Thursday, April 19, 2012

Memories and Pain

DoG but this has been a rough few days. Last Friday (Yeah, Friday the 13th.) I looked up and there were two Tampa cops at my door. Now, I live in Ruskin, FL along the shores of the mighty Little Manatee River which is about 30 miles south of Tampa so they were just a bit out of their jurisdiction. They told me I needed to call the Manchester, NH police department then the sergeant said, "There really is not a good way to say this, your sister has died."

Let the nightmare commence.

I called the number I was given. The person I spoke with took my number and passed it on to the policeman at the scene who called me back. We talked for a bit though he did not have much information at the time then he passed the phone to Cissy's friend Kathie who had started the chain of actions that found her. Kathie told me what she had done and why and identified the people she had called. Fortunately, most of the names were familiar to me as I had met many of the people over the years at her annual Kentucky Derby Party. She was friends with many New Hampshire police and fire fighters through her years of reporting for the Union-Leader and I knew that they would treat with respect.

Once I finished the call, I was obviously in a bit of shock trying to figure out what to do next. I found my brother's number and called him. I found the numbers of a couple of cousins and called them to start the notification process of all the many cousins on both sides of the family. At this point you don't think, you just do something to avoid thinking for as long as you can. After I had started the notification chain, I decided to post an announcement on Facebook to the world of Cissy's death. This is one of the wonders of social media as it allowed me to get information out quickly to her friends all over the country. It was heartening to see the almost immediate outpouring of grief from her friends although all were as shocked at the news as I had been.

I got to Manchester on Monday afternoon. Cissy's friends who had found her on Friday had come back on Saturday to clean up a bit and at my request had searched her papers for her will, which they found and left for me. Her rescue greyhound Bebe was being cared for by a neighbor. Bebe had been with Cissy for over 4 days with no food but was otherwise alright.

People had checked and Cissy's last Facebook post had been on Easter Sunday night. She had spent the early part of the day with a friend and his family and this friend had been one of the first in the house to find her. He came over after I got to Manchester and described what he had seen. He had found her at the bottom of the stairs, face down, with her head turned. The one thing I latched on to was when he said there was very little blood. Like many people, I have watched far too many police procedural shows on TV so little blood means that maybe the heart was not beating for long to pump out the blood.

An autopsy was conducted on Monday and I spoke with the Medical Examiner on Tuesday evening. The results are still pending toxicology reports but the perversely good news is she apparently had a heart attack/arrhythmia and was probably dead before she hit the floor from her fall. I know that the one fear that I had (and many others as well) was that she had been aware after the fall and lingered for some period of time but the ME stated that even if someone had been standing right there at the time of the fall Cissy's survival odds were low single digits. Maybe if there had been a defibrilator available but even that would have been sketchy.

My guess is that at least a contributing factor was her breast cancer chemotherapy. A quick check of der Google shows a lot of related articles connecting the two.

Cissy has been a constant in my life as far back as I can remember. We fought as brothers and sisters do when we were younger but soon enough, she became my protector. When my brother set his mattress on fire with a cigarette when I was 10 or 11, she gave me her bed that night and wound up sleeping in a chair in the sun room where Mom found her the next morning (Mom had slept through all the commotion.) I was actually home sick as it turned out I had strep throat.

The first time I got drunk and came home and got sick, she brought me aspirin and water to help me avoid the hangover. That was on a Friday night. When I got up Saturday morning, everyone was gone so I cleaned up and went downtown. I ran into my mother coming out of the grocery store and she asked me how I felt and I said I was fine since Cissy had given me the aspirin the night before. Mom's reply? "Damn Cissy. I wanted you to have a hangover as a lesson"

I have spent my life marveling at the force of nature that was Cissy. Her passion for reporting. She knew from about the age of 10 that she wanted to write and be a reporter and she did so. Her compassion and empathy allowed her to reach out to everyone. She was "Auntie Cissy" to the children of friends and family. If there was a holiday and she was not going out of town for family, she would have an "Orphans Holiday Dinner" for all of her friends who were away from their families. She loved to go camping in northern New Hampshire with her friends. This blog post from her friend Kathie describes a scene from one of those camping trips

She embraced adventure. The husband of a friend got a university fellowship to the University of Arusha in Tanzania so she took an African trip including a photo safari in the Serenghetti, capped off by a stay in London at a "Miss Marple" style hotel. She spent a few weeks one year covering a New Hampshire trade delegation to Poland and the Czech Republic.

Over her career she covered politicians as well as crime and fire stories. She preferred the crime and fire because even though the stories were often heartrending, it was "cleaner" than politics. Yet she did enjoy politics as well.

These past few days, I find myself looking around her condo wondering what in the hell I am going to do. I catch myself making mental notes to ask her something then realize I will never be able to ask her about anything ever again.

I love you Cissy. R.I.P.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Recovery? What recovery?

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This morning (Sunday, April 8) I was at the laundromat here in beautiful downtown Ruskin, FL and picked up a copy of the local, Tampa area Jobs Finder free newspaper. I'm sure most all of you have seen these free papers for your local area.

As I skimmed this paper, it reinforced for me that there is no economic recovery, at least not in this part of Florida. When I picked the paper up, I noticed it was awfully skinny so I counted pages. Eight whole pages. With large ads covering each page so I counted up all the ads. Thirty-nine ads for 8 pages. Then I looked even closer. Two ads were for the paper itself. Another two ads were for "start your own cleaning company" services. Then I counted nineteen ads for various types of training programs. Not for jobs. For for-profit training programs that might, maybe, if you can afford it and complete it, maybe get you a minimum wage job if you can survive to complete the six month to a year plus training program being offered.

No ads for local delivery drivers. No handyman type ads. No manual labor/construction service ads. No help wanted for local businesses and restaurants. No ads for jobs for any of the thousands of job types one usually sees in these types of free newspapers.

Now granted, this is obviously anecdotal but I would wager that in a lot of parts of the country, this is the current norm. It isn't much better with the ads on Craigslist or Monster or other online job search services. One of the metrics I use to check for job market improvements is the number of job ads from body shop/consulting services/head hunter agencies versus the number of ads from employers directly. My WAG is that the former ads are running nearly 10 to 1 over the latter. Businesses that are hiring directly are still able to be extremely picky about who they interview and hire.

But I guess we are not to worry. Everything must be getting better since the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits and Politicians seem to be in full pearl clutching mode after DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz went on CNN this morning and accused the Republicans of rooting for the economy to fail. Oh the horror of it all. Too bad that it seems to be beneficial to both parties to have the economy in doldrums. They all seem to forget that the 25M to 30M long term un and underemployed are each and every one, living, breathing, feeling human beings and not just statistics on the page full of numbers

And because I can:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Economists try to explain why they were wrong on March jobs forecasts

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Once again, the economic community is scrambling to find the reasons why they were suprised by the March 2012 jobs report. The monthly report from ADP had private sector jobs at 209K increase for March 2012 which apparently led many economists to predict a similar number for the official report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that was released on Friday.

Oops. Wrong again.

We have been seeing stories such as this from today's NY Times about the "strong" jobs growth from earlier this year:

Although signs pointed to a strengthening economy earlier this year, the jobs report on Friday came with a message: don’t get ahead of yourself.

The country’s employers added a disappointing 120,000 jobs in March, about half the net gains posted in each of the preceding three months. The unemployment rate, which comes from a separate survey of households rather than employers, slipped to 8.2 percent, from 8.3 percent, as a smaller portion of the population looked for work.
120K jobs is not much more than is necessary to maintain the status quo of population growth (90K is the figure Dean Baker uses) and even 200K, while growing, does not appreciably put a dent in the long term un and underemployment rates. When there are 13M to 14M unemployed and 25M to 30M un and underemployed, 200K jobs is just not going to help all that much.

Surprisingly to me, the Benbernank may have been more realistic than many others (via Bloomberg.) Of course, the article goes on to quote Fed regional presidents as saying that the numbers, no matter how soft, probably won't cause the Fed to actually, you know, do something to ease the un and underemployment problem. No matter that a primary part of the stated Federal Reserve Mission statement is to pursue "maximum" employment.

It does appear that the consensus being reported is to blame the warm weather from January and February for the lighter number for March. Here's Dean Baker's take:
The slower job growth shown in the establishment survey in March likely reflected the fact that good weather pulled forward a lot of hiring so that workers who might typically have been hired in March instead found jobs in January and February. This is most obviously the case in construction, which showed a loss of 7,000 jobs after showing an average gain of 13,000 in the prior three months. Weather may also explain the decline of 14,200 jobs in employment services (the broader temp category) after the sector added an average of 45,600 jobs the prior three months.
The Washington Post presented this perspective this way:
Economists say the mild winter has artificially inflated job growth. February alone stole as many as 72,000 positions from March and future months, according to Macroeconomic Advisers.

Translation: The surge in hiring early in the year may not be as strong as it appeared.
The Post then goes on to "explain" things in an attempt to cushion the problem:
Typically, these bumps in demand are evened out through a process called seasonal adjustment. That allows researchers to compare one month’s economic activity with the next for a more accurate picture of the nation’s health. But this year’s weather was so abnormal that those models fell short, and economists are now scrambling to figure out how much of the growth over the past three months was simply due to a glitch in their systems.
Ah, just a "glitch in the system!" The Post ends their reporting with the rose-colored glasses firmly in place:
Typically, these bumps in demand are evened out through a process called seasonal adjustment. That allows researchers to compare one month’s economic activity with the next for a more accurate picture of the nation’s health. But this year’s weather was so abnormal that those models fell short, and economists are now scrambling to figure out how much of the growth over the past three months was simply due to a glitch in their systems.

...snip...

And despite the hand-wringing over the weather, economists seem to agree that the fundamentals of the recovery are solid. Bob Baur, global chief economist for Principal Global Investors, said he believes that the second half of the year will pick up steam as state and local governments enjoy rebounds in tax revenue and layoffs slow down.
MSNBC is showing the pretty face of the jobs picture in a similar fashion as the Post with it all just being "quirks" in the data.

The NY Times did have a report on what they termed "permabears," i.e., those economists who are skeptical of the strength of the US and global economies.

I'm on an email list from Monster.com and received one a couple of days ago on "Industry News." It included a link to an article on "Five High-Paying, Low-Stress Jobs":
1. Optometrist
2. Materials Scientist
3. Economist
4. Aeronautical Engineer
5. User Experience Designer
Since Economists seem to personify the old cliche, "Often wrong but never in doubt" it is no surprise at all that they are both highly paid and low stress. They suffer no repercussions for being wrong. Unlike the 25M to 30M long term un and underemployed who have to listen to their tap dances.

And because I can:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Just how bad must wages and benefits be for most people?

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In my post from a couple of days ago, I linked to and quoted from this from Yahoo quoting former Labor Secretary Robert Reich:

In addition, while the economy has been expanding for nearly three years and hiring is picking up, Reich notes, "we also see some major declines in terms of median wage. And that's particularly true for the bottom 90 percent."

In the past, economists argued that wage growth lagged in part because employers were spending more on benefits like health care and pensions. But that hasn't been the case in the past few years. A recently released study from the National Institute for Health Care Reform shows that in 2010, the percentage of Americans with insurance who got insurance from employers fell to 53.5 percent, down sharply from 63.6 percent in 2007. "At the top of the talent chain, employers are providing very generous health insurance, deferred compensation, and everything you can imagine," notes Reich. "But as you go down the job ladder, particularly to people who are doing routine jobs, they're getting less and less. There has been a substantial erosion of health care benefits for the bottom 90 percent.
As I surfed the various news sites this morning though, I did find a couple of articles pointing out that some groups are still seeing their salaries and benefits go up, so all is not lost.

In the "No CEOs Left Behind" category, we have this article from today's (April 4) USA Today, "CEO pay soars while workers' pay stalls":
At a time most employees can barely remember their last substantial raise, median CEO pay jumped 27% in 2010 as the executives’ compensation started working its way back to prerecession levels, a USA TODAY analysis of data from GovernanceMetrics International found. Workers in private industry, meanwhile, saw their compensation grow just 2.1% in the 12 months ended December 2010, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Two years of scaling back amid tough economic times proved temporary as three-quarters of CEOs got raises in 2010 — and, in many cases, the increases were substantial.
This blog post from Reuters written by a corporate board member points out a few of the problems with executive pay:
There are several factors at play as the remunerations committee and the board as a whole try to weave together pay packages.

Compensation consultants.
...snip...
Personal feelings.
...snip...
A disconnect from today’s reality.
...snip...
A lack of direct accountability.
I especially like that third point. A disconnect from today's reality indeed. And speaking of disconnects from today's reality, we have this from Bloomberg today on rising Wall Street salaries for most:
Most Wall Street (S5FINL) employees got higher salaries in 2011, with the biggest bumps going to those at boutique banks and alternative asset managers, according to a survey by eFinancialCareers.com.

The online survey of 2,860 financial professionals found that 54 percent received salary increases -- excluding bonus -- and 40 percent reported no change from 2010, according to an e- mailed description of the survey’s findings. Workers at so- called bulge-bracket banks got an average increase of 3 percent, compared with a 14 percent gain for people at boutique banks and a 13 percent raise for those at fund managers.

When year-end bonuses were included, average pay last year fell for workers at companies including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM)’s investment bank amid declining revenue. As year-end bonuses dropped, some banks raised base salaries that in past years contributed just a fraction of pay for senior employees.
But no matter what happens, we can be assured that Jamie Dimon will find something to whine about. Why just this morning, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission has fined JPMorgan the astronomical sum of $20M to settle charges related to the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS! (/Dr Evil voice) Why based on JPMorgan's reported profit from 2011 of $19B, that's a whopping .1%. By my rough math, that is less than a half day's worth of profits.

And because I can:

Monday, April 2, 2012

How does an interconnected global economy avoid a global recession?

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As I was surfing through various news sites this morning (April 2), I noticed a number of articles discussing problems with the European and US economies which lead directly to the question I have posed in the title of this post:

How does an interconnected global economy avoid a global recession?
Unfortunately, I do not know the answer but if I had to guess, it would be to say "It can't."

The first article I noticed was from tha AP via Yahoo titled, "Euro unemployment spikes to record 10.8 percent." Reuters reported it as "Euro zone unemployment reaches near 15 year high":
Unemployment in the euro zone reached its highest level in almost 15 years in February, with more than 17 million people out of work, and economists said they expected job office queues to grow even longer later this year.

Joblessness in the 17-nation currency zone rose to 10.8 percent - in line with a Reuters poll of economists - and 0.1 points worse than in January, Eurostat said on Monday.

Economists are divided over the wisdom of European governments' drive to bring down fiscal deficits so aggressively as economic troubles hit tax revenues, consumers' spending power and business confidence which collapsed late last year.

As a companion to these was this blog post from Reuters on youth unemployment across Europe:
In Spain the number of under 24-year-olds out of work is 50 percent, in Italy nearly a third of young people are without a job and in France the figure is a quarter.

However, in Germany youth unemployment is expected to sink to record lows over the coming months and is currently well below 8 percent.

...snip...

So what is Germany doing right and can Spain learn a few lessons? In an article written for the Centre for European Reform, John Springford lays the problem out clearly. In EU countries where rates of unemployment are high levels of participation in higher education and vocational studies is approximately 40 percent. In Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland, where youth unemployment is fairly low, rates are closer to 60 percent in some cases.
But it is not just high unemployment in general and among the young in particular that is problematic. Today's NY Times had this article on the swelling ranks of the working poor in Europe:
Europe’s long-running euro crisis may be cooling. But the economic distress it has left in its wake is pushing a rising tide of workers into precarious straits in France and across the European Union. Today, hundreds of thousands of people are living in campgrounds, vehicles and cheap hotel rooms. Millions more are sharing space with relatives, unable to afford the basic costs of living.

These people are the extreme edge of Europe’s working poor: a growing slice of the population that is slipping through Europe’s long-vaunted social safety net. Many, particularly the young, are trapped in low-paying or temporary jobs that are replacing permanent ones destroyed in Europe’s economic downturn.

Now, economists, European officials and social watchdog groups are warning that the situation is set to worsen. As European governments respond to the crisis by pushing for deep spending cuts to close budget gaps and greater flexibility in their work forces, “the population of working poor will explode,” said Jean-Paul Fitoussi, an economics professor at L’Institut d’√Čtudes Politiques in Paris.
Meanwhile in the US, there was this post from Yahoo:
In addition, while the economy has been expanding for nearly three years and hiring is picking up, Reich notes, "we also see some major declines in terms of median wage. And that's particularly true for the bottom 90 percent."

In the past, economists argued that wage growth lagged in part because employers were spending more on benefits like health care and pensions. But that hasn't been the case in the past few years. A recently released study from the National Institute for Health Care Reform shows that in 2010, the percentage of Americans with insurance who got insurance from employers fell to 53.5 percent, down sharply from 63.6 percent in 2007. "At the top of the talent chain, employers are providing very generous health insurance, deferred compensation, and everything you can imagine," notes Reich. "But as you go down the job ladder, particularly to people who are doing routine jobs, they're getting less and less. There has been a substantial erosion of health care benefits for the bottom 90 percent.
David Dayen at FDL News points out that "Austerity doesn't work." Austerity in Europe squeezes the 90%, throws more people into unemployment and creates more working poor. The same thing in the US. In an interconnected global economy, how can we not have a global recession when seemingly the entire industrial world is being squeezed.

And because I can: