Money: November 2008 Archives

Sweatshop Free Crafting and Art


by Mama-Lu

Wandering around the aisles of craft stores dreaming of projects used to be my idea of a great afternoon out. When I decided to chase the sweatshop-free dream, suddenly the aisles went from tempting to depressing.

It would be so easy to snatch up lots of fun, cheap supplies and create items for sale, but the "Made in China" label puts a damper on those ideas. In the end that's a good thing. I do not need a reason to buy more stuff, and buying things that might be more expensive keeps my purchases limited. The real temptation is to increase my Etsy shop profit by using sweatshop products. At the same time, every time I type "This is a sweatshop free product" it makes me feel like I can make a difference.

Honestly, yarn sources are not too bad. Beads for rosaries on the other hand is a little tricky. I did find beautiful beads from fair trade sources like Happy Mango Beads and Kazuri West, but these would send the cost of a rosary well beyond my price range. I could also buy from the Czech Republic, since they make beautiful beads and as members of the EU have trust worthy labor laws. In the end I ordered from American Woodcrafters Supply Co.

I am still a long way from being sweatshop-free in everything, but crafting is one area I am doing pretty well, even for the kids. Despite the distance I still have to travel, the more labels I read, the more committed I am to doing better.

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In the wee morning hours of Sunday, September 7, 2008, a reader on the website of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel browsed an old article on the 2002 bankruptcy of United Airlines. With hardly any other traffic on the site, that single hit moved the article into the "Popular Stories" list of the paper's business section. Soon after, Google News scanned the site and saw the article, but since it didn't find a 2002 dateline, it interpreted the article as new and added it to its index. Google News users began reading the story within minutes, and by Monday morning the "news" had been picked up by Bloomberg, a top news service for traders. When investors falsely believed the article referred to a new bankruptcy, stock for the airline fell by 70 percent in fifteen minutes, dropping the value of United Airlines by a billion dollars before NASDAQ froze trading.

The stock eventually regained most of its value, but legal action may result from the mix-up, and both Google and the news organizations involved are pointing fingers in the other direction. Google claims that human readers and its program Googlebot alike had no way to discern the date of the story, while a spokesman for the Sun-Sentinel argues that details from the story make clear that it refers to events from 2002--indicating that nobody who passed along the story actually took the trouble to read it.

Dear any company who has gone bankrupt in the past decade,

Please deposit $1,000,000 in my account or I will begin reading online articles about your bankruptcy on the websites of small town newspapers.

Very sincerely yours,

Somebody who is not Papa-Lu

More seriously, I'm all for the Google overlords -- who have algorithmatized news and even, to an extent, culture -- taking one in the arse, so I hope they have to pay big for this. My feelings about Bloomberg are ambivalent, but as a rule, companies ought to be held accountable for their algorithms.

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Catching Up


Some good recent-ish reads:

  • 2 from the Claremont Review: "The Audacity of Barack Obama" -- a fairly balance view of Obama's governing and legal philosophies; and "Reforming Big Government" -- a sober assessment of the here-to-stay welfare state:

    Supply-side tax cuts did little to necessitate or even facilitate reducing the welfare state, and there is no reason to believe an explicit campaign for that goal will succeed where Barry Goldwater's failed. Given all that, conservatives need to weigh the costs and benefits of putting liberals' minds at ease by explicitly renouncing the war against the welfare state, the one that's barely being waged and steadily being lost. They could do so by making clear that America will and should have a welfare state, and that the withering away of the welfare state is not the goal of the conservative project, not even in the distant future. What libertarians will regard as a capitulation to statism is better understood as conceding ground conservatives have been losing for 75 years and have no imaginable prospect of regaining.

  • Rathering than listing them all, I'll just tell you to read everything John Zmirak writes at Inside Catholic (yo, Deal, add author archive links!)

  • Remember way back in... January 2008, when Ron Paul was widely dismissed as a nutjob for wanting to put the US back on the gold standard? Well, those loonies at the Wall Street Journal have given prime opinion real estate not once but twice to that fringe idea. Now, I'm not saying I'm a goldbug, but I'm not goign to hold my breath that many gold advocates will be acknowledging that Paul was out front on this.

That's all for now.I have many more I'll try to get around to in the next few days.

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Answering his own question


James Surowiecki, financial writer for The New Yorker, is usually pretty good, but he must be playing dumb here.

What, exactly, is wrong with the "Hope for Homeowners" program that Congress enacted this summer? The program was intended to allow homeowners to trade out of their adjustable-rate mortgages into thirty-year fixed-loan, F.H.A.-insured mortgages at what were supposed to be lower rates. The Congressional Budget Office's initial projections were that almost half a million homeowners would use the plan. But in its first two weeks of existence--as with everything else, the plan took inordinately long to put in place, and didn't go into effect until October 1st--only forty-two people applied for help. And the government's now saying they think only thirteen thousand people are going to use the program in the first year.

Some of the shortfall appears to be due to borrowers waiting to see if the government will come up with a better plan, but the biggest problem appears to be that lenders aren't all that willing to take part in the program...

I'm not sure I understand the calculations that underlie the original lenders' hostility to the plan: isn't a guaranteed return of seventy to eighty per cent of the original loan better than the ever-increasing risk that you'll have to foreclose on a sizeable percentage of these properties? But what I really don't understand is why the C.B.O. thought four hundred thousand homeowners would end up using this program, when the real number appears to be less than a tenth of that. Didn't anybody talk to lenders before they wrote the bill and came up with this plan?

Is the following scenario that hard to imagine?

"Gee of course, Mr. Bernanke, we'll cooperate with whatever plan you'll come up with! Write down the debt? Oh, of course, we'd love to do that! I'm sure, oh golly, hundreds of thousands of borrowers will take advantage of such a generous program. We will market it as vigorously as we can and we certainly will not sit on our hands and wait for you to overreact to the next market hiccup and buy all of this junk from us."

How can Surowiecki suggest that borrowers are holding out for something better and not think the banks are, too? Is Joe the Plumber seriously more likely to play the government than, oh, say, Fannie Mae?

And to the extent the lenders are going to participate in this program, isn't it rational for them to hold off as long as humanly possible before offering to refinance any individual homeowner's loan? Let's say you're holding the $300,000 mortgage on this one bedroom shack in Compton, CA. The most rational thing for you to do would be to go on collecting that $3,000 mortgage check every month as long as you can. Say the buyer shows signs of stress by missing a payment, or deaulting on one of the credit cards he holds -- then you swoop in and try to renegotiate the terms.

One major problem with the government interventions thus far is that they have tended to assume a level of good faith by institutions that have committed fraud and negligence at every step of the process.

Speaking of which, I hope everyody reads Michael Lewis' Portfolio piece that tells the history of the subprime fiasco from the perspective of some guys who saw it coming.

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My stupid, stupid county


We had three proposed tax hikes on the ballot this year. A property tax increase to fund county forest preservation, a property tax increase to fund township services to very poor folks and a sales tax increase to fund school buildings. I voted for the first two and against the last (shame on them for proposing a regressive sales tax to fund schools).

Well, none of them passed, which is not too surprising since who the hell really wants to pay more taxes? But what gets me is that the first two were landslides, 2-1 in the case of the township tax, while the school tax came within 300 votes of passing. It just goes to show that some people will vote for anything, even increasing the tax burden on the poorest citizens, in the name of education.

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Mama-Lu's Etsy Shop

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Money category from November 2008.

Money: June 2008 is the previous archive.

Money: December 2008 is the next archive.

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