December 27, 2010

Salmon: We must blame no one and engage everyone

Tom Salmon speaks to a lesson our culture must learn. Americans and Vermonters have become far too dependent on government for our wants and needs. Turning the corner, however, will not be easy or quick because so many people prefer their 'entitlements' and politicians are far too ready to accommodate them.

At the Federal level with deficit spending and in Vermont by high taxes and dependency on Federal handouts from this deficit spending we are creating government services and expectations that we can no longer afford.

But where to begin to turn the ship of state?

Vermont Digger Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Vermont State Auditor Thomas M. Salmon, a CPA and licensed teacher who lives in St. Johnsbury.
We just finished a brutal campaign season. Op-eds are popping up and “Where do we go from here?” is one catchy title. I feel the need to address that question.
My father often reminds me…. “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear”, so I’m hoping you hear what I say in the spirit intended.
In 2010, the President’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform report was issued. Commission co-chair Erskine Bowles said: “We have started an adult conversation that will dominate the debate until the elected leadership in Washington does something real.” So the question “where do we go from here?” remains fertile. Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post writes, “This means telling both sides what they don’t want to hear. Conservatives must accept..(x). Liberals must accept..(y)..” Sounds simple enough. Are Conservatives and Liberals showing signs of communication? Who is communicating with the real people between Main St. , School St. and State St. ?
Reform is going to require new players; people not usually involved in formal civic activities. Ms. Marcus fell prey to the same inclination many big brains do; they speak of the problem as if it lay on a table or under a glass case. Paralysis through analysis and no action. Politicians and “experts” need to push the “stop and listen” button.. Einstein reminds us to “find the opportunity in the problem” and that will call for a different strategy.
As Auditor of Accounts, I warn of dangers, and the loss of “listening” is a real danger. I have testified on sensitive subjects like Sarcoidosis at the Bennington state office building when the legislature almost paid for that illness out of Workers Comp. I warned during the Act 62 Pre K discussion that resources for education are not infinite and may require rethinking how we deal with grades 11 and 12 to pay for age 3 and 4 educations.
People are starving for the truth, bold ideas and direction. Let’s give them some. We are talking about problems we can fix. A year and a half ago I took ample criticism for speaking up on a sensitive unemployment issue. Leaders were afraid to discuss curbing benefits to protect the fund or warn citizens that unemployment benefits may run out before their old jobs reappeared. I was vilified in my attempt to call out that urgent self-preparation and adjustment is required because some of those jobs are not coming back. Now, leaders are still silent while those unemployed Vermonters start falling off unemployment support.
It is very expensive when leaders focus only on votes, or promises to mitigate pain, or increase access or resources, while remaining afraid of looking the public in the eye and giving them the harsh truth. This country has a well-documented history of overcoming adversity, the ability of standing up straight immediately after getting knocked down. One of my favorite quotes is “People do not lack strength, they lack will”; it is up to us to demonstrate that we have the will to address our problems. Any government that provides benefits (education, health, employment, etc) without clear expectations from its citizens, in return, is committing a disservice.
One of the promises I heard on the campaign trail was a “Single-Payer System in Vermont .” I didn’t hear much about the fact that 70% of our healthcare costs are attributable to preventable causes. Not only are more than one-fourth the number of potential military recruits too fat to join the military, but now a report released December 21 says nearly one in four of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam. Many have found it easier to blame teachers and schools for such academic results or McDonald’s and soda for childhood obesity. A commitment to reality is long overdue and we must make personal responsibility germane to both of these discussions.
I could dazzle you with financial facts that are all big and all bad. I could stress the challenges of demographics, unfunded liabilities and our inability to create private sector jobs in Vermont since 1997. We’ve been there, done that. After you read this, you may crinkle it up to start your woodstove, or you may ask, how do we engage the general population to address the problems we face? How do we get the discussion started on issues of citizen participation in government and parent participation in our schools as a first step toward addressing the question “where do we go from here?”
We need participation, and the time of good intentions and “hoping for volunteers” is over. It’s time to get in the game, or watch our country, as we’ve known it, vanish.

December 18, 2010

The Corrosive Culture of Earmark/Pork Spending

The pre-Christmas controversy over earmarks or pork (depending on your ideology) is a valuable discussion. While Vermont’s targeted earmark/pork recipients whine about the loss of funding for their pet projects, the larger question deserves more attention. The culture of local slurping at the Federal trough that has fostered this entitlement mentality is corrosive to Americans’ trust in Congress and the federal government.

The massive spending bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid reluctantly pulled from consideration because he did not have the votes to assure passage in the lame duck Senate was laden with earmarks/pork.

According to the Heritage Foundation: “Gallup released a poll this morning (December 15, 2010) showing that the American people dislike this 111th Congress more than any other Congress. Specifically, a full 83% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job while only 13% approve. That is the worst approval rating in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance.
Why do Americans so despise this Congress? The reckless way it spends other people’s money, for starters. One would have thought that after getting “shellacked” at the polls this November, Congress would have gotten the message. No luck. Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a $1.27 trillion 1,924 page omnibus spending bill last night that contains 6,000 earmarks worth $8 billion. Oh, and all this has to be approved by midnight Saturday or the government shuts down.”

Many argue that earmarks represent minuscule spending in the big picture and promote valuable local benefits. However, the more important factor for the taxpayers is that earmarks/pork is part of a political spoils game played by both parties using taxpayer and borrowed money. At a time of economic pain and imperceptible growth, this culture erodes public confidence in a government that refuses to reign in spending. Congress, the body with the Constitutional authority for budgets and raising revenue, is seen as frivolous spendthrifts who abuse the system for their selfish political benefit.

Now that the massive spending bill has been derailed by the Senate, the new Congress, particularly in the Republican dominated House where spending bills originate, must soon decide what to cut in order to fulfill the November 2 voters mandate to control spending.

December 11, 2010

Pay Attention to What Paul Ryan Has to Say

Here's one Congressman who is smart and is willing to commit to a direction that will put this country on a better course. Take 20 minutes for a refreshing view of constructive change rather than the political pablum we are fed by most politicians and the media.

Think how much more positive are Ryan's views than those of Vermont's junior Senator who prefers ego-building filibuster rather than practical solutions.

December 8, 2010

Note to Representative Peter Welch

Representative Welch,
     Thanks for highlighting the crippling deficits and debt in your recent town meeting.
     While citizens, the media and most politicians prefer to blame Presidents for over-spending and creating deficits, the deficit problem falls squarely in the lap of Congress.
Congress has the Constitutional authority and responsibility for authorizing spending and funding the operations of government. In that light, Congress has the final accountability for this problem and MUST reign in spending.
     Profligacy with taxpayer dollars and the trillions in debt that has been created is a failure of Congress and its leadership over many years.  The chickens have now come home to roost.
    The best place to start is with the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction proposal. You should immediately embrace the elements of that proposal rather than engage in a partisan fight about it. If your politics prevent that, then you signal that your ideology is more important than the fiscal health of the United States. I expect better from Vermont's lone Representative.

Microsoft Introduces Tracking Protection to Its Browser -

This new capability in Microsoft's IE9 browser, already a fast and efficient piece of technology, is good news for users. Users should have the ability to be tracked or not. Data and information that we generate should always be ours to share or not.

December 6, 2010

Google throws down gauntlet with eBooks - MarketWatch

Google is in the electronic books game now. Easily, I have bought a Google eBook, downloaded the Google book reader app to my DROID2 and now have the ability to read it in my Android phone and/or my browser. This device-independent capability is a winner for me. Thanks, Google.

"The main feature of the Google initiative is that it uses a cloud-hosting environment that allows customers to buy and store their books with Google, as opposed to downloading and storing books on traditional electronic reading devices.

This will allow books to be read using a Web browser on any computer or mobile devices, the company says. including smartphones and tablet computers running on Google’s Android operating system."

December 1, 2010

Debt-Busting Issue May Force Obama Off Fence - Matt Bai -

President Obama must soon define himself according to this excellent piece by Bai. He can no longer live in the campaign fantasy land of hope and change while he and Congress amass trillion dollar deficits.

Perhaps he will surprise everyone in the deficit reduction debate by declaring himself a Blue Dog Democrat once more. The proof will be in the pudding, but I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

November 29, 2010

T.S.A. Furor Gives Media a False Positive - The Media Equation -

A lot to chuckle about in this story by Carr. The media, social and mainstream feeding on itself.

"The pat-down story was the equivalent of vaporware — it seemed as if something huge was about to happen, but it turned out that it was a story about a story, the noisy, fervent sound of a news system feeding on itself."

November 27, 2010

What to Expect from Verizon's LTE Roll-out

I have thought all along that Verizon's LTE roll-out would see the marriage of Verizon and Apple around the iPhone and likely the iPad (version 2 due in 1Q2011). Verizon has and will embrace the best device technology that comes along because it means revenue for both the device maker and Verizon. How much for each becomes merely a matter of negotiation and deal-making.

"But the big question for Verizon's LTE network isn't whether it will support smartphones in the first half of 2011 but whether it will finally land an LTE-capable version of Apple's popular iPhone. Although rumors of a Verizon iPhone have swirled for years now, Hays thinks that Verizon's LTE launch would be the perfect setting for Apple to debut a new iPhone model.

'It's quite likely that Apple will seek to take advantage of Verizon's 4G network,' he says. 'Having an LTE-enabled iPhone and adopting new technology early would fit squarely with Apple's overall strategy.'"

November 24, 2010

U.S. to Send Carrier for Joint Exercises Off Korea -

TeamObama has few good options with North Korea. They are in a similar situation as both Bush and Clinton. Nothing seems to work. North Korea and the rogue nuts who run the country always have the advantage because they can do nearly anything they want to provoke South Korea, the U.S. and the neighbors in the region with impunity.

China loves that its ally jabs one stick after another into our side and they do nothing to prevent the craziness.

I'm sure the military has a strategic war plan for North Korea. The problem is no one wants to use it because the downside is too awful to contemplate. The North Koreans know this and play it for all it's worth.

Eventually, the people are likely to revolt but the army supports the nutjob leaders because the troops are well-fed and taken care of compared to the rest of the population. This cannot go on indefinately.

I wonder where North Korea got all the new centrifuges for enriching uranium? Did they build them or buy them? If they bought them, who sold them? So much for sanctions and embargoes. Has the media followed up on this? Perhaps I missed it.

November 15, 2010

Web-Based Email Market Share

Now we'll wait for Facebook to enter the fray. Thanks to ZDNet for the graphic!

Review & Outlook: Embarrassment in Seoul -

Given the U.S. slapdown at Seoul's G-20 meeting, it's pretty clear that TeamObama's policies have been soundly rejected. Both TeamObama's political and economic calculus seem to be failing.

What will be his reaction to the Deficit Reduction Commission's recommendations? We'll know soon when the final report is released on December 1, 2010. Regaining economic vitality is impossible without a resurgence in confidence by Americans. TeamObama and Congress must show that they understand and will act on reducing the size of the deficits and debt, rather than embrace the ridiculous spending surge, as an essential step in restoring that confidence.

The WSJ piece concludes:
"None of this should be cause for celebration, because a world without American leadership is a more dangerous place. The U.S. is still the world's largest economy, the issuer of its reserve currency, and its lone military superpower. No other nation has the will or capacity to lead the way the U.S. has for 70 years, so faltering American influence will produce a vacuum in which every nation can seek narrow advantage.

If Mr. Obama wants to restore his economic leadership, both at home and abroad, he needs an urgent shift in priorities. [emphasis added] Strike a deal with Republicans to extend the current tax rates across the board, pursue the spending cuts proposed by his own deficit commission, end the regulatory binge that has constrained America's animal spirits, stop trying to direct capital toward political mirages like 'green jobs,' and press Congress to pass the Korean and other trade pacts.

The world will follow American leadership again only when it sees policies that restore robust U.S. economic growth."

5 Tips for Searching Gmail -

Five tips for effective searches in Gmail.

November 12, 2010

Who Owns and Controls Personal Information & Identities

My position: I own any data that I choose to share with any organization. A company or organization that unduly restricts my access to it or my free choice about how to share it is evil.

This excerpt form The Economist story:
"Both Google and Facebook are run like absolute monarchies in which hundreds of millions of users (digital serfs, some might say) have created identities. Rather like mercantilist countries in the offline realm, both companies operate policies to protect this asset. Google stoked the trade war because it wants to add what it calls a “social layer” to existing products such as picture-sharing and e-mail, making it look more like Facebook. It would help Google if users could bring their contacts to its services from other sites. But Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, wants to keep control of its serfs’ data and therefore stops them exporting contacts easily."

November 11, 2010

Deficit Panel's Leaders Push Cuts -

Kudos to the Deficit Commission. They have put on the table, at least in draft form, a realistic approach to what must be done. You know it's good work when the special interest groups are immediately outraged.

TeamObama has a big test coming once the commission issues its final report on December 1, 2010. Will this opportunity to lead be seized or squandered?

"...Sen. Gregg said that overall, federal spending takes a bigger hit in the plan than taxpayers do. The plan's goal is to reduce federal spending and federal revenues to 21% of gross domestic product. Federal revenues currently are projected to be about 19% of GDP in 2015, and outlays about 23%.
It would seek to achieve the pullbacks through a mix of spending cuts and increasing tax revenues—about 75% in spending reductions and about 25% from the tax side.
If the plan was adopted in its entirety, it would reduce the deficit to 2.2% of gross domestic product by 2015, exceeding the target set for the panel by the White House of lowering the deficit to 3% of GDP...."

November 10, 2010

Northern New England Politics

Vermont has elected a Democrat governor, a Republican Lt. Governor, a Democrat Attorney General, a Democrat Secretary of State and retained solid Democrat majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile New Hampshire has turned decidedly Republican. From the Manchester Union Leader:
New Hampshire voters elected 19 Republican state senators out of a possible 24 -- the biggest Republican Senate majority since 1962. They elected Republicans to nearly 300 of the 400 state House seats, according to preliminary returns. And they elected Republicans to both U.S. House seats and the one U.S. Senate seat up for grabs. The lone bright spot for Democrats was the survival of Gov. John Lynch, who again campaigned as a moderate, pro-business, anti-spending executive (in other words, a Republican).

Likewise in Maine, Republicans surged to power. They now have control of both branches of the Legislature and a new Republican Governor.

Vermont, now a very 'Blue' state under full Democrat control, will confront the budget shortfall of $100+ million and will have no opposition to its policies.

Observing and comparing the approaches taken by Maine and New Hampshire, now much Redder states, will be a fascinating exercise. My prediction: Vermont will raise taxes and do little to cut spending during the next biennium. The best we can hope for is an improving economy which will produce better paying private sector jobs since Vermont's unemployment rate is 5.8%, but it won't be the government creating them. Maine's rate is 7.7% and New Hampshire's is 5.5%

November 8, 2010

Dollar Leakage Spurs Growth Elsewhere -- Seeking Alpha

Dollar Leakage Spurs Growth Elsewhere -- Seeking Alpha

A sensible evaluation by Steven Hansen of the Fed's recent decision, called QE2 (Quantitative Easing, Round 2 [round 1 was TARP]) to buy $600 billion in U.S. Treasury securities during the next 6 months as an attempt to stimulate the economy.

There is widespread disagreement about this Fed decision which was opposed by one of the Fed's board of governors.

Countries such as Germany and China are opposed to what amounts to a devaluation of the dollar by printing money.

If that's not what's going on here, what is?

Hansen says:

"...I was trying to grasp the beneficiaries of this QE2, and could only think of the USA equities market and forex / commodity traders. The belief by many is that the dollar will weaken, and companies with a global footprint will have significantly higher international profit growth (as expressed in USA dollars).
Of course, this line of thinking requires the fundamental belief that other currencies and governments will stand stand idly by while their currency strengthens and their perceived competitive advantage is whittled away. It is much more likely a currency / economic war will follow than foreign countries remaining passive to USA's quantitative easing.
It is fairly easy to identify who will suffer with the current Fed policy:
  • the old who lived on social security, bond yields and the income from their CD's (CD yields are now so low they will barely purchase a six pack of beer); and,
  • the underfunded pension funds who are now denied any low risk fixed income opportunities.
So the burden of this low interest rate policy is being carried by the old (retired) and the boomers (near retired). Our old fashioned retirement income schemes are in the toilet. In theory, it is beneficial to the alphabet soup of generations which follow as they have access to cheap money. If this were only true......."

November 6, 2010

Geologists And Tech Industry Leaders Fear Mineral Trade Wars Imminent

Geologists And Tech Industry Leaders Fear Mineral Trade Wars Imminent:

China has a stranglehold on the high-tech world with control of the rare earth minerals market. They can squeeze the market anytime they desire and offer dozens of reasons why they aren't manipulating it.

Rare earth minerals are available elsewhere but at substantially higher cost which provides one more economic advantage to China in addition to cheap labor.

"A trade war is imminent, James Burnell of the Colorado Geological Survey explained in the Geosociety report:

“China is preparing to build 330 giga-watts worth of wind generators. That will require about 59,000 tons of neodymium to make high-strength magnets — more than that country’s annual output of neodymium. China supplies the world with a lot of those rare earth elements, like neodymium, and will have little or none to export if it moves ahead with its wind power plans…So the source for the West is problematical. [sic]”"

November 4, 2010

The NY Times in Sorting Out the Election does its best to assert that American voters really didn't repudiate TeamObama's policies. They revert to the tired mantra that the economic malaise is really Bush's fault and the Republicans' failure to cooperate with TeamObama since his election is the real problem.

I read it differently. While TeamObama may get the blame, Congress is where the problem lies. After all, when all is said and done, it is Congress that appropriates money and approves budgets and earmarks that now result in our borrowing 42 cents of every federal dollar spent. Congress is a bigger problem than TeamObama and Congress has been in Democrat hands since 2007.

In the mid-term elections, Congress was repudiated by voters who replaced many incumbents. However, control of the House by the Republicans will not enable them to govern. The situation now is a recipe for more gridlock and sparring for the run-up to the 2012 elections. Please, politicians, let's work for the good of the country instead.

Americans deserve more from our Congress than bickering, massive deficits, earmarks and government bloat. Serious work on major issues to prevent the obvious demise of the United States would be in order. Thankfully, the Tea Party folks are raising a loud voice to stop the slide and turned out votes attempting to change direction.

Changing direction in a fiscally sane fashion is what's needed to restore the confidence of Americans. TeamObama's policies lead us further down the road to debt and demise. Can Republicans and Tea Party folks turn the ship of state? Not without a massive overhaul of the culture of dependency that pervades too much of America.

Government as the great savior and redistributor of the nation's wealth is a fable. A vibrant private sector confidently investing and creating jobs is what we need.

November 2, 2010

Quantitative Easing

The Fed and the financial/economic community call the printing of money to buy treasury securities "quantitative easing." What a marvelous term of art to describe spending money we don't have by printing more of it. I am no economist or financier, but this seems a high risk approach in an attempt to stimulate the economy. Bond prices will rise and interest rates will decline. The long term effect may be decidedly negative as the United States continue to run up its debt, a bad policy move.

A person whom I greatly respect, Bill Gross, a recognized expert in bonds has this [click the link to read the whole piece] to say in an essay entitled, 'Run, Turkey Run:'

"There’s another important day next week and it rather coincidentally occurs on Wednesday – the day after Election Day – when either the Donkeys or the Elephants will be celebrating a return to power and the continuation of partisan bickering no matter who is in charge. Wednesday is the day when the Fed will announce a renewed commitment to Quantitative Easing – a polite form disguise for “writing checks.” The market will be interested in the amount (perhaps as much as an initial $500 billion) as well as the targeted objective (perhaps a muddied version of “2% inflation or bust!”). The announcement, however, has been well telegraphed and the market’s reaction is likely to be subdued. More important will be the answer to the long-term question of “will it work?” and perhaps its associated twin “will it create a bond market bubble?”
Whatever the conclusion, not only investors, but the American people should recognize that Wednesday, even more than Tuesday, represents a critical inflection point in determining our future prosperity. Of course we’ve tried it before, most recently in the aftermath of the Lehman crisis, during which the Fed wrote $1.5 trillion or so in “checks” to purchase Agency mortgages and a smattering of Treasuries. It might seem a tad dramatic then, to label QEII as “critical,” sort of like those airport hucksters, I suppose, that sold whale blubber for a living. But two years ago, there was the implicit assumption that the U.S. and its associated G-7 economies needed just an espresso or perhaps an Adderall or two to get back to normal. Normal just hasn’t happened yet, and economic historians such as Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart have since alerted us that countries in the throes of deleverging can take many, not several, years to return to a steady state."

Voters will live with choices

Schubart: Voters will live with choices

Bill takes a measured, sane approach to guiding Vermonters in the parameters of our vote today. Although Vermont may be conservative in the sense that Bill defines it, politically Vermont is far too left-leaning.

The role of government in Vermont has become unbalanced because people have been led too far down a road of dependency rather than self-reliance. The result is pervasive government that has become overbearing when candled against the true conservative values of Freedom and Unity.

Bill is absolutely correct is his assessment about 'simplistic promises' without an 'implementation strategy and some assessment of intended and unintended consequences.'

Political spin by would-be leaders and vague ideological promises are a recipe for expensive, disappointing and ineffective government. But we deserve what we get when we fall for hype and marketing in place of common sense.

October 30, 2010

The Next Two Years -

The Next Two Years -

David Brooks attempts to give advice to President Obama for the next two yewars to repair his sorrowful Presidency. His advice is good, but I fear TeamObama will not embrace it because they are ideologically and politically driven to foster government as the solution rather than the individual and do not embrace the idea or American exceptionalism.

For example, I doubt they understand or will respond to Brooks' third suggestion because their primary political base expects government largess and redistribution of wealth.

"Third, Obama will need to respond to the nation’s fear of decline. The current sour mood is not just caused by high unemployment. It emerges from the fear that America’s best days are behind it. The public’s real anxiety is about values, not economics: the gnawing sense that Americans have become debt-addicted and self-indulgent; the sense that government undermines individual responsibility; the observation that people who work hard get shafted while people who play influence games get the gravy. Obama will have to propose policies that re-establish the link between effort and reward."

October 25, 2010

A Sensible Approach to Help People Trust Their Congress

This has been making the rounds on the Web for some time now. I have received it at least a half dozen times.  These simple words resonate with millions of people because people are fed up with Congressional excess.

I know it's not this simple and passing 'a law' will not cure abuses of power and ego-driven politicians. However, it's a position statement deserving an answer from all sitting and aspiring Congressmen/women. They should be asked to defend or reject it and their reasons for their position.

Congressional Reform Act of 2010

          1. Term Limits.
             12 years only, one of the possible options below.
             A. Two Six-year Senate terms
             B. Six Two-year House terms
             C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms

          2.  No Tenure / No Pension.
          A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no
pay when they are out of office.

          3.  Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social
          All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the
Social Security system immediately.  All future funds flow into the Social
Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

          4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all
Americans do.

          5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.
Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

          6. Congress loses their current health care system and
participates in the same health care system as the American people.

          7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the
American people.

          8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void
effective 1/1/11.
          The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.
          Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

October 22, 2010

Bloggers in the Middle East: Don't be too cheeky | The Economist

Bloggers in the Middle East: Don't be too cheeky | The Economist:

Islamic culture does not inspire openness, transparency or true democratic freedom of speech given the evidence of crackdowns on bloggers by governments in Muslim countries. China is another bad actor in this regard.

Repressive governments are afraid of dissent and losing control and power.

"Iran is far from alone in locking up bloggers. Governments across the Middle East are increasingly twitchy about their citizens’ online activities. As internet use in the region has soared—up 19-fold since 2000, compared with a fivefold rise in the rest of the world, according to Internet World Stats, which monitors global internet usage—so the number jailed for what they do on the web has shot up too."

October 14, 2010

U.S. Is Facilitating Afghan-Taliban Contacts, Say Officials -

U.S. Is Facilitating Afghan-Taliban Contacts, Say Officials -

It's pretty clear to me that U.S. policy is shifting in Afghanistan so TeamObama will not have Afghanistan hanging around their necks as did the Johnson presidency with Viet Nam.

The equally, perhaps more, important consideration is Pakistan and the instability in that government. This is a very volatile part of the world and America must have an effective counter strategy to combat radical Islamic terrorists and their supporters should we find a way to make a quick exit from Afghanistan.

"U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan have facilitated the passage of senior Taliban leaders to Kabul for talks with President Hamid Karzai's government, signaling a shift by the U.S. to more active support of Afghan reconciliation efforts.

The U.S. military has said in the past that Mr. Karzai's efforts to broker peace with the Taliban were premature.

But a senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization official said the allied force was now offering direct help for preliminary peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which has strong influence in big swaths of the country.

'We have indeed facilitated, to various degrees, the contacts between these senior Taliban members to the highest levels of the Afghan government,' the NATO official said."

October 11, 2010

Web Upgrade HTML 5 May Weaken Privacy -

Web Upgrade HTML 5 May Weaken Privacy -

The cycle is never ending. New technology promises greater user convenience and capabilities. While we have an advertising model supporting the 'information wants to be free' expectation of the Internet, that convenience comes with a privacy price.

Please, gurus and privacy wonks, get this as right as you can. I certainly don't want government regulation of this domain. That will be worse than the abuses we may complain about.

"In the next few years, a powerful new suite of capabilities will become available to Web developers that could give marketers and advertisers access to many more details about computer users’ online activities. Nearly everyone who uses the Internet will face the privacy risks that come with those capabilities, which are an integral part of the Web language that will soon power the Internet: HTML 5."

October 9, 2010

Mobile Internet Will Rule Within 5 Years, Analysts Say

Mobile Internet Will Rule Within 5 Years, Analysts Say

Projections of future technology trends nearly always miss the mark when they become too specific, but this gathering momentum to embrace the mobile internet is right on the money. We want more mobile, convenient and powerful devices. Time to invest in battery technology and suppliers or is it too late??

October 5, 2010

The Fed is dead, maybe by 2012 Paul B. Farrell - MarketWatch

Farrell pulls no punches in this piece. His bottom line message:
"...So who can you trust? Nobody, not me, not even Taleb. Why? In the final analysis the Buddha said it best: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
Unfortunately, America is losing its capacity to reason, its common sense, its values, its vision of the future. More of us need to trust Taleb’s “simple metric.”

Taleb, who wrote the Black Swan (I highly recommend this book), has this yardstick:
Did someone predict the last crisis before it happened? ... If the answer is no, I don’t want to hear what the person says. If the person saw the crisis coming, then I want to hear what they have to say’.”
Farrell's dismal scenario [which fails to include other, possibly earth-shaking, dramatic events triggered by terrorism and the likely intensifying clash of Islam and other world religions]:
Stage 1: The Democrats just put the nail in their coffin confirming they’re wimps when they refused to force the GOP to filibuster Bush tax cuts for billionaires.
Stage 2: In the elections the GOP takes over the House, expanding its strategic war to destroy Obama with its policy of “complete gridlock” and “shutting down government.”
Stage 3: Post-election Obama goes lame-duck, buried in subpoenas and vetoes.
Stage 4: In 2012, the GOP wins back the White House and Senate. Health care returns to insurers. Free-market financial deregulation returns. Lobbyists intensify their anarchy.
Stage 5: Before the end of the second term of the new GOP president, Washington is totally corrupted by unlimited, anonymous donations from billionaires and lobbyists. Wall Street’s Happy Conspiracy triggers the third catastrophic meltdown of the 21st century that Robert Shiller of “Irrational Exuberance” fame predicts, resulting in defaults of dollar-denominated debt and the dollar’s demise as the world’s reserve currency.
Stage 6: The Second American Revolution explodes into a brutal full-scale class war with the middle class leading a widespread rebellion against the out-of-touch, out-of-control Happy Conspiracy sabotaging America from within.
Stage 7: The domestic class warfare is exaggerated as the Pentagon’s global warnings play out: That by 2020 “an ancient pattern of desperate, all-out wars over food, water, and energy supplies would emerge” worldwide and “warfare is defining human life.”
In this rapidly unfolding scenario, the Fed cannot survive. Why? Not because the Fed is at the center of America’s economic problems, beyond repair, a dying institution. But because the Fed is a pawn of Wall Street’s Happy Conspiracy, which is incapable of seeing the train wreck that it set up.
This out-of-control, conspiracy of greedy Wall Street bankers, corporate CEOs, corrupt politicians and Forbes 400 billionaires will, in the near future, trigger the third catastrophic meltdown of the 21st century, a collapse that paradoxically can transform America into a new, stronger post-capitalist economy … but only after a revolution and brutal class warfare. But few will talk about what’s coming.

October 3, 2010

Is Anything Pushing Consumer Confidence Buttons? -- Seeking Alpha

Is Anything Pushing Consumer Confidence Buttons? -- Seeking Alpha:

Watch the spin! The economy is not in good shape yet we are fed different views depending on the spinner's motive.
"Economists and Presidents expend effort to pump perceptions of the economy. One of President Obama’s initial errors was to bad talk the economy – and the equities market reacted accordingly. Leadership is unable to be candid about the economy. Data needs to be spun.

Even the economic analysis pumped out by the investing industry is spun to the point that the reader’s understanding is distorted. It might be that the population which does not read or listen to news might have a better understanding of economic conditions then those that listen to the news. Do the higher educated let distorted data override observation?"

September 27, 2010

VYO welcome Ronald interviews

Director Ronald Braunstein's leadership of the VYO at the Flynn yesterday was superb. The orchestra was outstanding, especially with Beethoven's 5th Symphony! Here's what the musicians have to say after the performance.

September 26, 2010

The Recession Is Over, Now Where Are the Jobs? -- Seeking Alpha

The Recession Is Over, Now Where Are the Jobs? -- Seeking Alpha

I have been reading Steven Hansen's weekly analyses over time and he makes more sense than most of what we read, particularly in the popular press. Hansen talks about 'headwinds' in the economy, that cannot be fixed by throwing money at it. He's right. We have serious structural problems that are sapping any recovery. Those include: our political apparatus is in disarray and we seem to have lost our way in regards to the beliefs and values that have made America great.
America suffers from a deficit in values and confidence. David Brooks last week writes a bit about one of those deeply personal values, responsibility ["What the country is really looking for is a restoration of responsibility. If some smart leader is going to help us get out of ideological gridlock, that leader will reframe politics around this end."]
I recommend both Brooks and Hansen's writings this week.
"The “highlight” of this week was finding out the recession ended in June 2009. There is no question that data supports that the recession was over based on established definitions. The complete statement is an interesting read due to the rationalization of the decision.
I was hoping the NBER would call an end of recession, while saying at the same time that we were in a depression. Most likely political considerations prevented this call. Still, we are in a depression. (emphasis added)
Based on the recession ending in June 2009, this continues to be the worst recovery since WW2 – not to mention the Great Recession was the worst recession since the Great Depression.
The debate continues on jobs creation. Most want adjustment to monetary policy to spur jobs growth. This debate would have merit if it occurred prior to 2000 but things are different in 2010 – increasing money flows or increasing GDP are no longer directly affecting job creation (click to enlarge):
Even to the most uneducated, it is obvious the economy everyone is measuring runs through money flows and finance – and it has disconnected from jobs and Joe Sixpack. There is something other than money flows providing the headwinds to jobs growth. Our recovery is hostage until those headwinds are attacked. Trying to correct headwinds with money flows cannot solve structural problems. (emphasis added)
What is worse is that our jobs crisis is disproportionately affecting our next generation and overall social order."