November 30, 2008

Acid Attacks Against Muslim Women

Caution: video contains graphic scenes of disfigurement.

Nicholas Kristof's video (click on permalink) chronicle's the ferocious and vicious attacks by Muslim men on Muslim women, often their wives, in Pakistan. A womens rights group has documented thousands of these attacks since 1994.

While not unique to Muslims, this terrible and not infrequent treatment of women is an outgrowth of their interpretation of Islam. Fundamentalist Muslim men hold their women in low esteem and generally treat them as second class citizens.

What a terrible tragedy! Another reason that Radical Islam and the savage terrorism it spawns must be countered at all levels from war to education. The culture spawned by this brand of Islam cannot and should never be condoned.

Hats off to Kristof for bringing it to light.

November 28, 2008

Vermont Yankee Reauthorization

The 2008 General Assembly will consume itself with the issues around reauthorizing the license for Vermont Yankee to operate another 20 years beyond 2012. The debate will be contentious, time consuming and emotional. Along with that debate, the GA must also decide how to handle a significant tax revenue shortfall to support an underfunded budget.

Smart legislators will see that both issues are interconnected... a clean reliable energy supply underpins a healthy Vermont economy. Meanwhile, those opposed to Vermont Yankee's continuing operations will use every gimmick they can find to close the plant.

Here are some links to helpful presentations and information that was provided to Vermont Legislators in a briefing on November 19.

Legislative History

Act 189

Nov. 19 JFC Agenda and Useful Links

Howard Kurtz - Journalists, Glorying in Obama's Moment

Howard Kurtz - Journalists, Glorying in Obama's Moment

"...There is always a level of excitement when a new president is coming to town
-- new aides to profile, new policies to dissect, new family members to follow.
But can anyone imagine this kind of media frenzy if
John McCain had managed to win?
Obama's days of walking on water won't last indefinitely. His chroniclers will need a new story line. And sometime after Jan. 20, they will wade back into reality."

Not only are the journalists and the media glorying in the "Obama Moment," they clearly intend to make money at it, too. The media became enthralled with Obama after ditching Hillary and dumping McCain. I suppose no one is immune to the Messiah complex that has been built up around him.

His honeymoon will soon be over when he assumes the reins of this country. He will have plenty of opportunity to show his stuff....and he's off to a decent start by appointing experienced people to his Cabinet, to counter his woeful lack of experience. We shall see if he can fulfill the massive expectations that the media has helped to create. We'll be praying for him.

Wal-Mart worker dies in Black Friday stampede: reports - MarketWatch

Wal-Mart worker dies in Black Friday stampede: reports - MarketWatch

Ahhhh, the joys of the Holiday Season. What a tragic shame!

November 24, 2008

The Media Equation - Google Seduces With Utility -

The Media Equation - Google Seduces With Utility -

Ever since I switched to Gmail when first released (I was a pioneer subscriber to mail when Tom Evslin was running that piece of the business way back there and to Compuserve Mail long before that.) I've not turned back. At last count I am using 23 Google services, features or applications on a regular basis. They have captured my mind share without a doubt. Nevertheless, I try to keep up with what Microsoft and others are doing, but Google makes it so very easy and useful to stay with them.

Almost everything is free, but I do wish they'd eliminate the storage charges for Picasa Web. It seems unnecessary in light of Google's business model.

"“The nice thing is that we don’t force you to use only our stuff,” he said. “It is not tied tightly together, and the content is all easily exportable. If you feel like we are letting you down, or you don’t like our products or we are failing to innovate, you can pick up and go where you want.”

But with video chat now enabled in my Gmail, how likely am I to click away? Some people worry that Google will take over the world. Through the sins of competence and innovation, the company has quietly and efficiently surrounded me.

“That’s our business model,” Mr. Schmidt [Google's CEO] said."

November 23, 2008

Twenty Reasons Why We're Not Consuming -

Twenty Reasons Why We're Not Consuming -

This piece by Nouriel Roubini, a professor at the Stern Business School at NYU, lists 20 points of concern about the consumer economy and the present recession. This is the last point:

"To bring back the household savings rate to the level of a decade ago (about 6% of GDP) consumption will have to fall--relative to current GDP levels--by almost a trillion dollars. If all of this adjustment were to occur in 12 months, GDP would contract directly by 7% and indirectly (including the further collapse of residential and corporate capital expenditure in a severe recession) by 10%, an exemplification of the Keynesian 'paradox of thrift.' If such an adjustment were to occur over 24 months rather than 12 months, you would still have negative GDP growth of 5% for two years in a row with a cumulative fall in GDP from its peak of 10%. (Note that in the worst U.S. recession since WWII, such cumulative fall in GDP was only 3.7% in 1957-58). One can only hope that this adjustment of consumption and savings rates occurs slowly over time--four years, say, rather than two.

Even in that scenario the cumulative fall of GDP could be of the order of 4% to 5%, i.e., the worst U.S. recession since World War II. Note that the cumulative fall in GDP in the 2001 recession was only 0.4%--and in the 1990-91 recession only 1.3%. So, the current recession may end up being three times as long and at least three times as deep (in terms of output contraction) than the last two."

Op-Ed Columnist - We Found the W.M.D. -

Op-Ed Columnist - We Found the W.M.D. -

Mr. Friedman is quite uptight because he sees less than enough leadership action by those in a position to do something about the financial crisis. Perhaps he thinks politicians are some special breed of leaders twisting and turning for the common good. First and foremost, most politicians act in their own self interest, then, secondarily, in our interest...maybe. True leaders are rare. Sorting between them is never easy.

"Right now there is something deeply dysfunctional, bordering on scandalously irresponsible, in the fractious way our political elite are behaving — with business as usual in the most unusual economic moment of our lifetimes. They don’t seem to understand: Our financial system is imperiled."

November 20, 2008

Vermont Tiger: Emerson Lynn On Politics

Vermont Tiger: Emerson Lynn On Politics

The solid arguments made by Emerson Lynn for relicensing Vermont Yankee will escape many in the General Assembly who vote with their feelings rather than with their heads.

November 17, 2008

Exxon Makes the Case for Oil

At Exxon, Making the Case for Oil -

This story about Exxon, the world's largest company, is instructive. Like it or not and mostly least in Vermont... petroleum and coal hydrocarbons will be the dominant energy source in the world in 2030. It's difficult to argue with an industry and the vast infrastructure investment required to fuel the world's economies.

While 'green' has many adherents and will attract significant investment, people severely underestimate the transition period from hydrocarbons to something else. Policy makers, please understand this! It's not to say alternative energy sources should not be pursued and developed, but let's be realistic about their impact.

"According to Exxon’s own outlook, global oil demand is set to reach 116 million barrels a day by 2030, up sharply from 86 million barrels a day today.

Meanwhile, renewable fuels, like solar, wind and biofuels, will grow at a brisk pace but they will account for just 2 percent of the world’s energy supplies by then, according to Exxon, while oil, gas and coal will represent 80 percent of global energy needs by 2030.

“For the foreseeable future — and in my horizon that is to the middle of the century — the world will continue to rely dominantly on hydrocarbons to fuel its economy,” Mr. Tillerson [Exxon CEO] says."

November 15, 2008

Op-Ed Columnist - Bailout to Nowhere -

Update from NYT 11/19/08:

Mitt Romney lays out the fundamentals of change needed by the the Big Three U.S. automakers. The fundamental problems result in a cost per auto ~$2,000 more, mostly for labor costs for U.S. cars than for Japanese cars.

Update from WSJ 11/17/08:

"Senate Democrats plan to introduce legislation today that would provide $25 billion from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package for the auto makers, the Detroit News reports. The Bush administration has come up with an alternative that would let the car companies "take $25 billion in loans previously approved to develop fuel-efficient vehicles and use the money for more immediate needs" the Associated Press says. Democrats are seeking more money because they don't want funds targeting fuel efficiency to be used for other reasons, such as bridge financing, the Detroit News says, but President Bush doesn't want TARP funds extended to industrial or other nonfinancial firms."

David Brooks outlines the upside and downside of bailing out the U.S. auto makers. He's right. It is a hard call, but I think I come down on the side of not preventing bankruptcy, painful as that is for all concerned. How else to right the archaic industry model that has such huge embedded costs and sclerotic thinking?

With reasoned thinking, a bankruptcy court may well do what the Congress and Executive branch cannot.

The worst scenario is to pour government $ into preventing failure only to have it happen anyway later.

"This is an excruciatingly hard call. A case could be made for keeping the Big Three afloat as a jobs program until the economy gets better and then letting them go bankrupt. But the most persuasive experts argue that bankruptcy is the least horrible option. Airline, steel and retail companies have gone through bankruptcy proceedings and adjusted. It would be a less politically tainted process. Government could use that $50 billion — and more — to help the workers who are going to be displaced no matter what.

But the larger principle is over the nature of America’s political system. Is this country going to slide into progressive corporatism, a merger of corporate and federal power that will inevitably stifle competition, empower corporate and federal bureaucrats and protect entrenched interests? Or is the U.S. going to stick with its historic model: Helping workers weather the storms of a dynamic economy, but preserving the dynamism that is the core of the country’s success."

Op-Ed Columnist - Bailout to Nowhere -

November 14, 2008

A Clever One-Liner

Time is Nature's way of making sure that everything doesn't go wrong all at once.

Wireless broadcasting | Wireless at warp speed | The Economist

Wireless broadcasting | Wireless at warp speed | The Economist

As usual, The Economist does a good job of explaining technology and this piece about the 'white space' made available by the FCC last week will likely be a boon to Vermont. I fully expect the Vermont Telecommunications Authority to find a way to persuade providers to deploy networks that use these frequencies. How long will that take?

"After four years of deliberations—and staunch opposition from television broadcasters, makers and users of wireless microphones, and mobile-phone companies—the federal regulators voted unanimously on November 4th to allow a new generation of wireless gizmos to access the internet using the empty airwaves (“white spaces”) between television’s channels 2 to 51.

The FCC could have auctioned off those frequencies—it raised $19.6 billion in March 2008 by auctioning blocks of frequencies above 700 megahertz that will be vacated when television switches from analog to digital broadcasting—but to its credit it opted to make them freely available.

The decision is a huge win for public-interest groups and tech firms like Google, Microsoft and Intel, who believe the white-space transmission could bring broadband to poorly served parts of the country.

They see it as America’s last chance to build a “third pipe” capable of providing much-needed competition to today’s broadband duopoly controlled by the phone and cable companies. As a bonus, white space could also provide improved communications for fire-fighters, police forces, ambulance crews and other emergency responders.

Competition and community services aside, the FCC has other reasons for making the white-space frequencies free for public use. It hopes to replicate the wave of innovation that swept the wireless world a decade ago with the introduction of unlicensed WiFi devices using frequencies in the public 2.4-gigahertz band.

The frequencies involved were chosen for television back in the 1950s for good reason: they travel long distances, are hardly affected by the weather, carry lots of data, and penetrate deep into the nooks and crannies of buildings. No surprise proponents have dubbed them “WiFi on steroids”.

Once the changeover from analog to digital broadcasting is complete, the television networks will no longer need the white spaces between analog channels to prevent interference from noise and other transmissions. Apart from digital broadcasts being far less vulnerable to interference, there’s now plenty of frequency-hopping technology around for detecting digital broadcasts and avoiding them.

...the FCC has made it clear that white-space devices—whether mobile phones, laptops, game consoles, music players or other appliances with internet connections—will be required to operate on no more than four watts of broadcasting power. They will also be restricted to channels 21 to 51, where there are fewer television stations."

November 12, 2008

The Holocaust - Never Forget

This presentation has been making its way around the Internet. We all receive email from folks who want to inform us or remind us of something important. These messages bombard us and they all have importance to one degree or another.

The Holocaust is a historical event that must NEVER be forgotten or dismissed lightly. Those who downplay it or lie, saying it never happened, are deluded, deceived, or as evil as the perpetrators of this terrible tragedy.

We must always remember the evil that man is capable of. Those who say that man is good and can be perfected are wrong. Evil is not an an anomaly in mankind, it is the prevalent reality.

If I knew who prepared this 11 slide reminder, I would credit them. Suffice to say, we MUST NEVER FORGET.

IEA doesn't see peak oil by 2030 but warns of under-investment - MarketWatch

IEA doesn't see peak oil by 2030 but warns of under-investment - MarketWatch:

The debate about U.S. petroleum and the argument that we should use less (to save the planet?) often rages around the notion of 'peak oil.' Yet few truly understand the term. The Wikipedia discussion is a useful read ("It is important to note that peak oil is not about running out of oil, but the peaking and subsequent decline of the production rate of oil.")

If 'peak oil' means that point in the future when the rate of production, i.e., pumping it out of the ground, in barrels/day, is consistently less this year than last, then that says nothing about the cost of production, thus the price of the product. With this definition, peak oil may occur when the price is too high, certainly not that the world reserves are diminished.

If peak oil means the amount consumed this year is less than last year on a consistent basis, that may be affected by a host of other factors including world government policies around taxation, support for alternative sources of fuel, etc.

The discussion is fascinating, but the real issue is price, not reserves, for energy usage.

If governments wish to apply a 'tax' to carbon fuels, the tax should be applied at the consumer level, not via some obscure cap-and-trade scheme that seems to be the policy du jour. By applying a carbon tax at the consumer level, we have transparency that taxes are being applied, thus we (theoretically) have a vote in how those tax dollars will be spent and applied to energy.

The counter argument is that cap-and-trade allows markets to work. But I submit that cap and trade will have a large component of 'financial engineering' not unlike what we are going through with the manipulation of the mortgage market. I believe these same risks are present in cap and trade because the amounts of money in play are likely to be enormous and that fact alone attracts the n'eer-do-wells of finance.


November 10, 2008

Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda in Many Countries -

This sort of military work is exactly what our specially trained special forces are equipped to do. The article describes that many ops have been canceled suggests that the authority was used with discretion and good judgment.

"Bush administration officials have shown a determination to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense that provides a legal rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries’ consent.

Several officials said the negotiations over the 2004 order resulted in closer coordination among the Pentagon, the State Department and the C.I.A., and set a very high standard for the quality of intelligence necessary to gain approval for an attack."

Now, President-elect Obama, will you continue to sanction these missions or will you change our policy of preemption when it comes to fighting terrorist hiding in other countries? I hope you are courageous enough to continue these clandestine operations when the odds are good that we'll eliminate terrorist leaders

Secret Order Lets U.S. Raid Al Qaeda in Many Countries -

November 9, 2008

Illegal Immigration

Illegal immigration seems not to be an important issue with President-elect Obama...or with Senator McCain for that matter. It never was a campaign issue. Perhaps they entered a pact not to talk about it. The media never asked about it. They were obviously complicit in the pact. Sad! Pandering of the worst sort to Latino voters.

I perfectly understand they both wanted Latino votes, but to avoid the issue is just wrong!

November 7, 2008

Vermonters Paying Too Much for Gasoline

Vermonters are paying more for gasoline than all but three states, Alsaka, Hawaii, and Schwarzennegers's Caleefornia. Why is that? Seems very strange to me.

A friend who owns a gas station tells me that no one in the area wants to be the first to cut prices because they are trying to make up for claimed losses in sales volume when prices spiked a few months ago.

Seems like price gouging to me!!

November 6, 2008

I.B.M.’s Chief Sees Technology Leading a Recovery -

The notion of leveraging technology to improve efficiencies on a massive systems scale is a wonderful idea and should be pursued. Obviously, the notion serves IBM's interests, but in the grand scheme of things can we afford not to do this to remain competitive with our economy?

Such a massive undertaking may not have access to the numbers of skilled people required to pull it off. An additional factor that will weigh against it is the dislocation of jobs. Efficiency improvements inevitably result in reducing and/or changing the type of jobs required.

On the one hand we need the momentum that technological innovation can provide, but it will be tempered with the inertia of its initial negative effect on people's livelihoods.

His speech is here.

I.B.M.’s Chief Sees Technology Leading a Recovery -

November 5, 2008

Barack Obama's Victory Speech

I didn't vote for Obama because his extremely liberal credentials do not bode well for our country, but his victory speech is superb. Having run an excellent campaign for two years, his really hard work now begins (excerpt: "As a result, the shift from campaign trail rhetoric to halls-of-governance reality could prove turbulent. And Mr. Obama’s soaring speeches have created such a well of anticipation that there is a deep danger of letdown. He talked during the campaign of a “new politics” bringing Republicans and Democrats together. But if he really works with Republicans to find common ground on issues like Iraq, terrorism and climate change, he risks alienating his liberal base.") .

He must soon fashion and articulate a governing strategy that includes specifics. He has mostly avoided doing so up to now, yet was successful in convincing voters that he and his team could lead the nation to a better time.

With all the political might of a Democrat Congress, he has the opportunity to succeed in this very bleak time. The enthusiasm of the crowds that he engenders will not continue without a plan of action that is sensible, achievable and sustainable.

My hope is that the best people will step forward to help him as advisors and to fill executive positions.

Barack Obama's Victory Speech - Election Results 2008 - The New York Times

What does Wall Street think of an Obama presidency? - MarketWatch

What does Wall Street think of an Obama presidency? - MarketWatch:
Mark Hulbert, a watcher of financial newsletters and commentator has this to say about the effect of Obama's win on the stock market:

"Note carefully that my findings do not mean that Wall Street thinks Obama will be better for the economy than John McCain. My results instead mean that Wall Street does not think he will be any worse. If anything, my study provides support for the Libertarian view that the long-term economic effects of the two major political parties are not all that different.

Whether you take all this as good or bad news probably depends on your political affiliations. Those of you who had thought that Obama will be bad for the economy and the stock market can take solace that Wall Street, with its money rather than just with its political biases, collectively doesn't agree with you.

But you'll be disappointed in these results if you had thought that Obama would be much better for the economy than John McCain."

I tend to take the Libertarian view that the economy and the market is effected far less by who is President. Other factors well beyond the control of a President determine the market's gyrations and the economy's fluctuations.

F.C.C. to Open Radio Spectrum -

This is very good news for creating another avenue to reach those Americans living in rural areas of Vermont who cannot obtain reliable broadband access to the Internet. Now the question is will providers and device makers take the opportunity to deliver this access.

I hope there is a profitable business model to enable this new option.

F.C.C. to Open Radio Spectrum -

Douglas Elected Governor in Vermont

Receiving more votes than his combined challengers, Gaye Symington and Anthony Pollina, Jim Douglas has been elected to his fourth term as Governor. The good news is he received enough votes to win an absolute majority keeping the race out of the General Assembly.

Somewhat surprising, Pollina and Symington received about the same percentage of votes. This is a strong showing for Pollina, but his strong persona compared to Symington helped him in such a 'blue' state. If Douglas runs again in 2010, will the Democrats and the Progressives choose to snuggle up and run one candidate? Pollina , after all, is a Progressive masquerading as an Independent in this election.

November 3, 2008

The bigger economic disaster: 78 million baby-boom retirees - Oct. 30, 2008

The bigger economic disaster: 78 million baby-boom retirees - Oct. 30, 2008

David Walker has been one of my heroes for a couple of years. He is absolutely right :

"The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), noting that the federal balance sheet does not reflect the government's huge unfunded promises in our nation's social-insurance programs, estimated last year that the unfunded obligations for Medicare and Social Security alone totaled almost $41 trillion. That sum, equivalent to $352,000 per U.S. household, is the present-value shortfall between the growing cost of entitlements and the dedicated revenues intended to pay for them over the next 75 years."

"...Third, in the same way that private sector "risk management" executives failed to prevent the subprime mortgage crisis, overseers in Congress and the executive branch have turned a blind eye to costs associated with entitlement programs and tax cuts. While lax regulation of banks fed the current subprime crisis, a lack of statutory budget controls has led to a widening gap between the government's revenues and costs.

At the heart of these problems is our leaders' collective failure to act in the face of known challenges. Our country has veered from its founding principles, which held to individual responsibility and accountability today in order to create more opportunity tomorrow. When our constitution was written, the concepts of thrift and prudence were no less at the center of the American spirit than liberty and justice."

The fundamental problem is Congress, IMHO. It's also true that the Executive Branch under Clinton and Bush, in particular, failed to deal with the BIG fiscal problems, but Congress ultimately controls the purse strings of the country.