January 30, 2010

Haiti's Grim Future

Worse than grim. How else to describe the future of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

According to the CIA factbook, "Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty. Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country's widespread deforestation."

Haiti's population is 9 million. Nearly half the people over the age of 15 are illiterate. The data below with a comparison to Vermont exemplify the massive economic dilemma. The bottom line is that Haiti has practically no functioning economy. Unemployment (pre-earthquake) is estimated between 66%-70%.

PopulationGross Domestic ProductGDP/Capita
Haiti9.0 Million$9 Billion$1,300
Vermont0.62 Million$22 Billion$34,900

In 2008, four hurricanes further devastated the economy and the country. The recent earthquake killed upwards of 200,000 leaving ~1.5 million homeless (17% of the population). The human tragedy is beyond comprehension, but as heroic efforts to supply basic necessities continue, people are contemplating the future of the country. There are no easy answers for Haiti.

Key elements for a viable future include:

1. Western Hemisphere countries and beyond must come together with tens of billions in rebuilding aid which will be required for a decade or two at minimum. Moreover, rebuilding to meet basic needs for housing, health, education, jobs and industry must take into account item 2. below.

2. Decisions will be necessary about the future economy of Haiti. In its present condition, it's a failed state, economically and politically. Who will make the decisions about the country's viable future economy? Can it ever survive, let alone thrive, on its own? Must it become a ward of the U.N. for a generation or more? What are the likely mainstays underpinning a viable Haitian economy?

3. Literacy and learning are vital elements for any hope of success considering Haiti's decades of culture dominated by corruption, severe poverty and superstition.

4. Effective security and policing must be integral to building a culture of security and hope.

More on the Supreme Court's Decision in CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION

As part of our body language when reacting to words being spoken by public speakers that we agree or disagree with, we often silently mouth words of support or dissent, shake our heads, applaud, boo, shout, etc.

Justice Samuel Alito was caught on camera appearing to mouth the words "that's not true" or "not true" when TeamObama castigated the Supreme Court's decision in CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION during the State of the Union address.

Here's what TeamObama said in the speech: ''With all due deference to the separation of powers, the court last week reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections.''

As I have stated before, a corporation, whether 'the press' or other legal entity should have substantially the same free speech rights under our Constitution as an individual because a corporation or an association is a 'person' under our law. Moreover, I believe these political contributions should be public information so that voters can know the source of funding for various political messages. Armed with that information voters can decide the value of those paid messages at the ballot box.

Some may not like the fact that corporations, groups or labor unions can spend money delivering their political messages, but our Constitution guarantees free speech, however it may be amplified or delivered.

The blog linked to above at The Economist has an interesting take on this:

"Obama claimed that last week's campaign-finance ruling by the Supreme Court "reversed a century of law".

That's a claim that is often bandied around. But it is not true, says Linda Greenhouse of the NYT:

"The law that Congress enacted in the populist days of the early 20th century prohibited direct corporate contributions to political campaigns. That law was not at issue in the Citizens United case, and is still on the books. Rather, the court struck down a more complicated statute that barred corporations and unions from spending money directly from their treasuries — as opposed to their political action committees — on television advertising to urge a vote for or against a federal candidate in the period immediately before the election. It is true, though, that the majority wrote so broadly about corporate free speech rights as to call into question other limitations as well — although not necessarily the existing ban on direct contributions."

Meanwhile, here's Bradley Smith on why he agrees with the court's decision:

"To truly appreciate the stakes in Citizens United, one must remember the government's legal position in the case. Implicit in its briefs but laid bare at oral argument, the government maintained that the Constitution allows the government to ban distribution of books over Amazon's Kindle; to prohibit a union from hiring a writer to author a book titled, "Why Working Americans Should Support the Obama Agenda"; and to prohibit Simon & Schuster from publishing, or Barnes & Noble from selling, a book containing even one line of advocacy for or against a candidate for public office. As David Barry would say, "I am not making this up.""

January 29, 2010

WSJ NEWS ALERT: Gates Foundation Commits $10 Billion to Vaccines - dusher@gmail.com - Gmail

WSJ NEWS ALERT: Gates Foundation Commits $10 Billion to Vaccines - dusher@gmail.com - Gmail

Thanks, Bill and Melinda, for your tremendous generosity. You are a model for all philanthropists!

"Philanthropists Bill Gates and Melinda Gates said they will spend $10 billion to develop and deliver new vaccines over the next decade, highlighting growing concerns that the global recession and competing government priorities will stifle efforts to control diseases in developing countries.

The money, announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, marks an increase from the roughly $800 million a year the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation now spends on vaccine work."

January 28, 2010

Tablet computing: The book of Jobs | The Economist

Tablet computing: The book of Jobs | The Economist

The Economist's take on the iPad's likelihood to assist media that are in deep fininacial trouble is on the mark. It will not save some and will will help others. The NY Times which already has announced it intends to charge for electronic content will climb on board and likely gain some financial advantage. VP Niesenholz participated in the iPad kickoff event yesterday.

I think I'll reserve judgment on the possible success of the iPad until after it's launch. It's missing a few important features:

  • no multitasking
  • no Flash support
  • no USB port
  • no SD slot
...for starters.

More shortcomings described here and here. Microsoft can't be sitting on their hands in this space. My guess is they have something up their sleeve. Watch for it.

Google Privacy Principles

Google states simply its core privacy principles: More here.
  • Use information to provide our users with valuable products and services.
  • Develop products that reflect strong privacy standards and practices.
  • Make the collection of personal information transparent.
  • Give users meaningful choices to protect their privacy.
  • Be a responsible steward of the information we hold.

As a big Google user, I can live with this.

The State of the Union Is No 'Reset' Button - WSJ.com

The State of the Union Is No 'Reset' Button - WSJ.com

So much for the fiscal restraint promised by TeamObama in the State of the Union speech last night. A request to Congress to roll back spending would be far more credible.

"Mr. Obama's problems are not political management, but policy. They won't be solved by faux fiscal restraint, mini-ball proposals for the middle class, and angry pretensions to populism.

By his own Office of Management and Budget numbers, Mr. Obama has raised the baseline of discretionary domestic spending by a total of $115 billion since his inauguration, bumping it up midway through the 2009 fiscal year budget and then increasing it again for the 2010 fiscal year.

Mr. Obama is now calling for a spending freeze to save $15 billion for fiscal year 2011. That's nice, but it freezes in place a 24% increase in discretionary, non-security domestic spending. The president would also exempt from a freeze the $512 billion that has yet to be spent from last year's stimulus package. To present such a proposal as a serious attempt at restraining spending is to reveal a low opinion of the intelligence of ordinary Americans."

January 26, 2010

Budget Deficit to Reach $1.3 Trillion for 2010 - WSJ.com

Budget Deficit to Reach $1.3 Trillion for 2010 - WSJ.com

"WASHINGTON—The U.S. budget deficit will reach $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2010, slightly less than the $1.4 trillion it recorded in fiscal 2009, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday.

In its twice annual budget projections, the CBO forecast that the deficit will reach $980 billion in fiscal 2011..."

Insanity reigns in Washington! Republicans started this spending spree, but TeamObama and Congressional cohorts have gleefully carried it on.

Term limits is a policy long overdue. If not term limits, then thinking voters will unelect the current big spenders in 2010.

In an earlier WSJ story we have this:

"One message Massachusetts voters sent last week is concern over runaway federal spending. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is offering Democrats a chance to show they heard that message.

The Senate is debating a $1.9 trillion increase in the nation's debt limit that would lift Treasury's legal borrowing ceiling to $14.3 trillion. After a $290 billion debt-limit raise last month, this giant new increase is intended to get Democrats past November's election without another reminder to voters of how much debt their spending is piling up.

Mr. Coburn has a better idea: Cut spending to a level that would allow the government to stay beneath the current debt ceiling for a few more months. President Obama promised in his campaign to eliminate "unnecessary redundancy" in government, so Mr. Coburn is calling for at least $20 billion in spending cuts on programs that are duplicated across federal agencies. That's about 4% of non-defense discretionary spending, and Mr. Coburn's amendment identifies at least 640 programs that could be consolidated."

Is anyone listening? TeamObama promises today to freeze some spending. Not sufficient! It's beyond time to cut Federal spending

January 25, 2010

White House Toughens Tone After Difficult Week - WSJ.com

White House Toughens Tone After Difficult Week - WSJ.com

We have a commission, a committee, a blue ribbon panel for nearly everything these days it seems, a sign that Congressmen and women simply cannot be trusted to control the course of the country by making decisions to control spending. Their answer is to pay for people who have helped create the problem to serve on a commission to solve it. What nonsense!

Frankly, I'm tired of it. Debt control is simply not agreeing to spend more than revenues can support. Call me simplistic, if you'd like, but if you have another answer, let me know. Meanwhile, we'll spend money to learn what we already know...spending is out of control and TeamObama has no plan to solve it. Neither did Bush, but TeamObama has increased the debt by trillions in only a year!

"Concurrently, a group of retired senators on Monday plans to announce that former Republican Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin, a top Democratic economist, will spearhead a yearlong effort to devise a plan to slash the federal debt. Unlike many other studies, the Domenici-Rivlin panel will put forward a detailed blueprint for the country's future solvency.

That could help the presidential panel win political support as well. The Domenici-Rivlin panel is backed by former Republican Sens. Robert Dole and Howard Baker, and Democrat Tom Daschle."

January 24, 2010

Economist Magazine Cites IPCC for Glaciers Error

Kudos to The Economist for exposing a glaring misstatement in the pronouncements of the IPCC.

"...The idea that the Himalaya could lose its glaciers by 2035—glaciers which feed rivers across South and East Asia—is a dramatic and apocalyptic one. After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said such an outcome was very likely in the assessment of the state of climate science that it made in 2007, onlookers (including this newspaper) repeated the claim with alarm. In fact, there is no reason to believe it to be true. This is good news (within limits) for Indian farmers—and bad news for the IPCC..."

January 23, 2010

RealClearPolitics - The Meaning of Brown

RealClearPolitics - The Meaning of Brown

Charles Krauthammer in his trademark incisive style correctly analyzes Republican Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts in the race against Democrat Martha Coakley to fill the vacant Kennedy seat in the Senate. Registered Democrats in the state outnumber Republicans three to one, so it's unarguable that Brown's win was largely because half of MA voters who are undeclared independents, Republicans and some cross-over Democrats have had enough. In his victory speech on Tuesday, January 19, Brown specifically thanked those independent voters. By all accounts, he ran a brilliant campaign compared to Coakley's croaker. It seems that Obama's campaigning for Democrat candidates in these special elections is the kiss of death (Virginia, New Jersey, and now 'blue' Massachusetts).

This incredible victory is more than a shot across the bow of TeamObama's ship of state. It is a targeted broadside and a direct hit at the waterline of the Democrat galleon because it was aimed directly at TeamObama's unpopular policies and tactics. Whether that ship will take on yet more water from the voters' ire in November remains to be seen, but chances for many upset victories are better than even. That will largely depend on improvements in the economy and employment and whether Republicans can field strong candidates. The 10 months to election day is an eternity on any political voyage.

Krauthammer says:

"Brown ran on a very specific, very clear agenda. Stop health care. Don't Mirandize terrorists. Don't raise taxes; cut them. And no more secret backroom deals with special interests.

These deals -- the Louisiana purchase, the Cornhusker kickback -- had engendered a national disgust with the corruption and arrogance of one-party rule. The final straw was the union payoff -- in which labor bosses smugly walked out of the White House with a five-year exemption from a ("Cadillac") health insurance tax Democrats were imposing on the 92 percent of private-sector workers who are not unionized.

The reason both wings of American liberalism -- congressional and mainstream media -- were so surprised at the force of anti-Democratic sentiment is that they'd spent Obama's first year either ignoring or disdaining the clear early signs of resistance: the tea-party movement of the spring and the town-hall meetings of the summer. With characteristic condescension, they contemptuously dismissed the protests as the mere excrescences of a redneck, retrograde, probably racist rabble."

January 22, 2010

The Way Forward for Traditional News Content Generators

Content generation and content search/distribution are severable, particularly in this Internet age, but this distinction has always been possible had content generators/publishers chose to make it so in their earlier business models. Now they under under the hammer of competition for the once lucrative advertising dollars.

Today and tomorrow, the game's best hand is held by the distributors or those who control the revenue streams associated with distribution and ease of consumption. I think the best hope for content generators is to cut deals with (or own) the distributors who create the channels and have the ability to bill and collect either micro or subscription payments.

I think device manufacturers' products will eventually commoditize so that a Kindle, an iPhone, a tablet or a Droid will be differentiated only by screen size and a few customer convenience features. The valuable distribution management and customer 'ownership' will reside with the electronic distribution and consumption channels, e.g., the wireline and wireless carriers and the cablecos. Content is necessarily king, yes, but managing its distribution and consumption will likely be the bigger revenue magnet.

Supreme Court Makes Correct Decision

The New York Times' view of the decision:
"With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding."

The Wall Street Journal's view of the decision:

"Freedom has had its best week in many years. On Tuesday, Massachusetts put a Senate check on a reckless Congress, and yesterday the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision supporting free political speech by overturning some of Congress's more intrusive limits on election spending.

In a season of marauding government, the Constitution rides to the rescue one more time."

Without doubt, the gnashing of teeth has begun in earnest about the Supreme Court's politically earth-shaking decision yesterday. The 5-4 ruling upended a large number of unconstitutional restrictions on free speech by corporations, unions and other legal "persons" to speak freely and spend money espousing or castigating candidates for public office.

In 2006, here and here, on this blog I expressed the same fundamental opinion: our democracy requires free speech including the right to spend money promoting political opinions without government interference.

When all's said and done the Supreme Court is heavily influenced by politics. Liberals appoint/approve left-leaning jurists and conservatives appoint/approve more conservative leaning people when they are in power. Supreme Court decisions reflect that reality with shifts in judicial philosophy over time based on the composition of the Court.

I firmly believe that if a labor union or a corporation has the standing of 'a person' before the law, they should have the same Constitutional free speech rights as an individual, including spending money on political speech in elections. As a voter, I have a direct power at the ballot box that 'legal persons' do not have, but they should have the ability to freely express their opinions, including spending money, to promote those views. I will then make up my own mind.

If the Burlington Free Press (Gannett Corp.) has the right to endorse a political candidate under the First Amendment, then Seventh Generation, or Google or GE should have that same right as a legal "person." Whether a company is in the "news" business should not be only the determinant. News organizations have Constitutional 'free press' rights." So should all legal "persons," without government restraint. This decision affirms that fundamental Constitutional right.

Cheers for the Constitution and bravo for this Supreme Court decision!

January 20, 2010

YouTube to Test Video Rental - WSJ.com

YouTube to Test Video Rental - WSJ.com

It makes sense for Google to use YouTube to create another revenue stream... if you are content to watch these videos on your PC. The WSJ story is silent about whether an option exists to watch a rented selection on your HD TV or your smartphone.

January 17, 2010

Verizon and Google Jointly File Internet Policy Statement at the FCC

Intriguing that Verizon and Google have agreed to a joint filing at the FCC on Internet policy matters. They don't agree on everything and those differences are reflected in their separate filings. Nevertheless, here is their recent joint filing:

Google and Verizon Joint Submission on the Open Internet

Political Memo - Massachusetts Election Tests Democrats’ Staying Power - NYTimes.com

Political Memo - Massachusetts Election Tests Democrats’ Staying Power - NYTimes.com:

Win or lose in the special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday, nationally, the Democrats are in deep trouble because TeamObama has made promises that the country cannot financially afford to keep.

Looking at the huge support of candidate Scott Brown in the various polls among likely voters, it's clear that middle-of-the-road Americans do not agree with TeamObama's national agenda.

Whether Brown wins or loses in MA, large numbers of voters will have sent a strong message that they are not pleased with the direction left-wing Washington leadership is taking the country.
"...But most ominously for Democrats contemplating the midterm elections, the battle here suggests an emerging dangerous dynamic: that Mr. Obama has energized Republican activists who think he has overstepped with health care and the economic stimulus, while demoralizing Democrats who think he has not lived up to his promise."

January 15, 2010

France and the internet: Helicopters at the ready | The Economist

France and the internet: Helicopters at the ready | The Economist:

Socialism is alive and well in France much to the dismay of some entrepreneurs.

Propping up 'old' or unsuccessful businesses by government intervention and levying discriminatory taxes is so typical of France.

TeamObama's intervention in America's auto industry smacks of the same protectionism and a tilt toward the socialism that so many Americans find repugnant.

Drink American wine!

"...To experienced cyber-entrepreneurs, the government’s proposal for a new tax on internet firms is not surprising. “French governments always try to take money from young industries to sustain the old ones,” says Pierre Chappaz, chief executive of Wikio, a search engine for news and blogs, and a former co-head of Netvibes, a website that lets users personalise online content. A controversial new law which cuts off internet access for illegal downloaders demonstrates the established media’s lobbying power.

Although French entrepreneurs have started many successful young internet firms, most tend to be local rather than pan-European. One problem is that France’s high taxes on stock options makes hiring difficult. Partly for that reason, points out Mr Chappaz, many start-ups, including Netvibes, already have their headquarters outside France."

January 14, 2010

A Heated Debate Among Top Executives at Google Over Withdrawing from China - WSJ.com

A Heated Debate Among Top Executives at Google Over Withdrawing from China - WSJ.com

Google is taking a principled stand that will continue to receive kudos from most of the world, at least those who value an open Internet without government censorship.

The WSJ believes that Google will likely be alone in this fight with China. Cheerleaders will abound, but it's unlikely many other companies will join the possible pullout.

Google is unlikely to win this battle with China and having taken their stance, should prepare to pull out of the soon-to-be-world's largest market for almost everything.

On the other hand, China's leaders cannot possibly believe they are able to control the Internet within their country forever.

What is most troubling about this episode is the growing ability of Chinese technologists to crack almost everything and what seems to be their increasing ability to wage cyber-warfare if desired.

January 13, 2010

Legislative Philosophy 010609 - Google Docs

Legislative Philosophy - Musings during January 6, 2010 VT House Ways and Means Committee Meeting

This committee and Vermont's Legislature must recognize the structural changes underway in our society and financial system and not be lulled into believing that we will soon see a rebound to a former condition. The Vermont economy will be in ''rainy day" status for a long time.

Appropriations and spending must be consistent with the capacity of the tax base, which is not growing in Vermont. To consider extracting yet more taxes from this economy with a population that is growing at a rate 1/3 of the national average is bad public policy.

The Legislature's fundamental premise must be to reduce the government 'pull' on private sector assets, resources and personal income. Instead, they will be well advised to cut taxes as soon as possible by reducing the size of the public sector, including K-12 education, in an intelligent way.

Op-Ed Contributor - The Spies Who Got Left in the Cold - NYTimes.com

I missed this when first published on January 9, 2010. This piece by Robert Grenier, a former CIA Clandestine Service Officer for 27 years, is ‘must read’ all the way through to the end. It is well written and speaks volumes about what we owe to our intelligence specialists in the field for the work that they do on our behalf.

So many of our ‘professional politicians’ and their cohorts on staff and in the media are quick to castigate the intelligence community, as though their task was simple and risk-free. These self-serving politicians and camp followers are unworthy of our respect. Those in the intelligence community who most deserve our gratitude seldom receive it.

Please read Mr. Grenier’s musings and be thankful for his service and his willingness to speak out.

Op-Ed Contributor - The Spies Who Got Left in the Cold - NYTimes.com

January 11, 2010

Republicans Cite Lott in Calling for Reid to Quit - NYTimes.com

Republicans Cite Lott in Calling for Reid to Quit - NYTimes.com

Sen. Harry Reid is is a good as gone after these racial remarks about Obama's, so very similar to Lott's when he was in Senate leadership. Apologies just don't seem to suffice when Political Correctness reigns.
Because Reid's in trouble in his 2010 Nevada re-election bid, and assuming some other Democrat wants his Senate leader's job, it's bye, bye Harry!

January 10, 2010

Drones are Effective Against Al Qaeda Leaders

A quote from the Wall Street Journal describes one bright spot in Th U.S. war against terrorists (whatever TeamObama chooses to call it). Drone technology is good and getting better. The article also contains this quote: "Able to go where American soldiers can't, the Predator and Reaper have since 9/11 killed more than half of the 20 most wanted al Qaeda suspects, the Uzbek, Yemeni and Pakistani heads of allied groups and hundreds of militants. Most of those hits were in the last four years."

This capability is a very effective weapon and keeps Al Qaeda leadership from moving freely. We should use it as often as it will be effective. Collateral damage, while frustrating and difficult, can be mostly avoided because of the precision of these weapons. However, If 'civilians' choose or are forced to be close to these evil radical Islamists, then some will, unfortunately, die. This is a fact of life in warfare of any kind. President Obama would be wise to continue describing our war against Islamic radicals intent on destroying us as...a WAR. They will not be won over by our choice of words.

"The Obama Administration has with good reason taken flak for its approach to terrorism since the Christmas Day near-bombing over Detroit. So permit us to laud an antiterror success in the Commander in Chief's first year in office.

Though you won't hear him brag about it, President Obama has embraced and ramped up the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. As tactic and as a technology, drones are one of the main U.S. advantages that have emerged from this long war. (IEDs are one of the enemy's.) Yet their use isn't without controversy, and it took nerve for the White House to approve some 50 strikes last year, exceeding the total in the last three years of the Bush Administration.

Associated Press

Supporters of Pakistani Labour Party rally against the United States and drone attacks on militants in Pakistani tribal areas along the Afghanistan border.

From Pakistan to Yemen, Islamic terrorists now fear the Predator and its cousin, the better-armed Reaper. So do critics on the left in the academy, media and United Nations; they're calling drones an unaccountable tool of "targeted assassination" that inflames anti-American passions and kills civilians. At some point, the President may have to defend the drone campaign on military and legal grounds."

January 9, 2010

Vermont Accepts "The Challenge" from Public Strategies Group

This week, Governor Douglas, Senator Shumlin and Representative Smith have agreed to accept the report of the Public Strategies Group (cost $300,000). I assume that means they have also agreed to implement all the recommendations that will allegedly save $38 Million in FY2011.

While the news is good that Governor Douglas and Legislative leaders have agreed to accept "The Challenge," I doubt that all the savings will be realized in FY2011.

Who will be responsible for tracking the progress and quantifying the savings. Will the same group who has been tracking and reporting the use of ARRA (stimulus) funds do this? Will the State Auditor of Accounts be responsible?

State government has only a few months to implement these recomendations in order to allow time for them to be in place long enough to realize the assumed savings. The devil is always in the details.

Eye on America's Purse Strings - CNBC.com

Eye on America's Purse Strings - CNBC.com

David Walker on fiscal discipline (there isn't any) in Washington.