Saturday, April 28, 2007

Gee....How Nice Of Him...

Three thousand Americans died on September 11, 2001. On September 14, President George W Bush vowed to get "the folks who did this"

I'm guessing Hamid Karzai missed that memo:
KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban freed a French aid worker on Saturday as President Hamid Karzai marked the anniversary of the end of communist rule with a fresh offer of olive branch to the resurgent Islamic guerrillas.

Let's take a closer look at this:
At a colorful ceremony in Kabul for the 15th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet-backed communist regime, Karzai again pleaded with the Taliban to talk peace.

"Today, while celebrating the jihad victory, we once again invite those who have sided with aliens because of seduction against their nation, to give up sedition and evil and join peaceful life," he said.
And those three thousand dead Americans, the nation that put you, an Unocal puppet, back in charge, including the natural gas pipeline Unocal is building to Pakistan?

Wouldn't it be nice if the those men and women could join you at your festival of peace?

The real kicker was the Taliban response to this offer:
France's Foreign Ministry confirmed that one member of an aid group who had been kidnapped in Afghanistan early this month had been released.

Why are we fighting in Iraq again?

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Kitten Blogging

Iiii hav mi eyzzzzzzzzzzzzzz on u!

Friday Music Blogging

Sheryl Crow - In honor of her bitchslap of Karl Rove - "Soak Up The Sun"

I'd so totally have her baby...

To No One's Great Surprise....

....except maybe the sheeple on the right...:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Weaker exports and a steady slide in spending on homebuilding helped slow U.S. economic growth to its softest pace in four years during the first quarter, the Commerce Department reported on Friday.

Gross domestic product or GDP, which measures total goods and services output within U.S. borders, increased at a weaker-than-expected 1.3 percent annual rate in the three months from January through March.

That was a little more than half the fourth quarter's 2.5 percent rate and well below the 1.8 percent rate that Wall Street analysts had forecast GDP would expand. The last quarter when growth was weaker was in the first three months of 2003, when GDP expanded at a 1.2 percent rate.

Growth has been slowing since late last year under the impact of a hard-hit housing sector where rising defaults are taking a toll on the subprime lending sector and causing builders to scale back until inventories of completed but unsold homes are reduced.
The situation is worse than you might imagine.

If you factor out export businesses and products, GDP actually dropped in the fourth quarter (exports grew 10.6%, meaning the domestic economy was off in the fourth quarter, reflected in consumer spending in December and the housing markets).

In the first quarter of 2007, export businesses actually had a real decline of 1.2%. Let's call it flat for jazz sake, but this was the first time exports hadn't increased since the second quarter of 2003.

So we're looking at two components of a "perfect storm" of weakness: flat domestic growth and flat export growth.

Consumer spending increased 3.8% in the first quarter which is a good sign, until you realize that much of this increase was caused by inflationary pricing, with energy prices rising as the extended winter remained cooler than expected.

It's safe to say the economy is on shaky ground right now. Consumer and governmental debts are at all time highs, and while consumer spending is still going on, one wonders how much longer that can be sustained. Wages are stagnant, net worths are slipping, and consumer "wealth" (a true illusionary misnomer), is rocky and unstable.

The rubber band is stretched very thin right now. And gas prices are already rising ahead of the summer driving season.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Shivving A Lame Duck

I have to give Vladimir Putin credit. He sure does have his finger on the pulse of the American attention span.

Amidst all the fuff and bluster of the scrutiny of our domestic agenda, knowing full well that now that Yeltsin's funeral has passed and the spotlight is off Russia again (with the added formal bit of nostalgia for those heady days of glasnost and perestroika), he's slipped a dagger into the lame duck:
OSLO (Reuters) - A row between the United States and Russia over U.S. plans to build a missile shield in eastern Europe escalated on Thursday when President Vladimir Putin declared a moratorium on a key European arms treaty.

Putin's announcement to the Russian parliament came hours before NATO and Russian officials were due to discuss a project U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said was no threat to Moscow, dismissing such suggestions as "purely ludicrous".

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he would ask Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to explain Putin's decision to suspend the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) and rejected Putin's accusation that NATO was ignoring it.
And all this could have been a non-issue if Bush and his administration hadn't left themselves wide open for it. By running and hiding and not taking responsibility for its errors and mistakes in the past six years, Bush has forced a long, drawn out confrontation with a hostile Congress. Putin is merely taking advantage of the distraction.

The CFE Treaty was negotiated in the months after the Cold War among the then-22 member states of NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries with the goal of achieving verifiable reductions in conventional military equipment. It was adapted in 1999 (during the Clinton administration, again showing the enormous impact that great man had).

What triggered this move on Putin's part?

Again, either out of spite for all things Clinton, or in simply the stupidest strategic move since Troy took in a wooden horse, Bush announced plans to base missile interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, effectively negating the treaty anyway, and forcing Putin's hand.

There is a quid pro quo here, as well. Both the Czechs and Poles have contributed forces to the Coalition of the Bribed Willing, and have not announced major troop withdrawal plans. Other former Warsaw Pact countries who are now part of NATO and some who are not, have withdrawn troops (Bulgaria and Slovakia being notable amongst these) and subsequently have not been favored with US military installations (and the dollars these bring to those economies, as well as some protection from any potential hegemony by a re-forming Soviet Union.)

Putin, seeing an increased NATO and specifically, American presence on his west, really had no choice but to walk away from this treaty, honored more in the breach than in the commitment.

I'm not liking what I'm seeing. Between this move and the inroads China has made in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa, we're sort of setting up this patchwork World War scenario: this country here favors that country there, while in between are two countries who are each supported by other nations.

Keep your eyes out for visits to unusual places by leaders of China and Russia. Already, Chinese premiere Hu has paid a call to South America, notably Brazil.

This is a chess game, and we're already in mid-game.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hump Day Comedy Blogging: UK Division

This was too funny not to share today

Hump Day Comedy Blogging

The Marx Brothers explain how Conservatives complain

Your Morning Cup Of Snark

I'm not going to comment much on this, because if my thinking is wrong, I may end up in some alien cookbook:
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - When the aliens finally invade Earth, you may wish you had listened to Travis Taylor and Bob Boan.

And if the invasion follows the plot of a typical Hollywood blockbuster, they might also be the guys called in at the last minute to save the day.

After all, they have written "An Introduction to Planetary Defense", a primer on how humanity can defend itself if little green men wielding death rays show up at our cosmic doorstep.
You read that correctly. Alien invasion.


Taylor and Boan are hardly basement-dwelling paranoids obsessed with tinfoil hats and Area 51. Taylor holds advanced degrees in astronomy and physics, and is an associate at consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. He and Boan have done consulting work for the Defense Department and the U.S. space agency NASA.
It turns out, however, that we may be living and learning the lessons that we can use against space aliens.
Failure to prepare may mean mankind will have to dig in and fight with improvised weapons and hit-and-run tactics, much the same way Islamic extremists have battled the U.S. military in Iraq, Taylor said.

"You'd have to create an insurgency, a mujahideen-type resistance," Taylor said. "The insurgents know how to win this war against us. It also tells us that if we were attacked by aliens, this is our best defense."
*biting lip*

Have your say...I, for one, welcome our ant overlords...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gender Bender

The other day, I posted my thoughts regarding the exoneration of the Duke lacrosse players. I thought my longest exchange would be with radical feminists, but curiously, a reader stepped up and posted some very long and interesting posts regarding the myth of male dominance in America.

I thought I'd revisit this issue, on the heels of a new study released yesterday, that indicates that women's earning power is affected immediately and longitudinally by the mere fact they are not men.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A dramatic pay gap emerges between women and men in America the year after they graduate from college and widens over the ensuing decade, according to research released on Monday.

One year out of college, women working full time earn 80 percent of what men earn, according to the study by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, based in Washington D.C.

Ten years later, women earn 69 percent as much as men earn, it said.

Even as the study accounted for such factors as the number of hours worked, occupations or parenthood, the gap persisted, researchers said.
I haven't seen the report, so it's hard for me to verify that the research truly did factor out pregnancy and occupations. The report presented on the Today Show was very misleading, in fact, as it compared an English major (woman) to an engineering graduate (man). The Reuters article, however, goes into a bit more depth regarding the study:
Among factors found to make a difference in pay, the choice of fields of concentration in college were significant, the study found. Female students tended to study areas with lower pay, such as education, health and psychology, while male students dominated higher-paying fields such as engineering, mathematics and physical sciences, it said.

Even so, one year after graduation, a pay gap turned up between women and men who studied the same fields.

In education, women earn 95 percent as much as their male colleagues earn, while in math, women earn 76 percent as much as men earn, the study showed.
Interesting that even in traditionally female professions, like teaching, there would remain an apparent gender-based difference in salaries. Here's the kicker:
While in college, the study showed, women outperformed men academically, and their grade point averages were higher in every college major.
Presumably, that would make women more qualified for better paying jobs.

Onto leaves of absence: clearly, if a man or woman takes a leave of absence, it should affect her or his earnings, when compared to someone who worked straight through the gap. An appropriate study, in my opinion, would be to pair up groups: men who took leaves, for education or parenting, with women who took similar leaves; men and women who worked straight through; and of course, pairing up equivalent earners in both groups.

This study attempts to delineate the general pay gap:
Specifically, about one-quarter of the pay gap is attributable to gender -- 5 percent one year after graduation and 12 percent 10 years after graduation, it said.

One year out of college, men and women should arguably be the least likely to show a gender pay gap, the study said, since neither tend to be parents yet and they enter the work force without significant experience.
Statistically, it seems to me that the initial pay should be equal, of course, but here again, it's not clear if the "five percent gap" is attributable to field of study, gender, or some other factor. A five percent gap is pretty significant as an initial set of conditions.

Too, the gender issue is fraught with complications: how much of this is inherent gender bias, and how much of it is individual psychology? Are men trained to negotiate tougher, to be more self-oriented? Are woman more respectful of authority, more willing to accept the first offer because they want to be perceived as team players? Are companies less likely to hire a woman because she might get pregnant and take time off, providing a built-in "discounting" of a woman's work because eventually, the firm will at the very least have to do without her for a period of time?

To be continued, I'm the meantime Happy Equal Pay Day!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Meme Mr. Mustard

Argh. I was tagged by Miss Cellania because I'm a "thinker".

I'm really more of a 'Finder" altho there is this whole fantasy about being a knight on a big black horse that...well, nevermind.

OK, so on with the show:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.

Hmmmmm....OK....Martini Republic has to be one. The wit and snark factor of that blog intimidates even me, and at the very least, it forces my mixology considerations up a notch. I'm tempted to cheat and add Big Apple Martini, but that's such an integral part of MR that it would be like splitting the eleventh dimension from the 26th. I'd rather dye my hair.

Next up, Jesus's General, where my humour had better be sharp as a tack, or I'm toast. Those folks are big league. I take it as enormous praise when one of them actually deigns to acknowledge my posts.

Third, and along the same lines, Skippy The Bush Kangaroo. How sharp is this blog?

A) It's the only legitimate blog ever mentioned by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

B) They practically invented left wing blogging!

OK, Skippy invented the term "Blogtopia"....

Fourth, My Left Wing: I guess the best comparison is "Kos for the cognoscenti". They don't bullshit over there. They don't get all arrogant about being a vast source of information on dozens of topics.

Put it this way: it may be the first and only political blog where I feel like I have to ratchet up my knowledge just to keep up.

Finally, James Wolcott, where at least twice a week, I can spit water through my nose.

2) Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.

3) Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote. OK,'m not sure what post got me here, so....

Mitt Romney Endorses Hitler

"I'm afraid building a nuclear power plant in our country today would require us first to hire the French to show us how to do it because they've been building 'em and we haven't," Mr. Romney said in response to a question about energy policy during his talk, as captured on video by the Washington Post's politics Web log.

So far, so good. But he kept going. "Liquefied coal, gosh. Hitler during the Second World War — I guess because he was concerned about losing his oil — liquefied coal. That technology is still there."
I'll bet he even loved dogs and made the trains run on time, too...

Video here:

Homeland Security

Much has been made of the United States efforts to fight terrorists around the world, the theory being if we fought them there, we wouldn't have to fight them here.

A ludicrous theory on the face, as an organization that can pop up like a Whack-A-Mole is not likely to suddenly freeze in one place and be hammered over the head constantly.

We should expect them here and relatively soon. So how good are our domestic defenses? We do a fairly good job at airport security, even allowing for the massive holes in the screening processes (like airport employees and faulty and inadequate equipment). Our land borders are absolutely porous as evidenced by the great Mexican immigration debate (our Canadian border is even more porous).

Port screenings are still nearly non-existent, relying on the Coast Guard to interdict on the open seas any suspicious ship.

Well...not for very much longer, at this rate:
Although it is busy and obvious and well known, the coastguard has long been a poor sibling to the navy, army and air force. At the same time, its responsibilities have grown. In 2003 it became part of the Department of Homeland Security, with increased emphasis on protecting America's 361 ports and 95,000 miles (153,000km) of coastline from terrorists.

Yet the 40,000-member service has to scratch desperately for money from Congress. Its boats are often in poor shape; some patrol cutters are over 50 years old. In 2005 USA Today ran a story on life aboard a 210-foot (64-metre) cutter, where equipment regularly malfunctioned and raw sewage flooded the sleeping quarters.

In an attempt to remedy all this, and to win back prestige, the coastguard launched “Deepwater” in the 1990s. This was a $24 billion upgrade of its ships and aircraft. The goal was a modernised fleet and air arm with complementary communications and tracking equipment, lower maintenance and better conditions for the crew. Contracts to start building were signed in 2002.

Five years on, Deepwater is plagued by catastrophe. A plan to enlarge the coastguard's 110-foot cutters into more capable 123-foot boats was scrapped last autumn after the first eight refitted boats showed signs of cracking apart. The flagships of Deepwater—eight state-of-the-art 418-foot National Security Cutters, the first of which is nearing completion—have structural flaws that will probably shorten their projected 30-year service life and lead to costly repairs.
Right smack in the middle of the first battles that includes American soil since the Civil War, we're losing the ability to defend our shores. The story includes tales of corruption due to the privatization of the contracts and the hubris and arrogance of an admiralty that finally was garnering the attention it deserved in the 90s (when Bill Clinton was President, efforts to defend this nation from domestic terror attacks were not only in the works, they were being executed and were successful).

This does not bode well for the security of the US coastlines. Ships in dry dock for repairs are ships that are not out patrolling the coastal waters. Ships in danger of sinking or overweighted are ships that cannot keep up with faster, more manueverable ships and boats. It's a little like a fat cat chasing a pack of mice. Maybe he catches one or two, but the other dozen manage to steal all the cheese anyway.

This is a disgraceful situation, made more urgent by the ill-conceived "fight them there" strategy that shifts the focus of homeland security away from the homeland itself. Had Bush instead pursued a strategy of treating the September 11th attacks as a crime as well as an act of war, his focus could have been on fixing the major problems we have in protecting ourselves and not on inciting and inflaming more terrorists and more terror groups than ever before.

When a criminal breaks into a house and kills the family living there, two things occur: the police hunt down and capture the crook, and the remaining family beefs up their home security system.

Right now, we've got the cops out looking (and not very thoroughly), but we've left the doors and windows open.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Something You Probably Didn't Think Much About....

For me, reading this article was a "D'Oh!" moment. I had wondered why Reuters featured it, until I gave half a thought to it:
Of the nearly 24,000 wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, about a third suffer from some degree of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, according to the General Accounting Office.

The government has been on the defensive about veterans' medical care after a probe found shoddy living conditions of recovering wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, considered the jewel in the military's health care system.

A newly-appointed Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors was formed by U.S. President George Bush in response. A major topic is whether the civilian sector could be used more in treating traumatic brain injury, one of the fastest growing injuries of the war.
Brain injuries.

Losing a limb is one thing. Having shrapnel pierce your skin is one thing (my dad has lived into his 90s after having shrapnel nick his heart). Having your brains turned to scrambled eggs because of the concussive force of IED after IED?

That's a completely different kettle of fish.

With a corporeal injury, you see the damage, you fix the damage. Even with a physical trauma to the brain, you see the damage, you fix the damage.

But when you're talking about the effects that shock waves have on that 20 pound (in Republicans' case, about half that) mass of tissue, and what precisely it effects, you've got real problems that are long term and will require a lifetime of monitoring.

So 8,000 men and women have suffered brain damage in five years, just so this is put into perspective.

And the Bush administration's response? Outsource the problem! Here we have a chance as a nation to do right by people who may be irreparably harmed beyond repair, serving their country, and the first thing Bush's cronies can think is to help enrich their friends in the AMA and insurance fields.

Even if you take the most cynical view of this situation, that it's a marvelous opportunity to do research on brain function and trauma, this should be handled by the government, nevermind that the government not only ought to be footing the bill for this, but the government ought to have direct oversight over the treatment of these injuries suffered for an illegal invasion of a sovereign people who did nothing to harm Americans.

Pretty disgusting and feckless, if you ask me.

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