December 31, 2008

Gaza: the rights and wrongs | Gaza: the rights and wrongs | The Economist

Gaza: the rights and wrongs | Gaza: the rights and wrongs | The Economist:

The Economist, a publication which I respect far more than the New York Times, now weighs in with it's advice to the world. Unfortunately, it's just as vapid as that of the Times. Below is their ending statement. Please, Economist, give us some idea of what you recommend. Overall, the piece suggests that Israel must take action to solve the crisis. What must the terrorist Hamas do? How about stopping the rockets and recognize Israel's right to exist.

Until Hamas and Hezbollah renounce that claim and stop arming themselves for a fight, fighting will continue and Israel will and should defend itself with the means it sees fit to choose.

I suppose the Economist would also say of Al Qaeda "some way must be found to change its mind." Terrorists do not change their minds. That is not their desire or aim. Thus, no amount of talk will convince them otherwise. Only death and lack of resources may change their actions, but not their beliefs as long as these groups receive the tacit and substantive support of Islamic countries who also hate Israel.

"and little progress is possible so long as half of Palestine’s people support an organisation that can still not bring itself to renounce armed struggle or recognise Israel’s right to exist. Since Hamas is not going to disappear, some way must be found to change its mind. Bombs alone will never do that."

December 30, 2008

Why Israel is Deeply Concerned About Its Future

This sobering analysis by Benny Morris, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Ben-Gurion University, is a "must read" for anyone concerned about Israel's fate in the next few years.

Given the realities that Morris lays on the table, what motivation do radical Palestinian terrorists have to negotiate with Israel? What will prompt them to give up their goal of eradicating Israel? I see nothing that will do that.

Perhaps within 10 years (or less?) the Middle East will have a nuclear face-off. Armageddon, anyone?

Editorial - War Over Gaza -

Editorial - War Over Gaza -

This Times editorial is from 'lala land.' Providing all these ivory tower suggestions for everyone in sight to fix the crisis only fills space in their dying newspaper and is foolishness. Their journalistic euphemism for the Hamas terrorists is 'militant Palestinians.' What a joke. These are terrorists killing Jews and sworn to destroy Israel. Until they are dead or renounce that goal and stop firing rockets indiscriminately, this conflict will continue at varying levels of intensity. Israel is right to do all in its power to protect its citizens.

Nothing lasting can be negotiated as long as Hamas exists to destroy or drive out the Jews. The Islamic world apparently sees fit to allow them to continue doing so.

The Times ends the editorial with the absurd hope that Barack Obama, who has yet to make a statement about this present crisis, will waltz right in and fix it. More nonsense!

"Ms. Rice once hoped to make a Middle East peace her legacy. It is too late for that. But she should do her job. That means getting on a plane for Cairo and Riyadh — now — to enlist their help in brokering a new cease-fire. Then it will be up to President-elect Barack Obama to quickly pick up the pieces and fashion a Middle East peace strategy that may actually bring peace."

December 28, 2008 Editorials, Political Cartoons, and Polls from Investor's Business Daily -- Winning Isn't News Editorials, Political Cartoons, and Polls from Investor's Business Daily -- Winning Isn't News

Iraq: What would happen if the U.S. won a war but the media didn't tell the American public? Apparently, we have to rely on a British newspaper for the news that we've defeated the last remnants of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Let's choose to believe this account (July 2008) that we are winning/have won in Iraq. It really is a symptom of the onerous bias of the liberal media in the U.S. that they fail to report it. They are so infatuated with the Obama thing and the recession that the Iraq war dropped off their radar screen.

Here are some of the reasons they would give for not fully reporting this:

  • The recession is absolutely the biggest news story now.
  • The Obama victory is so important that we must cover it fully (ad nauseum).
  • Iraq is just not news anymore. (I wonder how many 'embedded' reporters are still there [story below reports NONE]?)
  • From the publishers: we are focused on our financial difficulties...we can't afford to spread our news staff too thin.
  • Americans aren't interested in the Iraq war anymore.

One reason they wouldn't give is:

  • Bush did the right thing in approving the 'surge.' Obama can't bring himself to say it because he opposed it and ...well, 'we' love Obama and hate Bush. To give Bush credit, well, it's just not in 'our' repertoire.

Today's (12/29/08) New York Times has this story on the subject. Opening paragraphs below.

TV News Winds Down Operations on Iraq War


Published: December 28, 2008

Quietly, as the United States presidential election and its aftermath have dominated the news, America’s three broadcast network news divisions have stopped sending full-time correspondents to Iraq.


Richard Engel, a top correspondent for NBC, is rotating in and out of Baghdad.

“The war has gone on longer than a lot of news organizations’ ability or appetite to cover it,” said Jane Arraf, a former Baghdad bureau chief for CNN who has remained in Iraq as a contract reporter for The Christian Science Monitor.

Joseph Angotti, a former vice president of NBC News, said he could not recall any other time when all three major broadcast networks lacked correspondents in an active war zone that involved United States forces.

Except, of course, in Afghanistan, where about 30,000 Americans are stationed, and where until recently no American television network, broadcast or cable, maintained a full-time bureau.

Op-Ed Columnist - Stop Being Stupid -

Op-Ed Columnist - Stop Being Stupid -

Bob Hebert takes the American beast by the nape of the neck, growls heartily and shakes it up. He has obviously had his fill of the American economic mess that he says we've created by our stupidity.

We must live with the reality that money moves at the speed of light around the globe and production of goods will go to stable places where the costs are lower. His 'thinking globalization through ' suggests we can control it. We cannot.
"...We were stupid in so many ways. We shipped American jobs overseas by the millions and came up with the fiction that this was a good deal for just about everybody. We could have and should have taken the time and made the effort to think globalization through, to be smarter about it and craft ways to cushion its more harmful effects and to share its benefits more equitably..."

It's true that our leaders have failed us, but we get the leaders we deserve as we jaunt about the credit countryside believing (wrongly) that we can have it all. Hebert's right that living beyond reason in crushing debt is as stupid for a country as it is for a person.

I was reading as our Vermont Socialist Senator Sanders waxed eloquently about how spending nearly a trillion dollars in the next two years on various forms of infrastructure would put people to work and restore our economy. Surely the trillion will do that for those years, but what happens after the next two years? Will those jobs be gone or will we need to pony up yet another trillion that we don't have to keep stimulating? Why is no one talking about the long term...defined as far beyond the next election.

Relying on tax revenues, mandated wealth transfer, and massive long term debt to stimulate the American economy for the long term is a fool's errand. Instead we should be living within our means and encouraging private sector investment and businesses with reasonable labor costs. We need real engineering of businesses, products and services, not financial engineering built on a house of cards.

Perhaps there's a leader, not a pandering politician, somewhere who can convince us of that sober truth.

December 27, 2008

Israeli Strikes on Gaza Kill Scores -

Israeli Strikes on Gaza Kill Scores -

Welcome to the Presidency Senator Obama. The Israelis and Palestinians would dearly love to have some of that "Change We Can Believe In" stuff that you've been so adept at promoting. I read your powerful speech supporting Israel during your campaign. Now your resolve and friendship with Israel will be be tested.

I believe you will support Israel and renounce the terrorists calling themselves Hamas. If you don't, we'll have to rethink your resolve. I'll be watching for your statements.

Oh, and if you have the inclination, there's that Pakistan-India-Afghanistan mess for you to sink your teeth into come January 20.

The Evidence Gap - Health Care That Puts a Computer on the Team - Series -

The Evidence Gap - Health Care That Puts a Computer on the Team - Series -

For too long the essential need for electronic medical records has been debated ad nauseum with paranoid concerns about privacy and confidentiality. These attributes must and can be managed well, but no system is perfect as long as humans build, maintain and use it.

The benefits far outweigh the costs and I hope Obama can trigger the huge change needed in both technology and public attitudes. A $50 billion commitment is just what the doctor ordered to move us out of the dark ages.

My new physician has agreed to use email with me when appropriate. Perhaps the day is not far away when electronic records will dominate and my dog-eared brown folder will disappear into the bowels of a shredder.

"...The Bush administration has left it mainly to advocacy and the private sector to introduce digital medicine. But President-elect Barack Obama apparently plans to make a sizable government commitment. During the campaign, Mr. Obama vowed to spend $50 billion over five years to spur the adoption of electronic health records and said recently that a program to accelerate their use would be part of his stimulus package..."

"...For most doctors, who work in small practices, an investment in electronic health records looks simply like a cost for which they will not be reimbursed. That is why policy experts say any government financial incentives to use electronic records — matching grants or other subsidies — should be focused on practices with 10 or fewer doctors, which still account for three-fourths of all doctors in this country. Only about 17 percent of the nation’s physicians are using computerized patient records, according to a government-sponsored survey published in The New England Journal of Medicine...."

This conclusion is the key to success:

"...The quality of care goes up dramatically just by having information instantly,” Dr. DeVries said. Yet, as her colleague and veteran of computer medicine Dr. Melski notes, there is no payoff to technology alone — only in people using technology wisely.

“We have to restructure our medical culture,” he said. “We have to promote a culture that believes in the evidence and is trained in analyzing the evidence. It’s the only long-run answer to the challenges we face in health care — evidence-based medicine.”

December 26, 2008

Solar Meets Polar as Winter Curbs Clean Energy -

Solar Meets Polar as Winter Curbs Clean Energy -

All sources of electricity experience some problems caused by temperature and weather changes, but some less than others. Alternative sources of electricity would seem more prone to the vagaries of storms, winter and other difficult conditions.

What these stories should always include is a reference to the need for reliable baseload power sources always available for the grid. Continual omission by the media creates the false impression for the public that all sources of electricity are equal in terms of supply reliability to the national or regional electric grid. This is certainly not the case and we should be well advised of that.

This lack of reliability, particularly for solar and wind, is not a major issue at present, but will be if alternative sources on the grid reach about 20% from their present contribution of less than one percent.

December 25, 2008

New York Times Looks to Sell Red Sox Stake -

New York Times Looks to Sell Red Sox Stake -

Newspapers, in particular the New York Times, are in deepening financial trouble for the reasons enumerated below in this WSJ story.

The Times is looking to sell a significant state in the Boston Red Sox holding company. Serves them right! They should be owning a piece of the Yankees instead.

"The ad recession and migration of readers and advertisers to the Web has sent newspaper publishers under intense pressure, forcing many to try to unload once-untouchable assets. The Times Co. on Wednesday said company revenues fell 14% in November while advertising revenues for the News Media Group, which includes both the Times and the Globe, declined 22%.

The Times Co. has taken several cost-cutting steps recently to satisfy its funding requirements, which includes a $400 million revolving credit facility that expires in May. The company recently slashed its quarterly dividend by three-quarters and said it plans to borrow as much as $225 million against its Manhattan headquarters. But analysts have said the company might need to make more cuts and/or sell assets to avoid drawing more debt toward the end of next year. Executives from Times Co. at an industry conference this month said they are exploring asset sales ahead of what they expect to be "among the most challenging years we have faced.""

December 24, 2008

Op-Ed Columnist - Time to Reboot America -

Op-Ed Columnist Thomas Friedman- Time to Reboot America -

Thomas Friedman wishes us a Merry Christmas with advice about revamping America...and he's generally correct as far as he goes.

But there's a much deeper crisis underlying the skills, education, government focus, tax incentives, investment, etc., that Friedman describes. For success, America's makeover must regain it's spiritual, moral and ethical moorings to enable a rise to material success. The foundation is crumbling, not merely the superstructure.

For far too long, the 'get mine now...if it feels good, do it' crowd has held sway and the results are plain to see all around us. The quagmire stretches from government pork right on through the Illinois political corruption morass, the financial sector's crisis of trust, illegal/unethical finance management and more.

Will the Obama people see the true crisis and deal with it or will their remedy be more programs to shore up the superstructure while the moral fabric continues to shred? Perhaps we expect far too much or of our leaders. The true solution to our crisis lies with each of us.

"For all these reasons, our present crisis is not just a financial meltdown crying out for a cash injection. We are in much deeper trouble. In fact, we as a country have become General Motors — as a result of our national drift. Look in the mirror: G.M. is us.

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.

It has to go into training teachers, educating scientists and engineers, paying for research and building the most productivity-enhancing infrastructure — without building white elephants. Generally, I’d like to see fewer government dollars shoveled out and more creative tax incentives to stimulate the private sector to catalyze new industries and new markets. If we allow this money to be spent on pork, it will be the end of us."

Vermont Yankee Reliability Likely OK

Today's (12/24/08) Burlington Free Press reports that a recently completed report on the reliability aspects of Vermont Yankee by Consultant's Nuclear Safety Associates, Inc. states that 'Vermont Yankee is reliable enough to keep running after its license expires in 2012, provided its owners make changes, including to the plant's consensers and the cooling towers that collapsed in 2007.'

The full report, 415 pages, is here.

Adding to the recent NRC evaluation, this is good news, although several more reports and other information will be forthcoming on which the General Assembly will base a decision for another 20 years of operation

Predictably, Senator Peter Shumlin expressed wariness about Vermont Yankee as he continues to pander to the rabid ant-nuke activists in his district. Meanwhile, VY continues negotiations with Vermont's electric utilities on new power purchase agreements.

We should keep in mind that the General Assembly will not decide on the safety aspects for VY. That determination is the purview or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (thankfully!). Vermont is the only state in the nation that has given itself the power to rule on the reliability and continued operations of a nuclear generating facility. One wonders if they have the courage and capability to even make such a technical judgment.

December 22, 2008

Sunset Over Lake Champlain

Carol caught this beautiful sunset over Lake Champlain on Friday, December 19, 2008 after a snowstorm.
Posted by Picasa

December 21, 2008

Editorial - How to Pay for a 21st-Century Military -

Editorial - How to Pay for a 21st-Century Military -

The Times recommends detailed cuts in specific weapons systems and other options for the military. Unless they identify the expert sources for this editorial, I put little stock in the NEW YORK TIMES as a military advisor. They are not qualified in military matters to be taken seriously. Who do they think they're kidding passing themselves off as military experts?

December 20, 2008

Peggy Noonan: Who We (Still) Are -

Peggy Noonan: Who We (Still) Are -

Peggy Noonan hits it squarely on the head. We have been absent of moral purpose principally because the country has lost its moorings in the faith that seizes optimism and runs with it. We have suffered a loss of integrity, purpose, high standards and yes, Matilda, character matters. This country was founded by people with faith, faith in God, faith in democratic principles, faith in men striving for a better tomorrow...a great sense of urgency

I was reading Noonan's piece and trying to apply the lessons for Vermont. Vermont has created a state of dependency on government when people should be dependent on their own resources abilities. This dependency has been created by many politicians who confuse leadership with giving people what they 'want.' That's not leadership. That's pandering.

Will the real leaders please step forward?

"...All this has hastened and added to the real decline in faith—the collapse in faith—the past few years in our institutions. Not only in Wall Street but in our entire economy, and in government. And of course there's Blago. But the disturbing thing there is that it seems to have inspired more mirth than anger. Did any of your friends say they were truly shocked? Mine either.

The reigning ethos seems to be every man for himself.

An old friend in a position of some authority in Washington told me the other day, from out of nowhere, that a hard part of his job is that there's no one to talk to. I didn't understand at first. He's surrounded by people, his whole life is one long interaction. He explained that he doesn't have really thoughtful people to talk to in government, wise men, people taking the long view and going forth each day with a sense of deep time, and a sense of responsibility for the future. There's no one to go to for advice...."


I love chicken wings and, as you can tell, I've discovered Scribd, a very neat document sharing web service. You can go full screen by clicking the button in the top right corner.

101 Chicken Wing Recipes

December 19, 2008

The Madoff Fraud

01/04/09 update... Michael Lewis has this to say in today's Times.
"The Madoff scandal echoes a deeper absence inside our financial system, which has been undermined not merely by bad behavior but by the lack of checks and balances to discourage it. “Greed” doesn’t cut it as a satisfying explanation for the current financial crisis. Greed was necessary but insufficient; in any case, we are as likely to eliminate greed from our national character as we are lust and envy. The fixable problem isn’t the greed of the few but the misaligned interests of the many."

"...OUR financial catastrophe, like Bernard Madoff’s pyramid scheme, required all sorts of important, plugged-in people to sacrifice our collective long-term interests for short-term gain. The pressure to do this in today’s financial markets is immense. Obviously the greater the market pressure to excel in the short term, the greater the need for pressure from outside the market to consider the longer term. But that’s the problem: there is no longer any serious pressure from outside the market. The tyranny of the short term has extended itself with frightening ease into the entities that were meant to, one way or another, discipline Wall Street, and force it to consider its enlightened self-interest."

Three years ago someone spent a great deal of time to research and notify the SEC that the Madoff operation was a fraud. Heads should roll at the SEC...NOW!

Markopolos Madoff Complaint

Blessed Are (Some of) the Cheesemakers - The Lede Blog -

Blessed Are (Some of) the Cheesemakers - The Lede Blog -

You gotta luv the Italians! Their Parmesan bailout has set pundits, story writers and headline creators all a-twitter. The Financial Times leaves no pun unturned!

"Producers of parmigiano in the Emilia-Romagna region smell the pungent whiff of trouble. With many selling their cheese at below cost, parmigiano makers are facing the prospect of going out of business – some are even using their cheese as collateral against bank loans they are using to pay for workers’ salaries. Now Luca Zaia, the big cheese for agriculture in the Italian government, has intervened, announcing a €50m bail-out for the celebrated formaggio.

The move has already grated producers of other cheese varieties. Makers of buffalo mozzarella, for instance, fear that without dipping into a fondue of government cash they too may fall by the whey-side. The blood of some economic observers has curdled at the thought of the Italian government rescuing any and every industry facing difficulty. Unlike the cheese itself, the case for protecting parmigiano has not been easy for some to digest."

Op-Ed Contributor - Extinction-Level Television Event -

Op-Ed Contributor - Extinction-Level Television Event -

Alan Sepinwall portrays the demise of network television. Networks, three of them, dominated television in its early days. I grew up in black and white CBS, ABC and NBC. It was new media and it rallied people together as no media has since.

While the Internet is wildly successful, it does not create a coherent, group experience. Instead, it enables a fragmented disconnected-in-time (email), although social networking with phenomena like Facebook, MySpace, Plaxo and many others are successful because they provide a shared experience, the same as television did initially.

George Gilder, the early technology evangelist predicted that the technology world was being turned inside out by fast, cheap processors and memory alongside fiber optics and wireless networks. Wikipedia has this to say about him: "His books include Life After Television, a 1990 book that predicted microchip would make broadcast-model television obsolete, Microcosm, about Carver Mead and the CMOS microchip revolution; Telecosm, about the promise of fiber optics"telecomputers" connected by fiber optic cable.

Gilder said that everything that travels on wires (telephony) will go wireless and that which is wireless (including TV) would travel on wires as a result of this revolution. He was/is fundamentally correct.

The social implications are less clear, but we are clearly living in a more fragmented world that will eventually see the death of network TV.

December 18, 2008

Concord Coalition's Fiscal Wake-up Call

Today (12/18/08), Robert Bixby, Executive Director of the Concord Coalition, displayed the fiscal situation faced by the United States in a presentation on the Coalition's Wake-up Tour ~ The U.S. Fiscal Outlook sponsored by the Vermont Business Roundtable. The situation is grim and is caused by policies that have been enacted in the past now aggravated by demographics as Baby Boomers enter retirement age and Medicare and Social Security costs escalate.

Mr. Bixby concluded with these points:

  • Current fiscal policy is unsustainable.
  • No easy solution will be found in preventing waste, fraud or abuse. We cannot grow our way out of the problem.
  • Solutions will require bipartisan cooperation and a willingness to discuss all options.
  • Public engagement and understanding is vital to finding solutions.
  • This is not about numbers. It is a moral issue (i.e, the legacy we leave to future generations).
This is the same recipe that Vermont must embrace to find our way out of the unsustainable fiscal morass created in the past decade.

December 15, 2008

The 17th Floor, Where Wealth Went to Vanish -

The 17th Floor, Where Wealth Went to Vanish -

Not only does money travel at the speed of light in the global financial markets, it seems Ponzi schemes do as well.

"...But the 17th floor was Bernie Madoff’s sanctum, occupied by fewer than two dozen staff members and rarely visited by other employees. It was called the “hedge fund” floor, but federal prosecutors now say the work Mr. Madoff did there was actually a fraud scheme whose losses Mr. Madoff himself estimates at $50 billion.

The tally of reported losses climbed through the weekend to nearly $20 billion, with a giant Spanish bank, Banco Santander, reporting on Sunday that clients of one of its Swiss subsidiaries have lost $3 billion. Some of the biggest losers were members of the Palm Beach Country Club, where many of Mr. Madoff’s wealthy clients were recruited.

The list of prominent fraud victims grew as well. According to a person familiar with the business of the real estate and publishing magnate Mort Zuckerman, he is also on a list of victims that already included the owners of the New York Mets, a former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and the chairman of GMAC...."

December 14, 2008

Nice Summary of Wordsmithing Tools

Here's a neat and short summary of browser-based tools to enable your writing. After a few years, I have more than 1,000 documents and spreadsheets at Google Docs. I was captured by Writely when it first surfaced and absorbed into Google when they bought the company.

Except for very complex documents and those where folks are worried about security, nearly all word documents can be produced and stored on line. This provides the real advantage of automatic backup, collaborative editing and access from anywhere.

Yet I still use Microsoft Office for other purposes that aren't yet as easy online (e.g., mail merge, label printing and others.)

The Public Editor - Separating the Terror and the Terrorists - Op-Ed -

The Public Editor - Separating the Terror and the Terrorists - Op-Ed -

Here is a thoughtful review of the NY Times' use of the words and terrorist and terrorism by its public editor. I think the Times is far too conservative (dare I use that word when referring to the Times?) in using the words. I agree with the public editor's conclusion below.

When such heinous and indiscriminate killing/maiming acts are done by a person, whether part of an organized group or not, it's terrorism and that person at that moment is a terrorist. When an 'organized' group uses these despicable acts as a tactic or strategy for social, political, or military ends, the group is a terrorist organization and they should be hunted and eradicated (or 'brought to justice' as President Bush puts it).

"My own broad guideline: If it looks as if it was intended to sow terror and it shocks the conscience, whether it is planes flying into the World Trade Center, gunmen shooting up Mumbai, or a political killer in a little girl’s bedroom, I’d call it terrorism — by terrorists."

December 13, 2008

The Associated Press: Zimbabwe: Cholera introduced by West

The Associated Press: Zimbabwe: Cholera introduced by West

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — "Zimbabwe on Saturday accused the West of waging biological warfare to deliberately start a cholera epidemic that has killed hundreds of people and sickened thousands.

The spread of the disease has focused the world's attention on the southern African nation's spectacular collapse."

After the first cholera cases, U.S. and other aid workers braced for the waterborne disease to spread quickly in an economically ravaged country where the sewage system and medical care have fallen apart. Zimbabwe also faces a hunger crisis, the world's highest inflation and shortages of both the most basic necessities and the cash to buy them.

The Herald quoted the information minister, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, as blaming cholera on "serious biological chemical war ... a genocidal onslaught on the people of Zimbabwe by the British."

"Cholera is a calculated racist terrorist attack on Zimbabwe by the unrepentant former colonial power which has enlisted support from its American and Western allies so that they invade the country," Ndlovu was quoted as saying."

The fools and idiots of sub-Saharan Africa are at it again. One more failed state ruled by a corrupt despot who drives the country into the ground. Of course, they blame everything bad that happens there on the West. What terrible absurdities! How can anyone trust or deal rationally with insanity like this?

U.S. Senate Minority Report on Global Warming

This post only to create a link to the Senate report released 12/1/08

Comments later.

December 12, 2008

State Attorney General Seeks to Strip Governor of Powers -

State Attorney General Seeks to Strip Governor of Powers -

Seems the right thing to do to get this sociopath out of office.

"CHICAGO -- Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed papers Friday with the state Supreme Court seeking to strip Gov. Rod Blagojevich of his powers, three days after he was arrested for allegedly trying to sell the Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

'I recognize that this is an extraordinary request, but these are extraordinary circumstances,'' Ms. Madigan said at a news conference.

The attorney general said that she is seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the governor from taking action on matters including naming someone to fill Mr. Obama's former Senate seat, approving new state contracts and authorizing state borrowing. The motion seeks to install Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn as acting governor."

$73 an Hour: Adding It Up

Economic Scene - Figure Skews Debate of a Bailout for Detroit -

This is an excellent summary of the real labor costs in the Big Three American auto companies in the U.S. (I assume the wage, benefit and pension numbers are only for American workers, although the piece doesn't specifically state that.). I recommend you read it.

I believe it's in our best interest not to let the Big Three fail because the ripple affect in the manufacturing sector supporting the Big Three is huge. Nevertheless, management, labor and politicians must accept the fact that the cost structure must change dramatically and quickly, otherwise even with loans now and no major surgery, they will surely fail later.

What we have here is yet another failure by Congress to be able do the right thing. Will a more Democrat controlled Congress with a Democrat President fare better? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, we will have run up a trillion dollar deficit this year alone. This is the real 800# gorilla lurking in the corner and our democracy's future is far less secure because of it.

December 11, 2008

Italian Cheese Bailout

This is one of my favorite cheeses. I wish I were a charity. Maybe they would send a wheel of this wonderful cheese my way!

"In an effort to help producers of the cheese commonly grated over spaghetti, fettuccine and other pastas, the Italian government is buying 100,000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano and donating them to charity.

Though demand for parmigiano is strong in Italy and abroad, producers have been struggling for years to make money, putting the future of Italy's favorite cheese at risk."

December 9, 2008

Political Crooks Abound in Illinois

Ah, yes, the crooked pols of Illinois rise again. More likely, they have never been put away. Oops, the Republican Governor just prior to this one is still in jail!
Obama people and the Prez-elect must be beside themselves. The media will have fun with this one!
Let's see it they are willing to dig into 'what Obama and his people knew and when did they know it.'

I wasn't feeling well this afternoon, so I spent time reading the FBI agent's affidavit filed as part of the criminal complaint by Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney. How a governor who ran on an anti-corruption platform in 2002 could say and do the things that have been captured via wiretaps, people wearing wires and plea-bargained witnesses is incomprehensible. It's like reading a crime mystery novel! And this apparently is only the tip of the iceberg.

While the affidavit is careful not to suggest that Obama's people were part of this episode, reading between the lines one can see that people from his team had to have been involved. I'd start with Axelrod who stated only a couple of weeks ago that Obama had talked with Blagojevich about the appointmnet of Obama's replacement as Senator. Meanwhile, today, Obama states on TV that he hadn't talked with the Governor. Someone is not telling the truth. Nearly simultaneously Obama's team says that Axelrod, appointed to a senior White House advisory position, 'misspoke!"

Another interesting note, Obama made this statement with Al Gore sitting at a table along with Joe Biden. The affidavit implicates Gore's 2000 campaign national fundraiser in the Governor's shenanigans and describes Joseph Cari's situation in this footnote:
"Cari testified pursuant to his obligations under a written plea agreement entered into with the government. In the plea agreement, Cari pled guilty to the attempted extortion of JER, an investment company attempting to obtain a State of Illinois investment. In exchange for his truthful cooperation, the government agreed to recommend at the time of Cari’s sentencing that Cari receive a sentence of two and a half years in prison. The plea agreement allows his counsel to ask for any sentence, including probation. Prior to pleading guilty to attempted extortion, Cari had no criminal history."
Dec. 9, 2008

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiring to get financial benefits through his authority to appoint a U.S. senator to fill the vacancy left by Barack Obama's election as president.

A 76-page FBI affidavit said the 51-year-old Democratic governor was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the last month conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat for personal benefits for himself and his wife, Patti.

"I want to make money," the affidavit quotes him as saying in one conversation.

For more information, please see:

December 8, 2008

Tough Choices Loom for Newspapers -

Tough Choices Loom for Newspapers -

Newspapers as we have known them are a dying breed. Google and other online advertisers are inexorably eroding the print newspaper advertising revenues revenues. Most major newspapers have robust online versions of their papers, but most charge nothing for access. The Wall Street Journal is the exception. From the beginning they have charged for an online subscription.

Government bailouts for newspapers will not be possible because the separation of the state from the press is as stark as for religion. So their survival options are relatively limited.

As ad revenues continue to tumble, the news-gathering and reporting will be different in this country. Robust reporting as we have come to expect may dissipate to other organizations. The Associated Press, Reuters, etc., may take on greater roles as the 'newsgatherers of record.'

It's only a matter of time before print news gives way massively to electronic news. It's a generational thing. People brought up online or with a cell phone forever present do not and will not read daily newspapers. Perhaps Google will decide to be in the news business. Maybe they'll bail out a paper or two!

"...Assuming the recession deepens, bankruptcy filings in the industry are possible. More likely, lenders will agree to renegotiate loans. In some cases investors may take control in debt-for-equity swaps. Whatever happens, existing shareholders, including families with decades of history in the industry, could be largely wiped out.

Newspaper executives are starting to do more than simply cut staff and dividends. Some have, for instance, reduced the frequency with which they publish: Freedom plans to make its Arizona daily East Valley Tribune a four-day-a-week free paper.

Publishers need to accept that newspaper ad revenue -- print and online are down 15% in the first nine months, according to the Newspaper Association of America -- isn't going to bounce back fully from the recession. Average profit margins for publicly reporting companies have halved to 11% for the first nine months of this year from 22% in 2003, estimates analyst John Morton. Drastic action is needed to reduce costs.

There are a number of options: Most obviously, there is consolidation. The cash deals of recent years saddled many newspaper chains with too much debt, exacerbating today's"

"...Another measure that some publishers could embrace is online-only publishing. Printing and distribution costs -- about 40% of revenues, estimates Mr. Morton -- could be eliminated by abandoning the physical product. Of course, online-ad revenues currently don't generate anywhere near enough to offset the lost dollars. But at the present rate of decline, online-only could be viable for some.

December 7, 2008

Vermont Yankee Legislative Mumblings

It seems that some Vermont legislative leaders just do not get it. Perhaps they don't want to see that reauthorizing Vermont Yankee, i.e., continuing low prices for baseload energy, is tightly bound with a future healthy Vermont economy. It may be that they are blinded by their desire to see Vermont Yankee close. Those that take this position have a responsibility to suggest replacement sources of power at a comparable prices.

We will watch Rep. Klein's talk and actions closely to see if he's as tightly in VPIRG's pocket as it appears Sen. Shumlin may be on this issue.

Today's Burlington Free Press makes this statement:

"Now, however, key legislators are suggesting that the Vermont Yankee vote might not take place in 2009 after all."

The story goes on to quote Rep. Tony Klein of East Montpelier, Chair of the House Natural resources and Energy Committee:

"When you look at all we are waiting for to make a decision I find it hard to to see how a vote takes place this session."

Fortunately, David O'Brien, Public Service Commissioner, a voice of sanity in this discussion says:

"I don't think that putting that off is in our interests. I think that's a very bad idea."

December 5, 2008

The Energy Challenge - Energy Goals a Moving Target for States - Series -

Here's a sensible piece from NY Times about the gap between what politicians and advocates say and do and the situation 'on the ground.'  The hard realities of building electric infrastructure should now be coming clear even to the die-hard wishful thinkers, but some are so imbedded in their ideologies that they are undeterred.

'Renewable' and 'alternative' electric energy are only a miniscule and expensive-to-build part of the mix . It's not that we shouldn't build more renewable sources into the mix, but our goals need to be tempered with a good dose of common sense. Texas and New Mexico seem to get it, but most states don't.

WindTurbineWater The Democrat candidate for governor of Vermont had proposed an unrealistic wind/alternative energy plan. I parodied it here because Vermont has this love/hate relationship with its environment and the production of needed energy. Moreover, many are beguiled by the idea sponsored by politicians currying votes that we can 'save the planet' by getting 'all' our energy needs differently and quickly.

vermontyank-733499 Many Vermonters would close Entergy's Vermont Yankee nuclear plant tomorrow if they could, but they present no realistic new alternative energy sources to replace the inexpensive 35% of our baseload needs, nor the substantial financial contribution that Vermont Yankee makes to several funds to benefit Vermont's environment, economic development and low income folks to help them pay for energy use.

Al Gore is mostly clueless about energy realities and seems to have been captured as a pawn of the greenies. No matter, most realistic thinkers dismiss his rants.

Note: George Sterzinger, quoted below, was a former head of Vermont's Department of Public Service who has apparently been basking in the light of reality.

"...Yet the experience of states that have adopted similar goals suggests that passing that requirement could be a lot easier than achieving it. The record so far is decidedly mixed: some states appear to be on track to meet energy targets, but others have fallen behind on the aggressive goals they set several years ago.

The state goals have contributed to rapid growth of wind turbines and solar power stations in some areas, notably the West, but that growth has come on a minuscule base. Nationwide, the hard numbers provide a sobering counterpoint to the green-energy enthusiasm sweeping Washington.

Al Gore is running advertisements claiming the nation could switch entirely to renewable power within a decade. But most experts do not see how. Even with the fast growth of recent years, less than 3 percent of the nation’s electricity is coming from renewable sources, excepting dams.

“I think we are really overselling how quick, how easy and how complete the transition can be,” said George Sterzinger, executive director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, a Washington advocacy group."

...In New England, the trend is to build more plants that run on natural gas and oil, not wind, said Gordon van Welie, chief executive of the entity that operates New England’s power grid.

...Experts said that without far more attention to the practical barriers, including the lack of lines to carry power, those new goals will be as difficult to meet as the old ones.

...A national standard, if the government decided to impose one, would put an even greater premium on new power lines, because more electricity would need to be moved from parts of the country with abundant wind and sunshine to the great cities where power is consumed.

The Energy Challenge - Energy Goals a Moving Target for States - Series -

December 1, 2008

India Security Faulted as Survivors Tell of Terror -

India Security Faulted as Survivors Tell of Terror -

I had mistakenly believed that 10 terrorists could not possibly have caused so much carnage in so many Mumbai locations as the media initially reported, but after reading this excellent WSJ report of the attack, it seems to be true.

*****Oops, hold the phone. Here's an opinion published by The Times of London on 12/2/08 that more terrorists involved in the Mumbai slaughter may still be 'missing' "Investigators believe that at least five or six additional people were immediately involved in preparing for the attacks by organising logistics and carrying out reconnaissance. " *****

It's obvious that the police and military response was sorely lacking and the terrorists probably knew this would be the case.

I don't pretend to understand the religious and ethnic conflicts that have plagued India and the history of this struggle. Suffice to say the terrorists were yet yet another band of radical Islamic terrorists bent on destroying a culture they abhor.

Can there be any doubt that this worldwide scourge must be dealt with by all possible means?

Ten men did all this damage, certainly aided by those who obtained arms for them, but only 10 men! Incredible.

Meanwhile we have a report from a government study group that suggests an attack somewhere in the world by these terrorist bastards using nuclear, chemical or biological agents is likely by 2013. Given the woeful lack of preparedness in India, they would be a likely target. Pakistan is a haven for these RIT bastards and according to some reports terrorist groups are actively supported by Pakistan's intelligence agency. These ten killers came from Pakistan, it appears.

To their credit, the Bush administration has enabled attacks on Al Qaeda wherever they are found, particularly in Pakistan and Syria. I hope the Obama administration has the good sense to keep this authority in place.