Tuesday, August 30, 2005

It's Important to Keep Your Priorities Straight

Hurricane Katrina wreaked horrible devastation on a large swath of land from Lousina to Coastal Alabama, with coastal Mississippi appearing to have taken the brunt of the damage. Rescue workers in New Orleans, for example, are still "pushing aside the floating bodies in order to rescue the living". Meanwhile, less than two days after the storm, casino executives are wondering how they can turn the disaster to their advantage by lobbying the Mississippi legislature for emergency changes to the law that will allow them to move their casino onto land rather than barges.

I mean, we all *know* how important it is to get the casino back into operation amidst a disaster with so much human carnage.

The Jackson Channel
POSTED: 3:00 pm CDT August 30, 2005
Casinos Want Emergency Legislation

A top casino executive is calling on the Mississippi Legislature to enact emergency legislation to keep the state's coast gaming industry alive.

Treasure Bay Casino President and CEO Bernie Burkholder said Tuesday most of the casino hotels on the coast survived the hurricane, but several gambling barges suffered extensive damage.

Reconstruction could take years, Burkholder said.

State law doesn't allow land-based casinos, so lawmakers would have to draft legislation that would allow casinos to operate on land.

Burkholder today walked around the Treasure Bay property in Biloxi, surveying the damage. He said it would take about $100 million to replace what was lost.

Also in Biloxi, the President Casino was swept from its beach moorings and tossed across U.S. 90 into the parking lot of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.

Just so we don't lose perspective here:

Emergency Workers Expect Grim Body Count

Mississippi Officials: More Than 80 Dead

UPDATED: 4:37 pm CDT August 30, 2005

JACKSON, Miss. -- It's clear the death toll on the Mississippi Gulf Coast will rise sharply in the days to come.

One Hurricane Katrina survivor after another told stories Tuesday of friends and loved ones who floated off or disappeared as the floodwaters rose around them.

American Medical Response Operations Supervisor Mark Williams said paramedics on the scene said the devastation is so great that they won't quit counting bodies for days.

AMR operates ambulances along the Mississippi coast.

The only evidence of the Quiet Water Beach apartments in Gulfport is a concrete slab. Officials say as many as 30 people died there. Red bricks which were once its walls are scattered around the area, which is located just across U.S. Highway 90 from the beach.

In the debris is a crushed red child's play wagon, jewelry and clothing.

Behind the slab, a wall of debris is washed up against homes. The nearby U.S. 90 is buckled and covered with debris -- twisted boards, pieces of wall, bricks and the possessions of those who lived there.

People are digging through the rubble, trying to salvage any possessions not washed away by the storm.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

There Is No Housing Bubble

Just ask the housing industry:

Yahoo News

By Jerry Howard Thu Aug 25, 7:17 AM ET

It's big box office this summer in the national media, but paraphrasing Mark Twain, reports of an impending housing price collapse are greatly exaggerated.

Demographic and economic fundamentals support today's housing expansion.

To begin with, strong household formations, fueled by population growth and immigration, are pushing average annual demand for new housing into the 2 million-unit range for the decade ahead, about today's production level. Equally important, the U.S. economy is fueling enough new jobs and income gains to support brisk housing demand even as interest rates inch upward.

Second, the unusually steep price gains provoking much of the speculation over a housing bubble are mainly in California, Nevada, Florida and the Northeast corridor, and aren't the norm for most local markets.

Third, builders are running into serious obstacles, such as excessive growth controls or moratoria, in lining up land for development in the fastest growing housing markets. In the face of unrelenting housing demand, this is making housing shortages even worse, increasing the cost of building and persistently increasing house prices.

Fourth, unlike trading in stocks and bonds, buying a home is a costly and time-consuming process that is not susceptible to the kind of run on the market that occurred in the dot.com collapse. Also, the vast majority of families live in the homes they buy for a long time and don't flip them for a profit after a few months.

Finally, history shows that most unsustainable house price booms end quietly, as house price appreciation slows while ongoing increases in household income and housing supply help restore balance to local markets. A recent Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. study shows that house price booms lead to price busts only when local economies stumble for other reasons, such as a national recession. With the U.S. economy in the midst of a strong expansion, those risks are quite low for the foreseeable future.

It doesn't take a Ph.D. in economics to conclude that short supply and high demand do not add up to a housing bubble.

So buy away! Just be sure not to miss this footnote:

Jerry Howard is executive vice president and CEO of the National Association of Home Builders.

I'm sure Mr. Howard is providing a fair, balanced and unbiased assessment. After all, if there's anyone in this world you can trust, unquestionably it's someone trying to sell you something.

How to Increase Customer Loyalty

From the 25 Aug '05 "theregister.co.uk"
The Register

AOL has agreed to reform its customer service operation following complaints that led to legal action by Elliot 'the Blitzer' Spitzer, New York's attorney general. In a settlement announced Wednesday, AOL will be obliged to remove obstacles US consumers faced when seeking to switch or cancel their internet service.

Spitzer’s office began an inquiry of AOL's customer service policies in response to around 300 consumer complaints from 2000 onwards. The investigation revealed that the net giant had an elaborate system for rewarding employees who succeeded in keeping subscribers who had called to cancel their internet service. In many instances, such retention was done against subscribers' wishes, or without their consent, it was alleged.

Service reps could earn bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars if they could successfully dissuade or "save" half of the people who called to cancel service. Consumer reps were expected to meet minimum retain or save percentages. This led to instances where workers failed to honour cancellations or otherwise made cancellation unduly difficult for consumers. Many consumers complained that AOL personnel ignored their demands to cancel service and stop billing.

Under an agreement with Spitzer's office, America Online (AOL) will alter the incentives it offers to customer representatives who seek to persuade subscribers to stay with the firm. It agreed to set up an independent monitoring auditing regime. The net service giant also agreed to pay $1.25m to New York State in penalties and costs. Lastly AOL agreed to provide refunds to New York consumers who claim harm based on improper cancellation procedures, with compensation of up to four months worth of service.

"This agreement helps ensure that AOL will strive to keep its customers through quality service, not stealth retention programs," Spitzer said in a statement welcoming the settlement.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Who would Jesus assassinate?

Seems "muslim nations" aren't the only ones that have to deal with Religious Extremists.

From VOA:

A prominent U.S. Christian broadcaster has called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Speaking Monday on his television program, The 700 Club,, Pat Robertson said the United States has the ability to "take out" Mr. Chavez, and said he thinks the time has come to use that ability.

Mr. Robertson accused Mr. Chavez of supporting communism and Muslim extremism, and said that killing him would be a "whole lot cheaper" than starting a war.

There was no immediate reaction from U.S. or Venezuelan officials.

Mr. Robertson has a history of controversial statements. In 2003, he suggested that a nuclear bomb be dropped on the U.S. State Department.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Top 11 right-wing excuses for US's "Catastrophic Sucess" in Iraq

Well, it's looking like only a matter of time before Iraq will slide into civil war. I humbly propose the following "explanations" for use by Right-Wingers to pass on to their constituents while they stump for re-election:

11 - Communists...er, I mean "terrorists"
10 - Janet Jackson's breast exposed during SuperBowl
9 - Jane Fonda
8 - Colin Powell left
7 - Creationism not taught in American schools
6 - Too much religion in Iraqi schools
5 - All Iraqi schools blown up
4 - Too many "boots on the ground" in Iraq
3 - Constitutional delegates kept slipping on rose petals meant for US soldiers
2 - Democratic "parlimentary maneuvering" in US Congress
1 - The French

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Health Care as a utility?

Everyone want's good health care, but no one really wants to pay for it. Ok, some are willing to pay for theirs, but no one elses.

My observations lead me to believe that this was the same situation we faced at the turn of the century regarding such modern staples as roads, electricity, natural gas and telephones.

Much like electricity, people view health care as unnecessary... until you need it.
Those that deny their need of health care simply haven't gotten older yet. Just like electricity, health care brings benefits not just to individuals but to society as a whole.

Sure, there are obvious ways that people could "cheat" a health utility. Smokers would drive up costs unreasonably for everyone. So why not treat smokers, alcoholics, drug-abusers, etc. just like we do people who use too much water: charge them a premium.

I'm not advocating that participation in the health-care utility would be mandatory. Far from it. If someone chooses to live "off the grid" so be it. But there should be a system that rewards people for staying in the system during good times and bad and not simply joining when they get sick.

Granted it is difficult to codify and regulate the application of health care. But it can't be impossible. A private health care system, mated with a public regulatory body modeled on our current regulation of monopolies should be able to make health care a utility available to more, if not all.

LFH: Bush's Commitment to Iraqi Victory

GWB has shown his determination to win in Iraq, despite the sacrifices that means for America's armed forces. ( Unfortunately his committment doesn't involve a determination to provide good leadership, planning or implementation.)

I'm not the first to point this out, but if GWB is so committed to sacrificing American soldiers for Iraqi Victory, why hasn't he encouraged Jenna and Barbara to enlist?

To paraphrase Bill Maher, "Do they not believe in Freedom or do they just hate America?"

LFH: Corporate welfare

America's right-wing is famous for its fanatical obsession with Laissez Faire "Free Markets". A lesser-trumpeted obsession is Free Government Money.

When GWB signed the National Energy Bill into law Monday (8th Aug 05), the oil industry had been reporting record profits for at least three quarters due to the huge increase in crude prices (touching $64/bbl and climbing).

With such staggering increases in energy prices, one thing becomes apparent: we need to give more money to Big Oil to find more reserves.

Only a tiny bit of research turns up Exxon's reported profits:

Worth $372B as of 4 Aug 05

4th 3 mo 2004: $5,680M
1st 3 mo 2005: $7,860M
2nd 3 mo 2005: $7,640M

Here's how CNN described the bill:
The legislation was a big win for the Bush administration, which proposed an overhaul of national energy policy four years ago.

But the president didn't get everything he wanted in the bill.

The administration's controversial plan to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be taken up by Congress in separate legislation this autumn.

Big winners in the bill that passed Friday were oil, gas, coal and nuclear power companies, which will get a large share of the legislation's $14.5 billion in tax credits and financial incentives.

The measure will do little to tackle high energy prices in the short term, but the new policy in the years ahead aims to boost domestic energy supplies.

Nuclear Engineering International (www.neimagazine.com) wrote:

Designed to reduce domestic dependence on foreign oil, the bill will cost $14.6 billion over 10 years, double the cost the administration was seeking, and this mostly goes to nuclear and fossil companies. Of the provisions set out in the bill, electric utilities will save $3.1 billion over 10 years, the coal industry $2.9 billion, and the oil-and-gas business $2.7 billion.

Republicans hailed the bill for its free-market principles and support of less polluting energy sources, while Democrats criticised the bill, calling it corporate welfare for already wealthy industries.

With record profits, how can the industry justify a need for tax incentives to do its job? Does capitalism require such a crutch?

LFH: America's obsession with sex

The brouhaha over RockStar's "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" highlights an intersting facet of American Life: their fear of sex.

GTA:SA created a rumble in popular culture due to its unabashed portrayals (some argue glamorization) of drugs, violence, crime and "urban" stereotypes. A rumble, but one that resulted mainly in increased interest and sales. Drugs, violence, crime and glorification of the same was unliked, but tolerated.

But when it leaked to the popular media that a slight modification to the game (The Hot Coffee modification changed one bit in a configuration file) unlocked hidden sex scenes, the morality police swung into full force.

Even Hillary Clinton pounced on the opportunity to make noise about outlawing the game. Granted, Rock Star did not label the game as containing sex (that would have given it an "adult" rating and therefore banned it from the shelves of most big-box retailers) but the issue wasn't punishment for mis-labeling. It was to be punishment for including sex scenes.

Rock Star -- to its discredit -- lied about the scenes until it could not longer find even a lawyer that could keep a straight face while disavowing the obvious.

But why do we insist on making laws to punish the inclusion of sex scenes? Surely a law against intentional deceit would make more sense. But would that outlaw politics instead of video games?

Learning from History: Media spotlights

The idiot box produces a commercial every 10 minutes. With almost the same frequency, "The Media" produces the next "trend".

The latest trend (Aug 2005) seems to be Boy Scout related deaths.

When four scout fathers were killed at the 2005 National Scout Jamboree in Virginia, it made headlines across the country. A bit later at the same Jamboree, two other people suffered heat-related heart attacks in incidents unrelated to the electrocution.

Unusual to be sure, but not "a trend".

Now, almost two weeks after the event, the news has seized on what could be a trend: The Dangers of Boy Scouting.

New York Times: UTAH: LIGHTNING KILLS BOY SCOUT Lightning killed one Boy Scout and injured three others while they slept in a shelter at a mountain scout camp

UPI: Scout camp oak tree falls, kills girl

WSTM.com : Man pleads guilty in Girl Scout's death

Now, granted, the media isn't making a case about this (yet?). Scouting is seen as an "All American" pastime (unless you're gay) so there's no real upwelling or backlash going to form soon.

But the uptick in scout-related tragedy reporting can be instructive when the next broughah does get started. These usually revolve around anything that the public can consider to be "scary", such as airline crashes, military plane crashes, gun deaths, drugs, etc.

Given the "special attention" scout deaths can garner, its all to easy to imagine what will happen the next time some random series of more media-friendly tragedies occurs.