works. The question is, will the president and congressional Democrats stop worrying about the rich and start worrying about the potential for increasing the number of poorer people?Sounds like "evil shenanigans" to me.
Consider the losses in non-farm payrolls.
- 2.0 million jobs lost in the last three months--the worst since the demobilization from World War II in 1945;
- 4.2 million jobs lost in the last 12 months--the biggest loss ever recorded;
- 1.5 percent of jobs lost in three months--the worst quarterly loss since February 1975, and
- 3.0 percent of jobs lost in the last 12 months--the worst since August 1958.
- a 3.1 percent decrease in the level of household employment--the worst decline ever recorded;
- an employment to population percentage of 60.3 percent--the lowest in 20 years;
- a continuation of the annual decline in the employment-to-population ratio at 3.8 percent--the worst since 1975;
- unemployment at 8.1 percent--the highest in 25 years (December 1983), and
- a 3.7 percentage point increase in unemployment--the biggest jump in 33 years (May 1975).
Under the leadership of Kim Jong Il, the country cannot feed its people. Perennially dependent on food aid, North Korea has become a truculent ward of the wealthy countries it threatens. It is the world's first nuclear-armed, missile-wielding beggar -- a particularly intricate challenge for the Obama administration as it begins to formulate a foreign policy.The story goes on to describe how the famine is undermining the authority of Kim Jong Il's kleptocracy, in part through the development of underground food markets.
The "eating problem," as it is often called in North Korea, has eroded Kim's authority, damaged a decade of improved relations between the two Koreas and stunted the bodies and minds of millions of North Koreans. Teenage boys fleeing the North in the past decade are on average five inches shorter and weigh 25 pounds less than boys growing up in the South, according to measurements taken at a settlement center for defectors in South Korea.
Mental retardation caused by malnutrition will disqualify about a quarter of potential military conscripts in North Korea, according to a December report by the National Intelligence Council, a research institution that is part of the U.S. intelligence community. The report said hunger-caused intellectual disabilities among the young are likely to cripple economic growth, even if the country opens to the outside world or unites with the South.
While Kim Jong Il is punishing and starving North Korea's population, the country's food dependence--and his regime's need to skim some of the assistance for itself--are also leading him to threaten his neighbors.
North Korea's million-ton food gap was filled in recent years by South Korea as part of a bid to ease tension on the Korean Peninsula.
The Seoul government gave a half-million tons of food annually, along with enough fertilizer to grow another half-million tons. Unlike the U.N. World Food Program and other international donors, which have a policy of "no access, no food," South Korea did not monitor who ate the food it gave. But last year, South Korea's president, Lee Myung-bak, changed the rules.
"We have decided to monitor and secure delivery of food using the World Food Program procedures as our benchmark," said Lee Jong-joo, the humanitarian assistance chief in Seoul. "Unfortunately, we have had no dialogue whatsoever on these new conditions with North Korea."
North Korea, instead, got mad. It canceled military agreements and moved a long-range missile toward a launch center. Behind the anger is the food gap.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Dessert (not shown) was a peach-apple crisp (USDA guide, p. 65). The crisp was good, but not especially crispy. The crumb mixture didn't completely cook--the recipe calls for 20 minutes of baking but most crisps call for 40-50 minutes (we actually left it in the oven for 40 minutes). Also, most crisp recipes have you put something crunchier in the topping like oats or nuts. That said, the kids devoured it. Normally, that would rate as a success, but as it turns out, the crisp was supposed to last for two meals.
The prep time and cooking time for this meal were longer than the guide suggested. The cooking was also substantially more involved. There wasn't anything that really went beyond what we would normally prepare. But with a lot of chopping and with three hot dishes going at once, it might be more than a parent with active little kids might want to take on.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Tonight's dinner is shown in all its glory on the left: saucy beef pasta (USDA guide, p. 24), canned pears, and white bread toast.
Fixing time was the shortest so far, a total of 30 minutes. For all intents and purposes, the meal is homemade Hamburger Helper ® ("beef pasta" flavor), with frozen green beans thrown in.
I liked it and would fix it again; the other three Ribars were neutral. Just so you know, I like Helper, too, and I think I like ®.
One warning for those of you who try this at home, the recipe calls for 6 3/4 cups of egg noodles, or about an entire one pound bag; half a bag was more than enough. Also, the recipe calls for cooking the green beans before putting everything in the oven; I'd recommend just putting them in frozen and letting the oven do the work (they'll come out a little crunchier and a deeper green). Better yet, use frozen peas.
For instance, Michael Gerson wrote today in his Washington Post column today
Candidate Obama was a tonal moderate -- a pragmatist determined to muddle the old divisions of blue and red into a pleasing, post-partisan purple. His mainstream economic appointments seemed to confirm this intention. His stimulus package and bank bailout proposals were expansive and expensive, but not ideologically radical.And yesterday, David Brooks wrote in a column titled (this isn't a joke), "A Moderate Manifesto"
And then came the budget -- ideologically ambitious, politically ruthless and radical to its core.
Obama chose a time of recession to propose a massive increase in progressivity -- a 10-year, trillion-dollar haul from the rich, already being punished by the stock market collapse and the housing market decline. This does not just involve undoing the Bush tax reductions but capping tax deductions to collect about $30 billion a year.
The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide. The president issued a read-my-lips pledge that no new burdens will fall on 95 percent of the American people. All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward.So how exactly does the President Obama propose to spread class warfare? What's his radical proposal and his massive increase in progressivity? Is the U.S. going to return to the top marginal rate of 91 percent that was in place in the 1950s, the top rate of 70 percent that was in place during the 1960s and 1970s, or the top rate of 50 percent that was in place during the administration of Ronald "the red" Reagan in the 1980s?
No, the President's "radical" proposal is to let some of President Bush's ill-advised tax cuts for upper-income households expire and returning some tax provisions to where they were in 2001.
Specifically, President Obama has proposed increasing some taxes from upper-income individuals by $637 billion over the next ten years. Slightly over half of the increase will come from letting the top two tax rates return to the levels they were at when President Bush took office. Just over a quarter of the increase will come from reinstating rules on personal exemptions and itemized deductions for the wealthy. And the remainder will come from returning the top marginal rate on capital gains for wealthy households to 20 percent. Wealthy households would also benefit from some of the tax breaks that are being continued or extended for lower- and middle-income families, reducing the tax bite below $637 billion.
The President is also proposing just over $200 billion over 10 years in additional corporate taxes, which would also fall heavily on the rich. The lion's share, however, of these corporate tax increases also involve repealing tax breaks given out under the previous administration.
There would be a change in progressivity but hardly a radical change.
Moreover, nearly all of the tax increases are slated to take effect in 2011 or later; wealthy households get to keep nearly all of their Bush-era tax breaks for this year and the next.
The country was running large deficits prior to this economic crisis, due mostly to these tax provisions. Following the crisis, it is entirely appropriate to return some tax provisions to where they were in 2001.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
The kids liked the beans (the dish that didn't come from the guide) and the medley. The casserole, not so much, though with two teenage boys at the table, it all got finished. If we make the dish, again, we'd do it without the bread crumbs (and better yet without the beef, noodles and sauce).
A lot of my research over the last few years has focused on ways to incentivize work and economic self-sufficiency among food stamp households. We may have hit upon the casserole that would do it.
Monday, March 2, 2009
While the presentation suffered from too many red- and brown-hued foods, it wasn't too bad and didn't take too long to fix (about 15 minutes to prep and one hour to cook in the oven).
I'd also post pictures of breakfast and lunch, but you probably already know what cereal and sandwiches look like.