Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to argue with right-wing relatives

There comes a time at most large family gatherings when a heated political argument breaks out. And by “heated political argument” what I mean is “someone just repeats something they heard on Hannity’s radio show that you know to be completely untrue.” You may be the lone liberal in a conservative family, or you may have one right-wing uncle in your left-wing family, but this will happen. What to do?

If you have a “smart phone,” just bookmark Snopes now. That’ll take care of the really weird stuff. (Well, not this level of weird, but “I read that airlines don’t pair Christian pilots and co-pilots in case The Rapture happens” weird.)

But a right-wing myth generally lives on forever, no many how many times it is debunked. You are powerless to prevent its spread. All you can do is perhaps convince one person that one talk radio meme is completely bogus. But you will probably have better luck simply changing the subject. (Suggestions: Whether or not Peyton Manning will be a Colt next season, “American Horror Story,” Jay-Z and Beyonce’s baby.)

Lost Money: $41 Billion In Gift Cards Haven't Been Redeemed Since 2005

Long Overdue Shelf Cleanup

By Elvis, I am actually getting things done!

Just freed up room for another shelf, pulled most of my paperbacks out of storage, and finally alpha sorted the DVD collection. For the first time in two years, I am not sick over the holiday week, and things are getting done.

Now, I only have to totally clean up the upstairs, go through a hundred Rubbermaid tubs, and EBay off the excess that is salable. I had hoped to do this after my Mom's death, before moving back to my own house (I was doing home health care for her onsite). Things did not work out so well, and I had severe health issues as a result. Respiratory illnesses two years running. The start of osteoarthritis. Loss of endurance.

I'm in a much healthier workplace now, and doing much better. I even rode my bike this year. :)

Who knows? I might even have space for other people to sit down.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ben Nelson's retirement leaves Dems with a bleak Senate outlook

The odds of Democrats clinging to control of the Senate just got that much steeper.

Sen. Ben Nelson’s retirement deals a mental and mathematical blow to a party already struggling to maintain its tenuous four-seat majority.

Iran threatens to close key Gulf oil route over nuclear sanctions

Iran threatened on Tuesday to stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz if foreign sanctions were imposed on its crude exports over its nuclear ambitions, a move that could trigger military conflict with economies dependent on Gulf oil.

U.S. nuclear sub nearly hit freighter near B.C.

A freighter captain's keen eye helped avert a run-in with a nuclear-powered American submarine in Juan de Fuca Strait, a body of water that splits Washington state and B.C. coasts, according to a U.S. periodical.

The incident, which saw the freighter and submarine come within 800 metres of each other, took place in early October but is only coming to light this week, says the Navy Times, which calls itself "an independent source for news and information for the navy community."

The Navy Times says that at around 8 a.m. PT on Oct. 12, the USS Kentucky ballistic-missile submarine had its periscope above water, but was otherwise hidden below the surface when it turned onto a new course that was blocked by a cargo ship.

The submarine's commanding officer, concerned about a trawler, ordered a change of course, but neither he nor the officer of the deck looked through the periscope to check if the course was clear.

The captain of the Totem Ocean ship Midnight Sun, which makes runs between Tacoma, Wash., and Anchorage, saw the periscope and began turning to avoid the collision.

After being informed via a radio call from the outside, the submarine's crew discovered their error and began manoeuvres to avoid hitting the ship.

The Navy Times, which filed a request for a report on the incident under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, wrote that Cmdr. Joseph Nosse, who was serving as commanding officer for the USS Kentucky, was fired on Oct. 19 for "inadequate leadership" stemming from a number of incidents.

The U.S. navy would not comment on the incident, and said it is policy not to discuss current submarine operations.

U.S. Prepares for a Curtailed Relationship With Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — With the United States facing the reality that its broad security partnership with Pakistan is over, American officials are seeking to salvage a more limited counterterrorism alliance that they acknowledge will complicate their ability to launch attacks against extremists and move supplies into Afghanistan.

Airfares With Less Fine Print

Advertisements that make airfares seem enticingly low will soon lose that asterisk pointing to a dense paragraph of additional taxes and fees that make a cheap ticket much more costly.

Beginning Jan. 24, the Transportation Department will enforce a rule requiring that any advertised price for air travel include all government taxes and fees. For the last 25 years, the department has allowed airlines and travel agencies to list government-imposed fees separately, resulting in a paragraph of fine print disclaimers about charges that can add 20 percent or more to a ticket’s price.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Observations 26 DEC 2011

A grey, rainy Boxing Day.

Got calls from friends, made a few calls, did laundry, unpacked books, took trash out. Tomorrow, I pay my personal property tax. Excitement. Maybe I should start Twittering each sneeze...

The House GOP may have just handed Obama the election.

Confession: I went back to the political board under a new name. Almost immediately, my old adversaries moved to have me banned, again. It is nice to be loved and wanted. :) It was fun to tweak them while it lasted.

Let them have their sandbox. I have mine. They are fre to visit and comment like everyone else.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One Nation, Under Arms

The private papers of the late George F. Kennan, Cold War architect and diplomat extraordinaire, reveal his anguish over the way his famous 1947 warning about Soviet expansionism helped transform the America he loved into one he no longer recognized: a national-security state.

FAA to issue rules aimed at tired airline pilots

WASHINGTON – Nearly three years after the deadly crash of a regional airliner flown by two exhausted pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration is releasing rules aimed at preventing airline pilots from flying while dangerously fatigued.

What makes someone an angry drunk?

Impulsive, live-in-the-moment types are likely to become aggressive when they're intoxicated, according to a new study from Ohio State University's Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at the school. "We already know that alcohol increases aggression. And people who have aggressive personality traits also tend not to think about the consequences of their actions," Bushman says. "You put the two together, and it's really a toxic mix."

Tax System Seen as Unfair, in Need of Overhaul

Public dissatisfaction with the tax system has grown over the past decade, and the focus of the public’s frustration is not how much they themselves pay, but rather the impression that wealthy people are not paying their fair share.

'We The People': NPR Readers Would Ratify Four New Amendments

2. The Electoral College should be abolished and presidents should be elected by popular vote.

75 percent voted to ratify
25 percent voted against ratification

3. Campaign contributions to any candidate for office in the United States government from any entity shall not exceed those limits set for citizens. Corporations, companies, unions, PACs and other organizations shall not be considered citizens.

86 percent voted to ratify
14 percent voted against ratification

7. The rights enumerated in the Constitution are expressly for the benefit of living human beings. Corporations are expressly denied any claim of protection under the Bill of Rights.

82 percent voted to ratify
17 percent voted against ratification

10. No member of Congress shall become a lobbyist or a consultant for anyone or any company or business doing business with the United States government once they have completed their service in Congress, nor shall any member of their immediate family.

67 percent voted to ratify
32 percent voted against ratification

Split Religion For GOP.

The day of split Republican endorsements reflects a Republican religious base that is largely fractured just two weeks before the first-in-the-nation Republican caucuses.

The dynamic could portend trouble for the eventual Republican nominee, raising the prospect of a less than enthusiastic evangelical base in the general election, like Sen. John McCain faced in 2008. It could also mean a diluted evangelical role in choosing a nominee.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We're # 1!

Since too much inequality can foment revolt and instability, the CIA regularly updates statistics on income distribution for countries around the world, including the U.S. Between 1997 and 2007, inequality in the U.S. grew by almost 10 percent, making it more unequal than Russia, infamous for its powerful oligarchs. The U.S. is not faring well historically, either. Even the Roman Empire, a society built on conquest and slave labor, had a more equitable income distribution.

Minnesota State GOP staggered by debt, scandal

Party leaders and activists across the state spent Saturday searching for a path forward even as they were absorbing the shocking departures of the Senate majority leader and one of her top aides. Their resignations came just weeks after that of the state party chairman.

"Right now Republican activists are very upset, almost sad, depressed," said Pat Anderson, a former state auditor who serves on the Republican National Committee. "We are going to have that for awhile."

It's been a stunning twist for a party that a year ago was savoring historic legislative victories and came within a whisker of winning the governor's office. Now it must try to bail itself out of debt, hold onto majorities in the state House and Senate, mount a credible challenge to popular Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and campaign for a proposed state constitutional amendment that would preclude gay marriage -- all with a new set of leaders.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Alabama Residents Furious Over Possible Rate Increases: ‘If They Let This Stuff Happen They Are Going to Get the Biggest Riot the South Has Ever Seen’

So how did this all start?

Sewage and water rates (on average) have increased faster than inflation because the federal government has demanded that cities replace their “worn-out” sewer facilities to meet federal clean-water standards.

When a federal judge forced Jefferson County to upgrade its outdated sewer system, officials decided to finance the project with bonds.

“Outside advisers suggested a series of complex deals with variable-rate interest . . . Loan payments rose quickly because of increasing interest rates as global credit markets struggled, and the county could no longer afford its payments,” Bloomberg reports. That’s why Jefferson County residents have seen a 329 percent increase in their rates over the past decade and a half–the county has been trying to finance these new facilities.

The sewage system was supposed to cost $300 million. However, since the project started in 1996, the costs have risen to $3.1 billion after various problems and a series of bond and derivatives deals fell through in 2008.

Not surprisingly, a large amount of corruption was involved.

JP Morgan Securities and two of its former directors have been fined for trying to bribe to Jefferson County employees and politicians in a bid to win business financing for the sewer project. Six former Jefferson County commissioners have been found guilty of accepting bribes, along with 15 other state officials.

As a result of the bad investments and government corruption, current county commissioners have been forced to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy (which gives the county the right to stop paying some bills temporarily so that it can organize its finances), the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history

Wager on elections? You bet

More Americans may soon be able to openly wager in the markets about whether President Barack Obama wins re-election or Republicans gain control of the Senate.

Political junkies have previously placed “bets” on the presidential race through the Iowa Electronic Markets and the Irish exchange Intrade. But the federally regulated market being set up by Chicago-based Nadex has a major difference – they could cash in.

Iraqis ask U.S.: Why so many mistakes?

In the moments after the last American convoy departed from Iraq, one of our Iraqi colleagues, echoing a thought we'd heard time and time again, said: "We thank the U.S. for getting rid of Saddam, but not for anything that happened afterwards."

Iraq Timeline

FBI considered a sting aimed at Newt Gingrich in 1997

It is a curious case in the annals of the FBI: The bureau considered a sting operation against then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich after sifting through allegations from a notorious arms dealer that a $10 million bribe might get Congress to lift the Iraqi arms embargo.

The FBI ended up calling off the operation in June 1997. It decided there was no evidence that Gingrich knew anything about the conversations the arms dealer was secretly recording with a man who said he was acting on behalf of Gingrich’s then-wife, Marianne, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.

Greg Davis, Mississippi Mayor, Reveals He Is Gay After Audit Reveals Visit To Adult Store

Davis, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 on a conservative platform, has been under a criminal investigation for allegedly misusing $170,000 on both city-issued and personal credit cards -- $96,000 of which he has reportedly has repaid so far. "These expenses submitted by Mayor Davis as official events and purchases on behalf of the city are a betrayal of the public's trust, and I intend to pursue the recovery of this money to the fullest extent of the law," State Auditor Stacey Pickering told Fox News in November. "Clothing purchases, family counseling and personal meals and entertainment are in no way authorized expenses for the city and should not be paid for on the taxpayers' dime."

Gingrich: Capitol Police Could Arrest ‘Radical’ Judges

Newt Gingrich on Sunday hammered at the nation’s judiciary system, saying that if a court’s decision was out of step with American popular opinion, it should be ignored.

There’s “no reason the American people need to tolerate a judge that out of touch with American culture,” Gingrich said on CBS’ Face the Nation, referring to a case where a judge ruled that explicit references to religion were barred from a high school graduation ceremony. And Gingrich recently has said judges should have to explain some of their decisions before Congress.

Host Bob Schieffer asked Gingrich how he planned to enforce that. Would you call in the Capitol Police to apprehend a federal judge, he asked.

“If you had to,” Gingrich said. “Or you’d instruct the Justice Department to send the U.S. Marshall in.”

A judge should have to explain his or her radical decisions, Gingrich emphasized again. Gingrich’s tough words against the judiciary branch have drawn fire from even conservatives. Former attorney general under President George W. Bush, Michael Mukasey, told Fox News that Gingrich’s proposals were “dangerous” and “totally irresponsible.”

Gingrich claims his tough stance is part of a key question going into the 2012 elections: “Do you want to move towards American exceptionalism, reassert the Constitution, reassert the nature of America, or do you, in fact, want to become a secular, European, sort of bureaucratic socialist society?”

In U.S., Many More Dreading Than Anticipating 2012 Campaign

Why young evangelicals are leaving church

Republican conservatives should be worried. Evangelical churches that frequently support conservative candidates are finally admitting something the rest of us have known for some time: Their young adult members are abandoning church in significant numbers and taking their voting power with them.

David Kinnaman, the 38-year-old president of the Barna Group, an evangelical research firm, is the latest to sound the alarm. In his new book, "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith," he says that 18- to 29-year-olds have fallen down a "black hole" of church attendance. There is a 43% drop in Christian church attendance between the teen and early adult years, he says.

I'm not surprised. These young dropouts value the sense of community their churches provide but are tired of being told how they should live their lives. They don't appreciate being condemned for living with a partner, straight or gay, outside of marriage or opting for abortion to terminate an unplanned pregnancy.

This doesn't mean that they necessarily will vote for President Obama in 2012. Jobs and higher wages are their priority just as they are for everyone else; the nominee who convinces the millennials that they'll be better off financially will get their vote. But if neither party is persuasive, the former evangelicals may vote Democratic because of that party's more moderate stance on social issues. Or they could simply sit out the election.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

CEO pay jumps 36.5%

Damn those lazy Occupiers!

'A new chapter': US officially ends Iraq war

BAGHDAD -- Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta marked the end of the U.S. war in Iraq at a highly symbolic ceremony Thursday.

U.S. soldiers rolled up the flag for American forces in Iraq and slipped it into a camouflage-colored sleeve, formally "casing" it, according to Army tradition.

Panetta said veterans of the nearly nine-year conflict can be "secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani were invited to the ceremony but did not attend.

Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives in a war that began with a "Shock and Awe" campaign of missiles pounding Baghdad, but later descended into a bloody sectarian struggle between long-oppressed majority Shiites and their former Sunni masters.

"After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real," Panetta added.

Working-age poor population highest since '60s

Working-age America is the new face of poverty.

Counting adults 18-64 who were laid off in the recent recession as well as single twenty-somethings still looking for jobs, the new working-age poor represent nearly 3 out of 5 poor people — a switch from the early 1970s when children made up the main impoverished group.

While much of the shift in poverty is due to demographic changes — Americans are having fewer children than before — the now-weakened economy and limited government safety net for workers are heightening the effect.

Currently, the ranks of the working-age poor are at the highest level since the 1960s when the war on poverty was launched. When new census figures for 2010 are released next week, analysts expect a continued increase in the overall poverty rate due to persistently high unemployment last year.

If that holds true, it will mark the fourth year in a row of increases in the U.S. poverty rate, which now stands at 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million people.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Immigration crackdown also snares Americans

A growing number of United States citizens have been detained under Obama administration programs intended to detect illegal immigrants who are arrested by local police.

In a spate of recent cases across the country, American citizens have been confined in local jails after federal immigration agents, acting on flawed information from Department of Homeland Security databases, instructed the police to hold them for investigation and possible deportation.

Americans said their vehement protests that they were citizens went unheard by local police and jailers for days, with no communication with federal immigration agents to clarify the situation. Any case where an American is held, even briefly, for immigration investigation is a potential wrongful arrest because immigration agents lack legal authority to detain citizens.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Household electricity bills skyrocket

Households paid a record $1,419 on average for electricity in 2010, the fifth consecutive yearly increase above the inflation rate, a USA TODAY analysis of government data found. The jump has added about $300 a year to what households pay for electricity. That's the largest sustained increase since a run-up in electricity prices during the 1970s.

Electricty is consuming a greater share of Americans' after-tax income than at any time since 1996 — about $1.50 of every $100 in income at a time when income growth has stagnated, a USA TODAY analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data found.

The man who predicted the European debt crisis

Europe’s politicians are making a hash out of the once-proud project of United Europe, and, in the process, making a prophet out of Martin Feldstein.

In 1997, before the first euro note had rolled off the presses, the Harvard economist surveyed Europe’s plans for a single currency and, in a lengthy essay in Foreign Affairs, predicted that they would come to grief.

Like many of his colleagues, Feldstein doubted the single currency’s economic viability absent political and fiscal union.

What Feldstein saw with special clarity, though, was the disaster that would ensue even — or perhaps especially — if Europe tried to increase political and fiscal union for the sake of monetary union.

As Feldstein wrote: “A political union of European nations is conceived of as a way of reducing the risk of another intra-European war among the individual nation-states. But the attempt to manage a monetary union and the subsequent development of a political union are more likely to have the opposite effect. Instead of increasing intra-European harmony and global peace, the shift to [monetary union] and the political integration that would follow it would be more likely to lead to increased conflicts within Europe and between Europe and the United States.”

Feldstein foresaw that the trigger for political tension would be a sharp economic downturn, imposing different levels of unemployment on different members of the monetary union, because high-unemployment countries could not recover their competitiveness through currency devaluation.

Wi-Fi beats cellular for tablet connections

Wireless carriers may be pricing themselves out of the tablet market; a new study shows that more tablet owners are choosing to use Wi-Fi only connections instead of cellular for their devices.

“There are multiple reasons for greater Wi-Fi reliance,” said Eddie Hold, vice president of Connected Intelligence, a part of The NPD Group. “Concern over the high cost of cellular data plans is certainly an issue, but more consumers are finding that Wi-Fi is available in the majority of locations where they use their tablets, providing them ‘good enough’ connectivity. In addition, the vast majority of tablet users already own a smartphone, which fulfills the ‘must have’ connectivity need.”

US halts $700 million in aid to Pakistan, demands action on Taliban bombs

ISLAMABAD - The United States has frozen $700 million in aid to Pakistan until it gets assurances that Islamabad is helping fight the spread of homemade bombs, a move likely to further strain ties between the countries.

A Congressional panel halted the payment to Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country that is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, late on Monday as part of a wider review of defense spending.

Calls are growing in the U.S. to penalize Islamabad for failing to act against militant groups and, at worst, helping them, after the secret U.S. raid on a Pakistan garrison town in which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in May.

Bill would permit robo-calls to your cell phone

James Murdoch warned over phone hacking, e-mail shows

Correspondence released Tuesday shows that James Murdoch was warned in writing of the seriousness of a threat to sue his News of the World newspaper over phone hacking in 2008.

"Unfortunately it is as bad as we feared," the editor of the tabloid e-mailed proprietor Murdoch about the case, according to a copy of the correspondence published by Parliament Tuesday.

The e-mail from Colin Myler appears to undercut Murdoch's repeated testimony that he did not know details about phone-hacking by his employees.

Murdoch concedes in a letter to lawmakers, also published Tuesday, that he replied to the e-mail, but he does not admit having read it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Albert Pujols is leaving St. Louis. Rejoice!

The liberation of St. Louis begins now.

Albert Pujols is leaving the city and you are free, dear people, to speak the truth. No longer do you have to cower. No longer do you have to worry about stern looks and furious retorts. No longer do you have to tiptoe around the mighty slugger and his Ruthian numbers, fearful that he might say to hell with riverboat casinos and go elsewhere, someplace warmer. No longer do you have to mindlessly utter the Cardinal company lines about all of Pujols' charity work and family life and what a wonderful person he is.

With Thursday's news that Pujols has agreed to a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Cardinals officials, players and fans are finally permitted say what has gone unsaid far too long -- that Albert Pujols is a pain in the rear.

Pakistan says U.S. drones in its air space will be shot down

According to the new Pakistani defense policy, "Any object entering into our air space, including U.S. drones, will be treated as hostile and be shot down," a senior Pakistani military official told NBC News.

The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Compulsive gamblers place risky bets because they are 'superstitious'

Compulsive gamblers place risky bets because they are 'superstitious'

Read more:

Compulsive gamblers place risky bets because they suffer from flawed reasoning and superstition, according to scientists.

The more impulsive the gambler, then the more likely he is to carry a lucky charm and explain away recent losses on bad luck.

Read more:

Schools on military bases outdoing public schools

How to explain the difference?

It has become fashionable for American educators to fly off to Helsinki to investigate how schools there produce such high-achieving Finns. But for just $69.95 a night, they can stay at the Days Inn in Jacksonville, N.C., and investigate how the schools here on the Camp Lejeune Marine base produce such higher-achieving Americans — both black and white.

They would find that the schools on base are not subject to former President George W. Bush's signature education program, No Child Left Behind, or to President Barack Obama's Race to the Top. They would find that standardized tests do not dominate and are not used to rate teachers, principals or schools.

They would find Leigh Anne Kapiko, the principal at Tarawa Terrace Elementary, one of seven schools here.

Test preparation? "No," Kapiko said. "That's not done in Department of Defense schools. We don't even have test prep materials."

At schools here, standardized tests are used as originally intended, to identify a child's academic weaknesses and assess the effectiveness of the curriculum.

Kapiko has been a principal both inside and outside the gates, and believes that military base schools are more nurturing than public schools. "We don't have to be so regimented, since we're not worried about a child's ability to bubble on a test," she said.

Military children are not put through test prep drills. "For us," Kapiko said, "children are children; they're not little Marines."

Under Obama's education agenda, state governments can now dictate to principals how to run their schools. In Tennessee — which is ranked 41st in NAEP scores and has made no significant progress in closing the black-white achievement gap on those tests in 20 years — the state now requires four formal observations a year for all teachers, regardless of whether the principal thinks they are excellent or weak. The state has declared that half of a teacher's rating must be based on student test scores.

Kapiko, on the other hand, has discretion in how to evaluate her teachers. For the most effective, she does one observation a year. That gives her and her assistant principal time for walk-through visits in every classroom every day.

"We don't micromanage," said Marilee Fitzgerald, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, the agency that supervises the military base schools and their 87,000 students. "Individual schools decide what to focus on."

A family's economic well-being has considerable impact on how students score on standardized tests, and it is hard to make exact comparisons between military and public school families. But by one indicator, families at military base schools and public schools have similar earnings: The portion of students who qualify for federally subsidized lunches is virtually identical at both, about 46 percent.

What is clear is that the base schools have made impressive progress in narrowing the achievement gap.

In the last decade, the gap in reading between black and white fourth-graders at base schools has dipped to 11 points this year (233 compared with 222), down from a 16-point difference in 2003 (230 compared with 214), a 31 percent reduction. In public schools, there has been a smaller decrease, to a 26-point gap this year (231 compared with 205) from 30 points in 2002 (227 compared with 197), a 13 percent reduction.

Engineers from St. Louis share top-secret work on Cold War spy satellite

We Need Globes

It’s hard not to wonder if the globe’s decline in prestige has anything to do with the dawn of geobrowser technologies like Google Earth. How can a spinning piece of cardboard stack up against a multi-terabyte virtual globe that includes 3-D buildings and trees, real-time weather and traffic, even underwater terrain complete with shipwrecks? I recently discovered that a bird’s-eye view of my Labrador retriever patrolling my backyard can now be glimpsed in the latest version of Google Earth. My office globe, by contrast, doesn’t even have room for Fresno, Calif.

But there may be hope for the humble globe. Bound atlases have stood up to digital encroachment much better than encyclopedias, because no screen can yet duplicate the tactile, immersive experience of exploring the Earth via paper maps. Globes have the same advantage, only in three dimensions. I’ve been typing these last few paragraphs amid constant interruptions from my 4-year-old daughter, who can’t keep her hands off the globe at my side. “Are these mountains?” she wants to know, rubbing her fingers over the relief of the Andes. “Why does this red line stay in the same place when I spin the world?” she asks about the equator.

A globe may be just an inexpensive cardboard sphere, but, more than 2,000 years after its invention, it’s still the real-life artifact that most closely resembles Jorge Luis Borges’ fictional “Aleph”—the object that makes all points of the universe visible at once. Google Earth may have the whole world, but to have the whole world in your hands, like the old spiritual says, you need a globe.

A few hacker teams do most China-based data theft

As few as 12 different Chinese groups, largely backed or directed by the government there, commit the bulk of the China-based cyberattacks stealing critical data from U.S. companies and government agencies, according to U.S. cybersecurity analysts and experts.

The aggressive but stealthy attacks, which have stolen billions of dollars in intellectual property and data, often carry distinct signatures allowing U.S. officials to link them to certain hacker teams. Analysts say the U.S. often gives the attackers unique names or numbers, and at times can tell where the hackers are and even who they may be.

Sketched out by analysts who have worked with U.S. companies and the government on computer intrusions, the details illuminate recent claims by American intelligence officials about the escalating cyber threat emanating from China. And the widening expanse of targets, coupled with the expensive and sensitive technologies they are losing, is putting increased pressure on the U.S. to take a much harder stand against the communist giant.

It is largely impossible for the U.S. to prosecute hackers in China, since it requires reciprocal agreements between the two countries, and it is always difficult to provide ironclad proof that the hacking came from specific people.

Several analysts described the Chinese attacks, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigations and to protect the privacy of clients. China has routinely rejected allegations of cyberspying and says it also is a target.

"Industry is already feeling that they are at war," said James Cartwright, a retired Marine general and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Doggies 2, Hunters 0.

Police employ Predator drone spy planes on home front,0,324348.story

Armed with a search warrant, Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke went looking for six missing cows on the Brossart family farm in the early evening of June 23. Three men brandishing rifles chased him off, he said.

Janke knew the gunmen could be anywhere on the 3,000-acre spread in eastern North Dakota. Fearful of an armed standoff, he called in reinforcements from the state Highway Patrol, a regional SWAT team, a bomb squad, ambulances and deputy sheriffs from three other counties.

He also called in a Predator B drone.

As the unmanned aircraft circled 2 miles overhead the next morning, sophisticated sensors under the nose helped pinpoint the three suspects and showed they were unarmed. Police rushed in and made the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with help from a Predator, the spy drone that has helped revolutionize modern warfare.

But that was just the start. Local police say they have used two unarmed Predators based at Grand Forks Air Force Base to fly at least two dozen surveillance flights since June. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have used Predators for other domestic investigations, officials said.

Alabama Can't Find Anyone to Fill Illegal Immigrants' Old Jobs

Alabama agriculture officials are stumped over how to keep farms operating now that the state's draconian new immigration law chased away all of the low paid (however illegal) labor.

As waistlines expand, boat capacity sinks

Think Kids With Lasers, But Worse

No stopping this, if some of these weapons go on the market

Police test for riot laser that can temporarily blind

A new laser designed to temporarily blind people is going to be trialled by police.

Called the SMU 100 it costs £25,000 and sends out a three-metre "wall of light" that leaves anyone caught in it briefly unable to see.

Designed by a former Royal Marine Commando, it was originally developed for use against pirates in Somalia.

It's makers claim an unnamed police force is set to trial the device which could be used against rioters.

Since the riots in several English towns and cities over the summer there has been extensive examination of the tools and tactics police use for large-scale crowd trouble.

While tasers and CS gas work well over short distances the laser is said to be effective at up to 500 metres (1,640ft).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

After The Smoke Clears- The Next America

This is a speculation on what might be the condition of the continental US, post 2050-60. I'll have been dead for at least a generation by then.


Borderer/Scots-Irish culture remains the deciding factor in American politics.

Natural resources will be even more precious, and shorter in supply. Energy is easier to obtain than petroleum, or more tellingly, water. Food depends on all three.

The US will be forced willy-nilly back to the Northern and Western Hemispheres, with perhaps Japan and the English speaking countries as exceptions. Economics, and more effective enemies will force this.

This cycle will follow the pattern of the Civil War, with much less bloodshed.

Currently, the US is geographically purple, with large urban centers surrounded by large rural zones. This year, migration to the Sun Belt effectively stopped- a portent. The South and West are very energy intensive places to live, and dominated by Borderer culture. The West knows all too well about the coming water war. Note what happened in Texas this year with the drought.

When the curtain raises, there may, or may not be a "United States" as an official government. The country will have, de facto, split into four regions. State boundaries may, or may not be retained (see "How the States Got Thier Shapes"). The Rio Grande, and Red/Arkansas Rivers, along with the Ohio and Missouri rivers may well be the new borders for many of the new regions. Water is key. Access to the sea is also key.

The first "American"region, loosely, is Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific Coast north of, say Oxnard, and mostly west of the Sierras and Cascades. This region depends on trade with Asia, natural resources, and ample fresh water. BC, and Alberta may effectively join them. LA and San Diego become effectively part of the Mexamerica complex that forms from the end of Mexico's Civil War. Mexamerica divides the Pacific region from the second "American" region- The Old West. This area is bounded by the Rio Grande to Santa Fe, and then irregularly northwestwards towards Montana and Idaho. It halts on the eastern and northern sides by the TX/LA border, and the Missouri river. Water is worth more than human life, as are extractable resources. A plutocracy rules over a very restive, thirsty, and desperate population.

The third region is The South. It shares the shape of the Old Confederacy closely. The real border is where air conditioning is needed for survival. Economically and morally humbled by history, the South has reverted into the Celtic Wars written large. The Borderers know that they are the guilty parties, but, like Reconstruction, will never admit it.

No responsible party pretends that this region is more than a banana republic. Contracts are hard to enforce, and the population is poor, tribal and hostile to any outside influence. There is a constant outflow of refugees fleeing the South. Florida has trade ties to the outside world (and it's own weird culture), and there is some industry, plus the mouth of the Mississippi River for trade. The region is energy intensive, and subject to natural disasters on a regular basis. Only the coasts are relatively safe, for tourism, and trade.

The last region is the North. It has finally divorced it's alcoholic, abusive spouse. It is attending a Twelve Step Program. The North is poorer than the Old Golden Age America, but better adjusted and healthier. It has close ties to Canada (sans Quebec), and the other Anglo countries. There is more than enough water. The North retained the nukes, and is still a major air, space, and naval power. (The North rents Florida's Space Coast, much to the chagrin of the South) The standard of living is below the UK, EU, and Canada, but far superior to the South and Old West. Shorter distances, large amounts of hydro and nuclear power, and the restoration of the northern tier states agriculture system without oil have made the North self supporting. Trade with Africa and Europe is also strong. cheap electric heating makes winter barely bearable.

It is as if the North had given up on the South in 1865. Recovery from the destructive relationship more than makes up for the loss of world prestige. The rest of the world has it's own problems. The destruction of Israel merely resulted in an exodus of it's best citizens to the US, UK, and EU. The Middle East is in constant war. China, Russia, and India are fighting out "The Great Game". The Brits get to mock all of them with Kipling quotes. Japan has long since gone nuclear, and is actively trying to get into space, and away from China.

It's a great era to relax in front of the TV, drink cheap beer, and watch the Cardinals. All it took was forty years of sheer hell...

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Politics of Economics in the Age of Shouting

In the Internet age, anyone can be an expert, and anyone who says otherwise is an elitist.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Britain expels Iranian diplomats after torching of embassy in Tehran

LONDON • Britain ordered all Iranian diplomats out of the U.K. within 48 hours and shuttered its ransacked embassy in Tehran on Wednesday, in a significant escalation of tension between Iran and the West.

The ouster of the entire Iranian diplomatic corps deepens Iran's international isolation amid growing suspicions over its nuclear program. At least four other European countries also moved to reduce diplomatic contacts with Iran.

The British measures were announced by Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said Britain had withdrawn its entire diplomatic staff after mobs stormed the British Embassy compound and a diplomatic residence in Tehran, hauling down Union Jack flags, torching a vehicle and tossing looted documents through windows.

Read more:

Internet Rage

"It is possible, though, that there is just more bitterness out there than we realized before the Internet brought us closer to people’s rawest, quickest, uncensored thoughts. (That rooting around for a stamp, the walk to the mailbox through the fresh air, the name at the bottom of the letter, did seem to have a mitigating effect on expressions of blind hatred.)"

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Observations 27 NOV 2011

"Well, I guess you had to be there"

I've just looked at the hundreds of items I have mailed to myself. From an archival point of view, it's a capture of what has been going on, in my worldview. But, unless I post a continuous feed of what is happening, it's mostly useless to share it. Old news, et al.

Social media is corrupting almost everything, and I'm facing up to the fact that I'm just not quite up to being a full-time analyst of the world situation. I have a Real Life (tm), and a job. I'm not made to be plugged in at all times.

Example: Google+.

I was invited to join by a friend (and did), but I cannot think of anything to post in near real-time that wouldn't get me lynched, fired, or both. Plus I'm someone born in the Eisenhower Administration. I enjoy talking by phone, or, better, meeting others in person. That's my social medium.

It was a bad week for most of my co-workers. Holidays can be hell, especially with families. I rested up, studied a little, and began upgrading my computer systems and network to reach Win 7 compliance. This means I have to be Super-Librarian about my records.

Speaking of which, I visited the Doggie Library. Budget cuts had decimated the shelves. Another piece of the social contract being ignored, another decline in society. All due to the economy.

Oh. I challenged my CIO to play poker with me at the annual holiday party. For some reason, he refused... :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Notable Quote

This is an open title for quotes heard in passing.

Note: sorry I have not been updating lately; I'm taking an *intense* IT class.

Here's the quote:

"Just because you're a nihlist, doesn't mean you can't also be a hypocrite".

Friday, October 7, 2011

Goodbye WRBU...

Saddled with millions of dollars in recent judgments for failure to pay licensing fees, television station operator Roberts Broadcasting filed for bankruptcy Friday.

Sprint In Trouble

Anger At Wall Street Reaches New Highs

The Occupy Wall Street protest may be the answer to a favorite question of social scientists ever since the bank bailouts of 2008 -- where is the social movement? Americans are famously willing to tolerate a relatively large amount of income inequality (especially compared to our European counterparts). Americans love meritocracy, and are typically quite happy to see hard work rewarded, even to the tune of millions of dollars, as is often the case on Wall Street. But there is a catch — we want the rules of the game to be fair.

Recent scandals involving Wall Street banks and financial institutions, headed by some of the world's most well-paid managers, executives and analysts, have many Americans asking themselves whether this game is rigged. It is this sense of injustice, coupled with economic insecurity, that animates changes in Americans' attitudes toward Wall Street. It's not just a small number of Americans, those who are actually "occupying" Wall Street, who feel such injustice. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

In a paper forthcoming in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly, I examine Americans' attitudes toward banks, financial institutions and Wall Street over the last 40 years and look at historical trends in how Americans perceive the honesty and ethical practices of bankers.

Animosity toward Wall Street is at its highest level in at least 40 years. Americans have never exactly loved Wall Street stockbrokers or bankers—but we certainly didn't always hate them. Why this increasing hostility? The answer is a "perfect storm" of financial turmoil and a series of major scandals on Wall Street.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I broke my rule of not lurking on the political boards, because a friend had just had her pet die, and wanted to see the response. It was sympathetic.

But in the process, I found out just who had had me banned from the board. Who it was, was not a surprise.

Now, more than ever, I'm glad I no longer need to participate in that insanity.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Obama's Biggest Mistake

With all the silliness that has transpired during his Presidency, people forgot that his biggest mistake was made before Election Day:

He wanted to be President after George W. Bush.

Now, there is transformation you can believe in. The consequences are locked-in.

Now, there are people who want to run for President against Obama. Obviously, the smartest GOP candidate is Mike Huckabee, who is sitting this out.

Rick Perry wants to be the third Bad President From Texas (LBJ, Bush the Younger).

If he succeeds, there won't be another President from Texas for centuries. He failed to ask himself if he wanted to be President after Bush *and* Obama.

The most important move in poker, is if you want to really sit down at *that* table. (Pre-flop decision is next).

The dog and I plan to nap through the election frenzy. We already know how the movie ends, regardless of who is cast in the lead role.


Ask any resident of a flooded out area in the Northeast just how overhyped Irene was, as they face the flooding problems.

A tornado passed over LAMBERT FIELD, for Elvis' sake, and people bitched about sirens going off too often. Ask the residents of North County just how over-hyped the warnings were. I have co-workers with houses destroyed, and injuries from that.


Observations 9 SEP 2011

I have several hundred links I've mailed to myself to post here. Perhaps half a dozen will make it.

Work is busy. I like my new position.

The weather has finally broken, ending an emotionally and physically draining summer.

One of my friends on the political board has possible knee surgery coming up due to arthritis. My mother had to do the same, and regretted it. I hope my New Mexico friend has better luck. Arthritis is common in my family, so I'm not looking forward to the inevitable pain.

One of my friends has moved out of the city proper, and into the inner suburbs not far from me. I'm envious of his lovely, newly built house. He won't let me rent from him...

Scruffy is well. I've found a BBQ place that he loves the bones from.

Someone is building a large, new house at the end of my block. Unfortunately, it is on a lot that drops nearly 50 ft/15 m down to floodplain. The huge surface area is going to add to runoff. It will also be a prime place for drivers to fail to make the turn south on the connecting street, and wind up on the new house's front porch. The connecting street is too narrow, and is breaking down under the current load of traffic headed to Manchester Road. If it were not the route that our power and phone lines come in on, I would be amused.

Separate posts on other matters to come.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Revelation: Tired People Screw Up And Make Bad Calls

There was nothing malicious or even unusual about the judges’ behavior, which was reported earlier this year by Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University. The judges’ erratic judgment was due to the occupational hazard of being, as George W. Bush once put it, “the decider.” The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down. This sort of decision fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and C.F.O.’s prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor — in fact, it can take a special toll on the poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

President Obama bends to blackmail

Pretty much the whole story here:

A six-shooter lies gleaming on the table. There are five bullets in its chambers. You spin the cylinder and hold the gun to America’s head.

“Stop, don’t pull the trigger!” says Barack Obama. “We can’t risk America’s future.”

“Aww, go ahead and shoot,” say the Republicans. “Maybe it will reduce the size of government … permanently.”

And that was the debt ceiling debate. President Obama was not willing to risk a default that might ruin the American economy and topple the world’s financial system.

The Republicans, or more specifically the tea party Republicans in the House, simply did not care. Some said that they wanted default. It would be healthy. America could sell off its national parks and the gold reserves in Fort Knox. I kid you not. You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Or we could simply not pay the military. Now there was an idea! There are 1,137,568 members of the military currently stationed in the United States. They have rifles, tanks, artillery, jets and missiles. And we’re not going to pay them? I don’t think so.

In the end, the Republicans got what they wanted.


Money quote:

In a new CNN poll, 77 percent of Americans said that the elected officials who dealt with the debt ceiling acted like spoiled children.

Spoiled children everywhere should be insulted.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Science center tops pay in district

Things won't get fixed, until this sort of thing gets fixed. Unfortunately, it will require a great deal more pain:

The St. Louis Science Center last year spent more on compensation for its top executives, and took up a larger share of its payroll for them, than any other tax-supported cultural institution in the Zoo-Museum District.

The nine highest-paid executives at the science center in 2010 collectively received more than $2 million in compensation, which includes salary, retirement packages and other benefits. That made up 19 percent of what the science center paid for its entire staff, which includes 184 full-time employees and 410 part-timers.

None of the other four local institutions that receive tax money paid that much collectively to their highest-earning executives — those making more than $150,000 in total compensation — or took up that much of their payroll for them.

Some Bankers Never Learn

Why Voters Tune Out Democrats

Read this:

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Re Casting Dr. Strangelove

Since we seem to be re-living that dark comedy, I have been thinking about casting.

Grover Norquist as Dr. Strangelove.

John Boehener as General Turgidson

Eric Cantor as General Jack D. Ripper

And the South Carolina Congressional delegation as the bomber crew.


Friday, July 29, 2011

South Carolina Wants It's Own Tag On

Debt ceiling bill puts South Carolina vs. the world in House

The freshmen are some of the most conservative members of their class—Mulvaney proposed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill two weeks ago to freeze defense spending at FY 2011 levels and was soundly defeated by members of his own party. Last month, he opened up to POLITICO about his delegation’s “South Carolina versus the world” mentality.

“I know it’s been frustrating to our leadership sometimes, because they look at South Carolina and say, ‘What are these crazy guys going to do now?’ But all we’re doing is being true to our state,” Mulvaney said.

Duncan said at that time that their leadership had “gotten the message very clearly early on from us. They know we’re going to talk; we’re going to try to be like-minded when it comes to representing South Carolina.”

The positions taken by Sen. Jim DeMint — a conservative powerhouse nationally and especially in the state — undoubtedly loom large over the House delegation. The House freshmen periodically put DeMint on conference call to seek his advice on votes. DeMint was a strong opponent of the Boehner plan, appearing at a Tea Party rally Wednesday to urge members of Congress to “hold the line” against any vote but the Cut, Cap, and Balance plan passed in the House. The four freshmen insisted they were “no” or “lean no” votes throughout the week.

Asked whether divine intervention might hit during prayer Thursday night, Scott said: “Divine inspiration already happened. I was a lean no, and now I’m a no.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The evil of Rupert Murdoch

The editors had talked to Murdoch at length, and he had given them his personal assurance that the paper’s quality would be maintained. Within a few months, all those editors were gone. They had quit in disgust or had been shown the door. Murdoch imported his own thugs and stooges from Britain to run the place.

Read more:

Did U.S. firm use bribery to land fuel contract for U.S. forces in Iraq?

A lawsuit in Florida has cracked open a rare window into the cloistered world of high-level war contracting, as a billionaire oilman defends himself against allegations that his company paid off Jordanian government officials to control supply lines of fuel to U.S. forces in Iraq.

The controversial businessman at the center of the trial that began last week in Palm Beach is Harry Sargeant III, a retired Top Gun pilot and former GOP fundraiser who is denying the lawsuit’s claim that an ex-CIA agent working at his oil company wired a $9 million bribe to the head of Jordan’s intelligence agency in 2007.

Mohammad al-Saleh, the plaintiff in the case first reported by NBC News in May 2008, is a member of Jordan’s royal family. He claims that the payment was a kickback that helped Sargeant perpetuate a monopoly on shipping fuel though Jordan to U.S. bases in neighboring Iraq.

The existence of the monopoly was confirmed by a congressional investigation in 2008 that accused Sargeant’s energy business, the International Oil Trading Co. (IOTC), of gouging the Pentagon in what it called the “worst form of war profiteering.” A Pentagon audit found this year that IOTC was overpaid by as much as $200 million on fuel contracts dating from 2005. The company, however, insists it was underpaid and has sued the U.S. government for $75 million.

Column: Could Murdoch scandal happen in U.S. media?

"Why should the public trust us?"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Busy, busy, busy!

I've been in my new position for two weeks, and I've had little time to update the blog. It's a good job. But, I have a lot more territory to cover. It's quite a physical shock, especially in the heat. I'm slowly moving into my new workspace.

I literally had to buy new shoes.

I have a fair number of articles to note for posting. The debt and Rupert Murdoch meltdowns are fun to watch.

Scruffy had his annual exam, and is now ready for his trim.

Regrettably, the sewer in the basement was clogged by tree roots, and Roto-Rooter profited. I also lost the load of clothes in the washer. The car needs new tires. Life goes on.

One of my oldest friends is moving from the city to the county. His house was the Library Of Congress for us in the old days, so seeing *bare walls* in the old house was a considerable shock. The new house has more than double the space, and a far better garage.

The heat has restricted Scruffy and my own movements. He's not a puppy anymore, and neither is my old body.

I still need to clean out space for my house's gaming area. All is about 60% ready, but a house cleaning is needed.

TV DX'ing is getting worse by the day. The coming FCC-mandated TV spectrum loss will render most TV DX'ing moot before the end of the decade.

Almost ready to upgrade my amateur radio license. Life interfered with it during June; I'm hoping for late August, now.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Aren't You Glad People Like This Bought Classic 99 FM?

The general manager of Briarwood Presbyterian Church's radio station faces charges of lewd and lascivious behavior after Florida authorities said he propositioned a teen girl and another woman in Seagrove Beach Wednesday, all while he was naked from the waist down.

James Ashley Hulgan, 40, of Leeds, exposed himself to a 15-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman, said Walton County sheriff's officials.

[See booking report from the Walton County, Fla., jail]

According to the arrest report, Hulgan was driving on County Road 30A about 12:30 p.m. when he called the females to his van and asked them if they knew where there was a nude beach. The victims, according to the report, saw his genitals. Sheriff's officials said he told the woman and the girl to get in the van with him. They did not.

Sheriff's deputies caught up with Hulgan about 2:15 p.m. at a nearby apartment. They asked him if he knew why they were there. "He stated he was driving around and decided to go to a nude beach," according to the sheriff's report. "He stated he loved being naked and had been to a nude beach before and loved it."

The report further said: "The defendant stated while he was in his vehicle he took his clothes off because he loved being naked. He stated he pulled up to a couple of girls and asked them where the nude beach was because he didn't know where it was."

Jail records show Hulgan is charged with one count of lewd and lascivious behavior, a second-degree felony, and one count of indecent exposure, a first-degree misdemeanor.

On jail records, Hulgan lists his occupation as manager of WLJR, which is located at Briarwood Presbyterian Church.

Hulgan also is president of Best View productions, a video company that has shot footage of high school sports and cheerleading, local pageants and competitive cheer and dance competitions throughout the Jefferson and Shelby county areas, according to his website. Hulgan's website also said he is the manager of Briarwood Church Video Ministry.

Efforts to reach Hulgan for comment were unsuccessful. Briarwood officials did not immediately return a call for comment.

Hulgan was released this morning from the Walton County Jail.

Advertise on Atop TV Sets, a Power Drain That Runs Nonstop

The biggest challenge in reducing energy use is maintaining the rapid response time now expected of home entertainment systems, Mr. Turner said. “People are used to the idea that computers take some time to boot up,” he said, “but they expect the TV to turn on instantly.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Amends Served Up On A Sword

Went to a meeting, and two things stuck with me:

What if we got to interview our parents for the job?

A resentful apology from one who has harmed us, is like amends, being served up on a sword.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Many Cities Face a Long Wait for Jobs to Return

Two years into a fitful recovery, unemployed Americans are getting painfully accustomed to the notion that it will take years to bring back the jobs eviscerated by the financial crisis.

In some regions, those years are in danger of turning into a decade. According to a report to be released Monday, nearly 50 metropolitan regions — or more than one out of seven — are unlikely to bring back all the jobs lost in the recession until after 2020.

Among those areas are Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio; Detroit; Reno, Nev.; and Atlantic City, according to the report commissioned by the United States Conference of Mayors.

Detroit, which lost 323,400 jobs during the recession, and Reno, which lost 36,000 jobs, are not expected to regain all of those positions until after 2021.

With job creation having slowed to a crawl and the housing market depressed by foreclosures and falling prices, the economy is struggling to put 13.9 million unemployed Americans back to work.

According to the mayors’ report, which was compiled by IHS Global Insight, the nation’s 363 metropolitan statistical areas tracked by the Labor Department will generate enough jobs to get back to only the prerecession peak of employment in the first half of 2014, a dreary forecast that poses an increasing political challenge to the Obama administration. The areas lost 7.3 million total jobs during the recession from a peak of 118.3 million in the first quarter of 2008.

The report notes that metro regions account for about 86 percent of all jobs.

“It is striking, it’s sobering and it’s a call to action,” said Antonio R. Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles and the president of the Conference of Mayors. Mr. Villaraigosa suggested that the federal government invest in infrastructure as well as work force training. The mayors’ report projected that the Los Angeles region, which lost 537,100 jobs during the downturn, would not gain them back before 2018.

The forecasts do not account for the number of jobs that need to be created just to account for normal population growth. As a result, said James Diffley, senior director at IHS Global Insight, even when the economy adds back the jobs lost during the recession, the unemployment rate, now at 9.1 percent, is likely to be significantly higher than the 4.4 percent it was before the crisis.

Among the largest metropolitan regions that will have a long road to recovery are manufacturing centers in Ohio and Michigan, where huge waves of layoffs at car plants and other factories affected thousands of workers.

“The type of jobs lost are not easily replaced,” said Lucious Plant, work force development manager in Montgomery County, which includes Dayton and surrounding communities. The region was overwhelmed by thousands of job losses at plants operated by General Motors and the parts supplier Delphi Automotive.

Mr. Plant said that old-line factory workers did not necessarily have the skills for the jobs that are now being added by advanced manufacturers. Dayton, which lost 42,500 jobs — or more than 10 percent of its labor force — during the recession, has had some luck attracting new employers recently, landing a Caterpillar Logistics distribution center that is expected to eventually bring on 600 people. Also, the back-office operations of a law firm added about 200 jobs.

Since losing a job at Delphi in 2008, Josh Hamer has been taking odd jobs repairing computers and is attending community college on government grants to earn an associate’s degree in network management. In the meantime, he has filed hundreds of job applications.

“I want anything that will pay the bills,” said Mr. Hamer, 32. “But they see Delphi and they see me applying for an office job, and they say, ‘You can’t do this job because you’re not qualified for it.’ They see grunt work, and they see a grunt.”

Other regions were hammered by the housing collapse and are having difficulty climbing back. In Naples, Fla., which lost 25,200 jobs during the recession, local economic development officials are focusing on small businesses in the technology and medical device sectors, industries that may not help unemployed construction workers. The mayors’ report projects that the area will get back to its prerecession peak by 2017.

Tammie Nemecek, chief executive of the Economic Development Council of Collier County, Fla., said the region might not recapture all the jobs it lost. “There’s a lot of people saying I want a new economy so we can ensure that there’s sustainability in it,” she said.

The mayors’ report does project faster recovery in some regions, including several metropolitan areas in Texas, as well as Denver; Raleigh, N.C.; and Washington.

Global Insight forecasts that the New York metropolitan region, which lost 385,200 jobs during the recession, will get back to its prerecession peak by 2013, in part because the financial sector did not lose as many jobs as feared. That could change as Wall Street, facing falling markets and an uncertain regulatory climate, plans further cuts to its work force.

Some metropolitan regions disputed the forecasts. In Cleveland, where Global Insight projects a return to peak employment in 2021, Mayor Frank G. Jackson’s chief of staff, Ken Silliman, said that Cleveland’s unemployment rate, 7.6 percent, was the seventh lowest of the metropolitan areas with more than 1.5 million people.

He added that a newly built medical center was “staking out Cleveland as a national leader in medical technology” and that the area would recapture the jobs it lost within three to five years “without a doubt.”

Mr. Diffley of Global Insight said that many regions were trying to brand themselves as leaders in new sectors. “It’s not a zero sum game,” Mr. Diffley said. “But everybody can’t be a leader in the field they’d like to be, by definition.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cost of prom rises, leaving many kids left out

The reality is that those "midnight masquerades," "enchantments under the sea" and "midsummer night's dreams" have become the latest battleground between the haves and have-nots in this country.

Between tickets, attire, shoes, accessories, flowers, limousines, photographers and after-parties, the average family with a high school student attending the prom spent a whopping $807 this year, according to a recent survey by Visa.

But nearly a quarter of families spent nothing at all -- because they could not afford to let the kids go. "Some people are opting out entirely because times are tight and the social cost of admission is so high now," said Jason Alderman, director of Visa's financial education programs.

Poverty a problem for pay TV

For years, execs at pay TV companies and telcos boasted about their growth as subscribers continued to pay more for new cable services, next-generation smartphones and faster broadband. Amid the euphoria, however, those execs didn't address what might happen to their bottom lines when consumers could no longer swallow those increasingly larger bills.

They may be facing that reality soon. In a foreboding new report, one analyst concludes that a major risk facing companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and AT&T is not heated competition from each other, or a fast growing outlier like Netflix, but rather poverty. "The poverty problem provides a new and sobering lens for any serious analysis of the telecom and media sectors," concluded Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett. "At the low end, customers aren't just choosing between one provider and another. They're often choosing between these services and a third meal." His 96-page report, "U.S. Telecommunications and Cable & Satellite: The Poverty Problem," was released Friday and was certain to have ruined the long Memorial Day weekend for at least a few media execs.

To underscore his premise, Moffett offered some data that would make any sales force out pushing subscriptions cringe.

• About two-thirds of American families subsist on less than the average after-tax income of $62,000 a year. "We are, sadly, a country where most Americans are below average," Moffett wrote.

• Fifty million Americans are on food stamps.

• Forty-nine million are considered "food insecure," with no confidence where the next meal is coming from.

• Forty-four million Americans now live below the poverty line.

"The picture of an America where 40% of households are essentially bereft of discretionary spending power has incredibly important implications for companies in our coverage," Moffett wrote.

Average price of a pay TV subscription has risen 29% in the past five years, while real income growth has declined. Cable and satellite providers now reap on average $77.43 a month from each subscriber. This, of course, includes gains from new services like high-def and DVRs.

As worrisome as Moffett's report may be, pay TV execs could be lulled in to a false sense of security after seeing TV subscriptions rebound through 2010, ending the year with gains of 250,000 after seeing subs fall earlier in the year for the first time ever. Still, some companies like Time Warner Cable began offering lower-priced economy tiers of services to capture and retain customers on tight budgets.

While media consumption has not been affected historically by bad economies, Moffett points out that "the media industry has not a faced a macro environment like this before" or so many alternatives. "No one would argue that the entertainment choices offered by Netflix are better than what's available on cable," he wrote, "and neither of those offered by Hulu, or YouTube. But when faced with a choice of pay TV or a third meal, will some customers choose to make do with a back catalog or off-the-run TV shows and movies? Of course they will."

Telcos faces similar challenges. Moffett said the bulk of telco spending gains are concentrated in the top 40% of households in terms of income. Forty percent of smartphone owners come from the top 20% of the economy. Meanwhile, lower-income users are trading down to less-expensive, pre-paid plans. "Notably, despite the fact that we are on what is perhaps the very steepest part of the wireless data adoption curve, total (average revenues per user) growth in the United States is negative today. The trade-down for the bottom end is faster than the trade-up for the top," he wrote. "Excluding the nontraditional subscriptions, penetration of post-paid wireless has been falling in America for more than a year."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

British fear 'American-style' healthcare system,0,1237142.story

Reporting from London—
Two years ago, Britons were outraged when U.S. politicians like Sarah Palin, in the debate over healthcare reform, turned this country's National Health Service into a public whipping boy, denouncing it as "evil," "Orwellian" and generally the enemy of everything good and true.

It's time for some payback.

Britain is now embroiled in a healthcare argument of its own, prompted by a proposed shake-up of the NHS. And the phrase on everyone's lips is "American-style," which may not be as catchy as the "death panels" that Palin attributed to socialized medicine but which, over here, inspires pretty much the same kind of terror.

Ask a Briton to describe "American-style" healthcare, and you'll hear a catalog of horrors that include grossly expensive and unnecessary medical procedures and a privatized system that favors the rich. For a people accustomed to free healthcare for all, regardless of income, the fact that millions of their cousins across the Atlantic have no insurance and can't afford decent treatment is a farce as well as a tragedy.

But critics here warn that a similarly bleak future may await Britain if a government plan to put more power in the hands of doctors and introduce more competition into the NHS succeeds — privatization by stealth, they say.

So frightening is the Yankee example that any British politician who values his job has to explicitly disavow it as a possible outcome. Twice.

"We will not be selling off the NHS, we will not be moving towards an insurance scheme, we will not introduce an American-style private system," Prime Minister David Cameron emphatically told a group of healthcare workers in a nationally televised address last week.

In case they didn't hear it the first time, Cameron repeated the dreaded "A"-word in a list of five guarantees he offered the British people at the end of his speech.

"If you're worried that we're going to sell off the NHS or create some American-style private system, we will not do that," he said. "In this country we have the most wonderful, precious institution and also precious idea that whenever you're ill … you can walk into a hospital or a surgery and get treated for free, no questions asked, no cash asked. It is the idea at the heart of the NHS, and it will stay. I will never put that at risk."

Cameron's eagerly declared devotion to the NHS illustrates the totemic role it plays in British society, an institution so cherished that some describe it as the closest thing here to a truly national religion. Created in 1948, as the country struggled to rise from the ashes of World War II, the NHS is widely hailed as the welfare state's biggest triumph.

Since then, it has bloomed into a behemoth that gobbles up nearly $170 billion a year in taxpayer money — an amount set to grow along with Britain's aging population — and is one of the nation's largest employers.

Governments of all stripes have taken office pledging to reform the system, to streamline it and make it more efficient, but none has fully succeeded, knowing that they tinker with the NHS at their peril. The current Conservative Party-led coalition, which has embarked on the most radical public spending cuts in a generation, has promised not to take a penny from the health service.

To each other, Britons love to complain about the NHS, retailing gruesome tales of substandard care, of long waiting lists for simple operations like hip replacements, of snotty surgeons and naughty nurses. But when Americans began citing the NHS as the epitome of socialized medicine gone wrong, people here bristled.

Fear that Britain is becoming more like the U.S. extends beyond healthcare. "American-style" is also the epithet of choice to describe the direction of Britain's higher-education system.

To make up for lost state funding, many public universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have decided to take advantage of a new law allowing them to charge students a maximum of $14,750 in annual tuition, nearly triple the current price tag. Shelling out huge sums for college may be part of the American way, but Britons don't like it.

Last week, well-known philosopher A.C. Grayling caused a stir by announcing the creation of a private university, featuring top British and U.S. academics, that will charge nearly $30,000 a year.

There have also been demonstrations over the proposed NHS overhaul. Britons are so uneasy about the changes that a sheepish Cameron was forced to put them on hold and ordered his ministers to go on a two-month listening tour to hear out voters.

"We recognize that many people have had concerns about what we were doing," Cameron said. "This has been a genuine chance for people … to work together to strengthen the institution we all love and hold dear."

The results of the review, and the government's expected concessions, are to be unveiled this week.

The changes will be debated in the public arena and fought over in Parliament. Doctors' groups will no doubt say one thing, patients' advocates another. In the end, lawmakers will probably approve a messy healthcare compromise that will anger many and please few.

Which just goes to show that maybe Britain and America aren't so different after all.

Army Brings Back Caps, Tosses Berets

About damn time:

The U.S. Army is abandoning the beret, after a failed 10-year experiment.

The black beret, which proved deeply unpopular with American soldiers, will be replaced by a patrol cap for everyday wear, U.S. Army spokesman Colonel Tom Collins said Monday.

The move came after outgoing Army chief of staff, General Martin Dempsey, asked the army's sergeant major "to go out and talk to soldiers across the force and see what was on their minds," Collins told AFP.

"One of the things that soldiers consistently brought up was the desire to wear the patrol cap as part of their duty uniform," he said.

The beret will still be part of the Army's dress uniform, but will no longer be worn in the field as soldiers complained that it was impractical, he said.

"It does not have a visor and doesn't shield the sun, doesn't absorb sweat well," Collins said.

One soldier put it more bluntly.

"I hate wearing a wet sock on my head," Chief Warrant Officer Mark Vino, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, told the Army Times. "Plus it makes head/skin break out."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bistate recovery trails U.S. rate

Both Missouri and Illinois suffered in the Great Recession. Now they're falling behind in the recovery.

Economic growth was slower than average in both states in 2010, and is expected to stay that way for years to come, according to a pair of new reports out Tuesday.

The Commerce Department said that Missouri's economy grew a little more than half as fast as the nation as a whole in 2010; Illinois' grew at about three-fourths the national rate. This comes after steeper-than-average declines in 2009, and growth rates that have generally lagged the nation for a decade.

And it doesn't appear they'll be catching up any time soon. A second report, from forecasting firm IHS Global Insight, predicts that personal income will grow more slowly in both states than in much of the country at least through 2016.

This makes sense to Fred Giertz, an economist at the University of Illinois. Both states have relatively slow-growing populations, and without adding people, it's harder to grow your economy. He notes that the unemployment rate in Illinois, at 8.6 percent in April, is slightly lower than the nation's right now — a relatively rare thing.

But, Giertz says, the recovery has been "very, very slow." He keeps a monthly index of tax receipts in Illinois, a sort of first read on income and spending in the state, and an early indicator of its economy. That index has climbed for 12 straight months, yet it's still below the point suggesting healthy growth.

In Missouri — where the St. Louis area makes up at least 40 percent of the state's $244 billion economy — growth has been lagging for a long time. Adjusted for inflation, economic output per person actually fell slightly in the 2000s, while growing nearly 7 percent nationwide.

There are many reasons for this, said Jim Diffley, an economist with IHS who studies regional economies.

Part of it is slow population growth, and part of it is simply the mix of businesses in the state. Looking ahead, he expects that places with strong high-tech manufacturing and business service sectors will thrive. Regions that depend on construction and retail spending will continue to lag.

"You need to be on the cutting edge of the things that are in demand tomorrow," he said.

Of course, that's easier said than done.

In April, Missouri officials wrapped up a six-month-long study of the state's economy, with a panel of business leaders recommending a focus on sectors such as advanced manufacturing, biotech and financial services. David Kerr, head of Missouri's Department of Economic Development, has said that the plan will be refined and rolled out over the next few years, but that they would start right away.

They're working on implementation now, said DED spokesman John Fougere, and he said the new numbers highlighted the need for a new approach. "This is exactly why Gov. Nixon launched the process," Fougere said.

Meanwhile, St. Louis-area business groups such as the Regional Chamber and Growth Association have criticized state legislators for their inability to reach a compromise on reforming development tax credits — which in turn has stalled new incentive programs to help Missouri's science, IT and air cargo industries.

But, Giertz said, there's only so much government can do. It can establish a stable tax climate, build roads, provide good schools. The rest is really up to the private sector.

"Governors get blamed and governors take credit," he said. "But most of what happens happens because of the dynamics of a state and region. We are what we are."

Decline and fall of the American empire

America in 2011 is Rome in 200AD or Britain on the eve of the first world war: an empire at the zenith of its power but with cracks beginning to show.

The experience of both Rome and Britain suggests that it is hard to stop the rot once it has set in, so here are the a few of the warning signs of trouble ahead: military overstretch, a widening gulf between rich and poor, a hollowed-out economy, citizens using debt to live beyond their means, and once-effective policies no longer working. The high levels of violent crime, epidemic of obesity, addiction to pornography and excessive use of energy may be telling us something: the US is in an advanced state of cultural decadence.

Empires decline for many different reasons but certain factors recur. There is an initial reluctance to admit that there is much to fret about, and there is the arrival of a challenger (or several challengers) to the settled international order. In Spain's case, the rival was Britain. In Britain's case, it was America. In America's case, the threat comes from China.

Britain's decline was extremely rapid after 1914. By 1945, the UK was a bit player in the bipolar world dominated by the US and the Soviet Union, and sterling – the heart of the 19th-century gold standard – was rapidly losing its lustre as a reserve currency. There had been concerns, voiced as far back as the 1851 Great Exhibition, that the hungrier, more efficient producers in Germany and the US threatened Britain's industrial hegemony. But no serious policy action was taken. In the second half of the 19th century there was a subtle shift in the economy, from the north of England to the south, from manufacturing to finance, from making things to living off investment income. By 1914, the writing was on the wall.

In two important respects, the US today differs from Britain a century ago. It is much bigger, which means that it benefits from continent-wide economies of scale, and it has a presence in the industries that will be strategically important in the first half of the 21st century. Britain in 1914 was over-reliant on coal and shipbuilding, industries that struggled between the world wars, and had failed to grasp early enough the importance of emerging new technologies.

Even so, there are parallels. There has been a long-term shift of emphasis in the US economy away from manufacturing and towards finance. There is a growing challenge from producers in other parts of the world.

America's own 'Lost Decade'

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The economy is still struggling. And Americans are in for a long and painful adjustment period.

One major reason: their own household debt.

Many experts say private debt owed by households, as well as businesses, is an even bigger problem than the government debt that's getting so much attention lately. And it won't be solved without a difficult stretch of high unemployment and slow growth that will likely last for six or seven more years, producing America's own version of Japan's "Lost Decade."

"I think it's one of the major headwinds we're fighting against right now," said David Wyss, a visiting fellow at Brown University and former chief economist at Standard & Poor's.

Following a real estate bust that hit Japan in the 1990s, the economy fell into a prolonged period of economic stagnation that lasted for years and became known as the country's 'Lost Decade.'

In the U.S., the situation is shaping up to be similarly stubborn.

"I think we're in for a lot of disappointment," said Carmen Reinhart, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a leading expert on financial crises. "If historic norms hold, deleveraging isn't pretty, and it is not a smooth process. We're already four years into this. I don't think the next six years look great."

The bubble economy that led to the recession was fueled by American consumers, businesses and banks taking on too much debt, particularly in real estate, during the decade before the crisis.
Fewer jobs for the unemployed

Total private sector debt -- held by consumers and businesses combined -- peaked at 283% of gross domestic product in early 2008 -- nearly three times the size of the entire economy.

The good news is that since the recession, consumers have been paying off debt and saving more. Private debt fell to 234% by the end of last year, though much of that decline resulted from bad mortgage debt shifting from banks to the government through the bailout of mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Reinhart said.

But even with some modest improvement in savings in recent years, households still can't afford the current debt levels, which are well above the average disposable income.

"At least households are being prudent and rational and bringing the debt down. But I worry we'll see it leveling off higher than I think it should," said Wyss.

That's the major reason why it will be more difficult for Americans to start spending again as they did coming out of past downturns when they had only a fraction of current debt burdens.

'Zombie consumers'

Without a jump in consumer spending, the economy is unlikely to really get going again. And until that happens, Americans can expect to see lingering high unemployment and additional suffering in the years ahead.

"The engine-of-growth role that [consumer spending] played in earlier recoveries is unlikely in this one," Reinhart said.

Stephen Roach, the chair of Morgan Stanley Asia, wrote a recent note suggesting that American consumers were turning into "zombie consumers," greatly because "burdened with underwater mortgages, excessive debt, and subpar saving, U.S. consumers are stretched as never before."

And the process of unwinding those huge debt loads is slow going.

Despite Americans paying down debt, saving more of their paychecks, and shedding some of their debt through bankruptcy and foreclosure, Reinhart estimates that the amount of consumer debt alone has declined to only about 92% of the gross domestic product.

That's down from only 98% at its high point at the end of 2007 -- a peak that shot up from less than 70% in 1999.

"The deleveraging process doesn't really get underway quickly," Reinhart said.

Friday, June 3, 2011

10-Year Real Wage Gains Worse Than During Depression

The past decade of wage growth has been one for the record books — but not one to celebrate.

The increase in total private-sector wages, adjusted for inflation, from the start of 2001 has fallen far short of any 10-year period since World War II, according to Commerce Department data. In fact, if the data are to be believed, economywide wage gains have even lagged those in the decade of the Great Depression (adjusted for deflation).

Two years into the recovery, and 10 years after the nation fell into a post-dot-com bubble recession, this legacy of near-stagnant wages has helped ground the economy despite unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus — and even an impressive bull market.

Over the past decade, real private-sector wage growth has scraped bottom at 4%, just below the 5% increase from 1929 to 1939, government data show.

To put that in perspective, since the Great Depression, 10-year gains in real private wages had always exceeded 25% with one exception: the period ended in 1982-83, when the jobless rate spiked above 10% and wage gains briefly decelerated to 16%.

There are several culprits, of which by far the biggest has been the net loss of 2.7 million private nonfarm jobs since March 2001. (Government payrolls rose by 1.2 million over that span.)

That excess supply of labor has given employers the upper hand in holding back wage gains.

Then there is a dramatic, decade-long job shift that has occurred. The often higher-paying goods-producing sector, including construction and manufacturing, has shed 26% of its workers. Meanwhile, typically lower-paying service industries have kept growing their payrolls: social assistance (41%), nursing homes (21%), leisure and hospitality (10%).

"To the extent you have more hotels and fewer manufacturing jobs," the changing composition of the work force has been a negative for wage growth, said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities.

Behind this job shift is the globalization of production, which has fed "the substitution of capital for labor" amid a push for productivity and competitiveness.

"Brain, not brawn, is required" for today's high-skilled factory jobs in the U.S., Silvia said.

A third trend is the increase in nonwage compensation — fueled by the growth of tax-free health care spending — which has eroded real wage gains.

A fourth factor, rising food and fuel prices, has taken a bite out of real wage growth in the past year.

The long dry spell for real wage gains tests the natural resilience of America's consumer economy.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Bin Laden Decade

Visiting the Middle East last week, and then coming back to Washington, I am left with one overriding impression: Bin Laden really did a number on all of us.

I am talking in particular about the Arab states, America and Israel — all of whom have deeper holes than ever to dig out of thanks to the Bin Laden decade, 2001 to 2011, and all of whom have less political authority than ever to make the hard decisions needed to get out of the holes.

Let’s start with the Arabs. In 2001, Osama bin Laden attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Just a few months later, in 2002, the U.N. issued the “Arab Human Development Report,” which described the very pathologies that produced Al Qaeda and prescribed remedies for overcoming them. The report, written by Arab experts, said the Arab states suffered from three huge deficits: a deficit of freedom and respect for human rights as the bases of good governance, a deficit of knowledge in the form of decent schooling and a deficit of women’s empowerment.

Instead of America and the Arab world making that report their joint post-Bin Laden agenda, they ignored it. Washington basically gave the Arab dictators a free pass to tighten their vise grip on their people — as long as these Arab leaders arrested, interrogated and held the Islamic militants in their societies and eliminated them as a threat to us.

It wasn’t meant as a free pass, and we really did have a security problem with jihadists, and we really didn’t mean to give up on our freedom agenda — but Arab leaders, like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, sensed where our priorities were. That is why Mubarak actually arrested the one Egyptian who dared to run against him for president in his last election, and he and the other Arab autocrats moved to install their sons as successors.

As the Arab leaders choked their people that much tighter, along came Facebook, Twitter and cellphone cameras, which enabled those people to share grievances, organize rebellions, lose their fear and expose their leaders: “Smile, your brutality is on Candid Camera.”

That’s the good news. The challenging news is that because of the Bin Laden decade, these newly liberated Arab states are in an even deeper hole in terms of economic development, population growth and education. They each have a huge amount of catch-up to do that will require some painful economic and educational reforms.

But as one can quickly detect from a visit to Cairo, right now Egypt has a political vacuum and, if anything, is tending toward more populist, less-market-oriented economics. Yet, in return for infusions of cash, Egypt will probably have to accept some kind of I.M.F.-like austerity-reform package and slash government employment — just when unemployment and expectations are now sky high. Right now, no Egyptian party or leader has the authority that will be required to implement such reforms.

In America, President George W. Bush used the post-9/11 economic dip to push through a second tax cut we could not afford. He followed that with a Medicare prescription drug entitlement we cannot afford and started two wars in the wake of 9/11 without raising taxes to pay for them — all at a time when we should have been saving money in anticipation of the baby boomers’ imminent retirement. As such, our nation’s fiscal hole is deeper than ever and Republicans and Democrats — rather than coming together and generating the political authority needed for us to take our castor oil to compensate for our binge — are just demonizing one another.

As the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi points out, governance is based on authority “that is generated in one of two ways — by trust or by fear. Both of those sources of authority are disintegrating right now.” The Arab leaders governed by fear, and their people are not afraid anymore. And the Western democracies governed by generating trust, but their societies today are more splintered than ever.

Israel has the same problem. The combination of Yasir Arafat’s foolhardy decision to start a second intifada rather than embrace President Bill Clinton’s two-state peace plan, followed by the rise of Bin Laden, which diverted the U.S. from energetically pursuing the peace process, gave the Israeli right a free hand to expand West Bank settlements. There are now some 500,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Absent some amazing Palestinian peace overture, and maybe even with one, I do not see any Israeli leader with enough authority today to pull Israel out of the West Bank. So, for now, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and Bin Laden both win: In the short run, Bibi gets to keep the West Bank, with 300,000 Jews occupying 2.4 million Palestinians. And in the long run, Bin Laden helps to destroy Israel as a Jewish democracy.

For all these reasons, I find myself asking the same question in Cairo, Washington and Jerusalem: “Who will tell the people?” Who will tell the people how deep the hole is that Bin Laden helped each of us dig over the last decade — and who will tell the people how hard and how necessary it will be to climb out?