About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.







Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fading Fast


It would seem that GOP committee members have the "good humor and good sense" to be tone deaf racist bigots:
The chairman of the Republican National Committee said Saturday he was "shocked and appalled" that one of his potential successors had sent committee members a CD this Christmas featuring a 2007 song called "Barack the Magic Negro."
Hmm. I think that the current Republican party is busily turning itself into an historical footnote of insignificance.

Irreversible

Yeah. Right.

Today's attacks on Gaza are horrible, gruesome, and likely to increase---and it was entirely avoidable, if Hamas weren't intent on playing poker with the lives of their own people and those of the Israelis as well. And the US expresses "hope that civilian casualties can be kept to a minimum."

Thank goodness that whole Annapolis thing is completely set in stone and perpetually driving all this.

Harumph.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Apologies


The radio silence of the last few days is not due to lack of rants available, nor of interest: it appears that I've blown out a disk in my lower back, and that has complicated even the most basic of activities in my daily routine. The blogging has had to take a backseat to icepacks and chiropractic visits. But, in the spirit of the holiday season, here's a little amuse from the BBC to help shatter any stereotypes of the Muslim middle east and sexual mores that might be lingering in the corners of your mind:
Sexy secrets of the Syrian souk
Happy Holidays, one and all!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Culpability Of The Quants

As I ponder on the AIG bailout, the bank bailout, the auto bailout, and now the hedge fund bailout, I find myself pondering the issues raised in this Scientific American article, which states what should be obvious but somehow isn't:
The software models in question estimate the level of financial risk of a portfolio for a set period at a certain confidence level. As Benoit Mandelbrot, the fractal pioneer who is a longtime critic of mainstream financial theory, wrote in Scientific American in 1999, established modeling techniques presume falsely that radically large market shifts are unlikely and that all price changes are statistically independent; today’s fluctuations have nothing to do with tomorrow’s—and one bank’s portfolio is unrelated to the next’s. Here is where reality and rocket science diverge.
Unfortunately, it appears that no one will need to take responsibility for their actions, or be held accountable, since we are handing out bailout money with bothering to demand it.

Speaking of which, I could use a bailout myself. I know there have been lapses in judgment, and losses, but I assure you that my management is ready to do what it takes to use someone else's funds to my advantage. Really.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Not Linkin', Just Thinkin'

I'll link up to the articles in question later. But just some thoughts first. Bush has approved a bailout for the auto industry, with some caveats built in for accountability. I doubt it will have the desired effect. But we'll see. In the meanwhile, people are beginning to realize that the Madoff ponzi scheme scandal is a) all too similar to business as usual on Wall Street the last decade or two, and b) that there is more and more murmuring that the investors whom he bilked of that $50 billion may well ask for their own government bailout. I hope that doesn't come to pass; we are well on our way down the slippery slope to a total dismantling of both the benefit of the marketplace in action, and the benefit of government action to support it, leaving us with the worst of both worlds: failed capitalism and doomed socialism. Not a pretty picture, and a costly one.

At the same time, things are looking bleaker and bleaker here in California, with the Governator planning a veto of the Democrats latest attempt to salvage the State budget, and no other options on the table. And apparently, it has come as a surprise to some here that while mortgage rates are at an historic low, the only people who can qualify are those with good credit and no troubles ---- in other words, the people who don't need relief in the first place.

And in the Middle East, Hamas has officially ended the truce in Gaza, although the breaches have been numerous of late in any case. Good thing the UN passed that resolution the other day regarding the irreversibility of the peace process....

It's a winter day, dark with rainclouds, and the news appears to be following suit. I'll rant more later. Now, though, it's time for more coffee.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

One For The Season

For all my Jewish (or slightly non-Christian-ish) fellow travelers:

Sanity Bites Back.

It looks like the Dems up in Sacto are planning an end run around the stonewalling GOP. The new package requires only a simple majority vote, and so should pass. It is a queer package of goods, and as it all applies to the general fund, it is ripe for abuse, but hey: if it gets us limping along to something better, then I'm for it. And frankly, a move to a more sensible gas tax is pretty OK in my book.

So if it passes, we are halfway there. Perhaps the GOP can come up with another $20 billion in revenue to finish closing the gap...

The Latest

It's 37 degrees out on the street on the west side of San Francisco; there's snow in the Berkeley hills. But the skies are clear blue, and the sun is out, so that's an upgrade since yesterday. The Democratic budget plan failed in the state legislature yesterday, and the GOP alternative is also likely to go down in flames. Highway construction, new schools, and housing projects are all being shut down immediately, as there is no more money for infrastructure projects without covering the deficit gap.

And while you may not care, an interesting bit of foodie news today: George Morrone just took over the perenially lackluster kitchen at the Cliff House here in SF. If there is hope for a great meal at that great location, it could be resident in Morrone's talent. Here's hoping. And if he's making soup there this winter, I may even haul my butt out to Ocean Beach to try it out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dumbest. Resolution. Ever.

The UN declaring that the Palestinian - Israeli peace process is "irreversible" is a bit like declaring that summer shall be eternal because, well, we like sunny weather.

Still, it's a nice gesture, I guess.

More on the Rate Cut

Krugman thinks we're in the deep doo. He also notes one of his Princeton colleagues who wrestled with the Japanese liquidity trap issue with him back in the day: Ben Bernanke.

Hmmm.

A Penny Saved Is....


Straight from OddTodd, here's a New Jersey story for our beleaguered times: it seems that in New Jersey, the penny is no longer legal tender when it comes to the courts and traffic fines. Hilarious.

Fed Cuts Rate from 1% to 0.25%

Read the release. Seems that some analysts are doubtful about the efficacy.

The Big 3....2....1......


McClatchy has a good review of some of the feelings running high in the Congress (and their constituencies) regarding the auto industry's failure.
"The bankers were only excessively greedy for the past 10 to 15 years," he said. "Detroit Three management has been inept and greedy _ with the exception of (former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca) for about 50 years."
Despite the current bailout fever, it seems that the American people still can smell a pile of crap when it drives up to their front door.

Feel Good Journalism.

A bright and cheery piece for the holidays from Reuters.
"The myth of wonderful capitalism is dead but not capitalism, just the nice warm fuzziness."

Every week, there is more hard-to-believe news; a Wall Street trader arrested on charges of a $50 billion investor fraud, and the governor of Illinois accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

There is now so little respect for President George W. Bush that an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at him on Sunday, a grievous insult in Iraqi culture. Bush prepares to leave office next month with a presidential legacy battered by the grim economy and the unpopular war in Iraq.

Everyone agrees the situation in America, now officially in recession, is certainly bleak.

Shoes

Andrew Sullivan ponders the shoe tosser, and rumors that he has been abused while in US custody:
I was wondering how Bush could make his legacy even more toxic in the few weeks left to him. Some thought it impossible in the middle of two failed wars, $10 trillion in debt; $32 trillion in new entitlement liabilties, and a second Great Depression. But we are always misunderestimating him.

Microsoft Finds Macro Flaw

Users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer are being urged by experts to switch to a rival until a serious security flaw has been fixed.
Man, that's a slam.

Of course, for everything other than streaming movies from Netflix, I use Firefox. So I am less concerned. But for the rest of you, watch out....

One Answer.


Here's some thoughts on the why and wherefore (micro, not macro) of my homeless man, and some of his compatriots.
Indications are that we are only seeing the beginning of what the faltering economy will do to those living on the edge of homelessness. While the family shelter waiting list is longest for families in San Francisco, single men, particularly returning veterans, continue to be most likely to end up on the street.

Investing In The Future

There is never a benefit cutting education funding without a plan to improve and increase educational opportunities and find cheaper ways of doing more, or find funding elsewhere. The California GOP, blindered by their "no new taxes" pledge, offers to cut off our nose to spite our face by removing $10 billion from educational spending in the State, at a time when spending --- while perhaps ill-used at the moment --- must be increased to meet the future need of an educated and employable population for the State.
The largest chunk of spending cuts, nearly $10 billion over the next 18 months, would come out of K-12 education. This year, the state is spending $58 billion on public schools.
Perhaps the answer is to address once and for all how we spend the money, rather than simply taking away %17 of the money available to teach our children during the most critical time of their lives.

Meditation

I haven't yet been able to read much of the news; I've been distracted by my sciatica, and trying to deal with what now appears to be truly constant pain in my hip and leg. Sleeping has been difficult, and while movement --- particularly getting up and down, sitting and rotary motions --- is quite painful, stretching and constant motion is so far appealing to me as the best remedy for even temporary alleviation. Walking, stretching, I am actually tempted to try running, even though I know it would likely just exacerbate whatever is at the root cause.

In any case, the pain has led me to some serious thinking about life, and the realities of our time on this earth, and how we treat one another, and ourselves.

I am in the café right now; on the way here I passed a new local street person, one of the thousands of homeless here in San Francisco. He is notable because we don't have too many homeless on the streets out in this neighborhood, stuck in the far northwestern corner of the city. Those we do tend to settle in to the locale, find their corners and doorways, and stay for months or years. This man showed up next to the local fast food spot a few weeks ago. He has a bicycle laden with what would seem to be all his worldly goods, a sort of more mobile shopping cart. Typically I see him sitting up, sleeping, in the rear doorway of the building, wrapped in camouflage clothing.

Today he has a plastic rain poncho (also camouflage), and his beard has begun to grow out. His bicycle was parked in his usual seat; he stood in the next doorway urinating.

It is 44 degrees out, and raining on and off. I see this poor man, and I feel a mix of emotions: pity, loathing, fear (not of him, but for myself), curiosity, sorrow, anger. He is only one of thousands in the city.

What have we made, and why do we allow it to continue?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Truly Odd


The Gerrothorax Pulcherrimus:
"It's weird. It's the ugliest animal in the world," Harvard University's Farish Jenkins, one of the scientists who describe the mechanics of its bite in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, said in a telephone interview on Friday.
I don't know if I quite agree about that "ugliest" bit. But it sure is weird.

Perhaps She Owed Paul?


You have to wonder at the motive behind this sort of theft:
A bold thief has taken a portrait from the altar of Sacramento's Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.
On a Friday afternoon, for a portrait estimated at a mere $200 bucks.

Only In Paris

The nude artist's models in France are protesting against the taking away of their tip jars.

Protesting. Naked. In the winter. In Paris.

I sure hope they are filled with fiery indignation, because otherwise, that's a lot of icy cold butt cheek out on the boulevard....

No Wonder....


via Slashdot, this article gives some insight: it appears that all those utterly dense people who have missed the humor in 90% of what I say really are friggin' nuts:
Researchers at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, found that patients under the age of 65 suffering from frontotemporal dementia (FTD), the second most common form of dementia, cannot detect when someone is being sarcastic.
Well!

Progress II

Turkish intellectuals apologize for the Armenian genocide.

Progress

Small steps in the face of the growing Chinese powerhouse. Taiwan and China begin daily flights back and forth for the first time since the civil war.
"Taiwan and China have launched direct daily flights and cargo shipping, the first time in nearly 60 years that such direct transport links been allowed."

Clintons and Kennedys


Really not sure how to feel about this: Caroline Kennedy is going to try for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat in New York. I'm no detractor of Kennedy, but she has always struck me as more of a philanthropic cultural benefactor than a political actor. I also have queasy misgivings about yet again the opportunity of replacing the scion of one political dynasty with another. At this point I'm uncertain that there is a large difference (philosopshically/metaphysically) between branches of Bushes, and Kennedys, and Clintons. Then again, I wonder what the options are. There is something discomfiting about electing a name rather than a person. And I fully expect that when she runs, unless there is a major player running in competition, that the people of New York will elect her. But most likely not elect Caroline Kennedy---they will elect Caroline KENNEDY, scion of Kennedys, and image of the House of Kennedy.

Moon Day

The full moon is just now passing, and there is so much going on out in the world that I don't know where to begin. It doesn't help that inside my own small befuddled head there is so much pressure that it feels as though my skull will explode. But nevertheless, here is what I see when I glance out the window of my so-called soul:

α) The $50 billion Madoff Ponzi scheme. Here we have a prestigious fund manager doing what in effect every gambler does, only to a greater extent---and hence providing greater exposure to failure. It is an impressively audacious bit of criminal cruelty, as well as an incredibly poorly timed one. Then again, I wonder how many other minor schemes that are accomplished daily by the quite reputable firms around the country on which the economy seems to now rely so heavily, how many of those are given a pass simply on good faith and a wink? What was the straw that brought down Madoff's camel shell game? Was it simply scope, or did he piss someone off?

β) Bush's Close Encounter with a pair of size 10 shoes in Baghdad. There was a lot of chatter on this one yesterday, ranging from why was the Secret Service so slow to respond to how quick George Bush's ducking response was. Today the yammering is more reserved to how lauded the journalist's move is in the Middle East\. In any case, it was certainly an inauspicious close to Bush's legacy in Iraq, and probably not what he was hoping for.

γ) On the local front, faced with a loss of more than half its discretionary spending fund, SF is negotiating layoffs with the unions. I wish that someone would ask me about where waste could be trimmed; I fear that my brief time within the wheels showed me just how poorly things can be handled within a city bureaucracy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ripe For Satire

This article cries out for someone funnier than me to give some treatment (though I'm not wuite sure what):
Scientists find 2,000-year-old brain in Britain

Talking Bailouts and Calling Bullshit

Joseph Stiglitz calls it like it is, and calls for bankruptcy rather than bailout:
The failure lies with the managers of US carmakers and America’s financial markets, which failed in their oversight and encouraged short-sighted behaviour. The “bridge loan to nowhere” – the down payment on what could be a sinkhole of enormous proportions – is another example of the short-sighted behaviour that got us into this mess.
And he's right. While intervention is necessary, we cannot continue to alleviate downside risk while propping up upside gain for executives and investors. I'm awfully tired of hearing about haircuts and moral hazard and too big to fail---nothing is too big to fail, as long as the interventions are structured to allow for graceful failure, and a "soft landing."

Big Moon


Tonoght at its closest in 15 years.

I'll be looking up.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

No Bailout

It looks like the auto boys are S.O.L. tonight, after the union nixed the demands of the Republicans in Congress.

We'll see what shoe drops next in this little dance.

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

From AP:
The Labor Department said last week that employers cut a net total of 533,000 jobs in November, and the unemployment rate reached 6.7 percent, a 15-year high. And the latest jobless claims figures indicate that the December report could be just as bad or worse, Abiel Reinhart, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase Bank, wrote in a client note.

Companies have eliminated a net total of 1.9 million jobs this year, and some economists project the total cuts could reach 3 million by the spring of 2010.

Several large U.S. employers announced layoffs this week, including Dow Chemical Co., 3M Co., Anheuser-Busch InBev, National Public Radio and the National Football League.
As well as BofA (35,000), Stanley (2,000) and Sara Lee (700). We now have nearly 4.5 million people officially unemployed. Factor in to that our known undercounting (those who don't file, who give up looking, etc.) and we can guess at a number closer to 5 million.

That's a lot of people looking for work. And remember: they (and presumably their families) are also uninsured. Ponder the financial implications of that, grasshopper.

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

Or at least roundly castigated by the pointing finger of responsibility: the bipartisan report on torture tactics looks up the food chain to....Donald Rumsfeld.
"It is particularly troubling that senior officials approved the use of interrogation techniques that were originally designed to simulate abusive tactics used by our enemies against our own soldiers and that were modeled, in part, on tactics used by the Communist Chinese to elicit false confessions from U.S. military personnel," the report said.
The absurd blindness that could allow the descent into what is now our legacy of the last six years would require some twisted brilliance in the realm of deep thought---and that does indeed smell like a Rumsfeld spoor. Let's hope that this report is only the first step in clearing the air, opening the doors, and ending the era of American Torture. I agree with the report's authors, in looking to the words of General Petraeus, on what makes us (and keeps us) who we are in times of great trial:
"Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right," wrote Petraeus, who at the time was the top U.S. commander in Iraq. "Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy."
Here's to January, and a return to sanity.

Constitutionality

Really paying attention to detail....for once. I have to say, though: the Clintons certainly won't be hurting due to a 5K pay cut for Hillary; and the emoluments clause actually does matter.

Now, let's just hope she doesn't turn out to do the job $5,000 less well than her predecessor.

Good News, Bad News.


After spending the day yesterday on a mini-holiday, resting my sciatica and mulling over my professional futures, it looks like things haven't changed much: On the bright side, Obama has officially tapped Daschle to lead the Health Care Reform, and as I said before, this is a great choice for the nation. On the other hand, Krugman is noting the steady arterial bleeding of jobs at a rate of three quarter of a million per month. That, if true, is terrifying. And as a member of the clan of the un- and under-employed, it sends chills down my already damaged and aching spine.

And here in SF, we are still looking down the maw of an unruly and seemingly untameable beast of deficit and cuts. While over in India, things continue to roil as Pakistan attempts to walk a fine line of action. George Friedman at Stratfor continues to have some of the best analysis of the situation, particularly framed from a more Indian (and thus Western) perspective:
"If the Pakistani government is in control of the country, it should be able to weather the storm. If it can't weather the storm, then the government is not in control of Pakistan. And if it could weather the storm but chooses not to incur the costs, then India can reasonably claim that Pakistan is prepared to export terrorism rather than endure it at home. In either event, the demand reveals things about the Pakistani reality."
And in either event, we're in for a bumpy ride.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Feel Good Story.

This story, with the lede of
Honest woman finds $97K in restroom, returns it
is both a lovely testament to the positive aspects of human nature, and a depressing reminder that such action is so rare as to make headline news.

A Thought

In the wake of desperately, corrupt, cynical, or self-serving actions by people involved in politics, or management, business, or even social networking, we all too often hear as an explanatory dismissal
"Look; that's just how [enter category here: 'politics', 'business', etc.] works."
We need to start responding responsibly:
"No, that's not how it works. That's just how you are working it."
Stand up. Speak truth.

Fiscal Irresponsibility

In a few days, the State of California will go bust on infrastructure development. And here in SF, we face more than a half a billion dollar deficit next year---and the big proposal from the Board of Supervisors (fresh from their successes in stacking the new board with the "progressive"* slate) is to slash funding for the arts by 50%. For a net savings of $1.1 million. Against almost $600 million in shortfalls. And the very programs they look to cut are those which bring significant revenue and marketability to the city: the cachet of the Symphony, and the Opera, and our Museums far outweighs the running costs they represent in the budget. The lifeline of this city is the tourist trade; to devalue the very issues which promote that industry is idiotic. Happily, it looks like the Mayor agrees with me on this.

Still, we face a terrible mess, and the reckoning is coming quickly.

* Progressive is a misnomer; they are more reactionary pseudo-populists.

No Surprise.

An important report straight from the Department of the Obvious:
"The DHS has a 1970s-style solution to a 21st century problem."
Well, yes. Let's hope that some of the recommendations in this report get taken up by the new administration. It's long overdue.

Wow.

What a morning: First, the news that Illinois Governor Blagojevich has been arrested for being just possibly the stupidest corrupt official on the planet---trying, among other things, to sell off Barack Obama's former Senate seat to the highest bidder. Despite being, as TPM notes, just about the most bugged, monitored, and traced elected official in America. What disgusting arrogance.

Next, Sony is sacking 16,000 employees, while the Tribune (and thus its 8 major daily papers, not least of which the LA Times) has filed for bankruptcy. This is the sort of "contraction" fallout which will have greater social repercussions than are initially apparent. It spills over from economics into communications, and knowledge, and the way we both receive and interpret the world.

More soon.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Israel And Gaza.

Troubling.

Raise a Glass


One of the numerous markers passed through this weekend was the 75th anniversary of the enactment of the 21st amendment to the US Constitution, and the end of that failed social experiment known as "Prohibition." It's worth a moment's consideration at this time, when so many people are so actively pursuing the restriction of "immoral" activities through legislation - just think of Proposition 8, teen abstinence programs, or the raiding of medical marijuana dispensaries - and think of just how disastrous the temperance movement's achievement was. Yet again, we seem to ignore the failings of any program when pursued at an extreme.

So: have a moderate drink, and enjoy with moderation the sanity of 75 years of growing up.

Thanks, Benedict!


The Pope is praying for us:
Benedict said he was asking the Virgin Mary to help families struggling to make ends meet and those who can't find work or who have just lost their jobs.

Random Thought


In his book, The Ascent Of Money, Niall Ferguson notes that despite the increase in global interest in the topic, student enrollment in Finance (at least at Harvard) has increased among men in the last 35 years by a factor of 3 from 5% to 15%, yet among women from only 2.3% to 3.4%. He duly notes the underrepresentation of women in the field. Later on, he notes that the burgeoning world of microfinance has made clear that women are overwhelmingly a far better credit risk than men.

He does not go on to either note or investigate the implied possible correlations.

New Week

The market is soaring as the lame duck administration and the Obama administration in waiting come to terms with the auto makers; honestly, I don't see any major benefit in pushing through resolution on this prior to next month, rather than letting them limp along on life support until the new crew have greater authority to manage terms. But I doubt we'll have that much sense.

At the same time, Pakistan has preemptively raided a Lashkar-i-Taiba camp in Kashmir, and arrested a top actor; apparently in the hope to avoid India doing the same and sparking greater conflict. This also may give them some cover from any ties that surface between the attacks and the Pakistani government, military or intelligence services. My bet is that those ties will indeed surface, and will have remarkably little impact on the continuing mess of a relationship between the US and Pakistan, our own governments favorite rogue nation.

And this weekend saw more worldwide chaos, and the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and more troubles for our local economy: CalPers is announcing today a 31% loss. And yet I still talk to people here in SF living in some fantasy where everything is going to turn around again tomorrow, and the credit will start flowing again. Sigh.

So, happy Monday, one and all. Today I plan on monitoring the progress of my latest batch of beer, in the hope that its fermentation trajectory is a bit less volatile than worldwide economics and politics.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

From Fart Joke To Power Generation



This is sort of cool --- and long overdue. The methane capture for power generation from livestock is an obvious if overlooked win. What's more amazing to me is the graphic showing the C02 production per pound of product: beef is woefully expensive in carbon emissions.

If that isn't a good talking point for cutting back on burgers, I don't know what is. I do notice though, that the tradeoff between much vegetable, dairy and grain production and that of chicken, pork, and fish, is pretty minimal.

Sorry vegetarians: no love for you there.

But really: if the dutch can harness pig farts to heat their homes and light their lights, then we can too.

Upbeat


In a huge win for conservationists here in CA, the Jenner Headlands --- more than 5,600 acres of pristine coastal land --- has been purchased complete and entire for preservation, rather than development. It's really a great coup; the land overlooking the Russian River delta is spectacular, and is little changed over the last few centuries. The opportunity to keep (and share!) it with future generations is wonderful.

Change We Can Believe In



The big three tell congress:

This time, it'll be different. Really.

Mumbai

It is looking more and more like the work of a Pakistani terrorist group, with backing from al-Qaeda, training from ISI, and a blueprint for action all too similar in scope to the "Landmarks" attack plan that was foiled in New York. Even more disconcerting is the evidence that the victims in the Jewish Cultural Center were brutalized before their murders: abused, throttled, tortured.

Nothing good can come of this.

More Layoffs

12,000 from AT&T.

5,300 out from Credit Suisse.

600 canned at Adobe.

Where are all these people going to find work?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

250,000


Ouch. That's a lot of jobs to vaporize:
The US services sector contracted by the most on record in November, while the private sector as a whole lost 250,000 jobs, data on Wednesday showed.
It's going to be a long, cold winter.

Round 1: India. Round 2: Terrorists.

Mumbai rallied and the Indian forces did a fine job shutting down the siege this last week. It was a tragedy, but could have been far worse (consider the abandoned explosives found today in the railway station). But now, the rift between Pakistan and India is rapidly widening again, and tensions are rising. And as the Stratfor essay shows, this is likely just what was hoped for. In classic form,
Indian officials are convinced that the terrorists communicated with Yusuf Muzammil, a top aide to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakvhi, the operational commander of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. The militant group is thought to have had extensive links with Pakistan's security services in the past, but the organization is now banned and it's unclear to what extent those ties still exist.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, however, has not even accepted that the lone surviving attacker came from his country. "We have not been given any tangible proof to say that he is definitely a Pakistani. I very much doubt ... that he's a Pakistani," he told CNN's Larry King Tuesday.

Potato. Potahto. I keep flashing on the interaction (some would say altercation) between the representatives from India and Pakistan in 2003 at a conference on terrorism and defense, where the question of "what is a terrorist" was answered by the Indian ambassador essentially as "a Pakistani with a gun."

He was, of course, far more eloquent than that. But still. All I'm thinking now, is "here we go again...."

And Another Thing

This story pisses me off. It is a perfect example of why we should as a nation look at wresting the control of our health care away from an insurance model, and move toward universal care. Say what you will, but the lede is pretty accurate:
Slain At Work, Insurance Denied
Insurer says woman's racial killing wasn't related to work as it denies death benefits to her son.
I'm disgusted. But that's the point: insurance companies are in the business of determining how to avoid payment. That's how they stay in business. And it is antithetical to the needs of the individual in cases like this one, and in every medical decision made. Actuarial tables should not inform decisions on wellness, or quality of life.

Doing It Right

However grudgingly, here is Stanford University reducing costs in the face of hardship the right way---compared to how the State Universities are dealing with it.
"President (John) Hennessy and I have decided that in light of the extraordinary pressure on the university budget, we both will take an immediate 10 percent reduction in our salaries," wrote Provost John Etchemendy
And voluntary cuts in pay for a chunk of the other administrators as well. No firings of faculty or student support staff. No reductions in teaching. Hiring freezes, sure, and reductions in hours. But where CSU and UC will raid the teaching staff first, they should take a leaf from Stanford's book, and cut from the top --- voluntarily --- before any other measure is taken.

Hump Day Morning

So, it's Chambliss in Georgia, and Richardson at Commerce; Norway is hosting a gathering where nearly every nation is signing a long-overdue treaty banning the use and stockpiling of cluster bombs; unfortunately, as always, a few key faces are missing: US, Russia, China, India, Israel, Pakistan. I'd call it less a landmark than a small (if significant and necessary) bump in the road.

Oh, and there is a call for more troops in Afghanistan.

The good news? My maple-apple tart tatin came out pretty well last night, and morning coffee is tasting good.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

One Answer.

I asked earlier about the strategic goals of the Mumbai attacks; another answer to that question has been provided by George Friedman over at Stratfor. It's long, but worth reading in full:


STRATEGIC MOTIVATIONS FOR THE MUMBAI ATTACK

By George Friedman

Last Wednesday evening, a group of Islamist operatives carried out a complex terror operation in the Indian city of Mumbai. The attack was not complex because of the weapons used or its size, but in the apparent training, multiple methods of approaching the city and excellent operational security and discipline in the final phases of the operation, when the last remaining attackers held out in the Taj Mahal hotel for several days. The operational goal of the attack clearly was to cause as many casualties as possible, particularly among Jews and well-to-do guests of five-star hotels. But attacks on various other targets, from railroad stations to hospitals, indicate that the more general purpose was to spread terror in a major Indian city.

While it is not clear precisely who carried out the Mumbai attack, two separate units apparently were involved. One group, possibly consisting of Indian Muslims, was established in Mumbai ahead of the attacks. The second group appears to have just arrived. It traveled via ship from Karachi, Pakistan, later hijacked a small Indian vessel to get past Indian coastal patrols, and ultimately landed near Mumbai.

Extensive preparations apparently had been made, including surveillance of the targets. So while the precise number of attackers remains unclear, the attack clearly was well-planned and well-executed.

Evidence and logic suggest that radical Pakistani Islamists carried out the attack. These groups have a highly complex and deliberately amorphous structure. Rather than being centrally controlled, ad hoc teams are created with links to one or more groups. Conceivably, they might have lacked links to any group, but this is hard to believe. Too much planning and training were involved in this attack for it to have been conceived by a bunch of guys in a garage. While precisely which radical Pakistani Islamist group or groups were involved is unknown, the Mumbai attack appears to have originated in Pakistan. It could have been linked to al Qaeda prime or its various franchises and/or to Kashmiri insurgents.

More important than the question of the exact group that carried out the attack, however, is the attackers' strategic end. There is a tendency to regard terror attacks as ends in themselves, carried out simply for the sake of spreading terror. In the highly politicized atmosphere of Pakistan's radical Islamist factions, however, terror frequently has a more sophisticated and strategic purpose. Whoever invested the time and took the risk in organizing this attack had a reason to do so. Let's work backward to that reason by examining the logical outcomes following this attack.

An End to New Delhi's Restraint

The most striking aspect of the Mumbai attack is the challenge it presents to the Indian government -- a challenge almost impossible for New Delhi to ignore. A December 2001 Islamist attack on the Indian parliament triggered an intense confrontation between India and Pakistan. Since then, New Delhi has not responded in a dramatic fashion to numerous Islamist attacks against India that were traceable to Pakistan. The Mumbai attack, by contrast, aimed to force a response from New Delhi by being so grievous that any Indian government showing only a muted reaction to it would fall.

India's restrained response to Islamist attacks (even those originating in Pakistan) in recent years has come about because New Delhi has understood that, for a host of reasons, Islamabad has been unable to control radical Pakistani Islamist groups. India did not want war with Pakistan; it felt it had more important issues to deal with. New Delhi therefore accepted Islamabad's assurances that Pakistan would do its best to curb terror attacks, and after suitable posturing, allowed tensions originating from Islamist attacks to pass.

This time, however, the attackers struck in such a way that New Delhi couldn't allow the incident to pass. As one might expect, public opinion in India is shifting from stunned to furious. India's Congress party-led government is politically weak and nearing the end of its life span. It lacks the political power to ignore the attack, even if it were inclined to do so. If it ignored the attack, it would fall, and a more intensely nationalist government would take its place. It is therefore very difficult to imagine circumstances under which the Indians could respond to this attack in the same manner they have to recent Islamist attacks.

What the Indians actually will do is not clear. In 2001-2002, New Delhi responded to the attack on the Indian parliament by moving forces close to the Pakistani border and the Line of Control that separates Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, engaging in artillery duels along the front, and bringing its nuclear forces to a high level of alert. The Pakistanis made a similar response. Whether India ever actually intended to attack Pakistan remains unclear, but either way, New Delhi created an intense crisis in Pakistan.

The U.S. and the Indo-Pakistani Crisis

The United States used this crisis for its own ends. Having just completed the first phase of its campaign in Afghanistan, Washington was intensely pressuring Pakistan's then-Musharraf government to expand cooperation with the United States; purge its intelligence organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of radical Islamists; and crack down on al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Afghan-Pakistani border region. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had been reluctant to cooperate with Washington, as doing so inevitably would spark a massive domestic backlash against his government.

The crisis with India produced an opening for the United States. Eager to get India to stand down from the crisis, the Pakistanis looked to the Americans to mediate. And the price for U.S. mediation was increased cooperation from Pakistan with the United States. The Indians, not eager for war, backed down from the crisis after guarantees that Islamabad would impose stronger controls on Islamist groups in Kashmir.

In 2001-2002, the Indo-Pakistani crisis played into American hands. In 2008, the new Indo-Pakistani crisis might play differently. The United States recently has demanded increased Pakistani cooperation along the Afghan border. Meanwhile, President-elect Barack Obama has stated his intention to focus on Afghanistan and pressure the Pakistanis.

Therefore, one of Islamabad's first responses to the new Indo-Pakistani crisis was to announce that if the Indians increased their forces along Pakistan's eastern border, Pakistan would be forced to withdraw 100,000 troops from its western border with Afghanistan. In other words, threats from India would cause Pakistan to dramatically reduce its cooperation with the United States in the Afghan war. The Indian foreign minister is flying to the United States to meet with Obama; obviously, this matter will be discussed among others.

We expect the United States to pressure India not to create a crisis, in order to avoid this outcome. As we have said, the problem is that it is unclear whether politically the Indians can afford restraint. At the very least, New Delhi must demand that the Pakistani government take steps to make the ISI and Pakistan's other internal security apparatus more effective. Even if the Indians concede that there was no ISI involvement in the attack, they will argue that the ISI is incapable of stopping such attacks. They will demand a purge and reform of the ISI as a sign of Pakistani commitment. Barring that, New Delhi will move troops to the Indo-Pakistani frontier to intimidate Pakistan and placate Indian public opinion.

Dilemmas for Islamabad, New Delhi and Washington

At that point, Islamabad will have a serious problem. The Pakistani government is even weaker than the Indian government. Pakistan's civilian regime does not control the Pakistani military, and therefore does not control the ISI. The civilians can't decide to transform Pakistani security, and the military is not inclined to make this transformation. (Pakistan's military has had ample opportunity to do so if it wished.)

Pakistan faces the challenge, just one among many, that its civilian and even military leadership lack the ability to reach deep into the ISI and security services to transform them. In some ways, these agencies operate under their own rules. Add to this the reality that the ISI and security forces -- even if they are acting more assertively, as Islamabad claims -- are demonstrably incapable of controlling radical Islamists in Pakistan. If they were capable, the attack on Mumbai would have been thwarted in Pakistan. The simple reality is that in Pakistan's case, the will to make this transformation does not seem to be present, and even if it were, the ability to suppress terror attacks isn't there.

The United States might well want to limit New Delhi's response. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her way to India to discuss just this. But the politics of India's situation make it unlikely that the Indians can do anything more than listen. It is more than simply a political issue for New Delhi; the Indians have no reason to believe that the Mumbai operation was one of a kind. Further operations like the Mumbai attack might well be planned. Unless the Pakistanis shift their posture inside Pakistan, India has no way of knowing whether other such attacks can be stymied. The Indians will be sympathetic to Washington's plight in Afghanistan and the need to keep Pakistani troops at the Afghan border. But New Delhi will need something that the Americans -- and in fact the Pakistanis -- can't deliver: a guarantee that there will be no more attacks like this one.

The Indian government cannot chance inaction. It probably would fall if it did. Moreover, in the event of inactivity and another attack, Indian public opinion probably will swing to an uncontrollable extreme. If an attack takes place but India has moved toward crisis posture with Pakistan, at least no one can argue that the Indian government remained passive in the face of threats to national security. Therefore, India is likely to refuse American requests for restraint.

It is possible that New Delhi will make a radical proposal to Rice, however. Given that the Pakistani government is incapable of exercising control in its own country, and given that Pakistan now represents a threat to both U.S. and Indian national security, the Indians might suggest a joint operation with the Americans against Pakistan.

What that joint operation might entail is uncertain, but regardless, this is something that Rice would reject out of hand and that Obama would reject in January 2009. Pakistan has a huge population and nuclear weapons, and the last thing Bush or Obama wants is to practice nation-building in Pakistan. The Indians, of course, will anticipate this response. The truth is that New Delhi itself does not want to engage deep in Pakistan to strike at militant training camps and other Islamist sites. That would be a nightmare. But if Rice shows up with a request for Indian restraint and no concrete proposal -- or willingness to entertain a proposal -- for solving the Pakistani problem, India will be able to refuse on the grounds that the Americans are asking India to absorb a risk (more Mumbai-style attacks) without the United States' willingness to share in the risk.

Setting the Stage for a New Indo-Pakistani Confrontation

That will set the stage for another Indo-Pakistani confrontation. India will push forces forward all along the Indo-Pakistani frontier, move its nuclear forces to an alert level, begin shelling Pakistan, and perhaps -- given the seriousness of the situation -- attack short distances into Pakistan and even carry out airstrikes deep in Pakistan. India will demand greater transparency for New Delhi in Pakistani intelligence operations. The Indians will not want to occupy Pakistan; they will want to occupy Pakistan's security apparatus.

Naturally, the Pakistanis will refuse that. There is no way they can give India, their main adversary, insight into Pakistani intelligence operations. But without that access, India has no reason to trust Pakistan. This will leave the Indians in an odd position: They will be in a near-war posture, but will have made no demands of Pakistan that Islamabad can reasonably deliver and that would benefit India. In one sense, India will be gesturing. In another sense, India will be trapped by making a gesture on which Pakistan cannot deliver. The situation thus could get out of hand.

In the meantime, the Pakistanis certainly will withdraw forces from western Pakistan and deploy them in eastern Pakistan. That will mean that one leg of the Petraeus and Obama plans would collapse. Washington's expectation of greater Pakistani cooperation along the Afghan border will disappear along with the troops. This will free the Taliban from whatever limits the Pakistani army had placed on it. The Taliban's ability to fight would increase, while the motivation for any of the Taliban to enter talks -- as Afghan President Hamid Karzai has suggested -- would decline. U.S. forces, already stretched to the limit, would face an increasingly difficult situation, while pressure on al Qaeda in the tribal areas would decrease.

Now, step back and consider the situation the Mumbai attackers have created. First, the Indian government faces an internal political crisis driving it toward a confrontation it didn't plan on. Second, the minimum Pakistani response to a renewed Indo-Pakistani crisis will be withdrawing forces from western Pakistan, thereby strengthening the Taliban and securing al Qaeda. Third, sufficient pressure on Pakistan's civilian government could cause it to collapse, opening the door to a military-Islamist government -- or it could see Pakistan collapse into chaos, giving Islamists security in various regions and an opportunity to reshape Pakistan. Finally, the United States' situation in Afghanistan has now become enormously more complex.

By staging an attack the Indian government can't ignore, the Mumbai attackers have set in motion an existential crisis for Pakistan. The reality of Pakistan cannot be transformed, trapped as the country is between the United States and India. Almost every evolution from this point forward benefits Islamists. Strategically, the attack on Mumbai was a precise blow struck to achieve uncertain but favorable political outcomes for the Islamists.

Rice's trip to India now becomes the crucial next step. She wants Indian restraint. She does not want the western Pakistani border to collapse. But she cannot guarantee what India must have: assurance of no further terror attacks on India originating in Pakistan. Without that, India must do something. No Indian government could survive without some kind of action. So it is up to Rice, in one of her last acts as secretary of state, to come up with a miraculous solution to head off a final, catastrophic crisis for the Bush administration -- and a defining first crisis for the new Obama administration. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said that the enemy gets a vote. The Islamists cast their ballot in Mumbai.

(Copyright 2008 Stratfor.)

We're All Crazy


Headlines like this trouble me; at what point do we stop using diagnostic labels to identify behaviors we dislike, and thereby ostracizing those we label, and start to expand the spectrum of behaviors which we can call "normal?" At some point, someone will note that the vast majority of us have some identifiable disorder from the DSM IV. And if we are all abnormal, then what becomes of our definition of normal, anyway?

diagnostic labeling is both handy and dangerous. If 20% of all young adults are disordered, and have abnormal behavior, then does that say more about the young adults in question, or about the cultural need to isolate, identify, label and discard anyone who acts outside of a totally imaginary slice of behavioral patterns marked as the median of acceptable?

Stuff.

So, the flood waters in Venice have receded significantly, down to a mere 39 inches. And way down in Georgia the senatorial runoff election is in full swing. The auto makers are back in Washington with their begging bowls, but no word in the press on the modes of transportation so far. Despite some small words of contrition, their arrogance is still astonishing, despite their position of leading some of the most poorly managed and poorly performing industry actors of the last 15 years.

And in a show of unsurprising volatility, after yesterday's 7% fall, the market is back up 3.5% today. Like an elevator built to induce vertigo, Wall Street appears unable to decide whether to follow the economic zeitgeist, or lead it.

Resolution?

So it looks like the Thai courts have made a decision on what happens next. Curiously, no word whatsoever on the situation from the King....

Monday, December 01, 2008

Just A Thought

Why does the market tumble on "official" news ---- news that we all knew anyway, and have been talking about for a year?

Not sure there is a lot to add to this headline:

Dow Plunges 680 Points as Recession Is Declared


Oh yeah.

Juxtapositions.

The Dutch are outlawing magic mushrooms, while the Swiss are legalising heroin.

And here in the US, the Feds are still throwing pot smokers in prison --- but they have a more lenient attitude toward bad coffee.

Bombs.

They keep exploding, even when we aren't paying attention:

"What News On The Rialto?"


It appears that Venice is still sinking.

The Why Of It.

Sullivan has this interesting link to an analysis of just why the Mumbai attacks were taken, strategically. It still leaves me with the question, though, of why these particular sites? A Jewish cultural center? In India? I'm not sure it really sends a clear message, even for the ultra-rabid islamist superradicals. Are they against Jews? Then why such a small target? Are they against plutocracy? Then why not businesses? Are they anti-Indian? Then why target foreigners and hotels?

Some of it still doesn't make sense to me. Perhaps it will never make sense. The taking of life so wantonly rarely does.

Aftermath

Despite calming words from the US, I suspect we are heading back to the shaky days of 2002 in Indian-Pakistani relations. Rice is asking for cooperation, Indian officials are resigning, and while Pakistan continues to makes noises of amelioration, I seriously doubt that even with the new government installed, they will have the willpower (or the strength) to follow any leads if they trail off toward the military or the intelligence services---or even the opposition.

Still, the connections to Kashmir are troubling.

Understatement of the Decade


"I think I was unprepared for war," Bush told ABC News' Charlie Gibson in an interview airing today on "World News."

"I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess," Bush added.
He's proud not to have compromised his principles, but sadly still blind to the terribly destructive impacts that uncompromising stand brought to bear on the US, and the world.

On the Other Hand....


The markets are currently tanking amid the shopping defeats of the weekend, crappy reports from the auto makers, and the usual volatile bile of an interregnum Monday. And yesterday a boy was gunned down a few blocks from my home in Golden Gate Park. This is the second murder in my neighborhood this year --- a neighborhood known for its low crime rate. To Brandon Evans family and friends, sympathies and condolences. 20 is far too young an age for a person to be ripped from life in this way.

Requiescat In Pacem.

Clinton. Gates. Napolitano. Holder. Jones.


Reuters has the basics. TPM has more details. The team keeps growing, and the face of the administration becomes more and more clear.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Conservative Review

"This year revealed how almost all the positive arguments in American politics have come from the left."


That's Andrew Sullivan, mulling over the various strains of politics that have shaped American Conservatism -- in particular, McCarthyism. I'd say it's an interesting insight, but misses the critical factor that has been raised by a number of folks, including John Dean, that while everyone is susceptible to "resentment" (as Sullivan puts it---I'd say "fear and hate"), it would appear that those who are drawn to the right, and to conservative political points of view, are significantly more susceptible. And that to me points to a much stronger correlation.

Sunday Sunshine

Happy holidays, everyone.

It would seem that over the long holiday break, a few synchronous events took over our notice: most significantly the rise and fall of the Mumbai massacres, with the attacks at the hotels, the train station, the Jewish cultural center, all intended primarily (it would seem) to do exactly what they did---to spread mayhem, fear, anxiety and death. The grievous deaths of the (so far) nearly 200 victims is allayed somewhat by the knowledge that the efforts of the Indian forces who at last closed down the siege kept the terrorists from reaching their rumored goal of 5,000 dead.

At the same time the protests in Bangkok have begun to turn violent, and still no end in sight for the situation, or for the forcibly extended trips of more than 100,000 travelers.

And while our attention was drawn there, as we sat down to our thanksgiving dinners, riots broke out in Nigeria, killing hundreds more.

On the upside, during all this my parents were visiting; it may not have made the news, but at least it didn't cause any deaths.

After all that, it looks like Monday will be a busy news day, as Obama prepares to announce his national security team---including Hillary Clinton as his Sec. of State pick. Add to all that the decision of OPEC to leave oil production unchanged, and rising unrest & uncertainty in Iraq as we head toward the changing of the guard in January, and who knows what news in the markets, and the holiday interregnum looks to be a potentially very interesting few weeks.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai


So it looks like it's on the bad side of things; more than 100 people confirmed dead, and hostages in the two main hotels. The group claiming responsibility for the coordinated attacks is calling themselves the Dekkan Mujahedeen.

No one has ever heard of them before.

My own personal connotation with the Dekkan is the Jungle Books of Rudyard Kipling, and the Dekkan yellow dogs with their ravenous hunger and hate. It makes one wonder.

Whether this is truly some new splinter radical group of militant islamists, or whether a cover for actions by Pakistan, or by Kashmiri separatists, or some gangland plot, it is brutal. Mumbai is an ancient city, with too much history lingering in its streets to avoid the occasional explosion. But this, with its destruction of monuments, and taking of life, and spreading of ill will and fear, is anathema.

Really. Important. News.


This headline just caught my eye. I now feel completely informed and up to date.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Britney Spears Feels Old And Boring.

Ugliness

It could be radical terrorists. Or just disgruntled plutocrats in some arcane turf war. In any case, the attacks in Mumbai are horrid, leaving more than 16 dead (according to Reuters), and up to 80 (according to unconfirmed sources via the BBC). I hope it's closer to the Reuters report.

SF Is Just Like London?

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which has been studying the idea of imposing congestion-based tolls on city streets for nearly two years, released some of the details of its study Tuesday...The congestion toll, if implemented, would be the first in the nation.

While many of the details are still being studied, Zabe Bent, principal planner for the authority, said a $3 toll was chosen because it would probably influence how many people choose to drive versus walking, biking or taking transit.


I have my doubts about the viability of this plan in our town. While we have world class street congestion, we truly don't have world class alternatives, nor the commercial density that I would expect necessary for success. Still, it's worth giving a shot and seeing just how badly this one-sided regressive measure misfires.

More effective would be doing this and coupling it with a cessation of bus fares in the downtown area during the targeted peak hours, along with a massive preemptive increase of funding for new and existing transit options. Of course, with no money, a reactionary old guard, a massive transit union antipathy to real change, and more pre-existing headaches for the board and mayor than I'd care to deal with, I suspect we will, with this plan, get less than half of what we need, and less than half of that will be successful.

ObamaQuotes

(photo: AP)


On his cabinet picks, and change:

"Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost," he said. "It comes from me. That's my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure then that my team is implementing [that vision]."
On keeping his Blackberry despite being President:
"One of things i'm going to have to work through is how to break through the isolation, the bubble that exissts around the President. I'm negotiating to to get information from beyond the ten or twelve people who surround me in the White House."
Like I said: grownups. How refreshing.

Ahh, Power.

Shut down all the airports you want, says Somchai Wongsawat; he's still not stepping down. As for me, if the head of the army gently suggested to me that it was time to go, I'd probably take his advice....

The Real Cost


So it would seem I woefully (mis-)underestimated the cost of our bailout plans earlier: according to this article we are looking at a cost of....$8.5 trillion dollars, or 60% of GDP.

Still, watching Obama announce this morning that the Economic Advisory Council will be headed up by Volcker and Goolsbee, I once again had the sense that despite any misgivings, the government is once again being wrested back into the hands of the grownups, and away from the spoiled royal children. And that is undoubtedly a good thing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fly Thai

(photo: al-Jazeera)

I'm a little fascinated by the overrunning of the Bangkok airport today by protestors from People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) looking for the removal of Somchai Wongsawat, the Thai PM. They were able to shut down the airport --- equivalent of shutting down a western hub like Heathrow, or JFK, if you haven't been there ---and while they have yet to bring down the government, despite six months of protest, it looks unsettling for Somchai to say the least.

At least as fascinating to me are the images of the event, from places like al-Jazeera.

Safe

Some small good news here for one of the Big Three, amid their sea of woe: a Ford has been rated the world's safest car.

Amusing though, that Chrysler didn't even make list, despite there being 72 slots. They responded with a profound "no comment."

I wonder if the Ford CEO, the designer, and the product manager will each take their own private jet to a celebratory dinner somewhere....

A Happy Story


Amid all the crap out there, here is a great feel-good story, and a local one as well: Mindy Yip, a SF 1st grade teacher, just won a $25,000 prize for teaching excellence. No strings attached. The giver? Mike Milken.

Now, if every great teacher could get that 25K kick in the pants wallet, we might start getting somewhere with the education system in this country.

A few things I love about this vignette:

  1. the award went to an early-childhood educator. It isn't graduating high schoolers that we really need to target; it's kids just starting on the path of education. Teachers like Ms. Yip are wildly undervalued in the market right now, with our inability to see long term gains and outcomes;

  2. It went to a teacher deep in the trenches. Visitacion Valley is no easy street for teachers (or anyone else). It takes dedication, nerve, luck, and a lot of chutzpah to survive and be successful there.

  3. She had no idea she was even in the running for the award. Just working hard, and trying to get her rugrats to progress. That's very cool.


So to all you teachers out there who are slaving away, wondering where the recognition might be, hang in there: between awards like this, and presidents like our incoming executive, there is hope.

Another Day, Another Bailout.

So what's $800 billion among friends? Clearly, after listening to Paulson this morning, it's not quite enough. Pender is noting the Citi lifeline as being an expensive throwaway, and frankly, when I look at the current real cost---about $1.8 trillion dollars---and think about the implied total costs---running somewhere around $2.3 trillion, depending on who you listen to---I have to wonder what happens when the money runs out, and there is still no real relief.

I have no faith that the Fed & Treasury have any idea of what they are doing, or what they will do next. Watching Paulson's body language is terrifying. He clearly is doing little more than guessing, and at some level he knows it. And to play that game with trillions ---- trillions ---- of dollars, well...I'm glad I'm not in his place. But I wish some grownup were.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Depressing

Wow. I hope that things aren't quite as bleak as Krugman paints here.

Unfortunately, he has of late been pretty accurate.

Countdown


As we head toward a number of Calendar moments --- Thanksgiving, the Christmas holidays, the turn in the year, and the changing of the guard in Washington --- everything seems to be moving faster and faster. Obama has introduced his "best and brightest" economic team, to a wash of apparent relief on the markets, and president Bush (remember him? He is still our chief executive. Really.) has announced a bailout for Citigroup, to the tune of $20 billion. Still, I am watching the value of gold continue to head up, as investors shore up in safe havens.

At the same time, the seasonal uptick in homicide here in SF is in full swing, with a drive-by death of a 22-year old last night, making the annual tally to at least 95 deaths.

Happy Holidays, one and all.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Supplement

The cabinet taps are coming fast and furious: Geithner, Richardson, Summers, and Citigroup is on the verge of a real mess, made by methods of almost Enronic proportions. And me? Well, I am looking out at a stunning autumn day, trying to ignore the burn of sciatica (a hard job, let me tell you), and hoping that the future is as bright as the sky today might portend.

And in other news, it appears that Spaniards are way ahead of the curve in accessing cheap renewable energy. Even the deceased are helping out there.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rough Friday

It's not all bad news; it's just disheartening. With Obama seemingly
set to anoint Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, I wonder what the
outcome will be; I'm really not sure she is the best person for this
critical role right now. At the same time, we've survived Condi's
managerial ineptitude. And given the choice between Kerry and Clinton
on the job out in the world, I think I'd pick Clinton. But still, I
wish she were staying in the Senate to raise hell there. I suspect
she'd do far more good.

WaMu is axing more than 1,500 workers here in the Bay Area, and with
the bellwether of Citi, I suspect that's just the beginning of the
next wave of layoffs we are going to see in the finance sector.

In other news, it seems that allowing your neighborhood to look like
crap tends to make people act like crap too:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/11/20/national/w110053S84.DTL

Somehow, that doesn't surprise me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Desperate For Ledes?

The AP headline?

"Jobless claims jump unexpectedly to 16-year high "

No. Seriously: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081120/ap_on_bi_go_ec_fi/economy_45

While the jump is significant, I have a hard time calling it 'unexpected.' This is probably the most expected trend we could have. Certainly more expected than GM trying to reorganize as a bank holding company in order to grab at some of Paulson's bailout billions before it's too late: http://money.cnn.com/2008/11/20/news/companies/gmac/index.htm?postversion=2008112008 (hat tip: http://talkingpointsmemo.com)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ouch!

(11-19) 12:59 PST NEW YORK, (AP) --

Dow Jones industrial average falls below 8,000; S&P 500 down more than 6 percent.

You Go, Yugo.

Yugo manufacture in Belgrade closes up on Thursday for good. Somehow, I'm not crushed. Others differ:

"This is driving in its most natural form. You feel every bump, squeak and jolt, and one can enjoy the sweet smell of gasoline and exhaust fumes," he said. "No car can replace it."

The Team Of Rivals

I don't want to say much on this, as I've mentioned, because I think the time to discuss the new cabinet is when it has been formed----not during the rumor-mill. But, that being said.....

Daschle for HHS is a good solid choice. He's solid, powerful, can win folks over, and knows where the bodies are buried.

Clinton for State....I dunno. All else aside, I agree with those who say that she has simply not shown herself to be a good executive manager (cf. the health care fiasco, and her presidential campaign); the State Department bureaucracy is not one known to be forgiving of poor managerial skills. And along with that, Thomas Friedman has some sharp insights worth considering:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/opinion/19friedman.html?em

So. Let's see where things fall. I trust Obama to make mostly smart choices. I just hope he also makes the right ones.

More Education Woes

At least some people are trying to restore playtime for children:

"...diminished time to play freely with other children is producing a generation of socially inept young people and is a factor behind high rates of youth obesity, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder and depression.

Many families turn to organized sports as a principal non-school activity, but Thompson noted that this option doesn't necessary breed creativity and can lead to burnout for good young athletes and frustration for the less skilled."

Read the article:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/sns-ap-fighting-for-play,0,2644946.story
It notes the decline of recess, the reduction of free thought in early years, parental and school restrictions on movement and thinking. It's no wonder we are a mess.

At the same time, another thought: what about trying to bring back the idea of play to the adult world as well? If independent thinking is critical for children, then how much more so for the adults who must govern those children?

Unconscionable

This is depressing: California State University system has just approved executive and management raises and hires amounting to an annual additional cost of more than $300,000.00. At the same time, they are slashing lecturers, untenured teachers, reducing campus and classroom budgets, and capping enrollment (thereby excluding upward of 10,000 eligible students).

If the charter of the California Universities and schools at large is to provide education to all eligible students in the state, then the governor should step in at this time of fiscal crisis, and lay down the law: Managers of the system should take a voluntary pay reduction of 10% for two years. Open executive positions should remain unfilled. Nontenured faculty should be retained at current pay levels (all increases put on hold). Tenured faculty should be retained with a voluntary 2% pay reduction for two years. The cap on incoming students is unavoidable for now, unfortunately.

This action would not only provide a cost savings of millions --- MILLIONS --- of dollars, it would also show that the state and the university system are dedicated to preserving and maintaining an acceptable standard of education, rather than the preservation of the bureaucracy which is supposed to support that standard.

If those who serve the educational system cannot provide even a symbolic measure of sacrifice, along the lines of what classroom teachers have had o do for years now, then clearly the state education system has not only lost its way, but the government has lost its ability to keep the system in conformance with its charter. Where's accountability in all this?

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/11/19/state/n083520S34.DTL&tsp=1


Generation Y?

More like Generation Lame:

(11-19) 08:35 PST Santa Ana, CA (AP) --

A Huntington Beach motorist allegedly texting on his cell phone when he struck and killed a 14-year-old bicyclist has been indicted for vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of drugs.

Investigators say 21-year-old Jeffrey Woods was apparently negotiating a drug deal when he allegedly struck and killed Danny Oates in August 2007.

The Orange County grand jury indicted Woods for felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated and felony driving under the influence causing bodily injury. He was allegedly taking Vicodin and Xanax.

Police investigators say Woods may have been texting on his cell phone, negotiating a drug deal, when his truck struck the teen.

So: hitting and killing a cyclist while driving under the influence, while TEXTING on his phone to score some drugs...

where do these people come from?

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/11/19/state/n083520S34.DTL&tsp=1