Saturday, January 31, 2009

Get your stimulus check

Ads currently running on Facebook.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sell your house with Photoshop

Found by Lawnmower Man, as seen here. Scroll through all of the pictures. In an ironic twist, the Realtors running this website have the following blog post: The Unbelievably Bad Real Estate Photos Hall of Fame.

Lovely Listing is my new favorite website.

Q4 GDP forecast

Like all other economic forecasts as of late, I expect the news reports to state that the numbers were unexpected.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A better Tarp Program

I still see a lot of roof damage around town post-Ike. Worse, I see relatively new houses in effed buyer neighborhoods with nothing but the tar paper keeping out the water. It's been a very dry winter, which has been the only saving grace for the people living in these houses.

The blue roofs of September are starting to fray. We know that many of these people should have had proper home insurance, or maybe their insurance companies are stalling. It's tough for a lot of families to come up with $7,000-$10,000 to have the roof replaced. But once the water gets in it's game over. Houses are abandoned, the neighborhood suffers, property taxes decline.

I think the state and county should embark upon a new, non-FEMA Tarp Program and do it immediately before more damage occurs as the typical heavy spring and summer rains return. This time they need to go out on the streets and seek out these owners. It only costs a couple hundred bucks per house to do this, and not only will it help out struggling families, in the long run it will help preserve the property tax base.

Budget issues? No problem. I'd immediately eliminate the Harris County Department of Education, which is a $15 million annual expense to local taxpayers. This bureaucracy does literally nothing except eat our money and duplicates what is already done by the local ISDs. With that money we could protect about 35,000 homes from the elements until the owners can get back on their feet.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wet Nursing California

Over on Calculated Risk, Rob Dawg wrote:
22 of the last 23 years California sent more to the other 49 than they got. Is it any surprise that running a deficit for a generation becomes a problem? Tell ya what. Zero out the accumulated funding imbalance, call it even and let us go our own way. What? The other 49 cannot afford to write a check that large? Fine, then we are all in this together. Sit down, shut up, hang on and get ready to write a check.
Barry and Timmy are getting ready to do just that. California politicians know this, which is why they are refusing to make the necessary hard choices. This leads to a moral hazard: Why should other states keep their financial houses in order when they know Uncle Sam is ready to bail them out? It seems rather selfish of California politicians to demand that people working low-wage jobs in places like Maine and Georgia pay more to make sure that California state workers continue to receive their very generous pension benefits.

Getting to Rob's first sentence, this was a frequent refrain from Californians during the boom times. Many Californians groused that they were paying more into the federal treasury than they were getting back. So let's peel back the layers a bit and analyze this. Here are some facts:
  • California residents pay the very same federal tax rate as those of us in the other 49 states.
  • Well, not quite. Middle Americans don't get the fat subsidies that Californians get for "owning" a house. The fact is, the rest of us are subsidizing California home owners to the tune of billions of dollars every year.
  • California incomes tend to be inflated by a series of manias (1) (2) that originate there and then go on to wreak havoc on other parts of the country. Like New York, fat corporate profits originating from these manias are responsible for a large chunk of the federal revenue.
I'd feel more sympathetic if Californians were paying their fair share of the federal income taxes, instead of the rest of us being forced to subsidize their illogical behavior. Years ago I wrote to Scott Burns about this and he did a whole article.

Next time you read comments from Californians about how they're the "8th largest economy," "the other 49 states can't survive without us," "we should secede and become our own country," (blah blah blah) keep in mind that the rest of us have been subsidizing their illogical behavior for decades. For the good of the country perhaps it's time that we set California free to pursue its own destiny.

Update: Howdy, Chronicle readers!

Gerald Celente's track record

An old post of mine about Gerald Celente has been bumped up in Google and it's been getting a lot of hits the past few days. A new comment from a Celente fan:
Lou you are a complete fool. Gerald Celente is and has been dead accurate about the economy.
No he hasn't. Let's revisit just one example, Celente's guess about the oil markets this past summer. June 7, 2008:

Trend Analysis: With commodity speculators currently being blamed for the oil spike, the threat of war and how it relates to high oil prices, until just recently, was absent from national debate as are the devastating global implications that would result from a Persian/US/Israel war.

Unless oil prices swiftly and dramatically decline, the American people will suffer the worst socioeconomic conditions in living history. Utility bills won’t be paid, foreclosures will escalate, crime will dramatically increase tax revolts, gas riots, strikes and protests will ensue. Millions of elderly, those on fixed incomes and paycheck-to-paycheck people won’t be able to heat their homes, fuel their autos or cover their expenses.

Celente never recognized the oil bubble for what it was. He totally missed it. As I guessed* (and Celente didn't), prices saw a swift and dramatic decline. The bubble was painfully obvious to anyone who would just look. Moreover, now that oil prices have collapsed, why are we still witnessing an escalation of foreclosures?
Unless oil prices swiftly and dramatically decline, ... foreclosures will escalate...
Trends break, a lesson that Celente and his fan club still haven't learned.

* I prefer "guessed" because that is what "futurists" are actually doing. Celente is a guesser, as I am when I post what I think will happen in the future. "Futurist" looks better on a seminar brochure than "guesser."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Breaks in the supply chain

A follow-up to this post from last week.

Off and on recently I have been hearing anecdotal stuff from our customers regarding possible shortages of components. Today was the first time I have heard from someone who is taking preemptive steps.

I received an inquiry from a gentleman in Singapore. I sent him the usual information, then out of the blue he replied with this, totally unsolicited:
Our business model predicates a recession impacting availability of (component) in the mid year to 4th quarter coupled with a severe downturn in new equipment uptake -despite initial potential costs reductions by manufacturers that will quickly cycle into scarcity due to production reductions. All of which leads us to think that used (components) and (what our widgets do with these components) will become a viable business particularly for third world export use.
I love hearing street talk from our customers. I asked him to expand further. His response (grammar intact):
It's a contrarian view where others assume that consolidation of current manufacturing will maintain decent levels of supply over lower demand. Manufacturing is retrenching fast.

If China has to deal with a few hundred million unemployed without social security = a recipe for the ultimate manufacturing meltdown political upheaval in the centre of cheap tech manufacturing and assembly.. suddenly there will be less being built and supply will peak then fold into shortage rapidly because of reduced stocks.. this year could see the biggest swing in (component) prices .. ever.
Manufacturers and distributors in the Far East are getting worried about the supply chain. So much of what China makes for western companies can no longer be manufactured elsewhere because we've sent all of the production equipment to China. We won't be able to re-start the factories quickly enough elsewhere to avoid critical shortages.

This isn't news just yet, but it will be within a few months.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sleazy car deal gimmicks

Bob: "Hey Jim, the Saturday auto section is filled with ads that promise 20% OFF MSRP. To get people on the lot we need a gimmick to break through the advertising clutter."

Jim: "Got that licked, Bob."
Hey Chronicle ad managers, why did you allow this to slip through? You and I both know what they are trying to do. Ya'll have really lowered your standards.

Ring around the Collar!

I don't recall watching too much TV when I was a child, but I still remember the script for this.

So I guess I did watch too much TV. Ad agencies were great back then at ginning up non-existent problems to sell crap.

This ran frequently during Dukes of Hazzard.


Probably the best of the 70s commercials.


I think I'll make spaghetti tonight.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hard Times

Interesting question poised on Calculated Risk by Ticker Tape of Doom.

The lowest I've been was finding myself stealing a packet of aspirin from a convenience store when I was 20. I was working, but my fast food pay check just barely covered tuition, text books (a big rip-off) and the roof over my head. I wasn't starving. Ramen was .10 a package and I had stocked up for when I couldn't nab food at work. But I had no free cash at all. None. I couldn't even scrounge up a lousy buck that day. And since it was between semesters I couldn't go to the university medical center.

In hindsight I could have easily applied for student loans and I was very qualified for Pell grants. It just never occurred to me to take out a loan to pay for everyday existence.

Lots of people have never experienced truly tough times. They will do things that right now they can't conceive of. Stealing aspirin is nothing.

GE

GE is a great company that actually makes stuff. Then they decided to get involved in the shady finance business and now look at them.

I think that GE needs to get out of Fairfield, get out of the finance and entertainment business, and concentrate on what made them great in the first place. That's making stuff.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Supply chain

Thoughts on the prior post: Any idea what possible societal upheaval in China will do to the supply chain? So many companies throughout the world have outsourced critical items to China. I never thought it was a good idea to outsource critical technology to potentially unstable countries. I am not talking about manufacturing equipment used to make toasters. I am talking about more important things, like the latest wafer fab designs and state-of-the-art machining tools.

It's like manufacturers in Japan, the US, Korea and western Europe forgot that China is a dictatorship that uses murder, torture and stiff prison sentences to keep the natives in line. Not to mention the rampant corruption that permeates every part of the Chinese business experience.

This is not gonna end well.

China's economy contracts

Sorry, I don't believe it.
Gross domestic product grew 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, after a 9 percent gain in the previous three months, the statistics bureau said in Beijing today. The figure matched the median estimate of 12 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
I correspond with vendors and customers in China and the former Asian Tigers every day. No product inquiries, no purchases, no nothing except a frantic stream of e-mailed incoherent sales pitches, pleading with us to use their PCB assembly services. China is hurting bad, and I believe the GDP statistics are a lie.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Five Points by Tyler Anbinder

Another book I've read over and over is Five Points by Tyler Anbinder. (As always, there are no Amazon referral fees when I link to a book over there. If I shill for a book it means that I actually read it.)

It's a grim (an understatement) historical account of life in Five Points, a notorious 19th century slum on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Lots of us have ancestors who lived there, and what a shitty life they led. On the other hand it was better than what they had left behind. If you feel that your life as an American isn't fair, read this and get some perspective. The Wikipedia entry for Five Points has a good but brief summary of life in this hellhole.

Last time I was on vacation I went to Manhattan and walked throughout these neighborhoods. It's all Chinatown now, with a fleeting glimpse of what was once Little Italy. (Is that right? I am going from memory 3 years ago.) Regardless, Five Points is no longer a threatening place.

Sore Winners

I am not the only one picking up on this, and I am not talking about the Obama administration. It's not very becoming. But feel free to continue your classy behavior, and please don't let November 1994 enter your mind.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Californians are still insane, part 2

Part 1 here. Old CaI post here on Swamplot. A wager for Matt Lanning from 3 years ago.

Los Angeles: Little pink $400,000 houses with burglar bars for you and me.
Katy, Texas: 4,276 square foot $400,000 McMansions with swimming pools for you and me.
Los Angeles: I am not sure what this is, but it's 1,056 square feet and $200,000.
Katy, Texas: 5 bedroom, 3,207 square foot crapshack for $200,000.

Los Angeles: Honey, stop the car! 676 square feet. $300,000. Location, location, location!


Katy, Texas: 3,306 square feet built in 2004, complete with really funky interior paint that already looks dated. $300,000.

Apple, Inc. is a poorly run company.

If a company will stop producing innovative products and then collapse without its current CEO, it's not a very well run company.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the UK Telegraph has a haughty name and he is fun to read. He loathes the EU, has been preaching financial doom for years... what's not to like? Well, there's the fact that he remains a conspiracy nutball.

Monday, January 19, 2009

People who no longer have a reason to exist

These people need to get a life.

On Tuesday, a coalition of activist groups will hold an event called "Yes We Can Arrest Bush," co-opting Obama's winning campaign message in a way he probably didn't intend. The protest will be in front of the FBI building along the inaugural parade route.

"Either on Sunday or Monday [President Bush] is going to pardon a bunch of people, and what the goal of Arrest Bush is ... is we're going to have a nexus of Arrest Bush and the Obama inauguration," said Jose Rodriguez of the group Arrest Bush.

Their reason for being the past 8 years is their hatred for Bush. Now it's all over. Maybe they can go do something productive with their time.

Jeffrey Currie of Goldman Sachs makes a guess

Some guy at Goldman Sachs makes a guess.
Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. commodity analyst Jeffrey Currie said he expects a “swift and violent rebound” in energy prices, including oil, in the second half of the year.
Here's Jeffrey on November 26, 2007.
Despite his recent caution, Currie remains a long-term bull on oil and other commodities. He forecasts that U.S. light sweet crude will be $85 a barrel at yearend and $95 in 12 months.
Sorry. That's not what happened.

I wonder how many people at Goldman Sachs have positioned their portfolios for rising oil prices. Like Boone Pickens saying that oil would hit $200 and stay there forever, while at the same time asking Congress to help pay for his wind farm.

Update: Currie may be right. It struck me when I was driving home tonight that Saudi Aramco has been doing a ton of recruiting ads on the radio these past few weeks. What do they know that we don't?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rain

Rubber Soul, when The Beatles were at their peak. Paul had a tooth knocked out after a car crash and the director doesn't do a very good job of hiding it.

Hugo Chavez is gassy

Human rights activist Hugo Chavez is having some problems.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered police on Saturday to use tear gas on anti-government protests that block roads, heating up a campaign for a referendum that could allow him to run for re-election.

Venezuelans will vote next month on a proposed change to the constitution that would allow Chavez, a foe of the United States, to seek re-election when his term ends in four years.

"Interior Ministry, spray them with gas and dissolve any disturbance. We cannot begin showing weakness as a government," Chavez said during a campaign meeting at a historic Venezuelan battleground.
He's worried about the noose.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's approved by Apple!

With an iPod Touch, your kids can enjoy hundreds of free educational programs.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Will the last person in the Inland Empire please turn off the lights?

North County Times:
City managers from across Riverside County are scheduled to meet Thursday to consider recommendations from a county "red team" to prevent the county's already dire housing crisis from leading to an exodus of biblical proportions.

About one-third of the two counties' 1 million housing units either are in foreclosure or are in danger of entering the process, according to calculations from Economics & Politics Inc., a Redlands consulting firm.
Note that the article doesn't say one-third of houses with mortgages. It says one-third of all houses.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stupid's in the news again

He's still around, giving a new interview to CNET's Declan McCullagh.
Perhaps the best argument against a government bailout of underwater homeowners can be found in the character of Casey Serin, a 26-year-old would-be mogul in Sacramento, Calif.
In a stunning development, Casey says something that is logical!
"I personally don't believe in bailouts," Serin said in an interview this week. "If you don't get hurt, what's going to stop you from taking on the risk next time? You're interfering with the natural order of things."
Update from Akubi: California is so broke that California taxpayers are funding an archaeological dig at a hippy stoner hangout in Marin County. Your tax dollars hard at work, digging for old beer cans and roach clips. Even today, with the budget crisis. Washington will be bailing out California with our tax dollars soon so that this sort of nonsense can continue.

From the SF Chron, this picture should be labeled, "California state employees handle toxic hippy artifacts at taxpayer's expense."

Words and phrases I never want to hear again

  • shovel-ready
  • TARP
  • tranch (there's something almost vulgar about that word)
  • mortgage-backed security
It's been a long day. I am sure there are others. Meanwhile, over in Tampa, business continues as usual in the mortgage lending world. These two are shining examples of the professionalism inherent to the profession.

The coming oil boom

I think we will see a new oil boom very soon, but it won't necessarily be accompanied by soaring oil prices.

For the past decade, developing oil-rich countries have been nationalizing their oil industries. The oil bubble of the past 5 years accelerated that trend. With ever-increasing prices for their commodity, the leaders of these countries felt that they didn't have to share the profits with developers. Output fell, but it didn't matter because price increases more than made up for the shortfall. They can extract the easy oil, but anything that requires modern drilling techniques is beyond their expertise. These declining fields have fed the "peak oil" hysteria.

These developing oil-rich countries no longer have the luxury of high oil prices. They need the cash, and the only thing they can do now is increase output. But they don't have the expertise.

Melonhead sees the problem and is changing his tune. I think the rest of the countries with nationalized oil industries will do the same and swallow their nationalistic pride, beginning with Mexico. This will create a new boom for western companies like Schlumberger and Total.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hugo Chavez fights back against Israel

Human rights activist Hugo Chavez fights back against the evil Zionist aggressors!
Venezuela on Wednesday broke diplomatic ties with Israel over its deadly military offensive in the Gaza Strip, according to a government statement read on public television.

"The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in accordance with its vision of world peace, in solidarity and respect for human rights, has decided to definitively break diplomatic ties with Israel," the text said.
No doubt Israel is a quivering wreck now that Melonhead has severed diplomatic ties. That'll teach those Jews! Israel relies upon Venezuela for... let me think.

Update: Shocking, unexpected news. With the collapse in oil prices, Melonhead is now begging the oil companies to come back. I bet they'll be eager to do that!

Outward Bound Inflation

I went on this Outward Bound trip in 1992. I still have the receipt, $995 plus airfare to Vernal, Utah. Now it's $1495. Seems reasonable.

If you have never been on an Outward Bound trip but you are considering it, I recommend Outward Bound wholeheartedly. Yes, you will have to crap into an Army surplus ammo can (they call it "The Groover"), and you will have to take turns cooking and cleaning up. You will be responsible at least once for emptying The Groover. But they supply everything except the clothes you want to wear. They even provide the sleeping bag. All travelers receive a disposable "fart sack" that lines the sleeping bag you are issued. Potty humor is common on Outward Bound trips.

The guides are top notch. The food is good and after a few days in the Utah canyonlands with no facilities you will learn to really love "cowboy coffee," complete with grinds floating on the top in your mug. For the 18+ trips, ages ranged from mid-20s to mid-50s. I think that anyone in good physical shape can handle the raft trips regardless of age. Just be prepared for no tents and no air mattress. If it rains you sleep under the raft.

Sleeping in a remote desert canyon in the open air with no tent... it doesn't get much better. If you think that's weird, I suggest you try it.

How government can quickly help small businesses

All of these bailouts are going towards big businesses, but the majority of jobs (and job creation) are from small businesses.

The Federal government is still spending, as are states that aren't facing budget calamities. What many small manufacturers see every day is this: A government worker will contact a manufacturer about their widget. The rep for the manufacturer will explain the details about the widget. The government worker will put in a purchase req. A government purchasing agent calls the manufacturer for a quote on the widget. The purchasing agent then goes to a major reseller like CDWG (and I don't mean to pick on CDWG, they are simply one of the largest of literally thousands) because they are on the GSA schedule. The purchasing agent almost always winds up paying more for the widget from the reseller because they don't want to deal with the hassles of purchasing from a vendor who is not already set up in their archaic, complex purchasing system. (It seems that government purchasing agents are not taught how to negotiate for better prices.)

The CDWG's of the world get a large chunk of the manufacturer's margin for being nothing more than order takers, and us taxpayers are paying more than we need to for these widgets. Governments should encourage purchases directly from the manufacturers, allowing manufacturers to keep more of their margins. That would make a big bottom line difference for a lot of struggling US manufacturers and it would save taxpayer dollars to boot.

Stay classy, "pro-Palestinian" activists

It's not just in Europe. The virus is beginning to spread here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why am I on the hook for your pension?

The Pundit Guy linked to this piece over on Bloomberg. You already know the story: States and municipalities lose billions due to the boneheaded moves made by the people running the pension plans, now these government leaders are begging Washington for a bailout.

Give me one good reason why the rest of us should bail out public pensions. Lots of people in the "private" (i.e., those paying the bills) sector lost money last year in their IRA's and 401K's. They get no bailout. Why should government workers be a protected class, forever shielded from the boneheaded decisions made by the very people they appointed to manage their retirement assets?

You make less money from your pension? Tough! Suck it up, Mary. Most of us today don't get any pension. We're on our own and there are no bailouts coming our way.

Europeans are very tolerant

Peace and love in Copenhagen.

Here is the translation.

There are plenty of pale faces in this video. We will see another Kristallnacht within our lifetimes.

Real estate fraud in Dubai

I am shocked.
Businessman Kabir Mulchandani who in the late '90s revolutionised consumer electronics marketing with his innovative ideas has been arrested in Dubai in connection with a multi-crore real estate fraud.

A senior official who is part of the investigation told TOI over the phone that Mulchandani was in jail. "I am not supposed to reveal the details. I can only confirm that Mulchandani is in jail," he said. Kabir's mother was not reachable on her cell phone.

Scores of investors have been allegedly defrauded of over US$ 100 million by Mulchandani, chairman of `Dynasty Zarooni'. At least 10 members of an `investment club,' which last year promised huge profits from the company's preferential access to real estate deals, have lodged complaints against Mulchandani, his Emirati business partner, Hilal Al Zarooni, their joint venture `Dynasty Zarooni' and two other employees.
The Dubai bubble popped much later than the bubble in the US. With fraud on this scale so early in the game, it will be interesting to see what emerges. I am betting that the level of real estate fraud in Dubai will make the fraud in California seem like a blip on the screen.

Bleak, bleaker, bleakest.

Then there's Ireland. It's more bleakest.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Roger Clemens

Congress was fiddling last year while Rome was burning. Don't they have anything else better to do? There are no more important issues than Roger doing 'roids?

"You're too fat to adopt."

They look like average Wal-Mart shoppers to me.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Things I have learned from Pravda

Make sure you are wearing a good pair of waders.
  • Ukraine is bad. Russia is good.
  • Jews are bad. Russia is good.
  • Russia is good. Cuba is even better.
  • America is bad. Russia is good.
  • Did I tell you that Jews really, really suck?
  • Barack Obama is a Deceiver, Cheat, Swindler, Liar, Fraudster, and Con Artist. Medvedev and Putin are totally honest and have never committed fraud.
  • The US economy is set to collapse. Russia will become the world's superpower.
  • Casey Serin has a secret twin brother back in Russia who is even dumber than he is.
  • No, really. Jews suck. So does America.
  • Dog gives birth to mutant creature that resembles human being.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Boquillas

I am heading back out to Big Bend National Park in March. I used to go out there at least once a year, like clockwork. (What's great about Big Bend is you can see this and this and not run across a single person all day. Outside of a few places like the Basin, at most maybe a dozen people will hike some of these trails in any given week.) And like many Texans I'd take a break from hiking by spending a pleasant 110 degree afternoon in Boquillas, Mexico riding into town on a rented horse, getting mildly drunk and supporting the locals by spending money.

The informal crossing was shut down in 2002 and Boquillas is a virtual ghost town. Victor Valdez has found a way to make some cash, but without Americans riding across the river to visit this very old town has no reason to exist. (Here's a panorama of the setting.)

I opined a few years ago on my deleted blog that it was stupid to shut these informal border crossings down. It's apparent that some Fed official in Washington who has never been out to Big Bend never considered how remote these Mexican border villages are. Boquillas is 150 miles from the nearest Mexican paved road, but less than a mile from the US. Border checkpoints already exist on the US side... dozens of miles on this side of the border. Assuming the security checkpoints are up to snuff, what the hell is a terrorist gonna do? Walk across 200 miles of canyons and desert to bypass the patrolled sectors?

The Rio Grande crossing to Boquillas was once well-marked, with official signs. There were never any problems out there. I am very skeptical that a big-time drug runner would use this route when so many people are around. In fact, it seems to me that the best way to keep this section of the border safe from the bad guys is to have plenty of locals with a vested interest in border security. Now that Boquillas is a virtual ghost town that's no longer an option.

Friday, January 9, 2009

David "Weave" Roth's soundboard

Click the buttons and create your own classic Van Halen song!

Update: disgruntledcarolinian adds this. Wait a few seconds for Diamond Dave to start.

Apple gets a Palm job

Palm debuted the Palm Pre at CES today. I predicted that Palm would file for bankruptcy protection this year, but this phone may save them. (My first 2009 prediction that has been proven wrong.) Finally there is a device that can go head-to-head against the iPhone.

Palm has the hardware. The question is will the webOS store be able to compete with iTunes. I don't think it will be quite that size for a while, but the iPhone has set off a gold rush for smart phone developers and I think they will be fired up for the new Palm in a way they haven't been for Android.

California is toast

Arnie is ordering that California state workers stay home the first and third Friday's of each month until the budget crisis is solved. The Sac Bee website is predictably flooded with comments from state workers who are trying to justify their jobs.

Some want to strike because they think that it will show the average taxpayer how important state workers are. For those who believe that, I am old enough to remember the Federal government shut down in the mid-1990s. We got along just fine.

It's a moot point, though. The furloughs are only projected to save $1.3 billion. The projected deficit is $40 billion. State workers are kidding themselves. There will be massive layoffs of state employees in the coming year, not mere furloughs. There will be massive tax increases to boot. Nevada and Arizona, welcome the many new companies locating in your states as California corporations large and small get the hell out of that mess.

Chevron's corporate headquarters will make a nice addition to Houston.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An annoying online fad

It's been stinking up Ben Jones' Bubble Blog for months now, and its stench is beginning to seep into Calculated Risk. I am talking about this.
+1

It's the latest response gimmick when you agree with something someone wrote. You are awarding them points. Get it? And if you really, really agree with someone you can juice it up!

+1000000
Isn't it clever?

Give it a rest. It's about as original as Neil's "Got Popcorn?"

Might as well JUMP!

I appreciate the sentiment, but they are still human beings and I can't bring myself to make fun of them as they take the nearest exit. If I have to start eating my seed corn I may very well feel differently.

Here come the layoffs in the oilpatch

A reader in Bakersfield sent me news that he was just laid off from Schlumberger. Wish him luck. I doubt very much that he and thousands of his fellow laid-off workers will be getting any sympathy from Congress.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Europe's chickens have come home to roost.

Well, Western Europeans have been saying for the past 8 years that they want a multi-polar world.
Governments across Europe declared states of emergency and ordered factories to close as Russia cut all gas supplies through Ukraine yesterday in their worsening dispute over unpaid bills.

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, accused the two countries of taking the EU’s energy supply “hostage” amid a cold snap across the Continent, and urged them to reopen the pipelines immediately.

Schools and factories were closed and trees were felled to keep home fires burning after Russia turned off the gas taps to more than a dozen countries. It was a clear demonstration of the dependence of the Continent on Russian gas supplies.
Captain Euro to the rescue!

Nice job, Mickey


I've always been a fan of Mickey Rourke, even though like most fans I was mystified when he flaked out. I thought for sure he'd made his comeback with Sin City, but that was 4 years ago. Maybe The Wrestler will put him back on the top. Dunno. He messed his face up pretty bad with the boxing and plastic surgery.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Melonhead to New Englanders: Drop Dead

I didn't know that Joseph Kennedy was working with Hugo Chavez.
BOSTON (AP) — Citgo has suspended its free heating oil program for low-income residents, Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph Kennedy announced Monday.

Kennedy said the Venezuelan government's Texas-based oil subsidiary cited falling oil prices and the world economic crisis for forcing the company to reevaluate all of its social programs, including the heating oil program aimed at 400,000 households in 16 states.

The program, started in 2005 with Citizens Energy, a nonprofit headed by Kennedy, sent 100 gallons of free oil a year to eligible households.
I wonder if Joe was skimming off the top? It's an old Kennedy tradition.

Here's to President Obama

I hope the right will be more respectful of President Obama than the left was of President Bush. Dedicating yourself to destroying the president, no matter who he is, is a pretty dumb thing to do. If the president in office is not your candidate you shouldn't have to be an ass-kisser to his/her party and fall behind in lock-step formation, but if your life's mission is to destroy the president you're accomplishing nothing except making it worse for the country as a whole. Plus, you look like an asshole.

Enough with the Barack Obama birth certificate nonsense, enough with the Bush conspiracy theories, go get yourself a life. If you want a legitimate issue for criticism, here's one. Panetta? WTF?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Brave Hamas freedom fighters

For Hamas freedom fighters, UN ambulances make great troop carriers!

You know what happens next: The IDF plants a missile up their ass, Hamas tells the willing and unquestioning media that Israel attacked a defenseless ambulance, then hateful dumbasses infused with fake moral outrage engage in riots throughout various European cities and San Francisco.

My problem with Case-Shiller

The Case-Shiller Index of home prices has understandably been receiving a lot of press.

I am not a fan. Case-Shiller combines bubble zone pricing with non-bubble zone pricing, but skews toward bubble zones. Housing prices didn't fall 23% from peak in non-bubble zones, they fell 40%+ so far in bubble zones. Housing prices in non-bubble zones were essentially flat or with small increases or decreases during this time.

Case-Shiller also has some odd omissions. Why is Las Vegas on the list and not the much larger Houston? It seems strange to me that the 6th largest metro area in the country isn't part of the index. Why are Kansas City and St. Louis not on the list, while Portland and Tampa are? Nashville is larger than a number of the cities on the Case-Shiller index. So is San Antonio. Why are they not included?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Texas property tax relief

We were promised relief.
(May 30, 2006) — Texans are about to get some much-needed tax relief thanks to the largest property tax cut in state's history, which lower tax bills by 11 percent this year and 33 percent in 2007.
As always, the pols in Austin provided horseshit. My property taxes are higher now than they were in 2006. I know this for a fact because I am mailing in the payments on Monday.

Ah... hell. What's the point in fighting it? We might as well do what Clayton Williams recommended, then go get government jobs. Put our brains on hold, relax, and enjoy working for the state. No worries. There are always taxpayers to milk.

Burj Dubai prices down 50% in a month

The world's largest real estate folly is collapsing faster than even I thought possible.
Take the world's tallest building, the Burj Dubai, which remains under construction. In the last month prices there dropped at least 50 percent.
In 5 years, habitable real estate in Dubai will sell for 10% of what it was worth at the peak. That is not a stretch by any means. Consider this from the Tehran Times:
Dubai house prices will start to fall in the fourth quarter, ending a housing boom that pushed prices up 43% in the first three months of the year, Colliers International said on 3 December.
A big deal was made of Sheikh Mo canceling the New Years fireworks display. I think the real reason is he's running out of money fast.

Nice job, Galveston PD!


Galveston plainclothes police nab a 12 year old in her yard and claim she's a prostitute.
GALVESTON — A Houston attorney representing three Galveston policemen accused of assaulting a 12-year-old girl mistaken for a prostitute said Monday he’s working to have a lawsuit filed in federal court dismissed before it reaches trial late next year.
From the Chronicle:
Responding to a call that three white prostitutes were soliciting in the neighborhood, the plainclothes officers jumped out of an unmarked van on (Sgt. Gilbert) Gomez's orders and one of them grabbed the girl, who is black, the lawsuit states.

The girl contends that the officers did not identify themselves as police and that the officer who grabbed her, later identified as Roark, told her, "You're a prostitute. You're coming with me."

Her parents heard her cries for help and came outside to see the hysterical girl hanging on to a tree and screaming "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" while two officers hit her about the head, face and throat, the family alleges.

Two hours later, she was examined at the University of Texas Medical Branch emergency room and doctors found she had a sprained wrist, two black eyes, a bloody nose and blood in an ear, according to the lawsuit.

Weeks later, she was arrested during classes at Austin Middle School, where she was an honors student, the lawsuit states. She was tried a year later on a charge of resisting arrest, but the judge declared a mistrial on the first day, according to the lawsuit.
More:
Update: This is from the officers' lawyer, William Helfand:

Both the daughter and the father were arrested for assaulting a peace officer. "The father basically attacked police officers as they were trying to take the daughter into custody after she ran off."
Of course he did. He saw three men dressed in street clothes attacking and kidnapping his daughter. What should they expect to happen? The Feds need to get involved with this.

Copy of the lawsuit here (PDF file).

Wes Anderson: Come back home ( part 2)


A rehash from last year. (I met a guy at a party last night who says he attended St. John's with Wes and I have no reason to doubt him.) Hey Wes, do you think it's just a coincidence that your movies get suckier the farther away from home you are? Bottle Rocket and Rushmore were great little movies. Then you decided you were too big for Texas and Houston and produced a bunch of crappy self-indulgent movies that no one cares about. Quit the existential artsy-fartsy nonsense and come back home and make movies about people that you know.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year from Earl Gordon Curley


Mary Jo paid a visit yesterday. Apologies to those of you who don't know what the hell I am talking about. Background here and here. Toaster reference here. Earl was an online legend back in the days.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

RIP Steve Jobs

Early college daze, January 1984. 25 years ago. A quarter century. Yikes!

You younguns don't know what the early days of the PC revolution was like. Laugh at this video, but the Mac was revolutionary for its time. If the Mac never existed I am sure we would have eventually gotten proportionally-spaced fonts and a nice tidy mouse interface. It still took Microsoft 9 years to catch up*, though.

Rumor has it that Steve Jobs is on his last legs, and frankly based upon his last public appearance I would have to say that the rumor isn't entirely unfounded. The fear is Apple is doomed without Jobs. I don't think so. If a company is reliant upon one person that company isn't much to begin with. I'm not a fanboi, I simply appreciate superior products. I am certain that Apple has groomed many talented engineers to fill Jobs' shoes.

* My recollection is that Windows 3.1 was the first Microsoft GUI interface that gained widespread acceptance. It wasn't until 1993 that people were really adapting Windows, and I think the Solitaire and Minesweeper programs helped sell it.

2009 Predictions

2008 predictions are here. Please feel free to add your own predictions or snarky comments.
  • Oil trades below $25/barrel, briefly touching down between $10-$15. This will cause havoc within the nuttier OPEC nations. Leaders in Venezuela and Iran will be particularly stressed. The situation in non-OPEC Russia will become increasingly dire as the Russian economy goes into freefall and society breaks down. Historic crime wave in Moscow. Putin goes on some more military adventures to misdirect the restless natives and tries to hold Western Europe hostage to Russia's natural gas resources. Hugo Chavez flees to Cuba with a large horde of cash.
  • By supporting Hamas, Iran is playing a game of chicken with Israel. Israel will launch a strike against Iran before Obama assumes the presidency. Ahmadinejad will use this as an excuse to attempt a blockade of the Straight of Hormuz, creating a brief tanker war and increasing the price of crude. The attempt fails.
  • Dubai collapses, dragging down the other Emirates which are frantically trying to prop it up. Tens of thousands of formerly wealthy European speculators will be wiped out. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum will be forced to unload his prized airline to Abu Dhabi. Emirates will then be merged with Etihad. A380 orders will be canceled or deferred.
  • Massive societal upheavals in China as millions of laid-off factory workers are driven back to the countryside. Manufacturers around the world will find it difficult to maintain production due to supply problems of critical parts that have all been outsourced to China.
  • Citizens of Zimbabwe finally get some limited relief after a coup is launched against Robert Mugabe. Once he is captured, he will be tortured and publicly executed after a session in front of a kangaroo court.
  • Iceland clamors to join the EU, while current EU members including Italy and Greece hold talks to get out of the Euro.
  • Web 2.0 bust. The majority of social networking sites will go belly-up as investors pull the plug on most of this nonsense. MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn will be among the few survivors.
  • The Democrat-controlled Congress will become increasingly protectionist, blocking all free-trade deals regardless of whether or not they are good for the country. Americans as a whole will become more isolationist.
  • Sears Holdings Corporation files for bankruptcy protection. Eddie Lampert's expensive "Sears is a real estate play" experiment will fail as the market is flooded by a massive inventory of vacant, never-occupied commercial real estate. Once-storied Sears brands are sold off to companies such as Lowe's and Best Buy.
  • Unemployment approaches 9%.
  • 2009 is the year the US will get some type of nationalized medical insurance program under the guise of helping manufacturers. This will occur more quickly than people think. Manufacturers will, of course, cease providing medical insurance to employees and retirees.
  • Ballmer is fired from Microsoft. The Redmond campus experiences massive layoffs as new Microsoft management tries to "get back to basics" and focus on doing things right. Google's Mountain View offices are emptied as Google management realizes that they have wasted billions on non-producing projects.
  • Terrorists will attempt an attack on US soil during or soon after the presidential transition.
  • Residential real estate will start to bottom out during the final quarter of 2009 in many markets, including Florida, Arizona and parts of inland California. Panic selling by banks anxious to unload deteriorating houses that have never been occupied will finally establish a floor. This will not mark a recovery, but will mark the beginning of a very long trough in real estate values that will last for years. Coastal California, the Pacific Northwest and the New York-Baltimore-Washington corridor will continue to decline throughout 2009 and into 2010. On a national level real estate will be down 35% from peak, while bubble zones will be down 55-65%. The option ARMs won't blow up later this year and into 2011 for reasons explained here.
  • 2009 will mark the year when Motorola and GE get their mojo back. Palm files for bankruptcy protection. Dell, like Microsoft, becomes a punchline. PC commoditization and lack of innovation will lead to a big decline in sales.
  • In Houston, Safeway attempts to unload the Randalls supermarket chain after years of mismanagement. Safeway gives up after finding no buyers. Randalls shuts its doors and few people notice. Whole Foods sees a whole lot of problems.
  • Serin gets a damn job after being threatened with eviction by his parents. He will be selling cars for Steve.