International and Interstellar, News Update

Here’s the “remainder” for the week.  Just a short blurb and be done with it.

No fence yet for W from Big D.

Former President George W. Bush is officially living in Dallas, as our own Lori Stahl reports.

But a security gate scheduled to be erected on Daria Drive near in Bush’s Preston Hollow home on cul-de-sac Daria Place has yet to go up on the public street.

In fact, Dallas officials say, Bush’s camp has yet to submit gate plans to City Hall’s public works and transportation department — a necessary step before its installation.

Hmmm…him without a gate and me with all these old shoes…what to do…what to do…

Fix the Electric Box. Currently I’m stuck on 14, but should get it eventually.

The Earth as the Moon. Have you ever been on a satellite and seen the Earth eclipse the Sun?  Now you have, thanks Japan!  [peep the video…yes…the Sun is that bright.]

The Galaxy may be full of “Earths”.

The focus of the mission is finding planets in a star’s habitable zone, an orbit that would ensure temperatures in which life could exist. Video Watch a NASA scientist explain the search for habitable planets »

Boss, who serves on the Kepler Science Council, said scientists should know by 2013 — the end of Kepler’s mission — whether life in the universe could be widespread.

Finding intelligent life is a very different matter. For all the speculation about the possibility of other civilizations in the universe, the question remains: If the rise of life on Earth isn’t unique and aliens are common, why haven’t they shown up or contacted us? The contradiction was famously summed up by the physicist Enrico Fermi in 1950 in what became known as the Fermi paradox: “Where is everybody?”

The answer may be the vastness of time and space, scientists explained.

“Civilizations come and go,” Boss said. “Chances are, if you do happen to find a planet which is going to have intelligent life, it’s not going to be in [the same] phase of us. It may have formed a billion years ago, or maybe it’s not going to form for another billion years.”

Luckily, there’s more “people” on this planet than you can ever meet and more organism than you can ever study, so we’re pretty much set as it is.

Heading over the Pakistan…it’s getting shaky.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld bans on former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, from elected office.

Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N party holds power in Punjab province. His brother is chief minister but must now step down.

Nawaz Sharif accused President Asif Ali Zardari of being behind the ban.

Mr Sharif said it was because he would not back down in his campaign to have judges sacked by ex-president Pervez Musharraf reinstated.

The hard part about this one is that it is the new judges that made the ruling.  D’oh!

What to do?

Riot!!!

Thousands of supporters of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif protested in Pakistan Thursday, angered over a court decision banning him and his brother from elected office.

Sharif denounced the Supreme Court ruling, blamed President Ali Asif Zardari, and called for more protests at a rally near the eastern city of Lahore in Punjab province. Around 20 lawmakers gathered outside the Punjab provincial assembly were detained.

Smaller protests also erupted in the capital, Islamabad, where police fired tear gas at a mob trying to block the highway to Punjab province.

[full story]

Pakistan is on the brink.  Believe it.

Japan is sending the ninja after the pirates. You may have thought we put all the ninja to bed during WWII, which we did.  But ninja are tougher than that.

An anti-piracy bill that the government plans to submit to the Diet early next month will enable the use of force by Japan in deterring pirate activities, it has emerged.

The move is expected to spark controversy as the use of force is prohibited under the Constitution. The Self-Defense Forces’ use of force during overseas deployment has been limited to legitimate self-defense and averting imminent danger.

Under the bill, Japanese vessels and foreign vessels will be protected under the anti-pirate measures. Coast guard officials will play a major role in cracking down on pirate activities, and the SDF will only assist them in cases that are beyond the control of the coast guard.

The government seeks to apply Article 7 of the law governing policemen in the line of duty, which enables police officers to use force in order to attack suspects in heinous crimes when they resist or try to flee. By applying the article of the law, the officials to be dispatched for anti-pirate activities will be allowed to use force against pirate ships that refuse orders to stop.

Gotta love loopholes (in bold).

Japan’s PM is also in a bit of hot water for (admitting to) losing to the Americans.

Prime Minister Taro Aso will not retract his remarks that World War II started with Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, it has emerged.

The government decided in a Tuesday Cabinet meeting not to correct remarks that Aso made in a video interview for the Dec. 4, 2008 edition of the Aso Cabinet’s weekly e-mail magazine.

In the interview, Aso remarked: “World War II began with the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, but perhaps no one at that time could have imagined that we would have the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty a decade later.”

Sure, WWII actually started with Hilter invading Poland in Europe and all that, but for us and the Japs, the Day of Infamy was the real start of Global Conflict: The Sequel.

Mass layoffs in January.

WASHINGTON – Employers took a large ax to their payrolls in January, the government said Wednesday, and the cuts are likely to get worse over the next few months.

The Labor Department reported that mass layoffs, or job cuts of 50 or more by a single employer, increased to 2,227 in January, up almost 50 percent from the same month last year. More than 235,000 workers were fired in last month’s cuts.

There is a ticking time bomb here, and it’s when these workers unemployment runs out.  If they can’t find jobs, any jobs, by then…things get nasty…quickly.

Oh, and I wanted to do something about this story. It’s actually a really big story…something I need to read a bit more about.  I’ve lived through some of it personally, and investigated professionally (yea…I know this one) another bit of it.  Need to take some time to tell the story correctly.  Maybe this weekend, but it’s a big part of Chapter 11 in my book.  And yes, I’m probably going to quote that article in the my chapter.  It came along right when I wanted it, curiously enough.

And there’s another one making the rounds about a new diet study that says, basically, you are energy and if you eat more energy than you burn, you will get fatter.  If you eat less, you will lose weight, which is painful.  Story at 11.

Why I’m a Writer, Not a “Blogger”

So I finally finished reading Andrew Sullivan’s piece on “Why I Blog” (available here, as a four page blog post).  He hits the nail on the head on why I’m not a blogger with this paragraph (and a half).

If all this sounds postmodern, that’s because it is. And blogging suffers from the same flaws as postmodernism: a failure to provide stable truth or a permanent perspective. A traditional writer is valued by readers precisely because they trust him to have thought long and hard about a subject, given it time to evolve in his head, and composed a piece of writing that is worth their time to read at length and to ponder. Bloggers don’t do this and cannot do this—and that limits them far more than it does traditional long-form writing.

A blogger will air a variety of thoughts or facts on any subject in no particular order other than that dictated by the passing of time. A writer will instead use time, synthesizing these thoughts, ordering them, weighing which points count more than others, seeing how his views evolved in the writing process itself, and responding to an editor’s perusal of a draft or two. The result is almost always more measured, more satisfying, and more enduring than a blizzard of posts.

So yea…I’m not really a “blogger”.  I’m just an idiot who writes for free.  My bad.

I should have stuck with the inane bullshit approach.  “Superficial bullshit” as some close friends would call it.

Oh well…someday people will realize I’m a writer, and a pretty solid one, at that.  A, as the gay guy said, “traditional writer [who] is valued by readers precisely because they trust him to have thought long and hard about a subject, given it time to evolve in his head, and composed a piece of writing that is worth their time to read at length and to ponder.”

Yea, that’s how I blog…for the most part.  I do the inane shit too, sometimes, but really when it’s time for me to write, I freakin’ write.

Now….if only I can figure out this business model thing…capitalism is a right bastard sometimes.  😉

[on a sidenote…”blogging” is a strange term that came of age before it became of age.  That, in essense, is what “postmodernism” is…stuff that people know before they know it.  Yea…I just gave you a real, hard, short definition of ‘postermodernism’.  Hey, it’s what I do.  🙂 ]

It’s Time to Turn, Turn, Turn and Look at Rick Perry’s Hair

So I heard from the Byrds (via the Bible) that things turn, turn, turn.

Here’s the Byrds…

And here’s the Bible…

16 ¶ And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.
17 I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.
18 I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
21 Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
22 Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

That’s some pretty good Bible, eh?  It’s the next verse after the Byrds sing.

This is the situation we are facing now, as a culture.  I mentioned it previously.

One of the big problems facing our country now is the internal division in the choice of directions to go.   This causes a problem, as in times of crisis NOT ACTING is an act, and it is an act that can cause many more problems than acting (even if that act turns out to be foolish).   And BTW, we are face more than just an economic crisis.  That’s a big one, but there’s a few more coming along in the next little bit that we still need to deal with (social security and the retiring boomers, the global climate change that simply refuses to act like isn’t solid science, a global war on cave-dwellers wondering why they keep getting bombed (and the few people who run the show who know), and some others, that’s just off the of the head.)

So there’s a bunch of stuff, big stuff, going on.  Quite frankly, it would take a “Messiah” to see us through this thing.  I think we are pretty lucky to have the team at the top we do, but I have no illusions about super-powers in human beings.  Obama is mortal, and will make mistakes.  He already has, and has owned up to them.  This is a useful trait for a leader, IMHO.  Particularly one faced with as much, as quickly, as Barry.

So anyway, I voted for the guy, so I’m going with it.  The problem with the opposition here is that there is no sense, yet, that we need to act, and soon.  There is some soul-searching that is headed right back to the same place we spent 20 of the last 28 years.  We are seeing more generally empty rhetoric about “fiscal conservatism” which, after 20 years of watching it, seems to be cutting taxes, and increasing spending.   The only question is about which spending to increase.

No sooner had I posted my last post than I ran across this story.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. congressional Republicans, having vowed to return to the conservative ideals of limited government, denounced President Barack Obama’s $3.55 trillion budget on Thursday as excessive and misdirected.

“I have serious concerns with this budget, which demands hard-working American families and job creators turn over more of their hard-earned money to the government to pay for unprecedented spending increases,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

Umm, I’m sorry, but the only people getting a tax increase are the rich.  And it’s not even a tax increase, it’s letting Bush’s tax cuts (the ones he made to pay for the war…wait…what?) lapse.   Only in the rhetorical realm does a temporary decrease expiring equal “OMG, HE’S RAISING THE TAXES ON THE RICH?!  Honey, do we clear a quarter million a year?”   [From the other room comes laughter.  Loud, continuous laughter].

“Hard-working” and “hard-earned” money, no doubt.  However, I have yet to see anyone who makes that money simply by standing there and working hard.  Most people who clear that kind of dough on a regular basis worked on Wall Street.  Ya’ll remember them, right?  Hard-working, no doubt…but working hard at what?

My building is currently being torn apart and rebuilt (long story, involving rotting wood and water), and there are 100 or so hard workers out there each day, firing up the powertools the second the clock strikes eight.   They are earning hard money, and they get to keep every bit of it (many of whom quickly send it south, but that’s another story).  Under the tax plan as I am aware of it, it is the workers on main street that get the help, and the folks with deep ties to Wall Street (either through direct action, banking work, or just having assloads of money to give to investment bankers) get to pay for it.

O.k., sorry, got off on a rant there about deregulating the credit industry and how we can try to fix the country.  The whole derugulation kick used to be part of the “fiscal conservative” model, for some reason, but now it’s been dropped…I think.

Regardless, let’s continue with the reaction…

“I think we just ought to admit we’re broke. We can’t continue to pile debt on the backs of our kids and grandkids,” said House Republican Leader John Boehner.

I’m sorry, what?  Where was this attitude when it was Repbulicans spending like mad on a war?  And cutting taxes to pay for it?  I mean, I hate to sound like a broken record here, but we’ve been running huge deficits for a while now, and it was the Republicans pushing it.

“The budget outline shows a half-hearted attempt to reduce the trillion-dollar deficits we face, largely through more tax hikes that will only hurt the economy, when it should take this opportunity to exercise aggressive spending restraint,” said Gregg, the top Republican on the Budget Committee.

Right!  No money for Americans, but we’ll spend like drunken sailors on killing folks.   Unfortunately, “aggressive spending restraint” isn’t what gets an economy moving. The economy is money moving around, people busy, buying, selling, shipping, making things happen.  Not spending slows things down and sometimes they stop.

This is why I brought up the Byrds and the Economic Apocalypse.  We really are that close, folks.    We need to be working together here to get this thing re-started.    Even the “fiscal conservative” Democrats realize that.

A group of 49 fiscally conservative House Democrats, whose commitment to deficit reduction has at times put some of them at odds with Obama’s economic program, hailed Obama’s budget for presenting what they called an honest fiscal picture.

“To begin to set our nation back on the right fiscal track, we must first understand and acknowledge how big of a hole we are in,” said Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a leader of the Democratic “Blue Dog” Coalition.

And we’re in a damn, big, hole.

Reuters nails it on the head with this next statement.

Republicans have long touted themselves as champions of limited government, but surrendered that claim in approving a series of big-deficit budgets during the administration of Obama’s predecessor, Republican George W. Bush.

We got big government left, right, and center with Bush.  And somehow that spending was o.k.  One thing Obama is doing that Bush did not (and part of the reason the Wars are going to cost us so much) is putting the War Budget in the actual budget.  Bush went through a special spending rigamarole that added another $150,000,000,000 or so a year on the ole company credit card.    It’s a big part of our big hole.

The problem with military spending, and it is a problem, is that at the end of the day you end up burning that million dollar missile.   Every loss of life is tragic and I don’t mean to downplay that side, at all, but we train the ever-living shit out of our soldiers.  We have the best trained army in the world, no doubt, and each loss has a human side and an economic one.  Sorry to be cold, and I’m trying not to be, but the cost of war is dramatic and not over when the guns stop shooting.

We’ve had a time for war, and now is a time for peace, and rebuilding.  It’s a time for coming together.   We can argue about it in a few years, if we are still talking, and have not become the Beasts of Ecclesiastes.

And just a quick primer, for those that don’t follow human nature…it’s a beast when things gets rough.  If you can feel it at the top, trust me…they feel it at the bottom, multiplied be each economic ladder you move down.   It’s kind of a primal thing actually.

Luckily, we can vote on things and don’t have to settle them in the schoolyard like they did in the old days.   The votes, BTW, have already been cast.  Trust me, my internet friends…those not on this wondrous network, have been feeling the pangs of the economic downturn since it first happened (generations ago), are about ready to burst.   There’s a lot of them, and they have hope now that change is on the way.

Let’s keep it that way, and keep the beasts at the gate.   Republicans shoud be like canyon water now, giving, fast, and learning.  Going with the flow a bit, but always remembering that during a downpour, it doesn’t pay to be ice.  The time for a change in course will come, but not next week, and not even next year.

There comes a time for everything, and given the economic and political situation, Obama is now a juggernaut.  It’d be best to get out of the way for a bit.  Rick Perry, I’m looking at you and your hair.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama singled out Texas on Friday as a state that could lose out under the newly enacted $797 billion economic stimulus package because Gov. Rick Perry hasn’t totally ruled out rejecting some funds.

[another story]

Rick Perry and His Hair

That’s what they call a pimp slap on K Street.  Obama wields the bully pulpit, and he actually knows where that term came from.  Watch yo’self.

A’hem…

The huge stimulus bill includes a provision that allows legislatures to override governors and accept funding even if a governor objects.

“I haven’t spoken to the governor about it, but I hope that all Texans, regardless of politics, will make sure we maximize the use of federal funds available to the benefit of our taxpayers,” said Houston Mayor Bill White, a Democrat.

And that, boys and girls, is why the thing is 1,000 pages long.   The long arm of the pimp slap, in legislative reality.

The Economic Apocalypse (retro-look)

This line of thought began with this MetaFilter post linking to this FRONTLINE piece on what happened with the banking/ibanking sector last Fall. [BTW, the best animation explanation of the problems is here.]

The FRONTLINE documentary does a great job at pointing out some of the players in the mix and the personal relationships that helped bring the problem to a head.

Perhaps the most poignant bit was on the relationship between Henry (“Hank”) Paulson (formerly of Goldman Sachs) and Richard Fuld (of the bankrupt Lehman Brothers).  Fuld firmly believed up to the last that Paulson would help him out.  Instead, Paulson decided to make an example of him…and teach him a lesson.  Before we get to the lesson that Paulson learned (yea…he screwed up) we have a quick and funny story about Fuld…

Mr Fuld, who has been testifying on the financial crisis before the US House Oversight Committee, was attacked on a Sunday shortly after it was announced that the banking giant was bankrupt.

Following rumours that the incident had occurred, Vicki Ward, a US journalist, said “two very senior sources – one incredibly senior source” had confirmed it to her. “He went to the gym after … Lehman was announced as going under,” she told CNBC. “He was on a treadmill with a heart monitor on. Someone was in the corner, pumping iron and he walked over and he knocked him out cold.

“And frankly after having watched [Mr Fuld’s testimony to the committee], I’d have done the same too.”

—-

In a robust performance in front of the committee, Mr Fuld said that he would wonder “until they put me in the ground” why the US government had not rescued the 158-year-old firm. He said that regulators were fully aware of its plight well before its collapse.

This bit here, about how Fuld still doesn’t understand why he was let to fall, is a big part of the FRONTLINE piece.  When it became known that, really, none of the investment banks were safe, AND THE GOVERNMENT WASN’T GOING TO HELP, the panic set in and we got something I called the “Seven Minutes of Death“.  That was the point when the entire concept of a “rational market” disappeared along with about $7,000,000,000,000….in seven minutes.

Paulson wanted to make a point with Fuld, and that point was that the government isn’t going to help you.  Sadly, this sticking to some sort of “market morality” is exactly the thing that pushed the whole system to collapse.  The problem was exacerbated by election year politics, as noted in my post “Why the Failout Failed.”

When Lehman was allowed to collapse, it triggered off all the “bombs” (CDS) in the animation linked above, as these were the underlying insurance for the entire scheme.  The fact that people were selling armageddon insurance (essentially) should have been a sign that something wicked was this way coming.

A couple more quick personal anecdotes.  Phil Gramm offered a rambling defense of his bill that allowed this stuff to happen.   I countered that, I think fairly effectively, in this video, which has a more political side to it than the animation.  The simple fact of the matter is that this breakdown was created by GREED at every level.  Without something to regulate that GREED, it ate the system.

The best part of that Phil Gramm piece is this blurb on the bottom.

Mr. Gramm, a former U.S. Senator from Texas, is vice chairman of UBS Investment Bank. UBS. This op-ed is adapted from a recent paper he delivered at the American Enterprise Institute

Hmmm, where have I been reading about UBS lately…oh yea…the U.S. and their pissing match with the Swiss.  General note on International Politics, when you start to piss off the Swiss, it might be time to re-think your awesome plan.

ZURICH, Feb 21 (Reuters) – The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) called on Saturday for retaliation against the United States over a U.S. tax probe into the country’s biggest bank UBS that threatens prized banking secrecy.

Switzerland should also reconsider its policy of representing the United States in countries where it has no diplomatic presence, the parliamentary SVP said in a statement.

The SVP said gold stored by the Swiss National Bank in the United States should be repatriated and Switzerland should ban the sale of U.S. funds in the country to protect Swiss investors after the failure of U.S. regulators.

The comments came after UBS agreed on Wednesday to pay a fine of $780 million and to disclose about 250 names of U.S. clients it said had committed tax fraud to settle U.S. criminal charges that it had helped rich Americans dodge taxes.

U.S. tax authorities said on Thursday they were still pursuing a civil case against UBS seeking access to thousands more names of U.S. citizens it says are hiding about $14.8 billion in assets in secret Swiss bank accounts.

[full story]

This has been the long run towards the end of the “secret Swiss bank account” legend.  A number of the rich (Howdy, Mr. Gramm) use these methods to avoid paying taxes.  It is this kind of stuff, exactly, that led to the fiction of the Laffer Curve (the idea being that by lowering tax rates, it’s no longer worth it to hide money and thus government revenues increase with lower tax rates).

One of the things the Patriot Act has allowed for is previously unknown levels of intrusion into American’s financial status.  It was exactly this type of intrusion that led to the ouster of Eliot Spitzer.   Sure, Spitzer was never charged with a crime, but was excised from public life because of the way he spent his personal money.  The Feds are watching that closely, and if you are an up-and-comer from The Other Party…watch yo-self, because they are watching too.

So now we have a federal government that is a) strapped for cash and b) has all the tools necessary to find those nest eggs and secret storage places.  Oh, and it has a huge mandate from The People to do something about it all, and do something Obama certainly is.

At this point it’s really hard to tell what is going to happen.  A lot of people really don’t understand how much has changed and how badly we have been hallowed out.  One guy does, and his outlook is a bit less than rosy.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Renowned investor George Soros said on Friday the world financial system has effectively disintegrated, adding that there is yet no prospect of a near-term resolution to the crisis.

Soros said the turbulence is actually more severe than during the Great Depression, comparing the current situation to the demise of the Soviet Union.

He said the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September marked a turning point in the functioning of the market system.

And he’s right.  Because of a few people’s “faith” in a broken market, and not acting quickly enough to shore up the lynchpins of the economy, we crashed a lot harder than we needed to.  The crashing in and of itself adds additional costs to a recovery (think…the looting and burning that goes with mobs mad at The Man…and taking it out on anything and everything within reach…of which The Man owns little).   In this case, the mobs were the Republicans and The Man is Obama  (yes, we are in Bizarro world now).

Playing obstructionist *now* is closing the barn door after the barn has been burned to the ground.

What we want to build in place of the barn is the question now.   It should be noted, however, that we are living in the 21st century now, and rebuilding an 18th Century barn might not be the best idea.

Just some food for thought, from the bottom, where I eat scraps that filter down.