Wednesday, January 30, 2008

LEAST WE FORGET - The Middle Place

"Kelly Corrigan's Living in The Middle Place" by Ashely Van Buren, The Huffington Post Blogs

The following is an excerpt

Six months into having my daughter, I realized I was in this middle place. Everything I was feeling after my daughter's birth compelled me to call my mother and tell her how sorry I was for everything. I remember saying to her, 'I didn't know. I didn't know how much you loved me and how attached you were. I didn't know how much it hurt you when I was hurt. I could have spared you so much agony.' I feel really bonded to my mom now; this is the closest we've ever been. I find myself making the same choices she made raising us. Before you become a parent, you just cannot believe someone loves you the way these people love you. And that's the heart of it. Your husband may love you, your kids may love you, but there is no one who will ever love you the way your parents love you. And you don't know that until you're a parent.

We all need to remember, in these hard times, that there is love out there. All we need do is turn our eyes and look.

Ashely's full article is worth the read. It will lighten your heart.

STATE OF THE UNION 2008 - Disaster

"Our one-way trip to disaster" by James Carroll, Boston Globe OP-ED 1/28/2008

YOU AND everyone you love are riding on a large bus. The bus driver, unskilled and careless, drives too fast, ignores traffic signals, and barrels off the road occasionally. Because the bus is huge, other vehicles swerve to get out of its way, with cars crashing repeatedly. But your driver just keeps going, leaving carnage in his wake. Naturally, you are terrified - but your reactions are irrelevant.

Finally, the bus itself crashes, killing many. Miraculously, you and your loved ones climb out of the wreckage. A second bus is standing by, and you gratefully scramble aboard. The engine starts up, but then the bus lurches dangerously onto the road, going too fast. Only then do you see that this new bus has the same driver, and he has learned nothing. Welcome to the United States of America. And welcome to the annual State of the Union address.

Every year, the nation looks up from the wreckage, only to see that the same unskilled and careless driver is still at the wheel, bombing along. Each January, he explains himself. You already know what he will say. His one admirable quality is that, over the years, he has always said exactly what to expect. A review of the Bush speeches has an "I told you so" quality, going back to the start. That raises the question, Why have you repeatedly been surprised?

It was, after all, in his 2002 State of the Union address that President Bush defined the purpose to which he has been dedicated ever since. "Evil" was his constant point of reference, and he claimed the mantle of one who would end it. America's enemies were an "axis of evil," while America's friend was God, who, Bush told us, was "near."

In such a cosmic moral struggle, normal standards of restraint did not apply. That you could not imagine yet the wreckage of law and decency - torture, wiretapping, concentration camps, treaty betrayals - that would follow from this course does not detract from your obligation to acknowledge that it was openly set by Bush's first statement of purpose. Your bus was being driven by St. George, the dragon slayer. And why should mere rules of the road apply to him?

In 2003, the State of the Union address was, in effect, a declaration of war against Saddam Hussein. Bush could not have been more direct in stating his intentions, asserting absolutely that Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were a present danger.

Bush promised that Secretary of State Colin Powell would immediately go before the United Nations to prove it. (To Bush's credit, the 2003 speech also unveiled the "Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief," his administration's one positive accomplishment.) When Bush drove the United States into full-blown Middle East war two months later, he was only following the plan he had already laid out.

In 2004, Afghanistan was a smoldering ruin, and Iraq was under the bus. Yet Bush declared victory right and left. "The boys and girls of Afghanistan are back in school," he said. As for Iraq, we were only dealing with "a remnant of violent Saddam supporters." He was still saying that Hussein had had weapons of mass destruction.

In the 2006 State of the Union address, Bush repeated that "we will never surrender to evil," but now he was explicitly associating it with what he called "radical Islam." This careless labeling took the bus into the mine field of religious war.

What is most notable about the 2006 speech, however, is that New Orleans, still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, barely appeared in it. That the United States of America has abandoned that great city and its people to this day - surely to rank as the Bush administration's most notable act of domestic policy - should have been no surprise to anyone who heard him then.

Last year's State of the Union address was historic. Because of the antiwar mandate of the November elections, and the cover offered him by the consensus around the Baker-Hamilton commission, Bush had a golden opportunity to change the disastrous war course he had set.

Instead, with the so-called surge, he gunned it.

"This is not the fight we entered in Iraq," he said, "but it's the fight we're in."

That's like the driver saying, "This is not the road I thought it was," as he leaps to safety just as the bus goes off the cliff. We are a nation in free fall. The final insult is that, one more time, the driver gets to lecture us.

Ah, yes. The World According to Bush (upcoming Monty Python movie)

Friday, January 25, 2008

CLIMATE CHANGE - From Scientific American

"Is Global Warming Harmful to Health?" by Paul R. Epstein, Scientific American

Excerpt from PDF document

Today few scientists doubt the atmosphere is warming. Most also agree that the rate of heating is accelerating and that the consequences of this temperature change could become increasingly disruptive. Even high school students can reel off some projected outcomes: the oceans will warm, and glaciers will melt, causing sea levels to rise and salt water to inundate settlements along many low-lying coasts. Meanwhile the regions suitable for farming will shift. Weather patterns should also become more erratic and storms more severe.

Yet less familiar effects could be equally detrimental. Notably, computer models predict that global warming, and other climate alterations it induces, will expand the incidence and distribution of many serious medical disorders. Disturbingly, these forecasts seem to be coming true.

Heating of the atmosphere can influence health through several routes. Most directly, it can generate more, stronger and hotter heat waves, which will become especially treacherous if the evenings fail to bring cooling relief. Unfortunately, a lack of nighttime cooling seems to be in the cards; the atmosphere is heating unevenly and is showing the biggest rises at night, in winter and at latitudes higher than about 50 degrees. In some places, the number of deaths related to heat waves is projected to double by 2020. Prolonged heat can, moreover, enhance production of smog and the dispersal of allergens. Both effects have been linked to respiratory symptoms.

Global warming can also threaten human well-being profoundly, if somewhat less directly, by revising weather patterns — particularly by pumping up the frequency and intensity of floods and droughts and by causing rapid swings in the weather. As the atmosphere has warmed over the past century, droughts in arid areas have persisted longer, and massive bursts of precipitation have become more common. Aside from causing death by drowning or starvation, these disasters promote by various means the emergence, resurgence and spread of infectious disease.

That prospect is deeply troubling, because infectious illness is a genie that can be very hard to put back into its bottle. It may kill fewer people in one fell swoop than a raging flood or an extended drought, but once it takes root in a community, it often defies eradication and can invade other areas.

This is a year 2000 article, but still food for thought especially considering what we are witnessed in 2007.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

JUST FOR FUN - How the Market Works

Listen carefully to what these "experts" are saying.

The truth can be tragically funny

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

ECONOMY - Opinion on Stimulus Package

"Stimulate This: Why The Talk of Economic Stimulus Will Remain Talk" by Eanny Schechter, The Smirking Chimp 1/19/2008

The new word of the week is "economic stimulus package." Everyone is for it.

The President wants it if only because he knows a worsening economic crisis will leave his Administration in deep doo-doo, the way it did his dad back in '92. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, is all for it if only because all of his rate cuts and "injections" of money into the financial system have not turned the US economy around.

He told Congress Thursday: "put money into the hands of households and firms that would spend it in the near term." This is likely to take the form of tax rebates and direct assistance.

And all the candidates–well most of them–want it too. Or at least they want something upbeat that will stimulate voters. John McCain lost Michigan, it is said, because he was too negative. Mitt Romney won because he promised to wave a magic wand, repeal Globalization and make Detroit what it once was.

Dream on.

The stimulus idea is simple–give people some money to spend and, presto, our problems will disappear. This is the "Alka Seltzer solution." Take one tablet and when it fizzes, you're better in the morning.

The only problem is that the real world isn't so simple and simplistic solutions will not work.

We didn't get into this mess because one thing went wrong. Many things went wrong — and over a long time.

This crisis may seem brand new. It isn't. And please dump that word "recession" because it doesn't do justice to what we are talking about here. The highest inflation rate in 17 years and the biggest housing crisis in a quarter of a century didn't just happen. Major banks writing down billions of dollars practically every week is not normal. Wall Street going from boom to gloom almost overnight was not caused by somebody making a mistake.

The political causes of this are deep and long standing. Writer Robert Kuttner calls this "the most serious downturn since the Great Depression." He blames the rise of right-wing ideology and "the domination of our politics by a financial elite, and the lack of a true opposition party."

You can't fix that with pathetic stimulus packages and minor tinkering.

This is a structural crisis that's been spawned by decades of shifting our economy from making things to buying things, from production to consumption. It has spawned "financialization,' a well heeled credit and loan complex powered by legal and illegal shenanigans in an unregulated market-driven environment. Both parties have benefited from it and are complicit in its consequences. All of our biggest banks were part of the subprime/subcrime-led credit collapse which enriched so many before bringing so many down. This crisis is still unfolding, rippling, and infecting more sectors of the economy. It is a "contagion" that has yet to be contained.

Writes the McClatchy Newspapers: "The unwinding of debt is all-encompassing. It's from the little homeowner out there to the big corporation," said Larry Moss, senior vice president for the Raymond James investment firm in Birmingham, Mich.

The credit crunch overlaps with other negative trends, most noticeably the poor housing market and weakening consumer spending. The fear is that tighter credit and weaker spending will reinforce and amplify each other, creating a downward spiral leading to a recession.

"Once you get in that cycle, then it becomes really, really scary," said Amiyatosh Purnanandam, a professor of finance at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan who has studied tight-credit periods."

For starters we need some stimulus from a study of history to understand how greed and corruption of any and all ethical principles stimulates this type of frightening business cycle. We need to stimulate a deeper debate.

Writes Satyajit Das, author of Traders, Guns & Money, explains: "Recent history has been a period of 'too much' and 'too little' - too much liquidity, too much leverage, too much complex financial engineering, too little return for risk, too little understanding of the risk."

He told one of India's leading newspapers, The Hindu, "This will reduce economic growth (the US looks likely to slow down sharply) and asset prices (houses and shares) around the world. It is perhaps the most serious crisis that we have faced in a very long time."

Let's break this down: Lets say we give every household $1000 bucks ($800 is the number under discussion). What happens? What do will recipients do first? What will they/we stimulate?

Will they rush out to the mall and buy the latest and the greatest? Unlikely. Why? Because so many of us are already in hock beyond our ears. Millions are drowning in debt and barely hanging on to homes, cars or even student loans. We are groaning under the burden of higher interest, higher prices and higher fees, as a recent study by United for A Fair Economy explained:

"Increases in the cost of housing, education, and health care, paired with an increase in payroll taxes of 25%, and massively decreased government investment in affordable housing, employment, and job training, have left most of America cash poor. Americans found the liquidity needed to pay daily bills through debt: credit cards, refinancing, subprime loans. The American middle and working classes are maintaining their lifestyle on a foundation of quicksand (debt they cannot afford). If current indicators are correct it is quite possible that the entire US economy will sink into the debt that the middle and working class have developed over the last twenty years."

This is not a very 'stimulating' environment. No wonder most Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction and have lost confidence in the economy. No wonder crime is rising along with foreclosures. Let's not forget the wars that are also draining the economy, growing the deficit and pouring billions of dollars and so many lives into a rat hole without end.

So, please candidates, lose the cheery rhetoric of economic stimulus. Do nothing about the debt burden and you do nothing. We don't need stimulus; we need economic change, and economic justice. We need white-collar predators in jail. We need restructuring, not repossessions. We need mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth from the greedy to the needy. And just like the folks in Africa living under a crushing burden of debt, we need genuine debt relief. We need to buck this system, not get a few bucks in the mail.

If we have any hope of getting out from under, we also need a media to tell the truth about how this crisis happened, and investigate those that profited on the destruction of our economy, the bankers and brokers that stole our treasure and future. We need movements to fight back and politicians that will stand up for economic fairness, especially on the day we honor Dr. Martin Luther King and the movements he led.

The key phrase in Schechter's article is, "We didn't get into this mess because one thing went wrong. Many things went wrong — and over a long time."

The current calamity that is collapsing our house-of-cards is due to typical Wall Street Greed, quick-buck people. They found a way to exploit a loophole in investments with regards to Subprime loans. They conned investors, looking for the quick-buck, into investing in schemes to supply Subprime loans.

From Wikipeada:

Subprime lending (also known as B-paper, near-prime, or second chance lending) is the practice of making loans to borrowers who do not qualify for the best market interest rates because of their deficient credit history. The phrase also refers to banknotes taken on property that cannot be sold on the primary market, including loans on certain types of investment properties and certain types of self-employed individuals.

Yap, smart investment. Loans to people who will most likely default on the loan (do not qualify for normal loans). Then the loan intuitions are in trouble, the investors in this scheme are in trouble, and our American economy is in trouble. AND, everyone screams bailout!

I my opinion, every person and organization who came up with the idea of investing in Subprime loans should go to jail, do not collect $200, and stay there for life.

Another thing; as far as I am concerned the real culprit is Variable Loans (as opposed to Fix Rate Loans). Variable Loans is a con on borrowers who are told that they can refinance at a lower rate when their Variable Loans change. As if anyone has a accurate crystal ball that says the loan rates will be lower at that time. Surprise, if the rates go up the borrower is in real trouble. As far as I can see, Subprime loans are Variable Loans.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

AMERICA - A Look At Our Future

"Police State America - A Look Back and Ahead" by Stephen Lendman 12/17/2007

Year end is a good time to look back and reflect on what's ahead. If past is prologue, however, the outlook isn't good, and nothing on the horizon suggests otherwise. Voters last November wanted change but got betrayal from the bipartisan criminal class in Washington. Their attitude shows in an October Reuters/Zogby (RZ) opinion poll with George Bush at 24% that tops Richard Nixon's worst showing of 25% at his lowest 1974 Watergate point. And if that looks bad, consider Congress with "The Hill" reporting from the same RZ Index that our legislators scored a "staggering 11%, the lowest (congressional) rating in history," but there's room yet to hit bottom and a year left to do it. Why not with lawmakers' consistent voter sellout and failure record that keeps getting worse.

It's been that way ever since 9/11 with both sides of the aisle complicit with the administration. This article looks back at the record, and year end is a good time to review it. It's hard imagining another as bad with a President defiling the law and once telling Republican colleagues the Constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper."

He didn't just say it. He governs by it, gets away with it, and former Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, says "a coup has occurred (with another to come from) the next 9/11....that completes the first (that's) seen a steady assault on every fundamental (aspect) of our Constitution (to create) an executive government (to) rule by decree" no different from a police state.

These are just the opening paragraphs of this long article.

The article contains sections on the following:
  • Use of National Security ((NSPDs) and Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs)
  • Congressional Legislation After 9/11
  • The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005
  • The Military Commissions Act
  • Revising the 1807 Insurrection Act and Ending 1878 Posse Comitatus Protection
  • The Real ID Act of 2005
  • Pervasive Spying on Americans
  • Executive Orders Issued by George Bush
  • Secrecy As Policy under George Bush
  • The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA)
  • The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (HR 1955)
  • Sections 1615 and 1622 of the 2008 Defense Authorization Act
  • Operation FALCON - Police State America in Real Time
  • Muslim and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) Sweeps
  • Police State America Preparations
  • The Role of Blackwater USA in Police State America

The contents of these paragraphs are the details of the assaults on human and American rights. The assault on our Constitution.

Emperor Bush is using fear of terrorism, like dictators of the past, to convince Americans to allow a Fascist Police State. Regrettably voters have let Bush and his GOP supporters get away with it.

WORLD POLITICS - Call For Understanding

"Forum Seeks Muslim-Western Understanding" by Ciaran Giles, AP 1/15/2008

The world is in urgent need of dialogue between Western and Muslim countries as a way to combat terrorism, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday as he opened an international forum.

"Never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations," Ban said in Madrid at the start of a two-day meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations, a U.N.-backed initiative aimed at encouraging dialogue between the West and Muslim countries.

"The threats are terrifying but the responses are at hand," he added.

"Fostering dialogue will not produce changes overnight," said Ban. "It is not the fast way. But it is the sure way."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero presented the alliance idea to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2004 after the March 11, 2004, terrorist bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people and injured more than 1,800.

The initiative is seen by many as Zapatero's attempt to counteract the military approach to terrorism fostered by the United States. Zapatero's Socialists were elected to office in the wake of the 2004 attacks. One of his first measures was to bring home Spanish troops sent to Iraq by his conservative predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, a strong ally of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Turkey later became a co-sponsor of the project, which was adopted by the United Nations and now has the backing of more than 80 nations.

Opening the conference, Zapatero said the Alliance hoped to prevent a "clash of civilizations by promoting security, understanding tolerance and mutual respect in a globalized world."

"It aspires to build bridges that can help us to manage the differences existing in the world, particularly those linked to religious or cultural issues," Zapatero added.

The event was attended by dozens of government members, representatives of international organizations, civil society, the media and philanthropic foundations from across the world.

Critics in Spain have called the alliance a pointless venture and merely a bid by Zapatero to get a foot on the international stage.

With Spain's general elections two months ahead, opinion polls show the Socialists and conservatives in a dead heat.

"Zapatero is trying to leave his mark on the international scene," columnist Manuel Martin Ferran in the conservative ABC daily on Tuesday.

The Alliance has set education, migration, the media and youth as its four areas for special attention.

The meeting will include workshops on issues ranging from building cross-cultural understanding of conflict prevention, religion and politics at the community level.

Organizers said they planned to announce details of a media fund aimed at supporting major film productions that promote cross-cultural understanding and combat stereotypes.

They said Sheikha Mozah, chairwoman of the Qatar Foundation, was also expected to announce a major financial commitment toward the establishment of a global youth employment initiative involving corporations, major multilateral organizations and governments.

Regardless of Zapatero's motives, this is a much needed call. It is only a start, the beginning of the race. It also does not address the need for understanding and tolerance within Islam.

HUMOR - From the Humor Times

Joke of the Week

A farm boy accidentally overturned his wagonload of corn. The farmer who lived nearby heard the noise and yelled over to the boy, "Hey Willis forget your troubles. Come in and visit with us. I'll help you get the wagon up later.

That's mighty nice of you," Willis answered, "but I don't think Pa would like me to."

"Aw come on boy," the farmer insisted.

"Well okay," the boy finally agreed, and added, "but Pa won't like it."

After a hearty dinner, Willis thanked his host. "I feel a lot better now, but I know Pa is going to be real upset."

"Don't be foolish!" the neighbor said with a smile. "By the way, where is he?"

"Under the wagon."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

PAKISTAN - War On Terror Partner Failure

"Pakistan Struggles Against Militants Trained by Agency" by Carlotta Gall & David Rohde, New York Times

Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.

As the military has moved against them, the militants have turned on their former handlers, the officials said. Joining with other extremist groups, they have battled Pakistani security forces and helped militants carry out a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units as well as prominent political figures, possibly even Benazir Bhutto.

The growing strength of the militants, many of whom now express support for Al Qaeda’s global jihad, presents a grave threat to Pakistan’s security, as well as NATO efforts to push back the Taliban in Afghanistan. American officials have begun to weigh more robust covert operations to go after Al Qaeda in the lawless border areas because they are so concerned that the Pakistani government is unable to do so.

The unusual disclosures regarding Pakistan’s leading military intelligence agency — Inter-Services Intelligence, or the ISI — emerged in interviews last month with former senior Pakistani intelligence officials. The disclosures confirm some of the worst fears, and suspicions, of American and Western military officials and diplomats.

There's more in the full 4 page article.

Ah yes. Another fine example of our Fearless Leader's command of the War on Terror. NOT!

Monday, January 14, 2008

POLITICS - America on the Wrong Track

"Poll: Americans Think U.S. On Wrong Track" CBS News 1/13/2008

This poll essentially confirms that 6 in 10 Americans believe our nation is on the wrong track.

Could it be that our nation is finally waking up to the damage Emperor Bush has done? It is just too bad it has taken this long.

ECONOMY - No Quick Fix, Collateral Effect Election 2008

"No Quick Fix to Downturn" by Peter S. Goodman & Floyd Norris, New York Times


As leaders in Washington turn their attention to efforts to avert a looming downturn, many economists suggest that it may already be too late to change the course of the economy over the first half of the year, if not longer.

With a wave of negative signs gathering force, economists, policy makers and investors are debating just how much the economy could be damaged in 2008. Huge and complex, the American economy has in recent years been aided by a global web of finance so elaborate that no one seems capable of fully comprehending it. That makes it all but impossible to predict how much the economy can be expected to fall before it stabilizes.

The answer could be a defining factor in the outcome of the fiercely contested presidential election. Not long ago, the race centered on the war in Iraq.

But now, as candidates fan out across the country, visiting places as varied as the factory towns of Michigan and streets lined with unsold condominiums in Las Vegas, voters are increasingly demanding that they focus on the best way to keep the economy from slipping off the tracks.

The measures now being debated in Washington and on the campaign trail — tax rebates, added help for the unemployed and those facing sharply higher heating bills and, most immediately, a move by the Federal Reserve to further cut interest rates — could certainly moderate the severity of a downturn. Democrats and the Bush administration are considering a package of such measures that could reach $100 billion.

But the forces menacing the economy, like the unraveling of the real estate market and high oil prices, are too entrenched to be swiftly dispatched by government largess or cheaper credit, some economists say.

“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.”

In the view of many analysts, the economy is now in a downward spiral, with each piece of negative news setting off the next. Falling housing prices have eroded the ability of homeowners to borrow against their property, threatening their ability to spend freely. Concerns about tightening consumer spending have prompted businesses to slow hiring, limiting wage increases and in turn applying the brakes anew to consumer spending.

Not everyone is convinced that the American economy is headed for a recession, defined as six months of economic contraction. The economy often serves up indications of distress that later turn out to be false warnings.

But some economists think a recession may have begun in December. In the last two weeks, there have been signs that a substantial downturn may already be unfolding. The Labor Department reported a sharp slowdown in job creation in December. Retailers said that sales last month were extremely disappointing, capping the worst gain for a holiday season in five years. A widely watched index showed manufacturing slowing, despite a weak American dollar that has encouraged growth in exports.

The construction of new homes has already fallen by some 40 percent since the peak in 2006. The sales of new homes have fallen even faster, suggesting that a large oversupply of places to live will continue to drag down prices.

Home prices have dropped by about 7 percent since the peak in 2006, but some experts suggest they could fall by another 15 to 20 percent before hitting bottom.

“There is still a long way to go,” said Nouriel Roubini, an economist at the Stern School of Business at New York University and chairman of the research firm RGE Monitor.

“We’re facing the risk of a systemic financial crisis,” Mr. Roubini said. “It’s not just subprime mortgages. The same kind of reckless lending has been occurring throughout the financial system. And it’s not only mortgages: Now it’s credit cards and auto loans, where we see problems increasing. The toxic junk is popping up everywhere.”

Banks, including commercial banks and investment banks, have so far acknowledged losses of some $100 billion, yet anxiety persists that more large write-offs are coming.

“Firms will go to great lengths to hide or delay reporting losses,” said Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics. “What we know now therefore might only be the tip of the iceberg.”

Wall Street has clamored for the Fed to keep lowering rates, cognizant that cheaper credit is generally good not just for encouraging borrowing and spending but also for corporate profits.

But some economists fear that lower rates will simply provide a short-lived boost at the expense of the economy’s longer-term health: Cheap money encourages foolish investments, they say, which is precisely how Americans came to experience the evaporation of wealth in the Internet era, followed by housing prices rising beyond any reasonable connection to incomes.

“If we have a recession with a modest consumer retrenchment, and the rest of the world holds up, this could be three quarters of disappointment,” said Robert Barbera, the chief economist of ITG. “The risk is a more dramatic decline for the consumer.”

A recession could pack enormous political consequences. Over the last century, the economy has been in a recession four times in the early part of a presidential election year, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. In each of those years — 1920, 1932, 1960 and 1980 — the party of the incumbent president lost the election.

While tax rebates can encourage spending and generate jobs, Mr. Roubini said, the government cannot afford to unleash the significant amounts — $300 billion or $400 billion — that he believes would be required to ensure a substantial rebound in economic growth.

Friday, January 11, 2008

POLITICS - US House of Representatives

"Mathematician proposes another way of divvying up the US House" by Eric Hand

As the US campaign revs up, mathematicians debate how states should be represented.

With 53 seats in the US House of Representatives, California has long dominated congressional and electoral politics. Now mathematician Paul Edelman says that a much-needed rehaul of the way these seats are assigned would knock them down three notches.

Edelman, who is also a law professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, is proposing a different method for apportionment, the process that divvies up the 435 congressional representatives based on state populations. He claims his method is fairer than the existing one because it comes closest to the "one person, one vote" ideal set forth by the US Supreme Court. The current method "takes no account of what the law has to say", argues Edelman, who outlined his method in a talk on 6 January at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego, California.

There's more in the full article.

This issue stems from the method we now use to assign House seats.

"Each state receives representation in the House proportional to its population but is entitled to at least one Representative." (Wikipeada)

Edelman's suggestion has some merit. But note it is a small change. We also need to remember that the House was constructed by our Founding Fathers to represent "the people." Therefore more populous states will have more Representatives.

It is in the Senate that each state has equal power, 2 Senators = 2 votes.

This is why, except for Constitutional Amendments, you need both houses of congress to pass any law. The House = the people's will, the Senate = the will of the individual State.

At least that is the ideal, but thanks to money, lobbyists, etc. ..................

ON THE LITE SIDE - San Diego Zoo, Zhen Zhen

"Life with the Kids"

It’s been two weeks since Zhen Zhen (pictured) made her public debut, and in the best family tradition, she’s won over every visitor to see her, it seems. Her climbing skills are awesome, she’s just passed the five-month mark, and her weight increases weekly. All in all she’s just doing fine and handling the attention in the same manner as her siblings before her: going to sleep earlier and earlier each day, sleeping through visiting hours, and waking to romp when the exhibit doors have closed. Is this a family tradition, spread from mother to cubs? I recall Bai Yun doing the same thing in that same viewing area early on after her arrival in late 1996. The clock would strike nine, she’d cock her head in the direction of the carillon, drop her bamboo, climb into the pine tree, turn around, and go to sleep for the remainder of the morning.

All the attention has been directed toward Zhen: visitors come racing down the San Diego Zoo’s Bear Canyon and, with two viewing areas open in the morning, often bypass Gao Gao and Su Lin, or do a U-turn and race back up Panda Canyon to see the baby before her area closes, these days at 11:30 a.m. It’s almost shocking how quickly Su Lin’s status has dropped from being the bear everyone wanted to see to second-best. And, as if she senses this, within days of Zhen going on exhibit, Su Lin delighted those guests wise enough to still appreciate her with a classic cub romp throughout her enclosure! Up and down the climbing structures, bouncing on the elm branches, tearing branches off the bushes, and rolling and trotting across her space, is she reminding us that she’s still a growing panda kid, and as such retains a serious cute factor? Through these last rainy weeks, we’ve not seen the rain dancing that we’d seen before; perhaps the novelty has worn off since it’s rained so often.

Zhen Zhen, too, has been out and about in the rain, although not within our view until recently. The tree limbs were so slick this Saturday that she couldn’t reach her favorite napping spot, in spite of repeated attempts. The end result was a small, wet bear with a crusting of mud (bedraggled but bewitching) who finally toddled into the shelter box, curled up in the fresh, sweet hay, and went to sleep for the rest of the morning. Babies of all species sleep a lot, it’s true, but as she grows we hope that we’ll soon be seeing more of Zhen Zhen in action before that long summer stretch when, in the best cub fashion, she’ll climb up to the top of a leafy tree and go to sleep!

Lets all hear it.... AHHHHHH!

TECH NEWS - Smart-Grids

"GridWise trial finds 'smart grids' cut electricity bills" by Martin LaMonica

Results from a year-long study on high-tech electricity meters found smart grid technology performed as intended, saving consumers about 10 percent on their bills while easing strain on the power grid.

The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest Laboratory on Wednesday released the findings from its GridWise project, which tested the use of Internet-connected thermostats and other controls in 112 homes in the Seattle area.

Consumers also tried out appliances, like water heaters and dryers, that were able to automatically change their settings according to signals sent by the utility over the power grid.

The trial showed that consumers are willing to have utilities remotely dial down the appliances to lessen the load on the power grid and reduce their consumption, said Rob Pratt, program manager at Pacific Northwest National Lab.

These changes could be as small as turning off the heat on the dryer while it continues to tumble for a few minutes. But those minute-to-minute adjustments, driven by the fluctuating demand on the power grid, can have significant benefits to utilities.

"We could save $70 billion in investments in the next 20 years by offsetting construction of new infrastructure that would otherwise be needed to meet load growth," Pratt said during a teleconference with the media.

Smart grid technology would also provide more reliability to the power grid, allowing utilities to isolate problems more easily. Clean power sources such as wind and solar, which pose technical challenges because they don't supply a steady stream of electricity, can be better incorporated with upgraded equipment, the study found.

The electricity infrastructure in the United States needs significant investment to be modernized, according to industry analysts. But utilities tend to be very conservative and unwilling to make large capital expenditures on new equipment.

"The only thing that will move this forward is simply the fact that we have got to do something," Pratt said. "(Utilities) have been delaying investment (in physical infrastructure) and they're going to need computer and Internet technologies as a stopgap if nothing else."

The recently passed energy bill includes a title that would allocate additional research for smart grid technologies. It also outlined a process for standardizing communications protocols.

There's more in the full article.

MUSIC - On My Favorites List

Comfortably Numb
Pink Floyd

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

POLITICS - Campaign 2008, Hillary

The following is just a small excerpt from this article.

"Gender and New Hampshire - Part I" by Publius 1/9/2008

When the primary fumes pass, we’ll all come around to Clinton, especially compared to the GOP monstrosities. But with Clinton, my perception is that none of this inspired future is possible. Hers will be a competent, moderate, K Street-friendly administration. But I want more – and I think the nation could get more. Thus, my frustration with Clinton’s victory probably has less to do with her personally, than with the fact that I see a very different sort of future slipping away if she wins (or if Edwards wins for that matter). Sure, I’m probably overestimating Obama’s potential energy, but so what. I think it’s just as possible that people are underestimating it.

Food for thought.

POLITICS - The Bush Failed Presidency, From Israel

"Bush has no clothes" by Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy 1/9/2008

For a gauge of Israeli punditry opinion, check out today's piece by Ma'ariv analyst Ben Caspit, who skewers President Bush and dismisses any talk of progress in peace talks...

Ma’ariv (p. 2) by Ben Caspit -- “The leader of the free world,” this is the title of the man who will alight from Air Force One this morning at Ben-Gurion Airport. My sympathies to the free world. With such a leader, one misses the Cold War of Stalin and Khrushchev.

What remains for the free world is to count down the time that remains until the end of the “leader’s” term. It is going to be a long and wearying year. At the end of which, we can hope, it will still be possible to mend something.

It is a long time since the United States has had such a failing president, who caused so much damage to so many interests and values in such a short time. Think about the state in which he received America and how he is returning it. The power that dominated the world is now begging for favors.

For the first time in generations, the US faces real threats to its global hegemony. US citizens hide their identity in many places around the world. The economy is faltering, the hegemony is weakening, the international standing is at an unprecedented low.

The Taliban in Afghanistan are raising their head, Iraq is decimated, nuclear Pakistan is on its way to chaos, Saudi Arabia is wavering, Egypt is restive, Russia is returning to the Cold War, China is gaining markets and power, and over the weekend several Iranian boats frightened three warships of the mighty US Navy and returned home safely.

All this is without saying a word about Osama bin Laden, who has survived George Bush’s eight years without suffering a scratch, and is still primed for action. And without having mentioned Hugo Chavez, from small Venezuela, who treats George Bush like a retarded child and enjoys every moment. […]

The damage that Bush has caused to the world and to the US is dwarfed by what he has done to the Middle East. The democratization that he is continuing to try to instill in the Arab states is setting the entire region on fire and destabilizing the flimsy foundations upon which the fragile regional order rests. Bush is directly responsible for the chaos in Iraq, the rise of Hamas to power in the Palestinian Authority, Hezbollah’s buildup of strength and the trembling ground under the feet of all the rest.

With his own hands, Bush turned Iran into the dominant regional power. If he has time, before he goes, he will still try to topple the regime in Syria, and further destabilize the regime in Cairo with his democracy chatter, in order to verify that extremist Islam will indeed take over the Middle East.

The most severe thing about him is that until now, he has not managed to understand the magnitude of the stupidity of his moves. There is no one to tell him that despite the limousines, Air Force One, the Secret Service, the boots, the trappings of power, the CIA, the FBI and the other rituals and ceremonies surrounding the American president, despite all this—the president has no clothes. Only he, for some reason, continues to believe that sometime, perhaps after his death (as he said in an interview to Yedioth Ahronoth this past weekend), the world will recognize his genius.

There's more in the full article.

See. I am not the only one who has come to the realization that Bush is just plain stupid, dangerously so.

U.S. HEALTH - What GOP Style Healthcare Get Us

"France best, U.S. worst in preventable death ranking" by Will Dunham, Reuters 1/8/2008

France, Japan and Australia rated best and the United States worst in new rankings focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions in 19 leading industrialized nations, researchers said on Tuesday.

If the U.S. health care system performed as well as those of those top three countries, there would be 101,000 fewer deaths in the United States per year, according to researchers writing in the journal Health Affairs.

Researchers Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tracked deaths that they deemed could have been prevented by access to timely and effective health care, and ranked nations on how they did.

They called such deaths an important way to gauge the performance of a country's health care system.

Nolte said the large number of Americans who lack any type of health insurance -- about 47 million people in a country of about 300 million, according to U.S. government estimates -- probably was a key factor in the poor showing of the United States compared to other industrialized nations in the study.

"I wouldn't say it (the last-place ranking) is a condemnation, because I think health care in the U.S. is pretty good if you have access. But if you don't, I think that's the main problem, isn't it?" Nolte said in a telephone interview.

In establishing their rankings, the researchers considered deaths before age 75 from numerous causes, including heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, certain bacterial infections and complications of common surgical procedures.

Such deaths accounted for 23 percent of overall deaths in men and 32 percent of deaths in women, the researchers said.

There's more in the full article.

The U.S. does have very good healthcare, which is what the GOP continually claim on the issue of "fixing" healthcare, especially when cost (who pays) comes up. Of course the GOP is totally ignoring the "if you have access" part. Having access is dictated by "can you afford healthcare," not by is good healthcare available.

If you are rich, no problem, and it's the rich that own the GOP. As for the rest of us, the GOP just wishes we would go away.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

CRIME - Cold Case Revived

"D.B. Cooper Alive? Cold Case Revived" by Gene Byrd 1/2/2008

Is D.B. Cooper alive and well? The case has now been revived and authorities are again trying to figure out exactly what happened on November 24, 1971. A man calling himself Dan Cooper (now the notorious DB Cooper) boarded a jet in Portland for Seattle thirty-six years ago and then would disappear creating a folk legend.

After receiving a ransom payout of two hundred thousand dollars he jumped from the back of a Boeing 727 as it was flying over the Pacific Northwest somewhere over the Cascade Mountains, possibly over Woodland, Washington. No conclusive evidence has surfaced regarding Cooper's whereabouts, although the FBI believes he did not survive the jump, though legend says he is alive and well, or at least was after the wild caper.

The case remains unsolved. A film about the wild case hit theaters in 1981 titled "The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper." In real life, the FBI is asking for your help to solve the case. Crime Library called it this way. "The case remains unsolved more than 30 years later, and D. B. Cooper has become the Bigfoot of crime, evading one of the most extensive and expensive American manhunts of the 20th century. The whereabouts of the man (or his remains) is one of the great crime mysteries of our time."

They add, "There was modest collateral damage to Northwest Orient's bottom line, and the FBI's swollen ego was bruised to the bone. Cooper pulled his buccaneering swipe in the twilight of the 47-year tenure of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who died not long after the hi - jacking. The director no doubt went to his grave with teeth gritted over his agency's inability, in this case, to get their man."

Now the FBI asks in a statement, "Who was Cooper? Did he survive the jump? We're providing new information and pictures and asking for your help in solving the case."

ECONOMY - 2008 Begins and It's Still Skidding

"The Economy and the New Year" New York Times Editorial

As 2008 begins, house prices are still skidding, bank losses are still mounting, oil is again flirting with $100 a barrel and consumers are buying less as prices rise. To many, the wheels appear to be coming off the economy. To others, including President Bush and his aides, the economy is fundamentally sound and resilient.

Obviously, both camps cannot be right. Unfortunately, the preponderance of evidence is grim.

When Mr. Bush says the economy is strong, he is generally referring to rising wages, low unemployment and what he calls healthy economic growth. But wages have either fallen or failed to outpace inflation during most of his tenure. Job creation is now slowing from a pace that has long been subpar. Economic growth is also braking, if not contracting. In any event, growth during the Bush years has not been healthy; rather, it has been abnormally lopsided. Corporate profits have soared (until recently) and the rich have become richer, while most Americans have treaded water or lost ground, their troubling circumstances masked by an unprecedented borrowing binge, now exacting its toll.

The other presumed economic bright spots — business investment and exports — are less bright upon closer inspection. According to a new government report, orders for big-ticket commercial goods rose a spare 0.1 percent in November.

As for exports, they have surged lately, but the growth has not yet led to more manufacturing jobs or inflation-beating pay raises for existing factory workers. The relative health of exporters is also obscuring the fact that to be more competitive in the long term, corporate America needs health care reform and tax reform, two fronts on which the Bush administration has made no progress. Instead, much if not most of recent export growth is due to the weakening dollar, which makes American products more affordable elsewhere.

While the boost is welcome, relying solely on a weaker currency to correct America’s trade imbalance has downsides. For one, a falling dollar interacts with global money flows in a way that complicates the job of the Federal Reserve to steer the economy. That was made clear again last week, when a top Chinese bank official warned of a destabilizing sell-off in dollar-based assets if the Fed continued to cut rates.

Hoping for the best is facile if not paired with preparation for the worst. Perhaps more than anything, a lack of preparation makes it hard to believe Mr. Bush’s assurances that all will be well. The administration has operated in a state of economic denial for years: conducting wars while cutting taxes, piling up debt, neglecting to regulate the financial sector even as it went on a lending binge, and ignoring the pain that was sure to come when consumers, bankers and investors sobered up.

Given that record, it is no surprise that Mr. Bush is now refusing to acknowledge the seriousness of the problems he has helped create. Americans don’t need more denial. They need an unvarnished appraisal of the nation’s economy — including the politics and ideology that has driven it to this point. That is the only real hope for starting to turn things around.

Hay, we all need to understand that Bush lives in Bush World where his Administration and the GOP can do no wrong.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

HAPPY NEW YEAR - Pst! Buddy, Want Some Credit Card Info?

"Personal data theft at record level", AP

An estimated 79 million U.S. records were breached in 2007 - nearly 4 times as many as in 2006

The loss or theft of personal data such as credit card and Social Security numbers soared to unprecedented levels in 2007, and the trend isn't expected to turn around anytime soon as hackers stay a step ahead of security and laptops disappear with sensitive information.

And while companies, government agencies, schools and other institutions are spending more to protect ever-increasing volumes of data with more sophisticated firewalls and encryption, the investment often is too little too late.

"More of them are experiencing data breaches, and they're responding to them in a reactive way, rather than proactively looking at the company's security and seeing where the holes might be," said Linda Foley, who founded the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center after becoming an identity theft victim herself.

Foley's group lists more than 79 million records reported compromised in the United States through Dec. 18. That's a nearly fourfold increase from the nearly 20 million records reported in all of 2006.

Another group,, estimates more than 162 million records compromised through Dec. 21 - both in the U.S. and overseas, unlike the other group's U.S.-only list. Attrition reported 49 million last year.

"It's just the nature of business, that moving forward, more companies are going to have more records, so there will be more records compromised each year," said Attrition's Brian Martin. "I imagine the total records compromised will steadily climb."

But the biggest difference between the groups' record-loss counts is's estimate that 94 million records were exposed in a theft of credit card data at TJX (TJX, Fortune 500), the owner of discount stores including T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. The TJX breach accounts for more than half the total records reported lost this year on both groups' lists.

The Identity Theft Resource Center counts about 46 million - the number of records TJX acknowledged in March were potentially compromised. Attrition's figure is based on estimates from Visa and MasterCard officials who were deposed in a lawsuit banks filed against TJX.

The breach is believed to have started when hackers intercepted wireless transfers of customer information at two Marshalls stores in Miami - an entry point that led the hackers to eventually break into TJX's central databases.

TJX has said that before the breach, which was revealed in January, it invested "millions of dollars on computer security, and believes our security was comparable to many major retailers."

With wireless data transmission more common, hackers increasingly are expected to target what many experts see as a major vulnerability. Eavesdroppers appear to be learning how to bypass security safeguards faster than ever, said Jay Tumas, the head of Harvard University's network operations, at a recent conference for information security professionals.

"Within a year or two, these folks are catching up," Tumas said.

The two nonprofit groups' 2007 data also show rising numbers of incidents in which employees lose sensitive data, as opposed to cases of hacking.

Besides TJX's problem, major 2007 breaches include lost data disks with bank account numbers in Britain, a hacker attack of a U.S.-based online broker's database and a con that spilled resume contact information from a U.S. online jobs site.

"A lot of breaches are due to inadequate information handling, such as laptop computers with Social Security numbers on them that are lost," Foley said. "This is human error, and something that's completely avoidable, as opposed to a hacker breaking into your computer system." and the Identity Theft Resource Center are the only groups, government included, maintaining databases on breaches and trends each year. They've been keeping track for only a handful of years, with varied and still-evolving methods of learning about breaches and estimating how many people were affected.

Despite those challenges, the two nonprofits say it's clear 2007 will end up a record year for the amount of information compromised, because of greater data loss and increased reporting of breaches.

Both groups acknowledge many breaches may be missing from their lists, because they largely count incidents reported in news media that they consider credible. Media coverage has risen in part because of the growing number of states requiring businesses and institutions to publicly disclose data losses. Thirty-seven states, plus Washington D.C., now have such requirements.

Because of proliferation of such laws, "it may take a year or two before things stabilize and we can see what's really happening," Foley said. "If that's the case, then we'll know whether businesses are practicing better information-handling techniques."

And it's NOT going to be better in 2008.

"More of them are experiencing data breaches, and they're responding to them in a reactive way, rather than proactively," is an understatement. All organizations handling personal data, especially retailers, need to think "security." They need to have a top-flight IT security team in place.

As for customers, think thrice about doing banking over the Internet, especially wireless. The less personal data you place over the NET the safer you'll be.

But the sad fact is, there is so much personal data out there already, via every application you have made for credit (online or paper) or online ordering. Even for those who do not use the NET, their personal data is sitting on some computer somewhere.