Sunday, March 22, 2009

I read a real estate soothsayer today: "Housing Market has bottomed; good time to buy, because interest rates are low..."

It is a good time to buy,
  • IF you have a 20% downpayment
  • IF your credit score is above 740
  • IF you can sell the house you're in now
  • If your income/employment is secure
MarketWatch has an article looking at the fact that many Americans are one or two paychecks away from financial ruin:

A MetLife study released last week found that 50% of Americans said they have only a one-month cushion — roughly two paychecks — or less before they would be unable to fully meet their financial obligations if they were to lose their jobs. More disturbing is that 28% said they could not make ends meet for longer than two weeks without their jobs.

And it’s not just low-income earners who would find themselves financially challenged. Twenty-nine percent of those making $100,000 or more a year said they would have trouble paying the bills after more than a month of unemployment.

Meanwhile, more than four in 10 respondents told pollsters in a recent Pew Research Center study that job-related issues were the nation’s most important economic problem.

“Since October, mentions of other major economic issues have declined, as the public is increasingly focused on the job situation,” according to the Pew study.

Since July, the study noted, there was been a striking spike in the numbers of families making $100,000 or more who said it was difficult to find local jobs — 73% compared with 40% eight months ago.”

Read the above carefully. 1 in 2 Americans are 2 paychecks away from massive financial trouble. 1 in 4 would be on the financial edge after 2 weeks only. These are fully employed people.
Read the rest

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Strange stuff from Wis DOT....

A few weeks ago, one of the principals of Pabst Farms Development participated in an open forum on the progress of the development, particularly the "upscale" regional shopping mall proposed as whipped topping for the dead-in-the-water Pabst Farms Subdivision.

Daniel Warren (in addition to being one of the big dogs at Pabst Farms Development is President of the Waukesha Water Utility Commission AND President of the Waukesha School Board) was quoted twice in the Waukesha Freeman saying to the group that WisDOT had spent "five to six million dollars already" on the new diamond interchange to be added to Oconomowoc to accommodate all the shoppers and upscale residents who would soon be flocking there.

The audience included lots of skeptical Oconomowoc citizens, grown weary and cynical over empty promises and hallucinated "hopeful signs" that the upscale mall was actually going to happen. They were looking for news about who was signing up to open stores--some reality to balance the baloney about Bonwit-Teller, Lord & Taylor, Ikea (that's upscale?) pipe dreams that had been floated early in the game.

"Five to Six Million Dollars," already spent on the interchange, this was big news, considering that the project has been put on hold, delayed, assigned a low priority, and--in most observers' realistic estimation--abandoned. I called the local DOT Communications pro, located in Waukesha. Who should answer but Dennis Shook, former Waukesha Freeman scribe, cut loose from that superb daily fishwrap several years back, in one of their regular purges.

Shook is a garrulous guy (and I'm not shy). So, there was a bit of small talk We reminisced briefly about some of the Freeman glory days. Then, I asked him where Warren got his information, whether he could confirm it. Shook said that his information was that "four to six million" had already been spent on the interchange; he mentioned something about the high cost of "grubbing". We shot the breeze a bit more, then I hung up.

A few hours later I sent him this e-mail.

"I talked with you earlier this morning. And, now I have a request. Will you please do some digging and provide more precise figures than the ones you offered this morning.
"As I recall it, I asked you whether Daniel Warren, quoted twice in the Waukesha Freeman, was correct in saying that "five or six million" had already been spent on the Pabst Farms interchange. Your response was that "four to six million had already been spent.
"I'd like to be able to quote you on a precise figure. More precise numbers, broken down by category, distinguishing among dollars spent, allocated, contracted, disbursed or any other useful category that DOT uses.
Thank you in advance."
To which Shook replied:

Dear Sir: I was unaware that you were quoting me at all. As you did not identify yourself, you should not use my comments.

Dennis A. Shook
WisDOT, SE Regional Office
Regional Communications Manager
141 NW Barstow St.
Waukesha, WI 53188
(cell) 1-414-750-2395

To which I replied:
The only thing I'm interested in is the figures on what has been, to date, "spent, allocated, contracted, disbursed" on the work defined and identified as Sawyer Road/Hwy P diamond interchange upgrade.

Everything else we discussed was just small talk. Mr. Warren, one of the Pabst Farms principals, appeared to have an official source for his statements. I am interested only in getting the same information that Mr. Warren has.

I would appreciate your getting those figures for me, as I am aware it is public information and available to the public.

Jim Bouman
I let this sit for a week and a half, thinking that Shook was working on it. When nothing arrived, I called his supervisor in Madison. The supervisor lit a fire under him. Seemingly, he had persuaded himself that I didn't mean it; or, that his retroactive declaration of "Off the record" held water.

Today I got this:

Dear Mr. Bouman:
Thank you for your inquiries on the Highwa P/Interstate 94 interchange. Here are the answers I was able to collect:
*To date, WisDOT has spent $8.8 million, broken down as : $1.4 million for design, $5 million for real estate acquisition, and $2.4 million for clearing and grubbing (including the crossover).
*WisDOT does not have a final project cost because the project size has yet to be determined.
*No other funds have been spent on the project or allocated to it.
Hope this helps. Thank you.
Dennis A. Shook
At long last, it is revealed: The reason Dennis Shook got canned from the Waukesha Freeman.

In most circumstances, a pink slip from Freeman editor, Bill Yorth, could be spun as advantageous to a job-seeker: too objective, insufficiently devoted to right wing causes, inclined to analytical thinking, determined to use the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law to get the facts, literate...lotsa stuff in short supply among journalists these days.

He's Civil Service, now. He's got Marty Beil backing him up. Dennis has settled in for the long haul. He'll retire as a WisDOT bullshit artist.

Monday, March 16, 2009

...this paean to the inherent nobility of the common man

This past weekend saw the Milwaukee Symphony presenting--under the direction of departing Maestro, Andreas Delfs--three pieces, beginning with Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.

Before the music started, I enjoyed reading Roger Ruggeri's Program Notes. Long the principal bassist at the Symphony, Ruggieri has been writing--for decades--witty and knowledgeable introductions and short histories of the music, in the Encore program. He's an engaging writer, does great research and often adds a little-known fact about how the music came into being.

Here's what he wrote about Copland, the naming the Fanfare and how the date of the 1943 debut performance was chosen.

Notes by Roger Ruggeri © 2009

Aaron Copland
b. November 14, 1900; Brooklyn, NY
d. December 2, 1990; New York City
Fanfare for the Common Man

Composed in 1942 for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, this 3-minute fanfare was first performed by them and their Music Director, Eugene Goossens on March 12, 1943. Scored for four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum and tam tam, the work has been performed many times by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra...

Evoking the essential American spirit with the ringing sonority of brass and percussion, Fanfare for the Common Man was written in response to a commission for a patriotic fanfare for the opening concert of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 1942-43 season.

Copland recalled: “…The music was not terribly difficult to compose, but working slowly as was my custom, I did not have the fanfare ready to send to Goossens until November. I had some difficulty with the title. The piece has been Fanfare for the Common Man for so long that it is surprising to see on my sketches that other titles were considered: Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony, for the Day of Victory, for Our Heroes, for the Rebirth of Lidice, for the Spirit of Democracy, for the Paratroops, for Four Freedoms.…After I decided on Fanfare for the Common Man and sent the score to Goossens, I think he was rather puzzled by the title. He wrote, ‘It’s title is as original as its music, and I think it is so telling that it deserves a special occasion for its performance. If it is agreeable to you, we will premiere it 12 March[*] 1943 at income tax time.…”
In these days, when bitching about the injustice of taxation is glorified as the height of patriotism, it makes me think of my old friend, Bob Overs, whose advice on being a good citizen was simply: "Pay your taxes cheerfully and always, always vote".

* Not until 1955 was the due date of Federal Income taxes moved from the Ides of March to April 15.

Soda Bread

The teaspoon is there merely as a size reference. I found two iron skillets--8 inch and 6 inch--at an estate sale. Makes two loaves from the typical recipe-- which was sized to the heirloom 10 inch skillet.

Have never understood where midwestern folk on St. Patrick's Day come up with the notion that Corned Beef and Cabbage is Irish fare.

And green beer? Sheesh!

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Here's the recipe. Won the prize* the Irish Fest/Red Star Yeast Baking contest in 1994.

4 C. Flour
1 T. Baking Powder
1 t. Baking Soda
1 t. Salt
All sifted together

2/3 C. Sugar creamed with 2 T. Butter; with 2 small (1 large) Egg added.

1 C. Raisins, steamed with 1/4 C. water.

1 1/2 C. Buttermilk

Sugar/butter/eggs in the bottom of a big mixing bowl, dry ingredients on top of that, buttermilk and raisins added gradually as it is mixed with a big wooden spoon. Stop with the buttermilk if it is getting too wet. Turn into lightly greased pan(s). No need to knead. Top should look craggy in the pan--before and after the baking.

Bake 50 to 70 minutes at 350 degrees in pre-heated oven 'til a toothpick comes out clean.
Turn it out of the pan immediately to cool on a rack.

* First Prize was a Belleek platter, which was a beautiful and treasured piece...until they annealed the image of fookin' Paddy McFest to it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Journal Company in the tank...

Yesterday, Morningstar, was able to report on the basis of inter-day fluctuations in price, that the stock of Journal Company, (JRN)--publishers of the increasingly fetid daily Milwaukee Journal Sentinel--had shown a gain of 10%.


Then we teased out the details. After opening at just about $0.43 per share, someone bumped the price by a nickel and induced this amazing ten percent increase in valuation (not for long, though; the price then retreated to forty cents at the end of trading.

Ten percent of squat is diddly squat.

One might predict that soon Patrick McIlheran, Mabel Wong and David Haynes--right wing troika of opinion--will be looking for a rexograph or mimeo machine to put out their increasingly tone-deaf nonsense.

Friday, March 06, 2009

From the Diplomatic to the President's desk (eyes only)...


Everything under control here in Jerusalem.

Everyone who matters is happy.

Back in a few days; I have some ideas for your health care project.


This letter from the rabble in a neighborhood near the Wailing Wall was thrust rudely into my hands just as I was receiving a warm, gratitudinous smooch from Shimon Peres.

pdf click here to read the letter.

Send 'em the Bedbug Letter.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Atul Gawande for Surgeon General, Health Czar, some kind of key leadership role in the establishment of universal access to health care....

Atul Gawande, MD is a surgeon, an experienced hand in presidential policy making and program implementation, a New Yorker magazine staff writer, an utterly engaging public speaker, persuasive as all get-out, a pragmatist, on and on.

He looks like he could have got his start in Bollywood, though he's a native of Athens, Ohio.

I don't know whether he's been approached about a health administration position in the Obama government. If not, he should be, particularly since Sanjay Gupta is rumored to be backing away from a possible appointment to the position of Surgeon General.

Here's his website, starting with the biography page. Next thing to click is articles.

I recommend his most recent New Yorker article, then the ones on "Checklists" and "Piecework".

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Backwards and forward

“Politics is like driving. To go backward, put it on R. To go forward, put it on D.”

by True Majority in the Daily Kos.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

This is the week, in small towns, when farmers sit down with bankers...

Jim Kunstler at CFN asks an unsettling question about the collapse of lending and the number of farmers who will look (as they have always looked) like pretty iffy borrowers as they go to their bankers for production loans.

The net effect of the failures in banking is that a lot of people have less money than they expected they would have a year ago. This is bad enough, given our habits and practices of modern life. But what happens when farming collapses? The prospect for that is closer than most of us might realize. The way we produce our food has been organized at a scale that has ruinous consequences, not least its addiction to capital.
Now that banking is in collapse, capital will be extremely scarce. Nobody in the cities reads farm news, or listens to farm reports on the radio. Guess what, though: we are entering the planting season. It will be interesting to learn how many farmers "out there" in the Cheez Doodle belt are not able to secure loans for this year's crop.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

When I am elected president, I will...

Mr. President:

We know you are busy. And, Cuba is not at the top of your list.

Changing the Cuba Travel Ban and the Embargo are complex. Frankly, we understand that you have your eye on the collapse of the economy and winding down George Bush's wars. And Congress will be needed to change these. We'll wait.

However, with no more than a minute of your time and a signature you can fulfill the promise you made in Miami before a packed house in Little Havana. George Bush created cruel and nasty new rules that affect hundreds of thousands of Cuban families in the U.S. and Cuba. It was done in a minute with nothing more than a presidential signature. You need only undo the damage --with a presidential signature. No need to think about it; you've already made the decision and announced it. You did it over a year ago when you said:

When I am elected president, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island....
A promise is a promise....

NY Times front page typo with an extra twist...

In a story about formerly highly paid middle class and upper middle class strivers reduced to working janitorial and phone monkey jobs, the Times reporter quotes one of them on the psychological adjustment which is just as difficult as the financial one, with their sense of identity and self-worth upended.

It has been like peeling back the lawyers of a bad onion," said Ame Arlt, 53, who recently accepted a position as a customer service representative at an online insurance-leads referral service in Franklin, Tenn., after 20 years of working in executive jobs. "With every layer you peel back, you discover something else about yourself. You have to make an adjustment."
That's in the front porch edition. It got corrected early on-line.

Just a few days ago I was assembling a pot roast with the usual complement of eight whole onions. It was surprising how many of them were bad--lawyer after stinking lawyer hiding beneath the perfectly formed and unblemished outer layer.

Enough to make you cry.

The proposed Pabst Farms interchange will be a huge waste of money...

It is not needed. There is plenty of access to new development at the gateway to Oconomowoc with the existing interchanges.

Click on this Aerial photograph link. When you get there, click on "satellite view," and choose "show labels". Look for the 2 interchanges--the proposed upgrade is to the one at Sawyer (Hwy P) .

Two things to note. At costlyway speeds on 1-94, the Hwy P intersection and Summit interchange are mere seconds apart, a few feet more than a mile apart.

Moreover, Hwy P already has on- and off-ramps for traffic coming from and returning to I-94 east of Oconomowoc. Turning this into a $25 million diamond interchange is unnecessary. And anyone traveling east on 94, wanting to go to Pabst Farms, Aurora Hospital or the businesses associated with PF is already perfectly well served by the existing Summit Avenue (Hwy 67) interchange.

Anyone approaching from the west would be crazy to pass Summit in order to exit at P. The hospital doesn't show on this dated photo, but is being built now near the small lake next to Summit and just south of I 94.

There was never much to be gained from the DOT construction at Sawyer Rd in the heady days when everyone predicted success for Pabst Farms and allied developments.

And there is a lot less to be gained, now.
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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.