Monday, April 30, 2007

Flags at Half Mast: Tax Freedom Day

According to the TaxProf, today is tax freedom day. That we have worked 120 days to cover the burden of big government is sad. And the only way the government gets away with it is through mandatory withholding. If we had to save up to pay taxes, there would be a revolt.

And my proof? I was talking to an older person who recently turned 60. She is one of the biggest of big government liberals. She is a lawyer who works for one of the most liberal towns in America - in the people with disabilities division. She recently decided it was time to start saving for retirement and opened an IRA. She also said to me "I got tired of paying those high taxes so this is a way for me to shelter income from taxes." My jaw dropped. I let her get away with it because it was her birthday. Yep. Classic liberalism in action. They want the government to pay for everything, but with other people's money.

Happy Tax Freedom Day Everyone!

Trade War Opening Stages

U.S. releases watch list in area of copyright piracy

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration today targeted China, Russia and 10 other nations for extra scrutiny in the piracy of American movies, music, computer programs and other copyrighted materials.

The 12 nations were put on a "priority watch list" in the area of copyright piracy, which costs the American industry billions of dollars in lost sales annually.

Bernanke has some good advice:

A move to protect threatened American industries and workers from foreign competition would be a serious mistake that would jeopardize the sizable benefits of free trade, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Tuesday.

"Restricting trade by imposing tariffs, quotas and other barriers is exactly the wrong thing to do," Bernanke said in remarks prepared for an audience at Montana Tech in Butte, Mont.

"In the long run, economic isolationism and retreat from international competition would inexorably lead to lower productivity for U.S. firms and lower living standards for U.S. consumers," Bernanke said.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Raiders dump Moss

The pick up of Randy Moss by the Patriots does not increase their chances of a Superbowl, it decreases the likelihood. If any team in the NFL knows this, it is the Patriots: great teams win Superbowls, not superstars. That is why the addition of a team-destroyer like Randy Moss makes the Patriots less competitive, not more. Mark my words and talk to me in February, 2008.

So Much Global Warming, So Little Time

So many links that is:
Don Surber: Scientist: Global cooling is coming
Carbon-Neutral is Hip, but Is It Green?
On this, environmentalists aren’t neutral, and they don’t agree. Some believe it helps build support, but others argue that these purchases don’t accomplish anything meaningful — other than giving someone a slightly better feeling (or greener reputation) after buying a 6,000-square-foot house or passing the million-mile mark in a frequent-flier program. In fact, to many environmentalists, the carbon-neutral campaign is a sign of the times — easy on the sacrifice and big on the consumerism.

As long as the use of fossil fuels keeps climbing — which is happening relentlessly around the world — the emission of greenhouse gases will keep rising. The average American, by several estimates, generates more than 20 tons of carbon dioxide or related gases a year; the average resident of the planet about 4.5 tons.

At this rate, environmentalists say, buying someone else’s squelched emissions is all but insignificant.

“The worst of the carbon-offset programs resemble the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences back before the Reformation,” said Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental grant-making group. “Instead of reducing their carbon footprints, people take private jets and stretch limos, and then think they can buy an indulgence to forgive their sins.”

“This whole game is badly in need of a modern Martin Luther,” Mr. Hayes added.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The real life and the phony life

Roger Simon takes a look at living "The real life and the phony life

Glenn Reynolds has two posts on the top of Instapundit this morning that remind me of why I could never be a politician - one about Iraq and one about the environment. I could say that was because 'I cannot tell a lie,' but that would be ... a lie. It's because I'm not good enough an actor. My real thoughts and feelings pop out too easily."
I feel the same way with high-level managers. They can rarely compartmentalize the way they are at work and the way they are at home. Their back-stabbing politics cannot be shut off. It leaks into their personal life. If they lie and cheat at work, or golf or finances, then that follows them around into their personal life. That is why it is important to be congruent in everything you do. I am not perfect at it, but at least I realize when I am dishonest or lazy or weak, that stays with me. Others think they can act bad in one part of their life and not have it affect the other. Not so. Humans are not built that way.

Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling on Happiness: why we suck at being happy: "Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness is one of those pop-science books that delivers a serious a-ha punch at least once a chapter, a little insight into the way that the world works that stops you right where you are and makes you go back and reevaluate how you got there."
Got the book in the queue. In fact, I started it yesterday. I started it after viewing Gilbert here. It is a TED talk. Awesome guy. Awesome site.

'Daily Show' Mocks Hypocrite Celebs

'Daily Show' Mocks Hypocrite Celebs:
"The 'Daily Show' is definitely a liberal show. However, on occassion, it does put liberals in the cross hairs. Such was the case recently when it slammed enviro-hypocrites like Matt Damon and Oprah Winfrey. Enjoy!"

Global Warming and Livestock Emissions

BARMY Euro MPs are demanding new laws to stop cows and sheep PARPING.

Their call came after the UN said livestock emissions were a bigger threat to the planet than transport.

The MEPs have asked the European Commission to “look again at the livestock question in direct connection with global warming”.
Don't worry. They can always purchase carbon offsets from Al Gore.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Can You Say "Death Penalty"?

A "man" who admitted feeding an oil-slicked puppy to a pet boa constrictor was jailed Thursday and ordered to undergo drug and psychological testing before he's sentenced.
Best not come to Texas if you know what is right for you. Just sayin'.

Ford - No Bull Please

A woman pulled into her driveway and spotted something big inside her garage. That something turned out to be a bull . And an angry bull at that.

Mabel Washburn says she drove to a nearby relative's home in rural Washington County to call police after coming face to face with the bull on Wednesday afternoon.

When she returned to her home near the Vermont border a few minutes later, the bull was still there.

The 81-year-old woman says the animal then rammed its horns into her Ford Escort a couple of times. She blew her horn at it, but the bull chased the vehicle as she drove away.

Duh! War on cocaine a failure - period

In a duh! moment, letter demonstrates war on drugs is a failure.
BOGOTA, Colombia — The street price of cocaine fell in the United States last year as purity rose, the White House drug czar said in a private letter to a senator, indicating increasing supply and seemingly contradicting U.S. claims that $4 billion in aid to Colombia is stemming the flow.

Bad Self Image in France

French outpace Americans in French-bashing:
"The French dislike themselves even more than the Americans dislike them, according to an opinion poll published on Friday.

The survey of six nations, carried out for the International Herald Tribune daily and France 24 TV station, said 44 percent of French people thought badly of themselves against 38 percent of U.S. respondents who had a negative view of the French."
I wonder if San Francisco Mayor Newsom thinks the French were not hugged enough as kids.

No Jet Pool for Them 2008 Candidates Rely on Private Jets:
"A flock of small jets took flight from Washington Thursday, each carrying a Democratic presidential candidate to South Carolina for the first debate of the political season."
I wonder if the campaign covered carbon offsets.

Luskin on the "American Idiot"

I called Lou Dobbs "The American Idiot". Donald Luskin is much more charitable here.:
"The advocates of free trade have on their side over 200 years of settled science in economics, going all the way back to Adam Smith. The advocates of protectionism have Lou Dobbs."
Ouch. That is going to leave a mark.

Going After the Money

The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid:
"Our friend Dan Clifton has more:

Private equity deals and share repurchases have always occurred - its just happening now on a level that it is making a difference. In fact, the combined dollar value of these two variables equaled $1.24 trillion in 2006 and increased more than five-fold from 1.5 percent of market cap in 2003 to 7.6 percent in 2006.

The large surge in the retirement of shares is leading to increased tax revenues...Despite this surge of new tax revenue a proposal is being floated to change the tax treatment of private equity. Based on the rhetoric you would believe private equity players are paying no taxes when in fact we find out that they are providing the revenue source which has significantly improved the nation's fiscal situation. But as with anything which involves large amounts of cash, such as private equity, politicians are clamoring for a piece of the pie."
Back to the basics: "You have it, I want it, hand it over. "

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Panning Carbon Neutrality Before It Was Cool

It is so nice to be ahead of the curve on a subject. Before Instapundit and Drudge published comments on the recent Financial Times article, I had it pegged:

The deeper I dig, the more this whole issue of trading emissions stinks to high heaven

So basically, I am back to concluding that the Kyoto Protocol is just another source of wealth transfer from rich nations to poor nations as well as the intermediaries who take their cut.

Carbon offsetting scams? Who knew? / In depth - Industry caught in carbon ‘smokescreen’:
"Companies and individuals rushing to go green have been spending millions on “carbon credit” projects that yield few if any environmental benefits.

A Financial Times investigation has uncovered widespread failings in the new markets for greenhouse gases, suggesting some organisations are paying for emissions reductions that do not take place."

Who knew? Anyone looking at Native Energy?

Global Warming Ouch

Ouch : "Until the celebrity windbags quit blowing hot air about saving the planet, the greening of America doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. "

Squeezing the Middle Class?

While the story beats the income inequality drum along with propagating other mythology, all is not lost when the New York Times writes an article like this
"...we’re starting to learn that the ... story, the one about instability, is more complicated. It may even end up being wrong.

The summary starts by noting that a “significant number of workers experience substantial variability in their total wage earnings,” which is certainly true. Only later do you come to the surprising part: there is the same amount of variability now that there was in the 1980s and 1990s. In journalism, this is known as burying the lead.

Manufacturing, where furloughs and layoffs have always been the norm, accounts for a much smaller part of the work force than it used to, while more stable industries, like health care, have grown. This is one reason that recessions, and the job cuts they bring, haven’t happened as often as they once did.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Coming in Second

First Toyota beats GM and now China is passing the US in another category: pollution. I guess I should scuttle my plans to by a hybrid. I mean, we have to maintain leadership in some area.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Toyota: Number One With a Bullet

Toyota passed GM in car sales for Q1-2007. I saw this coming a long time ago. Why?

Toyota's reputation for quality and fuel efficiency has lifted sales of the
popular Camry, Corolla and Prius gas-and-electric hybrid while GM has cut
production as high fuel prices turned people away from its light trucks and
sports utility vehicles.

Toyota is ahead of GM in several ways, he said, including producing fuel-efficient models, developing new technology, boosting global brand image, cutting costs and having high morale and unity among its ranks.

This said it better than I can.

What is next? Protectionism is going to rear its ugly head:
But as Toyota rolls on, its executives are growing concerned about a possible political backlash in the U.S., even though American consumers continue to flock to Toyota dealerships. U.S. lawmakers from manufacturing states charge that the Japanese government has kept the yen artificially low, giving Japanese automakers an advantage.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Eco-Socialites: Give Me a Break

Eco-Elites like this (Eco-Socialites Make Cleaning Green a Priority) make me ill.
“We get global warming, but we don’t think about what we are exposing ourselves to in our homes. We can all watch ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ But what can we actually do to make a difference on Earth Day besides buying a Prius?”

She recycles and has tossed away her children’s plastic sippy cups. Concerned with carbon emissions, she is about to replace the Barnetts’ two family cars with hybrids. “I turn the water off when I’m brushing my teeth,” she said. “I’m always learning, I’m always trying to improve.”

Still, she has no plans to reduce the family’s significant carbon footprint by, say, selling the Manhattan second home. “I’m not a perfect person,” she said. “I’m not the greenest woman in America.” And there was scant indication that other guests, most of whom, presumably, knew their way up the steps of a private jet, were contemplating major lifestyle cutbacks. Glancing about the room, Ms. Barnett said, “We aren’t all going to move to one-bedroom apartments.”

Ms. Seinfeld, who is married to the comedian Jerry Seinfeld, was prepared to clamber on board. “I’m a child of two parents who grew up in the ’60s,” she said. “I’ve been recycling since I was born.” Did she plan to reduce her own carbon footprint by selling off a few of her possessions? “What I have and what I don’t have is not something I talk about,” she said.

She plans to practice conservation, to a point. Energy-saving light bulbs are fine — for the utility closet, perhaps. In other rooms, “they don’t give a very pretty light,” she said.

Taking in such reservations, Ms. Barnett remained sanguine. “This is the grass-roots way to help save the world,” she said.

Yes. One standard for the elites and one for the rest of us.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Canada anti-Kyoto?

Canada joins anti-Kyoto bloc:
"Canada joins anti-Kyoto bloc

Kenneth Green, Financial Post
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2007

This week's announcement by the Canadian government -- that it may join a U.S.-led coalition focused on voluntary emissions cuts -- could be part of a global shift away from Kyoto's binding targets.

In a somewhat surprising development, Canada, a long-time supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, announced that it may want to join the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (AP6), a six-nation coalition focusing on voluntary emission-reduction steps and technology transfers. Many environmentalists oppose AP6 out of a fear that it may undermine political support for the legally binding Kyoto treaty."

Seed: Science In Silico

Awesome video showing simulations generated by supercomputers.

H/T Boing/Boing

Seed: Science In Silico: "Computer simulations and visualizations are performing the thought experiments of the 21st century and pushing the limits of human vision and imagination."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cafe Hayek: Find the error

Cafe Hayek: Find the error: "Robert Frank wants higher taxes on the rich to finance universal health care coverage. His argument:

Providing universal coverage will be expensive. With the median wage, adjusted for inflation, lower now than in 1980, most middle-class families cannot afford additional taxes. In contrast, the top tenth of 1 percent of earners today make about four times as much as in 1980, while those higher up have enjoyed even larger gains. Chief executives of large American companies, for example, earn more than 10 times what they did in 1980. In short, top earners are where the money is. Universal health coverage cannot happen unless they pay higher taxes.

Can you find the logical error in the second sentence of that paragraph? It's subtle, but readers of Cafe Hayek should be able to find it. The error can be summarized in five words."
I cannot do it in five words, but how about "you have it, I want it, hand it over."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Most Americans filing taxes online

Can we expect CPA's everywhere to file protectionist claims as a result of this?
The frantic ritual of racing to the post office to get tax returns postmarked just in time to satisfy the Internal Revenue Service is giving way to the online age.

Most people file their tax returns electronically now because it's convenient, despite lingering concerns about the security of their most sensitive financial information, according to a new AP-AOL Money & Finance poll.
Technology will displace CPA's just like electronic switches replaced switchboard operators. That is the way of the world. Get used to it. It will happen faster and faster.

Consumers and Rising Costs

As always, consumers notice rising costs. And yet, I find this excerpt quite telling:
Prices on everything from cereal and milk to soft drinks and red meat are on the upswing, partly because of the ethanol and biodiesel boom that is pushing up prices for corn and other commodities. Energy prices also remain troublesome, regardless whether gas tops $3 a gallon, and clothing costs are up too.

All that explains why Federal Reserve policymakers cited 'uncomfortably high' inflation readings as being their biggest worry, according to minutes released Wednesday of their discussions last month."
So, government interference in the energy market is distorting both energy and food prices. I think we would all be better off if they would stay out of it.

Finance leaders pledge to resist protectionism | - Houston Chronicle

At least the finance ministers of the G7 are pledging to resist protectionism:
"Finance officials from the world's wealthiest countries expressed confidence Friday that the global economy will experience strong growth despite risks.

'Although risks remain, the global economy is having its strongest sustained expansion in more than 30 years and is becoming more balanced,' the finance ministers and central bank presidents said in a joint statement.

The officials from the world's seven leading industrial countries — the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — projected confidence that various troubles such as soaring trade deficits, jittery financial markets and a slumping housing market in the United States will not be enough to derail growth.

The G-7 finance officials pledged to resist growing protectionist pressures in their countries, a movement being spawned by soaring trade imbalances such as the fifth consecutive year of a record trade gap in the United States."
Of course the significance of the trade gap is quite fictional. It is nice to see that there is some rhetoric to resisting the urge to implement damaging protectionist measures. We'll see if they can stick to it.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Rallies Defeat Global Warming

H/T Instapundit

Are rallies against global warming solving the problem?
The weather forecast for Saturday's global warming rallies in Grand Rapids and Holland calls for snow and cold rain and temperatures in the 40s -- about 10 degrees below normal.

For some, this might make global warming a tough sell.

"I've thought of that," said Lisa Locke, associate director of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, which is organizing the three Grand Rapids "Step it Up" rallies.
I am calling for anti-global warming rallies in Houston, in August, 3 pm daily.

Church/State Separation Goes For Everyone

It seems like all religions want the state to support them. In Minnesota, Muslims want a college to build them ritual foot washing basins. Christians are crying foul at the prospect.

They appear to take a very different attitude toward Islam. Welcome and accommodation are the order of the day for the college's more than 500 Muslim students. The college has worked with local Muslim leaders to ensure that these students' prayer needs and concerns are adequately addressed, Davis told me.

Muslim prayer is an increasingly controversial issue. Many Muslim students use restroom sinks to wash their feet before prayer. Other students have complained, and one Muslim student fell and injured herself while lifting her foot out of a sink.

Some local Muslim leaders have advised the college staff that washing is not a required practice for students under the circumstances, according to Davis. Nevertheless, he says, he wants to facilitate it for interested students. "It's like when someone comes to your home, you want to be hospitable," Davis told me. "We have new members in our community coming here; we want to be hospitable."

So the college is making plans to use taxpayer funds to install facilities for ritual foot-washing. Staff members are researching options, and a school official will visit a community college in Illinois to view such facilities while attending a conference nearby. College facilities staff members are expected to present a proposal this spring.

Personally, I find the entire controversy instructive. Christians want accommodation in public facilities and their religion respected at every turn. Christians want prayer in public schools, but not just any prayer - only theirs. Christians want clergy to open legislative sessions with prayer, but not just any clergy and not just any prayer - only theirs.

Don't get me wrong, I oppose the use of taxpayer funds to promote religion and religious practices regardless of the religion. Clearly, this foot washing basis would be a violation of Church/State separation and should be opposed on its own merits. I just find it interesting that Christians, who so eagerly push the Church/State envelop at every turn, are the first ones to cry "foul" when a competing religion wishes to do the same.

It is also very enlightening to note that historically, most gains in Church/State separation have come when competing religions fight each other. Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) was Jehovah's Witnesses versus Catholics. Abington Township School District v. Schempp (1963) was Unitarians against Christians. Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe (2000) was Christians against Catholics and Mormons.

Therefore, I applaud the exploration of minority Islam encroaching on majority Christianity in this country. Perhaps we will reaffirm the separation of church and state as a fundamental value. One can only hope.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Steffy: Deregulation Muddleheadedness

I cannot determine if Loren Steffy just does not know what he is talking about or just cannot communicate it very well. Here is his latest column on energy deregulation and current prices. He was going well at the start:
"Consumers don't give a damn about choice," said Geoffrey Gay, an Austin attorney who represents about 120 Texas cities on utility matters. "What they care about is reliability and price. What they see is all this complexity and their prices continuing to go up."

Prices have risen mostly because natural gas prices tripled in a little over five years, and gas prices set the market price for electricity.

That, however, doesn't excuse deregulation's failure to lower rates.
I question the literary value of referring to deregulation as some sort of entity unto itself rather than a process. If the process of electricity deregulation has failed to lower prices, then that is an indictment on the process not the overall concept of deregulated markets. The way Steffy uses language, he implies that deregulation in general is a failure.

Then Steffy totally falls off the rails:
What makes the utility attractive is its lower-cost generation. The buyers can produce electricity for less using coal and nuclear plants, then sell the power at the higher market price.

And who, by the way, paid for those coal and nuclear plants? Why, we did.

In the 1970s and 1980s, nuclear plants were deemed uneconomic because of all the government regulations surrounding them. Regulators allowed utilities to pass those costs on to consumers in the form of higher rates.
Um.....I hate to point out to the esteemed business reporter, but consumers always bear the costs of government regulation, regardless of the industry. Always have, always will. To single out the nuclear industry in this regard for passing on costs with the consent of the regulating authority is just nonsensical.

He continues to drive in the weeds:
The deal illustrates the one tangible result of deregulation: the transfer of risk from producers to consumers.

We are left to fend for ourselves, to find the best deal we can amid a myriad of offerings.

Meanwhile, fast-buck investors are scooping up profits that are virtually guaranteed by the system that masquerades as a free market.
First of all, I would argue that government regulation places more risk on consumers, both in terms of availability and cost than deregulation does. I would also argue that free markets do not shift the responsibility for both supply, demand and price points to either party; it is mutually and freely negotiated situation. I fail to see how we wish no regulation in most markets, but single out electricity for special treatment. We don't have a price-regulated market in food, clothing, or shelter - all life necessities; why electricity? We are left to find the best deals in all of life's necessities, why not electricity as well?

I also ask why a deregulated electricity market masquerades as a free market system instead of being one in fact (that is Steffy's opinion). Perhaps because the entire industry is not completely deregulated. It is my understanding that the wholesale and production operations are still heavily regulated which results in market distortions. Without deregulating the entire chain, how can Steffy expect market-based behavior?

Of course, Steffy realizes this situation in his next line:
As it stands now, we buy our electricity not from a monopoly and not through competition, but through an amalgam of both.
So he realizes the market is not totally deregulated, cries about the prices not dropping and then is surprised by that realization. Amazing. In Steffy's mind, deregulation is a failure because the situation is a mix between a monopoly and competition. So instead of insisting that the entire industry move to deregulation instead of parts, he implicitly advocates going back to deregulation.

Of course, Steffy falls perpetually on the side of government control over markets and against freely operating markets. His is the common, anti-capitalist position that people should be protected from market choices and responsibility for those choices. He continually minimizes the positive affect of complex markets operating extremely efficiently to match demand, supply and price when market distortions (mostly generated by government action) are eliminated.

I guess I should suspend my surprise when he habitually repeats these anti-capitalist positions. And yet, for a country entirely built upon a market-based economy which has shown itself to repeatedly deliver the goods, I am amazed that the prevailing business columnist for the Houston Chronicle to be consistently against the market. Perhaps this reflects the creeping socialist fever in this country and Steffy is just riding the wave. It is sad, nevertheless.

An End to TAKS

Ending the standardized test regime in Texas would be the best thing for public education. The largest school district , HSID, is considering asking the legislature for just that. Just do it. Faster.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Pretty Damn Cold for April

It is pretty damn cold for April.

Trade: Person to Person, Nation to Nation

H/T Spryal Notebook

Grek Mankiw does smackdown on Robert Reich:
(when Reich) says that, as a requirement for free trade deals, we should tell developing countries to "set a minimum wage that's half their median wage." The proposal raises two questions in my mind:

1. Does Reich pay his nanny, cleaning person, and gardener more than half the median wage of members of his family?

2. If not, should I refuse to buy his books?
The gentlemen at Cafe Hayek have similar comments (quoting an article by Sheldon Richman):
In reality, then, there are no imports and exports. There is only what I make and what everyone else makes. Few people would want to live just on what they themselves could make. Frederic Bastiat pointed out that each of us daily uses products we couldn't make in isolation in a thousand years. Talk about poor, solitary, nasty, brutish, and short! "What makes this phenomenon stranger still is that the same thing holds true for all men," Bastiat wrote. "Every one of the members of society has consumed a million times more than he could have produced; yet no one has robbed anyone else."

This is just another way of saying that the case for free trade is conceded the moment someone eschews self-sufficiency. After that, we're just haggling over the size of the trade area. But if free trade (read: division of labor) is good, then the bigger the free-trade area the better. Globalization should be the worldwide removal of all barriers to the exchange of goods and services -- rather than trade managed through state capitalism and multinational bureaucracies. Unilateral, unconditional free trade is the smartest policy.

Gapminder Human Data Presentation

I don't even know who to give a H/T to, but if I can remember, I'll put them in the H/T hall of fame. In any event, I stumbled across this talk by Ted Rosling regarding human development trends. I was absolutely fascinated by the trend graphics he displayed. Click the link and watch the presentation and you will see. Below is are mere screen captures of this incredible way of displaying data. It is remarkable what the Gapminder people have done.

This is an interactive presentation done partially in the video above: Human Development Trends

I see that Google has bought the software and is hosting it. I am hoping I could get my hands on the software to add to the data that is presented there. It will be a novel way of displaying charts and graphs to make a point.

Here is the Gapminder link in Google Tools. Check it out. It is awesome.

News gets worse: Jobless Rate Falls

And the economic news keeps getting worse for those with a political ax to grind. The AP reports
The mostly positive snapshot of the nation's employment climate, released by the Labor Department on Friday, showed that companies ramped up hiring and paid workers more. That's good news for employees and jobseekers, and bodes well for the national economy, too, which is suffering a sluggish spell and a painful housing slump.

"For most people, the job market is still hitting on a lot of cylinders, especially for people who are willing to upgrade their skills. It is not leaving a large number of people stranded," said John Challenger, chief of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an employment research firm. "But there are pockets where people are having a difficult time," he said.

But a rapid pickup -- if prolonged and not blunted by other economic forces -- can raise fears about inflation.

Spiraling inflation would whittle away any wage gains, hurting workers' wallets. The Federal Reserve's biggest concern is that inflation could flare up.

Pay careful to the language here: "mostly", "suffering a sluggish spell and a painful housing slump", "difficult time", "fears", "spiraling inflation","hurting workers' wallets". I guess it is a good sign that the good economic news is finally being reported, but it is always tempered by the constant "yeah but's". How good does it have to get before the press labels drops the disclaimers and reports it straight?

I don't do politics here at VAT, but one cannot help but notice the apparent bias for the wonderful economic performance under the current President's versus the coverage received under his predecessor. I guess we will have to wait until the party of the President matches the party of the press before we get fair and objective economic (and other) reporting.

Note a small error in the report:
The unemployment rate for Hispanics dropped to 5.1 percent, a three-month low, while the rate for blacks climbed to 8.3 percent, a three-month high. The rate for women held steady at 3.8 percent. The rate for men declined to 4 percent.
Of course, it is mathematically impossible for women to have 3.8% employment, men 4% and the overall rate to be 4.4%. A look at the numbers issued by BLS indicate that the reported figures for men and women is for those over 20. Do I have to be a fact checker too?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Stossel: Fear Industrial Complex

Barry Glassner called it The Culture of Fear. Stossel tags it the "Fear Industrial Complex". That sounds just about right.
Another is the illusion of control. People who fear flying are comfortable driving because they think they're "in control." Yet driving is probably the riskiest thing most of us do. Think about it: We drive at 65 mph, a few feet from other cars -- some of which are driven by 16-year olds! And our cameras have caught people curling their eyelashes and reading while driving.

A hundred people die on the road every day. But the media are much more likely to do scare stories about plane crashes than car accidents.

So take our reporting with heavy skepticism. Ignore us when we hyperventilate about mad cow disease and the danger of asbestos hidden behind a wall.

Instead, worry about what's worth worrying about: driving, acting reckless, smoking cigarettes, drinking too much, and eating too much. "What is your blood pressure, what are you eating; are you exercising?" is what patients should think about, says internist Marc Siegel. "But obesity is boring. Heart disease is boring. So we tend to not think of the things that can really get us."

The media make it worse. Instead of educating people to real dangers, we scare them about things that hardly matter.

Chemical Safety Board: Lightning Strike Preventable at BP Site

Lightning has struck the BP refinery and caused yet another fire. I am just waiting for the Chemical Safety Board and Loren Steffy to pounce on this story and decry the capital spending cuts that likely eliminated lightning rods from the budget.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

FCC says 'no' to cell phones on planes

Thank goodness that the FCC said no to allowing cell phones on planes. Of course they said no on technical grounds, but should have from sanity grounds. I would go crazy listening to people talk about stupid shit for three hours straight. Therefore, I am glad the FCC upheld the ban, regardless of their reasons.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Steffy on BP and Chemical Process Safety

Once again, Loren Steffy ventures into a subject that he knows little about (what subject does he?) and that is chemical process safety. His venture attempts to find a causal link between cost cutting at the BP refinery and the 2005 accident that caused 15 deaths. Here is an example of Steffy's analysis from this:
More than a decade of cutbacks in maintenance and training culminated on March 23, 2005, with a tanker-size load of liquid hydrocarbons spewing forth from an aging vent stack.

The liquid ignited in less than two minutes and the ensuing fireball turned a temporary office trailer into a deathtrap.
Of course, Steffy can't be bothered to read the BP accident report or he would realize that the accident resulted from four causes:

As a chemical engineer, I would say the faulty startup procedure and the blowdown stack design were the bigger cause of the incident than the others. It is apparent to me that the operators who started it up on night shift and those that took over on day shift has many opportunities to prevent this incident, but failed to recognize the hazards. One thing everyone must realize is that from the time the column startup began unit the fire was almost than 11 hours. That is right, they started filling the column at 2:35 am and the incident occurred at 1:19 pm.

I wish some could explain this to Steffy, but he just beats the drum on cost cutting measures. Other than having the atmospheric vent and faulty instruments, I fail to see the causal link to this line of reasoning. But, then, I am not a highly paid Chronicle columnist, just a chemical engineer with 16 years experience in the chemical industry.

Doctors see financial pain

Just catching up on my Steffy-fisking. I find it humorous that Steffy is all-of-a-sudden interested in meddling in the free market. Steffy is all for meddling elsewhere. Why not here?:
The governor's mandate also meddles in the free market. Merck, the vaccine's manufacturer, would know that the drug was required for Texas schoolgirls in Texas, giving the company no incentive to offer the price breaks to doctors that often come with new products.
I don't know why I find his inconsistency troubling. It is Steffy's tradmark.

Those pesky Houston Chronicle Business Columnist

For the life of me, I cannot figure out how Loren Steffy got his job as the Houston Chronicle's business columnist. Almost everything he writes is anti-business with a typical column here.

I am wondering, in the vast body of work if I can find examples of pro-business writing. Anyone?