Month: February 2013

My Flight Left Over 4 Hours Late

I also spent about 2 hours on the tarmac waiting for a gate to open up to deplane.

Of course, this means that I missed my connecting flight.

I’m booked on a flight that leaves in 5 hours, and wait listed for one that leaves in 2 hours.

If I were stupid, this would be where I would make an angry, but not serious, statement about what should happen to the good folks at USAir, and their lackadaisically maintained fleet of  aircraft.

Of course, this would pique the interest of the good folds in Fort Meade, and I would end up getting to know FBI special agent Body Cavity Search.

So I will leave our at, “Their mother was a hamster, and their father smelled of elderberries.”

Posted via mobile.

How Many Jobs Does the Keystone Pipeline Create?

Only 20.

Call me a political Little Orphan Annie, but I think that if you have to lie this much, it’s probably not a good idea:

TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL oil pipeline, heralded by supporters as a major job creator, will add few permanent positions once the $7 billion project is built.

The number of people needed to operate and maintain the 1,661-mile (2,673-kilometer) pipeline may be as few as 20, according to the U.S. State Department, or as many as a few hundred, according to TransCanada.

“I don’t see a big jobs impact,” Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, said in an interview. “It gets the oil into refineries that already exist. It’s like replacing a bridge on the highway.”

The debate in Washington has focused on short-term construction and manufacturing jobs, rather than on permanent ones. Estimates for construction and manufacturing employment range from 2,500 to 20,000, depending on assumptions of how much of the project’s budget will be spent in the U.S. The company says some of the steel will be made in Canada and India.

TransCanada Vice President Robert Jones said permanent jobs would be “in the hundreds, certainly not in the thousands,” in a Nov. 11 interview on CNN.

Calgary-based TransCanada says construction will create 20,000 “new, real U.S. jobs.”

What a surprise, TransCanada is a bunch of lying sacks of sh%$.

And the bitumen that they will be extracting is an ecological disaster as well.

It’s Jobless Thursday!!!!

Not good news. Initial unemployment claims rose by 20K to 362K, as did the 4-week moving average and continuing claims, though extended claims fell, probably because of exhaustion of benefits.

Of more concern is that the Fed’s Open Market Committee minutes came out, and it looks like they are losing their nerve on quantitative easing:

The Federal Reserve signaled it may consider slowing the pace of asset purchases as officials extended a debate over whether record monetary easing risks unleashing inflation or fueling asset-price bubbles.

Several participants at the Federal Open Market Committee’s Jan. 29-30 meeting “emphasized that the committee should be prepared to vary the pace of asset purchases, either in response to changes in the economic outlook or as its evaluation of the efficacy and costs of such purchases evolved,” according to the minutes of the gathering released yesterday.

This is not the right time for the Fed to take its head off the accelerator pedal.

It Still Tastes Better Than Dr. Pepper

That being said, I understand why guests at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles were squicked out when a body was found in its rooftop water tank:

Guests of a downtown hotel where missing Canadian tourist Elisa Lam was found dead in a rooftop water tank expressed horror at the discovery.

Lam’s body was discovered by a worker at the Cecil Hotel checking out complaints of weak water pressure, police said.

“I’m really disgusted,” said Annette Suzuki, a San Francisco resident staying at the hotel. “Wouldn’t you be if there was a dead body in the water tank you’re drinking from?”

As authorities were searching for clues at the scene of the discovery Monday evening, Pippa Beaumont, 26, of South Africa was rushing out of the hotel with her luggage in tow.

She had planned to stay at the hotel but decided not to when she learned a body had been found in one of the hotel’s water tanks.

In Los Angeles, the water drinks you.

Firewood Versus Honey Boo boo

I’ll go with the aesthetic sensibilities of the Norwegian people:

The TV program, on the topic of firewood, consisted mostly of people in parkas chatting and chopping in the woods and then eight hours of a fire burning in a fireplace. Yet no sooner had it begun, on prime time on Friday night, than the angry responses came pouring in.

“We received about 60 text messages from people complaining about the stacking in the program,” said Lars Mytting, whose best-selling book “Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood — and the Soul of Wood-Burning” inspired the broadcast. “Fifty percent complained that the bark was facing up, and the rest complained that the bark was facing down.”

He explained, “One thing that really divides Norway is bark.”

One thing that does not divide Norway, apparently, is its love of discussing Norwegian wood. Nearly a million people, or 20 percent of the population, tuned in at some point to the program, which was shown on the state broadcaster, NRK.

In a country where 1.2 million households have fireplaces or wood stoves, said Rune Moeklebust, NRK’s head of programs in the west coast city of Bergen, the subject naturally lends itself to television.

“My first thought was, ‘Well, why not make a TV series about firewood?’” Mr. Moeklebust said in an interview. “And that eventually cut down to a 12-hour show, with four hours of ordinary produced television, and then eight hours of showing a fireplace live.”


But the real excitement came when the action moved, four hours later, to a fireplace in a Bergen farmhouse.

Perhaps you have seen a log fire burning on television before. But it would be very foolish to confuse Norway’s eight-hour fireplace extravaganza on Friday with the Yule log broadcast in the United States at Christmastime.

While the Yule log fire plays on a constant repeating loop, the fire on “National Firewood Night” burned all night long, in suspensefully unscripted configurations. Fresh wood was added through the hours by an NRK photographer named Ingrid Tangstad Hatlevoll, aided by viewers who sent advice via Facebook on where exactly to place it.

For most of the time, the only sound came from the fire. Ms. Hatlevoll’s face never appeared on screen, but occasionally her hands could be seen putting logs in the fireplace, or cooking sausages and marshmallows on sticks.

“I couldn’t go to bed because I was so excited,” a viewer called niesa36 said on the Dagbladet newspaper Web site. “When will they add new logs? Just before I managed to tear myself away, they must have opened the flue a little, because just then the flames shot a little higher.

Yes, this is deliciously weird, but this is a hell of a lot less pathological than the American regime of reality programing.

China Moves Toward Carbon Tax

It looks like the Chinese have learned a lesson from their recent near lethal smog incidents in Beijing:

China’s Ministry of Finance has announced that the country will levy a tax on carbon emissions, reports Xinhua. Policy experts in the United States and Europe have long argued that a carbon tax is the most effective way to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, but implementing one in most large industrialized countries has always seemed politically infeasible.

In the same announcement, China’s Ministry of Finance said that direct taxes on resources, including coal and water, will also be forthcoming.

Details on the carbon tax are scant, but previous reports indicated that it would come into force by 2015 and might start at 10 yuan ($1.60) per tonne of carbon, rising to 50 yuan ($8) per tonne by 2020. Notably, the tax would be collected by local tax authorities, and not municipal environmental protection bureaus.

BTW, I did some quick back of the envelope calculations.

If you look at the weight of carbon in a gallon of gasoline (4.2 lbs of carbon per gallon based on a chemical formula of C8H18), 10 yuan per gallon is a bit less than ⅓ of a penny a gallon, and 50 yuan, about 1⅔ cents a gallon.

It’s not a whole bunch of money, though it’s probably about twice that per BTU for coal, but it’s a start, which puts it ahead of the United States.

Also I approve of a carbon tax, because, unlike cap and trade, it does not prevent Wall Street from using “financial innovation” to rip the rest of society off.

We Are Doomed

It appears that data from the Large Hadron Collider shows that we will be swallowed up by an alternate reality in the next 10 billion years or so:

Scientists are still sorting out the details of last year’s discovery of the Higgs boson particle, but add up the numbers and it’s not looking good for the future of the universe, scientists said Monday.

“If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it’s bad news,” Joseph Lykken, a theoretical physicist with the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, told reporters.

Lykeen spoke before presenting his research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.

“It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable and at some point billions of years from now it’s all going to get wiped out,” said Lykken, who is also on the science team at Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator.


“This calculation tells you that many tens of billions of years from now, there’ll be a catastrophe,” Lykken said.

“A little bubble of what you might think of as an ‘alternative’ universe will appear somewhere and then it will expand out and destroy us,” Lykken said, adding that the event will unfold at the speed of light.

Scientists had grappled with the idea of the universe’s long-term stability before the Higgs discovery, but stepped up calculations once its mass began settling in at around 126 billion electron volts – a critical number it turns out for figuring out the fate of the universe.

The calculation requires knowing the mass of the Higgs to within one percent, as well as the precise mass of other related subatomic particles.

“You change any of these parameters to the Standard Model (of particle physics) by a tiny bit and you get a different end of the universe,” Lyyken said.

Or maybe not.

It’s kind of irrelevant to most of us, except perhaps theologians.

This is a Good Thing

Map courtesy of the Kaiser Family Foundation

Notwithstanding the statements of the Obama administration that it was essential that the states should run their own health insurance exchanges, it’s good news that the Federal Government will run 26 of 50 of the exchanges:

Friday was a very important day for health policy days. It was the last day for states to tell the federal government whether they wanted any part in running the Affordable Care Act health exchanges come 2014.

The federal government did not get many takers. Some of the most closely watched states, including Florida and New Jersey, decided to leave the entire task to the federal government. All told, the federal government will run 26 of the state health exchanges. It also will partner with seven states, where state and federal officials take joint responsibility for the marketplace. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia will take on the task themselves. Here’s what that looks like in map form, via the Kaiser Family Foundation.


The big question moving forward is: Does this split matter? Is it better or worse for the federal government to be running the majority of the state health exchanges?

In the health policy world, there are essentially two schools of thought on this. The first is that states opting out of the exchanges is horrible for the Obama administration. All along, Health and Human Services has urged states to move forward on their own. Now, HHS has the massive task of setting up 26 separate state exchanges.


That is the pessimist’s take on the federal government’s very big workload. But there’s also an optimist’s take, one that suggests that federal oversight of most Affordable Care Act marketplaces will ultimately strengthen the health overhaul.

Remember, House Democrats originally wanted one national health exchange, where everyone in all 50 states could purchase coverage. That idea was nixed in the Senate bill, which aimed to give states a larger role in setting up the Affordable Care Act.

In a way, all these states turning over their exchanges to the federal government brings Obamacare a little closer to the more liberal House bill, which had the federal government running one big marketplace. It allows the White House to have more control over setting up its signature legislative accomplishment. It also creates some economies of scale, as HHS can develop one template exchange that all 26 states it handles will use.

I’m not sure why the Obama administration was so big on the state run exchanges.

My guess was that they are worried about the inevitable teething problems, and wanted as many opportunities as possible to spread the blame around.

The state based insurance system has resulted in a lot of oligopolies in healthcare, and has allowed the insurance corporations to purchase legislators and regulators, so I see this as an unalloyed good.

It moves us away from the inevitable race to the bottom that will occur in state based systems.

When Charles F%$#ing Krauthammer is the Voice of Reason, You Have Jumped the Shark

Jumping C. Megalodon*

This is one big shark that he jumped.
With Frikken Lasers!

The White House press corps(e) is mad as hell and they are not going to take it any more.

They have been stonewalled by the Obama administration for the last time?

What was it? The secret kill list? The use of the CIA and the NSA to spy on US citizens? The secret negotiations for the the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Nope. The press is livid that they did not get a press availability when Obama played a round of golf with Tiger Woods:

The White House pushed back Tuesday against complaints from the press corps that the administration was too restrictive last weekend in denying reporters and photographers a glimpse of President Obama playing golf with Tiger Woods during his vacation in Florida.

Press secretary Jay Carney said he sympathizes with the press corps’ bid for greater access, but he disputed suggestions that Obama has been more off-limits than his recent predecessors.

Carney said Obama has held 35 news conferences in which reporters were permitted to ask questions, compared to 19 by George W. Bush to this point in his presidency. And Obama has granted 591 interviews, including 104 with television networks, Carney added.


Later that afternoon, the White House confirmed that Woods was among Obama’s foursome after a reporter for Golf World Magazine and the Golf Channel had published the news on his Twitter feed hours earlier.

After several reporters, including Fox News correspondent Ed Henry, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, complained about the lack of access, Obama spoke with reporters aboard Air Force One on Monday evening on the way back to Washington. But that conversation was off the record.

Do you know how stupid this is?

It’s so stupid and over the top that lunatic and long distance psychotherapist Charles Krauthammer thinks that this is whiny inconsequential bullsh%$:

Charles Krauthammer is blasting the media for complaining about a lack of access to President Barack Obama over the weekend while he golfed with Tiger Woods, calling it “the biggest non-story” since the Kardashian weddings.

“If the guy wants to play golf, the guy deserves a couple of days off. He wants privacy — big deal. This is the biggest non-story that the media have created since the Kardashian weddings,” Krauthammer said on Fox News on Monday. “I don’t understand what the story is and what the outrage is.”

Seriously, Charles Krauthammer is correct.

I cannot f%$#ing believe that I f%$#ing just f%$#ing said f%$#ing that.

*The largest shark, and likely largest predator fish ever. It died out some 1.5 million years ago. The Genus is still in dispute, between either Carcharodon (Great White) or Carcharocles (broad toothed Mako). But in either case, you are jumping C. Megalodon, you have jumped the biggest shark ever.

It’s a Start

In the primary to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. in Congress, a leading candidate has been forced out largely because of her high ratings from the NRA:

Illinois State Sen. Toi Hutchinson dropped her bid to fill the Congressional seat of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. on Sunday after her moderate views on gun safety made her a target of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s political action committee, Independence USA.

In what will be the first election since the shooting in Newton, Connecticut, the $2 million ad buy criticized Hutchison and another candidate for receiving an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). “In the race for Congress, the big issue? Fighting gun violence. Debbie Halvorson and Toi Hutchinson both earned an A from the NRA, they can’t be trusted,” the ad began before endorsing former state Rep. Robin Kelly who supports background checks and banning assault weapons.

Guns have become a central issue in the primary, as Kelly attacked her opponents’ views on gun safety and “pointed out that Hutchinson received a 92 percent rating from the NRA” and does not support a statewide concealed carry ban. She also urged all candidates to “sign on to a five-point pledge to reduce gun violence: banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, closing the gun show loophole, supporting Illinois’ conceal carry ban, and refusing support from ‘organizations that oppose reasonable gun safety legislation.’”

A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that a high rating from the NRA would be used against a candidate, but the recent behavior of the organization, in particular the batsh%$ insane pronouncements of their CEO, Wayne LaPierre, have, when juxtaposed with the Newtown shootings, made the organization increasingly toxic.

This is good.

The New York Times Notices that the Bank Settlements are Bullsh%$

You see, they are making modifications to 2nd mortgages while continuing to foreclose on 1st mortgages.

This might sound like a meaningless difference, but banks are given credit for modifying a 2nd mortgage, but in the event of a foreclosure, they are subordinate to 1st mortgages, and so are wiped out.

This means that the foreclosure modification means nothing, though the banks get credit for it anyway:

In January, federal regulators announced an $8.5 billion agreement with 10 mortgage servicers to settle claims of foreclosure abuses, including bungled loan modifications and the wrongful evictions of borrowers who were either current on their payments or making reduced monthly payments.

Under the deal, announced by the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the mortgage servicers will pay $3.3 billion to borrowers who went through foreclosure in 2009 and 2010 and an additional $5.2 billion to reduce the principal or the monthly payments of borrowers in danger of losing their homes.


The problem involves second mortgages, which millions of homeowners took out during the housing bubble. It’s estimated that as much as a quarter of all mortgage debt in the United States is in the form of second mortgages. Some of these loans were taken out to finance home improvements; others were part of a subprime product known as an “80/20 mortgage,” in which 80 percent of the purchase price was covered by a first, adjustable-rate mortgage, and the remainder by a second mortgage, often with a much higher interest rate.

The second mortgages have given the banks a loophole: each dollar a bank forgives goes toward fulfilling its obligation under last year’s settlement. But many lenders have made it a point to almost exclusively modify secondary loans while all but ignoring the troubled, larger primary mortgages.

It’s a real problem: when it comes to keeping your home, it’s the first mortgage that counts.


Why would a bank forgive a second mortgage completely but move forward with foreclosure on the first mortgage?

Surprisingly, such a tactic often makes sense for banks. When a lender forecloses on a first mortgage, the house in question is typically sold at auction. If the house is worth less than the loan amount, the bank gets only part of its money back. But after the sale, of course, there’s no asset left to pay off any of the second loan. The holder of that second loan — which has lower priority than the holder of the first — gets nothing.

So a lender can forgive a second mortgage — which in the event of foreclosure would be worthless anyway — and under the settlement claim credits for “modifying” the mortgage, while at the same time it or another bank forecloses on the first loan. The upshot, of course, is that the people the settlement was designed to protect keep losing their homes.

I would note here that the author, Elizabeth M. Lynch who is a lawyer who provides free civil legal aid,is being rather charitable:  she thinks that the banksters are taking advantage of loopholes in the settlement.

I believe that the intention of the deal on the part of the Fed and the OCC was to create a meaningless “Potemkin Agreement”.  They never intended to create better behavior.

Their goal was to indemnify the banks and to generate some propaganda to deflect moves toward real accountability.

Speculation About the Pope’s Abdication Gains Mainstream Currency

The speculation about why the Pope is stepping down has hit Reuters:

Pope Benedict’s decision to live in the Vatican after he resigns will provide him with security and privacy. It will also offer legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him in connection with sexual abuse cases around the world, Church sources and legal experts say.

“His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless. He wouldn’t have his immunity, his prerogatives, his security, if he is anywhere else,” said one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is absolutely necessary” that he stays in the Vatican, said the source, adding that Benedict should have a “dignified existence” in his remaining years.

Vatican sources said officials had three main considerations in deciding that Benedict should live in a convent in the Vatican after he resigns on February 28.

Vatican police, who already know the pope and his habits, will be able to guarantee his privacy and security and not have to entrust it to a foreign police force, which would be necessary if he moved to another country.

“I see a big problem if he would go anywhere else. I’m thinking in terms of his personal security, his safety. We don’t have a secret service that can devote huge resources (like they do) to ex-presidents,” the official said.

It could be nothing, but my guess is that we are going to hear the drip, drip, drip of all of this for months.

I actually have a bit of sympathy for him.  Benedict was left with the mess that John Paul created.  (It’s pretty clear that JPII gave then Cardinal Ratzinger instructions to cover up the allegations when he was head of the Inquisition Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.)

An Interesting Take on Mali

It turns out that north Mali has something in common with the antebellum South, a pervasive and systematic system of slavery:

The insurgents who have fled from invading French troops in Mali have been taking with them some of their most important possessions — slaves.

The Tuareg tribes that overran Mali’s military with the help of Arab extremist groups aligned with al-Qaeda have long held slaves and many of the captives are from families that have been enslaved for generations.

“It’s no way to live, without your freedom,” said Mohammed Yattara, a former slave who ran away from his Tuareg masters years ago.

“You depend on them for everything. If they tell you to do something, you have to do it, or they will beat you,” he said as he sat with the chief of the village of Toya and among men and women who were descendants of slaves or former slaves.

One of the artifacts of slavery is that its abolition has the effect of destroying a lot of wealth held by the elites, and the elites tend not to view this favorably.

For some historical perspective, note that the first war in North America over the issue of slavery was the War of Texas Independence, and the slave holders won.  (Yes, this was the primary causus belli was slavery, so the Mexicans were the good guys, but they lost, so the Texans wrote the history.)

H/t DownWithTyranny.