Friday, August 31, 2007

Capsule - Idol Fancy


Nothing says Labor Day Weekend quite like futuristic Japanese retro-pop-jazz fusion.



Now improved with accordion and xylophone.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Journalistic Integrity Revealed


This is simply mind blowing. Long time Editor & Publisher columnist Steve Outing calls upon the dead tree media to abandon objectivity and become activists against global warming. It’s no wonder the term "journalistic integrity" is becoming a joke.

Climate Change: Get Over Objectivity, Newspapers: I've been thinking a lot about climate change (aka, global warming) a lot lately. … I've also been thinking about the newspaper industry and global warming. And frankly, I don't think newspapers are doing enough. Indeed, newspapers' fabled commitment to "objectivity" has been a detriment to efforts to combat global warming. The industry still has a lot of power to influence people. How about if newspapers abandon their old way of doing things when it comes to the issue of global warming, and turn their influence to good?

Earth to idiot – dangerous manmade global warming is a false myth. A product of inaccurate computer programming. The second law of thermodynamics, the scarcity of the specific narrow band of infrared radiation the covalent bonds in carbon dioxide can absorb, and the scarcity of atmospheric carbon dioxide itself – because it is the essential molecule required for life to exist – are big gapping holes in the scary bad hypothesis. The big flaws dooming this theory as a valid explanation of the real world.

I can forgive the scientifically inept for being brainwashed by the bad work and worse reporting of this politically motivated grant funded “research”. I don’t forgive anyone calling for the end of using of reason, logic and skepticism. I hold in contempt any journalist that does not even read the news.

Less Than Half of all Published Scientists Endorse Global Warming Theory: Comprehensive survey of published climate research reveals changing viewpoints. … Of 528 total papers on climate change, only 38 (7%) gave an explicit endorsement of the consensus. If one considers "implicit" endorsement (accepting the consensus without explicit statement), the figure rises to 45%. However, while only 32 papers (6%) reject the consensus outright, the largest category (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis. This is no "consensus."

The figures are even more shocking when one remembers the watered-down definition of consensus here. Not only does it not require supporting that man is the "primary" cause of warming, but it doesn't require any belief or support for "catastrophic" global warming. In fact of all papers published in this period (2004 to February 2007), only a single one makes any reference to climate change leading to catastrophic results.

Something horribly bad is happening to the environment and it is the delusional belief that burning rocks hurts ecosystems but clear cutting the surface of the planet for ethanol and biodiesel farms is saving nature. I’m clearly getting very tired of ignorant activists.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Revolt of the Center


Merv, the Prairie Pundit says it pretty well – "We are on the edge of a historic strategic victory against al Qaeda. Only the Democrats can save the enemy at this point". Dave Kilcullen explains how the United States counter-insurgency is working in Iraq. Most people want to live safe peaceful lives and the details involve how to develop trust at the grassroots level so communities help rid themselves of the violent.
Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt: All this means that correctly handled, with appropriate safeguards, and in partnership with the Iraqi government, the current social “wave” of Sunni communities turning against AQI could provide one element in the self-sustaining security architecture we have been seeking. And if the recent spread of the uprising into the Shi’a community continues, we might end up with a revolt of the center against both extremes, which would be a truly major development.
The rate of change towards peace is enhanced by the presence of a catalyst, which is the role our military is playing. Kilcullen says, “Coalition forces have provided support to the community and to Iraqi forces operating in the area, and hence tend to play the role of honest broker”. I like the idea of a revolt of the center against both extremes. It could be one of the lessons from Iraq we can apply to ourselves.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Sub-Prime Summer III


It’s just another massive stock sell off on Wall Street in this subprime summer of 2007. High finance is in a mess for multiple reasons. The greed of wealthy institutions in constructing leveraged games for squeezing out profits is a huge factor, but the fashionable culprit is the irresponsibility of the larger population making and taking bad loans. Tanta at Calculated Risk has been exposing the uber-nerd details about how a breakdown in traditional mortgage lending discipline contributes to the overall mess, yet even she hesitates about laying too much blame on the borrowers.

Delusional Borrowers" and Reality Checks: I remain convinced that there's something wrong with blaming the financially inept for not realizing that they are financially inept, when those who are supposed to be financially ept--loan officers, brokers, financial counselors, advice columnists in business publications--spent the last several years refusing to tell them that they were financially inept.

Focus in on that last phrase: “refusing to tell them that they were financially inept”. Welcome to the world of unintended consequences. The Federal Trade Commission gives the basics in their consumer guide but let’s go right to the text of our Federal Law.

Equal Credit Opportunity Act: Sec. 202.5 Rules concerning taking of applications. (a) Discouraging applications. A creditor shall not make any oral or written statement, in advertising or otherwise, to applicants or prospective applicants that would discourage on a prohibited basis a reasonable person from making or pursuing an application.

It is highly illegal for any financial institution offering credit to discourage anyone from applying. We are talking crack cocaine illegal to even hint to an individual that they may be making a really bad financial decision. So the lenders take every application and when underwriting turns down bad risks, those risks walk over to the next lender and apply again. Over time the industry learns it is foolish to let business walk out the door in a game rigged in favor of anyone looking for money.

Let me put it this way. The industry best suited to educate the public about financial responsibility is, for all practical purposes, forbidden by Federal Law to educate the public. In our continually growing welfare state, the task of teaching belongs almost entirely to unionized public school teachers. Thousands of people act on their desire for the instant American Dream because no one adequately instructed them how to use credit, manage debt and budget for the expenses of life. Now we are all waiting for the rubble to settle and the dust to clear.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Stevie Ray Vaughn


Wow - 17 years since a helicopter crashes at Alpine Valley and Stevie Ray Vaughn is gone. I’ve seen a lot of great guitarists but I never caught SRV live. The Blues are meant to be experienced in the moment but sometimes all you have are history and recordings.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fidel Castro is in Limbo


… at least until the new Dictator of Cuba figures out what to do with the body. Mora at Babalu Blog is confident the weasels are upon the carcass and the last thing they want is a bonehead publicity hound knowing the truth before the truth is packaged for release.

Aug 25: raul castro cannot stand the big lunkheaded Thug Of Caracas. Sure he likes his money, but Hugo Chavez's persona is a different matter. raul, after all, is a disciplined military man of sorts. He's also a Marxist ideologue, far more so than his evil bearded brother. raul's vulgar, uncultured, ill-read and likes toilet humor, but knows his place and prefers not to open his mouth in public. He lingers in the shadows. He keeps secrets.

On the surface, the two are friends of course. … When castro first took sick last year, Chavez flew into Havana unannounced on a detour from some overseas trips and raul told castro's best friend to beat it, he wasn't gonna see fidel no matter how slurpy the two of them had been in the past. Tail between his legs, Chavez reboarded his plane and continued on to Caracas.

raul had his reasons. He knew Hugo couldn't keep a secret. The situation was in flux, from his point of view, and telling Chavez would be about the same thing as announcing it on a megaphone at an international press conference. That may be what's gone down now.

Today: Does anyone remember Yurii Andropov's eternal "cold"? (The enraged wife of a cashiered KGB agent is believed to have shot him.) Does anyone remember all the phoney pictures the Mao swimming released by the ChiComs and the gang of four as that dictator lay on his deathbed? Does anyone remember Kim Jong Il's lingering death? All these communist dictatorships deny their supreme leaders' deaths right up till the end and beyond because all the minions in the dictator's inner circle are engaged in a power struggle over who will rule next. There's never any orderly handover of power in a dictatorship because there are no rules or laws or institutions. There's just the leader's word and that leader is ... unavailable. There's no doubt the castroite toads are busily fighting it out tonight and for the next several nights.

Even if Fidel Castro isn’t dead, he is dead. The heirs have no concern about the official time of death because this ain’t no court case. No rule of law is going to care what hour the physician is told to put on a piece of paper. I suspect the time in purgatory will be brief because the ticket to Fidel’s final destination was punched long ago. See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

No Invisible Garbage in Madison


I keep thinking there is hope Isthmus Editor Bill Lueders may one day come to understand that expensive intrusive government is bad for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The history of his writing shows he believes the non sequitur that progressive government means good government, but at least he still has some residual sense that big brother has some downside potential.

Big Bro Comes to Your House: Check out this chilling passage from the city's "Cart Chronicle," delivered to Madison residents along with their new garbage bins:

"Microwaves, TV's, Fluorescent Bulbs, Computer Monitors, and CPU's require a fee for collection. Putting these items in your cart is illegal and you could be fined. Our trucks are equipped with cameras that monitor what is emptied and you can be billed for materials illegally placed in your cart."

Holy police state, Batman! Besides making profligate use of capitalization and apostrophes, the city's garbage Gestapo are watching what you toss, so violators can be punished.

Yes Bill, that is a tip. Maybe there is an iceberg.

A Real Bush Administration Assault on Civil liberties: The Bush Administration has now approved a program that can be rightly considered a direct assault on civil liberties. [Quoting the Washington Post source] The Bush administration has approved a plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.

A program approved by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security will allow broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery beginning as early as this fall, with the expectation that state and local law enforcement officials will eventually be able to tap into technology once largely restricted to foreign surveillance...

When Hillary Clinton campaigns on the promise that no individuals will be invisible to the government she means it, and so do many of our career bureaucrats and elected officials. The technology to visualize the unseen and unseeable is very good and getting better. As citizens we believe there are legal protections such as the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act to restrain the reach of government, but as everyone knows from the immigration issue, laws on the books are meaningless without consistent uniform enforcement.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Third Option


You know what does not take courage? Sitting in comfortable homes in Madison Wisconsin and calling our government oppressive. I doubt many of our UW Madison intellectuals would be as vocal if America actually applies torture and inhuman punishments in public on domestic critics. Going on record as a domestic opponent of an truly oppressive regime - that takes courage.

Iranian Rights Activists, Intellectuals Decry Arrests: More than 650 Iran-based human rights activists and intellectuals have issued an open letter to condemn what they describe as increasing pressure on students, journalists, and workers, Radio Farda reported. The statement claims an increasing number of students and political activists are facing "false" accusations of disrupting public order, insulting sacred values, or involvement in what officials have called a "creeping coup."

The creeping coup is the term the Ministry of Culture expresses when justifying shutting down hundreds of media organizations reporting the increasing unrest and resistance of the Iranian people. Ayatollah Khomeini captured power with a very specific Shia Islam based view of how the world should live, but it is a narrow interpretation and one not shared even by other Shi’ite clerics in the country.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard: For a quarter of a century, the regime established by Khomeini has been labeled a “mullahrchy”, a theocracy dominated by the Shi’ite clergy. Now, however, those familiar with the Iranian situation know that a majority of Shi’ite clerics never converted to Khomeinism and did not endorse the Islamic Republic. Today, it is safe to say that the dominant force within the ruling establishment in Tehran is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The Bush Administration is attempting to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. This is a creative attempt to stigmatize the enforcement arm of the Iranian government simultaneously with the peaking of public sentiment against the increasingly heavy hand of Mullahs.

A Third Option (neither appeasement nor war): The potential for bringing about a change in government resides with the Iranian people, indeed. Commenting on prior anti-government protests, a Tehran-based European diplomat explained, "The pent-up anger is still there, beneath the surface. But for it to seriously take off you need a catalyst, you need a cause, you need organization and leadership. It's a big task," Support for Iran’s largest, most organized, secular, and democratic opposition, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the National Council of Resistance of Iran led by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi is instrumental in solving the Iran riddle.

Maybe the Bush Administration finally understands the importance of winning the propaganda war with radical Islam. The People’s Mojahedin of Iran was placed on the terrorist organization list by the Clinton Administration in an appeasement move tied to Hillary and Bill’s desire to open dialog with Tehran. By all accounts the people of Iran understand their situation relative to the rest of the world, and it is certainly in American interests that regime change movements in their country continue to receive information and support.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dress Rehearsal Three


Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila standing on the sideline with a bruised knee announces that the Green Bay Packers are going to the Super Bowl this year. It’s his variation of the idea that you can not achieve a goal unless you believe the goal is achievable. Contrary to the popular expression not everything is possible, but the improbable remains mathematically viable until the point of elimination.

In the TV banter during tonight’s exhibition loss to Jacksonville is the story of how before each season starts, Brett Favre thinks the 4 win team of two years ago is going to be good but has no idea of what to expect from last years 8 win team. Now after three intersquad skirmishes the prospects for the upcoming season are still murky, but it seems to me that any success will depend on the defense keeping opponent scores under twenty because the offense still looks really suspect.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Soggy August of ‘07


The National Weather Service (NOAA) announces that more rain has fallen in Madison, Wisconsin this August than in any month since records begin in 1871. Officially 11.03 inches of precipitation besting the prior measurement of 10.93 inches in July, 1950. With nine more days and heavy rains forecast for at least the next two days, the soggy August of ’07 will most likely set a long standing benchmark.

Interestingly, NOAA also has a report out projecting - “Lake Superior may hit record low levels this fall” - based on their super-advanced computer modeling of lake water behavior. I guess they believe all this water dumped on Wisconsin will be flowing out entirely down the Mississippi. Please note the precision of their proudly trumpeted prediction.

NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory is able to forecast lake levels 12 months in advance using current hydrological conditions combined with NOAA’s long-term climate outlooks. … “it looks as though the water levels may continue to plunge," said Cynthia Sellinger, deputy director of NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich. "NOAA's lake level forecasts predict that there is a 15 to 20 percent probability that new monthly records will be set sometime this fall."

So where was the 12 month advanced notice of soggy August? Weather is a chaotic dynamic system that can not be predicted with much short term accuracy and certainly not with any long term validity. I appreciate the meticulous recording of real events which then serves to put months like this one into historical context. I am, however, pretty tired of tax paid professionals playing with digital animation pretending they create anything of value.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Unclassified


Interesting … civilian warning prior to Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

CIA: What follows is the story of the US Office of War Information (OWI) and the dramatic role it played in the surrender of the Japanese empire. …

At the same time, newspapers and leaflets in the Japanese language were printed on Saipan. From there, Air Force B-29s flying at 20,000 feet dropped 500-pound M-16 fire bomb containers converted into leaflet casings. These opened at 4,000 feet to deploy millions of leaflets, effectively covering a whole Japanese city with information. In just the last three months of formal psychological warfare, OWI produced and deployed over 63 million leaflets informing the Japanese people of the true status of the war and providing advance warning to 35 cities targeted for destruction.

Victor Davis Hanson asks Why Study War? If you don’t know the answer immediately, then it’s time for remedial study. The Bush Administration can well serve the cause of liberty by unclassifying as much history as possible. We know from history that a Clinton Administration will not be forthcoming with the truth of the past.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Mismeasurement of Science


The political misuse of science disturbs me. It makes me wonder why good scientists are so quiet about the distorted and often blatantly false claims presented to the public in the legitimizing cloak of truth guided research. Why does the scientific community refrain from correcting the media? UW Madison anthropologist John Hawks finds a potential explanation.

Publish or perish: Answer from the hero in Leo Szilard's 1948 story "The Mark Gable Foundation" when asked by a wealthy entrepreneur who believes that science has progressed too quickly, what he should do to retard this progress: "You could set up a foundation with an annual endowment of thirty million dollars.

Research workers in need of funds could apply for grants, if they could make a convincing case. Have ten committees, each composed of twelve scientists, appointed to pass on these applications. Take the most active scientists out of the laboratory and make them members of these committees.

First of all, the best scientists would be removed from their laboratories and kept busy on committees passing on applications for funds. Secondly the scientific workers in need of funds would concentrate on problems which were considered promising and were pretty certain to lead to publishable results.

By going after the obvious, pretty soon science would dry out. Science would become something like a parlor game. ...There would be fashions. Those who followed the fashions would get grants. Those who wouldn't would not."

Our unprecedented success as a prosperous and just society is under assault by various waves of "fashionable research". The parlor games within academic walls embrace the dollar volume of grant funding and the popularity of written words as their measurement of scientific value. Mastering the system is necessary for anyone wanting to be paid for playing with their ideas.

This reliance on government and tax exempt money is so dominant that the true scientific pursuit of accurately understanding the observable becomes subordinate to cash flow. Speaking out against the flaws of the fashionable is to risk a career path, but remaining silent is to acquiesce to the corruption of bad work glorified.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Quad Births Expose Universal Weakness


A young women in the big rich first world city of Calgary, Canada is told to go to the small city of Great Falls, Montana because Canadian Universal Healthcare does not have four neo-natal ICU beds for the delivery of her identical quadruplets. More than one observer understands that Universal Healthcare is a pretty edifice to cover the ugly reality of rationing treatment within a bureaucratic monstrosity.

Don Surber: The Dionne quintuplets were born on May 28, 1934, to a humble, French-speaking couple in a farmhouse outside of Callander, Ontario, Canada. They were identical sisters and for the first 10 years of their lives, the five girls were the No. 1 tourism attraction in Canada. Then came free health care for all Canadians. Which is why the four identical Jepp sisters were born in Great Falls, Mont., instead of Calgary this weekend. The Canadian parents flew 325 miles to get to an American hospital.

It’s not like Great Falls, Mont., is a teeming metropolis. With 56,215 people, it is slightly larger than Charleston, W.Va. Calgary has more than a million people. This is like being demoted from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Charleston Alley Cats. … Canada’s backup system is in Montana. Americans spend 15% of their income on health care. That’s why Great Falls has enough neo-natal units to handle quadruple births — and a “universal health” nation doesn't.

The problems with financing the demand fees from health care providers are not solved under Universal Healthcare plans. The financing problems are made worse by completely removing the consumer from the process. Kate explains:

Small Dead Animals: Welcome to zero-tier health care. While the sacred cow of "universality" grazes on in the world of the reality-challenged, vast regions of the country are being transformed into zones of health care prohibition. With every new cut, more and more rural Canadians are faced with traveling long distances over crumbling roads to seek emergency care - the "vibrating gurney" of the rural ambulance.

The "not for profit" lie is so bold, so obvious, so outrageous, that it's difficult to understand how it's survived this long. The truth is precisely the opposite. Everyone in the Canadian health-care system, from top to bottom - from doctor, to nurse, to bureaucrat, to cleaner, to kitchen staff - has a guaranteed profit, guaranteed payment, often in wages that eclipse those in the private sector, regardless of quality or timeliness of patient care. … The most powerful check and balance of all - the ability of the customer to refuse payment to protest inadequate service - has been removed from the equation.

Single Payer (tax paid) Universal Healthcare plans will deteriorate the quality of American products and services without solving the problem of linking charges to need and ability to pay. If the United States is the “back up system” for Canada, then who will be become our backup system if we unwisely Canadianize ourselves? My first guess is Saudi Arabia.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Milwaukee Cops out of Bullets?


Oh No. The US Military is causing a bullet shortage for American police officers --- according to a “survey” conducted by the Associated Press. The Milwaukee Police Department say they are especially hard hit.

Associated Press: Troops training for and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are firing more than 1 billion bullets a year, contributing to ammunition shortages hitting police departments nationwide and preventing some officers from training with the weapons they carry on patrol.

In Milwaukee, supplies of .40-caliber handgun bullets and .223-caliber rifle rounds have gotten so low the department has repeatedly dipped into its ammunition reserves. Some weapons training has already been cut by 30 percent, and lessons on rifles have been altered to conserve bullets.

Wow -- A bullet shortage -- in Milwaukee? That doesn't sound right to me. These are exactly the type of “survey” findings that people predisposed to be anti-war and pro-gun control would love to embrace. Not that I’m questioning the motivations of the Associated Press, but their story ain’t true. The discussion at Ace of Spades pretty much dissects the logic flaws in the professional media conclusions.

Ammunition “Shortage” Squeezes Truth: Unfortunately for the astute fact checkers over at the AP, the article contains within it, facts that prove that this “serious problem” is almost a complete falsehood. The US Military does not use any .40, .45, or .38 Special caliber ammunition. The US Military uses only 9mm pistol ammunition, .233 (5.56mm), .308 (7.62mm) rifle ammunition, 12ga shotgun shells, and .50 caliber heavy machine gun rounds.

Police departments nationwide are being squeezed by the increased price of ammunition. Surging demand for ammunition by the US Military has affected the price and availability of certain types of ammunition. What the AP neglects to state is that, fueled by China’s and other developing nation’s voracious appetites for copper, brass, and lead, the price of those metals worldwide has tripled over the past few years. Such demand would have caused the price of ammunition to go up precipitously even if there were no ongoing war or increased US Military demand.

So if the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant is the supplier of the small caliber rounds used by the military and Wal-Mart has plenty of civilian caliber supplies in stock, then maybe the Associated Press is distributing inaccurate but agenda servicing conclusions.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Progressives for Less Power to the People


The progressive movement has convinced themselves that abundant energy is a bad thing. This view is wrong but it has given rise to well financed opposition to all North American energy infrastructure. Vikki Kratz writing for The Isthmus covers the ongoing local controversy over improving and expanding the electric infrastructure in Dane County. American Transmission Company is investing in the belief that people will continue to want electricity to keep their websites running.

They've got the power: The private, for-profit company has proposed spending $3.1 billion on power lines in Wisconsin over the next 10 years. ATC bullies citizens who object to its projects, while courting people in power, giving campaign contributions to politicians and huge sums to environmental groups. The company also spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising, touting its mission to "keep the lights on.”

And ATC has been enormously successful. So far, not a single one of its more than 30 proposed projects has been rejected by Wisconsin's Public Service Commission.

This is not to say that environmentalists don’t have an energy policy. They do and in its purest form it is simply USE LESS. Here is a Madison, Wisconsin example of how this policy is pursued.

Free Lightbulbs: Here's an opportunity to take action on global warming while providing a community service - free efficient lighting. We'll head out and about the Greenbush and Vilas neighborhoods with compact fluorescent light bulbs and information on energy efficiency and global warming. We have 1,000 bulbs to hand out. Over their lifetimes, they can save more than 450,000 pounds of global warming pollution and prevent more than 210,000 pounds of coal from being burned! (Not to mention, potentially saving our neighbors a total of $30,000 in energy costs) And we'll give folks coupons for more light bulbs and information on how to cut global warming pollution even more.

This episode of Think Globally, Act Locally is courtesy of Renew Wisconsin with support from the Madison Peak Oil Group. What type of people spend their adult lives in fear of a well lit energetic human planet? Ed Blume gives us some insight.

Interview with Ed Blume: When we first began to meet, we all felt that we needed a mission statement with goals and objectives. You know, like a real organization. We got over that pretty quickly, so we didn’t discuss our mission more than a couple of hours in our first couple of monthly meetings. We’ve become comfortable being a loosely knit group dedicated to educating the public and policymakers about the coming end of cheap oil.

I bike to and from work every day of the year except for when the streets are snow packed and slippery, so I burn some nervous energy biking back to home. A few years ago, I began practicing Kundalini yoga once or twice a week, and I feel calmer and more energetic at the same time after a yoga session.

I will not be surprised when the environmentalists start calling for rural de-electrification.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chavez Prepares His Lifetime Presidency


Hugo Chavez has always been upfront about his goal to remake Venezuela into a socialist society, so it is no surprise his control over the country is at the point where he can discard the last remaining vestiges of western liberal ideas of governance. Goodbye limited government. So long division of power. All hail the king.

President for life? The plan to abolish presidential term limits is part of a bundle of constitutional changes unveiled by Mr Chávez on August 15th. These would remove the last remaining checks and balances to presidential power in Venezuela. They would strip the Central Bank of all autonomy, allowing the government to spend the country's foreign reserves. The government would be given power to expropriate private property by decree, and to promote co-operatives and state enterprise.

Chavez Seeks New Constitution to Abolish Term Limits: ``We have to change the geometry of power,'' Chavez said in comments broadcast by state television, in which he proposed the creation of communes and federally governed cities across the country.

Of course there will be a referendum. Hugo has been busy creating his Unified Socialist Party Venezuela (PSUV) which will undoubtedly turn out the votes needed to assure passage. Gregory Wilpert’s pro-Chavista website provides an overview of the organizational efforts.

The Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela described by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as “a tool to guarantee the collective direction and continuity of the [Bolivarian] Revolution,” is well underway with most assemblies or “socialist battalions”, expected to elect their spokespeople next Saturday (August 18) for the founding congress of the new party.

Rafael Hern├índez, an aspirant of the new party, warned of intentions to “kidnap this extremely important stage in the construction of the PSUV as a political instrument of the revolution,” … To avoid this danger, Hernandez argued it was important for people to attend the meetings of the battalions and to study and to read the speeches of the president.

Careful study of the leader's message is very import for Party Members. Perhaps Hugo should collect his speeches into some type of Little Red Book where aspirants can gain wisdom like: “The secretary of a Party committee must be good at being a "squad leader". A Party committee has ten to twenty members; it is like a squad in the army, and the secretary is like the "squad leader". Then they can practice going door to door to insist people vote and assist them at the polls.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hillary for an Omniscient Presidency


Thank God for honesty. Hillary Clinton comes true to herself and announces the Nanny State. You will not escape the oversight of government. You will not have privacy in private affairs. You will be observable. You will be watched. Don’t even think about being invisible. “Americans from all walks of life across our country may be invisible to this president, but they're not invisible to me and they won't be invisible to the next president of the United States!” Your life will not escape the scrutiny of the politically correct. Your life will obey their guidance.

What kind of President does Hillary Rodham Clinton want to be? She wants all of her subjects to be visible to her eyes. She wants to know their concerns. She needs to observe their actions. She wants to know who dislikes her. She dreams of herself in her dreams: All Seeing, All Knowing, Wise. Exalted.

Other thoughts: (here), (here) and (here).


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Sub-Prime Summer II


It’s just another volatile summer trading day in the financial markets and Rob Kirby is reminded of phrase: “If you see a cock-roach, you’ve got cock-roaches.” First some details from Bloomberg.

Subprime-Infected Funds Drive Demand for Dollars: Last week's credit crunch has set off a worldwide rush for dollars as banks and fund managers scramble to pay back loans used to buy risky mortgage securities. … While the credit-market turmoil originated in the U.S. as delinquencies rose on subprime mortgages -- those made to borrowers with poor or spotty credit history -- it has spread around the world. European banks are particularly at risk after borrowing in dollars to finance their investments, analysts said. … The overnight lending rate for dollars in Europe, the London Interbank Offered Rate, jumped to its highest in six years as investors and lenders sought cash to unwind bets gone awry.

This is not an unfamiliar story: “borrowing dollars to finance their investments” turns into “bets gone awry”. Gambling with borrowed money is a bad habit, but apparently a widespread inclination as there has been a whole lot of speculation for profit. Rob Kirby points the finger at way various collateralized debt obligations (CDO's) have been used in privately negotiates swaps.

Derivatives Melt Down: In the past few weeks we’ve all been ‘peppered’ with reports about CDO’s and growing contagion associated with sub-prime mortgages. For clarity’s sake – everyone should first understand that these instruments are – for the most part – all broadly defined as OTC derivatives. ... The difficulties stemming from Bear Stearns has created reverberations throughout global financial markets with difficulties being reported in Australia, France and Germany. But what about other U.S. financial institutions? In the grand scheme of things, Bear Stearns is a “small payer” when it comes to OTC derivatives.

OTC Derivatives differ from futures trading in that they are privately negotiated contracts rather than exchange regulated contracts. (Derivative FAQ's) In the broadest terms OTC derivatives are agreements to trade cash flows between two parties. When the investment source of the cash flow starts to diminish, you need to find the cash elsewhere.

One of the points I was trying to clarify a couple posts ago is that the demand for high interest mortgage backed securities from the big financial institutions was the driving market force behind the weakening lending standards in the mortgage industry. Mortgage backed securities are not the problem. Gambling with leveraged assets is the culprit in this mess. Mortgage backed bonds are what create the continual circulation of cash enabling people to acquire home mortgages. Without a secondary market for mortgages our widespread home ownership society would not exist.

So some big banks are going to get hammered by losses and the effects will ripple through the economy for a while. Michelle Malkin links up some thoughts about tempting but inappropriate political desires for a housing bail out. Political interference has much more potential to make the situation worse. A contract is a contract and changing the rules on Wall Street or Main Street for political outcomes will damage society far worse than rich men loosing money and foolish dreamers moving back to an apartment.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Trolley Finale


Its official – Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz abandons his trolley folly – but only because he knows he can’t get it passed. Our beautiful downtown is spared this ugly destructive blight.

Mayor's Statement re: Streetcars: "There's an old saying in politics: when you've dug yourself into a hole, the first thing you do is drop the shovel. So I have decided that I will not continue to pursue the issue of streetcars in Madison. The issue is off the table.

"The Streetcar Study Committee will meet one more time to finalize its report and will then be disbanded. I will not pursue streetcars as part of the Regional Transit Authority. "Major public investments like streetcars should only be undertaken when there is broad consensus in the community, and that is clearly not the case with this issue".

Perhaps in time Dave Cieslewicz will come to understand there is no worldly danger from atmospheric carbon dioxide and that land cleared for farming, especially biofuel plantations, is the primary source of widespread habitat destruction. Our low density residential neighborhoods are far more natural and far more biodiverse than any corn field. It is ironic that this pronouncement follows a very large and vocal citizen meeting about increasing crime. The Mayor needs to decide if he wants to be an environmental activist working for bees and flowers, or a politician working for his citizen employers.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Sub-Prime Summer


The stock market has been squirrelly ever since a leveraged section of the financial world stumbles in March. What is borrowed must be paid back. Computer assisted financial leveraging schemes are falling apart forcing margin calls on these games of structured debt.

In the crisis following the Muslim attacks on New York and Washington DC, the new Republican Administration makes a decision to put lots of money into the American banking system. The primary intention is to stabilize business operations. It is also believed a positive secondary benefit of abundant liquidity will be a rise in home ownership. Mortgage loans are available at historically low interest rate levels and Americans seize the opportunity to fulfill the American Dream. Republicans believe home owners are the most tax sensitive segment of the population and, therefore, more likely to vote for promises of lower taxes.

The market responds exactly as expected. Private business is driven by competition to meet the consumer demand for enough cash to have the good life immediately. Big house, big debt, big deal. The surge in mortgages creates an oversupply of collateralized debt obligations (CDO) and specifically mortgage backed securities (MBS). Groups of assembled mortgages become a bond with a calculable cash payout and are sold as investments on the value of that payment.

In theory, asset backed instruments should have high stability because there is real property serving as full collateral behind the promise to pay. Wall Street firms quickly figure out they can use mortgage backed securities the same way they use any financial instrument. An age old trick is to borrow money at a intereset rate lower the yield rate of a bond purchased with those borrowed funds. The borrowed money is paid back from the cash flow of the purchased bond and the left over coin is all profit. The more base dollars the more the more coin a half point rate difference delivers so Wall Street grabs up the MBS with gusto. The math is simple and computer programs can divvy up an aggregate pool of mortgage interest any number of ways. It all works fine as long as the all the rates remain basically stable.

This is a high finance game and inevitably greed creeps in. The higher the spread between the cost of borrowing and the yields of mortgage backed securities the more profit is produced. Wall Street soon becomes willing to pay handsomely for all high yield MBS. These high yield bonds are created by bundling up mortgages paying the highest interest rates. High interest rate loans, however, go to high risk borrowers like real estate speculators or individuals with poor credit. As the demand from the leverage players grows for these “sub-prime” MBS bonds, the market works to produce more of them.

The way to sell more sub-prime loans is to fund more sub-prime loans. This means finding people willing to sign for the money and underwriters instructed and willing to approve them. The conventional 30 year fixed rate mortgage is supplanted by exotic loans designs with features like adjustable rates and interest only payment periods. The desire to create high interest loans even triggers a willingness to fund 100% financing on home purchases. These "no down payment" loans depend entirely on the value of the property which in turn drives appraisal inflation. In the real world, no appraiser jeopardizes their lender relationships by reporting back that a property is not worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

Then on February 27, 2007 the sub-prime market simply goes away. Freddie Mac announces they will no longer purchase sub-prime loans and within hours all of Wall Street follows the same path. The calculated yield and actual yield on many MBS is diverging because of increasing levels of payment default. It turns out that people who can’t make their payments, don’t. Plus when speculators loose their bet on home price appreciation, they just walk away leaving the property to cover the debt.

When the cost of the borrowed money exceeds the linked investment return, holders of high risk mortgage backed securities start loosing money and the house of cards begins to topple. The economy consists of cash, credit and assets with price established in buy and sell transactions. A significant issue with MBS is they are historically purchased as long term holdings and there is no active market for them. In private holdings, a bundle of $40 million dollars worth of mortgages with an aggregate yield of 7.25% should have a price that reflects the value. A public market would establish a price as the bond yield decays, but since no one is willing to buy these bonds the firms simply have no way of assigning an accurate value to these holdings. This indeterminate value simply freaks accountants out.

The collapse of leveraged financial positions in effect forces a margin call on MBS holders. Without a quick way to liquidate mortgage backed bonds for cash the firms are forced to sell other assets. The volume of stocks sold to raise cash pushes stock prices down on numerous days over the summer. The only good news is the volatility in the stock market is largely due to liquidity issues, or in other words the need to convert things to cash, and the Federal Reserve is actually quite capable at correcting liquidity imbalances.

Government issued currency ultimately depends on the faith individuals have in the financial system. Our financial system in practice either creates and destroys ephemeral money numbers on a daily basis. Billions of paper dollars are going to be lost but the actual tangible assets are all intact. It’s not like the oil supply to America is suddenly cut by a third. A $200,000 financed home re-sold for $150,000 is somebody’s bad fortune and someone else’s great deal. A $100 stock that retreats to a trading range in the $70’s still has considerable value.

The free market only guarantees that risk and reward remained grounded in real behavior. Our financial system knows how to deal with greed, so if politicians stay out of the way, the overall economy will eventually digest and discard this period of excess in the housing sector. The next big wave of adjustable rate mortgage re-sets are reportedly due in November so the days of market turmoil may keep happening from time to time till the end of the year. Hold on.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Leftist Look at Liberty


Assuming conservatives want to engage the left in the meaning of liberty in America, it helps to understand the way progressives view the issue. Boston Review

Friday, August 10, 2007

Another Physicist Against False Science


This is a fun fact: “The fundamental reason why carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is critically important to biology is that there is so little of it. A field of corn growing in full sunlight in the middle of the day uses up all the carbon dioxide within a meter of the ground in about five minutes.” The politicalization of science is beginning to cause real scientists, like Princeton Physics Professor Freeman Dyson, to step forward and assert the difference between science and computer programming.

Heretical Thoughts About Science and Society: My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in.

Here is another fun fact: “The number that I ask you to remember is the increase in thickness, averaged over one half of the land area of the planet, of the biomass that would result if all the carbon that we are emitting by burning fossil fuels were absorbed. The average increase in thickness is one hundredth of an inch per year.” Modern industrial society is going to dust the Earth with high quality top soil. The horror!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

UW Certified Propagandists


Our Federal tax dollars end up funding all kinds of projects. Three million of them are going to pay UW staff to train environmental activists for three semesters, after which the youth get an official certificate for completing communication and knowledge-management training. This is simply propaganda training with a UW seal of approval to assist kids in landing a really great non-profit or government job.

New certificate prepares students for global change: The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies will introduce a graduate-level Certificate on Humans and the Global Environment (CHANGE) that prepares students to tackle global environmental problems. The certificate program will be open to any graduate student at UW-Madison, regardless of major.

A $3 million grant last year from the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeships (IGERT) program made creation of the CHANGE program possible. Supplemented by $400,000 from the UW-Madison Graduate School.

CHANGE interweaves natural and social sciences and the humanities to explore the vulnerabilities and resilience of human communities facing complex environmental hazards. … The three-semester CHANGE curriculum will train students in professional communication and knowledge-management skills while exposing them to cutting-edge thinking about how human and nonhuman environmental systems operate and evolve.

Training in science is not required which makes this a great opportunity for people from the School of Education. I suspect people who don’t believe the lie of dangerous human induced climate change are not welcome. I may be wrong, but I’m not. Denial is a river of critical thinking through the desert of cutting-edge thought.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sacrificing Wisconsin for the Nation


This morning, John Stossel calls upon Wisconsin to be the laboratory for socialized medicine in the country. His premise is the inevitable failure of the Healthy Wisconsin initiative is necessary to show the public the fallacy of Democratic Party solutions. Those of us who live here need to ask ourselves if we are willing to sacrifice our jobs to save the larger country from ruin.

Let Wisconsin Experiment with Socialized Medicine: As I interview people for my health-care TV special scheduled to run on ABC this September, I'm struck by how many hate the current semi-free-market system America has now. I say "semi" because it's not a free market when about half the health-care bill is funded by government. But it's still better than socialism. It allows for innovation like the creation of better drugs, pain-relieving joint replacements, artificial hearts, LASIK eye surgery, and who-knows-what-else that may reduce pain and extend my life.

Socialism will kill that, but people seem to like socialism, at least when it's sold as free stuff from politicians. Wisconsin's Capital Times reports that "two-thirds of Wisconsin residents support the Democratic plan -- even when presented with opponents' arguments that it would be a 'job killer' that could lead to higher taxes ... Said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, one of the plan's sponsors, 'Everything we have heard [against the plan], we put in the poll. And it still comes back at 67 percent approval.'"

That's why America needs "Healthy Wisconsin." The fall of the Soviet Union deprived us of the biggest example of how socialism works. We need laboratories of failure to demonstrate what socialism is like. All we have now is Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, the U.S. Post Office, and state motor-vehicle departments. It's not enough. Wisconsin can show the other 49 states what "universal" coverage is like.

The problems with healthcare are financial issues, not service issues. The roots of these monetary strains go directly back to faulty insurance models and government constraints on the service supply side. The Cato Institute and TCS Daily go into details.

Insulation vs. Insurance: The health coverage most Americans have is what I call “insulation,” not insurance. Rather than insuring them against risk, most families’ health plans insulate them from paying for most health care bills, large and small. Real insurance, such as fire insurance, provides protection against rare, severe risk. Real insurance is characterized by: low premiums, infrequent claims and large claims.

The Universal Distraction: There is an artificial scarcity of service providers in health care, due to the need to obtain licenses to practice medicine, provide physical therapy, and so on. Licensing rules, while enacted in the name of protecting the consumer, typically serve the interests of providers, who enjoy membership in a cartel propped up by the government.

When the Democrats propose both more government control of providers and expansion of the pay for most everything plans, they demonstrate either ignorance why things are expensive, or more cynically, an ideological driven desire for expanded government power regardless of the consequences. More links on the topic are at QandO Blog and Badger Blog Alliance.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Russia Rediscovers a World View


Moving forward to the past. The phrase fits a number of current philosophies but La Russophobe finds the sentiment specifically active in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Their lengthy editorial argues that Anti-Western ideology is the official perfume being used on the unearthed corpse of Soviet Communism.

The Neo-Soviet State: The Russian political elite has long dreamed of finding a national idea capable of rallying the people. … President Vladimir Putin came to power under the unofficial slogan: "Let's put an end to the Yeltsin-era chaos." Now the elite is pushing a new national idea to rally the nation. It can be stated as follows: "We will protect the country from external enemies and establish a new global order to replace the one that so humiliated Russia in the 1990s." To put it more simply, Putin's motto is: "Russia is back!"

Searching for enemies and casting the West in the role of the principal foe has turned out to be the most successful method for rallying the people. … The arguments supporting the new national idea are plain and simple: "The West is interfering in our domestic affairs and attempting to weaken Russia. By promoting democracy, the West is really advancing its own interests." … Being pro-Western in Russia today is not only unpopular, but also dangerous because it necessarily means being anti-Russian.

What is behind the new national idea? Anti-Western ideology has become an important factor that legitimizes the highly centralized state. The Kremlin has to offer some kind of explanation for the concentration of authority in so few hands, the elimination of political pluralism, the expansion of the state's role in the economy and the redistribution of property. The search for enemies and the cultivation of a "siege mentality" have always been used to justify "iron-hand" regimes in Russia.

The Russians are in the process of claiming a huge portion of the Artic Circle and they know no power on earth is willing to stop them. On their southern border, Publius Pundit comments on Georgia claims that Russian jet fighters fire a missile that lands inside their borders without exploding. The Kremlin denies any wrong doing but the situation between the two countries is tense, to say the least.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Bad Roads and Rich Doctors


There is nothing better than a long drive to keep the reality of the country in perspective. The political debate is truly a thin veneer over the millions of people working to keep this country something special. Maybe there is a real blessing in the perpetual civil war of the two party system, where the battles are fought between individuals of no other good use for society. In the end the collective wisdom of the aggregate whole should keep us of safe from the special wisdom of the few.

I suspect that the population wants safe roads and free travel more than they want to be ordered to pay a half days wages to keep irresponsible strangers ambulatory. John Goodman updates his ideas on the push for health finance reform.

Health Reform Part III: Sound and Fury: In a previous alert, I argued there are three important questions to be asked of one and all:

1. Does the plan force anyone - any patient, any doctor, any nurse, any hospital, any insurer, any employer, any government agency, any anybody anywhere - to choose between health care and other uses of money?

2. Does the plan force any provider of care - any doctor, any nurse, any hospital, any anybody on the provider-side - to compete for patients based on price and/or quality of care?

3. Does the plan allow patients now trapped in schemes that ration care by waiting - Medicaid, S-CHIP, Medicare, emergency room free care, VA system, CHAMPUS, Indian Health Service (Indian Health? yeah, why not?) - to have the same access to doctors, hospitals, clinics, etc., that privately insured patients have?

If the answer to the first question is "no," the plan will not control costs. If the answer to the second question is "no," the plan will not improve quality. If the answer to the third question is "no," the plan will not increase access to care. If the answer to the full set is "no, no and no" (and I believe in almost all cases it is "no, no and no"), the plan is hardly worth talking about.

Health Care is not a problem in the United States. Finding enough money to pay the asking price for everything is the problem.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Depending on Forty Year Old Engineering


America’s nuclear weapons are the big psychological boogeymen in international power politics. The biggest of the big sticks the world believes we can pull out of the bag if needed. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) charged with maintaining the arsenal, however, points out that none of these thirty to forty year old machines have been tested in the last fifteen years. Everyone just assumes that flipping the switch will still produce a big boom.

CRS Report for Congress: Almost all warheads in the current stockpile were built in the 1970s and 1980s. They require ongoing surveillance and maintenance because their components deteriorate. … NNSA is concerned that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain high confidence in current warheads for the long term with LEP. Reflecting this concern, Congress initiated the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program in the FY2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 108-447) “to improve the reliability, longevity and certifiability of existing weapons and their components.”

Nuclear weapons will continue to play a key role in U.S. security policy for many decades. Yet the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Department of Energy (DOE) agency in charge of the nuclear weapons program, have raised concerns that maintaining current weapons, which date from the Cold War, will become increasingly difficult.

At issue for Congress is how best to maintain the nuclear stockpile so that it will retain, for many decades, capabilities that political and military leaders deem necessary. There are three main options: (1) extend the service lives of current warheads without nuclear testing; (2) develop, build, and deploy a new generation of warheads without testing to replace the current stockpile; or (3) resume nuclear testing, which the United States suspended in 1992, as a tool to help maintain existing warheads or develop new ones. … This report does not consider a fourth option, abolition of U.S. nuclear weapons, as it has garnered no support in Congress or the Administration.

The current debate within the bureaucrats is between continual maintenance of old stuff via the Life Extension Program (LEP), or adoption of devices with technology newer than Jimmy Carter era nuclear know how. The Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program is actively designing a new generation of fission devices. There seems to be great confidence that computer simulated prototypes don’t need real world testing, and hopefully this can remain a debating game between engineers with microprocessors and bureaucrats with federal budgets.

Road tripping down south tomorrow. Mississippi River crossings at St. Louis and Memphis. I hope that Carter era engineering is good for another four days.