Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Moderately heavy ?

In the dueling headline department:

From Medical News Today: Why Do Moderate Drinkers Live Longer Than Abstainers?
Researchers found that moderate alcohol drinkers are more likely to live longer over a 20-year follow-up than heavy drinkers and abstainers. Moderate drinking means consuming about one or two drinks per day. A report published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research stressed that the health benefits of drinking alcohol among older individuals are "intrinsically linked to moderation".
And, from Time Magazine: Why Do Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers?
Abstainers' mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.

Guambat likes his chances against the abstainers.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Women and minorities will destroy the fnancial industry

"This will destroy the financial industry," warned Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who was the Labor Department's chief economist under President George W. Bush.

What's she on about?

This: Financial reform bill calls for diversity
The recently enacted financial reform legislation tries in numerous ways to change how Wall Street companies and their federal regulators act, but a little-noticed provision aims for something potentially more difficult and controversial — altering how they look.

To promote diversity in the largely white, male world, the new law requires each of the 30 federal financial agencies and departments, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and all 12 Federal Reserve banks, to establish an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion.

Industry groups, regulatory agencies and analysts are just starting to grapple with the potential ramifications of the provision, which takes effect in January. The effect is hard to gauge because the law gives the directors of each of the new offices the authority to develop their own standards for equal employment at their agencies as well as at the companies they regulate and contract with for services, such as asset management.
Can you imagine?? Replacing all those competent old white guys who caused the financial wreck with incompetent women and minorities?? Where will it end?

Guambat reckons it will end with more jobs for lawyers. According to the article,
In 2008, white males held 64% of senior positions in the financial services industry, according to a May report by the Government Accountability Office.
Is this a call for equal but separate social preference quotas based solely on demographics?

Who shall be fleetest,
the fleetest and first
O'er the flower-smiling meadows
to chase?

Chorus for three Female Voices
-- by Joseph Barnby 1870

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The former in the Dell

The Dell fraud action is getting personal. Guambat reckons until these charges get personal, corporations will continue to play the game of admitting no wrongdoing and writing a check and continuing the merry game.

Dell Former Top Accountants Sued by SEC for Fraud That Led To Restatements
Dell Inc.’s former assistant controller and former chief accounting officer were sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for accounting fraud, a month after the computer maker settled with the regulator.

[According to the charges] Dell’s “fraudulent and improper accounting” wrongfully “made it appear that Dell was consistently meeting Wall Street earnings targets and reducing its operating expenses as a percentage of revenue,” the SEC said in today’s filings. “Dell committed the accounting violations through the conduct of its most senior former accounting executives.”

Davis, 51, and Imhoff, 48, maintained a variety of so- called cookie jar reserves to meet earnings shortfalls, the SEC said. The manipulations misrepresented Dell’s financial results and caused additional misstatements in Dell’s annual and quarterly results, the regulator said.

All this and only 21st !?

Penalties needed in fraud settlement
New Jersey became the first state last week ever charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agency cited the state for misleading bond investors into thinking that it was adequately funding pension funds for teachers and government workers when it was clearly not.

The sordid episode is disturbing on a number of levels. First, the fact that administrations of several governors — both Democratic and Republican — presided over and enabled this wholesale extended fraud speaks to a deep-seated culture of political irresponsibility that is breathtaking.

Even more disturbing is the fact that it took the SEC so long to uncover Trenton's financial shenanigans when it comes to something as monumentally important as the adequate, and lawful, funding of public pension funds.

And to top it all off, when the SEC finally did get around to addressing the wrongdoing, it somehow managed to fail to name any of the treasurers who certified the financial sleight-of-hand or any of the other professionals who presided over the sale of state bonds under fraudulent conditions.

New Jersey accepted the settlement without admitting or denying the findings and the SEC imposed no penalties. Herein lies the heart of the problem.

Until high-ranking politicians and officials are heavily fined or even start going to jail for breaking the law — in this case for helping perpetuate a multibillion dollar fraud affecting both honest investors and hard-working employees alike — we can expect such arrogant licentiousness to continue.

Corruption in New Jersey
Federal authorities arrested 44 people in New Jersey and New York in a broad-ranging corruption and international money laundering investigation that led to charges against two N.J. assemblyman and mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus and Ridgefield. The FBI and IRS investigation also ensnared rabbis from the Syrian Jewish communities in Deal and Brooklyn.

At the center of the case was Solomon Dwek, a failed Deal real estate developer. After he was caught allegedly trying to pull off a $50 million bank scam, he agreed to wear a wire and was allegedly able to ensnare the public officials and religious leaders in a massive web of money laundering, corruption and fraud.

• Full coverage of the New Jersey corruption probe

N.J. ranks 21st in analysis of 'Most Corrupt States'
Tennessee was ranked number one, while Delaware is four, Pennsylvania is 8 and New York is 24.

New Jersey only ranked 41 in embezzlement, but took fifth for arrests in racketeering & extortion. The list, calculating the numbers on a per-100,000 people basis to figure in differences in size, used a decade's worth of federal data analyzing the number of convictons of elected officials investigated by federal agents, organized crime convictions, arrests for counterfeiting, arrests for fraud and arrests for embezzlement.

And where is this analysis of how those states got so ranked?
As money pours into the Gulf, The Daily Beast crunches the numbers, from public embezzlement to private sector fraud, for all 50 states to rank which play dirty—and which have cleaned up their act.

The Daily Beast examined a wide range of available data to rank the level of corruption in all 50 states. Each of the following data sets was weighted equally:

•Public corruption, 1998—2008: Convictions of elected and other public officials investigated by federal agents over an 11-year period, from the Department of Justice.

•Racketeering and Extortion, 1998—2008: Code for organized crime convictions, also investigated by federal agents over an 11-year period, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

•Forgery and Counterfeiting, 1999—2008: Arrest numbers for producing or distributing fake money and goods over a 10-year period, from the FBI.

•Fraud, 1999—2008: Arrests for false statements or documents produced for personal gain over a 10-year period, from the FBI.

•Embezzlement, 1999—2008: Arrests for surreptitious theft of money over a 10-year period, from the FBI.

By using a decade’s worth of federal data, we were able to minimize changes in local law enforcement efficacy, though some flaws remain: local cases go undocumented, and the FBI data is self-reported by local law enforcement. When combined, however, the data provides a fairly deep look into which jurisdictions are uncovering the most corruption. We leveled the playing field by calculating the numbers on a per-100,000 people basis.

That debate will surely pick up around the Gulf, as billions begin to flow down to cover what could become one of the biggest [oil] cleanups in world history.
The Daily Beast provides its rogues gallery here.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

So go ahead and be risky and frisky, already -- that's not the issue

The NYT has a piece, Despite Reform, Banks Have Room for Risky Deals.

The tone is "how dare they?!":
When Congress passed a new financial regulation bill last month, it sought to prevent federally insured banks from making speculative bets using their own money. But that will not stop banks from making bets that some critics deem risky, even as the rules go into effect over the next few years.

That is because many such bets — on the direction of the stock market or the price of coal, for example — are done on behalf of clients. So, the banks say, they will continue to be allowable despite the new restrictions.

Indeed, several trades that were made on behalf of clients went bad for the banks even as the new rules were being debated in Washington this year. JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, for example, each lost more than $100 million on transactions handled for customers in the period from April to July.

Blowups like these, only larger, contributed to the financial crisis and forced the federal government to spend billions of dollars to bail out financial institutions.
Guambat says, set 'em free! Shoot the moon! Go for it.

Just don't come crying for a bailout if you blow it, and don't commingle your money with mine, or hide your bets in buckets of alphabet soup or GAAP gaps, or all dolled up with bogus ratings, or in off shore secret accounts so they can be doled out to the financial lemmings who herd and run together with our savings.

Guambat fervently wants to hope that financial reform does not eliminate the need for speed and all that testosterone risk taking.

He just wants the ambulance to pick up the pieces, should they underestimate the speed and crash, and take it all off to the cemetery and not to Dr. Frankenstein.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

He not busy being born is busy dying*

Shrinking Societies: The Other Population Crisis
The earth's population is growing at an alarming rate, but in some countries the lack of growth is the biggest problem.

The world population is expected to expand by 37 percent to 9.5 billion in 2050, according to the report, but growth will not be evenly distributed. Developing countries will grow the most, with the population in Africa expected to double.

Japan is expected to see its population contract by one-fourth to 95.2 million by 2050, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington-based research group, making it the fastest-shrinking country in the world. Former Eastern Bloc nations Ukraine and Georgia came in second and third, respectively, in a ranking of more than 200 countries by Businessweek.com based on the Population Reference Bureau's 2010 World Population Data Sheet.

"Europe, Korea, and Japan have gone into panic mode," says Carl Haub, a senior demographer at the Population Reference Bureau. A declining population impacts a country's economic growth, labor market, pensions, taxation, health care, and housing, according to the U.N. Globally by 2050, the number of older persons in the world will exceed the number of young for the first time in history, according to the U.N. The imbalance will create havoc in the pension systems and make it difficult to support retired and elderly persons, Haub says.

As fewer children are born, the fastest-growing age group in the world is people age 80 and older, according to the U.N. In 2000, there were about 4 people over age 85 for every 100 people ages 50 to 64; by 2050, it will rise to 11.

The situation is more dire in places such as Japan, where the Population Reference Bureau predicts there will only be one working-age person for every person over age 65 in 2050.

Click here to see the 25 countries with the fastest-shrinking populations.
Read more.

Gimme a glass of that with my fries

The Earth Sciences Division of Berkeley Lab has made some preliminary findings that there are little critters lurking in the depths of the ocean, at least the Gulf of Mexico, who, given a food source, reproduce like rabbits, feeding on the food source until it is depleted, or close to it.

Nothing too new in that concept. What's exciting is that these critters feed off oil, Black Gold, Texas Tea.

Their nom de plume? A new and unclassified species of deep-sea psychrophilic (cold temperature) gamma-proteobacteria.

Study shows deepwater oil plume in Gulf degraded by microbes August 24th
“This enrichment of psychrophilic petroleum degraders with their rapid oil biodegradation rates appears to be one of the major mechanisms behind the rapid decline of the deepwater dispersed oil plume that has been observed.”

Guambat characterized this study as a preliminary finding because it is not altogether clear to him that the studiers studied the actual in-situ oil plume, based on the following product marketing press release and press report from a company apparently "collaborating" with the study.

Pressure BioSciences, Inc. to Collaborate With the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the Analysis of Microorganisms in Oil Spills: Results Could Lead to Improved Strategies for Environmentally-Safe Clean-up SOUTH EASTON, Mass., Aug. 23, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) --
Pressure BioSciences, Inc. (Nasdaq:PBIO) ("PBI" and "the Company") today announced a collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ("LBNL"). Scientists at LBNL are using the Company's pressure cycling technology ("PCT") platform in studies aimed at improving the analysis of microorganisms in environments with low biomass, such as oil reservoirs or deep sea oil plumes from oil spills. It is possible that improved microbe analysis may lead to better strategies for oil spill clean-up. LBNL's successful use of the Company's PCT-based products over the past few months has led to this collaboration.

Dr. Janet Jansson, Senior Staff Scientist in the Earth Sciences Division of LBNL, said: "The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in an enormous environmental catastrophe, necessitating an unprecedented clean-up effort. Multiple strategies have been used – including chemical dispersants, skimming, booms, and controlled burns. However, one of the most promising – and environmentally safest – strategies is to rely on natural microorganisms to degrade the oil before it can accumulate."

Dr. Jansson continued: "A team of scientists from LBNL has launched a major effort to collect samples from Gulf waters near the oil spill, to monitor the microbial degradation process and the potential for natural microbial clean-up of the oil. Due to the low number of microorganisms in these samples, LBNL scientists need to use the best, most sensitive sample preparation methods to analyze these important but challenging samples. To that end, we have chosen to use Pressure BioSciences' PCT-based products in this project, because they result in greater nucleic acid and protein yields from low concentrations of microorganisms, as compared to other methods."

Dr. Olivia Mason, a post-doctoral researcher in Dr. Jansson's laboratory, commented: "In an effort to develop technologies that utilize indigenous microorganisms in enhancing oil recovery, we are using a systems biology approach to characterize the microbial communities associated with oil reservoirs. Similarly, we are attempting to characterize the microbial communities in a deep-sea oil plume, to determine their role in bioremediation, and to use this knowledge to develop effective strategies for future oil spill clean-ups. Such analysis requires the use of cutting-edge methods that allow for unprecedented insights into microorganisms that exist in very low concentrations in such environments. PBI's PCT-based products have been shown to significantly increase the yield of DNA and to extract a greater microbial diversity from such samples. Thus, they have become a sample preparation method of choice for our laboratory."

Dr. Nate Lawrence, Vice President of Marketing for PBI, said: "We are installing three additional NEP3229 PCT Sample Preparation Systems at LBNL under an initial, six-month reagent rental program, to be used alongside of their recently purchased NEP3229 PCT System. We will also support our colleagues at LBNL with advice based on our extensive experience in high pressure engineering and biology. The work they are doing is extremely important, and we are pleased and honored to be part of their program."

Dr. Lawrence concluded: "This collaboration is the result of a high quality PBI customer expanding the use of our PCT-based product line in a new and important area. We believe that there are many of other laboratories performing similar work to LBNL. Since oil spills will continue to occur, it is important for these labs to develop new, environmentally-sound, microorganism-based clean-up strategies. The credibility provided by our LBNL relationship and the PCT-based applications they have already shown are possible, is expected to provide additional sales opportunities in the near future."
Guambat intends no undue cynicism and impugns no scientific effort; indeed, he's quite thankful that this is proceeding as rapidly and apparently successfully as it has.

He just hopes that this does not end up in some patent lock-up that impedes other research in the field, because we need to find out all we can about this for so long as our carbon-based lives are going to be bound to carbon-based petroleum energy sources.

Like french fries and KFC.

Other reading:
Pressure BioSciences to help develop oil spill clean-up technology (Aug 23)

New bacteria degrades oil faster, in deep, cold water: study (Aug 25)
The Berkeley study attributed the faster than expected oil degradation in such cold water, in part, to "the nature of Gulf light crude, which contains a large volatile component that is more biodegradable."

Other accelerating factors, the scientists added, may have been the chemical dispersant Corexit used by BP at the source of the leak -- at 1,500 meters (nearly 5,000 feet) -- which broke up the oil into smaller particles, as well as the low overall concentrations of oil in the plume studied.

"In addition, frequent episodic oil leaks from natural seeps in the Gulf seabed may have led to adaptations over long periods of time by the deep-sea microbial community that speed up hydrocarbon degradation rates," they said.

The study also dispelled some oceanographers' fear that the oil bio-degradation would deplete oxygen levels in the water, creating so-called "dead-zones" where life cannot be sustained.

The Berkeley study found that oxygen saturation outside the plume was 67-percent while within the plume it was 59-percent.

The study published in the online edition of Science magazine contradicts the results of a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution research published Friday by the same magazine that said oil degradation would be slower in the cold depths of the Gulf.

It also appears to refute a University of Georgia study from a week ago that said 80 percent the oil leaked into the Gulf was still drifting beneath the surface of the Gulf posing and slowly decomposing, posing a significant threat to ecosystems in the area.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Aussie cuppa Tea Party?

Get ready for it. Republicans and the Tea Party more particularly will be crowing with accomplishment in this political season, claiming victory for their efforts to clean House and Senate alike, along with plenty other state and local institutions.

But are their "victories" cause or coincidence?

To put this in context, consider the claims made by many of that same political persuasion that the credit crisis in the US was caused by a profligate Fannie and Freddie, as set loose on the otherwise virgin real estate markets by the Community Reinvestment Act.

Barry Ritholtz has taken apart those arguments with a number of posts to his excellent Big Picture blog, most recently this and this.

But the post most pertinent, by way of analogy, to the observation about the elections is this one, with its chart providing a thousand words of "point taken". His challenge is this:
Any explanation of the Housing boom and bust should be able to explain why it was global in nature.
Without saying so, the importance of this challenge is to explain how Fannie, Freddie and the CRA were uniquely responsible for the housing credit crisis when no country in the rest of the world had any Fannie, Freddie or CRA of their own yet produced this similar result, with data from the IMF:

The Australian analogy for the US elections is that Australians have turned away from both ruling parties in almost record amounts, yet have no Tea Party, just a "maverick", populist and failed Prime Ministerial candidate who has been seized upon as the sole reason for such a result.

But, before going to the story, a bit of background info for those unfamiliar with Australian voting rules: There, voting is mandatory, so even if you don't want to vote, you must. And if you don't like your choices, you must do something to register your displeasure which effectively voids your vote. The resulting ballot is referred to as an "informal vote". Quaint, isn't it?

Huge support for 'none of the above'
The Australian Electoral Commission yesterday said it would review the abnormally large number of informal votes cast after counting concluded to determine the cause.

Around 20 per cent of votes have not yet been counted, but early estimates indicate the final number of informal votes could be the highest in 25 years.

Adelaide University politics professor Clem Macintyre said the high level of informal votes and support for minor parties indicated widespread disillusionment with Labor and the Coalition.

"There's no question for some people, they cast a vote for `none of the above'.

"It was a very dispiriting campaign with two relatively inexperienced leaders. I don't think anyone captured the imagination of the voters.

"There was a sense of frustration and people turned up saying `I can't be bothered'."

"I wouldn't call it the `Latham effect', that just encourages Mark Latham," he said.

Informal voting hits record high
Overall, informal voting appears to be on the rise, running at 3.2 per cent for the House of Representatives in 1996, 3.8 per cent in 1998, 4.8 per cent in 2001, 5.2 per cent in 2004 and four per cent in 2007.

The AEC (Australia Election Commission) defines an informal vote as an unmarked ballot paper, one not initialled by a polling place official and which may not be authentic, onenot filled out correctly or one where the voter identifies him or herself.

That includes ballots marked with just the figure one or with ticks or crosses.

Ballot papers featuring the voter's political wit or wisdom are not necessarily informal, provided it's numbered correctly. The AEC advises voters that it's unwise to run the risk of having their vote excluded by writing on the ballot paper.

Mark Latham, always one to draw little polite criticism but much impolite outrage, has been the lightning rod of those upset at the reticence of the public to play along with the system.

Lock up the knives for loony Latham's poll dancing routine T
he bilious Mark Latham is no more a "reporter" than I am George Clooney, but in this brave new world of blogging and tweeting etc, any mug lair can call himself whatever he likes. Many do.

His descent upon the election campaign was like Looney Uncle Festus turning up unwanted at the wedding with his fly undone. Eyeballs burning, Latham radiates menace. You feel yourself hoping the knives are locked away and there's not an AK-47 or a chainsaw in reach. I never know if this in-yer-face aggro is an artfully contrived act to instil fear or whether he is just plain gaga.

But journalism it ain't. It's entertainment for dummies, as surely as if 60 Minutes had put on a pole dancer, a keg and '70s covers band.
Latham is a 'turkey'
Mr Kennett said he was concerned about public complacency on the election.

"You get that turkey Mr Latham out there saying publicly that … he'll attend a polling booth and not vote," he said. "You think of the number of people around the world who have given their left and right arms in order to have the right to vote."
Political satire provokes more than just a laugh
I was already fuming from Mark Latham's plea on 60 Minutes for Australians to hand in a blank ballot - the appearance of even more of the same, even if it was cloaked in the arch, smug sentiment you find in late-night ABC comedy - tipped me over the edge. Harsh words were bellowed at the screen. The cat went flying under the couch to hide in terror.

Yes, I understand that this election campaign has been one of the least inspiring in the last 50 years. I will give you the fact that there's been a real lack of vision on behalf of both of the major parties. But ...

Our system works.

Now, it might not work as efficiently as we'd like, or for all the people, all the time, but we're one of the most stable nations in the world. We're a success story. We're a postergirl for the will of the people actually driving the course of a nation, regardless of whatever ideology has been in vogue. This is not something to be taken lightly. We're one of a few green LEDs in a panel filled with red.

Democracy only works because it's the shared belief that every one has a voice and the ability to use it. If the media, the reflection of our society as a whole, begins to pass along the message that politics and voting doesn't matter then those most prone to those messages, the youth, will start to believe it. The last thing Australia needs is a generation of people reaching voting age who do not believe in the system, who think it doesn't work for them and isn't worth their time. They won't pay attention. Things start to get missed. And then, piece by piece, our democracy begins to weaken, fray, crack.

So guys, give it a rest. Enough already. I know that your job is to make people laugh and you're very good at that. I also understand that satire is absolutely essential to any working political system - as bacteria in the gut of the body politic. But please, don't cheapen the system as a whole.
All that said, it wasn't seriously denied that the electorate was underwhelmed by its choices.

Don't blame Latham for highlighting home truths
In a dull campaign, Mark Latham's report on 60 Minutes was one of the more interesting. But Latham had no new insight on the two party leaders

The Labor base is drifting away because it does not see this as a successful government. Labor voters feel let down by hyped-up promises that have not been delivered.
And on the other side of the isle, Coalition launch a policy-free zone
Mr Abbott offered little in the way of new policy or vision as the Liberals and Nationals gathered to officially launch their 2010 federal election campaign on Sunday.

Instead, Mr Abbott's focus was squarely on the problems facing his opponents.

With no big-bang announcements, Mr Abbott laid out his priorities for his first three months in government if he wakes up as prime minister on August 22.

High on his agenda will be a phone call to the Nauru President Marcus Stephen to begin negotiations on an offshore processing centre and a pseudo mini-budget - a statement detailing the new government's response to the risks and opportunities facing the economy.
So, if there is any significant "none of the above" result in the US this election season, that alone should not be seen as evidence of Tea Party strength. Anti-incumbency is not uniquely American; it is endemically democratic. Especially when it's the economy, stupid.

TUNE IN FOR MORE: US primaries could deal blow to anti-incumbent insurgency
Tuesday's results may predict whether insurgent candidates, especially Republicans backed by staunchly anti-government Tea Party groups, will continue to make advances over those with more moderate views.

Despite surging anti-incumbent fervor ahead of November legislative and state elections, no incumbent is expected to lose in US primary votes Tuesday, results that would deal a setback to insurgent candidates.

The Tea Party movement, which sprung up in 2009 as a grass roots revolt against Obama's tax, economic and health reform policies, has electrified the Republican Party base.

Taking its name from a revolt against British rule in colonial Boston in 1773, the group has emerged as a powerful force in nominating Republicans for November's mid-term legislative and gubernatorial elections.

Tea Party candidates have already won important Senate primary victories in Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and in other states, over more mainstream Republicans.

But Tuesday's results may show the anti-incumbent narrative has been oversold.

We shall see. Won't be long now.

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Searching for whatever in all the wrong places

The sheer buggery of the searches that Guambat has had to endure, along with most everyone else except real terrorists it would seem, has troubled him into posting about it 5 years ago: Search me

And still the aggravation continues:

Daniel Rubin: An infuriating search at Philadelphia International Airport
At what point does an airport search step over the line?

How about when they start going through your checks, and the police call your husband, suspicious you were clearing out the bank account?

That's the complaint leveled by Kathy Parker, a 43-year-old Elkton, Md., woman, who was flying out of Philadelphia International Airport on Aug. 8.

A female Transportation Security Administration officer wanded her and patted her down, she says. Then she was walked over to where other TSA officers were searching her bags.

"Everything in my purse was out, including my wallet and my checkbook. I had two prescriptions in there. One was diet pills. This was embarrassing. A TSA officer said, 'Hey, I've always been curious about these. Do they work?'

What happened next, she says, was more than embarrassing. It was infuriating.

That same screener started emptying her wallet. "He was taking out the receipts and looking at them," she said.

In a side pocket she had tucked a deposit slip and seven checks made out to her and her husband, worth about $8,000.

Two Philadelphia police officers joined at least four TSA officers who had gathered around her. After conferring with the TSA screeners, one of the Philadelphia officers told her he was there because her checks were numbered sequentially, which she says they were not.

"It's an indication you've embezzled these checks," she says the police officer told her. He also told her she appeared nervous. She hadn't before that moment, she says.

She protested when the officer started to walk away with the checks. "That's my money," she remembers saying. The officer's reply? "It's not your money."

Thirty minutes after the police became involved, they decided to let her collect her belongings and board her plane.

When she got home, her husband of 20 years said the police had called and told him that they'd suspected "a divorce situation" and that Kathy Parker was trying to empty their bank account. He set them straight.

The new TSA directive reads: "Screening may not be conducted to detect evidence of crimes unrelated to transportation security." If evidence of a crime is discovered, then TSA agents are instructed to contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.

So just what evidence made them treat Kathy Parker like a criminal?

Lt. Frank Vanore, a Philadelphia police spokesman, said that TSA personnel had called his officers, who found the checks to be "almost sequential." They were "just checking to make sure there was nothing fraudulent," he said. "They were wondering what the story was. The officer got it cleared up."

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said the reason Parker was selected for in-depth screening was that her actions at the airport had aroused the suspicion of a behavior detection officer, and that she continued to act "as if she feared discovery."

"We need to ascertain whether fear of discovery is due to the fact a person is concealing a threatening item, be it a dangerous weapon or some kind of explosive," Davis said. "If the search is complete, and shows individuals not to be a threat to the aircraft or fellow passengers, they are free to go."

But why call police? Davis said, "Because her behavior escalated."

"When they decided to search me, there was nothing wrong with my behavior," she said. "I was trying to keep a positive demeanor about everything. My behavior didn't escalate. I did ask questions."

Read more: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/columnists/daniel_rubin/20100818_Daniel_Rubin__An_infuriating_search_at_Philadelphia_International_Airport.html?page=2&c=y#ixzz0xOXPqvxG

Asking question: yep, that was her first mistake and her major transgression, Guambat reckons. It's a simple case of power run a-schmuck.

But is this just a one-off and otherwise everything is just hunky-dory? Nope. That commie, ACLU-hugging Wall Street Journal reports this:

Is Tougher Airport Screening Going Too Far?
The Transportation Security Administration has moved beyond just checking for weapons and explosives. It’s now training airport screeners to spot anything suspicious, and then honoring them when searches lead to arrests for crimes like drug possession and credit-card fraud.

But two court cases in the past month question whether TSA searches—which the agency says have broadened to allow screeners to use more judgment—have been going too far.

A federal judge in June threw out seizure of three fake passports from a traveler, saying that TSA screeners violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Congress authorizes TSA to search travelers for weapons and explosives; beyond that, the agency is overstepping its bounds, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley said.

“The extent of the search went beyond the permissible purpose of detecting weapons and explosives and was instead motivated by a desire to uncover contraband evidencing ordinary criminal wrongdoing,” Judge Marbley wrote.

Judge Marbley said the TSA had no authority to open the envelopes. In his ruling, he said prior cases clearly established that airport security searches should be aimed only at detecting weapons or explosives.

“A checkpoint search tainted by ‘general law enforcement objectives’ such as uncovering contraband evidencing general criminal activity is improper,” the judge wrote.The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbus has filed notice that it will appeal the judge’s order.

In the second case, Steven Bierfeldt, treasurer for the Campaign for Liberty, a political organization launched from Ron Paul’s presidential run, was detained at the St. Louis airport because he was carrying $4,700 in a lock box from the sale of tickets, T-shirts, bumper stickers and campaign paraphernalia. TSA screeners quizzed him about the cash, his employment and the purpose of his trip to St. Louis, then summoned local police and threatened him with arrest because he responded to their questions with a question of his own: What were his rights and could TSA legally require him to answer?

TSA said in a statement on the Bierfeldt incident that travelers are required to cooperate with screeners, and while it is legal to carry any amount of money when flying domestically, the agency believes cooperation includes answering questions about property.

Congress charged TSA with protecting passengers and property on an aircraft “against an act of criminal violence or aircraft piracy” and prohibited individuals from carrying a “weapon, explosive or incendiary” onto an airplane. Without search warrants, courts have held that airport security checks are considered reasonable if the search is “no more extensive or intensive than necessary” to detect weapons or explosives.

You can read more for yourself here, or simply watch some of this.

So what's a poor traveler to do? Opening your window and shouting out loud "I'm mad as hell and won't take it any longer" will likely raise your blood pressure, embitter your neighbours and do nothing else at all.

But writing your elected officials, and sending in petitions, well that's about the only democratic response that has any hope for a change.

That's what this patently perturbed guy recommends:

Calling for TSA Reform: Travel Tips by Burleson Consulting
As a frequent traveler I frequently witness abuse from TSA personnel and I believe that it is time to petition the government for reform of this highly-critical homeland security function.


Nursing a grudge?

Guambat and Mrs Guambat have fairly recently had the occasion to travel to Manila, he for a general medical health check up, she for new eyes. We each experienced, first hand, the "Team Filipino" approach to providing services in the P.I.: your are pleasantly treated to a wave of people taking care of you, similar to the way servicemen would gang-tackle cars as they stopped for gas in what was, in the great hey-day of American automobile life, well and truly a "service station".

With that still freshish in the memory, the following item caught Guambat's eye.

Nurses accuse Pacific Medical Center of bias
The California Nurses Association filed a grievance with the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, accusing the hospital of discriminating against Filipino nurses at its St. Luke's campus.

The union of registered nurses, which has been embroiled in a contract dispute at California Pacific Medical Center, on Thursday also called on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission to investigate the hospital. The union claimed the percentage of Filipino nurses hired at St. Luke's dropped from 48 percent between January 2007 and February 2008 to just 10 percent after February 2008.

"The claims made by the California Nurses Association are ridiculous" says Dr. Warren Browner, chief executive officer of the hospital, in a statement. He said the hospital has diverse hiring policies and a long-standing commitment to equality.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/08/19/BAHJ1F00SO.DTL#ixzz0xONTbHmL

Management's response: A False Allegations by CNA Union Designed to Cover Negotiation Failures
Nurses and hospital managers at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco today said that union claims of discrimination are false and designed to cover up the union’s own failure to win a contract despite three years of negotiations.

Emilia Maninang RN, Clinical Nurse Manager in the Skilled Nursing Facility/Sub-Acute care unit at St. Luke’s, backed the statements made by hospital administrators.

“I have worked at St. Luke’s for 19 years and no one has ever told me not to hire Filipino nurses,” says Maninang. “I’m Filipino and if I had heard anyone say that I would’ve been appalled. I think the claims are part of CNA’s agenda to try and make CPMC look bad.”

Rose Duya RN, who has been at St. Luke’s for 12 years says “When I heard the allegations made by the union I thought, ‘They must be desperate’. I’m Filipino, most of my colleagues here at St. Luke’s are Filipino and I have been to many of the other CPMC campuses and have seen many other Filipinos there as well, so I don’t see how the union can make those claims.”

“The claims made by the California Nurses Association are ridiculous” says Dr. Browner. “In 2007, 63% of our nurses at St. Luke’s were Asian. Today that number is 66%. We do not have any way of identifying what percentage of our nurses are Filipino because we don’t break down these categories by ethnicity or country of origin. In fact, the only data we have on ethnicity are self-reported by our employees using categories approved by the Federal government such as Asian, Hispanic or Latino, Black or African American or White (non-Hispanic)”

During the past several weeks, CPMC has offered to give nurses a 2 percent raise. The hospital believes the nurses deserve the raise for their hard work and dedication to patient care.

The California Nurses Association claims: RNs, Filipino Community Groups Charge Sutter Health/California Pacific with Hiring Ban on Filipino Nurses
At the press conference, CNA provided testimony by former nursing supervisors at CPMC and nurses who have faced the discriminatory practices – and hiring data documenting the results.

CPMC’s VP of Nursing: “You are not to hire any Filipinos”

Chris Hanks, a former director of Critical Care Services at CPMC, said in a declaration that Karner, told him on a number of occasions, “you are not to hire any Filipinos.”

Another former nurse supervisor Ronald Villanueva said in a declaration that he also heard Karner tell another supervisor, “do not hire foreign graduate nurses” – an unambiguous reference to Filipinos.

The hiring data bears that out. A review by CNA of active employee lists provided by CPMC demonstrates that in early 2008 there was a major demographic shift among the nurses being hired at St Luke’s. Before February 2008, 65% of St Luke’s RNs were Filipino. After February 2008, only 10% of RNs hired were Filipino.

“St. Luke’s and CPMC RNs, many of them Filipino, have been outspoken in defense of their patients, and in opposition to Sutter and CPMC’s plans to reduce services to the largely lower income, minority community depending on St. Luke’s from SOMA to the Excelsior,” said CNA Co-president Zenei Cortez, RN.

One apparently (just by guessing from the name -- Emil Guillermo) Filipino says: California hospital bans hiring of Filipino nurses
Next to cheap garments at Wal-Mart and female impersonators, I’d have to put them on the top of the list as the Philippines’ leading export.

If the country had a team mascot, it would have to be the “Fighting Nurses.” (Notre Dame has the “Fighting Irish,” why not?)

Guambat wonders why, assuming, like the sexist Guambat he is, that most of the nurses from the P.I. are women, they are not then referred to as Filipinas in all those articles.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Cross roads or cross hairs: either way, nothing will stay the same

It is not accident that Magellan "discovered" Guam. Nor was it skill or even dumb luck. It was the natural winds and currents that swept him and his decimated crew up to the beaches of Tumon Bay back in 1521, almost 30 years after Columbus "discovered" America.

Like as not, it was similar natural events, and the press of mankind ever onward, that washed ashore the first Austronesian forebears of Pacific Oceania to Guam almost 4,000 years ago, a thousand or more years before the Hawaiians and Tahitians and Maoris.

It is Guam's natural resources of high ground, fresh water, abundant fruit and fish, and, most importantly, its natural strategic cross roads of winds and currents between the Pacific Southern and Northern Hemispheres that has attracted mankind from first contact.

Such was the paradise of Guam, and neighboring islands of what are now called the Marianas Islands, which form a lei of lands across the northern reaches of Micronesia, part of an archipelago that extends along an ocean ridge from the Moluccas of Indonesia to Japan, where it continues across other ridges and archipelagos to Russia and along to the Aleutians and North America.
(Click to enlarge; right click to open new window)

That lei of lands essentially forms a curtain, to the West of which lies the whole of the Asian Continent, and, to the East, all the lands of the Americas, Australia and Oceania.

It is quite literally the divide where East meets West.

It was the strategic nature of Guam that attracted Legaspi to come back to Guam in 1565 and plant the Spanish flag, declaring ownership of the island along with ownership of its bemused and befuddled occupants who thought they were its sovereign and independent owners, and who thereafter called the islands the Ladrones named after the Spanish thieves who stole it from them.

No, actually; Guambat made up that last part, because it was Magellan who gave the islands the moniker of Isles of Thieves ("Ladrones") when some of the curious "Indios" stole one of the technologically inferior Spanish landing boats and other items of rope and steel. Guambat supposes it takes a thief to know one.

It was the strategic nature of Guam that persuaded the US to take it as a spoils of the Spanish-American War, along with its befuddled if not bemused occupants who still labored under the conception, despite three and a half centuries of Spanish Catholic rule, that this land was their land from Talafofo to Ritidian, even though the US lacked sufficient confidence it itself to take the rest of Micronesia, thereby allowing the Spanish to sell said rest of Micronesia to the Germans, along with the now totally confused occupants who had for centuries considered it to be theirs, and knew how to sail to Guam and elsewhere in the Pacific in little outriggers on purpose.

It was the strategic nature of Guam that compelled Japan to drop bombs on Hawaii but the next day drop troops on Guam to occupy it for their own purposes, declaring it the property of the Emperor, along with the occupants who had long ago lost whatever bemusement befuddlement they might have entertained, to be replaced with abusement and beheadedness.

It was the strategic nature of Guam that drove the US back to the beaches of Guam to dislodge the Japanese from that strategic part of the world, to the joy and relief of the occupants who figured that at last they would be returned to their possession of the lands they considered their own and who will, someday, be given compensation for all the land the US took in retaking the land they took.

Which is a long way of saying that this little cross roads of the Pacific has, since the arrival of massive naval, air and other military strengths, become the cross hairs of the mighty and mightier when it suits them. And still the occupants sit here with the detached thought that it is still theirs and one day their ancient chiefs will arise and reclaim the hotels and military bases, Chamorro will be spoken on all tongues, and peace and paradise will once again reign over the island.

Guambat is dubious. No other strategic spot on the planet has ever turned back the clock thusly. Permanent residents permanently reside along with the permanent if transitory outsiders, turning both into outsiders in their own lands.

Guambat is hopeful, though, that Guam will not be another Afghanistan or Yugoslavia. Guamanians have, on the whole, accepted the idea of becoming a permanent part of the American Body Politic, and hope that one day the American Body Politic will accept them as political equals and not colonial relics or appendages.

Guambat is sadly aware that Guam will forever be, as long as land and oceans have strategic value, in harm's way of superior forces with ulterior purposes, but hopes that Guamanians will nevertheless be able to leverage a bit of material worth and be recognized for their patriotic integrity, and unique cultural contributions, by formal and equal inclusion in the American Family.

Which seems to have led Guambat down a rhetorical path without a seque to the main topic he had in mind when he started this post, which is about how the military in recent months is being seen as a boon to many US communities who would otherwise be hard pressed by the pressing economic doldrums.

Doldrums, by the way, are those barely-there winds that fail to push a sailing ship along and accounted for the loss of the lives of a significant part of Magellan's crew due to starvation, lack of water and exhaustion after he rounded Tierra Del Fuego and fell into the doldrums on his way to Guam.

Guam is about to have a simply explosive growth of military presence in the next decade, including a gold-rush population boom. It is a daunting reality, but maybe there will be a bit of accommodation taken in these stories.

Rising pay, benefits drive growth in military towns
Rapidly rising pay and benefits in the armed forces have lifted many military towns into the ranks of the nation's most affluent communities, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

The hometown of the Marines' Camp Lejeune — Jacksonville, N.C. — soared to the nation's 32nd-highest income per person in 2009 among the 366 U.S. metropolitan areas, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data. In 2000, it had ranked 287th.

The Jacksonville metropolitan area, with a population of 173,064, had the top income per person of any North Carolina community in 2009. In 2000, it ranked 13th of 14 metro areas in the state.

The USA TODAY analysis finds that 16 of the 20 metro areas rising the fastest in the per-capita income rankings since 2000 had military bases or one nearby.

Soldiers, sailors and Marines received average compensation of $122,263 per person in 2009, up from $58,545 in 2000. After adjusting for inflation, military compensation rose 84% from 2000 through 2009. By contrast, compensation grew 37% for federal civilian workers and 9% for private sector employees during that time, the BEA reports.

"It's booming here," says Mona Patrick, president of the Jacksonville-Onslow (N.C.) Chamber of Commerce. Construction is robust, she says. Extended-stay hotels are full of military contractors.

The Marines have added 10,000 active-duty personnel at Camp Lejeune since 2000 for a total of 48,000, plus 5,000 civilian employees.

Places without links to the military were the decade's biggest losers

NC military cities top others in average income
Steady paychecks and a growing flow of Pentagon dollars pushed average pay in North Carolina's two largest military communities beyond bigger metro areas like Charlotte and Raleigh.

The military dollars have powered civilian businesses, said Kristie Meave, spokeswoman for the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce.

"People are using that income to pay for everyday goods, such as groceries, to eat out," Meave said. "They're also buying luxury items with this money, which keeps our retail industry doing very well."

Federal figures showed seven of the country's top ten metro areas for greatest growth in personal incomes were powered by military paychecks. Besides Jacksonville and Fayetteville, the military towns that saw rising household revenues were Manhattan, Kan.; Elizabethtown, Ky.; Lawton, Okla.; Clarksville, Tenn.; and Killeen, Texas.

County income growth near top in nation
Personal income data released Monday provide strong evidence that the Fort Knox Army post has sheltered Hardin County from the Great Recession.

Total annual income in the Elizabethtown Metropolitan Statistical Area increased last year by 5.2 percent — the fourth largest growth out of the 366 MSAs in the United States.

“That’s huge,” OneKnox Executive Director Brad Richardson said.

While most of the nation’s income dropped last year, areas near military installations fared well. The Base Realignment and Closure initiative provided Fort Knox with extra boost — not only in new jobs but also in major construction projects.

“The Defense Department is not in a recession,” said Mark Needham, special assistant to the governor for BRAC. “They’re fighting two wars.”

And what is important to note is that this is not a peculiarly American phenomenon, as this current article from the UK attests.

Report highlights importance of bases
FORRES and the rest of Moray are more economically dependent on the RAF than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, according to a new study.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) have released an executive summary of a draft report which details the economic and social importance of RAF Kinloss and Lossiemouth to the district.

As well as looking at issues directly connected to the bases, it also examines their wider impact on Moray.

It states that 15 percent of all NHS staff in Moray have spouses or partners connected to the bases. This rises to 25 percent in midwifery, district nursing and cardiology.

According to the summary, RAF Kinloss households represent 3.1 percent of Moray's total population. Broken down further, this is 3.4 percent of the of working age population and 5 percent of the district's under-16s. The report also states: "They also form a significant part of the school rolls in the Forres area."

The document also says the "relatively high wages of military personnel" have a significant impact on Moray's economy. It says the average gross military wage at RAF Kinloss is more than £36,000 per year, which it says is significantly higher than civilian wages in the district.

In total the air force supports 5,710 jobs, 16% of full-time employment in Moray, which bring in £158.3 million in wages every year.

"This work provides a factual base to ensure that those seeking to make or influence the decisions are well-informed," said Calum MacPherson, HIE's Area Manager for Moray. "Due to the scale and long term presence of the RAF in Moray the two bases are woven into the surrounding communities, not least because they support at least 16 per cent of local employment. The threat to the economy and population in the region is therefore more acute in Moray than other region in the UK."

Moray MSP Richard Lochhead meanwhile emphasised the social importance of the RAF bases to Moray. " The contribution of our local RAF bases in Moray goes much further than just employment, there are significant numbers of people employed in the health and social care sectors who are spouses or partners of serving personnel and the loss of those skills would be extremely detrimental," he said.

"The RAF forms an integral part of Moray life and the bond with the local community is extremely strong. That integration is something that it is hard to put a price one but which is impossible to replicate. The UK Government must recognise all of these factors which contribute to an effective armed forces and give their backing to Moray's bases."

Councillor George McIntyre (Fochabers Lhanbryde), Moray Council's convenor said: "This independent review confirms just how integral the RAF bases are in Moray.

"In addition to the economic input, the RAF personnel and their families play a vital role in the communities in the region with significant contributions to volunteer and charity work. It is vital the decision makers consider the economic and social consequences of the defence review."

And, while Guam is getting millions and millions of dollars to upgrade its port, water, sewer, roads, hospital and schools, back on the Mainland, Spending on local projects plummets
States and local governments are slashing spending on schools, roads, offices and other construction projects so fast that even federal stimulus money hasn't filled in the gap.

Investment in infrastructure is on pace to drop almost 7% this year to $269 billion, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal data. That would be the first decline in state and local construction spending since the Census Bureau started tracking in 1993.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Living -- and dying -- in the Stone Age

Taliban stone Afghan couple to death for adultery
The woman, Sadiqa, was 20 years old and engaged to another man, said Kunduz provincial police chief, General Abdul Raza Yaqoubi. Her lover, 28-year-old Qayum, left his wife to run away with her, and the two had holed up in a friend's house five days ago, said district government head, Mohammad Ayub Aqyar.

Afghan couple stoned to death
Sunday's execution is the first by the Taliban in the Kunduz province and follows last week's call by Afghan clerics for a return to sharia and capital punishments under Islamic law.

"The couple were brought into an open field and about 100 Taliban or supporters of the Taliban gathered and began stoning them just after a Taliban supporter read out a statement of their confession."

The incident comes a week after officials alleged that a woman accused of adultery was flogged and executed in the northwestern Badghis province.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Where's the equity in this?

And whatever became of the old adage, "safe as houses"?

It seems people have happily consumed themselves out of house and home.

Debts Rise, and Go Unpaid, as Bust Erodes Home Equity
The delinquency rate on home equity loans is higher than all other types of consumer loans, including auto loans, boat loans, personal loans and even bank cards like Visa and MasterCard, according to the American Bankers Association.

Lenders wrote off as uncollectible $11.1 billion in home equity loans and $19.9 billion in home equity lines of credit in 2009, more than they wrote off on primary mortgages, government data shows. So far this year, the trend is the same, with combined write-offs of $7.88 billion in the first quarter.

“Americans seem to believe that anything they can get away with is O.K.”

But the borrowers argue that they are simply rebuilding their ravaged lives. Many also say that the banks were predatory, or at least indiscriminate, in making loans, and nevertheless were bailed out by the federal government.

“I am not going to be a slave to the bank,” said Shawn Schlegel, a real estate agent who is in default on a $94,873 home equity loan. He came to Arizona in 2003 and quickly accumulated three houses and some land. Each deal financed the next. “I was taught in real estate that you use your leverage to grow. I never dreamed the properties would go from $265,000 to $65,000.”

Keith Leggett, a senior economist with the American Bankers Association said, “We would love to change history so more conservative underwriting practices were put in place.”

Actually, there were many, many people, some in high places, who were all warning all the way along that there's no free lunch. They were ignored, ridiculed. By lenders and borrowers alike. Purposefully, arrogantly and foolishly, while the pipers played the tune, "Happy days are here again".

Meanwhile, those who have paid for their lunch, will also be paying the pimps, pipers and pikers alike for a loooonnggg time.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

DJIA giving a cold shoulder to bulls?

A feature of a classic head and shoulder reversal pattern is building volume in the (perceived)left shoulder and waning volume in the (perceived) right shoulder. The daily DJIA graph above includes a volume rate of change indicator (89 day average).

Looks to Guambat to fill the bill, so far.


The earth didn't move for me

Guambat was much surprised to read the Reuters headline that there was a magnitude 7.2 earthquake just 232 miles from Guam this morning. He was blissfully unaware?

But why? Well, he read a bit more: it was West Southwest from Guam.

Well, that explains it. That's the bloody Marianas Trench territory.

Sure enough, still reading, the story says it was at a depth of 12.4 miles. 12.4 miles of water is one hell of a shock absorber. Didn't raise a ripple on Guambat's waterbed.

The story concluded, "
earthquakes of this size can be destructive along coasts near the epicenter. A quake of this magnitude is capable of widespread, heavy damage, but there were no immediate reports of destruction or injuries."

None of Guambat's co-workers were aware of it, either. We begin to get some idea of an answer to the rhetorical question posed by that old love song, "How deep is the ocean?".

MAKE THAT THREE EARTHQUAKES, and still the earth didn't move me. (Nice map in that last link, by the bye.)


Friday, August 13, 2010

Nothing to hide

Except a lot of hide.

Feds admit storing checkpoint body scan images
The Transportation Security Administration claimed last summer, for instance, that "scanned images cannot be stored or recorded."

Now it turns out that some police agencies are storing the controversial images after all. The U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of images recorded with a millimeter wave system at the security checkpoint of a single Florida courthouse.

This follows an earlier disclosure (PDF) by the TSA that it requires all airport body scanners it purchases to be able to store and transmit images

Body scanners penetrate clothing to provide a highly detailed image so accurate that critics have likened it to a virtual strip search. Technologies vary, with millimeter wave systems capturing fuzzier images, and backscatter X-ray machines able to show precise anatomical detail. The U.S. government likes the idea because body scanners can detect concealed weapons better than traditional magnetometers.

Guambat wonders if any pedophile type laws are implicated? Surely children are "virtually strip searched" by these machines as well. Are they then sent electronically to others? Is there some kind of legal immunity for such matters?

Never leave a bored lawyer alone with his thoughts.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The left's worst enemy (as usual): the more left than thou

Liberals still steamed at Robert Gibbs Everyone seems to have a problem with the "left". The right, most certainly, where being of the left of anyone is tea for the Mad Hatter.

But there is no fury like the fury of the left of whatever against those what be right of that. And so it is that,

Liberals still steamed at Robert Gibbs
The Obama administration’s attempts to blunt press secretary Robert Gibbs’s frustrations about the “professional left” in a newspaper interview published Tuesday haven’t changed much. Gibbs’s backtracking — he said he spoke “inartfully” to The Hill — and deputy press secretary Bill Burton’s assertion that his boss “answered honestly” when he derided liberal critics, seemed only to make matters worse.

In an interview with The Hill’s Sam Youngman, Gibbs lashed out at liberal critics who have relentlessly pilloried Obama for what they view as bad compromises and broken promises, including the lack of a single-payer system in the sweeping health care overhaul, his failure to close Guantanamo Bay within a year and his addition of 30,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan. Gibbs said the left isn’t giving the president his due for preventing a national economic collapse, tightening Wall Street rules and changing the health care system — accomplishments made despite lockstep Republican opposition.

“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug-tested,” Gibbs told The Hill. “I mean, it’s crazy.”

But the White House has work to do if it wants to mend fences with an influential constituency.

Michael Tomasky, a moderate voice among progressive columnists, said that though progressives have been harshly critical of the White House strategy in the past — for example, during the health care debate — “this isn’t one of those times.”

“That’s what makes me really curious about what made him unload like this,” Tomasky said. “People don’t expect everything to get done, but they can expect to be treated with rhetorical respect.”

“The president specifically asked us to push him and make him better,” said Levana Layendecker, Democracy for America’s communications director. “And we’re going to keep doing our jobs.”

Pushy. Yep, that's what Guambat reckons. That and blinkered, myopic, Darwinian-challenged, pea-brained, and principled to the vanishing point. A black hole that consumes itself and all in its orbit. They really just don't understand -- or like -- humans and their charming compromising nature.

As if pushing him alone will make him better. "Push" and "make better" are two separate things too subtle for shrill to distinguish or discriminate.


The long train wreck

Trouble with you is the trouble with me,
Got two good eyes but WE still don't see.
Come round the bend, you know it's the end,
The fireman screams and the engine just gleams...

Driving that train, high on cocaine,
Casey Jones YOU BETTER, watch your speed.
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
And you know that notion just crossed my mind.

-- Casey Jones, by the Grateful Dead
(via sing365.com)

The Great Depression was not all for naught. At least not yet. The social safety nets put in place in the aftermath of that Great Ruction have kept unemployment at half the rates seen then. And the unprecedented bail out of bankers in the last couple of years have kept them in fine fettle, caviar and Housewifes.

It has all conspired to conjure a complacency that is as unwarranted as it is fanciful.

But David Stockman has his hand on the train whistle as the Great Depression redux continues picking up speed. Just a couple of weeks ago he did an Op-Ed for the NYT:

Four Deformations of the Apocalypse
The nation’s public debt — if honestly reckoned to include municipal bonds and the $7 trillion of new deficits baked into the cake through 2015 — will soon reach $18 trillion. That’s a Greece-scale 120 percent of gross domestic product, and fairly screams out for austerity and sacrifice.

In 1970 it was just 40 percent of gross domestic product, or about $425 billion. When it reaches $18 trillion, it will be 40 times greater than in 1970. This debt explosion has resulted not from big spending by the Democrats, but instead the Republican Party’s embrace, about three decades ago, of the insidious doctrine that deficits don’t matter if they result from tax cuts.

After a short intermission, he's back for round two with more op-ed.

Beware the light at the end of the tunnel (Commentary: It's a debt train about to collide with federal obligations)
The federal deficit is no longer an abstract long-term problem; it's a financially critical freight train hurtling down the track at alarming speed.

Here's a dramatic way to look at it: Nominal GDP is only $100 billion higher than it was back in the third quarter of 2008. That means it has been growing at only $4 billion per month, while new federal debt has been accumulating at around $100 billion per month.

Yes, this period represents the worst of the so-called Great Recession, but never in history has the federal debt grown at a rate of 25 times GDP for two years running!

the federal debt still has grown at two times the rate of GDP during what looks to be the strongest phase of the recovery.

at $52 trillion, credit-market debt today is 3.6 times that of GDP, compared with 1.6 times that of GDP when the original argument of supply-side versus Keynesians opened up back in 1980.

Moreover, this 1980 total economy "leverage ratio" hadn't fluctuated appreciably for 110 years going back to 1870. So I call it the "golden constant," and note that had the total economy-leverage ratio not gone parabolic after 1980, credit-market debt today would be $22 trillion at the 1.6 times ratio.

In short, the economy is freighted down with $30 trillion in excess debt. The process of liquidating the household and business portion of this -- about $24 trillion -- will swamp the normal cyclical recovery mechanisms for years to come. And it's insane to keep adding the mushrooming public-sector portion of the debt or order to artificially juice the GDP numbers for a few more quarters.

Further, if we're in a period of sustained debt deflation, it's extremely likely the GDP deflator will shrink toward zero and real growth will struggle to make 2-3%. Hence, nominal GDP growth is almost certain to be even slower in the quarters ahead

At the same time, there's virtually no chance unemployment will drop much below 10% in the context of a deflationary "recovery," meaning that budget costs for unemployment, food stamps, etc. will remain elevated, not come down by hundreds of billions as currently projected

So we have baked into the cake a rather frightening scenario: monthly federal debt growth upwards of $125 billion, or three times the likely nominal GDP growth of $40 billion per month -- as far as the eye can see.

At least once a day someone on CNBC talks about the $1.5 trillion in corporate cash on the sidelines and how healthy business-sector balance sheets are.

That's pure baloney. If you peruse the flow of funds, and you'll see that corporate-sector cash assets have increased by $279 billion since the December 2007 peak, and now total $1.72 trillion. According to the same data, non-financial, corporate-sector debt has increased by $480 billion and now stands at $7.2 trillion. Corporate debt net of cash has actually increased by $200 billion during the Great Recession.

Stated differently, corporate debt net of cash was $5.3 trillion or 36.7% of GDP at December 2007 and is now $5.5 trillion or 37.6% of GDP. There's been no de-leveraging in the business sector either -- especially when its noted that tangible assets have also declined by 20% on a market basis and are flat on a book basis during the same period.

Every reason of prudence says not to tempt the financial gods of the global bond and currency markets with this freight-train scenario: Do something big to close the deficit, and do it now.

Also, there's no possibility in either this world or the next of obtaining the needed $700 billion to $1 trillion in structural deficit reduction by spending cuts alone. We've had a rolling referendum since the first Reagan budget plan in 1981, and progressively over these three decades the Republican party has exempted every material component of the budget from cuts, including middle-class entitlements, defense, veterans, education, housing, farm subsidies and even Amtrak!

Like Casey, the GOP has been in the anti-spending batter's box for 30 years, and has never stopped whiffing the ball. The final proof is that the one GOP spending cut plan with any integrity -- the "roadmap" of Congressman Paul Ryan -- has the grand sum of 13 co-sponsors, and I dare say half would call in sick if it ever came to a vote. Therefore, tax increases are now needed because it's too late and too urgent for anything else.

That should be a call to arms, fiscally and monetarily. But this is an election year (isn't every year, these days?) and no elected doctor will be prescribing caster oil for the ailing economy. Or, should they, they will add a bucket full of sugar to make it go down -- and out -- before any prophylactic effect.

And what's the Fed to do? Well today, they said this:
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in June indicates that the pace of recovery in output and employment has slowed in recent months.

Nonetheless, the Committee anticipates a gradual return to higher levels of resource utilization in a context of price stability, although the pace of economic recovery is likely to be more modest in the near term than had been anticipated.

inflation is likely to be subdued for some time.

The Committee will continue to monitor the economic outlook and financial developments and will employ its policy tools as necessary to promote economic recovery and price stability.

As Rex Nutting summed it up,
The Federal Open Market Committee announced it would reinvest the proceeds of its investments in mortgage-backed securities as they mature into Treasurys.

As economic stimulus goes, this is pretty thin gruel.

What has the Fed accomplished? It avoided a second Great Depression, but large sectors of the economy are still struggling. It's not clear what easier credit conditions can do to ease that suffering.

Trouble ahead, Lady in red,
Take my advice you'd be better off dead.
Switchman's sleeping, train hundred and two is
On the wrong track and headed for you.

Driving that train, high on cocaine,
Casey Jones YOU BETTER, watch your speed.
Trouble ahead, YOU KNOW, trouble behind,
And you know that notion just crossed my mind.

-- id.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Doomed: the "tree-book"

Guambat was reading yet another review of the ascendancy of "e-books", such as the Kindle, iPad, eReader, Nook, etc. The guffaw is over the technological "advance" it makes and how the treebook will soon be a thing of the past. It's doomed, they say.

Fascination with gadgetry is totally understandable to Guambat.

Many eons ago in Guambat's youth, he was enamored of a plastic submarine that was marketed on a box of cereal. He pestered his Mom until she gave in, but at a price. She said that it would be the one and only gadget she would ever get if Guambat tired of it quickly, which she bet would happen.

Oh NO, exclaimed the enthusiastic Guambat. It's like a real submarine and dives and surfaces and all that.

When it came at last in the (snail)mail, it was taped in a small package. It was put to shame by Crackerjack Box toys.

It was so small, even Guambat's little boy fingers could hardly deal with it. Dealing with it involved prying open a small capped hole in the base of the thing, stuffing a pinch of baking soda in it, capping it back up, and dropping it in a glass of water.

Wherein, it flopped over as the baking soda fizzed away, bobbed to the top of the glass and, at some great length of time (anything beyond a minute was a great length of time to an impatient young Guambat), settled to the bottom of the glass. Much like the feeling Guambat had when he realized that was the last thing he'd ever get from a cereal box, except cereal.

Guambat's great joy at getting the newest gadget has been tempered all these years by that sunken experience.

Gee, Thanks, Mom.

Anyway, back to the ebook vs treebook theme.

This opinion piece in the WSJ: From Gutenberg to Zoobert

In the hit 1998 film "You've Got Mail," Meg Ryan's independent bookstore couldn't compete with the big chain-store competitor.

The creative destruction in the book business has led even Andy Ross to have some sympathy for Barnes & Noble. Mr. Ross was the owner of Cody's Books, a well-known independent bookstore located near the Berkeley campus of the University of California. He owned Cody's Books for some 30 years before competition from the big stores closed it down in 2008.
[Before Mrs. Guambat became Mrs. Guambat, she would regularly take Guambat to Cody's as sort of a date, and they happily spent many hours transfixed in the isles and stacks, mesmerized by the cacophony of telepathy from thousands of authors living and dead: "read me, read me".]
"The only thing anyone is talking about in the book business is e-books," Mr. Ross told me last week. "I see it as being similar to the music industry. There is going to be a tipping point where e-books become the dominant medium, thus ending 500 years of the Gutenberg Age."

Just a couple of months ago, the WSJ ran this story, in the same "vain": 'Vanity' Press Goes Digital
Writer Karen McQuestion spent nearly a decade trying without success to persuade a New York publisher to print one of her books. In July, the 49-year-old mother of three decided to publish it herself, online.

Much as blogs have bitten into the news business and YouTube has challenged television, digital self-publishing is creating a powerful new niche in books that's threatening the traditional industry. Once derided as "vanity" titles by the publishing establishment, self-published books suddenly are able to thrive by circumventing the establishment.

The market is likely to shift into two tiers, "branded/high-quality" and "cheap/good enough," predicts author and lecturer Seth Godin. Mainstream publishing houses have long depended for much of their profit on selling backlist titles, books in print for more than a year. In coming years, there will be adequate substitutes for many of those works at a quarter of the price, he says.

And a couple of days ago, the WSJ noted this item: Mass Paperback Publisher Goes All Digital (reproduced, mostly, here)
As digital books continue to gain market share, one of the country's oldest mass paperback publishers is abandoning its traditional print books and making its titles available in digital format and print-on-demand only.

Dorchester Publishing Inc., a closely held book and magazine house, said it is making the switch after its book unit sales fell 25% last year, in part because of declining orders from some of its key retail accounts

All of which made Guambat recall this.

The Doomsday Book is a detailed survey of the land held by William the Conqueror and his people, the earliest surviving public record, and a hugely important historical resource.

According to this website:
The Domesday Book is closely linked with William the Conqueror's attempt to dominate Medieval England. Along with a string of castles throughout England, the Domesday Book was to give William huge authority in England.

To further extend his grip on England, William I ordered that a book be made containing information on who owned what throughout the country.

This book would also tell him who owed him what in tax and because the information was on record, nobody could dispute or argue against a tax demand. This is why the book brought doom and gloom to the people of England - hence "Domesday Book".

The decision of what someone owed was final - rather like Judgement Day when your soul was judged for Heaven or Hell.

William ordered the survey of England to take place about twenty years after the Battle of Hastings. The Saxon Chronicle states that it took place in 1085, while other sources state that it was done in 1086. The whole survey took less than a year to complete and the books can be found in the Public Records Office.

The Domesday Book forms a remarkable record of the state of England in the mid-1080's.

So remarkable is the history, and the shear mankindness, of this treebook, that the BBC decided to go it one better and assure its place for the ages, as the following article in 2002, written almost One Thousand years after the Doomsday Book, described.

Digital Domesday Book lasts 15 years not 1000
It was meant to be a showcase for Britain's electronic prowess - a computer-based, multimedia version of the Domesday Book. But 16 years after it was created, the £2.5 million BBC Domesday Project has achieved an unexpected and unwelcome status: it is now unreadable.

The special computers developed to play the 12in video discs of text, photographs, maps and archive footage of British life are - quite simply - obsolete.

As a result, no one can access the reams of project information - equivalent to several sets of encyclopaedias - that were assembled about the state of the nation in 1986. By contrast, the original Domesday Book - an inventory of eleventh-century England compiled in 1086 by Norman monks - is in fine condition in the Public Record Office, Kew, and can be accessed by anyone who can read and has the right credentials.

'It is ironic, but the 15-year-old version is unreadable, while the ancient one is still perfectly usable,' said computer expert Paul Wheatley. 'We're lucky Shakespeare didn't write on an old PC.'

Nor is the problem a new one. A crisis in digital preservation now afflicts all developed countries. Databases recorded in old computer formats can no longer be accessed on new generation machines, while magnetic storage tapes and discs have physically decayed, ruining precious databases.

For millennia, men and women have used paper to create everything from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Neville Chamberlain's 'piece of paper from Herr Hitler'. In the past few decades, computers, scanners, cassettes, videos, CDs, minidiscs and floppy disks have been used to replace the written word. Yet in just a few short years these digital versions have started to degrade.

The space agency Nasa has already lost digital records sent back by its early probes, and in 1995 the US government come close to losing a vast chunk of national census data, thanks to the obsolescence of its data retrieval technology.

Betamax video players, 8in and 5in computer disks, and eight-track music cartridges have all become redundant, making it impossible to access records stored on them. Data stored on the 3in disks used in the pioneering Amstrad word-processor is now equally inaccessible.

Our digital heritage - only a few decades old - is already endangered, as broadcaster Loyd Grossman pointed out last week. 'Last year marked the 30th anniversary of email, but it is salutary that we do not have the first email message and no knowledge of its contents,' he said at the launch of the Digital Preservation Coalition. Saving Domesday Project is viewed as one of the coalition's top priorities.

Guambat really, really hopes you have stuck with this post down to here, because this is where tragedy meets irony. The Doomsday Preservation Group website contains the following message (click to enlarge; right click to open enlargement in new tab):

See also this informative piece,
Lost in Cyberspace: The BBC Domesday Project and the Challenge of Digital Preservation (Released June 2003)

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