Monday, March 9, 2009

Senate vote today on massive pork bill

TODAY the Senate is voting on yet another massive spending bill --
the $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill that contains more
than 2,900 pages!

Worse yet, the bill is laden with 8,500 pork-filled earmarks totaling
more than $7.7 billion including:

--$1.8 million for pig odor and manure management

--$200,000 for a "tattoo-removal violence-outreach
program" in Los Angeles

--$1.9 million for a water taxi service in Connecticut
(this is actually being called the taxi to nowhere)

--$473,000 for National Council of La Raza (which has
supported radical Mexican nationalism within our borders)

--$951,500 for "Sustainable Las Vegas"

--$300,000 for the Montana World Trade Center

--$238,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Honolulu, Hawaii.

--$280,000 for alternative uses for tobacco

--$400,000 to combat bullying in Montana

--$2 million "for the promotion of astronomy" in Hawaii

Just as bad, the bill does not require competitive bids -- which will
lead to corruption and insider deals for our tax dollars! Well-connected
friends of members of Congress and the lobbyists will get the contracts
without even having to compete for them!

President Obama who once pledged to go line-by-line to remove
wasteful spending, now says it s too late to purge the pork from
the spending bill. Well, he is wrong!

The Senate did not have the votes to pass the bill last Thursday and now
some Democrats are saying they will oppose this pork-laden version of the
Omnibus Spending bill...

The first key vote is expected this evening -- with other crucial
votes expected as soon as Tuesday.

One thing is for certain--the vote will be very close!


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Daylight saving time does not save energy.

For some of us, it’s that time of the year again when we ask “when does daylight saving time end?” even when it has just started. It’s probably the only disliked idea that came from Benjamin Franklin, who thought of Daylight Saving Time (DST) or Summer Time originally. Dislike might even be a weak word for it since Google searches has smatterings of “abolish daylight saving time” and “demonstrations against daylight saving time.” Demonstrations… .

One of the rationale used for implementing DST is energy conservation. We are supposed to save energy from being less inside our homes and therefore using less appliances and consuming less electricity. Daylight Saving Time had some backing from a U.S. Department of Transportation research done in the ’70s that cited a small but significant (1%) savings in energy consumption… if all goes well.

Problem is, not all researches point that way. I need those here in the Hoosier State to pay attention...especially "My Man Mitch" and that fine group of spendthrifts in the Indiana Legislature.

In Indiana, U.S.A., the government expected a $7 million saving in energy usage when they switched all counties to DST last 2005. However. over a course of 3 years, scientists studied energy consumption in the state and found that Indiana actually spent 48.6 million more due to DST (Source: Of course, the bill came with the accompanying increase in emissions.

A report by the California Energy Commission, which can be downloaded here, also concluded that there is only a minuscule amount in energy savings when the state switched to DST.

By the way, DST in the U.S. starts on the second Sunday of March. That’s March 8 for 2009, today people, and March 14 in 2010. It ends on the first Sunday of November.

What do you think? Does DST really lessen the individual homeowner’s electric bills?

Some fire protection associations and government agencies suggest that we change the batteries on smoke detectors when we change our clock’s time to DST. To make sure we save electricity, why not change our remaining incandescent lamps to CFLs as well?

Time Marches On:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A lie about E85

I've got a '95 Chrysler Concorde, 3.5L 6 Cylinder 214 hp, that I have been running a 50/50 mix in off and on for the last year with no issues.

I started out adding a gallon of E85 more at each fill up till I hit the 50/50 mix. Only thing I've done is change the fuel filter, but even that was in regular maintenance schedule. System is running cooler according to the gages and mileage dropped 2 mpg on the highway but it went up 2-3 MPG in town. My average overall stayed aprox the same and I love the added oomph when I hit the "gas" to pass.

Why am I telling you all this? Because of what happened at my last fill up and a question I was asked by the station attendant at the local ststion where I buy my E85.

Keep in mind that I have been buying E85 at this station for nearly a year or better with no problem. I did my normal “fill”, (half a tank) at the regular pumps then pulled over to the E85 pump to put in the other half. The pump wouldn’t come on…flipped and pulled the levers on the pump and still wouldn’t pump. A tinny voice comes over the speaker telling me I can’t use that pump and could I please come into the station.

When I got in there the attendant asked if I knew it was illegal to put E85 in a non flex-fuel vehicle? She said the EPA are the ones that "enforce" this rule and that she had been told to not let people to mix E85 with the unleaded.

I asked to speak with the manager and asked to see documented proof. I also made it VERY clear that I would loudly discuss this till I was able to fill my tank. Finally I proceeded to let them know that it's not true. There are stories of the oil companies spreading this story to discourage people from using E85. Also that some gas attendants believe this and won't let patrons put E85 into non flex-fuel vehicles. This is all just a dirty trick by the oil companies.

People will believe the lie probably based on the days when it was illegal to put leaded fuel into cars made for unleaded fuel because one tank of leaded fuel will ruin a catalytic converter. E85 will not ruin any vehicle made in the last 25 years.

If this ever happens to you ask for documentation!

I'll bet a dollar to a doughnut they have none. That'll stop their Fear Mongering in its tracks. If we are being asked to accept Fear of Reprisal without documentation, why can't we accept Personal Freedom and Self-Responsibility without documentation? (Ignoring, of course, the US Constitution, as does our Gov't.)

David Blume discussed this during his most recent Coast To Coast AM interview ("C2C" last month). I can only relate what David said, and cannot supply documentation of my own. Naturally I'll toss in my own 2-cents along the way -- most likely more than once! hehehe....

The short answer is, yes, it is B.S. And I don't mean a Bachelor of Science degree! heheh....

Basically so many people started using alcohol fuel following Blume's original C2C interview (around June 2008) that usage of ethanol shot way up, and the Big Oil companies got scared. So they sent out a letter to all their gasoline stations saying unspecified 'bad things' may happen, from destruction of vehicles, to station owners maybe being sued over some unspecified reason.

Scare tactics in other words. It appears to be a counter-punch thrown by Big Oil to scare people away from using ethanol. Then followed by $50/barrel oil again, but maybe that is only a coincidence, and oil is *not* a manipulated market.

In any event, this is why I caution people to only do ethanol on a cash basis. No debt at all. This way you can survive the artificially lowered fuel prices when that is used as a weapon against ethanol producers. If you do a news search I think you'll find a number of ethanol plants (biodiesel too) are in financial trouble, and will remain so long as oil is low in price. Once they are mostly out of business prices will go up again.

So work in your (detached) garage, talk to farmers, and if you want to go big but don't have the cash, form a co-op with others who think as do you. But do *not* go into debt: "the borrower is slave to the lender." And debt = large risk. We are going to have enough troubles getting American to run on ethanol. Having ethanol production plants go belly-up due to large debt isn't going to help any of us.

Anyway, enough of that rant....

Consider this... Most gasoline vehicles on the road today can take 10% ethanol all day long, year after year. This was a design requirement because the car manufacturers cannot know where their vehicles will end up, and some places (many in fact) require 10% and more ethanol to be blended into their gasoline. (Now Missouri, for example, will mandate this only when ethanol costs less than gasoline, so relative prices do enter into this subject.) Some states are talking about making this as high as 20% ethanol.

So "damage" to vehicles is BS. They are in fact designed *not* to be damaged by ethanol. Older cars can run on ethanol too. Very old fuel pumps --like from the 1970's, old-- may have problems with their seals. But late model parts seem to be just fine. This goes back to 1985, anything made after than should be perfectly fine with regard to negative effects from using ethanol.

David Blume's "big black book" ("Alcohol Can Be A Gas") has a lot of information on these topics. You may also look at his web site of the same name. He may have some of the supporting documentation there. I would hope so anyway.

Now, bare in mind that Big Oil *may* attempt to have laws like that passed. Our gov't --like all gov't's-- are bought and paid for, and you and I don't have nearly enough money to buy them! So it may become illegal in the future. But I sincerely doubt it is today. Also bare in mind, "regulations" are not laws. Large gov't organizations may do whatever they want at any time. *IF* at a later date a judge rules against them things may change, but little people are ground up under the wheels of Big Gov't in the meantime. This is part of the reason our Founding Fathers warned so direly against a strong central gov't.

Vote with this in mind, and with every dollar you spend, cast your economic vote too. This may yet change for the better, but it is going to be an uphill battle. Do what you can to spend your money locally and help support your local economy. Do what you can to stop sending money overseas or to Big Business or Big Gov't. None of these are the friend of the Little Guy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Are You Middle Class?

If you live in the United States, you probably think that your household wages land you squarely in the category most of us call "middle class." Most people in the U.S. tend to identify themselves this way, even when their incomes are greatly above or greatly below the median level.

For example, if you watch the news, you know that households that make over $100,000 consider themselves middle class and say so, often while fretting about how much they will have to pay in taxes in the course of the coming years. In fact, during the last presidential campaign, some people were very upset that Barack Obama wanted to rescind the Bush tax cuts for households earning over $250,000. They argued that in America today, $250,000 is a solidly middle class income, and that making people who earn this much go back to paying more in taxes was a direct attack on the middle class.

According to data collected by the U.S Census Bureau in 2005, only 15% of the households in the United States earn over $100,000 and only 1.5% of the households in the U.S. earn over $250,000. By any mathematical standard, the top 1.5% of a group of wage-earners cannot be considered to be in the "middle" of any kind of income chart. And yet when asked to self-indentify, most of these folks will call themselves "middle class."

So will most people who make the dead center median household income of $44,389. That figure--$44,389--is the halfway mark, the number at which exactly 50% of the households fall short and 50% exceed the mark. A household earning $44,389, depending on deductions available to them, the number of dependent they can claim, and so forth, will take home around $600-$650 each week.

Usually this household amount is split between two working halves of a married couple, but not always. The median annual income for a man In the U.S. currently is just over $45K and for a woman it is just over $33K. Since most married couples do both work, this means that in many households one member works part-time, or both members make far less than the median. Half of the households in the United States live on less than $45,000 per year.

Almost a third of the households in the U.S. (28.22%) make less than $25,000 each year. That's $25,000 to support the entire household, including dependent children, and even that low annual income doesn't put those households at the official government poverty level. A person making $25,000 per year takes home (depending on available deductions) between $325 and $365 each week.

Why am I bringing this up right now?

It isn't to heap guilt upon people making over $100,000 or over $250,000. If you make that much in your household, that's great. It's better than great. Enjoy every dollar and don't beat yourself up, I'm sure you earned it.

However, if your household earns over $100,000 or over $250,000 and you persist in identifying your situation as "middle class" and like it when others identify you in that way, please do understand that taking such a stance badly skews the economic realities most working people in this country face day in and day out. People who watch a lot of television think that the kind of life that can be purchased with a $100K income is normal and average.

It isn't. Not even close.

No wonder we are in trouble with money in the U.S.

For years American "consumers" have been pushed to achieve a lifestyle that most of us don't come close to making enough money to afford. My feeling is that this is a real and serious problem, and one that just is not being talked about very much, if ever.

An Affordable House?

A friend of mine got into an unpleasant exchange with a realtor over a column they wrote for a blog. It was a sarcastic and they should have known it would draw fire but they were irritated, and one way to deal with irritation is to write what's on my mind.

Anyway, this realtor was explaining that he was still able to put "single moms who make $32K or $33K into $100,000 homes for only about $850 a month" and that his ability to do this was thanks to tax breaks provided by the federal government that help him get houses sold in this troubled market. He also said my friend was stupid, which, admittedly, sometimes they can be. I'll give him that. But that's really beside the point. The point is, that woman can't afford that house.

On the surface, it all sounds fine. Nothing weird or out of line here at all. A rule of thumb in the industry has it that you can take about three times your annual income as a guide for how much to spend on a house. Another way to put it, one you might have heard lately on TV, is that you should shoot for no more than a 31% debt to income ratio.

But the thing is, there is no way in hell most single moms making that amount of money can afford a house with a $850 monthly mortgage payment.

Why not?

OK, let's think this through.

An annual salary of $33,000 will give our imaginary single mom a weekly take home check of between $460 and $500 depending on her deductions, or a monthly take home income of a little over $2,000. Right off the bat, it takes almost two full paychecks to make the mortgage payment. So now we're down to just under $1200 to actually live on for the month.

That's less than $1200 for everything else that isn't a mortgage payment: food, gas, doctor bills (remember those recurrent ear infections kids get when they are under 4?), day care expenses, clothing, utilities, car payment, public school tuition (which in the U.S. is where poor people go but we still have to pay), entertainment, and incidentals.

Let's take a look at a typical budget for our new homeowner Mom:

Food and grocery items--$100 per week (this is a VERY modest food budget for a household with kids) or $430 per month. Utilities (gas, water, electric, trash)--$350 per month (again, I'm guess-timating on the low side--some areas of the country will cost much more), deduction for health insurance shared with employer--$60 per check or $260 per month, gasoline at $25 per fill up (obviously we can't count in it staying that low) with one fill up per week = $130 per month...

You know, we're already up to $1170 in monthly expenses, even estimating on the low side, and I haven't let anybody go to the movies, subscribe to cable television, get sick (even with insurance, it is very easy to rack up $500 or more in medical bills in a single weekend with a sick kid), pay for a cell phone, pay school tuition, or fix the car. Or, for that matter, buy the car. Already we don't have enough money here to support a family, even a small family, in our modest $100,000 home that the bank says this gainfully employed single mom can totally afford.

No problem! Once she has a house, someone will issue her a couple of credit cards, and she can proceed to go deeply into debt like almost all other American families who think they are middle class but don't have incomes adequate to their actual basic needs and expenses.

The banks will skim even more money in interest off of her already grossly inadequate income to cover the risk of unsecured lending, and eventually she will probably default or file for bankruptcy, hopefully not until the kids are raised and have had enough to eat and gotten their ears fixed.

Now Let's Visit That Auto Worker

Auto workers are greedy bastards, aren't they? I’m taking my life in my hands with this one here in the Kokomo, Indiana area but bear with me and kindly put the torches and pitchforks away till I finish.

Luckily, even members of the infamous UAW now start their working lives at about $14 an hour, which is roughly the same as the starting wage at most Toyota or Honda plants. UAW workers still cost GM, Chrysler, and Ford more money than Honda and Toyota workers do, because the American auto industry has been paying for health care and retirement benefits for over 100 years, and the Japanese makers have not. Our government is the only government in the developed free world that makes private industry and private individuals shoulder these costs.

$14 an hour comes to about $29,120 per year. If our auto worker works forty hours each week, he'll make less than our hypothetical single mom who is already rationing diapers. (Stop pooping! Stop!) If he gets some overtime, he'll make a bit more, and if he stays at the plant and builds seniority he'll see pay increases after five or ten or twenty years--or least there was a time in history when this was true. If on the other hand he's laid off frequently--which he definitely will be at first--he'll make a lot less than that for years.

In order to afford any kind of house at all, our auto worker is going to need a wife, and she's going to need to work full-time. How we do know that? We know that because we just discovered that our $33,000 a year single Mom doesn't make enough to float a household if she buys a home that is less expensive than the median U.S. housing price. (As of the fourth quarter of 2008, the median price of an already-existing home in the U.S was $197,100--down from $217,000 in 2005, the year in which our income data was taken).

Now if more than half the people in the U.S make under $50,000 for an entire household, and the median housing price is still $197,000, what does that tell you about the affordability of housing and the level of wages in the U.S. today?

Either people don't make enough money, or homes are overvalued, or both.

I personally think it's both, but that is fodder for another blog.

I just thought it would be interesting to lay all this out so that the next time someone pops off about how "Americans spend too much money," you might have some numbers you could throw at them instead of cuss words.

The fact is, while some people will always spend too much money on foolish things, most American wage earners today do not make enough money right now to cover shelter, food, and transportation. Or, they make enough to just cover all those basics but only if nothing ever goes wrong.

That single Mom making $33,000 a year, what she did was, bought a house for under $40,000. The payment was a bit more than a week's take home pay and the house was small and in a marginal area. It was still very, very hard. It's even harder today, even though her kids are grown and she has a partner now. Everything costs much more than it did even five years ago, and the cost of something going wrong is now staggering. A single visit to the emergency room can result in a five figure bill from the hospital alone if you have no insurance. Even with insurance you can pay thousands.

I think most Americans work hard and want to make a better life for themselves and their children, but the odds are stacked against them right now. In the area of Indiana where I live, if you make $10 an hour, people will say, "That's pretty good." Ten dollars an hour is $20,800 a year if you work 40 hours a week. That's about $330 a week.

One bedroom apartments here start at $725 per month.

I'm not trying to bring you all down, I'm just trying to inject a little reality into a really insane situation. We can all have our ideologies and opinions. There's nothing wrong with that.

But at a certain point you have just come out and to say the obvious:

Money talks, bullshit walks.

What we've got here is an enormous pile of bullshit…and no money. Good thing we've got some shovel ready projects. As the saying goes, “if you can handle a shovel, you'll always have a job.”

But not necessarily a house.

This Old House:

Blueridge Cabin Home: