Saturday, January 31, 2009

Same old same old trash/gold/testicles post 

Interesting:

A New Orleans company that wants to build a power plant to turn trash into electricity is negotiating to buy property along the Industrial Canal from the Port of New Orleans.

The 60-acre parcel at 3900 Jourdan Road had been used as a shipyard since the 1960s but fell into disuse after Bollinger Shipyards terminated its eight-year lease for the site last summer.
...
The vacancy created an opportunity for Sun Energy Group LLC, a startup company that has been looking for land on which to develop a facility that transforms garbage into fuel through a process called plasma gasification. The technology vaporizes trash to produce a gas that can be burned for electricity, a technique that is supposed to produce fewer pollutants than traditional power generation.

Perhaps it's worth filtering that trash for valuables. Cuz' ya never know:

Resource-poor Japan just discovered a new source of mineral wealth-- sewage.

A sewage treatment facility in central Japan has recorded a higher gold yield from sludge than can be found at some of the world's best mines. An official in Nagano prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, said the high percentage of gold found at the Suwa facility was probably due to the large number of precision equipment manufacturers in the vicinity that use the yellow metal. The facility recently recorded finding 1,890 grammes of gold per tonne of ash from incinerated sludge.

Note to sewage officials in Nagano: if you are going to trade that gold in four cash, don't get scammed! (H/T: Clay)

In other news from Japan:

Blowfish testicles prepared by an unauthorized chef sickened seven diners in northern Japan and three remained hospitalized Tuesday after eating the poisonous delicacy.
...
Blowfish, while extremely poisonous if not prepared properly, is considered a delicacy in Japan and is consumed by thrill-seeking gourmets.

In his wilder days, the Peripatetic Engineer sampled Japanese Blowfish. Now he won't even eat raw oysters.

In my wilder days, I looked at a photo of Pat Boone displaying his testicles [nsfw]. But even that can't make me give up raw oysters.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Draft Stormy movement picking up steam 

Jesus' General wrote a letter to Governor Palin suggesting that Lynn Spears and Kevin Federline would be appropriate candidates for Palin's new SarahPAC. In the comments, I suggested that Stormy Daniels would be an excellent choice. Daniels is a fresh candidate with innovative ideas and an honest approach. Plus, she is a big LSU Tiger fan... what's not to love? And a growing number of commenters seem to agree!

Remember: if you want to change the Senate, you have to change the Senator.

Stormy Daniels 2010.

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"Jesuit Existentialist"? 

A T-P article about the ethics and transparency relating to D.C. Mardis Gras contained this little biographical nugget about Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (who is now my new favorite Louisiana Republican):

The byzantine ethics rules and deeper questions of moral behavior might seem an excellent subject for consideration by Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-New Orleans, who has taught philosophy, spent years as a Jesuit seminarian, and has described himself as a Jesuit existentialist.

But, Cao confessed Wednesday, "I have no clue about Washington Mardi Gras."


"Jesuit existentialist"? The only Jesuit existentialist I ever knew was Medium Jim. It would be a thrill to one day talk philosophy with Cao over a taro bubble tea.

I wonder if Cao got some "Draft Stormy" beads at the D.C. Mardis Gras, like Representatives Scalise and Cassidy?

===
My former favorite Louisiana Republican was Treasury Secretary John Kennedy. One of my all-time favorite political moments involves Kennedy contacting a reporter to make a correction about his favorite book. "No, no, no. I meant Kierkegaard's 'Sickness unto Death', not Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness'!"

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Mercury rising 

Washington Post:
Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.




Short-haired girlfriend needs to find her tongue and tell the hostess "If I wanted my child to ingest toxic mercury at your party, I would've brought his thermometer noonie!"

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Cerasoli resigns 

Damn it!

Can this backassward town get any more snakebit!? Seriously. When incompetent (if not wicked) nimrods like Ray Nagin are re-elected, and honest men like Cerasoli are ground down until they have to leave... it profoundly frustrates and demoralizes me.

I wish Cerasoli the best as he confronts new health challenges, and thank him for his service to the city. However, I can't help but think that his resignation is not purely due to health issues. This guy was tough. (See the "no anesthetic" story in the T-P link.) I have to think that, barring a cancer diagnosis, Cerasoli would have stayed on if he was confident that he could properly establish the IG office, and put in two or three solid years of good, quality work. However, the Nagin administration not only didn't fully cooperate with the IG, but it tried to sabotage the office at every turn! At least that's how it appeared to me, as I watched them erect roadblock after roadblock to Cerasoli's office. The other week they disconnected his long distance service, for crying out loud!

"There was always that mysterious hand there, that made you wonder if somebody was trying to stop it, " Cerasoli said.


===
Update: Selected Reactions:

Toulouse Street "There is only us"

Tin Can Trailer Trash "Our next challenge is to replace the irreplaceable."

Gambit: Leonard Odom, First Assistant for Criminal Investigations, has been selected to serve as interim IG.

Maitri "We're toast"

Suspect Device "Youre done"

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Very clever" 

Back in October of 2007, Ed Steer reported from New Orleans that

[Lawrence Lindsey] appeared delighted that Wall Street had been able to unload hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of (now toxic) CDOs on the rest of the world, saying that "we Americans were very clever" in doing this.

Back then I said
There's usually a ferocious comeuppance waiting for smiling guys who think they are "very clever" with other people's money.... [N]ote that gold is soaring and Citigroup's CEO is resigning. At best, we're marking the end of the beginning of the reckoning. You can't expect to keep a "guns and butter" economy humming along on a credit bubble, and then cleanly dump that bubble on the foreigners without a recession, or inflation, or both... or worse.

WSJ:

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao squarely blamed the U.S.-led financial system for the world's deepening economic slump, in the most public indication yet of discord between the U.S. government and its largest creditor.

Leaders in China, the world's third-largest economy, have been surprised and upset over how much the problems of the U.S. financial sector have hurt China's holdings. In response, Beijing is re-examining its U.S. investments...
...
Chinese leaders have felt burned by a series of bad experiences with U.S. investments they had believed were safe... including holdings in Morgan Stanley, the collapsed Reserve Primary Fund and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As a result... government leaders decided not to make new investments in a number of U.S. companies that sought China's capital. China's pullback from Fannie and Freddie debt helped push up rates on U.S. mortgages last year just as Washington was seeking to revive the U.S. housing market.

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"It's the Economy, Sexy" 

Like Cenlamar, I got this press release in my in box. Looks like there was an "announcement" of sorts, at the Mardis Gras party in D.C..

DraftStormy Storms DC Mardi Gras


Campaign to draft Baton Rouge native into the 2010 Louisiana Senate Race launches, stresses campaign is about the economy, sexy.

Washington DC— Against the backdrop of the annual Washington Mardis Gras, DraftStormy, a non-partisan grassroots movement to draft Baton Rouge native Stormy Daniels into the 2010 Louisiana Senate race, celebrated its official launch on Thursday.

To commemorate the launch, DC Mardis Gras attendees were greeted Thursday morning with a complimentary string of Mardis Gras beads featuring the soon-to-be iconic DraftStormy logo in metallic pink on a white medallion. Hours before, the official DraftStormy website went live.

Inviting Louisianans and Americans to "Join the Storm" the website features a petition page along with an extensive overview of Stormy Daniels and her qualifications to tackle some of the biggest issues facing both the Pelican State and the nation in general.

For example, a section titled, "It's the Economy, Sexy," examines how the current economic crisis is impacting all sectors of the economy including the adult entertainment industry.

Emphasizing the importance of protecting, as well as rewarding, individual enterprise, creativity and hard work, the section calls for protections against those who would undermine the core of a stable free market economy.

"Stormy understands the double edge sword of 21st century technology in a global market environment," the entry reads. "Protecting individual enterprise and production in an info-tech economy is one of the biggest challenges we face in our quest to rescue the free market.

"And yet," the entry continues, "Stormy understands the need for business to adapt to new technologies for survival and to embrace them for success.

"Whether it's the couple in their garage inventing our next source of energy or Stormy working on her next feature, all entrepreneurs deserve to know that the results of their efforts are going to be protected. This should be the ultimate role of our government in a free market economy.

"Challenging times call for new perspectives," the entry concludes. "Stormy Daniels will infuse Congress with the experience and inspiration needed to meet these new challenges with confidence."

Additionally, the DraftStomy site focuses on Daniel's commitment to promoting female entrepreneurship and protecting children from adult content on the internet, an issue Stormy has long championed.

In a statement released earlier in the day, the DraftStormy campaign sought to stress that, while much attention has been given to the contrast between Daniels and her likely opponent, the current Junior Senator from Louisiana, that this campaign is and always will be all about Stormy.

"As we make our case for Stormy and to Stormy, we seek also to honor her integrity, intellect, strength of character, wit and savvy. These are the very traits that we hope will lead Stormy to accept this unique challenge and they are the same traits we believe will inspire Louisianans to get behind her Storm into the Senate!"

###

DraftStormy.com


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Stormy Weathers asks:

As for the [now demolished] Exxon locale [at St. Chuck & Louisiana Ave], must we settle for another boring bank branch?

No!

Unite people, is it too much to hope for a drive-through daiquiri shop?

Probably!

Don’t even get us started on the wild Pancho’s rumors.

Trust me, I won't!

But that does give me a good idea. Do you know what would be absolutely, positively, crushingly successful at that location? A Taco Cabana Mexican Patio Cafe. Fresh authentic ingredients, low prices, open 24/7, beer and margaritas, shaded outdoor patio on St. Charles... that would be a winner.

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Wrought Iron wrong 

An intrepid YRHT source pointed out this excerpt from Bob Herbert's recent NYT column:

The public was told that the [first wave of government bailout] money would be used to loosen the frozen credit markets and thus help revive the economy. But... there were bankers with other ideas. John C. Hope III, the chairman of the Whitney National Bank in New Orleans, in an address to Wall Street fat cats gathered at the Palm Beach Ritz-Carlton, said:

“Make more loans? We’re not going to change our business model or our credit policies to accommodate the needs of the public sector as they see it to have us make more loans.”

How’s that for arrogance and contempt for the public interest? Mr. Hope’s bank received $300 million in taxpayer bailout money.

Herbert refers to this article by Mike McIntire:

[Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr.] said in October that banks should "deploy, not hoard" the [bailout] money to build confidence and increase lending. He added: "We expect all participating banks to continue to strengthen their efforts to help struggling homeowners who can afford their homes avoid foreclosure."

But a congressional oversight panel reported on Jan. 9 that it found no evidence the bailout program had been used to prevent foreclosures, raising questions about whether the Treasury has complied with the law's requirement that it develop a "plan that seeks to maximize assistance for homeowners."

...

For [John C.] Hope, the Whitney National Bank chairman, "the main motivation for TARP" was not more loans, but rather to safeguard against the "possibility things could get a lot worse." He said Whitney would continue making loans "that we would have made with or without TARP."

"We see TARP as an insurance policy," he said. "That when all this stuff is finally over, no matter how bad it gets, we're going to be one of the remaining banks."


How nice that the American taxpayer could "insure" Whitney's survival throughout "all this stuff". (I guess "this stuff" refers to the job losses and foreclosures associated with the current recession, which was caused in part by banks making imprudent loans during a housing/credit mania.) And how nice that Whitney's rock solid business model won't be changed to "accomodate the needs of the public sector". (Whitney's profits are down 85% this year due in part to its "portfolio of real estate loans in Florida, where property values have undergone a spectacular collapse".) What if everyone who banked at Whitney adopted chairman Hope's basic attitude, and decided that self-preservation took precedence over "the needs of the banking sector"? Would accounts be emptied and credit lines maxed out (and unpaid) "until all this stuff is finally over"? These are tough times, and accountholders need an "insurance policy" to make it through. Right?

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Quotes of the Weak 

"Should your wife have guy-friends?"

-- title of CNN story (H/T Athenae)


"Illinois look like a bunch of buffoons. (Gov. Blagojevich is) B.S.-ing his way through life to get one possible juror to think they're not really sure.
...
"It's not Gandhi or King [that Blagojevich should be comparing himself to], but Huey Long, former governor of Louisiana. Long left office in disgrace."

-- Former Illinois State Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka, who lost to Blagojevich in her bid for governor. Topinka seems unaware that Huey Long did not leave office "in disgrace". In fact, he "left office" because he was assassinated. [Update: And as commenter Puddinhead points out, Long left the governor's office to become Senator.]


"This is the demise of a civilization. This is how a civilization disappears. I am sitting here as an elder statesman and I'm watching this happen and I don't believe it.
...
"As a shareholder, if I knew the CEO of the company wasn't doing anything on [the Employee Free Choice Act]... I would sue the son of a bitch... I'm so angry at some of these CEOs, I can't even believe the stupidity that is involved here.
...
"If a retailer has not gotten involved in this, if he has not spent money on this election, if he has not sent money to [former Sen.] Norm Coleman and all these other guys, they should be shot. They should be thrown out their goddamn jobs."

-- Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, leading a conference call (hosted by government bailout recipient Bank of America) on the evils of the EFCA legislation. Marcus expressed no such "patriotic" outrage at Home Depot's central role in the great corporate stock swindle after 9/11.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"So... cold." 




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Thx, appropriately, to Dead Robot.

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"Today was a good day, I didn't even have to hear an AK" 

But I will. Sooner than later. Perhaps tomorrow.

Meanwhile, others haven't been as lucky.

Maitri at Vatulblog:

Entering my car at 6pm, I hear seven shots. One of them hits metal, another is sucked up by what sounds like flesh. Half a block away, a man on his bicycle has been “taken out in a revenge killing.” I drive by the dead body, not seeing it for the fading evening light. Four squad cars rush to the scene, but it’s too late, the hitmen are long gone. Where are the other five bullets lodged? In the outer walls of people’s homes, one of which contains a good friend.

Little Eye from Metaphysic Storm:

Around three o’clock there was a rat tat tat and screeching sirens that followed. The cemetery attendant came rushing in said, “Did you hear that? I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never seen anything like that. A guy pulled out an AK47 and some bodies dead! Right around the corner. Some body is dead. You’ve got to leave.” ... As I drove away the ambulance from the crime scene pulled in front of me and we second lined.


Keith Spera from Nola.com:

Baby asleep, dinner plates put away, the evening reverie of Jan. 5 is shattered by a half-dozen sharp reports, tightly clustered at irregular intervals.

Through the open kitchen window, the gunshots sound as close as the neighbor's yard. We later learn they originated three blocks away at North Dupre and St. Ann streets. Bullets struck and killed 47-year-old Kirk Dugar Sr.


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Zombie banks! vs. Mardis Gras 

Usually I'm loathe to recommend the Bourbon Street Mardis Gras ethos of "beads for boobs", but due to the current financial crisis, I'm going to make an exception. In short, I think it's time for banks to "give it up". If they want any more Treasury "beads", they're going to have to publicly reveal their nasty assets. This "take without showing" routine just won't do anymore.

WSJ:

Lending at many of the nation's largest banks fell in recent months, even after they received $148 billion in taxpayer capital that was intended to help the economy by making loans more readily available.

Why is this?

NYT:

Right now, many banks are reluctant to write off their bad debts, and absorb huge losses, unless they can first raise enough capital to cushion the blow. But they cannot attract that capital without first purging their balance sheets of the toxic assets. Japan’s ["zombie banks"] experience proved the dangers of that downward swirl; the economy stagnated, new lending ground to a halt and the country’s diplomatic clout shrank with its balance sheets.

But I thought Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and friends already gave banks some beads "capital". So wha happent? Did a man like Paulson, who shamelessly called out for big bottoms in the past, suddenly become shy? Why didn't he dangle his jewelry for these clamoring banks, and persuade them to flash their toxic assets before they received any fancy throws?

In a WSJ opinion column titled "Bad News is Better than No News", L. Gordon Crovitz explains:

[W]e should cheer a growing consensus that it's time to address the information gaps that caused the financial mess. The best-known unknown is the continuing mystery of the true value of the bad mortgage-backed and other assets held by banks whose collapse sparked the credit crisis. Addressing this basic issue was the original purpose last fall of the $700 billion government bailout program, but the Troubled Asset Relief Program didn't live up to its name, leaving the size of toxic debts unquantified.

Plan B is to go back to Plan A. Regulators urge using new bailout funds to return to the original goal of discovering the true value of these securities. "A continuing barrier to private investment in financial institutions is the large quantity of troubled, hard-to-value assets that remain on institutions' balance sheets," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a London speech earlier this month. "The presence of these assets significantly increases uncertainty about the underlying value of these institutions and may inhibit both new private investment and new lending."

Again, it's high time these banks underwent a penetrating, simultaneous group exam. They need to go outside on a crowded public street and lift up their costumes, and let everyone inspect their toxic assets. Show us what you have, all at once! Yes, it's embarrassing, but you already got drunk-- so spare us your inhibited reluctance! Here's a sweetener: if you show us your dirty portfolio, all of it, you can have an Obama coconut. That seems more than fair to me.

Otherwise, we're all in for a painfully long Capitalist Carnival hangover.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Gap-Filler 

Twenty-two months after Dan Baum profiled school disciplinarian "Big Mike" in his exquisite New Orleans Journal blog, the Times Picayune gets in on the act:

Big Mike is sitting with a student in a windowless office. It is a private meeting. The typically patient man is frustrated.

He makes one thing clear as he verbally jousts with the O. Perry Walker High student who had hit a classmate and lashed out at another a few minutes later: He wants no excuses. The school staffer tries to persuade the young man to admit his mistake and apologize.

"You're treating me like a child," the student says.

"Why can't you be a child?" says Mike Ricks, who grew up in a sometimes challenging -- but always loving -- household in Central City, across the river.

"I've been on my own since I was 13," the student says.

"You are killing me," Ricks retorts. "I don't give a damn about that. . . I'm trying to give it (childhood) back to you, and you are not giving me a chance."

Big Mike knows the teenager has raised himself, that he faces life stresses that would overwhelm many adults.

But he cuts the student no slack, not right now. "If someone can walk past you and not tell you you are wrong, they don't give a damn about you," Big Mike says, apologizing for his hard language.

Good stuff.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

 
Since Jeffrey is a big fan of the celebration that is "Family Gras", we wanted to let him know that this year the one and only Sheena Easton would be performing for the fat families of Jefferson Parish.

Sheena Easton is known, among other things, for her song "Sugar Walls". This track was ranked #2 on the Parents Music Resource Center's "Filthy Fifteen" censorship list. (Thanks again, Tipper.) No word on whether "Sugar Walls" is on the set list for "Family Gras".

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Recession characteristics 

In the tradition of this N.O. CityBusiness story from January 2008 ("How can there be a recession when I can't find a parking spot anywhere near where fashion meets fun?"), and this August 2008 column from McCain economic advisor Donald Luskin ("How can there be a recession when the lines at Disneyland were really long?"), here is an example of the natural "follow up" story to the recession. Instead of "How can there be a recession if... [insert single anecdotal stupidity]?", it's "How can the recession be that bad if... [insert single anecdotal stupidity]?" Here, I'll write it for them:
===

How can the recession be that bad if people are paying $20 to $50 for sleeved blankets?

Consider this story from the Albany Times newspaper.

The recent run of chilly temperatures has Tina Carstensen craving the Snuggie she ordered in early December.

Now that the cult-like robe of hokey infomercial fame has become fodder for late-night talk shows and Twitter feeds, hers isn’t expected to arrive until February.

Yet soaring Snuggie sales may be about more than a mid-winter chill and the need to save millions of Americans from the ever-frustrating blanket droop. Is the blanket with sleeves, like high unemployment rates, another sign of hard times?

Hard times? Hard times!? In my house, we already have blankets. If we opted to purchase special blankets, that would be a sign of disposable wealth. How can the recession be that bad if people are buying trendy sleeved blankets?

In early December, the $20 Snuggie ranked No. 8 on Shoppers Advantage’s list of top holiday gifts. It was the only non-electronic nestled among the Wii, cell phones and GPS systems.

Gee willikers, how can there be a recession if people are buying expensive Wii game systems? It just doesn't make sense. [Actually, a female caller asked Rush Limbaugh this question during a show in May 2008, and he readily agreed that we couldn't be in a recession if the stores were sold out of Wii.]

“As more people stay home with the heat down, the Snuggie has emerged at the right time,” says Jill Spiegel, a Minneapolis-based pop culture expert. “Going far beyond a blanket’s ability, the Snuggie easily cuddles with you, which is ultra-comforting for stay-at-home singles or for people who live in ‘affection-challenged’ families. Another niche it fills is that everlasting connection to our ‘blankies.’ The Snuggie is that faithful friend which gives us a sense of security.”

Is this the proper antidote for "Affection-challenged" families, or are we all just becoming spoiled, infantile softies? Where's the sense of sacrifice that previous generations had during tough times?

The Snuggie lured Carstensen, 24, last fall. She was watching TV, trying to keep warm under an ordinary blanket in her apartment, where the temperature is about 60 degrees, when the commercial came on.

“I thought, ‘That lady has the best life ever because she’s under her Snuggie, and she’s able to do everything she needs to do, and she’s warm,”’ Carstensen says. “I always have a hard time operating my DVR when I can’t get my arm out from under the blanket, but with the Snuggie, I could text, operate my DVR remote and use my laptop.”

I rest my case.

Despite Snuggie’s popularity, some question whether a traditional blanket can really be deemed restrictive. Others say the Snuggie has been around for a long time: It’s called a robe.

Like I said, we already have robes and blankets to keep us warm. This Snuggie phenomenon is due to all the trendy people with disposable wealth who want easier access to their DVR remotes, their cell phones and their computers... How can the recession be that bad if this is prime evidence of how people are "roughing it" or "making do" during "hard times"?
===

So, there ya go. You can write columns like that one, or listen to the people who do, or perhaps you can learn something very, very basic about recessions.

As Barry Ritholtz explains, the economy doesn't stop during a recession, it merely contracts:
One of the misunderstandings about recessions is what actually happens in the real world. A recession is where economic growth stops, and you are left with flat to contracting sales.

Note that economic activity does not grind to a halt -- the year-over-year growth rate merely slips into the negative. This is often misstated, in some variation of "Gee, how it can it be a recession -- I was out shopping and the stores were pretty crowded." Whenever you see that, the speaker is either technically misunderstanding what a recession is -- or alternatively, is painfully long and hoping for the best.

Of course, Growth may falter, not total economic activity. With the $13 trillion US economy, economic activity certainly won't fall to zero dollars.


Durrr. Basic stuff. Yet, you will hear educated people saying that crap during every single recession. "Gee, how can it be...?" The next step, after a recession is already well under way, is to downplay how bad it is with a similar "Gee, how can it be so bad if...?"

Granted, a recession isn't the end of the world, but to be completely blindsided by its onset, and then to downplay the pain it inflicts by cherry-picking single data points... is not doing a service to anyone.

Speaking of having a clue, do you want to know which local blogger absolutely, positively "nailed" the recession call? The blogger who "welcomed" us to the recession on the cusp of December 2007, when it officially began?

Why, it was none other than Humid Haney.

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Oh dear 

How can these numbers be true?

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