Monday, December 31, 2007

Hours of Service still in limbo

Today's Trucking: Court action filed against interim HOS rule

A little recap, after a 15 year process the rules that restrict the number of hours a truck driver may work in a week were significantly revised for the first time in 2003. The original rule had been written in 1937, then slightly altered in 1962. Congress had mandated that the rules be changed, had given a list of factors that the Agency should consider (the rule-making process outlasted the ICC and the FHWA and eventually became the purview of the FMCSA), but did not say exactly what the rules should be.

Under the old and the new rules drivers were restricted to working 60 hours in a 7 day period, or 70 hours in an 8 day period.
However under the new rules if you take 34 consecutive hours off your hours are "reset" and you have a fresh 60/70 to work.

Also the rules restricted the number of hours you could drive in a "day" (after 1962 the rules were no longer tied to a 24 hour day). Under the old rules you could drive for no more than 10 hours before you took an 8 hour break. You can work and drive up to 16 hours before you have to take an 8 hour break, so your "day" could be anywhere from 18 to 26 hours long. Also you could "split break" and take your sleep break in installments, extending your day. Under the new rules once you start working you have 14 hours from the start of your day until you can drive no more. Also you are allowed 11 hours of driving time in a day.

Basically it's typical sausage making. There are plusses and minuses for safety and for the carriers. The upside from a safety perspective is there is a limit on the number of hours in a day you can go before you have to get off the road and there are 2 more hours of break every night. The downside is that you can drive one more hour a day and you can, in theory work more hours in a week (theoretically you can work 88 hours in an 8 day period with the 34 hour reset). From a productivity perspective the upside is you can possibly get more miles in a day with the extra driving hour. The downside is that any time that you are sitting counts against your 14 hour clock. So if it takes 6 hours to get the truck loaded at a grocery warehouse you only have 8 hours available to drive (and that assumes no other stops or breaks). Keeping the truck moving becomes very important to maximizing revenue. Routes were rearranged, extra trucks and drivers were acquired, and everyone adapted to the new rule.

So this rule goes into effect. Several groups sue, arguing that the rule does not consider the health of the driver, one of the factors Congress had insisted be taken into account. Eventually the rule is thrown out by the courts in July 2004. The FMCSA argues that they cannot rewrite the rules in the 90 days alloted by the courts, So Congress writes a provision into a transportation bill that freezes the rules for a year allowing the agency time to redo the rules. So in 2005, the agency publishes the revised new rule, which is pretty much the same as the 2003 rule (light trucks were given an even more lenient rule and the last vestiges of "split breaking" were eliminated). They are sued again. The rule is thrown out again in 2007. They petition for a stay allowing them time to redo the rule. They get a stay (only 90 days instead of the requested year) and produce another "new" rule, which is in every way the same as the old one (only with more text justifying the rationale followed). So now they have been sued again.

You would think at some point the agency would catch on that the courts do not approve of what they are trying to do. Also, one could make the point if Congress had just written a new rule in legislation they could have gotten exactly what they wanted and we wouldn't be tied up in court. Another issue is that Congress has been steadily exempting various industries in response to lobbying. For instance, propane delivery drivers are exempt from the rules (which is kinda odd given the hazardous nature of the load). Right now we have the worst of both worlds. Congress can dodge responsibility for the rules (and loudly complain that the agency isn't doing what they want without ever specifying what exactly they want) and industries are still getting preferential treatment by lobbying.

I think that the best hope for a good rule before 2010 or so would be via legislation. The Agency has gone nowhere fast over the past 4 years and doesn't seem to have any intent other than running out the clock. Of course given the election I suspect there will not be a lot of energy left to deal with this issue. So I suppose we will wait and eventually we will have a permanent rule. Hopefully we won't be waiting another 20 years.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Guilty Pleasures

Pleasure derived from the outrage of prominent conservative pundits over the rising poll numbers of Mike Huckabee. Particularly sharp when the pundits in question are partisans of Rudy Giuliani, but extends to supporters of Mitt Romney as well. Usually experienced by evangelicals, crunchy cons, populists, and other un-airbrushed elements of the conservative coalition. Tends to coexist with an awareness that Huckabee isn't actually ready for prime time, and that his ascendancy may ultimately do their various causes more harm than good.

I admit to enjoying some Huckenfreude at the way the GOP establishment has come unhinged over Huckabee's rise. Listening to them reminds you of the liberal establishment going ape about Bush in '04 and '05 before they learned to pace themselves. Rush even took a break from popping pills and picking at his ingrown hairs to thunder forth that Mike Huckabee was liberal (which is what Rush calls anyone he doesn't like, even that guy with the Ron Paul button at Burger King that burned his triple whopper and gave him fries instead of rings). The Wall Street types were undecided whether to express alarm or contempt, so they just punted and displayed both.

The same folks who were the picture of tough minded paternalistic condescension to the Social cons when Rudy looked likely to win the thing going away "Look Paulie, I know he isn't everything you wanted, but times are tough now don'tcha see, and he's definitely better than that Hillary gal.", are now acting like they're in one of those Jim Cramer gone wild videos.

Even if I have ambiguous feelings about Huckabee I'm still enjoying seeing a man from "flyover country" make the Wall Street and Washington crowd sweat bullets.

Strange Thoughts

I was struck while listening to a Church History course podcast the parallels between the Reformation and the transformation of Judaism that occurred under Ezra. In both cases the Religion became more "book centered". In both cases there was a dislocation in the structure of the religion. In Judaism the Temple cultus was interrupted and the people of Judah found themselves in exile. In the case of the Reformation the authority of the church had been disrupted by the "Babylonian captivity" of the pope and the Great Schism.

In both cases the people has to form a new identity.

The followers of Adonai/YHWH found themselves cut off from the Temple rites and the land, the two centers of pre-exile belief. So they had to find a new way to define who they were. What did it mean to be Jewish in this strange new world. Of course eventually this new understanding (and the diaspora) would lead to many different subgroups within Judaism with very different views of the world.

The Christians of the 14th century found themselves in a similarly alien circumstance, with various popes of varying degrees of legitimacy all claiming to be the leader of the church. The pope was not yet the infallible vicar of Christ he would become in Catholic theology later on but still there was a tremendous dislocation where the people had to find a new way of thinking about what made one a real Christian. Out of this Wycliffe, Hus, and the other prereformers began to turn the Scriptures as the way to define Christianity, a change that would eventually revolutionize (and splinter) the Western church.

I don't know the moral/theological significance of the rough parallel, but I thought it was striking.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Profiles in Courage" by Mitt Romney

The Boston Globe: Fact Check: Romney's pardoning practices

Mitt Romney's new TV commercial questions the judgment of Mike Huckabee, his fellow Republican presidential contender, noting the rival issued 1,033 pardons and commutations as governor of Arkansas while Romney issued none while leading Massachusetts.

Left out of the spot is perhaps Romney's most noteworthy pardon denial: his rejection of the request of an Iraq war veteran who was trying to become a police officer after his National Guard service.

Anthony Circosta's offense? Shooting a friend in the arm with a BB gun as 13-year-old. The impact didn't break the skin.

....In 2005, while serving in Iraq, Circosta filed for a pardon, seeking to fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer. It was denied twice, despite a favorable recommendation from the state's Board of Pardons.

Circosta returned home a Bronze Star winner after leading a platoon in Iraq's deadly Sunni triangle.

Political analysts have suggested Romney crafted guidelines for issuing pardons and commutations that ensured he would never have to grant either, sparing him of any repeat of the Willie Horton case that dogged another Massachusetts governor, Democrat Michael Dukakis, during his 1988 presidential campaign. Dukakis was criticized for the weekend furlough granted to Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who went on to rape a woman and beat her boyfriend while free.

....He said the only reasons he would have issued a pardon or commutation would have been if he found evidence that proved a wrongful conviction, prosecutorial misconduct or errors in the judicial process.

Today, Romney uses the latter rationales for explaining why he would be open to considering a pardon for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former White House aide convicted of perjury in the CIA leak case.

Mitt wants to president, real bad. Avenge his father's honor and all that. So Mitt says what he has to say to become governor of Massachusetts, says what he has to say in order to run for Senate. Mitt Doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of Michael Dukakis, so he creates a brain dead procedure that will always reject any pardon petition. That way we will never question his judgment and interrupt his trek to the Death Star White House.

But now Mitt's path is blocked. Mitt angry, Mitt SMASH the Huckabee. Mitt creates ads attacking Mike Huckabee because Huck made a decision to pardon someone who committed another crime. Too bad Huck wasn't clever like Mitt.

But now it comes out that Mitt's "procedure" has spat out the result that Scooter Libby should be pardoned. Mitt is pleasantly surprised and all. But here we are wondering about his judgment again. D'oh!

Mitt thinks Scooter Libby, who has never admitted wrongdoing for his recent crime, is more worthy of a pardon than Anthony Circosta, who admitted wrongdoing for a crime committed as a child and has since distinguished himself in service to his country. Of course, Scooter probably knows folks who can do nice things for Mitt, and poor Anthony, well he doesn't. Maybe Anthony should have thought a little harder about how to serve his country

Monday, November 26, 2007

Public Service?

CNN: Lott to resign by the end of the year

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, intends to resign by the end of the year and join the private sector, sources tell CNN.

Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, is serving his fourth term in the U.S. Senate.

Lott, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, is expected to make the announcement Monday in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

A senior Republican source close to Lott said one reason for the decision is the new lobbying restrictions on former lawmakers.

A law kicks in on January 1 that forbids lawmakers from lobbying for two years after leaving office. Those who leave by the end of 2007 are covered by the previous law, which demands a wait of only one year.

Lott, the Republican whip, was elected last year to a fourth term in the Senate. His term lasts until 2012.

So the good Senator just couldn't wait till the end of his term to go be a lobbyist. So the people of Mississippi got less than a quarter of the term they voted him in for (and the replacement will be on the very bottom of the seniority ladder). Now it probably is true that they're better off without someone who would leave them high and dry like that but still....

So much for honor and public service and all that claptrap, the man's got money to make.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bloomberg: Public School Funds Hit by SIV Debts Hidden in Investment Pools

Hal Wilson smiles at the blue numbers on his desktop screen. His money is yielding 5.77 percent. For the chief financial officer of Florida's Jefferson County school board, that means the $2.7 million of taxpayer funds he's placed in the state's Local Government Investment Pool is earning more on this October day than it would get in a money market fund.

And Wilson says he knows the Florida officials who manage the funds of the 1,559-student district have invested them wisely.

``We're such a small school district,'' Wilson, 55, says. ``We don't have the time or staff for professional money management. They have lots of investment advisers. It's risk free and easy.''

It may be easy, but it's not risk free. What Wilson didn't know in October -- and what thousands of municipal finance managers like him across the country still haven't been told -- is that state-run pools have parked taxpayers' money in some of the most confusing, opaque and illiquid debt investments ever devised.

These include so-called structured investment vehicles, or SIVs, which are among the subprime mortgage debt-filled contrivances that have blown up at the biggest banks in the world......

Among the places caught up in the SIV and subprime snarls are Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Montana and King County, Washington. Public funds hold $1 billion of defaulted asset- backed commercial paper, including $273.5 million from SIVs.

Montana entrusted $465 million, or 19 percent of its $2.5 billion investment pool, to SIVs.

Nobody knows how much more pain is coming. State funds could lose hundreds of millions of dollars, says Lynn Turner, chief accountant of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from 1998 to 2001.

Wall Street peddled toxic waste to many, many bagholders. Cities and States are just some of the victims. These local governments are going to face massive losses in their investment portfolios just as they face declining tax revenues and increased expenditures in the economic slowdown. I bet it's going to play well in the Mudville Gazette: "School loses millions on subprime investments".

Wall Street is the next Detroit, they are building their legions of burned customers now. All of the institutions who purchased something toxic that their rep at the Wall Street Banks said was safe are going to remember this. Even if it cannot be proved, they will remember this as fraud. The big boys should go to Detroit and ask them what it's like to sell to a cynical customer base that does not believe what you say about the quality and safety of your products, if they listen at all.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Freedom is on the March...

CNN: Saudi court ups punishment for gang-rape victim

A court in Saudi Arabia increased the punishment for a gang-rape victim after her lawyer won an appeal of the sentence for the rapists, the lawyer told CNN.

The 19-year-old victim was sentenced last year to 90 lashes for meeting with an unrelated male, a former friend from whom she was retrieving photographs. The seven rapists, who abducted the pair and raped both, received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison.

The victim's attorney, Abdulrahman al-Lahim, contested the rapists' sentence, contending there is a fatwa, or edict under Islamic law, that considers such crimes Hiraba (sinful violent crime) and the punishment should be death.

"After a year, the preliminary court changed the punishment and made it two to nine years for the defendants," al-Lahim said of the new decision handed down Wednesday. "However, we were shocked that they also changed the victim's sentence to be six months in prison and 200 lashes."

The judges more than doubled the punishment for the victim because of "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media," according to a source quoted by Arab News, an English-language Middle Eastern daily newspaper.

Judge Saad al-Muhanna from the Qatif General Court also barred al-Lahim from defending his client and revoked his law license, al-Lahim said. The attorney has been ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Justice next month.

Good to know that the Bush administration is focused on democracy and human rights. Our good friends the Saudis have played their nasty little games while hiding behind Uncle Sam's legs.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Nation Formerly Known as America

Yahoo News: Intel official: Expect less privacy
WASHINGTON - As Congress debates new rules for government eavesdropping, a top intelligence official says it is time that people in the United States changed their definition of privacy.

Privacy no longer can mean anonymity, says Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence. Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information.

Kerr's comments come as Congress is taking a second look at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Lawmakers hastily changed the 1978 law last summer to allow the government to eavesdrop inside the United States without court permission, so long as one end of the conversation was reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S.

The original law required a court order for any surveillance conducted on U.S. soil, to protect Americans' privacy. The White House argued that the law was obstructing intelligence gathering because, as technology has changed, a growing amount of foreign communications passes through U.S.-based channels.

The most contentious issue in the new legislation is whether to shield telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for allegedly giving the government access to people's private e-mails and phone calls without a FISA court order between 2001 and 2007.

Some lawmakers, including members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appear reluctant to grant immunity. Suits might be the only way to determine how far the government has burrowed into people's privacy without court permission.

The committee is expected to decide this week whether its version of the bill will protect telecommunications companies. About 40 wiretapping suits are pending.

The central witness in a California lawsuit against AT&T says the government is vacuuming up billions of e-mails and phone calls as they pass through an AT&T switching station in San Francisco.

Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, helped connect a device in 2003 that he says diverted and copied onto a government supercomputer every call, e-mail, and Internet site access on AT&T lines.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the class-action suit, claims there are as many as 20 such sites in the U.S.

So the government now believes it has the prerogative to listen in on your phone calls, read your e-mails, and track your internet use without trifling with probable cause, much less a warrant. To top it off this is the same crowd that believes they have the right to grab you off the street and "disappear" you, possibly sending you who knows where for who knows how long, where you have no rights, and if they ever deign to let you go you have no legal recourse. I remember a titanic struggle against such a regime back in the 80s. I guess Bush decided the wrong side won.

Congress pwned by Media Giants

Ars Technica: New bill would punish colleges, students who don't become copyright cops
A massive education bill (747-page PDF) introduced into Congress contains a provision that would force colleges and universities to offer "technology-based deterrents" to file-sharing under the pain of losing all federal financial aid. Section 494 of the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 is entitled "Campus-Based Digital Theft Prevention" that could have just as easily been called "Motion Picture and Recording Industry Subsidies," as it could force schools into signing up for subscription-based services like Napster and Rhapsody.

Under the terms of the act, which is cosponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), schools will have to inform students of their official policies about copyright infringement during the financial aid application and disbursement process. In addition, students will be warned about the possible civil and criminal penalties for file-sharing as well as the steps the schools take to prevent and detect illicit P2P traffic.

That's not all: schools would have to give students an alternative to file-sharing while evaluating technological measures (i.e., traffic shaping, deep packet inspection) that they could deploy to thwart P2P traffic on campus networks. Many—if not most—schools already closely monitor traffic on their networks, with some (e.g., Ohio University) blocking it altogether, and the bill would provide grants to colleges so they could evaluate different technological solutions.

The most objectionable part of the bill is the part that could force schools into signing up for music subscription services. In order to keep that beloved federal aid money flowing, universities would have to "develop a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property."

So basically Colleges and Universities will be forced to spend valuable money guarding the Media industry's property or to cut students off from the internet to avoid losing financial aid. I thought the Credit Card issuer profit maximization act (Bankruptcy Reform) was pathetic. Every single bought and paid for Congressman should be charged with receiving bribes (maybe I'm simple minded, but when someone gives a lawmaker money and in exchange ghostwrites the laws I don't see the subtle distinction).

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Congress finally draws a Line in the Sand

They can't stop the war, they can't muster the will to get working families' kids health insurance, but when Bush vetoed pork by God that cannot stand

It makes you wonder.....

....whether all these poisonous Chinese products coming over are accidents.

CNN:Millions of toys recalled; contain 'date rape' drug

Millions of Chinese-made toys have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into a powerful date rape drug when ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

The lead paint deal I thought was just a matter of being cheap (and in part due to intricate and ever changing web of subcontractors and suppliers used by Chinese businesses which thwarts accountability). This seems like a different critter. I'm glad the kids are mostly too old to want toys this Christmas.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

That's gonna leave a mark!

McCain lays a "gotcha" line on Hillary

McCain won the night by acclamation with a brilliant attack on Hillary that not so subtly highlighted his own unique qualification for the presidency. Citing his record on controlling spending, he ridiculed Hillary's proposed $1 million earmark for a Woodstock museum. He didn't make it to Woodstock, McCain explained. He was "tied up at the time."

McCain's edge in this crowded field is that he has proven he has guts, rather than just playing a tough guy on TV like Giuliani and Thompson.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Do Social Conservatives Heart Huckabee?

Yahoo News:Evangelicals Reject Giuliani
Several thousand Christian conservative voters rebuffed an olive branch from Republican White House hopeful Rudolph Giuliani Saturday, over his support for abortion rights.

The former New York mayor tops Republican national polls in the quickening 2008 race, but was unable to win over a cross-section of a crucial party voting bloc at a huge "Values Voter" conference in Washington.

In a presidential candidate straw poll of 5,775 evangelical voters at the meeting and online, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney came out on top, narrowly ahead of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

.....The poll may also have been susceptible to stacking of online votes by campaigns -- Huckabee won 51 percent of votes of 952 people who voted in person at the conference, and Romney took only 10 percent.

Huckabee seems to have made a good impression. This is a uniquely friendly crowd no doubt. Of course the knock on him has always been that he does really well in retail politics but just can't get the organization and funding together to make a nationwide run work.

Monday, October 08, 2007

I speaka da English real good

CNN, October 8, 2007: Arrests made in Memphis football player slaying

Three men were charged Monday in the fatal campus shooting of a University of Memphis football player, authorities said.

Taylor Bradford, 21, was shot September 30 shortly before police found him fatally wounded in his car, which had crashed into a tree.

All three men were charged with murder in the perpetration of attempted aggravated robbery.

.........There will be a moment of silence at a football game at the university the night after Bradford was killed.

Gotta love those time traveling journalists.

Of course this is from the folks who conveniently put a button to adjust the text size at the top of the story in small light gray text. If you can find it you don't need it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Ricardo is Dead

Thomas Palley: Jack Welch’s Barge: The New Economics of Trade

The classical theory of comparative advantage has driven US trade policy for the past fifty years. That policy, in combination with technical innovations that have lowered costs of transportation and communication, has opened the global economy. Yet paradoxically, this opening has rendered classical trade theory obsolete. That in turn has left the US economically vulnerable because its trade policy remains stuck in the past and based on ideas that no longer hold.

The logic behind classical free trade is that all can benefit when countries specialize in producing those things in which they have comparative advantage. The necessary requirement is that the means of production (capital and technology) are internationally immobile and stuck in each country. That is what globalization has undone.

Several years ago Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, captured the new reality when he talked of ideally having “every plant you own on a barge”. The economic logic was that factories should float between countries to take advantage of lowest costs, be they due to under-valued exchange rates, low taxes, subsidies, or a surfeit of cheap labor. Globalization has made Welch’s barge a reality. However, in doing so it has made capital mobility rather than country comparative advantage the engine of trade. And with that change, “free trade” increasingly trades jobs and promotes downward wage equalization.

The U.S. and European response to Welch’s barge has been competitiveness policy that advocates measures such as increased education spending to improve skills; lower corporate tax rates; and investment and R&D incentives. The thinking is increased competitiveness can make Europe and the US more attractive to businesses.

Unfortunately, competitiveness policy is not up to the task of anchoring the barge, and it can even be counter-productive. The core problem is corporations are globally mobile. Thus, government can subsidize R&D spending, but the resulting innovations may simply end up in new offshore factories. Moreover, competitiveness policy easily degenerates into a race to the bottom. For instance, if the US cuts corporation taxes, other countries may match to stay competitive. The result is no gain for the US, while profit taxes are lowered and tax burdens shifted on to wages, which widens income inequality.

Worse yet, capital mobility prompts countries to adopt unfair policies to increase their relative business attractiveness. These policies include disregard of environmental damage; suppression of labor to keep wages low; direct subsidies; and under-valued exchange rates. All are visible in China, which is the poster-child for such abuses.

A critical consequence of Welch’s barge is the creation of a “corporation versus country” divide. Previously, when corporations were nationally based, profit maximization by business contributed to national economic success by ensuring efficient resource use. Today, corporations still maximize profits, but they do so from the standpoint of their global operations. Consequently, what is good for corporations may not be good for country.

.....The emergence of barge-like corporations has reduced the scope for effective competitiveness policy, increased the temptations for unfair policy, and created a wedge between corporate and national interests. This poses two critical policy challenges. First, there is need for rules against unfair competition, which is where exchange rate rules and labor and environment standards enter.

Second, there is need to close the wedge between corporation and country. In the U.S. that calls for such measures as ending preferential tax treatment of profits earned offshore; making it illegal for corporations to reincorporate outside the US to escape US tax laws; and new tax arrangements that encourage jobs and value creation within the US.

......These economic challenges are compounded by political difficulties. In Washington, elite policy thinking is funded and lobbied for by corporations. Consequently, corporations control trade policy at a time when corporate interests differ from the national interest. That is also increasingly true in Brussels. Fifty years ago what was good for GM may really have been good for the US. With Jack Welch’s barge, that may no longer hold.

Ricardo's point was tied to agricultural products, where different climates and terrains along with the developed skills of the workforce allowed for a "comparative advantage" in production (it being more efficient to grow grapes in Portugal and Sheep in Britain as I recall). This still holds true as far as it goes. It is much more efficient to grow grain in Ohio and Oranges in Florida and trade them than to try to grow Oranges and Wheat both places. The problem begins when we start talking about multinational corporations in the same terms as 19th century farmers. Production has become separated from Resources due to the transportation revolution which has made it possible to bring the raw materials to the worker rather than vice versa (as well as the depletion of resources near Western industrial areas). Knowledge has been abstracted from the worker with the rise of the engineer and the decline of the skilled trades worker. A multinational will use the knowledge gained by advanced research in high wage research labs to develop (perhaps in a mid wage country) the product they will produce in a low wage country. Today, a Multinational can afford to bring resources and expertise to the lowest cost worker and then transport the finished product to a high cost environment and still have a profitable arbitrage. This works spectacularly until enough high wage workers are replaced with low wage workers and the formerly high wage economy collapses.

China is a symptom, not the problem. As China suffers from inflation, manufacturers will move to other desperate low wage countries where the same phenomena will play out.

Monday, October 01, 2007

"Terrorism" has jumped the shark

The Newspaper:Chicago, Illinois Suburbs: No Mercy Speed Traps

Police in Chicago, Illinois suburbs are citing terrorism as a reason for "no mercy" speed traps where every motorist stopped by police -- other than fellow police officers -- receives a traffic citation. A Chicago Sun-Times analysis found that a total of thirty towns had a policy where more than 90 percent of drivers stopped must be ticketed.

"There's a lot of people who come in and out, and with all this terrorism and everything else that's going on, we have zero tolerance," North Chicago Police Sergeant Sal Cecala told the Sun-Times. "There's no breaks for the officers to give."

I still remember working the Christmas after 9/11 at an ecommerce distribution center. They tried to play the terrorism card there claiming the increasingly intrusive searches of employees. Of course they only searched us on the way out.....

But in the present Republican "Liberty through Tyranny" environment I'm sure Officer Cecala is on the short list for Guiliani's cabinet.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


I have heard lots of speculation about how the entrance of Fred Thompson affects the Republican primary race. The stories I have read and listened to focus on which candidate Thompson hurts. I think the interesting thing is who Thompson helps.

I think Thompson entering the race is a huge boost to Rudy Guiliani. At the moment there are several candidates all fighting to be the "true conservative" (generally defined in terms of social, fiscal, and defense policy). Guiliani can't do the normal social conservative business credibly so he has targeted his focus on economic conservatives and national security conservatives (and a social conservatism of a non-sexual sort as witnessed by his run ins with the ACLU in New York). He's done a pretty good job and probably can lock a lot of the Northeastern and Western Republicans (and quite a few "social conservatives" who are afraid of Al Quaeda attacking Peoria and/or like a "strong leader"). Meanwhile Thompson, Romney, Huckabee, and the midgets will beat each other's brains in fighting over the Southern and Midwestern voters. If the Social Conservative vote is fragmented 3-4 ways, Guiliani could win it all with a minority. Assuming McCain doesn't rise again I could easily see it happening.

The Republican party is in the middle of sorting out the lessons of the Bush administration. There is a sense thing have gone wrong and someone should be thrown under the bus. The loudest voices so far are the economic and national security conservatives bellowing that this is what happens when you let those Bible thumpers in the bus instead of under it. On the other extreme, you have Mike Huckabee and "the Party of Sam's Club" trying to find a Republican form of populism.

Once Again

the Administration has played the Congress:

TruckingInfo: U.S., Mexican Trucking Firms Cleared To Cross Border
Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution from El Paso, Texas, was given approval to operate in Mexico late Thursday night, and Transportes Olympic of Nuevo Leon, was cleared to operate in the United States.

You may recall that Congress, with great fanfare, passed a bill to stop the administration from ramming the Mexican trucks program though by erecting a series of hurdles the administration would have to clear before authorizing the program. The administration of course half-assed its way through the hurdles in less than two months and promptly rammed the the Mexican Trucks program through. I don't understand why everyone is ragging on Sen Craig given how Congress seems to always come running when the President taps his foot.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dishonesty Perturbs Me

Fortune Magazine:Trucking Cos Want Gov't to Keep Limits

U.S. trucking companies want the government to keep regulations allowing truckers to drive 11 hours in a row, rather than the previous limit of 10.

The American Trucking Associations filed a petition Friday with the federal government asking officials to issue a new version of two-year-old regulations on truckers' hours to replace regulations struck down by a court in late July.

The trucking group argued that since the court's late July ruling was focused on procedural issues rather than safety concerns, the Transportation Department should keep similar regulations in place.

The DC Appeals Court ruling (PDF) paints a different picture however:

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Public Citizen notes that the TIFA data, upon which FMCSA’s time-on-task multipliers were ultimately based, indicates that “the risk of fatal-crash involvement more than doubled from the 10th hour to the 11th.” Public Citizen Br. 48-
49 (citing 2005 RIA at 45 (J.A. 1665)). The actual time-on-task multiplier for the eleventh hour used in FMCSA’s model, however, was “only 30% higher than the . . . multiplier for the 10th hour.” Id. at 49 (citing 2005 RIA at 61 (J.A. 1681)). Public Citizen contends that the two steps FMCSA used to transform the TIFA data into the time-on-task multipliers were unexplained, and that they had the effect of improperly minimizing the crash risk associated with the 11th hour of driving.

First, as explained above, instead of using the crash risk figures for each hour of driving that the TIFA Study had calculated directly from the actual crash data, FMCSA derived a cubic curve of crash risk as a function of time on task. To derive the curve, FMCSA first plotted the TIFA figures for Hours 1 through 12, and then used an aggregate measure for Hour 13 and beyond. It did not, however, plot the 13+ figure at Hour 13, but rather at Hour 17. See 2005 RIA at 59 (J.A. 1679). As shown in the accompanying graph, the curve that fit those 13 points yielded a crash risk at Hour 11 that was substantially below the figure that the TIFA Study had calculated directly from the actual crash data.

Basically at the 11 hour mark the red dot marks the real crash risk as measured in the study, the black line marks where the agency tried to pretend the risk was. So the "procedural error" was cooking the books to understate the risks that the rule was exposing the public (inclusive of truck drivers) to. Keep in mind the scale of the jumps as well, the risks in the 11th hour doubled. By the way the same court 3 years ago "expressed “very real concerns” about the increase in the daily driving limit from 10 to 11 hours." and commented that the FMCSA's model "understated the risks of driving 11 hours." So this is not about some form that was not filed correctly, this is about a serious safety issue that the court brought to the Agency's attention the last time the rule was struck down which the Agency tried to conceal this time by a dishonest manipulation of the data. This Gonzalesesque obsfucation did not have a discernable purpose other than to justify the unjustifiable. Some of the findings in the ruling were about violated procedures but this was not just about a "procedural error"

Mortgages and the People who write about them

Calculated Risk:MMI: Staying Ignorant in Five Easy Steps

Tanta at Calculated Risk takes apart a Marketwatch fluff piece on how to get a mortgage in a credit crunch. The article and the comments give a much better picture of the realities of the mortgage market than most of the stories pulled off the evergreen pile in the MSM.

The Onion, of course, has something to contribute as well.

Friday, August 24, 2007

GM is moving forward

CNN:GM unveils diesel-like gasoline engines

General Motors revealed two drivable concept cars with new engines that burn gasoline in virtually the same way that a diesel engine burns diesel fuel.

The engines will get 15-percent better fuel economy than ordinary gasoline engines, GM estimates, but will not need the expensive exhaust treatment that diesel engines require.

Several car companies have been working on this type of engine technology, commonly known as homogeneous charge compression ignition, or HCCI. The technology promises the fuel economy of a diesel engine, which is typically much more efficient than a gasoline engine, but with the much cleaner exhaust of a gasoline engine.

It only works on a warm engine under light load right now but this looks promising to cut cruise fuel consumption for smaller engines that cannot use variable displacement. If they can extend the operating parameters farther out this could give hybrid-like boosts to fuel economy without the weight and cost of batteries.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pretty Nifty

There are some new ideas for B-Trains that look to make the combinations more maneuverable.

The Denby/Fliegl systems in Europe use a countersteering lead trailer (like a tillerman on a fire department ladder truck) to enable the combination to safely negotiate tight turns.

The HECT trackaxle (HECT stands for High Efficiency Container Transport) in Australia uses swiveling 4 axle bogies (similar to the design of "Trailer Train" railcar sets) to allow tight turns.

This playing field looks a little crooked

Land-Line: Mexican Truckers Promised Financial Help
Mexican motor carriers selected to participate in the proposed cross-border program could receive financial assistance from the Mexican government to make them more competitive.

Apparently, government financial assistance has been promised to truckers and trucking companies that participate in the cross-border program to help them carve out a competitive edge. The money would be used to develop infrastructure like loading docks, support trucks and light-service trucks – elements that would make their business operations more competitive with their U.S. counterparts, according to a translated article from the Mexican publication T21.

Tirso Martinez, president of CANACAR – a Mexican trucking association – said in the article that the funding was approved by the Mexican Secretary of Economy, but had not yet been put in place.

So, in addition to cut-rate wages, US truckers will be disadvantaged by direct subsidies to Mexican trucking firms. It's a good thing the Administration's rush to get the Mexican trucks program rammed through by January 09 is all about allowing the "free market" to work.

Mexican trucks will also not have to meet US emissions standards and can fuel up with high sulphur (ie cheap diesel) before crossing the border. The average US fleet faces over $20,000 in extra lifecycle costs per power unit due to the new emissions standards for trucks and spends and extra 5 cents a gallon for Ultra-Low Sulphur diesel (or about $5,000 over each tractor's lifespan) to keep the emissions systems working. I like clean air, but if it's important enough for American and Canadian carriers to pay for it should be important enough for Mexican carriers to pay for too.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

That Didn't Take Long

Yahoo: Investors fixate on Fed in hopes of new rate cut
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Investors are fixating on the Federal Reserve after its discount rate cut Friday, hoping the US central bank will take stronger action to ease the credit crunch roiling markets worldwide.

The Fed took markets by surprise Friday by slashing its discount rate, the interest rate charged on loans to commercial banks, by a half-percentage point to 5.75 percent.

Equity markets cheered the decision, announced before Wall Street opened: the Dow Jones industrial jumped 1.82 percent, the first time it closed higher in seven sessions. The news lifted the major European stock markets out of earlier losses.

Yet the central bank did not touch its key federal funds rate -- the overnight rate banks charge each other -- despite investor cries for relief.

Man, those Wall Street boys sure are a bunch of spoiled rich kids. The Fed steps in Friday and before the weekend is over they're bleating like stuck sheep.

Privatization and the Loss of Sovereignty

THe Nation: The NAFTA Superhighway

In my conversations with people in Texas, it seemed that the privatized nature of the road was what got folks the angriest. Bad enough that drivers would face tolls, that ranchers would have their land cut out from under them, but all for the financial gain of a foreign company?......

"What really drives this is economic," activist Terri Hall told me. "It's about the money. We're talking about obscene levels of profit, someone literally being like the robber barons of old. And this is one thing that government actually does well, build and maintain roads."

Hall is an unlikely defender of the public sphere. A conservative Republican and an evangelical Christian who home-schools her six children, she first got interested in road policy when TxDot announced plans to toll the road near her house, which runs into San Antonio. Outraged, she brought it up with her local State Rep, and when that didn't work, she began organizing. She founded the San Antonio Toll Party (like the Boston Tea Party, she notes) by pamphleting at intersections and calling friends. "It's really like the old days, during the American Revolution...just fellow citizens trying together to effect change."

.....Hall had arranged to meet me in the San Antonio exurbs, in a home design center that doubled as a cafe. Outside, a thunderstorm lashed the windows with rain. As she spoke, her newborn son propped next to her swaddled and napping, it occurred to me that she was living the twenty-first-century version of the American dream. She and her husband had moved to Texas from California in pursuit of cheap housing, open space and a place to raise their family. Their web-design business was successful; their children healthy. Why, I found myself thinking, was she so upset about a road?

[Texas Transportation commissioner] Ric Williamson must often ask himself the same thing. Just as the White House was blindsided by the opposition to the Dubai ports deal, just as NASCO was shocked to find that a simple schematic map attracted angry phone calls, just as the Commerce Department was shocked to find a simple bureaucratic dialogue the subject of outrage, so too have Perry and Williamson seemed ambushed by the zealous opposition of people like Hall.

But what people like Williamson don't seem to understand is how disempowered people feel in the face of a neoliberal order whose direction they cannot influence. For corporatists within both parties (Williamson, it should be noted, was a Democrat while in the Statehouse), selling port security or road concessions to a multinational is inevitable, logical, obvious. To thousands of average citizens in Texas and elsewhere, it's madness or, worse, treason. Both the actual TTC and the mythical NAFTA Superhighway represent a certain kind of future for America, one in which the crony capitalism of oil-rich Texas expands to fill every last crevice of the public sector's role, eclipsing the relevance of the national government as both the provider of public goods and the unified embodiment of a sovereign people.

For Williamson, this is progress; for Hall, it's an outrage and a tragedy. "We have so little control over our own government," she told me, the alienation audible in her voice, thunder punishing the air outside. "We are really the last beacon of freedom in the world--the land of the free and home of the brave--and we're letting it slip away from under our noses."

That's the Upshot of both the left and the right, whether it is the World Trade Organization or Cintra, unelected entities are being handed control by Federal and State governments unable or unwilling to do their historic jobs. Citizens expect to have a voice at the ballot box on trade policy, the building and administration of roads, and all of the other things governments do. The Democrats with their slavish devotion to multinational political organizations and neoliberal trade polices and the Republicans with their devotion to multinational corporations and privatization both are choosing to hand over more and more control to these entities, and neither sees a problem.

The job market that has gotten much nastier and much harder to predict. Service sector jobs that may have seemed safe from trade are becoming tradable. Thousands of corporate jobs disappear overnight when financial engineering runs awry. Health insurance is getting stingier and retirement is a source of anxiety, not comfort. You can work hard and a decision half a world away by someone who you've never laid eyes on can take away your benefits or send you out on the street.

Is it any wonder folks are yelling "whoa!"?

Monday, August 06, 2007

He's tanned, rested, and ready......

to run another business into the ground.

Bob Nardelli, late of Home Depot, is taking over the Top Job at Chrysler.
I feel bad for any of the employees who haven't taken a buyout yet. The Private Equity chimps deserve every bit of what they will get.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Out of Touch

Michael Barone: Our National Funk
Most strikingly, only 25 percent of Americans are positive about the direction of the nation, down from 41 percent in 2002. In only a handful of the 47 nations are there declines of similar magnitude -- Uganda, the Czech Republic, France, Canada and Italy. Obviously, one factor here is the decline in the job rating of George W. Bush and of Congress (and the response in other countries to squabbling politicians in Prague, Paris, Ottawa and Rome).

......That's my reaction as well to the finding that by a two-to-one margin Americans say their children will be worse off than we are. There's a similar response in Canada, Britain and Brazil. The even more negative verdicts in Western Europe and Japan can be explained as a cool assessment of the combination of low birthrates and overgenerous welfare states.

But what basis do Americans have to suppose that, for the first time in history, a younger generation will be worse off than their parents? Perhaps it's just a feeling that things cannot possibly get any better. In any case, we seem to be in a pronounced national funk.

We might take some comfort in some of the trends of opinion in the rest of the world. In China and India, large majorities think the next generation will be better off -- a vote of confidence in their surging economies, which are providing cheaper products for us and are growing as markets for American goods and services. In Latin America, most believe that people are better off with free markets. (The highest percentage was in Hugo Chavez's socialist Venezuela!) In Africa, most express great optimism in the future -- a sign that the world's most troubled continent may be at last turning around.

Barone seems to be blissfully unaware of who the winners and the losers are in globalization. The Chinese and Indians who are "pollable" are by and large the winners, people in the prosperous urban elite who see their prospects and their nation ascendant. American workers, are by and large the losers. Average wages are flat after inflation. The nation is bogged down in Iraq, which only adds to the looming national debt disaster. The news about trade is by and large negative (4,000 workers laid off, engineers training their replacements from Mombai while executives complain that our education system is not turning out enough qualified engineers. Mr. Barone needs to get out more, perhaps he should go back to Detroit and talk to some ordinary people about what they see and how they see the world.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hours of Service: Here We Go Again

TTnews: Court Issues Split Ruling on Drivers’ Hours of Service Rule
A federal court issued a split ruling Tuesday on the government’s rules governing truck driver hours of service, rejecting a petition by a group representing owner-operators but granting a separate request by a public safety advocate group.

.....“We are analyzing the decision issued today to understand the court’s findings as well as determine the agency’s next steps to prevent driver fatigue, ensure safe and efficient motor carrier operations and save lives,” FMCSA said. “This decision does not go into effect until Sept. 14, unless the court orders otherwise.”

The court vacated the portions of the rule that extended the maximum allowable driving time to 11 hours from the previous limit of 10, and eliminated the so-called 34-hour restart, which allows drivers to reset their maximum allowable hours in a week.

The ruling maintains the limit for drivers’ work time of 14 consecutive hours. Previously, the agency had allowed drivers to work for 15 hours per day, but had let them clock on and off duty.

Not much of a surprise. The administration seemed to be unwilling to admit "no means no" the last time the rules were thrown out as arbitrary and capricious. Perhaps they will create a rule centered on safety this time (there were some improvements from the old rule, but not enough). It's problematic when you admit you are going to kill more people with your new rule, but the value of their sacrifice will be outweighed by the cost savings for shippers. Myself I think a simple rule is better, the current system (no more than 14 hours working/11 hours driving then 10 consecutive hours off [unless you split break], 70 hours in 6 days/80 hours in 7 days [except after 34 hours off] is a mess. All that and it does not address circadian rhythm. EOBRs tied to the truck and GPS are essential to make whatever rule they impose mean something.

Of course the Supreme Court has changed since last time the rules were rejected by the DC circuit so perhaps this time they will go for broke.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Snowbirds might live longer

WSJ Economics Blog:Head Toward Heat and Live Longer
Leaving the cold Northeast states for the warmer South and West may mean a longer life.

New research on the effects of extreme temperatures found that 5,400 deaths a year are delayed by getting away from cold temperatures. The life expectancy for people whose death were delayed by moving increased by an average of 9.1 years, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Economists Olivier Deschenes at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Enrico Moretti at the University of California, Berkeley, matched data on deaths from 1972 to 1988 to weather conditions on the day of death and county of residence.

Extreme temperatures — both hot and cold — generally tends to spur a spike in deaths. That’s evident from the increased public attention from heat-related deaths, which hit elderly people especially hard. But deaths actually decline significantly in the days that follow, suggesting that the extreme heat hastened the deaths of people who were already weak and would’ve died anyway. “As a consequence, there is virtually no lasting impact of heat waves on mortality,” the researchers write.

Extreme cold weather leads to an immediate spike in deaths as well, but it isn’t offset by a decline in deaths afterward. One extremely cold day in a 30-day window increases mortality by 10%, the study found, mostly the result of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases (leading to hypothermia, pneumonia and other heart or lung problems). People in low-income areas are hit especially hard, as are infants and older adults.

Overall, cold weather accounts for 1.3% of total U.S. deaths a year, a larger impact than homicide, leukemia or chronic liver disease. The researchers note that Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago are affected the most; as many as 3.3% of their deaths could be delayed by changing exposure to cold days.

The research could help explain the increase in life expectancy over the last three decades, about a quarter of a year per calendar year. The population shift from cold states to warm states, the study found, accounts for 8% to 15% of the gains in longevity.

Who knew? Maybe the big 3 will solve their pension issues by requiring retirees to live in Michigan to get a pension....

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Good Night and Good Luck

Shakesville on the New Executive Order via Ezra Klein
Under this order, the Executive Branch can ’starve out’ a person by completely freezing their assets, without trial, without the need to present evidence, and without appeal. The Treasury Secretary has sole discretion to determine who is in violation of this order, in ‘consultation’ with the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. That last part is verbiage; Treasury has the power per this order. Even better, the Secretary of Treasury has the explicit authority to delegate this decision to any flunky or flunkies of his choice per Sec. 6. This order applies to all persons within the United States. If Treasury declares that a person is a ‘SIGNIFICANT RISK’ to commit violence in Iraq, or a ‘SIGNIFICANT RISK’ to support violence in Iraq in any way, or to have assisted in any way a person who is a ‘SIGNIFICANT RISK’ to do so, all their assets are to be immediately frozen.

It is a further violation of the order to make a donation to such a person whose assets have been frozen. (I was being literal when I said ’starve’ them. Such a person would have no legal means of acquiring food, clothing, or shelter. They couldn’t buy it with frozen assets, nor accept it as a gift, and stealing is already illegal.) [See here for the statute on which Bush relies to issue this order.]

Section 5 says that these actions will be taken by the government without any notice to the person whose assets are to be frozen. I see no procedure listed for any appeal from this action to anyone. In theory, a person could argue the matter in federal court. However, merely donating legal services to represent such a person would apparently be a violation of Sec. 1(b). The odds of an unrepresented person successfully challenging an executive order, when said order will be defended by a phalanx of Justice Department lawyers, are low.

Is that scary enough for you? When I first read it, I checked the site to make sure it wasn’t a spoof of some sort, a la the Onion. I may have missed something, but I hit the high points.

Oh, I probably don’t need to mention the obvious, but the lack of due process, lack of evidentiary requirements, and the vagueness surrounding exactly what constitutes a violation make this order a totalitarian dream. And there is no end to the ‘daisy chain’ it creates, either. If you donate money to a person whose assets were frozen because they gave money to a person who was declared to be a ‘significant risk’ to commit or support violence in Iraq, then you are subject to the order, subject to have your assets frozen, and anyone helping you thereafter gets the same treatment. This order is far in excess of the presidential orders from 20+ years ago that were circulated to make us afraid of the government. (FYI, there’ve been executive orders since at least Kennedy that declares the feds are in charge of everything in case of nuclear attack and such.)

Of course, the administration has demonstrated a) the willingness to use the levers of government for political means (see: Goodling, Monica) and b) an absolute indifference to public opinion, and, on a semi-related note, the belief that they don't have to enforce laws that inconvenience them or force them to answer uncomfortable questions

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Will 2008 be another 3 way?

Race42008:Is There a Viable Third Party Candidate?
The coming presidential election is just the sort of contest that cries out for a third-party protest candidate into whom the voters can channel their collective angst. That’s because 2008 is shaping up to be a year in which voters are disgusted with both parties, demonstrated by the equally dismal approval ratings of President Bush and the Democratic Congress. Further, of the leading presidential contenders on either side of the aisle, none has yet been able to connect with voters’ “mad as hell” sentiments towards all things Washington. Lecturing the electorate on why they shouldn’t be mad as hell isn’t going to help. Nor will pointing fingers at the other party, as Democrats are wont to do. Americans once again feel that their representatives in government have forgotten just who owns this country, and they’re out for blood. And they’re going to get it. One way or another.

Consequently, the MSM, sensing that we are once again about to see a 1968 or 1992 style electoral debacle, has been coronating one Michael Bloomberg as the latest incarnation of Ross Perot, a third-way kinda guy who will tell it like it is and spoil the election for the Republicans. Indeed, even I bought into the Bloomie schtick until recently. But I have since been disabused of that notion for several reasons. Foremost among them is the simple reality of what sort of vacuum will exist in the race for 2008.

While many readers will disagree, and some rather vehemently, I believe that the two major party nominees will almost certainly be Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. I believe this to be the case for a number of reasons, none of which need be laid out in this post. Now, in such a race, there would almost certainly be room for a third-party candidate due to the vacuum that would exist in a general election campaign. But said vacuum would most certainly NOT be filled by Michael Bloomberg. Here’s why.

In a Rudy/Hillary race, the nation is faced with two major party candidates who are a) northeastern, b) pro-choice, c) pro-Iraq, and d) who have significant appeal to centrists of various sorts. With author Fred Siegel’s recent revelation that Bloomberg isn’t particularly anti-war, and with our own Aron Goldman’s discovery that Bloomie sees his role in the race as to fill a vacuum in the center, the rationale for a Bloomberg candidacy in a Rudy/Hillary race ceases to exist. To put it another way, we already have two relatively centrist, pro-choice, pro-war New Yorkers in the race — is there really room for a third? To ask the question is to answer it.

So if not Bloomberg, then who? Many observers will look to their left and opine that Ralph Nader could once again make waves. But does anyone seriously think that liberals will allow Nader to deny them the White House yet another time? Others will look to their right for that looming third-party pro-life candidate. But third-party candidates rarely come from the poles of American politics; a pro-life candidate running an abortion-centered campaign would annoy Team Rudy, but wouldn’t take more than 2 or 3 percent of the vote. In order for a third-party candidate to truly make waves, he has to fill the Rudy/Hillary vacuum. In short, we’re looking for a pro-life foreign policy realist from Middle America who, like Americans, is mad as hell.

I'm curious if someone will appear to challenge the big 2. Third Parties have been ridiculed as irrelevant, but they were important in 1992 and 2000 (though Nader's campaign never had any prospects besides a spoiler role). The time might be right. 50% of the populace claims to be unwilling to vote for Hillary no matter what. Guiliani and Thompson both have weaknesses as campaigners and may not wear well as the 'campaign that will not end' drags on. I think a Sam's Club Party could well break out.

They Play With Dogs

CNN:Doctors remove 5 polyps from Bush's Colon
Afterward, the president played with his Scottish terriers, Barney and Miss Beazley, Stanzel said. He planned to have lunch at Camp David and have briefings with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, and planned to take a bicycle ride Saturday afternoon.

Cheney, meanwhile, spent the morning at his home on Maryland's eastern shore, reading and playing with his dogs, Stanzel said. Nothing occurred that required him to take official action as president before Bush reclaimed presidential power.

I'm not sure what is weirder: that the two most powerful men in America seem to while the day away playing with their dogs; that their P.R. folks thought this was important enough to pass on to CNN; or that CNN thought it worthy of passing on to us.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sleep tight, America, Homeland Security is on the job

Fox News: 8-Year-Old Boy Held From Plane for Appearing on No-Fly List
An 8-year-old boy expecting to catch a plane home is denied entry for appearing on a terrorist no-fly list, reported

Bryan Moore was set to catch his first plane trip when he arrived at an airport in Cortez, Colorado to fly home after visiting his sister, said the report.

"They almost got me scheduled in and then the lady just bowed her head and said, 'We can't get you on this plane, you're a terrorist,'" Moore said.

The soon-to-be third grader was red flagged as a threat to national security because his name popped up on the national watch list.

Maybe Chertoff had a gut feeling about him...

Economy Pinches Trailer Manufacturers

Today's Trucking News:Trailers parked, new trailer shipments down in '07
The sluggish U.S. economy is to blame for a slowdown in the number of trailers being shipped to North American trailer dealers, according to trailer OEMs and industry analysts.
For the first five months of this year, total shipments were down almost 12 percentage points (11.8 percent) compared to the January-to-June period of 2006. And according to industry research experts A.C.T. Research, that number will probably be more like 15 percent by the end of the year.
....According to Chris Hammond, vice-president of dealer sales for Great Dane Trailers, hardest hit have been flatbeds. He attributes that to the U.S. construction slowdown. "Refrigerated trailers have been selling well, and dry vans are somewhere in the middle," he says.

The slump in housing and autos is taking a toll on the rest of the economy. Autos probably are a victim of all of the heavy incentive deals of the past few years which persuaded folks to buy a new car a year or two before they otherwise would have. Also light trucks are no doubt being hurt by the decline in construction (hurting work pickup buyers) and the rise in gas prices (persuading some lifestyle pickup drivers to move to cars)

Also, in the truck manufacturing industry there was a massive pre-buy to avoid 2007 Emissions standards, resulting in huge plunge 2007 model year truck sales. Trucking companies did not want to pay $7000 more for a truck that weighs more and has more things to break. Here we are also paying for the sins of the EPA in moving the 2004 mandate up 2 years (via a lawsuit against the engine makers for merely meeting the rules). The resulting engines and trucks were half baked, causing higher prices, losses in fuel economy and many, many breakdowns. Eventually (around the original launch date) the manufacturers got all the issues sorted out. This convinced most people that the hot ticket was to buy the year before and let someone else deal with all of the hassles of owning the latest EPA experiment.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Soldiers are not policemen

The Nation:The Other War

The Occupation of Iraq has only lead to grief. Any foreign army facing an insurgency is going to do all sorts of things that increase the support for the insurgents. I remember when Republicans spoke disdainfully about Nation-building.

Same old song, next verse

Jame Wolcott riffs on Fred Thompson's video "appearance" at the National Right to Life conference (sort of a remix of the 1984 talking head with Father knows best):
I'm sorry I couldn't be with you in person, but all my good shirts are at the dry cleaner's.

That's the thing, the pro-life movement has accepted second class treatment from Republican Presidential Candidates and Presidents far too long. If they don't want to be seen with "our kind" why should we give votes to "their kind"?

Monday, July 09, 2007

If only it was a dilemma for business

Thomas Palley: The Profit vs.Country dilemma
Free market societies need separation between market and government, intermediated by constitutional democracy. In the 20th century many countries suffered from excessive government control over market activities, and they paid a heavy price. In the 21st century America risks paying a heavy price from the reverse problem of allowing excessive corporate influence over government.

This is a huge danger, yet it is off the political radar. One reason is that business funds both Republicans and Democrats, thereby silencing both. A second reason is that much of the public believes businessmen are smart and can run government well - after all they are rich. Put the two together, and it is easy to see why business executives move seamlessly from Wall Street and corporate boardrooms to top government policy offices on Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues.

We're coming around to the idea that what's good for corporate America is not always what's good for America when it comes to environmental policy, I wonder how long it will take this awareness to extend to trade policy?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Ice Road Truckers

Caught the first 4 episodes tonight. Is it just me or is Hugh a bit of a whiner? He's always badmouthing his employees. If he really think his folks are all lazy and stupid then maybe he should go find somebody else to drive his clapped out trucks rather than gossiping like an old woman. It's not like there is a shortage of folks with HGV licenses in Canada.

Hollywood is out of Ideas

Superman Returns, Die Hard 4, Rocky whatever the hell number it is they are up to, and now Alvin and the Chipmunks

I wonder how long it's going to take for them to exhaust remotely viable old series (serieses?) to cannibalize for Movie ideas, my prediction for the next decade is they'll move to classic commercials for movie ideas, first up: Where's the Beef?: The Movie

A Wedged Bear in a Great Tightness

Stumbled on an interesting discussion between two historians about the future of US involvement in Iraq
Sally Marks: Whither Iraq?
A few people, including Senator Joseph Biden and General Anthony Zinni, worry that if we leave and Iraq explodes, the whole Middle East will explode as well. If that happens, we shall be immensely lucky if the only serious consequences for us are skyrocketing oil prices, leaving us nostalgic for the days when gas was only $3.50 a gallon and we could afford to heat our homes, and a global recession or depression. But we might not be so lucky, and our government–or another player--might commit a new blunder in Iraq, Iran, or elsewhere–which brings us to the worst case of all, nuclear war.

Of the nuclear powers, Russia alone is an oil exporter. However, though it no longer borders on Gulf states, it still considers the Persian Gulf part of its Near Abroad, meaning its backyard which it regards much as
the United States has long viewed the Caribbean. Of the others, China is extremely oil thirsty and a power to be taken seriously as it emulates American development of a century ago and quietly penetrates much of Africa economically while buying up our debt and financial firms. India is thirsty, too. Pakistan, to the east of Afghanistan, is Sunni, an oil importer with a precarious pro-American president and an army and intelligence leadership inclined toward Islamic fundamentalism. It and
India, both nuclear states, are perpetually on the brink of war over Kashmir. In the Middle East itself is Israel, nuclear and a likely monkey wrench in possible solutions. Then there is Europe, including two nuclear states (Britain and France) plus Germany, and the United States, as well as non-nuclear Japan. Historians famously do not predict, but it
is obvious that the scramble for oil or other unstable factors and perhaps blunders in the Middle East and related areas could create a crisis leading to a global explosion. Clearly, the time for oratory about victory or defeat is past. Concentration now should be on limiting the disaster and doing our utmost to ensure it does not turn into utter

Among the imponderables is the problem of Al Qaeda, which gained entry into Iraq during the chaos after our conquest and has since spread, becoming brutally inventive. We pursue it, but our main focus is on Baghdad, where progress is slow and the Iraqi army’s ability to hold what US forces gain is questionable. Along with other insurgencies, we must deal with Al Qaeda, though rhetoric about “If we don’t fight them there, we’ll have to fight them here” is nonsense. Al Qaeda will attempt further atrocities here, whatever we do in Iraq. Beyond pursuing it (preferably with the aid of tribal sheiks) and trying to train a reliable Iraqi army and police, if that is possible, we must restore the Gulf balance of power in order to keep the peace. For a year, I have queasily wondered whether we would end up with our troops in several heavily fortified bastions watching Iraqis slaughter each other. That is now being discussed. In any event, it seems unlikely that any American president will seriously consider full withdrawal in the next five or six years at least, given all the potential consequences.

David Kaiser: Options in Iraq
I certainly agree that the United States government has brought an almost unprecedented catastrophe upon us, similar in some ways to the Austro-Hungarian decision to attack Serbia without sufficient diplomatic preparation in 1914, although nowhere near as serious, since Iraq is not on our doorstep and since nations no longer field armies in the millions. However, it is possible--actually, I think, probable--that what we have done (which cannot in any case be undone) is to accelerate something that was already happening: the rise of Islamic fundamentalist movements and the eclipse of the regimes that have ruled much of the region in cooperation with western powers since the 1950s. This has been happening for a long time. Iran, of course, overthrew its American client ruler in 1979. Earlier, Iraq had become an anti-western, totalitarian state, albeit one that could play a role in maintaining a balance of power in the region (as she points out), and one which, alas, allowed most of its people to live normal and even productive lives while nurturing an active middle class--things which Iraqis (except in Kurdistan) are now unlikely to know for decades. Pro-western regimes have been losing ground in Egypt since Sadat's assassination, and the Saudi kingdom is in many ways not pro-western at all. Pakistan is heading down the same road. Meanwhile, Hamas and Hezbollah are gaining.

The issue we face is whether keeping troops in Iraq, as Prof. Marks wants to do, will help arrest this trend. I think it is far, far more likely to accelerate it. Western occupation is a terrifically effective target for Islamist movements. To put it bluntly, it proves (to millions of Arabs) that we are just as bad as they say we are. What we have in the non-Kurdish areas is our own version of the West Bank, but without settlers. There is no reason to believe that we shall be any more successful than the Israelis have been in securing popular Arab support for our presence or even in dealing with opposition. (Our intelligence is never going to be anywhere near as good as theirs.)

Iraq, she says, is fragile, but indispensable. Well, so was the Austro-Hungarian empire, as it turns out, but it died anyway. As Peter Galbraith has pointed out, Iraq for the moment is the only survivor of four multi-ethnic states created after the First World War, the others being Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union. There really is no evidence now that any major group in Iraq wants a truly united, pluralistic Iraq (although the Sunnis would like to return to the days that they ruled the roost and some Shi'ites would like to dominate the Sunnis.) I don't see any reason for the United States not to encourage a de facto partition, under some "autonomy" scheme, combined with some peaceful population transfers, before all the transfers are accomplished through mass violence.

The problem of course is getting loose without triggering the worst case scenario is going to be fiendishly difficult, akin to removing all of the cards of a Suit from a house of cards without collapsing the whole thing. Turkey's army is poised at the border, itching to take the war to the Kurds. Iran and Saudi are both involved in proxy war. Once we head for the door will will have no friends inside Iraq (or perhaps rather everyone will be honest about their friendship or lack thereof with the US). We are in a horrible predicament, one that is going to become more clear, and more dire, with the passage of time. Coupled with that, if the new president cannot get free, the domestic political dynamic is going to get even uglier.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Everyone is a temp now

Chicago Tribune: Layoff fears part of 'new normal' via Mish

Unemployment is lower for better-educated workers than for other workers, in good times as well as bad, federal data show. But college-educated workers lose jobs more often now than they did 20 years ago.

"It appears that there has been an upsurge in job-loss rates for more-educated workers in the early and mid-1990s and again in the new century," writes a leading job-loss researcher, Princeton University's Henry S. Farber. "Job-loss rates for other educational groups show a cyclical pattern but no upward trend."

Income loss is greater too. The average earnings decline including lost raises was 21 percent for workers forced to find new full-time jobs between 2001 and 2003, four times the mid-1990s rate, Farber found.

Ray Ercoli heads a career ministry at Barrington's Willow Creek Community Church. He added volunteers and services in 2001 to help unemployed high-tech workers, but people kept coming after the economy recovered.

"The need we see now are older workers losing their jobs after being employed 15 to 20 years, usually at one company," he says. Some have that "deer-in-the-headlights look. They're not sure they're going to be able to land another job."

The article is pretty disturbing. Frequent unexpected Job loss has been the scourge of the working class for years, now everyone seems to part of this story. Businesses are becoming less and less inhibited about purging older workers and engaging in continual churn to keep wages low. This is happening while more and more of the risks in health care and retirement are being fobbed off on workers.

Congress is led by its wallet

Jim Jubak:Congress Follows the Money on Energy
The names may change in Congress. Democrats may replace Republicans in the majority. But when it comes to energy legislation, the same rule always applies: Money talks.

So is it any surprise that agribusiness, a sector that gave $44.6 billion to Democratic and Republican candidates in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, came out the big winner in the energy bill passed by the Senate on June 21? The oil-and-gas industry, which gave $19.1 billion as part of a natural-resources sector that gave $46.4 billion, didn't do too badly, either.

Never mind that Food prices are going through the roof thanks to the current Ethanol boondoggle and Energy Companies that are earning record profits somehow need tax breaks to stay in business (poor little rich boys, why they're regular Richie Riches)

Update: See also Mark Shea: What I mean by "Incestuous Political Class"

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A voice from the past

Claremont Review of Books: Sins of the Fathers (discussing Joseph Frank's analysis of Fyodor Dostoevsky's political thought)
Dostoevsky is a political thinker. It is one of the many merits of Frank's biography that he sees clearly that politics is a leading theme—in a sense, the dominant theme—of Dostoevsky's writings. Dostoevsky's deepest concern is the question of authority, who rules, and who should rule. Tentatively, we may say that his answer is that these four fathers should rule unconditionally and absolutely: God the Father; second, the fathers of God's church, such as Father Zossima; third, the Tsar, the father of his people; and fourth, the biological father, Karamazov.

.....Frank sees clearly that the novel equates the murder of Fyodor Karamazov and Ivan's revolt against God. Frank believes that this equation is a weakness in Dostoevsky's plot, and that it is not quite plausible, given the fundamental goodness of God's creation. But Frank fails to notice that the key to Dostoevsky's case for authority is that it is made in the teeth of what his own characters, and perhaps Dostoevsky himself, see as a serious question about God's justice. Anticipating Frank's analysis, and stating it more forcefully, Czeslaw Milosz observed (in his excellent essay "Dostoevsky and Western Intellectuals") that The Brothers is, at its heart, a meditation on the Russian intelligentsia's act of abolishing simultaneously the authority of God, the Tsar, and the paterfamilias.

Smerdyakov, the actual murderer, the illegitimate brother whose passions and countenance are altogether ugly, simply presents the true face of the intellectual Ivan, who is outwardly cultured, suave, and good-looking. Ivan is horrified as he discerns his own character with growing clarity. By the end of the novel, he goes insane. The crude and smirking Smerdyakov, consumed by hate, is the genuine expression of the liberal intelligentsia's revolt against the authority of the biological father, the father Tsar, the fathers of the Church, and God the Father. In this paternal foursome, the death of the authority of God the Father is the key to the deaths of the other three. For God the Father legitimizes all authority, according to Dostoevsky. When God's government is thrown into question, all government—that of the family, church, and state—is similarly upset.

In The Devils, Dostoevsky shows us the political future of Russia without the fatherhood of God and Tsar. In that novel, we see through the microcosm of a small provincial town what will happen when the leftist intellectuals take over in the name of socialism and communism. They are ruthless, they kill without a thought, they are willing to commit mass murder to realize their dreams. Their souls are at the farthest remove from the equality they preach. They are hateful tyrants.

It's an interesting way to tie together the threads of "tolerance" and the profound lack of tolerance manifested by its liberal proponents" . Of course Dostoevsky's remedy, absolute submission to paternal authority is flawed as well, which he acknowledges. It is also a little disconcerting that his belief in "submission" to the pater is eerily reminiscent of Islam (which from the other side is not that odd as both have a pre-Reformation philosophy).

Today we are threatened by the spawn of Benthamite liberalism in both the left's disdain for moral authority in personal morality and expression and the right's disdain for it in business and the limits to governmental power (at least when they hold Leviathan's reins). But going back to classical thought is not a clear path to safety. Dostoevsky may not know the way home but he at least knows how we wound up where we are.

Well at least he was driving a Prius

CNN:Gore's son free on bail, facing drug charges
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Former Vice President Al Gore's son is getting treatment following his arrest on suspicion of drug possession on Wednesday in Los Angeles, according to a Gore spokesman.

Marijuana and prescription drugs were found in the car Al Gore III was driving, police said.

Al Gore III, 24, was arrested in Los Angeles early Wednesday after he was stopped for speeding, according to a sheriff's department spokesman.

......According to Amormino, Gore was driving south about 2:15 a.m. in his Toyota Prius, going 100 mph on the San Diego Freeway, when authorities stopped him.

Just the juxtaposition of a Prius and 100MPH amused me. Perhaps that's symptomatic of the suburban "soft environmentalist" movement, using hybrids and other "green" technologies to do rather "ungreen" things. "Wow, with my new hybrid Lexus I can do my 80 mile commute without paying near so much for gas", etc.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Now, THAT'S a "MaxxForce" engine!

BigLorryBlog:It's what Biglorryblog has been saying all along--MAN's vee-eight BIG banger has got the power 680hp of it!
It's big it's's been predicted by Biglorryblog for ages and now it's finally here. Or it will be in time for the RAI Show. Yes the long-awaited V8 'Big banger' from MAN (which is also used by the crane maker Liebherr) has finally broke cover with 680hp and 3,000 throbby newton meters of torque on tap. Thus the MAN V8 'leapfrogs' the Volvo FH16 660 by a 'massive' become 'the most powerful series truck in Europe'.

Now, International has a worthy big brother to those 11 and 13 liter motors they're buying from MAN. Be a nice way to displace some of those CATs from under the hood of the 9900i's they flog as a premium truck (premium in our context means the basic design hasn't changed in 20 years). I only wonder if they have the guts to do it. By the way those MAN cabovers sure would make a nice 9800 series.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

High Fuel Prices Pinching Schools

Bartlesville, OK Examiner-Enterprise: Rising Fuel Costs Affect School Districts
Rising fuel costs in recent years have affected local school districts as hopes for increased funding — to pay for these rising costs — are met with meager operational funding increases for this next school year.

Local school administrators compare the amounts their districts spent on fuel in 2003 to the amounts spent today.

In 2003, the Bartlesville Public Schools district paid $55,745 for diesel and $15,306 for gasoline. So far this year, the district had spent a total of $158,266 on fuel — $106,980 for diesel and $51,286 for gasoline.

The increase is probably enough to pay for a teacher's salary and benefits. That's a big chunk to lose from a small school district's budget. The hard thing is there isn't that much that realistically can be done with the vehicles to boost fuel economy. The low number of miles a small city bus will run makes the per mile cost of hybridization impractical. Given School Bus safety standards weight cutting opportunities are very limited. I could see using automated manual transmissions or well trained drivers and manual transmissions in place of the normal Allison automatic but there are problems there as well (unfamiliar tech and a shrinking pool of people willing to use a manual). School busses are usually specced with a pretty small motor so there isn't much to cut there.

There isn't much in the way of alt-fuels tech that's ready to roll. Tulsa used to use Compressed Natural Gas for their busses but given high and volatile Natural Gas prices in the last few years that's not a winner. I suppose an ethanol fueled gasser might almost make sense for low mileage runs in states that subsidize E85. It wouldn't do better from an MPG stance but you'd probably save $10K in initial costs, come out about even on maintenance, and be buying a bit cheaper fuel (of course that depends on the state continuing to subsidize it).

There are other tweaks around driver behavior (no idling, doing pretrips, progressive shifting, and planning ahead) but those are probably marginal changes (less than 5%).

The real meat of the issue is going to come to either raising taxes (for districts that control their own funding),cutting funds from somewhere else in the budget, or reducing service.

The China Effect

Jeffrey Saut: Curves
As for China, we have long-stated that China will continue to favor the U.S. until they no longer need us. To wit, China is importing technology from us that would have taken them years to develop on their own. China also has a vested interest in keeping the U.S. consumer alive and spending. Still, our sense is that once China has sucked this country dry of its proprietary technologies, the recycling of its tradable-goods dollars will wane.

at least American businesses are not alone:
World Trucks Blog: Volvo CNHTC Deal Set to Dissolve
Trebles all round in Gothenburg we assume. The Volvo-CNHTC JV has been a dog. In fact, it’s been rather embarrassing to watch the Swedish leg get lifted higher and higher. As one-way deals go, it’s been textbook. Last year, a magnificent 200 vehicles were moved, and we assume that CNHTC has higher hopes for its own Howo product – which bears a striking resemblance to Volvo’s own vehicles. Farcical.

So Volvo stands to lose up to SEK 500 / £36.6 / €55.32 / $72.04 million on the deal. We say it’s lucky to get out with a pair of shoes still on its feet – this was an ill-conceived, badly executed nonsense, and the shareholders should be celebrating on the one hand, whilst beating AB Volvo's management into a bloody pulp with the other. Should make for a good session tomorrow (Friday) when AB Volvo reports its 2006 numbers.

Now we wait to see what lessons have been learned as the DongFeng deal gets inked. Let us observe - and merely as an aside - that when supping with the Devil, the use of a long spoon is appropriate.

So our industries are busy sowing the seeds of their own destruction. Of course given how the corporate chieftain class thinks one quarter ahead at most that's not surprising.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Why Democrats will falter after 2008

Adbusters: The American Left's Silly Victim Complex

David Sirota, author of Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government – and How We Can Take it Back, is a guy who frequently appears on television news programs defending the “left” in TV’s typical Crossfire-style left-right rock-‘em-sock-‘em format. Like a lot of people who make their living in this world, he’s sometimes frustrated with the lack of discipline and purpose in American liberalism. And like Sanders, he worries that there is a wide chasm between the people who speak for the left and sponsor left-leaning political organizations, and the actual people they supposedly represent.

“Perhaps what the real issue is that the left is not really a grassroots movement,” he says. “You have this donor/elite class, and then you have the public . . . You have these zillionaires who are supposedly funding the progressive movement. At some point that gets to be a problem.”

Sanders agrees, saying that “where the money comes from” is definitely one of the reasons that the so-called liberals in Washington – i.e. the Democrats – tend not to get too heavily into financial issues that affect ordinary people. This basically regressive electoral formula has been a staple of the Democratic Party ever since the Walter Mondale fiasco in the mid-eighties prompted a few shrewd Washington insiders to create the notorious “pro-business” political formula of the Democratic Leadership Council, which sought to end the party’s dependence upon labor money by announcing a new willingness to sell out on financial issues in exchange for support from Wall Street. Once the DLC’s financial strategy helped get Bill Clinton elected, no one in Washington ever again bothered to question the wisdom of the political compromises it required.

Within a decade, the process was automatic – Citibank gives money to Tom Daschle, Tom Daschle crafts the hideous Bankruptcy Bill, and suddenly the Midwestern union member who was laid off in the wake of Democrat-passed NAFTA can’t even declare bankruptcy to get out from the credit card debt he incurred in his unemployment. He will now probably suck eggs for the rest of his life, paying off credit card debt year after year at a snail’s pace while working as a non-union butcher in a Wal-Mart in Butte. Royally screwed twice by the Democratic Party he voted for, he will almost certainly decide to vote Republican the first time he opens up the door to find four pimply college students wearing I READ BANNED BOOKS t-shirts taking up a collection to agitate for dolphin-safe tuna.

But money and campaign contributions aren’t the only reason “liberal“ politicians screw their voters.

“It’s also a cultural thing,” Sanders says. “A lot of these folks really don’t have a lot of contact with working-class people. They’re not comfortable with working-class people. They’re more comfortable with environmentalists, with well-educated people. And it’s their issues that matter to them.”

The problem the Democrats have is they do not have an agenda that reaches beyond their base beyond ending the war.

Healthcare reform will be constrained by the Industry donors. What can be accomplished without turning off the money spigot is unlikely to be something to build a new deal size coalition out of.

Environmental issues are popular until the cost of a lot of these issues are made public. For the Berkeley crowd, killing the domestic auto industry as collateral damage is really not a bad thing at all. That fact will not be lost on UAW members and other victims of the Greening of America,

Gay Marriage is fading as an issue. Once you pass it, there really isn't too much left to do.

Abortion, also known as the issue that dare not speak its name, is a tar baby pols on both sides dance around.

Democrats could do a lot of good, they have to build a broader coalition. That means engaging with the real issues working Americans are facing, not just "feeling their pain." Then there is the issue of corporate cash and the corrosive effect on the Democratic soul. One pro-oligarch party is enough, thank you very much.