Saturday, March 31, 2012

We can start by refusing to live in the past, by accepting the present, and grasping the future.

On his weekly show on CNN, GPS: The Global Public Square, Fareed Zakaria has a segment titled ‘What in the world?’ that explores an unusual or unexpected series of events or a unique situation.  It is often amusing, usually entertaining, and always educational.  I am borrowing from Fareed’s staple and will ask: What the hell is going on in America?  Our 235 year old country isn’t at a crossroads as much as it is in new territory.  A territory that is filled with economic and geopolitical threats but also great opportunity.  The question is whether America can adapt to this new world order and accept its new leadership position.

Over the course of those 235 years, America has been engaged in large scale wars, police actions, skirmishes, a cold war, regional conflicts, and at times imperialistic conquest.  Domestically, we have had our own rebellions and fought a bloody civil war to save our precious union.  We have had riots, domestic terror, illegal search and seizure, unforgiveable and unforgettable policies, corruption, incompetence, and yet we have compromised, righted wrongs, adapted to the times, lead liberalization, and yes we were that shining city upon the hill.

Today, people are worried that America is in decline and every politician is forced to state that is not the case.  America is not in decline and its best years are still ahead.  It’s relative.  Decline or ascendancy aside, what has happened to America is the world is catching up and the game is a lot faster than we’re used to playing  just like the college quarterback who arrives in the NFL.  And this is the problem.  Since its inception, philosophers such as the French Alexis-Charles-Henri ClĂ©rel de Tocqueville have marveled at the greatness of America, specifically its ability to understand what works and to put into play; simply words into action.  The great American Charles Sanders Peirce would later coin the phrase pragmatism to describe what de Tocqueville had observed.  But are we as pragmatic today?

A popular polling questions include “Is the country heading in the right direction?” or “Do you think future American generations will be better or worse off?”.  These questions are usually answered in the negative and are used by opposition politicians to point ineffective leadership by President Obama.  While that is simply political posturing, politics are indeed a critical leading cause if the reduction of America’s competitiveness.  While the right and business community love to claim it is because of excessive regulations and our corporate tax rates, the fact is political gridlock and shortsightedness are resulting in atrophy to the critical components of America.  We are becoming our own worst enemy.

But is political gridlock really that big of a deal, after all Conservative columnist George Will loves to tell us we have a two party system for a reason.  Really?  Two party debate is essential to proper governing, but that is not what we have been experiencing for the last three years.  In their soon to be published book ‘It’s Even Worse Than It Looks’, authors Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein point out “The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme;  scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.”  The authors add “ When one party moves this far from the center, it is extremely difficult to respond to the country’s most pressing challenges.”  How do you take on challenges when one side is so unready, unable, and unwilling to compromise? It is so bad that the Republican Party is even walking away from its own positions made as recently as six months ago.  The GOP now wants to renegotiate the deal that will result in automatic cuts in the defense budget as part of last summer’s debt ceiling increase and the rise and rapid fall of the vapid Super Committee.  This is governing?

The ascension of emerging and developing economies in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America is natural, unavoidable, and necessary.  It should be embraced and welcomed as market opportunities to American businesses, not seen as threats.  The growing sense of xenophobia was kicked into overdrive soon after 9-11.  In addition to the war on immigration in states like Arizona, Alabama, and Mississippi, the growing fear of another attack is hurting us economically.  As the aforementioned Zakaria says “Every Visa officer lives in fear he will let in the next Mohammed Atta.  As a result, he is probably keeping out the next Bill Gates.”  Our brain drain is hurting us economically and competitively.

What can we turn it around?  Of course.  We can start by refusing to live in the past, by accepting the present, and grasping the future.  Harkening back to Reagan may be great debate sound bites, but they are as applicable and useful as an Etch A Sketch to watch your iTunes rented movie.  Even, looking back 10 years ago is neither valid nor wise.  Venture Capital and risk funding is moving offshore.  The Financial Times’ Ed Luce notes “Sequoia Capital, one of Silicon Valley’s largest venture capital firms, now has eight offices, of which only one is in the US.”  On the education front, we are dropping in the global rankings in math and science and in just thirty years we have gone from having the highest percentage of graduates to the SIXTEENTH!  So while the likes of Rand and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum propose dismantling the Department of Education and giving the states more autonomy in education, we continue to backslide.  We shouldn’t be talking about gutting and cutting education, we should be talking about elevating education to a prominent position and declare it a matter of national security.  In the state of Arizona, funding for private prisons has outpaced funding for education by a 6:1 margin.  This is insane and just the same thinking that will expedite and accelerate our national demise.

Of course we can do nothing or worse, we can adopt some of the Republican plans that include cutting discretionary spending while reducing tax rates for the richest and not touching defense spending.  What will that America look like?  The income disparity we are seeing today will accelerate to the point that we will create a dystopia that is best described by Harvard’s Larry Katz, a leading American labor economist,  as “We are on track to becoming a country where the top tier remains wealthy beyond imagination, and the remainder, in one way or another, are working jobs that help make the lives of the elites more comfortable.”  Katz adds “They will be taking care of them in old age, fixing their home WiFi or their air-conditioning, teaching, or helping with their kids and serving them their food.  It is not a very elegant prospect.”

I am often cynical and almost always sarcastic.  I am neither a pessimist nor a rose-colored glasses optimist.  But I do believe in American greatness.  I believe in the pragmatism that Peirce spoke of and I believe the current bout of hyper obstructionism in the Republican party will abate.  I believe that a country that could invest in a national highway system, enact successful social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, the GI Bill, and the Equal Rights Act, and lead the free world in its fight against tyranny will not just survive, bur prosper; prosperity for all of its citizens, not only the elites.

We can start by refusing to live in the past, by accepting the present, and grasping the future. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Analysis of the Quinnipiac Battleground Poll March 28, 2012

The latest Quinnipiac University Poll in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania included some interesting bits of info that the media did not cover.  Sure the MSM was all about telling us how President Obama is leading all of the GOP rivals in all three states, but it is important to drill down deeper into the demographics and results.  Let’s get started:
Demographics
·         Florida: 1,228 respondents , margin of error +/- 2.8%

o   71% white

o   Balanced split amongst D, R, I

o   Balanced split between college degree and not

o   Plurality (47%) over 65 years old

o   Plurality earning 50-100k

o   53% are women

·         Ohio: 1,246 respondents, margin of error +/- 2.8%

o   83% white

o   Balanced split amongst D, R, I

o   56% with no college degree

o   Plurality (41%) over 65 years old

o   Plurality earning 50-100k

o   53% are women

·         Pennsylvania: 1,232 respondents, margin of error +/- 2.8%

o   86% white

o   37% D, 34% R, 25% I, 4% N/A

o   55% with no college degree

o   53% women

o   Plurality earning 50-100k

o   Plurality (37%) over 65 years old
Results: Romney and Obama
For the sake of argument, I have only included results involving Romney, Obama, and general questions.  President Obama leads Romney in all three states:

·         Florida: Obama 49-42

·         Ohio: 47-41

·         Pennsylvania: 45-42

Romney’s net favorable numbers range from (-7) in Ohio to (+5) in Florida.  These results correlate with his victory margins in the two states during the primary campaign and may indicate that he is more popular with older more educated people.  The other remarkable thing about Romney’s numbers is the high percentages that answered “haven’t heard enough” which was FL (19%), OH (19%), and PA (22%).  The fact that primaries have already been held in Florida and Ohio, I can only attribute these high “haven’t heard enough” numbers to Democrats and Independents who tuned out the GOP campaigns earlier this year.  If that’s the case, it is quite likely, Romney’s unfavorables could rise even higher.

President Obama’s net favorability numbers are FL (+7), OH (+3), and PA (+2) all with very low “haven’t heard enough” numbers.  These numbers have been trending in the right direction for the President, but due to the relative partisanship in this country, it will be important for President Obama to climb over and stay above 50% favorable.

Results: Dems v. Reps
The news is not good for Republicans in the comparable approval/disapproval numbers.  In all three states the Republican favorability numbers are badly negative: FL (-11%), OH (-12%), and PA (-7%) while the Democrats are hovering neutral in all three states.  This may have impacts on some state  and congressional elections as well.  Also worth noting is the across the board double digit lead Democrats enjoy over Republicans on all social issues including women’s healthcare to abortion in all three states.
A strange result is in the approval ratings for the Republican governors  in all the three states.  Florida’s Rick Scott is at (-16%), Ohio’s Kasich is at (0%), and Pennsylvania’s Corbett is at (+3%).  What is equally strange is that 22% of the Pennsylvania respondents answered don’t know or no answer.  How can you not know how your governor is doing?
Results: President Obama
These battleground states are indicators of how perilous President Obama’s situation could become in November.  In all three states his approval rating is slightly negative to (-5%) in PA, while the question of whether he deserves to be re-elected is slightly positive to slightly negative.  The President fares the worse in PA, but perhaps that will change when the GOP primary campaign hits Pennsylvania in April and the mud starts flying.

The Participants
Simple answer: jobs and the economy are clearly the most important issue to all voters.  Afghanistan and social issues are considered important, but not nearly as important as the economy and the deficit.  Another word of warning to the President, a candidate’s position on the Healthcare Reform Act is very important to voters as well.  In places like Pennsylvania, this could be his Achilles heel.

Also worth noting, the participants assign the majority of blame to the oil companies and oil companies with respect to increasing gas prices.  President Obama is a distant third followed by supply and demand.  Perhaps this won’t be as big a factor as some pundits are portraying.

Conclusions
While social issues are not considered major issues, they could be enough to swing critical female voters who are breaking for President Obama right now.  Also, the white demographic is overly represented in this poll as is the >65 years old demographics; both of these are NOT part of President Obama’s base.  Finally, reversing negative approval numbers is a long difficult process and it is here that Romney and his fellow Republicans could face difficulties this November.  People don’t vote for people they don’t like.

Like I always say, Election Day is really 51 different elections and history tells us that the winner needs to carry 2 out of these 3 battleground states.  For the record, I believe President Obama will carry all three states.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A moment of what the hell.

A moment of what the hell.

I have been reading a lot of complaints about the Hunger Games; ranging from the casting, the story, the wardrobe, and so forth.  Let me say I have neither read the book nor seen the movie, but I do know it’s FICTION.  Get over it people.  These complaints are as insipid as the complaints that the security soldiers in Avatar wore the same style camouflage as US Marines and therefore the movie was anti US troops. FICTION!  There are so many other things to get upset over.

Which brings me to the Republican party’s love affair and sole dependence of fear and hate on which to build a platform.  Stand Your Ground, SB1070, union demonization, drug testing welfare recipients, excessive imprisonments, threats to the 2nd Amendment, the Sharia boogeyman, DOMA, and so on and so on.  This demagoguery and emotional pandering to the most primal of instincts of fear and hate is right out of the Nazi playbook.  Yes I said Nazi playbook, sue me.  I am outraged that the Party of Lincoln, the party of a man who DEFENDED the constitution and sought to keep the nation together for all its inhabitants today has sunk so deep in the muck and the mire of promoting nothing but fear and hate.  Punish those we hate, arm ourselves against those we fear.  The Grand Old Party, is far from Grand, but is looking very old and tired.  And despicable.   

And now the Supreme Court of the United States.  Yes, the most hallow of our government bodies.  Above the political fray, bigotry, ideology, influence, and special interests.  Bull Effing Shit.  I am sorry, this Court will always be tainted for me.  Now there have been some tremendous and respected jurists such as Warren, Brandeis, Marshall, Brennan, Holmes, and others who have sat on this court and perhaps it is wrong of me to impugn and censure the entire history of the court. But sadly we have seen most recently the Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission rulings that have displayed how politicized the court has become.

But it’s the 1857 Dred Scott decision, the court and its Chief Justice Roger B. Taney proved above all that these allegedly enlightened and educated men were not worthy of their station.   All you have to read is this passage from the esteemed Chief Justice:

“ It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

So now we have a Supreme Court ruling on one of the nation’s landmark legislative acts during an era of a politicized justice system, special interest controlled legislature, and an ever increasingly hateful and fear mongering political party. A party calling this landmark legislation government overreach and a threat to liberty.  The same party that across the nation is pushing unnecessary and unwanted procedures on women while restricting the rights of citizens.  Not Grand at all.

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I hope that is true, but the game is rigged and it’s not getting better.

A moment of what the hell.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tasty Treats from Diggapedia PuPu Platter

Clearing out the In Box:

·         Remember the great crusade form the Bush Administration that was going to bring Democracy to the Middle East?  Specifically, Bush and his neocons were high fiving themselves for overthrowing Saddam Hussein and establishing ‘free and fair’ elections.  It’s too early to say how things will turn out, but I have to wonder if the new bosses are any better than the last boss.  The Shia dominated government has already started purging its Sunni members and now the militant Islamic Shia leaders of the government’s Interior Ministry have tacitly supported roaming death squads who operate out of the Shia ruled enclave of Bayaa as they set out to beaten and kill emo-teenagers: male and female long haired teenagers who wear tight western jeans and listen to western music.  To date over a dozen teenager shave been stoned to death and others have been beaten.  No wonder the Kurds keep to themselves in the north. 

·         Is the US economic recovery going on the real deal or another flash in the pan that will be snuffed out like in 2011?  I think this recovery, albeit a mild one, is for real, and it will survive the adverse impacts from the spike in energy prices.  What could hobble the recovery more than anything else is Congress, especially the Republican controlled House urging austerity measures before the recovery is self-sustaining.  Keep an eye on housing stabilization, it will be a better indicator than oil prices.

·         Florida, Arizona, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, and Virginia have all been in the news recently as Republican controlled state houses continue their Keeping Up with the Nut Jobs.  Between the assaults on immigrants, women’s healthcare, and same sex rights, these states have pivoted so far to the right some of us got whiplash.  Well, we can add good ole Utah to the mix.  Yes that bastion of Mormonism, is in the process of banning Utah school teachers from teaching sex education classes including instructions in contraception and homosexuality.  To sum up the cause I give you Stuart Reid (R-Ogden): “To replace the parent in the school setting is wrongheaded.  We have no idea what their (sex-ed teachers) morals are, we have  no ideas what their values are, yet we turn our children over to them to instruct them in the most sensitive sexual activities in their lives.”  What are you REALLY afraid of Senator?

·         You won’t hear this on Fox News: America is imported 10% or 1million less barrels per day of oil in 2011 versus 2010.

·         According the London telegraph, the US Seal Tem Six may have done Osama bin Laden favor.  It seems the world’s most dangerous and wanted terrorist spent the last few months of his life holed up in Abbottabad with three feuding wives, eight children, five grandchildren, and ten bored assistants.   And I thought Bill Henrickson had it bad.

·         The downside of high unemployment is too many poorly educated white males with too much time on their hands.  According to the Southern Poverty law Center there are now 1,274 self-described ‘patriot’ white militia groups operating in the U.S.  That’s up from 149 in 2008.  Oh and Newt thinks we should worry about Sharia law taking over here? 

·         The 5,300 year old mummified Tyrolean Iceman found in 1991 has been yielding significant scientific results.  Based on genome science, researchers believe the Iceman suffered from cavities, bad knees, and heart disease, though it was an arrow through the heart that killed him.  He was also lactose intolerant, all of which is meaningless to creationists who are trying to figure out if he was a contractor on Noah’s Ark or if he was friends with Goliath.

Recap of Another Visit to Israel

First stop Israel.  Having completed another successful and thoroughly enjoyable visit to the promised Land, I leave you with these observations:

·         While Prime Minster Netanyahu and the Republican Party, especially it’s candidates for president, like to bang the war drums for an attack on Iran, the citizens of Israel go along with their daily lives.  People running on the beach, restaurants packed, pubs are lively, and the traffic could choke a Targaryen  dragon.

·         I will never complain about traffic anywhere, after witnessing the crazy bumper to bumper snarls heading into Tel Aviv from all directions every morning.  Pure mishegas.

·         It’s good to be the king, or at least a government minister.  A semi-serious joke going around the country is the reason why war is not imminent with Iran is because Madonna is scheduled to kick her world tour off in Tel Aviv on May 28th.  And because Sara Netanyahu, Bibi’s wife, is a big fan and friend to the pop star, the PM will not do anything to jeopardize that conference.  So yes, it appears that the Prime minister of Israel fears his wife more than Iran’s Ayatollah and it’s President Ahmadinejad.

·         Not be outdone by Bibi, his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman , ordered the loud speakers from a Jaffa mosque to be relocated because the five daily calls to prayer from the Abu Sayaf family’s mosque’s muezzin were disturbing his mother-in-law and her neighbor Ludmila Cherkov.  Religious freedom, but please keep it down.

·         I saw my first ‘Better Place’ battery changing center and purpose built Renault Fluence this week also.  Better Place is the brain child of Shai Agassi, the former SAP director, who via the sponsorship and endorsement of Israel’s President Shimon Peres and the vision of Nissan/Renault Chairman Carols Ghosn, are committed to wean Israel off fossil fuel powered motor vehicles.   The battery changing centers, based on the defense forces bomb loading and unloading systems, will change an electric car’s battery in three minutes.  Home charging systems will also be installed that are tied into the nation’s energy smart grid to monitor power consumption and to charge during the least expensive, least demanding periods.  Yes, that is visionary. 

·         I also ate my first Shawarma and Shakshuka on this visit.  Both were delicious and a nice change of pace from usual restaurant dining.

·         Barry Rubin is blaming President Obama for the Arab Spring, claiming is speech in Cairo in 2009 is what motivated the unrest.  Are you for real?  The Jerusalem Post continues to lose its remaining credibility by publishing this imbalanced fiction.  Firstly, you cannot blame President Obama for the spreading of democracy in the region if you have already given credit to President Bush for doing the same thing.  Rubin also draws comparisons to President Obama’s handling of the Egyptian revolution and overthrow of Dictator Hosni Mubarak to President Carter’s handling of  the Iranian revolution in 1979. Rubin misses the point, the comparisons that need to be made are the United States’ continued practice of propping up pro-USA hegemonies at the expense of the local citizens and then we wonder why anti-American sentiments boil to the surface.  Further, the Arab Spring was born out of the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, after he could no longer stand the disrespect form the local authorities.  Finally, one cannot claim to be pro-Democracy and then complain when the vote does not yield the result you were hoping for as were the cases in Gaza, Iraq, and now Egypt.  How arrogant are we?  We push these nations to democracy but only if we get a preferred result that is in concert with our national interests. 

Another great week in Israel comes to an end.  I look forward to the next trip.  In the meantime it’s great to be back in the USA, where we are far from perfect, but there is no place I’d rather live.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Time to get a few things off my chest

The battle of between ideologues, the war of words, he said/she said, the blame game, government’s too big/too small, who’s right/who’s wrong, and so forth and so on.  Americans love to take sides, other than Israelis, who will argue about anything, we love to debate and deliberate.  Unfortunately, we all too often take it to a win at all costs level resulting in a zero sum game.  When that happens, society becomes a Sunday Talk Show: point counter-point people shouting over one another and we are left with nothing but noise.  Not only must we win, we must vanquish and embarrass.   And now sadly too many of us are getting our information from cable news, which is really entertainment poorly veiled as news.  Sadly, SNL foretold the future decades ago during its Weekend Update segment ‘Point Counter-Point’ featuring Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd: ‘Jane you ignorant slut.’

Accountability versus Blame

When Gisele Bundchen in a moment of frustration defended her husband New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady following Patriots’ loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl, it was taken as she was blaming the Patriots’ receiving corps for dropping too many passes, specifically Wes Welker seemed to be the target of Ms. Bundchen’s ire.  Yes when we feel we are being singled out, we lash out. 

The upset wife was clearly blaming her husband’s teammates for the team’s failure.  But what about accountability?  It is indeed a fine line between blaming someone and holding someone responsible.  Society needs someone to blame as a cathartic remedy anytime something goes wrong.  We want to blame someone for high gas prices, financial collapse, a defeats during a championship, our failure to get a promotion, etc.  When times are tough, people will blame immigrants for stealing jobs and ruining our way of life.  But separating the emotional need to blame; how and who do we need to hold accountable?  Accountability is a preventive measure, blame is after the fact.  If people, businesses, and communities are told they will be held accountable or answerable to their actions would they behave differently.  Conversely, like a bad parent or bad teacher, failing to hold parties accountable is tantamount to abdicating all legitimacy to criticize and critique.

Where am I going with this?

I think blame is too late and is often the instrument most often used by people that want to distance themselves from any responsibility and potential culpability. It is mental self-centered catharsis; whereas I think accountability is a proactive approach to understanding who is responsible and answerable to any future failures.  In a comprehensive analysis of the financial meltdown, authors Joe Nocera and Bethany McLean paint a picture of systemic failures in their book “All the Devils are Here”.  When reading it, I was struck by the fact that I wasn’t seeking to blame anyone, but to understand why so few people have been held accountable.  Sure some mortgage originators have been punished and maybe some low level wall street investors have been singled out, but what about the Wall Street executives, regulators, Congressmen, Federal Reserve presidents, bureaucrats, and corporate directors?  To whom do these people answer?  Without accountability, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over.  Oh, I am still waiting to find out who has been held accountable for creating fraudulent ‘intelligence’ regarding the Iraq-al Qaeda 9/11 connection.  Care for some yellow cake?

Urgency and Political Handcuffs

What is so disappointing in this course of human events is our leaders inability to do the right thing when faced with long term crises.  We have heard for decades about the need to achieve energy independency and to cut ourselves off the OPEC crude oil spigot.  And yet here we are again having the same argument and what do we hear?  Republicans blaming the President for high oil prices and no one admitting any responsibility.  Energy independence, tax reform, and education enhancement are all long term issues that require planning and commitment, but most of all it requires courage.  When our nation committed to fighting fascism in the 1940’s, reaching for the moon in the 1960’s, and investing in infrastructure throughout the 20th century, these were expensive long term goals that we sought to achieve at great human cost and peril, but we did so as a nation.  A nation rallying behind its leaders.

What is anti-American?

Are secular liberals godless indoctrinating anti-American atheists?  Are social conservatives reactionary anti progressive theocrats? I have always thought what makes America the greatest nation on earth is our belief that everyone is entitled to their beliefs.  What makes it even better, is I can tell someone to STHU if they feel it is necessary to preach when I’m not interested.  Irrespective of the cherry pickers, our rights are not god given, they are enabled and protected by our nation’s laws; laws steeped deeply in Judeo-Christian beliefs while still maintaining a secular nucleus.  If the right wants to continue to bang the culture war drums, so be it, but they do so at their own election peril as America has moved forward with social progression. I never understood how the south likes to call themselves real patriots, after all, aren’t they the one section of the US that tried to sever the Union?

Some other thoughts.

When did compromise become equated with capitulation and appeasement?  We are in the political version of trench warfare where moderates find themselves in no man’s land. Stalemate on the battle field is gridlock in politics.

In Arizona a lobbyist was able to work with her GOP friends to stop anti-bullying legislation because it promoted a gay agenda.  What is Cathi Herrod afraid of?  Glee clubs will be popping up all over the Grand Canton State?

Freedom of speech protects people from an oppressive government.  It doesn’t protect you from getting fired for being a douche.  Funny how those trying to defend Rush Limbaugh refuse to mention the godless commie ACLU. 

There you have it.  Still the greatest nation on earth.  Who’s fault is that?


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday Top Ten: Egyptian nose jobs to bacon on the side

Tuesday Top Ten

1.       Egyptian Minister of Parliament (MP)Anwar al-Balkimy of the ultraconservative Islamist al-Nour party was forced to resign in disgrace after it was uncovered that he got a nose job, a violation of the Islamist party’s position on plastic surgery.

2.       This priceless outstanding paragraph comes from Gary Wills and the NYR Blog titled “Santorum’s Arrested Development”:  At some point, late or early, children disengage themselves from the stories crafted for them. Their loss of belief in the tooth fairy is only slightly behind their loss of teeth. There is a slow motion race to disappear between Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. The Stork undergoes, for some, a lengthier demise—and “the birds and the bees” do not long outlast it. Others, I hope, soon disabuse themselves of belief in their parents’ infallibility. Certain religious myths are discarded without necessarily losing faith. That I do not believe in Noah’s Ark does not mean that I must stop believing in God—though certain home schooling parents force that connection on their kids.”

3.       Attack on Women: Down Under style.  The ugly battle to grab the leadership position of the Australian Party turned uglier when Kevin Rudd called Prime Minister Julia Gillard “childless, atheist, ex-communist”.   Sadly it Is not the 1st time that the ‘childless’ insult has been lobbed by Australian politicians, all men, as they drag their wives and children around as political advertisements.

4.       Watch out here comes Sharia law.  The number of mosques in America has gone from 1,209 in 2000 to 2,106 in 2010.  Poor Newt Gingrich, at this rate he will be afraid to leave his house.

5.       Saudi Arabia is a ‘moderate’ Sunni nation?  The Arab country has said it will not send a women’s Olympic team to this summer’s games in London because it considers women exercising in public as ‘shameless’. Huh. What does an extremist Sunni nation look like?

6.       Blame Obama.  In 1977, 54% of American households contained at least one gun.  Today, that number is down to 32%, even though the number of guns sold each year continues to rise.

7.       Mythical Beasts. According to Angus Reid Public Opinion: 29% of Americans and 21% of Canadians say Bigfoot is definitely or probably real.  Only 3% say Compassionate Conservatives are real.

8.       Seal the border. More than 40% of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant.  

9.       Everything may taste better with bacon, but….According to the Harvard School of Public Health eating just two pieces of bacon a day can up your mortality rate by 20%.  Same for one hot dog per day. 

10.   So Sarah Palin wants to debate President Obama ‘Anywhere Anytime’.  Perhaps she should take a few warm up debates.  Here are some suggestions:

o   Anyone from the Jersey Shore

o   Anyone from Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader

o   Anyone from Fox and Friends

o   Andrew Breitbart

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Band of Brothers, Gaza, and the Right Wing Nut Machine

A little weekend recap

·         I was saddened to see that Lynn ‘Buck’ Compton passed away on February 25th.  Compton was an officer in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division, the unit immortalized in the Stephen Ambrose Book and HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. Compton was portrayed by current Justified actor Neal McDonough. Later in life Compton was the DA in the trial of Robert Kennedy assassin Sirhan B. Sirhan.    The Greatest generation has lost another lion.

·         The Knicks are now in the midst of a five game linless streak and are looking linept at times, media is now lindifferent.

·         Remember when the Obama administration was faced with the daunting task of trying to prove that the economy would have been worse off without the stimulus?  While most economists agreed that was true, proving the negative is almost impossible and proving the negative on the court of public opinion is impossible.  The Republicans knew it and were relentless in their attacks.  Fast forward two years later and suddenly it is the GOP trying to prove the negative as they scramble to convince the public that while yes the economy is improving, it would be even better if Obama was not President.  John Boehner:  “It is a testament to the hard work and entrepreneurship of the American people that they are creating jobs in the midst of the onslaught of anti-business policies coming from this administration.” 

·         I am really looking forward to Mitt Romney trying to convince the American people that his alleged plan is what America needs considering it is nothing but a reboot of the Bush policies of no regulation and low taxes for the richest Americans.  There is nothing in his message that represents a departure from additional deficits, increased income inequality, and unfettered speculation and leveraging.  The same ingredients that led to the great recession.   Oh by all means, let’s try that again.  All you have to do is simply remember Albert Einstein’s famous quote  Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

·         Still think President Obama is a socialist? French Presidential candidate Socialist Party's Francois Hollande seeks to impose a 75% tax on the income of people earning more than 1million euro/yr.

·         Israel killed the Zuheir Al Qaisi, a commander in the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in a missile strike on Friday.  Al Qaisi was a terrorist responsible for the murder of nine Israeli citizens in the Sinai last year as well as the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit fiver years ago.  Shalit was recently ransomed by the PRC and Hamas in exchange for the release of 1,000 prisoners held by Israel.  Since that attack, Islamic Jihad has responded with launching hundreds of rockets into southern Israel drawing a heavier response from Israel resulting in the deaths of 17 Palestinians.  This is part of the Iranian plan to create diversion from its nuclear plans and the terror in Syria, and Israel’s standing plan to eliminate the terrorist leadership in Gaza while sowing dissent amongst the rival factions of Hamas, PRC, and Islamic Jihad. 

·         It appears that Laurens County, SC has become ground zero for Republican craziness.  Candidates must now sign a pledge they will not a sex before marriage, are not homosexual, and will not watch pornography, and 24 other ‘moral requirements’ to protect the party’s reputation.  Not sure if the rules include bans on watching R rated movies, Glee, or Ellen.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Deeper Dive into Employment Numbers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) February Employment Situation report came out on Friday, march 9th.  While typical focus is usually on the number of jobs added and the unemployment rate, me being such a wonk decided to drill baby drill deeper into the numbers.  Here is a non-economist’s assessment:

The Basics:

·         227,000 private sector jobs were added in February

·         The unemployment rate remained at 8.3%.  Six months ago, the rate was 9.1%

·         There are 12.8million unemployed persons (relatively unchanged)

·         Unemployment by key demographics (all showing little or no change)

o   Adult men: 7.7%

o   Adult women: 7.7%

o   Teenagers: 23.8%

o   Whites: 7.3%

o   Blacks: 14.1%

o   Hispanics: 10.7%

o   Asians: 6.3%

·         Unemployment by education

o   Less than HS diploma: 12.9%

o   HS Diploma, no college: 8.3%

o   Some college or associates degree: 7.3%

o   Bachelor’s degree and higher: 4.2%

The Troubling Data:

·         5.4million individuals have been unemployed for over 27 weeks (referred to as long term unemployed).  That is 43% of the total unemployed.  Duration of unemployment details:

o   Less than five weeks: 2.5million

o   5 to 14 weeks: 2.8million

o   15-26 weeks: 2.0million

o   27 weeks and over: 5.4million

o   The average duration of unemployment is 40 weeks and the median is 20.3 weeks.

·         2.6million individuals are unemployed and NOT included in the 12.8million number because they haven’t looked for work in four weeks.

·         Of the 2.6million, 1million are called discouraged workers in that they have given up looking because they believe there are no jobs available.

·         Over the last 12 months, while the unemployment rate for Gulf War II veterans has dropped from 12.5% to 7.4%, the real cause is the major drop in the participation rate from 81.6% to 69.2%

·         Over the last 12 months, the number of people employed in Construction is down 215,000. 

The Positive Data:

·         There was good diversification in the job growth

o   Professional and business services: added 82,000 jobs

o   Healthcare and social assistance: added 61,000 jobs

o   Leisure and hospitality: added 44,000 jobs

o   Manufacturing: added 31,000 jobs

o   Mining: added 4,000 jobs

o   Construction: no change

o   Government: no changes after shedding 22,000 jobs/month in 2011.

o   Average workweek in manufacturing increased by 0.1 hr (up but not great)

o   Average hourly earnings went up $.03 (up but not great)

Trends

·         Participation rate has remained constant at ~64% over the last 12 months.  Before the great recession it hovered around 66%.

·         Unemployment rate from 2007 (ave) to February-2012 by education.  You can see across the board that the recession has taken a tremendous toll with all education levels seeing ~2x the increase un unemployment levels

o   Less than HS diploma: 7.1% to 12.9%

o   HS Diploma, no college: 4.4% to 8.3%

o   Some college or associates degree: 3.6% to 7.3%

o   Bachelor’s degree and higher: 2.0% to 4.2%

Prognosis

·         The good news is that the economy is adding jobs across a wide range of industries, with the exception of construction, an industry with a significant lower educated workforce.  The lack of flexibility and mobility of this demographic group will make it difficult to find employment.

·         Private job increases will continue throughout the year but unemployment will stay high as the 2.6million marginally attached persons will reenter the job seeking masses.  Politically bad for the president, economically good for the country.

·         It looks like public and government cuts seem to have leveled off as states have made the necessary cuts in 2011.  In fact some states, like Arizona, are seeking to raise taxes to specifically channel additional funds to education and state services which could lead to increased employment.

·         The bad news for the country is we have been going through a structural issue in our economy for over twenty years.  Through a series of bubbles driven by defense spending, dot coms, and housing, we have covered up the fact that we have not offset the effects of globalization.  This is why President Obama was so keen on creating green energy jobs as they represented Blue Ocean strategies.  We will not compete against lower cost nations in existing markets and industries, we need to identify, innovate, and capture the new opportunities.

·         In the short term we will stay at 7-8% for the next 2 years, welcome to the new unwelcome reality.