The iPhone

So here’s my iPhone. It’s ok. It’s way too easy to take a screenshot, unless of course you want to take one.

As you can see, just by looking at the main screen, I can tell what time it is, how much signal I’ve got, battery life, unread emails, even how many items are on my grocery list. If I had missed calls, voicemails, or text messages, they would show up here as well.

Here’s my frustration: It’s always 73 and sunny according to my phone.

Don’t get me wrong, it sounds trivial, and I know this is sort of a tough computer science kind of problem to solve. How often should this update? Should it pull data when I un-sleep it, or should data be pushed to it? Should it use use my GPS features to find and use my current location, or should it use my default location?

Well, I thought it was a hard problem. Until I noticed my partner’s Android phone showed him exactly what the temperature and forecast were every time he unlocked it.

Maybe a new phone in my future. Maybe.

In Closing: hoodie magic; muscle confusion; Depak Desai takes the 5th; Strong government; and the importance of commas.

The Road to Ruin is in Disrepair

It turns out that there is one thing — one pretty big thing! — that both business leaders and union leaders agree upon: “America has an urgent need for more spending on critical infrastructure like roads and bridges.”

They’ve got a good point. Roads and bridges have many benefits. They help people get to work. They help companies get products to consumers. A new road can mean new business opportunities along the path it runs. And finally, building and maintaining roads and bridges means jobs: many thousands of jobs for workers, who will in turn do crazy things like pay taxes and buy things.

So why exactly is this the least bit controversial?

Because the Republicans are choosing to channel their dear departed member Herbert Hoover (rather than Ronald Reagan, who at least wanted to put people to work building missile-destroying systems! Pew! Pew!). Republicans are demanding huge cuts in the next Transportation Bill, including cutting highway maintenance spending by a third. This bill must be passed by the end of September.

Right, because there’s no urgently needed road repairs out there. No bridges in danger of collapse. And no business leaders agreeing with union leaders that we need more money — not less — spent on our roads.

The hilarious part is that I fully expect these same people to turn around and run on a platform of “Government has failed you! Just look at these roads!”

In Closing: It’s good to be CEO; follow-up on Steven Seagal and the tank; dumbing down; Neanderthal; did you know that “Red States” actually bleed tax money away from “Blue States”? (so much for “the hard working red states can’t support the blue welfare states any more!”; protein is good for dieters; and 3 charts.

“Don’t Quit Your Day Job”

Seriously, some people need to be told not to quit their jobs while trying to get a mortgage. Everything you need to know about getting a mortgage in this week’s Getting REAL (Estate) in Vegas, starring me with special guest Kari Phillips of Southern Fidelity Mortgage.

In closing: Shut up and take it like a man, says the President; priorities; new Fiats; more extortion; Direct Instruction works; sounds like the setup for a blasphemous joke; Schneier; depression; and reconstructed.

Looks Like Rain

Most people don’t carry around an umbrella unless they think there’s a good chance of rain.

That being said:

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board approved interim guidelines to help clarify its procedures for liquidating complex financial firms [edit: that is, “too big to fail” firms] when they collapse, including permitting better treatment for some creditors when it benefits the estate or broader economy.


However, in the event of an impending implosion, the statute authorizes the FDIC to use U.S. taxpayer dollars to make partial payments to “healthy” counter-parties of the failing firm so that they wouldn’t go down with it. Once economic disaster is averted, the law requires the government to recoup the costs of the bailout by selling the bank’s assets and by collecting fees from big financial institutions with $50 billion or more in assets.

So then, the question as I see it is simple: which big bank does the FDIC expect to collapse? My money is on the one that declared last week that they were halting all foreclosures in all 50 states.

In closing: Mankiw is an idiot; what made them think that was a good idea??; I would rather take my chances with the slot machines; in denial; she can raise money but can she stop being crazy?; epilogue to cholesterol story; “I don’t know if he’s qualified to be on the Federal Reserve Board. He’s only got a Nobel Prize in Economics“; This Angry Season; and recovery.

The Latte Economy

Please bear with me as some issues are simplified for clarity and length.

The American Economy has evolved a lot in the 234 years since the Declaration of Independence. We’ve been an agrarian economy. At times our economy has been driven by various commodities such as gold or steel; in fact, it is still widely thought that Nevada became a state because the Union needed a source of silver (and electoral votes) during the Civil War.

By the end of the 19th century, the ground was laid for the United States to become a real economic superpower. Instead of relying foodstuffs and commodities that were in some ways an accident of being a physically huge nation, worked by a growing workforce with plenty of ambitious immigrants buying into rhetoric of a “land of opportunity”, manufacturing came to the forefront. At the same time, the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Age; the standard of living rose for the working class not because the Tycoons were philanthropic, but because workers demanded things like living wages and the 40 hour work week that some of us still enjoy today.

Henry Ford, racist and antisemitic man that he was, did have a flash of genius when he decided to pay workers enough that they could buy his product, and enough time off to enjoy using it. Not only did it increase the number of potential buyers, he found that employee turnover plummeted. Other employers and competitors had to follow suit, and America now had quality finished goods to export.

At some point, “American” manufacturers realized that they could have their products made in countries with lower labor costs, put it on a boat to the United States, and still make more money selling it here, even if they had to discount the price a little bit! They could pull this off at least in part because even if they were paying a wage that was above the local average, it was still cheaper than American labor as they weren’t paying for retirement benefits or health insurance plans, they weren’t paying any payroll taxes or workers comp insurance on those employees, and things like environmental laws or worker protection laws were almost non-existent. To top it all off, desperate third world nations were sometimes willing to make financial incentives to build a factory and create what they saw as jobs of the future. International treaties such as NAFTA sped this process along. The best part of this was that the people at the top made more money, which in turn gave them more power.

But don’t worry about the factories closing, American students were told, you don’t really want to work in a dirty, smelly, dangerous factory all day, do you? No of course not! There is a future for you in information and service! See all these new computers? Somebody has to run them, and write programs in languages like COBOL or FORTRAN for them. Somebody has to figure out where all this information we are creating is, so there will be a need for people like research librarians and file clerks. And hey, worst case scenario, somebody still has to flip burgers and sack groceries.

Of course the problem with a lot of that “information economy” work is that it can even more easily be farmed out overseas. You don’t even have to get a finished product shipped back; just upload it to the server and it doesn’t matter whether it was compiled in San Francisco or Calcutta. Sure there are issues that come up with language and cultural gaps. Oops and I guess they don’t really have even similar data protection laws. But hey, it’s cheap.

And producing cheaper goods and services, we are told, is just the only way they can compete and give us the low low prices the American consumer demands. Of course there’s little talk about the reason the American consumer demands it: his wages just don’t go as far as they used to go.

So we don’t produce very much in the way of goods anymore, very little of the stuff you use every day is “Made in America, even if you wanted to buy American made products you can’t, the only thing we really export is money, at times we don’t even have a trade surplus in foodstuffs anymore, industrialized nations are busy plundering Africa for diamonds and rare minerals, construction is off sharply due to the real estate crash, and even those high-tech information jobs we were promised were the future are really some other country’s future.  That leaves us with what is cheerily called a “service economy,” because “service” is the only thing you can’t do just as well from a thousand miles away.

And some unknown portion of this “service economy” is actually an underground economy of work performed at below minimum wage, with little thought to workplace safety, often by undocumented immigrants who fear deportation if they speak up. Frustratingly, in addition to some “conservatives,” even some “liberals” and “progressives” say we “need” these laborers. After all, they tell us, who do you expect to mow our lawns, pick our produce, and clean our floors, duh.

What does that leave for Americans who want a “living” wage at a legal job? A short list of “opportunities” such as the small number of professions that can’t be done from overseas (e.g., doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher), selling goods imported from overseas, the grocery business, the hospitality industry, and food service. So I call the “service economy” more of a “latte economy”; at least Starbucks has employee benefits.

The thing is that we can’t really sustain a whole economy on that. We can’t run a country on selling one another lattes and Chinese made shoes forever. To have a vibrant and durable economy, we have to make something tangible that won’t all too soon be gone.

To get out of this economic mess, we must make things in this country that last, that people want, that people can afford, and that people in other nations might conceivably want. Somewhere out there are Americans with ideas about what those could be, but they are stymied by a lack of funding, and a system rigged against production and anyone who wants to play by the rules. But it’s going to take more than some tax breaks; that only helps when a business is profitable enough to owe taxes already. And it’s going to take more than lip service about government contracts; you have to be big enough to complete such a contract before you can get one. It’s going to take a leveling of the playing field so that start-ups can get working capital, develop products, and compete.

The Latte Economy must be replaced by something sustainable if the United States is to continue as a viable country. We can’t continue to export our money forever; at some point we will run out.

Shorties Todd

Well, “free” does appear in the title: someone is suing for charging them a monthly fee for credit monitoring in order to get that “free” credit report.

How can payrolls and the unemployment rate both go down at the same time?“: More than you want to know about how those figures are manipulated and tortured.

Data bears out common sense: Layoffs are often very bad for the companies that make them. Not only are there severance costs and bad morale (duh), it’s harder to hire back good people when market conditions improve.

Speaking of employment: The President is still of the opinion that small business hiring can and must get us out of this recession. Specifically, he said “Government can’t create these businesses, but it can give entrepreneurs the support they need to open their doors, expand, or hire more workers.” And what does he want to do about it? He wants to expand a couple of SBA programs designed to help well established businesses that already have debt. You know what would really help small businesses? Leveling the playing field with large businesses when it comes to taxes. Dave’s point is that only profits get taxed, which benefits large companies rather than small ones; tax cuts benefit big businesses while shafting the government that needs taxes to run. But let’s face it, Joe’s Hardware Shop has no leverage with city hall, but Wal-Mart can threaten to open in the next town over unless it gets tax breaks.

5th Amendment takes a beating: apparently the Obama Administration reserves the right to assassinate Americans overseas with “special permission.”

Makes me wonder why I bother to pay my mortgage: Here’s your real “phantom inventory,” banks refusing to foreclose on homes where the owner is well over a year in arrears. People are paying credit cards ahead of the mortgage now, which makes sense in a way. Financial planners have always said to pay down your high interest rate debts first! And, well, if the mortgage company is unlikely to foreclose, what incentive is there to pay?

Shackleton’s Whiskey: it’s been freed from ice near the south pole, and sent off for analysis and hopefully recreating lost liquor formulas.

Speaking of drinking: did you know that a 7-11 Double gulp is twice the size of what your stomach should reasonably be able to hold? And, at 64 oz, it’s the equivalent of 8 servings of soda.

And speaking of serving sizes: the FDA wants to crack down on misleading serving sizes on nutrition labels. You know, the ones that say a bowl of cereal is 2 servings, or 6 chips is a serving?

Glad to see someone holding the banks accountable: Cuomo has filed a lawsuit against B of A and several of it’s executives, charging that they hid information from shareholders and lied to the Feds to get bailout money.

And last but not least: a lesson about inflation.

Stay warm and dry, wherever you are.