Monday, April 30, 2012

The Type 2 Diabetes Epidemic Among Young People Is A Calamity Just Waiting To Happen


At first glance, this story that appeared on CBS News over the weekend seems to be yet another depressing reflection on just how few people seem to give a damn that their unhealthy lifestyles are not only slowly killing them but their children as well:
There is a growing epidemic among American children, and now there is a new recommendation on how hundreds of thousands of those kids should be treated.

The problem is type 2 diabetes, and it is a problem that is confounding more doctors, families, and health care professionals every day.

CBS News correspondent Tony Guida reports type 2 diabetes was never seen in young people as recently as 15 years ago. Now it's occurring with alarming frequency. Doctors know that a major risk factor is obesity. Beyond that, they were mostly in the dark about this disease.

"Very little is known about the right way to both prevent it and treat it," said Dr. Robin Goland.

A new study out today in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that the standard treatment for type 2 diabetes in children is ineffective because the commonly prescribed drug Metaformin - effective in adults - has a high failure rate in children. Still, a combination of two diabetes drugs is far more effective in treating young people.

"Two drugs right off the bat, that's an important finding," Goland said.

It is important because type 2 diabetes appears to be more aggressive in young people between the ages of 10 and 17, putting them at great risk for life-threatening illnesses typically associated with seniors.

"We want them to grow up and have healthy lives and not be having heart attacks and strokes at terribly young ages," Goland said.

When it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes, more exercise and a healthier diet are key, but doctors know young peoples' habits are tough to change.

"The first surprise that we saw was, number one, how incredibly difficult it was to effect lifestyle change in these children, in these youth that have type 2 diabetes," said Dr. Kenneth Copeland.
Well, of course it is going to be difficult to effect a lifestyle change in those children. If their parents aren't willing to MAKE them change their habits, its a hopeless cause. Right here I could get up on my soapbox about parental responsibilities and and our mindless teevee-dominated culture that has created a generation of fat, slovenly couch potatoes and blah, blah, blah. If you're looking for that kind of commentary, read Karl Denninger's take.

Instead, I'll boil my reaction down to one very simple observation: what in the hell is going to happen to these kids and their parents when our unsustainable health care system starts to break down within probably the next few years? Not to mention that when energy prices become prohibitively expensive, suddenly these wheezing, waddling fools won't be able to rely on their cars and all of the gadgets that make their lives so effort free. I don't think it takes too much imagination to realize that there are many millions of people who are going to be is deep trouble from a health standpoint long before the collapse finally comes.


Bonus: "I hope that you got fat...'cause if you got really, really fat, you might just want to see me come back"

"The Downfall Of IBM"


Information Technology writer Robert X. Cringely published an article this past Friday that will be the first in a series about the current state of affairs at IBM that touches on so many themes I discuss here regularly at TDS that I wanted to highlight them. So, without further ado, here is Cringley from betanews:
The direct impetus for this column is IBM’s internal plan to grow earnings-per-share (EPS) to $20 by 2015. The primary method for accomplishing this feat, according to the plan, will be by reducing US employee head count by 78 percent in that time frame.

Reducing employees by more than three quarters in three years is a bold and difficult task. What will it leave behind? Who, under this plan, will still be a US IBM employee in 2015? Top management will remain, the sales organization will endure, as will employees working on US government contracts that require workers to be US citizens. Everyone else will be gone. Everyone.

Now industries and businesses change all the time because they have to or want to. Big companies and small have to adjust to the realities and changing reward structures of their markets and cultures. Or they change to better adapt to new opportunities. But what’s happening at IBM is different than that. It’s different because this incredible American success story, if it continues to follow its current course, will utterly fail. It’s different, too, because neither IBM management nor Wall Street seem to have the slightest notion of the peril facing the company. My deepest fear is they simply don’t care.
Gee...greater profitability through firing employees by a group of shortsighted, greedy senior managers who care only about the value of their stock portfolios. Where have I seen this before? Only in countless other stories I've posted here at TDS over the past year.

But please continue:
IBM seems to believe it is cheaper to replace a skilled worker with two or three unskilled workers to do the same job. That is like hiring nine women to make a baby in one month. While it looks good on paper it is not practical and is not working. The language barrier for IBM’s Indian staff is huge, for example. Troubleshooting, which was once performed on conference calls, is now done with instant messaging because the teams speak so poorly. Problems that an experienced person could fix in a few minutes are taking an army of folks an hour to fix. This is infuriating and alarming to IBM’s customers.

IBM’s five year plan ending in 2010 was supposed to double EPS from just under $5 to about $11. (Today it is closer to $13.) During the last five years there was an accelerated push of jobs offshore for cost reasons, high attrition rates, and longer product release cycles. The next five year plan for 2015 is to again double EPS to about $20. Can this be done? Probably, but the particular way they are going about it is also likely to destroy IBM.

IBM’s biggest money maker is its Global Services business, which also employs the most people. Ten years ago Global Services was an even larger part of IBM but the company is now making a lot less on its contracts, and the turnover of business is brisk. It is in Global Services where you see the most jobs being shipped offshore. But the problem is the offshore teams often lack the skill and experience to do the work, problems mount, customers like (most recently) The Walt Disney Company get upset and leave.

I’ll be providing more details in subsequent posts, but I want to end here with a point about how patently unfair and simply stupid this is. When I wrote about IBM five years ago the cost reduction program was called LEAN and it was supposed to mold from Big Blue a hyper-efficient business machine. Yet today IBM has more layers of management than it had in 2007. These extra layers come at a cost both in dollars and in accountability. Those extra layers insulate IBM’s top management from responsibility for their decisions. At the highest levels in Armonk they think things are going beautifully because they are out of touch with the reality of their own company.

Today at IBM the US workers who try to save the business are the first in line to lose their jobs. Management accountability is gone. The people who mess up get to keep their jobs; and those trying to retain the business lose their jobs.
Make no mistake, what is going on at IBM as reported in this piece is horrible, but it is hardly unique. Corporate America has become a wasteland in which the jackals and hyenas are ripping many companies apart seeking the maximum short term profit. These business school psychopaths care nothing about the companies, their employees or the health of the American economy in general. As long as they get theirs and can get out before the collapse, all is well in their world.


Bonus: This clip has been the subject of so many Internet parodies, it is time to reclaim the original for just how powerful it is

A Sucker Born Every Minute: The Franklin Mint Ripoff


Ever watch one of those ridiculous Franklin Mint commercials and wonder how a company peddling such a blatant ripoff could ever possibly stay in business? I mean, just how dense, for instance, does a person have to be to believe a "one ounce silver collectable coin" contains much if any silver when it is selling for half or less of the current spot price of the precious metal? Well, now we know the answer as shown by this letter sent to Financial Advisor Malcom Berko and published in the Herald-News:
Dear Mr. Berko: During the past 25 years, I purchased more than $47,000 in collectible silver coins and beautiful non-silver coins from the Franklin Mint for my retirement because I thought the scarcity and limited-edition minting of these coins would drive up their value over the years and because I believed the silver content in the silver coins would also increase in value. Now I’m 64 and decided to sell these coins to a coin dealer who offered me $2,500 for the whole lot. He told me most of the coins were worthless, and the only coins that had any value were those with silver in them. I was devastated because when I was buying all those coins, the people at the Franklin Mint told me these coins were minted in limited production and would be more valuable to collectors in the future. I called two coin dealers in Detroit (these coins are too bulky to carry around) and both said they had no interest in Franklin Mint coins and said they don’t know any dealers who would buy them from me. My son told me to write you because he said you might know of buyers for them, and at this point I’d be very happy to get at least half of what I paid for them if possible. Please help me if you can. And if you cannot help me, do you think I can sue the Franklin Mint and recover my cost? And could you recommend a lawyer for me to sue them?

DA

Troy, Mich.
Okay, I dabble a little bit in precious metals myself as I am sure many of you do who are part of the reality based community, so it was probably very cruel of me to be literally laughing my ass off when I read this. Sorry to be such a bastard. I just couldn't help myself. And how perfect is it that the letter writer is from TROY, Michigan. I tell you, the Gods these days are gleefully mocking us dopey chimps.

Actually buying a couple of Franklin Mint pieces of crap is one thing (I think the wife and I have a phone ordered "collectable" or two lying around somewhere). Blowing $47,000 over a quarter of a century without ever ONCE checking with someone who doesn't work for the company to find out the real value of the merchandise places this guy (or gal?) very high on the list of the world's all time biggest suckers.

Being a much better man than I am, Malcom Berko was far more diplomatic in his response to this inquiry than I would have been:
Dear DA: Certainly, you can sue the Franklin Mint. Frankly, it’s their fault you purchased those coins, it’s their fault you overpaid for the coins, it’s their fault the coins did not increase in value and it’s their fault the coin dealer in Troy won’t give you $47,000 for your collection or the dealer in Detroit doesn’t know a soul who would pay you at least $23,500 for your collection. And because it’s the Franklin Mint’s fault, I can’t help you recover your costs. But some lawyers will do their best to get you a settlement, demanding an advance fee before they pick up a pen. However, that settlement will probably be a 20 percent discount on your next Franklin Mint purchase and no shipping charges. But any attorney I know will tell you that you don’t have a chance in China for recovery.

In 1984, I purchased a die-cast, 1935 Mercedes Benz 500K Roadster from the Franklin Mint and sent them a check for $150. Although it was “to scale, “ it was made in China, poorly and cheaply constructed; parts and pieces would fall off, and when the Mint wouldn’t return my money, I tossed the Benz in the garbage. They also make limited edition plates, knives for collectors, figurines, Star Trek plaques and other ridiculous collectibles. One of the Mint’s biggest coups a dozen years ago was the sale of millions of dollars of collectible plates, jewelry and dolls with the image and likeness of Diana, Princess of Wales. Today, that stuff isn’t worth a penny, shilling or pound. You gotta be careful out there.

You overpaid for those coins by orders of magnitude. And you probably paid five or six times the value of the silver content for the silver coins you purchased. So while sliver has tripled in price since 1984, the silver value of those coins is still way less than your cost. I don’t know of a single item produced by the Franklin Mint that can be sold today for its original cost. The Franklin Mint, like the Danbury Mint, the Washington Mint and others with grand-sounding names are selling organizations that place full-page, impressive and official-looking advertisements in local papers with high-sounding words that give the impression of U.S. government affiliation. (It’s disappointing that some newspapers accept those advertisements because the acceptance gives instant credibility to those claims.) The advertisements always are carefully prepared with clever buzzwords designed to infer great value and urgency but grossly misleading to most readers who lack the knowledge to make an intelligent buying decision.

DA, you’ve been snookered, and there’s no chance for recovery. However, I suggest that you separate the silver content coins from the hundreds of medallions and other junk coins and visit the coin dealers once again. But be mindful that most of those dealers will try to swindle you. They recognize you’ve been swindled before (they know this is Franklin Mint stuff) so they figure you are an easy mark. You may have to wear out a lot of shoe leather till you find a dealer who is willing to give you a fair shake. Then try to sell the worthless coins on eBay, and you might get 100 bucks.
Okay, I've composed myself and am going to stop being so mean to the letter writer. After all, he or she really isn't any different than people who bought houses at the peak of the housing bubble because they believed the shysters who told them that home prices only go up, or people who have been furiously pumping their money into their 401(k) accounts and continue to do so even though they have seen little in the way of real returns these past 12 years and have actually lost a huge amount of their nest eggs due to inflation, or really anyone who falls for any of the countless scams being perpetrated by corporate America these days--fleecing their customers in pursuit of ever larger profit margins. Our whole "free market" economy has become one big swindle. The letter writer in this case just got taken a little easier than most people do.


Bonus: The letter writer would have been far better off investing in the New Pornographers' most recent CD

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Palatka, Florida: "It Has Been Going Down Hill Rapidly Around Here"


At first, this appeared to be yet another mass layoff story involving a call center. But then the article from First Coast News went of to describe the economic devastation being wrought upon one Florida community:
Allorica Incorporated, which is based in California, announced it is closing its call center in Putnam County. A total of 289 people work at the facility, which is being closed on June 29th.

"It's very dissapointing," said Palatka Mayor Vernon Myers. "They were a good corporate citizen, they were a large employer. We're going to feel the effect of their closing."

Company spokeswoman Danel Kuhlman said a change in client requirements forced the closing. Employees will be offered any available jobs at other facilities. They operate 7 in Florida.

Employees would not talk to First Coast News on camera, saying they were not to talk to the media. The company is also offering resources to assist in resume building and interview skills.

Harry Gillean operates Andrea's Bookstore nearby and launched his own going out of business sale 3 weeks ago. He'll be laying off 3 workers. The call center closing is just more bad news, he says. "Another nail in the coffin. Earlier, we lost 700 jobs at Georgia Pacific, the school board is laying off, water management recently lost 200 employees, so it has been going down hill rapidly around here."
Leave it to the guy who owned the bookstore to connect the dots. Much better than the town's idiot mayor:
Mayor Myers thinks this is just a blip in the local economy for now. He's seeing economic progress in the area. Allorica replaced a company that closed before, and he is confident they can attract another to Northeast Florida.

"We feel optimistic something will be on the positive side in the future," said Myers.
Maybe the bookstore guy should run for mayor next time around, and then maybe this beleaguered community might have someone in charge who is realistic about the very dire problems it faces.


Bonus: A sweet tune from Florida indie rock troubadours, The Silos

Special Music Post: "Wallace '48" by The Hangdogs


Several weeks ago, I posted the song "Anacostia" by the late, great alternative country band, The Hangdogs. At the time, I lamented that the band's outstanding musical tribute to former Vice President Henry Wallace's doomed 1948 progressive presidential campaign was not available on You Tube. Well, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and am now proud to present my first ever You Tube upload: "Wallace '48" by The Hangdogs. "No more hunger fear or A-bombs," indeed.

I actually have a cache of great indie rock and alternative country tunes from the 1990s and early 2000s that were previously too obscure for You Tube that I'll be uploading to my new channel in the coming weeks.

Enjoy!

"My Faith Based Retirement"


Since it is Sunday, I'm going to take a break this morning from writing a longer post and instead allow op-ed columnist Joe Nocera do the talking from a column published on Friday in the New York Times:
My 60th birthday is less than a week and a half away, and if there is one thing I can say with certainty it’s that 60 is not the new 50.

My body creaks and groans. My eyes aren’t what they used to be. I don’t sleep as soundly as I did just a few years ago. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of doctors, just to make sure everything still more or less works.

I’ve also found myself with a sudden urge to get my house in order — just, you know, in case. Insurance, wills, that sort of thing. Sixty is when you stop pretending you’re going to live forever. You’re officially old. Or at least old-ish.

The only thing I haven’t dealt with on my to-do checklist is retirement planning. The reason is simple: I’m not planning to retire. More accurately, I can’t retire. My 401(k) plan, which was supposed to take care of my retirement, is in tatters.

Like millions of other aging baby boomers, I first began putting money into a tax-deferred retirement account a few years after they were legislated into existence in the late 1970s. The great bull market, which began in 1982, was just gearing up. As a young journalist, I couldn’t afford to invest a lot of money, but my account grew as the market rose, and the bull market gave me an inflated sense of my investing skills.

I became such an enthusiast of the new investing culture that I wrote my first book, in the mid-1990s, about what I called “the democratization of money.” It was only right, I argued, that the little guy have the same access to the markets as the wealthy. In the book, I didn’t make much of the decline of pensions. After all, we were in the middle of the tech bubble by then. What fun!

The bull market ended with the bursting of that bubble in 2000. My tech-laden portfolio was cut in half. A half-dozen years later, I got divorced, cutting my 401(k) in half again. A few years after that, I bought a house that needed some costly renovations. Since my retirement account was now hopelessly inadequate for actual retirement, I reasoned that I might as well get some use out of the money while I could. So I threw another chunk of my 401(k) at the renovation. That’s where I stand today.

When I related my tale recently to Teresa Ghilarducci, a behavioral economist at The New School who studies retirement and investor behavior, she let out the kind of sigh that made it clear that she had heard it all before. The sad truth, she told me, is that I’m the rule, not the exception. “People have income shock, like divorce or loss of a job or a health crisis,” and those crises tend to drain retirement accounts, she said.

But even putting income shocks aside, she said, most human beings lack the skill and emotional wherewithal to be good investors. Linking investing and retirement has turned out to be a recipe for disaster.

“People tend to be overconfident about their own abilities,” said Ghilarducci. “They tend to focus on the short term rather than thinking about long-term consequences. And they tend to think that whatever the current trend is will always be the trend. That is why people buy high and sell low.”
Because I don't want to reprint the entire article, I'll now flash forward to the money quote, so to speak:
What, then, will people do when they retire? I asked Ghilarducci. “Their retirement plan is faith based,” she replied. “They have faith that it will somehow work out.”
In yesterday's post, I asserted that people who have bought houses in the past couple of years in the mistaken belief that the "bottom was in" on the housing market are like sheep being led to the slaughter because of their blind optimism. This column makes it plainly apparent just how widespread the problem really is. Obviously, I don't know Joe Nocera, but if he is writing op-ed pieces for the New York Times he must be a pretty smart guy. If he got tripped up by his own stupid blind faith, what hope is the for the average mope?


Bonus: I may end up linking to every song on this album before its all over

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Night Music Video: "Twilight Creeps" by Crooked Fingers


Every once in awhile you run across an unexpected piece of pure indie-pop bliss. Such as with this sweet little ditty from the Denver-by-way-of-North Carolina troubadours, Crooked Fingers. I defy you not to feel a least a little lift of your spirits after listening to this one.

Enjoy!

Orion Bus Company (New York) To Lay Off 538


Just when we should be building more buses for public transportation systems, one of the domestic manufacturers is shutting down. Here is a local New York television station with the details:
The employees union for the workers at Orion Bus in Oriskany says that all 538 workers will be laid off sometime in the next two years, and that the layoffs are only a matter of when.

Tim Banas at the United Auto Workers Union said that at least 12 employees at Orion were laid off Thursday morning and that the company expects to lay off more in the days to come.

On Wednesday, Daimler announce that it would stop all production on new bus orders at the Oriskany-based company, but would continue bus maintenance work.
This is why I am so convinced we are heading towards collapse. For years now we have been making all the wrong decisions at the worst possible time, and I see no reason why that will not continue.


Bonus: Today is the day for Lou Reed's New York album here at TDS

Betsey Johnson Files For Bankruptcy, Will Close Most of Its Stores


I guess I'm just not hip, because I had never heard of this fashion chain before reading this story. Here is New York magazine with the details:
Sad news: Betsey Johnson LLC has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will close the majority of its 63 stores, according to WWD. Betsey Johnson the person will remain at the helm of the brand, which is still owned by Castanea Partners, a Boston-based private equity firm that took over the company in 2007. Moving forward, the label will focus on its lower-priced range of clothing, which is sold at Macy's and other mass retailers. Meanwhile, Steven Madden, Ltd., which has owned all of Betsey Johnson's intellectual property since assuming her $48.8 million in outstanding debts in 2010, estimated that the bankruptcy will cost about 350 jobs overall. Steve Madden himself assures WWD that there won't be any interruption in wholesale deliveries or e-commerce.

This development isn't a huge surprise (the Betsey Johnson brand has wallowed in debt for years), but it's really too bad. Johnson's wacky fashion shows — which she always concludes with her trademark cartwheel — are always a highlight at fashion week, and she's a beloved character in the New York fashion industry. Best of luck to her and her employees.
This development isn't a huge surprise because in the middle of a never ending economic recession very few people need overpriced clothes, no matter how stylish they are.


Bonus: Something tells me that notoriously gloomy New Yorker Lou Reed doesn't attend a lot of fashion shows.

Housing Crash Porn: One Million More Suckers Now Underwater


It is an established fact that one of the biggest drivers for the insane monetary policies of the Federal Reserve since the financial crash of 2008 was trying to save the crashing housing market. The Fed's zero interest rate policy has driven mortgage rates to historical lows below 4%, while the bank bailouts were designed, in part, to give lenders the capital to continue making home loans so the market wouldn't implode completely. The results have been, shall we say, less than impressive given that home sales and home prices remain mired near their post crash lows.

As if record low mortgage rates were not enough to entice buyers back into the market, in the media there have been repeated calls that "the bottom is in" on housing as a means of trying to convince people that they are no longer risk of losing money on their "investment." So how is the second part of the strategy to save the housing industry working out? Not too well, actually. Here is Reuters with the details:
More than 1 million Americans who have taken out mortgages in the past two years now owe more on their loans than their homes are worth, and Federal Housing Administration loans that require only a tiny down payment are partly to blame.

That figure, provided to Reuters by tracking firm CoreLogic, represents about one out of 10 home loans made during that period.

It is a sobering indication the U.S. housing market remains deeply troubled, with home values still falling in many parts of the country, and raises the question of whether low-down payment loans backed by the FHA are putting another generation of buyers at risk.

As of December 2011, the latest figures available, 31 percent of the U.S. home loans that were in negative equity - in which the outstanding loan balance exceeds the value of the home - were FHA-insured mortgages, according to CoreLogic.

Many borrowers, particularly since late 2010, thought they were buying at the bottom of a housing market that had already suffered steep declines, but have been caught out by a continued fall in prices in wide swaths of America.

Even for loans taken out in December - less than four months ago and the last month for which data is available - nearly 44,000 borrowers, or about 7.5 percent of the total, now find themselves under water.

"The overwhelming majority of the U.S. is still seeing home prices decline," said CoreLogic senior economist Sam Khater. "Many borrowers continue to be quickly wiped out."

The problem is not uniform around the country. In some areas, such as Washington, D.C., Miami and parts of northern California, prices are on the rise.

CoreLogic predicts the overall U.S. housing market will finally bottom out this year.

And the number of homeowners falling under water each month has decreased significantly since the peak of the financial crisis in 2008 and early 2009.

Still, Khater said, since October 2010 average home prices have fallen 7.4 percent. Overall, CoreLogic data shows that 11.1 million, or 22.8 percent, of U.S. residential properties with a mortgage are in negative equity, unchanged from the summer of 2010.

According to the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city composite index, which tracks home values in 20 major U.S. metropolitan areas, U.S. home prices were down 3.5 percent in February from a year earlier and are now at their lowest level since late 2002. Over the past 12 months, 15 of the 20 major metropolitan areas monitored saw declines.
We in the reality-based community have, of course, been warning for years that anyone who believed the hype from the politicians, the media and corporate America about the phantom housing recovery were like sheep waiting to get sheared. Meet one of the lambs:
Jason Opalka took out an FHA-backed loan on his two-bedroom property in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida, in August 2010. He was helped by Certified Mortgage Planners of Orlando, who negotiated the FHA-backed loan with the lender, Freedom Mortgage, based in New Jersey.

Opalka was refinancing another FHA-backed loan he had obtained in 2008, for $196,000, then at an interest rate of over 6 percent.

Under the refinancing, he borrowed $192,278 at an interest rate of 4.5 percent. Opalka, looking at the paperwork, is still surprised at the down payment he had to make in 2010, for a property valued at the time for little more than the loan was worth and in which he had almost no equity.

His down payment was just $3,000 - or about 1.5 percent of the total loan.

Less than two years later, local real estate estimates now value Opalka's home at no more than $110,000.

"I'm at least $80,000 under water," Opalka told Reuters. "We never expected to go under water. We never expected prices to fall like they have. We definitely didn't see this coming. If I'd known this, we probably would have rented."
Just how many times do people have to get beaten over the head after listening to the mainstream media before they finally wake up and realize that they are being played for suckers? It is bad enough that the snake oil is being peddled by the real estate industry. You would expect that, and if you have any common sense you won't trust a Realtor or a mortgage broker any more than you would a used car salesman. But having the federal government be complicit in the scam just makes it all the worse.

We have arrived at the point where all of the biggest frauds preying upon working and middle class families are now a combined effort of the banks, big corporations and the federal government. Mortgages and student loans are just two of the largest such swindles--and they very much tie in together since those who have been saddled with large amounts of the latter can hardly afford to take out one of the former, even at these insanely low interest rates.

How any impartial observer can look at what is happening in these sectors as not realize that a huge crackup is coming is beyond my puny powers of comprehension. Interest rates cannot fall much farther, and when they do finally start to rise, they are going to kill what little does remain of the housing market. Anyone inclined to believe the latest call from just this past week that "the bottom is in" and is planning to buy a house is a sheep not only about the be sheared but eventually slaughtered.


Bonus: The lambs are lying down on Broadway...and every other street in the U.S.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Niche Inc. To Lay Off 400 (Massachusetts)


Details are sketchy on this mass layoff story. Here is SouthCoastToday.com with the details:
Niche Inc., a South End manufacturer of parachutes, has laid off about 400 workers after losing out on a contract, four sources said Wednesday.

Leonard W. Coriaty, executive director of the Greater New Bedford Workforce Investment Board, said the 400 layoffs at Niche occurred "over the last two days."

The sources said the layoffs took place when the company lost out on a contract and that Niche is trying to land a couple of new contracts. The company hopes to call some of the workers back if it lands those contracts.

Roland Letendre, president of Niche Inc., could not be reached for comment.

A manager who refused to give his name confirmed Wednesday there were some layoffs but said the company is waiting for new contracts to come through and hopes to hire the employees back. He would not provide other details.

A former employee said she and other workers learned Tuesday that they were losing their jobs. The worker, who spoke on the condition that her name would not be used because she hopes to work at Niche again, said a manager told the employees they will hire people back if they can.

The manager told them the layoffs could last for "a couple of weeks to a couple of months," the former employee said.

"A lot of people lost jobs," she said. "Who knows for how long?"

The Greater New Bedford Career Center's Rapid Response Team has been dealing with those laid off, most of whom are low-skilled workers, sources said.

The career center reaches out to companies when layoffs are imminent to assist the employer and employees, from handling unemployment claims to providing training and counseling, said Steve Martins, the center's operations manager and City Council president.

"Our staff is on deck and ready to go once we find out about any significant layoffs in the area," Martins said.

City officials have been trying to

get a handle on the scale of the layoffs.

Mayor Jon Mitchell said the city has reached out to the company and has not yet received information on how many people lost their jobs.

"The company has been unable or unwilling to give us that information," he said.
And so it goes.

DRS Lays Off 170 At Melbourne (Florida) Facility


Still more defense war contractor layoffs were reported in Florida. Here is FloridaToday.com with the details:
About 170 employees have been laid off from the DRS Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition facility in Melbourne, leaving about 650 employees at the 100 N. Babcock Street factory, the company confirmed this morning.

“The reason for the reduction all has to do with the defense budget,” said Richard Goldberg, DRS vice president of public affairs.

The end of the U.S. combat role in Iraq and the expected winding down of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan curtailed the need for the thermal cameras and infrared sighting systems developed and built by DRS in Melbourne, Goldberg said.

“There was reduced customer demand for products and that required us to make these adjustments,” Goldberg said.
Well, now we know what war is good for...keeping people employed. Too bad we can't just go to war with the whole world.

There was also this little tidbit:
Melbourne police confirmed they were contacted by DRS and asked to provide officers for crowd control during the layoff. Police said the officers were working a special detail using overtime hours paid by the company. No incidents have been reported so far this morning.

The layoffs will be complete today, Goldberg said.
Hmmm...doesn't sound like the employees took the news very well.

Q: Is Marco Rubio Ineligible To Be Romney's VP? A: Who Gives A Damn?


Fellow blogger and all around irascible economic naysayer Karl Denninger put up a rather histrionic post this past Tuesday stating emphatically that Florida Senator Marco Rubio, currently considered among the front runners to be named by Willard Mitt Romney as his Vice Presidential candidate, is in fact not eligible for the office. Rather than me risking putting words in Karl's mouth, I'll let him tell you himself:
Folks, cut this crap out.

Really.

Here are the facts:

Rubio was born to two parents who were not citizens at the time of his birth. They were here in the country and he was born here, but his parents were not citizens at the time of his birth.

At a later date his parents became citizens of the United States.
Marco Rubio is ineligible to be President of the United States under the natural born citizen requirement. He is a citizen but will never be a natural born citizen as he was not at birth due to the Cuban citizenship of his parents and you cannot retroactively acquire natural born citizenship status.

He therefore must not be nominated as VP, since the primary qualification for that office is the ability to stand as President if something happens to the President while he is in office.

The Constitution's 12th Amendment specifically says:

But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

I know there are people who think the Constitution shouldn't read this way on natural born citizenship as a requirement for this office, but it does read this way AND IS WHAT IT IS.

If you want to change this the proper thing to do is to amend The Constitution before you run someone who is currently ineligible. Circumventing it as was done with Obama is wrong, no matter which party does it.

We've had enough lawlessness in this country at the top and we are way past the point where we should be tolerating it in any fashion, irrespective of whether you happen to like someone or not.
I am not going to recreate all of the bolding and italics Karl uses in his original post, and it actually reads a bit less hysterical without it. But you get the idea.

As for Denninger himself, I read his blog regularly even though I only agree with about half of what he says. He fascinates me not only because he has been sounding warnings about collapse since before the crash of 2008, but because I know of no other writer who can veer so wildly back and forth between being so spot on and being so spectacularly wrong--even sometimes within the same blog post. What Karl really is is a rabble-rouser, and the world can always use more of them to get people thinking, even if they have a spotty track record.

What is cute about this post is that despite five years or more of writing about how the country is going completely to hell thanks to the venality, avarice and greed of our government and business elites, Karl still seems to think the system can be saved if only we could get the right person into office. Since Karl is all freaked out about whether Marco Rubio is eligible to be Vice President or not, I thought I would take a moment to remind him of a little history.

First of all, and this is very obvious but I will state it anyway, the American people do not elect the president. The president is in fact chosen by the Electoral College, a tiny group of ironically unelected people that nobody knows who gather together a month and a half after the masturbatory November balloting and actually choose the President. Theoretically, the votes of the general public are supposed to be reflected in the Electoral College vote, but that doesn't always happen. In 1876 and 2000, the political system conspired using the Electoral College as an excuse to deny the candidate who polled the most votes nationally. If America truly had free and fair elections by majority (or at least plurality) rule, Samuel Tilden and Al Gore's busts would be lining the Hall of Presidents and Rutheford Hayes and George Bush the Lesser would be modern day trivia questions. Lawlessness in this country is nothing new, Karl. The elites have practiced it throughout this nation's history whenever they have seen fit.

But more importantly, in the grand scheme of things what difference does it really make whether Shrub Bush lost his election by half a million votes and was installed by judicial fiat, or whether President Hopey-Changey's birth certificate was forged, or whether Williard Romney's father was born in a Mormon polygamist's encampment in Mexico or whether Marco Rubio parents were U.S. citizens at the time of his birth? If the elites want those fuckers to be the President and/or Vice President, they will be nominated by one of the two major parties. And the big business, war and empire agenda will roll merrily along no matter which side wins.

But I saved Karl's most priceless line for last, and even left in the all caps and bolding this time:
THE RULE OF LAW MUST STAND ABOVE THE "DIVINE RIGHT OF KINGS" OR THIS NATION IS NO LONGER A CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC.
America hasn't been a Constitutional Republic anywhere but on paper since at least the day Bush the Lesser was installed into office by the Supreme Court, and arguably much farther back than that. If that basic truth has not yet sunk in, Karl, then you are far more hopelessly naive than I would have taken you to be from reading your blog.


Bonus: "I don't wanna vote for your president...I just wanna be your tugboat captain"

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Another List of Recent Mass School System Layoffs


Back on February 24th, I ran a post listing the recent mass layoff headlines for local school districts across the country. Time for an update. Here is the latest batch of bad news on the education front from the past month or so, courtesy of Daily Job Cuts:
The Flint School Michigan - 28 Administrator Layoffs

The Morenci Area Schools Michigan - Approves 8 Layoffs

Philadelphia Public Schools - Looking to close 64 Schools over Next 5 Years

The San Diego schools - Voted to Layoff 1,000 More Workers

John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Jasper (closing)

St. John's School in Roseville California (closing)

Westerville Schools Ohio - Vote to Layoff 32 Teachers

The Zionsville School Indiana - 17 Possible Layoffs

The Lakota Local School District - Oks 150 Layoffs

Howland-area School Administrative Maine - Expect More Layoffs

North Kitsap School - Possible Layoffs

Lake Elsinore Unified School District CA - Approves 73 Job Cuts

Yorktown school district NY - Proposed Tax Increase and Layoffs

Imperial Valley College - 17

Schenectady schools NY - up to 40 Layoffs Possible

The Warwick Valley School District NY - 16

Update: Kingston Schools NY - 91

Update: Cincinnati Public Schools Ohio - Vote to Eliminate 237 Teaching Jobs

Santa Paula Elementary School District CA - 24

St. Landry Parish School System - 182

Cleveland Schools Ohio - 500+ Teachers Notified of Possible Layoffs

Brandywine Community Schools - 3

The Battle Creek Public Schools Michigan - 26

The Richland-Bean Blossom Community School - 13

The Thousand Islands Central School District - Considering Layoffs

La Marque school district Texas - Approves 10 Layoffs

Detroit Public Schools - 4,000 Layoff Notices/ Pink Slips

California University of Pennsylvania - 9

Merced Union High School District CA - 18 Bus Drivers

Update: Community Unit School District 200 IL - 35

Seneca Valley school - Layoffs, Higher Fees, Program Cuts All Possible to Balance Budget

The Kenosha Unified School District - Expects to Cut 250+

Richmond Schools VA - Firm Suggest Job Cuts, for Budget Savings

Western Foothills Regional School Maine - At Least 30

Electric Boat - 13

Peoria School District IL 150 - Voted to layoff 258

Rich Township High School District 227 - 48

Sumner County Schools - May Outsource 237 Custodial Jobs

Canton Central School District, - Up to 24 Layoffs Possible

Willamette Education Service District - up to 30 Positions Possible

East Irondequoit School District NY - 13 Proposed Layoffs

Anderson-Shiro Consolidated Independent School District TX - 15 Layoff Notifications

The Easton Area School District PA - 77

The Cleveland school district Ohio - Plans 600

Turlock Unified School District CA - 2

The Big Spring School - Approves Layoff of 9 Positions

Lincoln Community High School IL - 3

Portland Oregon Public Schools - up to 110 Possible Layoffs

Southern Oregon University - 12+ after end of June

Cabrillo College - Vote to Eliminate 13 Positions

Lorain Schools Ohio - 138

Bristol Schools CT - Some Teachers Layoffs Seem Likely

Mariposa Middle School CA (closing)

Erie School District - Proposes Closing 3 Elementary Schools

Southern Tioga School District 's North Penn High School PA - Considers Closing

The East St. Louis school system Ill - Says it will Close 5 Schools

The Houston School Board Votes to Close 4 Schools

East End Elementary School in Meadville Pa
I have an idea...how about we replace the fairy tales they read to kids in school with stories about the great and glorious economic recovery. Each are just as believable.


Bonus: Schoolhouse Rock glorifies the Tea Party...educational propaganda at its finest

Professional Trolling: Meet The 20-Somethings Who Dumb Down American Politics


Ever wonder why there seems to be such a steady stream of fresh bullshit pumped into our ever coarsening national political conversation? Well, thanks to two recent media exposes, the awful truth has been revealed. The Atlantic Wire has the sordid details:
They're as young as they are ruthless and they're the warriors who wage Washington's political battles. Opposition researchers have been around since the dawn of politics but today they're younger, more tech savvy and arguably more bloodthirsty. Today, ABC News and Roll Call each gained exclusive access to the Republican and Democratic war rooms, respectively. What they found was a sweatshop of 20-somethings spending all day looking for the next gaffe, non-gaffe, indiscretion, or closeted skeleton. Welcome to the dirty world of politics.

Who they are In Jake Tapper's tour inside the Republican National Committee's war room, you can see the fresh-faced youths in their 20s, trying to carve out a space for themselves in this competitive field. In Roll Call's tour of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's war room, you find the same age demographic of "mostly 20-somethings."

What they're looking for RNC chairman Reince Priebus says sifting through President Obama's speeches and looking for empty promises is step number one. "We've got a lot of speeches and a lot of material on him and we have to hold him accountable to the promises he made to the American people," Priebus tells Tapper. In terms of gaffe-watching, they'd like to find another Hilary Rosen moment to use against Democrats. For the Democrats' operation, Roll Call gets a lot of research details. "Do the candidates own any small businesses that accepted federal funds they voted against?" asks reporter Shira Toeplitz. "Start digging through the secretary of state’s archives. Do they have more than a few mortgages on their underwater home? A case for fiscal irresponsibility with the right documentation. Runs a construction business? Often there are lawsuits to be found." In one case, a researcher named Diana Asti found a diamond in the rough: A secret marriage. “My head just went in all different directions, like maybe they’ve divorced and he hasn’t paid alimony, or maybe he has a child and he hasn’t paid child support,” said the 23-year-old Democrat. "It was a very exciting moment.”

Weapons of choice While the Internet is key, old school shoe-leather work is still indispensable. The DCC uses a mix of "scouring news clips and YouTube videos and traveling across the country to comb through public records, all in hopes of finding a good hit," reports Roll Call. "Discoveries go into hundred-page research books on their targets that are used as bait to recruit candidates, leaked to reporters or cited in campaign advertisements and mail pieces." For the GOP, Prieubus stressed technology tools. "We - 24/7 - monitor print news, online news, TV, radio, Twitter, Facebook," said Spicer. We try to capture everything that's going on in real time so that we know what's happening ... and we're able to respond within seconds."

Work hours At the DCCC, hit squads search for eight weeks at a time and then break. The team of 20-somethings at the RNC, meanwhile are running a 24/hour operation. According to officials speaking to Tapper, they used to allow the researchers a break at 3 a.m. but now they don't stop scanning videos and news clips for anything. "Oh my God it looks like North Korea in here," Tapper remarked.
What is particularly notable about this story is that none of "reporters" involved seem at all perturbed that the national news media spends countless hours every week obsessing over the slime that these soulless cretins exhaust themselves digging up. Right here, a rock has been overturned and the little maggots who are doing so much to drive us towards our collective doom are being exposed for all the world to see. Of course, the dumbass spin to these stories is that it is all a legitimate part of the political process rather than a hideous abomination helping to ensure that it will be impossible to ever build a consensus to address the many dire issues we face as a nation.

What is truly sad is that these brainwashed kids of both political parties really believe that they are doing a service for their cause and helping to vanquish their opponents. They have absolutely no inkling that they are really just cogs in a gigantic machine owned and operated by the elites designed to distract addle-brained Americans and provide them with the illusion that they still have a real choice when they go into the voting booth. These 20-something twits provide the hateful grist so beloved by the preening freaks and charlatans who occupy the Hologram. If you were looking for a truly Americanized version of the banality of evil, you need look no further than this.

I particularly like clueless hack Jake Tapper's line at the end of the article about how the operation he is visiting "looks like North Korea." Given that America has already essentially become a one party state in which both Republicans and Democrats first and foremost serve the interests of the tiny billionaire elite over over a mass of citizens who are being gradually impoverished in order to maintain a corrupt, undemocratic status quo, he is far more correct in that assertion than he realizes.


Bonus: "In these days of evil presidentes...Working for the clampdown...But lately one or two has fully paid their due...For working for the clampdown"

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

H&R Block To Close 200 Offices, Lay Off 350


Office closings and mass layoffs hit yet another industry that is being hit hard by technical innovation. Here is Bloomberg with the details:
H&R Block Inc., the biggest U.S. tax preparer, plans to cut 350 jobs and close about 200 company- owned offices as part of a realignment.

Also, H&R Block said it is searching for a new chief financial officer and that CFO Jeff Brown will remain with the company during the search process. Once a successor is found, Brown will transition to chief accounting and risk officer, the Kansas City, Missouri-based company said in a statement.
I've always prepared my own taxes, and about five years ago switched over to Turbo Tax. That program is so easy to use, it amazes me that so many people still pay someone to do their taxes for them. Sadly, H&R Block can hire a new CFO if it wants, but that won't change the fact that, like Blockbuster Video, their business model is yesterday's news.


Bonus: "I'm the taxman"

International Paper Closing Four Plants, Eliminating 215 Jobs


A corporate merger was the reason for this mass layoff story. The Memphis Business Journal has the details:
Citing the need to eliminate overcapacity and integrate its now-combined container business, International Paper Co. is shutting down four plants across the country in the next two months.

The plants are located in Fort Smith, Ark., Santa Paula, Calif., Chicago and Solon, Ohio. The company will eliminate a total of 215 jobs, according to an International Paper statement. The plants are a combination of facilities owned by Austin, Texas-based Temple-Inland Inc. and International Paper.

The closings come months after Memphis-based International Paper (NYSE: IP) completed its $4.4 billion acquisition of Temple-Inland, which brought an additional 10,000 employees, 59 box plants, 14 building products plants and seven containerboard mills into IP’s group of 23,000 employees, 12 paper mills and more than 140 box plants on six continents.
Sounds to me like someone is trying to monopolize the paper industry.


Bonus: We don't need corporate America to do any more joining together

Illinois ‘Treads Water’ As Unpaid Bills Top $9 Billion


The headline to this article from Bloomberg claims that the State of Illinois is "treading water," when a more apt metaphor would be that the Land of Lincoln is actually drowning in a sea of red ink:
Illinois’s backlog of unpaid bills has risen to more than $9 billion because of pension costs and falling federal aid, leaving the state “essentially treading water,” Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said.

While revenue grew from higher personal and corporate taxes, “Illinois’ financial position has not improved,” Topinka said in a report today. The combination of unpaid bills to vendors and Medicaid obligations, estimated at $8.5 billion in January, means payment delays will persist, according to the report.

Illinois is second only to California as the state with the lowest credit grade from Standard & Poor’s. S&P may cut the general-obligation rating from A+, fifth highest, “if there is no progress on structural budget solutions and if Illinois does not address the significant pension liabilities and associated cost pressure,” the company said last week.

While tax increases boosted revenue by about $7 billion, or 3.9 percent in the first three quarters of the fiscal year that began in June, the gains were undercut by the loss of federal funding and financing of pension contributions directly, rather than through bonds as in the past two years, Baar Topinka said.

Democratic Governor Pat Quinn has proposed a voluntary 3 percent increase in pension contributions from current employees and a cut in cost-of-living increases for retirees.

“Bold action” is required to save the retirement systems, the governor told reporters in Chicago April 20. In fiscal 2010, Illinois had the lowest-funded state pension in the U.S., with assets equal to 45.4 percent of projected obligations, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
If you are a state government worker in Illinois or a state government retiree, you probably ought to make plans for the eventual day when the state pension system concedes to reality and implodes.


Bonus: Since Styx is from Chicago, this song seems particularly appropriate

Great Recession Porn: Illegal Mexican Immigrants Are Going Home


When your mind isn't clouded by partisan politics or rigid ideological dogma, it is easy to apply common sense about any given issue. I have been saying for many years that the most effective way to combat the problem of illegal immigration is not to demonize the poor souls crossing the border in hopes of a brighter economic future, but to instead vigorously prosecute the corporations who hire them. At a time of high structural unemployment, it is even more unforgivable that American employers refuse to pay a living wage and instead undercut American workers by hiring illegal aliens. And I've never bought into the bullshit that there are jobs that "Americans won't do." Offer a decent wage and see what happens. Will prices go up? Sure, but people in this Spoiled Rotten Nation buy way too much shit they don't need anyway.

Until recently, I had no evidence to back up my theories about the economic driver for illegal immigration because U.S. government policy was solidly behind the corporations and their nefarious schemes to destroy the working and middle class wage structure in this country. Which was the real reason, incidentally, that President George Bush the Lesser infuriated the nativists in his own party by not backing draconian anti-immigration laws. Yeah, a real humanitarian, that asshole.

But now, as the lingering effects of the Great Recession are dragging on, the data is trickling in that support my position. Here is the Atlantic Wire with the story:
A new study says that for the first time since the Great Depression, there may be fewer Mexican immigrants coming into the United States than there are moving from the United States back to Mexico. According to the Pew Research Center, the net migration between the U.S. and Mexico over the last five years was essentially zero, and the downward trend suggests that flow of both legal and illegal immigrants may have actually reversed back toward Mexico.

There are many possible reasons to explain the decline, but the most obvious one would seem to be the struggling U.S. economy, which has cost millions of available jobs, particularly in construction and in the South, where recent immigrants generally thrive. There have also been big increases in enforcement, deportations, and border security, although the report also says that arrests of illegal immigrants trying to cross the border has actually plummeted by nearly 75%. Whether that's because fewer people want to come here or they just don't think it's worth the risk is hard to pin down, but the number of folks willing to take the chance is definitely declining.

Given the continued hysteria over illegal immigrants and how demographic shifts might change the country in the future, many Americans might be shocked to learn that the shift is actually heading in the other direction. There have been several state laws just within the last couple of years that were passed on the premise that illegal immigration was out of control, even as the population of Mexican immigrants is apparently lower than it has been in decades. (Some might argue that the news laws are responsible for that, but the trend was clearly in place even before they were passed.) The Supreme Court will actually hear arguments this week about the harsh Arizona law that has been at the center of the debate for the last couple years, but this new evidence may put the crackdown in a new light, since the problem it was intended to resolve may not actually exist.
Gee...dry up the pool of available jobs and the illegal immigrants stop coming to America. Who would have ever thunk it? So much for the ridiculous idea that the immigrants come here to have babies who become American citizens just so they can collect welfare benefits. I daresay the average Mexican migrant farm worker is far better acquainted with what it means to perform hard labor than your average brain dead dittohead.

Consider this story one of the strongest indicators yet that America is experiencing an ongoing slow motion economic collapse. When the world's poor, tired, huddled masses no longer see our country as a great and glorious land of opportunity, but instead decide that being destitute back at home where they at least have a family and social support structure is better than being here where they are reviled just for trying to earn a meager living, the end cannot be all that many years away.


Bonus: Arlo Guthrie covers his legendary father

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oregon Court System Braces For Additional Layoffs


If you are a career criminal, you might want to consider relocating to the Great State of Oregon. Not only is the Beaver state closing prisons, and thinking about halting death investigations, but it is also experiencing mass layoffs in its court system. Here is the StatesmenJournal.com with the details:
Lines for services at Oregon courthouses could get longer as the court system moves ahead with elimination of 95 full-time positions by May 1.

The Oregonian reports the layoffs will mean fewer employees to accept payments for tickets, answer questions, pull files from archives and staff courtrooms.

The latest staff cutbacks will mean the loss of 296 positions since 2009, a 17 percent decrease, and it’s causing concern for the Oregon Judicial Department.

“People come to courts with life-changing problems: They’re accused of crimes. They might lose their homes. They’re being harassed or stalked,” said Phil Lemman, a department spokesman. “The more you scrimp and save on justice, (the more) philosophically troubling.”

Some positions were vacant as administrators anticipated budget problems, but dozens of current employees are expected to be laid off.

The operations budget for the Judicial Department was $243 million for 2007-09 and dropped to about $241 million for 2011-13.

The overall department budget increased from $372 million to $424 million in 2011-13. However, much of the increase goes for judges’ salaries, which are protected in statute at $114,468 a year, plus courthouse security, law libraries and Oregon eCourt, a web-based court document system predicted to eventually cut staff time and save money.

Chief Justice Paul De Muniz, the administrative head for the Judicial Department, said employee cuts follow years of searching for efficiencies, such as cutting travel and education.

State courts will be closed nine days over the two-year budget cycle that ends in June 2013. Also, employees will be required to take up to five additional days off without pay.

Doug Bray, trial court administrator in Multnomah County Circuit Court, said the cutbacks are the worst he’s seen.

“This is a huge shock wave for the court,” he said. “It is an enormous organizational change.”
Yet another example of the slow collapse of the American criminal justice system.


Bonus: Just for you, Oregon, another sweet, sad song from Portland's very own indie rock masters, Typhoon

Storm Chasing 'Morons' Hinder Rescues


The headline above is not mine, but the one that actually appeared above this article from the Maine Sunday Telegram:
Given life-threatening wind, hail, lightning and flying debris, chasing tornadoes would seem harrowing enough.

Now add to that what many agree is a new and growing danger on the edge of the violent vortexes: people -- hundreds and hundreds of regular people.

People risking their lives, gawkers clogging roadways, some with kids in the backseats of their cars or in the beds of their pickups. They sit poised with cellphone cameras, stop dead in the middle of lanes beneath roadway bridges, travel at breakneck speeds for the chance to get up close and personal with one of nature's most awesome and awful displays.

Kansas' Chancy Smith, the director of emergency medical services for Dickinson County -- raked by a series of tornadoes April 14 -- caused a minor storm of his own when, after the tornadoes, he publicly called the throng of chasers who flooded his county "morons" for risking their lives and possibly the lives of others by impeding emergency services.

Raked by quick rebuke, Smith has since said he did not mean to malign legitimate storm spotters and chasers or scientists who do much to help the National Weather Service predict and track major storms.

Experienced, longtime storm chasers have expressed similar worries.

They're talking about the others, the hundreds of rubberneckers, gawkers and severe-storm shutterbugs who clogged the exit off Interstate 70 as the tornado swept past Solomon, Kan., parked as if they were at a drive-in movie.

Meanwhile, he said, his firefighters clocked others tearing 60 mph and more through the tiny town in pursuit of the twister like they were kids after a lost balloon. He said some drove, rumbling past fire trucks and over downed, live power lines where a damaged natural gas facility was spewing the explosive gas.

"There were morons out there. There were plenty," Smith reiterated to The Kansas City Star on Wednesday. "I was a police officer for 17 years and a director of emergency services for seven, and I have never, ever seen that many people converge on a storm. There were hundreds and hundreds ...

"My cohorts in other communities are saying, 'Don't apologize for what you said. We have all had this problem.' "

It has certainly hit a nerve among emergency services people and longtime storm chasers who concede that, in recent years, it seems that witnessing tornadoes up close has turned from a risky endeavor attempted by adrenalin addicts to a family spectator sport. Local high school students looking for tornadoes using apps and websites on their smartphones have become common.

"I really couldn't tell you why it's occurring," said S. Joe Koch II, the emergency management director in Saline County, Kan. "It is becoming more common for people to go out and see these tornadoes."

So common, in fact, that when the National Weather Service issued its early warning for last weekend, alerting the public that scores of tornadoes were likely to sweep through Tornado Alley -- the area between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains where tornadoes are most frequent – Koch sent out an alert of his own to emergency personnel: Expect an influx of people.

Meteorologists and others said the reason is clear: technology, TV news and entertainment.
It is no doubt just a matter of time before one of these idiots causes a fatal accident or gets killed getting too close to one of these storms. Because that's what natural disasters have become in this addle-minded, entertainment obsessed culture of ours--just another spectacle to be treated as if it were on a teevee screen and not a very real tragedy for those whose lives are torn apart right in front of the morons who are chasing the storms. This almost makes me root for higher gasoline prices to help put an end to such stupidity.


Bonus: "And as it came towards me, I swear, it sounded like a train"

Ha-Ha! Fracking Chesapeake Energy In Dire Fiscal Straits


Here is a story that really warmed my heart, if for no reason than because I am a cynical, cold-hearted SOB. CNN Money has the details:
Can Chesapeake Energy's chief executive pull yet another rabbit out of his hat?

To plug what's been estimated as a $9.2 billion gap between Chesapeake Energy's 2012 capital expenditures and its cash flow, CEO Aubrey McClendon needs to sell assets fast.

Record low natural gas prices have the potential to bankrupt a highly indebted company that was built on $4 natural gas. As natural gas prices hit 10-year lows in recent months, that's put Chesapeake on thin ice.

McClendon has said that Chesapeake plans to sell up to $17 billion in assets by the end of 2013 to fill that gap, but analysts and M&A advisors question whether Chesapeake's assets are worth as much as McClendon claims.

While Chesapeake has valuable assets, it's unlikely to be a takeover target because it also has a heavy debt burden of roughly $10 billion, say analysts.

McClendon and Chesapeake came under fire this week after Reuters reported that McClendon took roughly $1.1 billion in personal loans against his stake in Chesapeake wells.
Low natural gas prices, however, are not the company's only problem:
Yet Argus' Weiss noted that there's only so much that Chesapeake can cut because they could lose leases on production sites if they don't make investments in them. "Since 2001, their capital expenditures have always exceeded their cash flows," said Weiss.

McClendon has built a track record on buying oil and gas wells and selling them for a profit. The company recently sold assets for $2.6 billion to three groups of buyers.

"That's what they're good at, buying stuff and selling it at a higher price," said Subash Chandra, an oil and gas analyst at Jefferies Group.
Hmmm...you know what that business model sounds like? The mortgage, real estate and home construction industries during the housing bubble years. Buying stuff at a lower price and selling it at a higher price is a great business model...until you run out of greater suckers. THEN, you're fucked.

It also doesn't do anything whatsovever to improve the overall economy. Being an expert "flipper" of any asset may make a person rich provided they know enough to bail out before the fall, but all they really are is a scavenger getting fat on the excess of wealth that is sloshing around during times of prosperity.

The real problem for the fracking industry, aside from the numerous environmental concerns about the practice, is that production grew so fast that it caused the bottom to fall out on natural gas prices. Now you know why there was so much pressure on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve a natural gas liquefaction and export terminal in Texas as I posted about here last week.

In the end, the entire fracking industry appears to be in trouble:
Overall, investors remain a bit befuddled by how Chesapeake accounts for interest expenses and where profits come from.

"They're spending a lot of money and the money they're making seems to be coming from raising more money," said Daniel Yu, a private investor who has been studying the company but does own any shares or short positions on Chesapeake.

Like many of its competitors, Chesapeake must wrestle with a new world of $2 and under natural gas prices. "If gas stays at $2, there's not a single company out there that's prepared for it," said Chandra.
So we allowed the fracking industry to go crazy with little regulation despite having no idea what the real risks of the process are just so it could oversupply the market at put its own future in jeopardy. What a brilliant fucking culture we are.


Bonus: Sounds like the fracking industry lost on Jeopardy

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hawker Beechcraft Notifies 350 Employees Of Layoffs


Something really is the matter with Kansas this time. Namely, mass layoffs at local employer Hawker Beechcraft. Here is the Wichita Eagle with the story:
Hawker Beechcraft passed out 60-day layoff notices to 350 employees today as it synchronizes its production line “by making changes to previously planned production schedules and resizing our work force.”

The company told employees of the layoffs in an early morning meeting on Monday and in a letter to employees.

“We continue to manage our way through a challenging and rapidly changing environment while implementing transformations across our company,” the letter to employees said.

“While we have experienced success with our transformation, market conditions are requiring us to adjust our overall production cadence to help ensure the company will compete effectively in the future,” it said.
Whoo-boy, that's a lot of Corporate Flackspeak right there. But wait, there's more:
“This remains a difficult, unprecedented time for our company, our employees and our industry, Boisture and Miller said in the letter. “I ask that we all uphold our pattern of respect and care for our impacted colleagues, and remain focused on our jobs as we carry on our effort to become a smaller, more agile company that will remain competitive in the future.”

In March and April, the company began to furlough employees that work on various aircraft, including the Beechcraft King Air, Piston and Premier IA and the Hawker 4000 and 987 family, the company said in its 2011 financial report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“These furloughs were a result of difficulty in obtaining adequate composite materials in order to continue production as well as matching production to demand,” it said.
In other words, the shit we build our airplanes with has become too damn expensive and there ain't hardly anybody buying 'em anyway. Sometimes it helps the reader to have someone fluent in the language who can translate.


Bonus: Not everyone can work for the county

Are Romney Supporters Smarter Than Obama Supporters?



I have stated repeatedly on this blog that anyone who is not a millionaire or a billionaire who donates money to one of the presidential candidates is seriously delusional at best.  As I pointed out in last Friday's rant, each campaign is expected to raise over (cue Dr. Evil) one BEEEELION dollars, most of it from the fat cat donors who completely own the election process and the two major candidates being put up to give the laughable illusion of "choice."  So far, as you can see by the two charts above that were posted Friday on Buzzfeed, non-wealthy potential Romney voters appear to be more realistic about the fact that he does not support their interests than non-wealthy Obama voters.

There was not an article to go with these charts, just a comment from the blogger who posted them:
March fundraising report shows Romney even more dependent on wealthy donors than Barack Obama and George W. Bush in 2004. Can he fire up the base?
Actually, considering that his "base" is Wall Street and the faction of the corporate elite who support the Republican Party, he already has.  Those tiny donations from the delusional little people do not actually even amount to a rounding error in the fundraising for either campaign. Don't get me wrong...I'm not saying that supporting one of the major party candidates is preferable to supporting the other one, just that early on rank-and-file Romney supporters seem to be suffering from fewer delusions about their guy--or maybe they just hate him for being the Mormon former gubbner of Taxachusetts.


Bonus: A commenter on Friday suggested that I could have used this song then...so here it is

When "Fifteen Minutes" Becomes "Fifteen Seconds"


The late Andy Warhol once famously proclaimed that, "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes."  The phrase, "15 minutes," then became an overused cliche to describe the television-age phenomenon of people rising to celebrity status overnight despite having no discernable talent, or to fads and trends that have appeared out of nowhere to suddenly become culturally omnipotent before quickly becoming passe.

The rise of the Internet has actually been speeding up this cycle to the point the point of near absurdity.  One example from early this year was the overnight sensation of NBA basketball player Jeremy Lin, who in a just few short weeks this past February went from the basketball equivalent of a minor leaguer to an international superstar--only to then hurt his knee and disappear from view almost as rapidly.

Lin's astonishing rise to fame was almost perfectly matched in its timing with the appearance of the Kony 2012 video...and sure enough, that Internet phenomenon is crashing back to earth almost as quickly as the aforementioned Asian-American basketball player.  The Sydney Morning Herald has the details:
In early March, Invisible Children put a 29-minute documentary on YouTube about the plight of child soldiers in Uganda, calling for action against warlord Joseph Kony.
The group hoped for half a million views for the video. It managed almost 200 times that number in the first week alone, and switched-on under-25s deluged newsrooms and politicians with calls for action.

Higher-profile charities marvelled at the success and wondered how to replicate it. George Clooney, Justin Bieber, Barack Obama and Angelina Jolie voiced their support.

But within days a big backlash questioned the outdated facts, credentials and finances of Invisible Children. Then the star of the film, charity co-founder and Christian evangelist Jason Russell, was hospitalised for "exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition" after being detained by San Diego police during a public breakdown in the street.

In a final ignominy, the whole event was satirised in a South Park episode last week.

It was the death knell for Kony 2012's hipster credibility, leaving only the idealistic teenage core still excited for the poster campaign.
Putting aside for a moment the questionable motives behind Invisible Children and the Kony 2012 video, what strikes me the most about this story is how consternation about the use of child soldiers in Africa to commit war atrocities became just another fad, seemingly of no more real importance to the people who suddenly became passionate about it than Jeremy Lin's momentary success on the basketball court. People were "outraged" by Kony 2012 not so much for what the video depicted but just because being outraged by it was the hip and "in" thing to do.

What is even more astonishing is just how quickly the fad itself caught on, became a worldwide sensation and then diminished into being yesterday's news.  In retrospect, the fears of those who were concerned that Kony 2012 would end up driving public pressure for the U.S. to intervene militarily in Uganda turned out to be way overblown.

More serious are the implications for anyone who hopes to raise awareness in his or her fellow citizens as to the dire and all too real issues we face in the areas of energy, the environment and overpopulation. As the article states about higher profile charities marveling at Kony 2012's success and wondering how to replicate it, in light of how quickly it is fading into memory can you really call it a success? If your motive is to actually get people to change their behavior and do something rather than just raise a few bucks, I would argue most definitely not.

Kony 2012 became an overnight sensation because it created an intense emotional reaction in its viewers, and like an emotional reaction it had no staying power.  The phenomena didn't even last long enough for it to be properly said to have had its metaphorical "15 minutes." And if "15 seconds" is the new standard for calling attention to a problem, assuming one is even able to strike that sweet spot of an emotional chord, good luck ever getting the masses to focus on the truly important issues facing our industrialized civilization as it teeters on the brink of collapse.


Bonus: Tom Lehrer reminds us that the idea of "changing the world" through mass entertainment is hardly new



Extra Credit Video: My man Charlie Brooker takes down Kony 2012

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Twitter = The Idiocracy Chronicles


According to the old saying: "it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." Maybe we should upgrade that to: "it is better to stay off of Twitter entirely than to send out messages showing the whole world what a fucking idiot you are."

There was a time not all that long ago when a person might say a dumb thing, but it at most would be heard by a handful of people and then immediately dissipate into the ether. There was no permanent record of it to come back and haunt the speaker, and even those who heard the words would probably not be able to completely agree as to exactly what was said.

But nowadays, thanks to the dubious miracle that is Twitter, millions of morons pollute the collective consciousness every single day with their "thoughts," giving the rest of us a horrifying glimpse at just how addle-brained many of our fellow citizens really are. I could do a whole separate blog just on this subject, of course, and put up about a dozen posts a day like some Twitter version of People of Walmart, but to prove my point I'll stick to the one example as reported by With Leather:
Depending on who you ask, the Cincinnati Reds probably gave up too much young talent in a deal for pitcher Mat Latos this offseason, but when Walt Jocketty wants a guy, he gets that guy, damn it. Unfortunately, Latos isn’t off to a hot start this season (0-2, 8.22 ERA) but in fairness he had to pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals last night and they pretty much own the 24-year old in his brief career in the majors. The Cards are now 3-1 against Latos since his rookie season, and his ERA in that span has too many digits for me to process without my Texas Instruments graphing calculator.

But who needs stats when criticizing a guy is just plain easier? At least that’s how some Reds fans looked at his awful game last night (5.2 innings, 8 ER) and they took it out on the person who deserved it most – Dallas Latos, Mat’s wife (Bill's note: sarcasm alert).


Wow...stay classy, asshole. Tweeting that sexist garbage to the pitcher's wife just because your sorry ass team is getting its head kicked in is bad enough, but notice that the moron is holding a baby, presumably his, in his Twitter picture.

Idiocracy, the movie, had it right. We're going to hell because the idiots are doing most of the breeding and the smart people are dying out: