Friday, December 04, 2009

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) OK, so I turn 52 today, as Kat was so kind to point out. I can't say this past year has been fun, but it's had its moments, and I thank all the people in my life who've stuck by me as friends, even tho I have at times been an absolute prick to them. Sometimes, I watch the words fly out of my mouth, and wish I had a butterfly net to corral them. And to the few people to whom I meant what I said, fuck you.
2) Speaking of "fuck yous", Fuck YOU! Just. Go. AWAY!
3) The unemployment rate contracted in November!
4) Tiger Woods has brought a whole new meaning to an 18 hole invitational. I hear you can only play with your wood and you must sink your putz in each hole.
5) It's going to become harder and harder to find news that you can trust.
6) Apparently, Tom Boswell reads Simply Left Behind.
7) Did you know we had outsourced even the CIA?
8) It could be ballgame over for fish in the Great Lakes, which would devastate much of the Midwest and Canada.
9) There's an underlying reason that this article fails to mention: people are just scared. Eight years of having the boogie man dangled in front of our faces, coupled with an economy in turmoil and bleak prospects for workers even at the best of times will do that to a nation.
10) Ummm, ewww?
Have a good weekend, everyone!

Happy Birthday, Actor212!

Thanks for all your insights and reflections.
Cheers and best wishes and lots of good sleeping!
Yer a Super Cat!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Words, Words, Words

It strikes me the solution here is a lot simpler than the administration is making it out to be:

President Obama shifts his focus to the double digit unemployment rate on Thursday, teaming up with members of his administration for a White House jobs summit. The event will be held on the eve of the monthly report on job losses, which in last month's study showed an October rate of 10.2 percent unemployment.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to speak at the opening of the summit, then moderate a discussion at the closing session. In between, a who's who of the executive branch will lead their own talks — among others, Energy Secretary Steven Chu on green jobs, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on small businesses and the combo of Treasury Secretary Ray LaHood and Peter Orszag of the Office of Management and Budget on creating jobs through infrastructure projects.

As The Times's Jackie Calmes reports, the summit comes as the White House is considering dipping into funds earmarked to bail out banks to aid those seeking jobs. The administration's discussions with lawmakers, Ms. Calmes writes, "reflect the Democrats' effort to balance concerns for the high federal budget deficit and a costly, crowded domestic agenda, including an effort for further economic stimulus measures that is likely to exceed $100 billion."

That initial step, dipping into the bailout fund to support job-seekers, is a good one, but it's not going to be enough, even if Bank of America makes good on today's promise.
The slippage in jobs seems to be slowing down, which is great news. Obama seems to have put a halt to the horrendously bad Bush administration's attitude towards jobs, which apparently was, let them eat grass. However, turning that around into job growth is going to be a moumental task, one for which the US economy is badly situated right now. We've doubled, tripled, even quadrupled down on debt. We'll have a hard enough time paying all that back in any short order.
But spend more, we must. We simply must, because simply put, taxes pay debt, and the more people we have paying taxes, the lower we can keep the tax rates.
So, short of all-out war, which we really can't afford anyway, how to grow jobs? Tax cuts, the past thirty years' data tells us, won't work. If anything, job growth has accelerated in eras of higher tax rates.
The knee-jerk solution, then, would be to raise taxes. That's going to happen pretty much automatically next year, as the Bush tax cuts begin to expire, and indeed, forecasts from all around the country seem to predict job growth expanding in the Spring of 2010.
Look, here's the real answer: we have infrastructure problems. We have idle hands. Let's marry the two together. It's what FDR did in the 1930s, when unemployment was really a problem. Obama should do it and do it now.
It's good to see that he's included this in his seminars and panels, as well as green jobs, but those two items pretty much go hand in hand. Green jobs are good jobs and will help with the infrastructure problem, particularly in terms of the energy grid and old wiring in urban areas.
We'll need short term...I think the term of art here is "shovel ready", but we also need to keep an eye out on the future and that means starting to put in place permanent job creation mechanisms. Yes, targeted tax credits are all fine and dandy, but we've had them and renewable energy distribution is still in its infancy, despite higher oil prices. We've had highway planning for decades, but all we've ended up with is the Bud Shuster Thruway in Western PA.
We've nibbled around the edges of a national railway program, but it's time President Obama started to pony up some ideas about that. It seems silly that a car can drive hundreds of miles on a straight highway thru the desert or high plains, but we can't come up with a competitively priced option of sticking that car on a train, saving the driver and car wear and tear.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Who Cares? We Do, Apparently.

I've been thinking about this story a little this week:

Tiger Woods received a traffic citation for careless driving that will cost him $164 and four points on his Florida license, but the Florida Highway Patrol said during a news conference Tuesday it had no evidence to pursue any criminal charges in connection with Woods's single-car crash outside his Windermere, Fla., mansion Thanksgiving night.

"With the issuance of this citation, the Florida Highway Patrol has concluded the investigation," FHP troop commander Cindy Williams said without taking any questions.

Which is as it should be. No one was injured, not even Woods, really, and it amounts to a little property damage that Woods' insurance company will have to pay for.
A second woman has stepped into the spotlight in the Tiger Woods controversy – and this one whole-heartedly claims that she and the champion golfer had an affair.
Jamie Grubbs, a cocktail waitress who appeared on the VH1 show Tool Academy, tells the British tabloid the Sun that she and the pro golfer had a 31-month fling that included around 20 sexual encounters, the first just days before Woods's wife, Elin Nordegren, gave birth to the married couple's first child.
"He told me just last month, 'Quietly and secretly we will always be together,' " Grubbs, 24, says.
Next article:
Life & Style reports that Kalika Moquin, a Las Vegas marketing manager, is the latest woman to be connected to Tiger Woods. Reports of Moquin follow rumors about Rachel Uchitel and Jaimee Grubbs, both of whom have been linked to Woods romantically in the past week. Here is the press release from the magazine:
First off, is Tool Academy not THE perfect place for the first tool, even assuming she's lying through her teeth? But I digress...
No, what's more distressing about this whole sordid affair is that it's even on our radar.
There's a cult of hero worship in this culture that's pretty sick and twisted. We set someone up as a godsend of perfection, only to tear him to shreds the minute his feet of clay are revealed. Even if Woods has been completely faithful to his wife Elin, his reputation has been tarnished, possibly beyond repair.
Admittedly, that possibility, that's he's completely faithful, seems miniscule. This doesn't change my larger point, which is why do we continually set ourselves and these "celebrities" up like this?
He's an athlete (barely, considering the game he plays). He's not in a surgery or behind the controls of a jet fighter. He's not saving lives except through whatever charitable works he's done. He's not educating our kids, or building houses. He is, by any measure, extremely talented at the one thing we know he does exceedingly well: play golf.
But he's human, as human as you or I. An object of fascination, to be sure, but that fascination should be limited to marvelling at his ability to sink his putts, and should in no way be extended to disdain over how he sinks his putz.
PERIOD. That it goes beyond this is a testament to the sickly nature of American and now world culture that America has infected with its glib anything-for-a-buck mentality of selling newspapers and magazines.
(Yes, I'm aware that British tabloids put ours to shame, but the culture in the UK allows for a lot more important stories to filter through, like Afghanistan, and not be stonewalled behind trappings of "importance". For example, at the Times of London website, the mistrial of a minor New York City mob boss ranks far higher than the Woods' story.)
Worse, this same convoluted thinking affects our politics, which after the last ten to fifteen years, you'd think we'd outgrow. First came the sex scandals, highlighted but certainly not limited to the Monica Lewinski affair, then came eight years of an administration that bullied, badgered and bluffed its way to destroying the greatest nation ever to arise on the face of the planet.
In eight short years! Compassionate conservatism, indeed! Nero couldn't have fiddled any faster!
And now, Barack Obama has to suffer the same misfortune. Having run without dismantling the perception that he was an agent of change, leaving the unfair and fantastical impression that somehow he had a plan that would get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan, out of the Bush Depression, and into national health care, all within his first year, his image has suffered from slings and arrows from both sides of the aisle.
He asked to bite off more than he could chew, knowing full well he'd never be able to swallow it all inside such a short period.
But what's the worst part of this is, we allowed ourselves that delusion. Obama was very straightforward on the campaign trail about timetables for Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly as the election drew near, and yet a significant percentage of Americans elected him with the thought that he could work miracles.
And now they're shocked to find out he's not Jesus.
Or even Tiger Woods.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

When Countries Go Bust

I'll have more to say on this after the quote:

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Dubai World began talks with banks to restructure $26 billion of debt, including $3.5 billion owed by property unit Nakheel, and said the remainder of its liabilities are on "a stable financial footing."

Debt from subsidiaries including Infinity World Holding, Istithmar World and Ports & Free Zone World will be excluded from the negotiations, Dubai World, one of the emirate's three main state-related holding companies, said in a statement. The cost to protect Dubai debt against default fell to the lowest since Nov. 25. Dubai's main equity index dropped 6.6 percent.

Dubai is seeking to delay payments on less than half its $59 billion of liabilities, easing the potential damage to banks recovering from $1.7 trillion of losses and writedowns from the global crisis. Shares worldwide recovered some of the losses suffered since Dubai announced it would seek a "standstill" agreement on all of Dubai World's debt as the Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 600 gained 1.2 percent and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index showed the first back-to-back gains in two weeks.

Per capita, Dubai is the wealthiest nation on the planet and is 12th in GDP.
Digest that for a second.
Dubai, you may recall, put in a bid to run the ports of the United States back in 2006, and it was only a strong public outcry that scuttled the deal, at least in the form it would have taken.
However, anyone with a lick of sense could have seen this development coming from 240,000 miles away. Literally. When you sink tens of  billions of dollars into inviting people to the desert and your GDP is only $37 billion per annum, you are likely going to go bust, Las Vegas notwithstanding.
They gambled, they lost, and while the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a large part, will help clean up the mess, this development almost certainly commits the United States, in the middle of negotiations with the UAE for a free trade zone, to yet another defense posture in the Middle East, particularly as the UAE has the seventh largest oil reserve and the United States isn't even in the top five importers of UAE oil (China is number do you get the picture?). In fact, it may commit us without invitation to be the defense partner of the UAE, and I'm not so sure we want to be there.
The UAE and Dubai specifically, because of its no-tax, "100% foreign ownership welcome" economy, is a haven for all kinds of illicit activities, from drug running (despite zero tolerance policies for possession) to money laundering. Too, the human rights record of Dubai is pretty spotty, even to the point of refusing to prosecute three Dubai men for raping a Swiss teen, giving him HIV.
Still, if a country as wealthy as Dubai, its profligacy with money aside, can go bankrupt, then how easy would it be for a nation with a far heavier debt-to-income load to fold?
I'm thinking about China. And I'm thinking THAT would be a disaster.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Taking The Heat

Kudos to the University of East Anglia for snuffing out a phony crisis quickly:

The reverberations continue from what the University of East Anglia says was the  illegal dissemination of thousands of files from its Climatic Research Unit (CRU). Over the weekend university officials put out an update saying  95 percent of the raw land-surface temperature data in question have been available to scientists and skeptics for several years, although Roger A. Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado, Boulder, said  he was told differently as recently as August. ( posted the locations of various data sets.) He credited the university and climate center for moving now to be clearer about the data archives and to provide more access. "When the data is available in its original form those skeptical of climate science can then do the temperature math themselves out in the open where everyone can see their work," Dr. Pielke wrote on Sunday. "If the global numbers come out as CRU has presented over the years, then it will strike a blow to skepticism about global temperature trend records produced by CRU and restore a good deal of credibility to this area of climate science."

Global climate change is real, undeniable, indisputable (except in niggling details), and the single biggest threat to United States security as well as the security of the world.
Far greater than terrorism. Far greater than thermonuclear weapons in the hands of Iran. Far greater than the economic threat posed by China.
And yet, the goo-sucking morons among us cling to this thin reed of a tempest-in-a-teacup as the smoking gun to overturn the enormous data supporting climate change, as if somehow a crowbar could move a mountain. Fortunately, those voices have withered in the hot wind of real information and sunshine transparency.
To recap this middling-to-nothing contretemps, a hacker busted into the email of UEA and stole thousands of files and e-mails which were basically works in progress, carefully sifting through the data to cherry pick only those bits that either distorted or disputed conventional wisdom with regards to climate change.
None of the stolen data was ever in any way, shape or form cleared by the standard peer review process, a dynamic the yo-yos on the right might consider employing in their own attempts to debunk what they perceive as a threat to their lazy greedy livelihoods.
"Peer review." The scientific method, where before a paper is published in an acknolwedged academic publication, it has to be examined, defended, and then approved by a panel of the peers of the author. Dissenting opinions are noted (usually in an addended article), and rebutted if possible.
None of this rigorous thinking or advocacy exists on the right, which has ceded thinking to those of us in the reality-based dimension.