Friday, September 29, 2006

Come Up With a Plan, Dammit!

I'm sick and tired of Democrats whining about the "failed policy" in Iraq. Here's an idea ... come up with something better. The other day, NPR or PRI had an interview with some looney leftist member of the House of Reps, who used the usual cliches to complain about our failures. Her plan? One, withdraw troops from Iraq to the neighboring countries (which ones exactly would allow us to deploy there) Two, disarm the militia (ok, first it's a little hard to disarm the militia when you just left the country, and you really think the US army hasn't tried to do that?) And three, start a political dialogue (blah blah ... we have been doing that!)

In a nutshell, most Democrats don't have a plan. There are a few sensible ones out there, but if the leftist wing of the party siezes control like they did in Connecticut, then it will be the demise of the party, and possibly our democratic system!

I'm Ashamed of Hollywood

So one more Hollywood celebrity talks about being ashamed for his country - this time, the nutjob in question is Oliver Stone. Well, Oliver, too bad you're so ashamed. Maybe you should swap citizenship with one of those hungry immigrants who survives the tortures of the desert, risking death, drinking his own urine to stay hydrated, getting poked in the face trying to get water from a cactus, all so that he can move to this shameful country.

I mean, what do you mean we have to lose a few of our liberties? I mean, these are too precious for us intellectuals ... so what if a few average Joes die in terrorist attacks. Ideals count for more than lives! As Oliver notes, we should fight like the British or the Spanish ... slowly, allowing a ton of people to die in the process. We'll call them martyrs ... hey, we could make a few movies about it. I mean, you can't really make a movie about whipping some Taliban ass in Afghanistan ... that just doesnt sell. But a few more 9/11s ... we can do with. Movies about heroism inspire a nation, right? So what if some poor SOBs die in the process ...

Oh yeah, and there's always a cabal that's taken over the government. Don't you people read your literature? They are hand in glove with the "terrorists". It's all a grand big plot to take over our lives.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Watch Out for CapOne!

These days, surviving the financial world we live in seems to require a fair bit of due diligence! I learnt this the hard way when I discovered that Capital One reports your highest ever balance rather than your credit limit to credit bureaus, thereby potentially denting your credit score. (source)

Let me back up for a second and explain how credit scores work. One of the big factors that affect your FICO score is your debt utilization rate. What that means is that if you have a balance of $1,000 on a card with a $5,000 credit limit, your debt utilization is 20% (1,000/5,000 * 100). You want that rate to be as low as possible for each of your cards - any time that rate goes up over 50%, your credit score gets dinged! That's why it's better to have your balance split between 5 cards than on one card, all things being equal.

What Capitol One does is to report your highest ever balance rather than your credit limit. So if you currently have $50 on your card, and this is the first month you've ever charged on this card, a credit bureau will think I've maxed out my card, even if my credit limit is $100,000 (ok, it isn't, but you get the idea!) WHAM! So, I will have to pay off the Capital One card, which I was lured to get by a 0% introductory APR, defeating the purpose of getting the card in the first place. BOO to Capital One!

One more thing - if you do pay off on a card, DO NOT close the account; this will end up hurting your score, because your overall debt utilization just went up!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lift 'Em Weights

A new study in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (July 2006) shows that lifting weights can help to prevent and to treat diabetes (source). In the study, adolescent boys who implemented a twice-weekly weight training program for only 4 months built muscle, lost fat and decreased insulin resistance, dramatically reducing their risk of diabetes. So if you've been a couch potato, or even if you are one of those people who runs miles but never lifts, now is the time to pick up those weights. Studies have consistenly shown that there is no better way to lose weight than to lift weight!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Viva Wal-Mart

As a grad student, I live on a pretty tight budget. Heaven knows what I would have done without Wal-Mart and Sam's Club (although recently the prices and choices at Kroger has me wondering if I should renew my Sam's Club membership). So it obviously annoys me when constituents like me are ignored by rich anti-Walmart liberals who love to bash the chain and all capitalism stands for. Enter George Will to the rescue, with a passionate piece that puts numbers behind some of my arguments...

Will notes that more than 25,000 people applied for the 325 openings for the Walmart at Evergreen Park, IL - a far cry from the cries of poverty level wages! In fact, Wal-mart hires 1.3 million employees, making it the largest private employer and with as many personnel as the US military. Saves shoppers $200 billion a year! Oh, I could go on, but just read the article for yourself... and say viva Wal-Mart!!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Lie of Diminishing Wages

The other day, I was listening to the McLaughlin Group on PBS, and Eleanor Clift of Newsweek (not exactly my favorite journo!) made a claim that workers are getting screwed, and after adjusting for inflation, the average worker earns less than what he/she did in 1973. I immediately thought this was a stunning claim that, if true, would have me question the merits of the capitalist society we live in.

Time allows a more rational analysis. First, why 1973? It seems an arbitrary starting point. Any time anyone makes a claim relative to a murky baseline, be suspicious ... be very suspicious. So I used the Bureau of Labor Statistics web site to probe the data and produce the graphs used in this post. (All data is for the duration that earnings data is available)was dramatic

The first graph is a plot of the average weekly earnings in 1982$ (that is correcting for inflation). Now it becomes obvious why Clift uses 1973, it was the year of peak weekly earnings. Ok, but isn't her point true that the average worker makes less than he/she did in 1973? Well, yes it's true, but not because corporations have been screwing John and Jane Doe.

This second chart presents the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers (CPI-U). As you can see, inflation (rate of change of the CPI-U) soared in the 1970s, thanks in large part due to oil prices and stagflation, until about 1983, after which the inflation rate has been relatively stable. The real wages of workers reflects that fact - tumbling in the years following 1973, and stabilizing after 1983 (yes, there have been ups and downs related to economic climate, but that's natural).

Critics of static wages use another subterfuge. They use a sleight-of-hand analogy to imply that the stagnant average weekly wages of a population imply stagnant wages for an individual worker. That is simply not true - people at the high end of the wage cycle retire, and are replaced by young men and women at the bottom of the cycle. The performance of average wages then is quite demographics of the population, and heaven knows Americans aren't having babies like there's no tomorrow. Then, in an ageing population, we should see real wages decline, and that we don't is a reflection of how the fruits of economic prosperity are translating into real wage improvements for the average worker!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Respect the People

The decision of a British television network, More4 to show a movie about the assasination of President George Bush, including using doctored photos of his likeness, is shameful! The director's claims that the intentions are simply to present a gripping story cut no ice - this could just as easily have been achieved using a fictional character, like scores of others have done.

This is part of a worrying trend. Google failure, and the first hit you get is the bio of the President (the fact that Google hasn't fixed the problem is appalling!) You've heard liberals refer to Bush as the dictator and the autocrat, sometimes stretching it to the ridiculous. But whether you like him or not, you do need to respect his office and how he got there. As a lady from (I think) the United Press International berated Eleanor Clift (probably in the ranks of reporters I hate the most) of Newsweek for equating Bush with Putin and his thugs, President Bush was elected by a majority of the American people. Irrespective of his current popularity, we need to respect his office and all it represents ... the fact that the American people have chosen their leader, that they have a real choice (yes, if you are an independent, it's tough, but not impossible for you to win, and nobody breaks your bones for trying).

In their quest to bash Bush, many liberals are unwittingly taking stabs on the very foundation of the idea of America. If we lose our respect for our ideals, then we would have inflicted a much more calamitous blow to free society than Osama bin Laden or his cronies could ever have hoped.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Interview with Warren

Wow, it has been over 3 weeks since I blogged! My life has been crazy busy recently, but I do hope to getting back to being somewhat frequent with this blog.

I read this article with Elizabeth Warren, author of the fascinating book The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke.While I have read part of her book and now the central thesis, this fact still stunned me:
The data show that more than half of the families who file for bankruptcy do so in the aftermath of a serious medical problem. And three quarters of those people have health insurance at the onset of the illness or accident that ultimately landed them in bankruptcy. Sometimes it's hospital bills, but more often, it's about co-pay, deductibles, uncovered treatments, drugs, rehab, supplies, all the things that aren't covered by insurance. So part of the answer is that the financial impact of a serious medical problem goes beyond hospital bills. Lost jobs, drugs, physicians, rehab, health supplies. It's expensive to get sick in America today—too expensive for the average family.