January 31, 2009

Bolero by Ravel

If you like Bolero, click here. Magnificent performance.

Andre Rieu wants to lift you off your feet or out of your chair.

Speakers on!

Daschle Pays 3 Years of Tax on Use of Car - NYTimes.com

Daschle Pays 3 Years of Tax on Use of Car - NYTimes.com:

I would love to know what particular expertise Mr. Daschle has and what services he performed for $83,333 a month. I always though he was a professional politician. Was he lobbying? Was he registered? This is a serious omission in reporting. Is this NY Times bias at work again?

Given what was included in the story, Daschle seems unqualified for his proposed appointment. He never showed me any talent as a a senator.

"Under his consulting arrangement with InterMedia, the report said, Mr. Daschle received $1 million a year, or $83,333 a month. The payment to Mr. Daschle for May 2007 was omitted from the annual statement of income sent to him by InterMedia. Ms. Backus said the omission resulted from “a clerical error by InterMedia.”"

January 26, 2009

Blowhards - WSJ.com

Blowhards - WSJ.com

The Cape Wind Farm controversy reminds me of our situation in Vermont. Hypocrisy is alive and well on Cape Cod and in Vermont when it comes to industrial scale wind development. We just don't like to make trade-offs when it comes to building vital infrastructure.

Would that life would be so simple as to not require hard choices! Perhaps Vermont needs another non-profit; let's call it NIMBYS United Against Tough Choices where ideologues could gather to talk 'green' while doing nothing helpful for our economy. They could use Senator Shumlin' s example of leading the Legislature through a climate change sensitivity session in 2007 while doing nothing for Vermont's economy.

AFP: EU official says Gaza destruction "abominable"

AFP: EU official says Gaza destruction "abominable"

Finally, someone in the know from the EU is placing the blame for the Gaza mess where it belongs, with the Hamas terrorists.

"It is abominable, indescribable," Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told reporters in Gaza after touring some of the worst-hit places of Israel's deadly 22-day assault on the territory.

"At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas," he said. "I intentionally say this here -- Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such."

"In order for the EU to relaunch a political dialogue with a minimal chance of succeeding and a chance of moving forward towards peace, Hamas must accept the two little conditions that were put to it -- one, the right of Israel to exist and two that it abandon the armed struggle, the terrorist dimension of its approach."

Blasting the scale of destruction in Gaza, Michel said the European Union, the main donor to the Palestinians, was sick of paying for the same infrastructure that's destroyed over and over again.

"Public opinion is fed up to see that we are paying over and over again -- be it the (European) commission, the member states or the major donors -- for infrastructure that will be systematically destroyed," said Michel, known for his critical comments about Israel.

Melding Obama’s Web to a YouTube Presidency - NYTimes.com

Melding Obama’s Web to a YouTube Presidency - NYTimes.com:

Mainstream journalists ought to be concerned, very concerned as the Obamanians take their President directly to the people, perhaps deliberately bypassing traditional journalists. This signals a vastly different era where the President increasingly has powerful tools to reach people.

Politicians have played around the edges with internet based connections to people for the past few years, but Obama took it to the next level. He intends to continue doing so BIG time using today's communications tools.

While I have frequently criticized the MSM for their bias and shortcomings, they are worried and we need to be continually aware that government does not overly disintermediate the media and gain too much control over the message. That would not be healthy for our republic.

This will be a fascinating but necessary struggle.

"In an interview, Mr. Phillips, 30, said the site would give the White House another way to reach the public without having to rely on the mainstream news media.

“Historically the media has been able to draw out a lot of information and characterize it for people,” he said. “And there’s a growing appetite from people to do it themselves.”

The approach is causing some concern among news media advocates, who express discomfort with what effectively could become an informational network reaching 13 million people, or more, with an unchallenged, governmental point of view.

“They’re beginning to create their own journalism, their own description of events of the day, but it’s not an independent voice making that description,” said Bill Kovach, the chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. “It’s troublesome until we know how it’s going to be used and the degree to which it can be used on behalf of the people, and not on behalf of only one point of view.”"

January 25, 2009

Radio Spreads Taliban’s Terror in Pakistani Region - NYTimes.com

Radio Spreads Taliban’s Terror in Pakistani Region - NYTimes.com:

Assuming the story is true, here's another dose of the actions by the Taliban radical Islamic terrorist bastards at work in a 'civilized' area of western Pakistan. Read the whole story if you want to get your blood boiling. The savagery of these evil men warrants their eradication. I would like to hear reasons why that's not a good idea.

Are any of the Guantanamo prisoners Pakistanis who, if/when released, would rush to join their friends in Swat? President Obama should think long and hard during the next year as he decides what to do with the like-minded terrorists he says he will find a new home for.

"With the increasing consolidation of their power, the Taliban have taken a sizable bite out of the nation. And they are enforcing a strict interpretation of Islam with cruelty, bringing public beheadings, assassinations, social and cultural repression and persecution of women to what was once an independent, relatively secular region, dotted with ski resorts and fruit orchards and known for its dancing girls.

Last year, 70 police officers were beheaded, shot or otherwise slain in Swat, and 150 wounded, said Malik Naveed Khan, the police inspector general for the North-West Frontier Province.

The police have become so afraid that many officers have put advertisements in newspapers renouncing their jobs so the Taliban will not kill them."

January 24, 2009

Can Economists Be Trusted? - Economix Blog - NYTimes.com

Can Economists Be Trusted? - Economix Blog - NYTimes.com

This is from a fascinating blog at the NY Times by Princeton Economics Professor Uwe Reinhardt. He writes frequently about health care, but this excerpt is from his recent remarks about now economists frequently bias their statements and products based on a mix of who is paying them and on their personal ideologies.

He "explains how easy it is for economists to infuse their own ideology – or that of their clients – into what may appear to outsiders as objective, scientific analysis."

Caveat Emptor!

"Writing in The New York Times, for example, the Harvard professor N. Gregory Mankiw, former chief of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, makes a case for stimulating the economy through tax cuts rather than added government spending.

First, he suggests that government usually spends money on things people do not want or need – like bridges to nowhere, or digging ditches and then filling them in again. To buttress his case further, he then cites an empirical study by Valerie A. Ramey, according to which the $1 of added government spending will ultimately increase gross domestic product by only $1.40, while according to another recent study by Christina and David Romer, $1 of tax cuts over time increases G.D.P. by $3.

Noneconomists may ask, of course, exactly how a $1 cut in taxes would translate itself into a $3 increase in G.D.P. at a time when traumatized households, whose wealth has been eroded, might use any new tax savings merely to pay down debt or rebuild their wealth through added savings, rather than spend it, and when businesses unable to sell their output even from existing capacity might hesitate to invest such tax savings in more capacity.

But never mind this fine point.

More interesting is that Christina Romer is to be the head of President-elect Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. In that capacity, last Saturday she released an analysis of fiscal stimulus alternatives, with a co-author, Jared Bernstein. Curiously — or perhaps not — for that analysis, the two authors assume a much larger four-year multiplier effect for added government spending (1.55) than for tax cuts (0.98), although they do confess to a high degree of uncertainty on the actual sizes of these multipliers.

So there you have the flexibility, shall we say, that economists enjoy when they apply their professional skills to affairs of state in what may seem, to outsiders, like purely scientific analyses.

In the first lecture of my freshman economics course at Princeton titled “The Art of Siffing Among Seasoned Adults,” I demonstrate how seasoned adults routinely structure information felicitously (i.e., “sif”) to further their own agenda, and I point out that economists can be among the most skillful practitioners of this art.

“If at the end of this course you still trust me,” I warn them, “I have failed in my mission. When economists advise on public policy, the operative mantra is Caveat Emptor!”

January 23, 2009

Clover House - Good Food

Earlier this week Terri Hallenbeck wrote a favorable review of the Clover House in Colchester. We have lived in Colchester for 30 years and have never eaten at this establishment. We tried it tonight.

I had the rib eye steak and Carol had the lamb ribs. Both excellent meals! We'll be back there again because of the extensive menu, fair prices and good service.

They had a good crowd both in the bar and the dining room on this Friday night.

Das Leben der Anderen (2006)

I watched this movie on DVD last night. I had seen it before, but in the reviewing, it's really an excellent film. Well conceived, well acted and the set design and location shooting is superb. Get it on Netflix if you can.  Well worth the watching!  I love the ending...

Das Leben der Anderen (2006)

January 21, 2009

Alternative energy faces power line bottleneck in U.S. West | Reuters

Alternative energy faces power line bottleneck in U.S. West | Reuters

The promises are easy, the delivery is very hard. How about this dilemma ?

"Bureaucratic delays stem from mandates of U.S. land agencies, said Lew Milford of the Clean Energy States Alliance, which represents 20 states' renewable energy funds: "It's one of those tricky good-versus-good problems -- trying to move more renewable energy but in an environmentally friendly way."

Take this test to see how you'll survive the next big meltdown - MarketWatch

Take this test to see how you'll survive the next big meltdown - MarketWatch

Our mental wiring may well determine financial success. Are you left or right brained? No, this isn't about your political leanings, it's about how you think and react to life.

A fascinating read! The Black Swan by Nasim Taleb is also a very good book.

Op-Ed Columnist - Radical in the White House - NYTimes.com

Op-Ed Columnist - Radical in the White House - NYTimes.com

Thomas Friedman certainly has received his dose of enthusiasm for the Obama Presidency. Nevertheless, as Friedman along with so many others raise expectations, Obama himself seems to have been lowering them in his speeches before the inauguration. It's a delicate balance. Surely Obama needs to tap into the enthusiasm that his charisma has generated. This IS an auspicious moment, but the problems and inertia are massive. Despite the emotion and rhetoric, I am not convinced that Americans are persuaded to sacrifice willingly while they are enmeshed in an involuntary downgrading of their economic well-being from this recession. I think they want things to go back to what they perceive as a better time.

The borrowing and entitlement culture runs very deep in this country and to reverse it quickly may not be possible. "Change We Can Believe In" will be extraordinarily difficult to deliver. I think we may be able to it, but it will require a full generation and a dramatic reduction in our standard of living. We simply cannot afford the excessively consumptive lifestyle of the past.

January 20, 2009

Pascal's Wager and Climate Change - O'Reilly Radar

Pascal's Wager and Climate Change - O'Reilly Radar

The climate change debate rolls on.

Tim O'Reilly makes a case worth reading that action taken to live and work more efficiently with respect to energy sources and uses and the resulting improvement of the environment are worthwhile benefits. Naturally, there are serious and significant countervailing views expressed in the comments to O'Reilly's position about the extent of climate change and whether it's manmade or not. As I have written here previously, I subscribe to Bjorn Lomborg's view of what we should be doing.

The climate IS changing...it always has/does...but whether man's influence is a factor is unsettled (the science is NOT settled because it's built on models that cannot be tested, thus it's not true science as we understand the term) . The important fact that is not mentioned by O'Reilly is there is absolutely NO evidence that climate change CAN BE reversed. And if it is possible, there's no answer to the question of what that state should be.

Mankind's civilized presence on the planet is so short that we are incapable of defining the ''best" climate. We give ourselves far too much credit!

Washington Wire - WSJ.com : President Obama's Inaugural Address

Washington Wire - WSJ.com : President Obama's Inaugural Address

Obama's inaugural speech was well delivered, but what is the memorable line? There isn't one. Nevertheless, his call for citizen responsibility and his clear message to terrorists that we will defeat them were to me the central messages from him.

Pundits will parse every phrase in the next few days. We shall see if the media's love affair with candidate Obama carrys over to President Obama, particularly after the first 100 days.

TV reports 2 million people in Washington at the inauguration, a record.

January 18, 2009

Is Privacy an Antiquated Concept? - The Tech

Is Privacy an Antiquated Concept? - The Tech

What is your expectation of privacy in a digital world? The notion of collective intelligence is gaining traction and currency in our digital world. However, the underlying unstated assumption in this story is that men are basically 'good' and not 'evil.' If you believe that collective intellgence somehow transcends the evil lurking in the world, you have an unrealistic worldview. On the other hand, if mankind was inherently 'good,' there'd be no need for the notion of privacy?

"...These kinds of things transcend party lines. Congress doesn’t use the internet and doesn’t understand the Internet the way our generation does, and by extension, they don’t understand the power of collective intelligence. It has nothing to do with how capable or intelligent our congressmen and women are — it’s a simple function of how they grew up understanding information, technology, and privacy.

The past 15 years have arguably seen more change in those three aspects of society than the half-century before. Trusting these people to regulate something they don’t, and cannot understand, like digital privacy, is a risky road to go down."

And this...

"The ease with which a thief can steal your identity is a largely a function of how much information it is “normal” to divulge. So while you may have been shocked if a stranger approached you in 1994 and told you your birthday, hometown, high school, and favorite movie, it would be thoroughly unremarkable in 2009.

Privacy may very well be something wholly temporary, and that’s not a bad thing. The sooner we stop trying to impose 20th century standards of privacy on 21st century technologies like collective intelligence, the better."

January 17, 2009

President Bush Speaks to Israel's Knesset

Note: I have copied this speech in its entirety and linked to the Whitehouse site, but that link will probably be broken after President Obama takes office which is the reason I have copied it in full.

This speech is well worth reading. I have heard Obama make similar remarks when he was on the campaign trail and it is my fervent desire that our policy toward Israel remains as President Bush so clearly expresses it.

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 15, 2008

President Bush Addresses Members of the Knesset
The Knesset

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Fact sheet In Focus: Middle East Trip

2:55 P.M. (Local) THE PRESIDENT: President Peres and Mr. Prime Minister, Madam Speaker, thank very much for hosting this special session. President Beinish, Leader of the Opposition Netanyahu, Ministers, members of the Knesset, distinguished guests: Shalom. Laura and I are thrilled to be back in Israel. We have been deeply moved by the celebrations of the past two days. And this afternoon, I am honored to stand before one of the world's great democratic assemblies and convey the wishes of the American people with these words: Yom Ha'atzmaut Sameach. (Applause.)

President George W. Bush receives a standing ovation by members of the Knesset Thursday, May 15, 2008, in Jerusalem. Acknowledging the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence, the President told the Israeli parliament, “Earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: "Masada shall never fall again." Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.” White House photo by Shealah Craighead It is a rare privilege for the American President to speak to the Knesset. (Laughter.) Although the Prime Minister told me there is something even rarer -- to have just one person in this chamber speaking at a time. (Laughter.) My only regret is that one of Israel's greatest leaders is not here to share this moment. He is a warrior for the ages, a man of peace, a friend. The prayers of the American people are with Ariel Sharon. (Applause.)

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's independence, founded on the "natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate." What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David -- a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

Eleven minutes later, on the orders of President Harry Truman, the United States was proud to be the first nation to recognize Israel's independence. And on this landmark anniversary, America is proud to be Israel's closest ally and best friend in the world.

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: "Come let us declare in Zion the word of God." The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust -- what Elie Wiesel called "the kingdom of the night." Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. (Applause.) When news of Israel's freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: "For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words."

President George W. Bush stands with Dalia Itzik, Speaker of the Knesset, and Israel’s President Shimon Peres on the floor of the Knesset Thursday, May 15, 2008, in Jerusalem. During his remarks to the members of the Israel parliament, President Bush said, “We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's independence, founded on the "natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate." What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David -- a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.” White House photo by Shealah Craighead The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country's admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: "Masada shall never fall again." Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

This anniversary is a time to reflect on the past. It's also an opportunity to look to the future. As we go forward, our alliance will be guided by clear principles -- shared convictions rooted in moral clarity and unswayed by popularity polls or the shifting opinions of international elites.

We believe in the matchless value of every man, woman, and child. So we insist that the people of Israel have the right to a decent, normal, and peaceful life, just like the citizens of every other nation. (Applause.)

We believe that democracy is the only way to ensure human rights. So we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world. (Applause.)

We believe that religious liberty is fundamental to a civilized society. So we condemn anti-Semitism in all forms -- whether by those who openly question Israel's right to exist, or by others who quietly excuse them.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli's leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction. (Applause.)

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve. (Applause.)

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is an ancient battle between good and evil. The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry out these savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. They accept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.

And that is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the "elimination" of Israel. And that is why the followers of Hezbollah chant "Death to Israel, Death to America!" That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that "the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties." And that is why the President of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.

There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It's natural, but it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)

Some people suggest if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, and America utterly rejects it. Israel's population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you. (Applause.)

America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

Ultimately, to prevail in this struggle, we must offer an alternative to the ideology of the extremists by extending our vision of justice and tolerance and freedom and hope. These values are the self-evident right of all people, of all religions, in all the world because they are a gift from the Almighty God. Securing these rights is also the surest way to secure peace. Leaders who are accountable to their people will not pursue endless confrontation and bloodshed. Young people with a place in their society and a voice in their future are less likely to search for meaning in radicalism. Societies where citizens can express their conscience and worship their God will not export violence, they will be partners in peace.

The fundamental insight, that freedom yields peace, is the great lesson of the 20th century. Now our task is to apply it to the 21st. Nowhere is this work more urgent than here in the Middle East. We must stand with the reformers working to break the old patterns of tyranny and despair. We must give voice to millions of ordinary people who dream of a better life in a free society. We must confront the moral relativism that views all forms of government as equally acceptable and thereby consigns whole societies to slavery. Above all, we must have faith in our values and ourselves and confidently pursue the expansion of liberty as the path to a peaceful future.

That future will be a dramatic departure from the Middle East of today. So as we mark 60 years from Israel's founding, let us try to envision the region 60 years from now. This vision is not going to arrive easily or overnight; it will encounter violent resistance. But if we and future Presidents and future Knessets maintain our resolve and have faith in our ideals, here is the Middle East that we can see:

Israel will be celebrating the 120th anniversary as one of the world's great democracies, a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people. The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved -- a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror. From Cairo to Riyadh to Baghdad and Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade. Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, with today's oppression a distant memory and where people are free to speak their minds and develop their God-given talents. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas will be defeated, as Muslims across the region recognize the emptiness of the terrorists' vision and the injustice of their cause.

Overall, the Middle East will be characterized by a new period of tolerance and integration. And this doesn't mean that Israel and its neighbors will be best of friends. But when leaders across the region answer to their people, they will focus their energies on schools and jobs, not on rocket attacks and suicide bombings. With this change, Israel will open a new hopeful chapter in which its people can live a normal life, and the dream of Herzl and the founders of 1948 can be fully and finally realized.

This is a bold vision, and some will say it can never be achieved. But think about what we have witnessed in our own time. When Europe was destroying itself through total war and genocide, it was difficult to envision a continent that six decades later would be free and at peace. When Japanese pilots were flying suicide missions into American battleships, it seemed impossible that six decades later Japan would be a democracy, a lynchpin of security in Asia, and one of America's closest friends. And when waves of refugees arrived here in the desert with nothing, surrounded by hostile armies, it was almost unimaginable that Israel would grow into one of the freest and most successful nations on the earth.

Yet each one of these transformations took place. And a future of transformation is possible in the Middle East, so long as a new generation of leaders has the courage to defeat the enemies of freedom, to make the hard choices necessary for peace, and stand firm on the solid rock of universal values.

Sixty years ago, on the eve of Israel's independence, the last British soldiers departing Jerusalem stopped at a building in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. An officer knocked on the door and met a senior rabbi. The officer presented him with a short iron bar -- the key to the Zion Gate -- and said it was the first time in 18 centuries that a key to the gates of Jerusalem had belonged to a Jew. His hands trembling, the rabbi offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God, "Who had granted us life and permitted us to reach this day." Then he turned to the officer, and uttered the words Jews had awaited for so long: "I accept this key in the name of my people."

Over the past six decades, the Jewish people have established a state that would make that humble rabbi proud. You have raised a modern society in the Promised Land, a light unto the nations that preserves the legacy of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And you have built a mighty democracy that will endure forever and can always count on the United States of America to be at your side. God bless. (Applause.)


3:18 P.M. (Local)

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January 16, 2009

Wind Farm Off Cape Cod Clears Hurdle - NYTimes.com

Wind Farm Off Cape Cod Clears Hurdle - NYTimes.com

Ah, yes, the magic and power of wind, that wonderful 'free' source of energy that requires years to obtain several permits, untold $millions in studies, consultants, lawyers, meetings, etc. Then, when/if permits are obtained, the developers can invest many more $millions to actually build the wind farm and sell electricity.

Yet, it's probably not as expensive as permitting a nuclear plant. But a nuke operates 7/24 producing baseload power, something a wind farm can never deliver. Why, oh why, do we insist in tying ourselves up in transaction costs that make energy more expensive than need be. It must be the American way to enrich consultants and lawyers.

Op-Ed Columnist - An Economy of Faith and Trust - NYTimes.com

Op-Ed Columnist - An Economy of Faith and Trust - NYTimes.com

As clever as Brooks is, he fails to mention at least two basic realities that affect how people react to choices.

One is the profound influence of our world of instant communications in which information and money move at nearly the speed of light. In this world, reflective, rational decision making is dramatically altered. Market and economic theories were predicated on slower, more contemplative mental processes. That is not today's reality.

The other key factor is greed. This human trait has always been present, of course, but it has been set loose in markets and financial systems by a not-so-slow erosion of society's morals. "Do your own thing."

His basic point, though, that the mechanistic views of politicians and political ideologies built on outmoded theory are unlikely to help much in the economic recovery. This begs the question: Do we have enough faith to borrow and spend again or are we in a long period of conserve and save? Or the more basic question may be can we realistically grow ourselves out of this recession?

January 14, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist - Israel’s Goals in Gaza? - NYTimes.com

Op-Ed Columnist - Israel’s Goals in Gaza? - NYTimes.com:

Thomas Friedman proposes what he thinks might be a way out of the Hamas-Gaza-Israeli mess. However he fails to say....and it must always be said....that there can be no lasting peace there unless Hamas and the other terrorist groups give up their claim that Israel has no right to exist. Without that change, war will continue interrupted by occasional periods of 'peace' while the terrorists rearm and prepare for their next round of bloodshed.

"In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims. Now its focus, and the Obama team’s focus, should be on creating a clear choice for Hamas for the world to see: Are you about destroying Israel or building Gaza?

But that requires diplomacy. Israel de facto recognizes Hamas’s right to rule Gaza and to provide for the well-being and security of the people of Gaza — which was actually Hamas’s original campaign message, not rocketing Israel. And, in return, Hamas has to signal a willingness to assume responsibility for a lasting cease-fire and to abandon efforts to change the strategic equation with Israel by deploying longer and longer range rockets. That’s the only deal. Let’s give it a try."

January 13, 2009

Bernie Sanders YouTube Channel

Senator Bernie questions T. Boone Pickens in December 2008.

You remember him. The oilman with all the TV ads who wants to fuel our cars with natural gas and create electricity from wind. The man who has gone silent now that oil and gas prices have collapsed.

Please, Senator Sanders, have the courage to talk to us about baseload electricity and how wind and solar will satisfy the 7/24 demand that is our reality.

Obama's energy pick endorses nukes, clean coal | Politics and Law - CNET News

Obama's energy pick endorses nukes, clean coal | Politics and Law - CNET News

Dr. Chu will not be embraced by some rabid greenies who believe the forecast for energy's future is all windy and sunny. He makes sense with his initial remarks. There's no question that efficiency will be the low-hanging fruit and that coal and nuclear will be with us for a very long time.

On Vermont's nuclear front, the Legislature should quickly decide the fate of Vermont Yankee. Their best bet would be to repaeal the authority thay have previously given themselves to decide VY's fate. They would be better served and off the hook by leaving the decision where it belongs...with the NRC and the Public Service Board.

January 11, 2009

U.S. Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site - NYTimes.com

U.S. Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site - NYTimes.com

Reading Sanger's story about efforts to thwart Iran's development of nuclear weapons, I'm struck by the timing of it. Why would this story appear less than two weeks before Mr. Obama becomes President? Is it a plant by the Obama team to persuade the Iranians to talk early in his Presidency?

Also, why is there no meaningful comment in the story from the Obama people? Did they refuse to talk? If so, Sanger should have said so. There is a reason the Times includes no Obama references beyond that he was briefed and knows about the Israeli request and the alleged American covert plans. What is it?

This story smells, not so much because of what's in it, but because of what's missing. Perhaps it's a plant.

Op-Ed Columnist - Tax Cuts for Teachers - NYTimes.com

Op-Ed Columnist - Tax Cuts for Teachers - NYTimes.com:

"A mind is a terrible thing to waste," the long-standing slogan of the United Negro College Fund, should be in Tom Friedman's repertoire as he argues for a deep financial commitment to education as part of the Obama stimulus package. However well-meaning his guidance quoted below, and I can agree with most of it, eliminating federal income tax for all teachers is nonsense. Clearly we need incentives for good people to teach, but we also need incentives to rid the system of bad teachers. Pay for performance should be the norm, not pay for longevity and credits earned.

"...My wife teaches public school in Montgomery County, Md., where more and more teachers can’t afford to buy homes near the schools where they teach, and now have long, dirty commutes from distant suburbs. One of the smartest stimulus moves we could make would be to eliminate federal income taxes on all public schoolteachers so more talented people would choose these careers. I’d also double the salaries of all highly qualified math and science teachers, staple green cards to the diplomas of foreign students who graduate from any U.S. university in math or science — instead of subsidizing their educations and then sending them home — and offer full scholarships to needy students who want to go to a public university or community college for the next four years...."

Obama Stimulus Plan Could Create 8,000+ Jobs

Preseident-elect Obama announced that his stimulus plan could create as many as 3.6 million jobs in the U.S. during the next two years. If Congress approves and his plan is implemented, Vermont could gain more than 8,000 jobs on the assumption that our state would share proportionately in the national job growth.

Again, assuming we gain non-farm jobs in all the primary employment sectors in the same proportion that Obama proposes to create them nationally, the Vermont gains could be:

Mining - 29
Construction - 1632
Manufacturing - 1082
Wholesale Trade - 274
Retail Trade - 1595
Information - 99
Financial Activities - 342
Professional and Business Services - 442
Education and Health Services - 738
Leisure and Hospitality - 1187
Utilities - 34
Transportation and Warehousing - 156
Government Total - 615

My data is here.

Of course, this estimate reflects the best of circumstances and certainly does not take into account jobs that will be lost during these two years.

January 8, 2009

Guide For Vermont Legislators

The opinion piece below was published in the Colchester Sun on January 8, 2009

A Citizen's Guide for Vermont Legislators in 2009

Soon, Legislators, you will convene facing a very different fiscal environment than you are accustomed to. With the deepening recession all your energies must be focused on dealing constructively with the gap between your previous budget, current overspending

and less revenue than predicted. You are undoubtedly pondering what you will do to set the state finances aright while trying to 'do no harm' to Vermonters. Above all else, continue your rational policy of balancing the budget although you are constitutionally not required to do so.

Meanwhile, you will continue to deluged by special interest groups who want you to act on social issues like gay marriage, physician-assisted suicide and any number of other causes dear to the hearts of a small minority of Vermonters. Please resist this temptation. You will serve us better in this session by not dabbling with these issues.

Your energies in committee work and in general sessions should focus primarily on four critical tasks:
1./reduce spending consistent with the ability of Vermonters to pay for government services; 2./reset spending priorities to invest more in the long-neglected transportation infrastructure; 3./change policies to enable a more robust economy with a healthy, if not thriving, private sector; and,
4./enable Vermont Yankee to continue operating beyond 2012 safely and reliably.

Some will advise that you should increase taxes because we have a 'revenue problem' brought on by the recession. This is a false premise. You must resist the Siren's call to raise any taxes, not only because we are in a recession, but because they are already too high. The reason for that is you have previously authorized spending well beyond the capacity of the tax base. Let's be clear. Vermont government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Here's a glaring example of government spending outstripping the tax base. Since the first quarter of 2000, state government jobs have increased by 16.7 % (2,400 jobs). Local government jobs , including education, have increased 10% (2,800 jobs). Meanwhile, private sector job growth (3,100) has been anemic at 1.3%.

Look at it this way. In 8 years, for every three jobs created in the private sector five, supported by taxes, were created in government. That, Legislators, is a glaring symptom of excessive spending inconsistent with the economy's health. The growth of government explains why spending and state and local taxes are far too high.

Government now is the largest sector of the Vermont economy, a very unhealthy condition. Absent a healthy private sector to support it, recession or not, you really have no choice but to substantially reduce government spending.

Because you must change spending habits, now is the time to reset certain priorities. Most Vermonters, except the education lobby, will agree that we spend too much on K-12 education and not enough on transportation infrastructure. Take advantage of this opportunity to change that.

Here's one simple idea. Dismiss the notion of raising the fuel tax to pay for bonding to build bridges and culverts. Instead, stop transferring $25 Million annually to the Education Fund from the Transportation Fund. Don't backfill the hole in the Education Fund. If we are told correctly that a $20 Million surplus may exist in the Education Fund, give that back to the tax payers. You simply cannot continue to feed the education system's insatiable appetite. Oh, and if you have the gumption, consider initiating serious reform of education governance and funding.

None of this will be easy. Thank you for serving Vermont thoughtfully in these tough times.

January 6, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist - The Confidence War - NYTimes.com

Op-Ed Columnist - The Confidence War - NYTimes.com:

Brooks' analysis is an interesting take on the Middle East Mess (MEM). Israel obviously has the military might compared to Hamas and the other Palestinian terrorists. Reading the comments about Brooks' column, I get the impression that most commenters see this struggle as mainly Israel's 'fault' because they 'oppress' the Palestinians and steal 'their' land with continued expansion of settlements. I fail to see why Israel should give back unilaterally the land they captured from their attackers in 1967, attackers and enemies who proclaim that Israel has no right to exist.

There is much blame to be cast in this MEM, of course, but Israel does not claim that Islamic nations have no right to exist. Israel does not practice suicide/homicide bombing. Israel does not fire rockets indiscriminately into civilian populations. Israel does not hide its fighters among the civilian population.

Israel has fashioned, with America's help, a modern democracy and a vibrant economy. They receive strong support from Jews around the world who still and should remember the Holocaust.

Palestinians, it seems, with whatever largess comes to them from Islamic nations fashion terrorists, a failed economy and a failed political system. Where is the creative energy for a better life for themselves? Blaming Israel exclusively for their woes is wrongheaded. But their religion and their hatred blinds them and has taken them captive to vengeance and terror.

"This new game isn’t a war of attrition. It’s a struggle for confidence, a series of psychological exchanges designed to shift the balance of morale. The material destroyed in an episode can be replaced, but the psychological effects are more lasting. What is really important is how each episode ends, because the ending defines the meaning — who mastered events and who was mastered by them."

January 2, 2009

How To Pay For Surface Transportation Infrastructure

Below is an excerpt from the interim report by the National Commission on Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing. While they haven't made any specific recommendations about how to fund the increasing demand for infrastructure upgrades, present taxation methods are clearly inadequate.

Vermont should consider new approaches to funding infrastructure, too. Increasing the level of taxation on a diminishing commodity, fuel, will not produce the long term revenue needed. Novel approaches are suggested to move the basis for taxation to usage of roads, instead of the surrogate of fuel, because fuels will be supplanted by electricity in the future.

One could tax electricity, I suppose, but determining which electricity is used for recharging vehicles is problematic.

One intriguing proposal would tax vehicle mileage directly with different rates for different weights and vehicle types presumably using an on-board metering system that automatically recorded and transmitted miles driven (and where?) using GPS technology. This seems like a good solution if (a BIG if) the privacy wonks can be satisfied.

"It is important to note that innovations in information technology are enabling new pricing strategies across all modes of travel. Technologies that can establish variable use rates based on time of day, type of vehicle, level of emissions, and specific road traveled are being deployed around the world. For example, on the federal highway system in Germany, heavy trucks are equipped with transponders and GPS systems and use an automatic toll collection system based on truck weight, level of emissions, and distance traveled. Transportation officials in the Netherlands are planning to transition to a satellite-based system that would charge drivers based on vehicle miles traveled (and potentially other factors, such as congestion)."

Perhaps Vermont should plan to be an early adopter of this system which would take years to implement. It makes the most sense in the long run.

"We provide in this report the criteria by which we plan to evaluate various funding sources and financing techniques. We describe the broader surface transportation system issues and challenges that provide the context for examining possible funding recommendations. And we sincerely invite stakeholder feedback on all aspects of our approach in order to help us develop constructive and specific recommendations that will support our nation’s future transportation needs.

Finally we identify some preliminary observations and invite comment on them as
well. In brief:
  • System demands are outpacing investment;
  • System maintenance costs are competing with necessary expansion of the system;
  • The fuel tax, which has been the key federal funding source for our system, is no longer sufficient at current rates;
  • More direct user charges should be explored; and We need not only more investment in our system, but more intelligent investment complemented by better operation of the system.

As Recession Deepens, So Does Surplus of Milk - NYTimes.com

As Recession Deepens, So Does Surplus of Milk - NYTimes.com:

This milk surplus will hurt Vermont dairy farmers and we should expect requests for state government assistance...again. This time there'll be no money to help them. It's a sad but true reality that Vermont dairy cannot hope to compete with California, Wisconsin and other large dairy states. We are simply too small to compete in any bulk dairy product. Our targets should be expanding specialty dairy including artisan cheeses, and of course, premium ice cream.

We'll soon hear about Vermont farmers under pressure to reduce their herds or sell their farms. Predictably, conservationists will see this as another opportunity to purchase development rights, thus taking even more land out of the state's tax base.

We need some fresh thinking about Vermont's economic health.

"“People don’t want to panic,” said Brian W. Gould, an agricultural economist at the University of Wisconsin, adding that farmers were receiving $20 for 100 pounds of raw milk just a few months ago. The price is expected to drop to about $14 for 100 pounds of raw milk in coming months. “It is unclear as to whether this will be a short-term or long-term market correction. It all depends on how long it takes the U.S. economy to recover,” he said."