Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday Schoolhouse Rocks--Lucky Seven Sampson

This is just a fun Schoolhouse Rock song--Lucky Seven Sampson. Music, lyrics and performance is by Bob Dorough. From YouTube:

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Hyde and Go Tweet

For today's Saturday Morning Cartoons, how would you like to Hyde and go Tweet? This is a great Tweety and Sylvester cartoon, where Sylvester chases Tweety into Dr. Jekyll's "Hyde" formula. The sweet, little Tweety then becomes a monstrous bird of prey that chases the hapless cat. It is a wonderful play on having Tweety pay back Sylvester for all the years of the cat chasing the cute, yellow bird. From YouTube:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Blogging has been a little light this week, since it is the Turkey Week. I'll be back posting news stories for Friday. Until then, enjoy this YouTube video for Thanksgiving:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday Schoolhouse Rocks--The Body Machine

For today's Monday Schoolhouse Rocks, let's take a little trip into The Body Machine, where we can learn just what happens to all that turkey and stuffing we'll be eating on Thanksgiving. Music and lyrics are by Lynn Ahrens, while the song is performed by Bob Dorough and Jack Sheldon. From YouTube:



For your high-powered, revved-up body machine.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

FBI raids Liberty Dollar HQ, confiscates "Ron Paul" dollars

The Ron Paul dollar in copper, silver, and gold. From The Liberty Dollar.

I saw this story yesterday, and I just had to shake my head at it. From The Washington Post:

The ardent supporters of Rep. Ron Paul, the iconoclastic Texas libertarian whose campaign for the presidency is threatening to upend the battle for the Republican nomination, got word yesterday of a new source of outrage and motivation: reports of a federal raid on a company that was selling thousands of coins marked with the craggy visage of their hero.

Federal agents on Thursday raided the Evansville, Ind., headquarters of the National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve Act and Internal Revenue Code (Norfed), an organization of "sound money" advocates that for the past decade has been selling a private currency it calls "Liberty Dollars." The company says it has put into circulation more than $20 million in Liberty Dollars, coins and paper certificates it contends are backed by silver and gold stored in Idaho, are far more reliable than a U.S. dollar and are accepted for use by a nationwide underground economy.

Norfed officials said yesterday that the six-hour raid occurred just as its six employees were mailing out the first batch of 60,000 "Ron Paul Dollars," copper coins sold for $1 to honor the candidate, who is a longtime advocate of abolishing the Federal Reserve. The group says it has shipped out about 10,000 silver Ron Paul Dollars that sold for $20 and about 3,500 of the copper $1 coins. But it said the agents seized more than 50,000 of the copper coins -- more than two tons' worth -- plus smaller amounts of the silver coins and gold and platinum Ron Paul Dollars, which sell for $1,000 and $2,000.

"They took everything, all of the computers, everything but the desks and chairs," the company's founder and head, Bernard von NotHaus, said in a telephone interview from his home in Miami. "The federal government really is afraid." Von NotHaus changed the name of Norfed to Liberty Services earlier this year, but affidavits for government search warrants served yesterday continued to use the older name.

[....]

Von NotHaus said agents also raided Sunshine Minting in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, a company that makes the organization's coins. He said agents seized huge pallets of silver and gold, worth more than $1 million, that the organization says back the Liberty Dollars. Sunshine Minting did not return calls seeking comment.

I went to the Liberty Dollar website here, and they offer both coins and certificates. The coins are copper, silver or gold coins, the certificates' values are backed by gold or silver. Now this guy Von NotHaus may want the U.S. to go back to either a gold standard, or bimetallism standard. But what Von NotHaus may not realize is that Americans who are worried about the dropping value of the U.S. dollar, can purchase gold or silver coins from a variety of vendors. You can even purchase gold and silver coins from the U.S. Mint. What Von NotHaus was trying to do was to create his own private currency that could be used in the public transaction of goods and services. The FBI said no-no-no, and busted his Liberty Dollar headquarters.

One more interesting note. Since the Feds have confiscated all of Liberty Dollar's Ron Paul dollar coins, and all of Liberty Dollar's gold, silver, and copper, the Ron Paul dollars have shot up in price on eBay. The Ron Paul silver dollars are selling for around $200 to $400 a piece, while the Ron Paul gold dollars are selling for $1,200 a piece.

Army desertion rates soaring 80 percent since 2003 Iraq invasion

Judy over at Judes BlogLoggin sent me this story. From The International Herald Tribune:

After six years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, American soldiers are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980. The number of US Army deserters this year shows an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

The totals remain far lower than they were during the Vietnam War, when conscription was in effect, but they show a steady increase over the past four years and a 42 percent jump since last year.

"We're asking a lot of soldiers these days," said Roy Wallace, director of plans and resources for Army personnel. "They're humans. They have all sorts of issues back home and other places like that. So, I'm sure it has to do with the stress of being a soldier."

The Army defines a deserter as someone who has been absent without leave for longer than 30 days. The soldier is then discharged as a deserter.

According to the Army, about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared with nearly seven per 1,000 a year earlier. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared with 3,301 last year.

The Army has had to bear the brunt of the war demands as many soldiers served repeated, lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military leaders — including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey — have acknowledged that the Army has been stretched nearly to the breaking point by the combat. Efforts are under way to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to lessen the burden and give troops more time off between deployments.

"We have been concentrating on this," said Wallace. "The Army can't afford to throw away good people. We have got to work with those individuals and try to help them become good soldiers."

Still, he noted that "the military is not for everybody; not everybody can be a soldier." And those who want to leave the service will find a way to do it, he said.


There is a lot to talk about on this story. First, there is the question of why desertions have increased. And the answer is quite simple--it is the endless back-to-back tours in Iraq that soldiers are forced to endure. The Army doesn't have enough troops to continue this war. And not only does the Army not have enough troops to continue the war, but volunteer enlistments to the Army have been consistently dropping. All of this links back to the Bush administration's war in Iraq. This Army is broken.

The second interesting point is the Army's failure to acknowledge that it is the war in Iraq that is causing this breakdown. Go back up into this Hearald Tribune story, and look at what this Roy Wallace, director of plans and resources for Army personnel, has to say about the desertions--We're asking a lot of soldiers these days....They're humans. They have all sorts of issues back home and other places like that. So, I'm sure it has to do with the stress of being a soldier. The Army can't afford to throw away good people. We have got to work with those individuals and try to help them become good soldiers. [The] military is not for everybody; not everybody can be a soldier." And those who want to leave the service will find a way to do it, Wallace said. Look at the quotes that Wallace gives to this story. First, Wallace acknowledges that the Army has demanded a lot from their soldiers, and that the soldiers are experiencing a great deal of stress over the extended, back-to-back tours. But then Wallace makes a 180 degree turn, and blames the soldiers for their desertions, saying that not everyone can be a good soldier. It now becomes the soldiers' fault for not taking these endless, back-to-back tours--three, four, or even five times in a row where they are away from their families, their spouses, and their children. It is not the Army's fault for completely using up their troops in this disastrous war in Iraq. There is a hypocrisy here within the Pentagon, where the Iraq war is causing the military to be broken down. This increase in Army's desertion rate is just another symptom of the Army's complete breakdown.

Finally, there is this comparison between the desertion rates of today, with the Army's war in Iraq, compared with the desertion rates of the Army during the Vietnam War. The Herald Tribune reports that total desertion rates are lower today than they were during the Vietnam War, where they ranged from 1 to 3 percent (which is up to three out of every 100 soldiers) during the 1970s, and even peaked at 5 percent. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the desertion rate was between 2 and 3 out of every 1,000 soldiers. For 2007, the Army reports a desertion rate of nine in every 1,000 soldiers. The problem with these statistics is that there is one big variable that the Army has ignored, when comparing the desertion rate in the Vietnam War with the desertion rate for Iraq--namely, the draft! During the Vietnam War, the Army was conscripting young Americans to go and fight in the jungles, whether they supported the war or not, and whether they wanted to join the military or not. They were drafted into the Army against their will. And those young Americans, who didn't want to serve in the Army during the Vietnam War, were going to find ways to get out of the Army, and out of the war. That includes desertion. So for these desertion rates, you have to consider the number of Americans who didn't want to serve in the Army, but were conscripted against their will. That number is certainly going to be higher.

Now let's go to the war in Iraq. The Army is no longer an army of draftees, but of volunteers. These are young Americans who willingly chose to join the Army--they knew they were going to have to fight in a war someday. And if these young Americans enlisted into the Army after the September 11th terrorist attacks, they certainly knew that they were going to be sent to fight in either Iraq or Afghanistan. These are soldiers who were not drafted into the Army against their will, and would not desert the Army because they opposed the war. That is the biggest difference between this Army fighting in Iraq, verses the Army fighting during the Vietnam War. It is a difference that you really can't compare here, because you have two different armies comprised of two different types of soldiers--one is an army of volunteers, verses another army of draftees. You really can't compare the two.

Now you can compare the desertion rates between the Army of the 1980s and 90s, verses the Army of today, since all three armies were comprised of volunteers. And here is where the desertion rates do get interesting. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Army desertion rate was between 2 and 3 out of every 1,000 soldiers. For 2007, the Army reports a desertion rate of nine in every 1,000 soldiers. The desertion rate for the Army in 2007 is three times higher than the desertion rate in the 1980s and 90s. Why? The answer probably goes back to the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've been engaged in these disastrous wars for six years--far longer than any of the military engagements that the U.S. has been in during the 1980s and 1990s, and that includes the 1991 Gulf War. Again, the Army has used up its troops from the extended, and back-to-back deployments, since the Army cannot recruit enough volunteers to replace those used-up troops. U.S. soldiers are saying enough is enough--they've served their country many times over, and now they want to go back to their families. They want out of this disastrous war.

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Tom and Jerry in The Little Orphan

Since Thanksgiving is just next Thursday, it is time for a Thanksgiving-themed cartoon. And here is a wonderful classic, Tom and Jerry in The Little Orphan. This 1949 classic has Jerry taking care of Nibbles, a gray mouse who is always hungry, over the Thanksgiving weekend. As the two mice take a trip to the dining room table for a turkey feast, they inadvertently wake up Tom. Soon after, a battle takes place on the dining room table, with Jerry and Nibbles playing the part of the Pilgrims, against "Indian" Tom. The Little Orphan won a 1948 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. One more interesting bit of trivia. Near the end of the film, Nibbles catapults a lit candle at Tom. The candle flame would have burned straight up through Tom's fur, leaving him with a blackened face. But in this film, you don't see the gag. This part was cut out of the modern DVD film due to racial sensitivities of blackface. Still this a classic Thanksgiving cartoon to watch. From YouTube:

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Night Music--The Bangles' Hazy Shade of Winter

Okay, my brain is fried. I'll post some more political stuff tomorrow. For tonight, I thought it would be fun to have The Bangles singing Hazy Shade of Winter. This song just rocks! From YouTube:

Mysterious 'push poll' attacks Romney's religion

This is off McClatchy News:

WASHINGTON — Rose Kramer was at her Dubuque, Iowa, home, waiting for the TV show "House" to start at 8 p.m. Tuesday when a pollster called and started asking her about John McCain. After a few polite questions, the caller started saying unflattering things about Mitt Romney.

In another part of Iowa, Ralph Watts got a similar call the next day. Are you aware, the caller asked, that Mormons consider the Book of Mormon superior to the Bible? Would that make you more or less likely to vote for Romney?

On Friday, the calls, which lit up the phone lines in the two key early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire this week, became the target of Romney's outrage, as well that of as his Republican rivals, and the subject of a formal inquiry by the New Hampshire attorney general's office.

The calls, a year before the election, were a vivid reminder of how ugly the 2008 presidential campaign could become and how Romney's Mormon religion could play an important role.

McCain strongly denied having anything to do with the calls, saying "it is disgraceful, it is outrageous and it is a violation, we believe, of New Hampshire law." The Arizona senator's complaint Friday triggered the New Hampshire action.

"We are looking at whether the calls qualify as push polls," said Assistant Attorney General James Kennedy.

Push polling is so named because the surveyors first ask standard questions, such as a first or second electoral choice. But they quickly begin mentioning negatives about a candidate and ask if that would make the voter more or less likely to back that candidate. They "push" the caller toward a negative conclusion, in short.

New Hampshire has a nine-year-old law requiring anyone who engages in push polling to tell the person being surveyed if the call is "being made on behalf of, in support of or in opposition to" a candidate.

They also must identify the candidate and give the phone number where the call originated. Failing to do so could be a felony. No one has ever been prosecuted under the law.

The calls reportedly were placed by Western Wats, an Orem, Utah-based survey research firm. In a statement, the company said it "has never, currently does not, nor will it ever engage in push polling."

Steve Benen over at The Carpetbagger Report believes that this wasn't a push poll, but rather "a campaign testing various messages, gauging public reaction." Someone is testing various questions in order to determine what part of Romney's religious faith will anger the greatest number of Republican voters. The John McCain campaign denied having anything to do with these calls, saying that they were "disgraceful," and "outrageous." It was the McCain campaign that asked for the New Hampshire attorney general to investigate these phone calls. Fred Thompson's communications director Todd Harris said that "There is no room for this kind of smut in a Republican primary election," while Rudy Giuliani's communications director Katie Levinson said that the Giuliani campaign "does not support or engage in these type of tactics...."

Now there is another interesting bit of information from The New Hampshire Union Leader on this story:

Last year, Western Wats conducted polling that was intended to spread negative messages about Democratic candidates in a House race in New York and the Senate race in Florida. The Tampa Tribune and the Albany Times Union reported that Western Wats conducted the calls on behalf of the Tarrance Group.

That Virginia-based firm now works for Romney's rival, Rudy Giuliani. The campaign has paid the firm more than $400,000, according to federal campaign reports.

In his statement on behalf of Western Wats, [client services director, Robert] Maccabee said the company was not currently conducting "any work for ... The Tarrance Group, in the state of New Hampshire or Iowa, nor have we for the period in question."

Maccabee added that confidentiality agreements prohibit the company from commenting on specific projects or clients.

Ed Goeas, chief of the Tarrance Group, said there is no connection between the Giuliani campaign and Western Wats. They are using a Houston firm to do their polling.

"I know absolutely it's not us," Goeas said. "I can say with absolute, no, it's not us."

Western Wats also worked for Bob Dole's presidential campaign in 1996. Employees said they used such calls to describe GOP rival Steve Forbes as pro-abortion rights.

So Western Wats conducted negative polling against Democratic candidates on behalf of the Tarrance Group, which is now working for the Giuliani campaign. Did the Tarrance Group pay Western Wats to conduct this negative polling against Romney for Giuliani? It is interesting speculation. And it is interesting that everyone is denying that they were involved in this scam. All I can say is stay tuned.

Friday Fun Stuff--Incredible Comet Bigger than the Sun

Comet Holmes is shown in this photo taken through a telescope from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida November 4, 2007. The comet experienced an outburst and brightened a million times and can now be seen with the naked eye, according to NASA. REUTERS/Doug Murray (UNITED STATES)

Talk about a shooting star here! This is from Space.com:

A comet that has delighted backyard astronomers in recent weeks after an unexpected eruption has now grown larger than the sun.

The sun remains by far the most massive object in the solar system, with an extended influence of particles that reaches all the planets. But the comparatively tiny Comet Holmes has released so much gas and dust that its extended atmosphere, or coma, is larger than the diameter of the sun. The comparison is clear in a new image.

Comet Holmes (left) from the 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii telescope on Mauna Kea showing the coma at 869,900 miles (1.4 million kilometers) in diameter. The white ''star'' near the center of the coma is in fact the dust-shrouded nucleus of the comet.The sun and the planet Saturn are shown at the same scale for comparison. Credit: University of Hawaii/CFHT (comet); NASA/Voyager (Saturn); NASA/ESA/SOHO (sun)

"It continues to expand and is now the largest single object in the solar system," according to astronomers at the University of Hawaii.

The coma's diameter on Nov. 9 was 869,900 miles (1.4 million kilometers), based on measurements by Rachel Stevenson, Jan Kleyna and Pedro Lacerda of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy. They used observations from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. The sun's diameter, stated differently by various sources and usually rounded to the nearest 100, is about 864,900 miles (1.392 million kilometers).

Separately, a new Hubble Space Telescope photo of the comet reveals an intriguing bow-tie structure around its nucleus.

The Nov. 1 photo at left, by an amateur astronomer, shows Comet Holmes' coma consists of concentric shells of dust and a faint tail. The Hubble image at right, made Nov. 4 and enhanced to reveal details, reveals the bow-tie appearance created by twice as much dust existing along the horizontal direction. Credit: NASA,ESA, and H. Weaver (The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory); Alan Dyer

The comet's coma—mostly microscopic particles—shines by reflecting sunlight.

Holmes is still visible to the naked eye as a fuzzy star anytime after dark, high in the northeast sky. You can find it by using this sky map. It is faintly visible from cities, and from dark country locations is truly remarkable.

"Right now, in a dark sky it appears as a very noticeable circular cloud," said Joe Rao, SPACE.com's Skywatching Columnist. Rao advises looking for the comet this weekend, before the moon becomes more of a factor. The comet will likely diminish in brightness yet remain visible for the next two to three weeks, he said.

"Over the next few weeks and months, the coma and tail are expected to expand even more while the comet will fade as the dust disperses," Stevenson and her colleagues write.

On Monday, Nov. 19, the comet will create a unique skywatching event with its see-through coma, according to the Web site Spaceweather.com: "The comet will glide by the star Mirfak [also called Alpha Persei] and appear to swallow it—a sight not to be missed."

A small telescope will reveal the fuzzy coma. Lacking a long tail characteristic of some great comets, however, Holmes is not the most dramatic object in the sky for casual observers.

Nobody knows why Holmes erupted, but it underwent a similar explosive brightening in 1892. The recent display, which began Oct. 24, brought the comet from visual obscurity to being one of the brighter objects in the night sky. It has since dimmed somewhat as the material races outward from the nucleus at roughly 1,100 mph (0.5 km/sec).

The Hawaiian astronomy team writes in a press statement: "This amazing eruption of the comet is produced by dust ejected from a tiny solid nucleus made of ice and rock, only 3.6 kilometers (roughly 2.2 miles) in diameter."

The new image from the Hawaiian observatory also shows a modest tail forming to one side, now just a fuzzy region to the lower-right. That's caused by the pressure of sunlight pushing on the gas and dust of the coma.

But the comet is so far away—149 million miles (240 million kilometers), or about 1.6 times the distance from Earth to the sun—that even Hubble can't resolve its nucleus.

The offset nature of the coma, seen in ground-based images, suggests "a large fragment broke off and subsequently disintegrated into tiny dust particles after moving away from the main nucleus," Hubble astronomers said in a statement today. The comet's distance, plus all the dust, prevent Hubble from seeing any fragments, however.

I am just amazed at the mysteries this universe has for us--to think that a tiny comet can erupt and grow larger than our sun.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Senate Judiciary spying bill lacks immunity for telecoms

This is big news. I found this through Americablog, with the source story from Wired Network:

Civil liberties groups got a stunningly unexpected win Thursday as the Senate Judiciary panel passed their version of the new government spying bill out of committee without including a provision giving immunity to telecoms being sued for helping the government secretly spy on Americans.

The biggest winner from the development is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose suit against AT&T in federal court would almost certainly have been wiped out by the immunity provision.

The provision - which was part of the version passed by the Senate Intelligence committee in mid-October - was widely expected to make it into the bill, due to the administration's full court press on the issue, the telcos small army of lobbyists and the vocal support of California Democrat Dianne Feintstein. Feinstein's vote was expected to reverse the Dems 10-9 advantage in the committee.

But after a long day of complicated finagling over technical amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and proposed alternatives to total immunity for companies such as AT&T and Verizon, committeee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) decided to send the bill out of committee without an agreement on immunity.

UPDATE: Caroline Fredrickson, who heads the ACLU's D.C. legislative shop said via email "We appreciate the work of Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) to protect the civil liberties of all Americans. We still have reservations with both the House and Senate bills, and will continue to work to improve the legislation. It is heartening to know that people who feel their privacy was violated by the phone companies and by their own government are one step closer to having their day in court."

Without the immunity for the telecoms, the Bush administration cannot keep the details of their illegal domestic spying program secret from the American people. The Bush administration dangled lucrative contracts to the telecoms in exchange for creating this illegal spying program. And the telecoms' greed caused them to ignore the law, and privacy rights of American citizens. The Bush administration has been trying to legislate immunity for the telecoms in order to cover their own ass.

And the Senate Judiciary Committee said no.

Update: I did find some more interesting information on TPM Election Central regarding the inside story on how this bill went through the Senate Judiciary Committee:

Here's a bit more detail on what happened on the Judiciary Committee today. Sources say Senator Russ Feingold offered an amendment that would have stripped telecom immunity from the bill, but it was defeated. Then Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking GOPer on the committee, offered a "compromise" amendment saying that in these lawsuits the Federal government, and not the telecoms, would be the defendants.

But because of a procedural difficulty Specter's amendment wasn't voted on -- and Senator Patrick Leahy, the chair of the committee, essentially went around Specter's amendment and moved to have a vote to report the bill out of committee without any telecom immunity in it. That passed along strictly party lines. And that's where we are.

It seems that Feingold offered and amendment to strip the telecom immunity provision out the bill, but Specter didn't like that. Specter tried an end-run in offering a "compromise" amendment, where the Federal government would be the defendant in these lawsuits, and not the telecoms. With the Federal government as the defendant, the Bush administration could still dismiss the lawsuits, claiming that revealing the details on the domestic spying program will jeopardize the Great War on Terror. The good news is that Leahy saw through Specter's ploy, and voted the bill out of the committee without the telecom immunity provision. Of course, had the bill gotten out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with the telecom immunity intact, it would probably died on the Senate floor with Senator Chris Dodd's filibuster threat.

Excuse me, where's the Army?

Graph showing parents and other advisors who are less inclined to endorse enlistments to young people. From McClatchy News.

I found this story through McClatchy News:

THURMONT, Md. — The Army is struggling to find volunteers for an unpopular war, despite recruiting bonuses of up to $20,000 and pay increases for enlistees that have beaten inflation by 21 percent since 2000.

It met its numeric goal of 80,000 recruits last year, but it paid a price in terms of declining numbers of high school graduates and lower scores on skills and physical tests. The percentage of minimally qualified Army recruits, known as Category IVs, has quadrupled since 2002, and the percentage that required special health or moral waivers has risen sharply as well.

And many recruiting problems preceded the Iraq war.

So what's really making good Army volunteers so hard to come by and, in a larger sense, sapping America's ability to fight a ground war or occupy foreign soil?

Pentagon and outside experts cite these factors in order of importance:

* While risks to U.S. troops are far lower than they were in most previous wars, young adults and their parents find them unacceptably high.

* Parents who went to college want their kids to go to college. So do parents who didn't. As the college-bound percentage of high school students has risen to two-thirds, the percentage that intends to enlist in any branch of the military has fallen by nearly two-thirds.

* Draft-era veterans, who for generations provided role models for military service, are dying off. A Pentagon study projects a 14 percent decline in high-quality recruits from a 10 percent drop in the veteran population.

* Most parents, grandparents, ministers and others whose approval potential recruits seek don't endorse enlistment these days.

* African-Americans, who joined the all-volunteer force in disproportional numbers for years, have cooled on military service recently. So have Hispanics.

* Except among those who sign up, duty to country isn't an important value, according to Defense Department polls.

Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Van Dusen, 26, a low-key Iraq infantry veteran who recruits in Thurmont, Md., a leafy, friendly farm town 50 miles northwest of Washington, sees all these factors. But the most powerful one, according to Van Dusen, who describes his own combat stint as "mostly boring," is fear, among recruits and their parents.

"They all figure they're going to get sent to Iraq, be in a firefight in the first 10 seconds and die," he said.

Now McClatchy reports that deaths among U.S. troops deployed in Iraq average 2.3 soldiers per day. Currently there are 169,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq. During the Second World War, the daily U.S. death toll was 307 soldiers killed. According to University of Pennsylvania demographer Samuel Preston and co-auther Emily Buzzell, the death risk for U.S. troops in Iraq is about a fifth of that for the U.S. soldiers who served in Vietnam. According to Preston, "People do seem extremely surprised" by the numbers because they "severely overestimate the death rate in Iraq." But what McClatchy, and the Army, do not realize is that it is not about the death rate of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, but the perception that an individual, who joins the Army, will quickly be sent into the U.S. war in Iraq. If you enlist, the Army's going to send your ass to Iraq. And with American public support turning against the war, young Americans are turning away from enlisting into the Army, even as the Army continues to lower standards, and add more incentives and bonuses to new recruits.

And there is another aspect of this story that the Pentagon has really ignored. The U.S. has been involved in this war for over five years. The American public has seen so much of this Bush administration's incompetence in the planning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the reconstruction of Iraq after the U.S. invasion, and the failure of the U.S. military to secure the Iraq once the ethnic civil war had started. This is about the Bush administration's lies to the American people in order to drum up support for the war, the intelligence cherry-picking, and the PNAC neocons' marketing strategy to make the U.S. an imperial power in Iraq. This is about the lack of U.S. troops to occupy the country, the lack of body armor for individual soldiers, and the lack of armored humvees. This is about the corruption of the current Iraqi government, the corruption of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the waste of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that have disappeared. This is about endless extended tours of U.S. soldiers, and the "flat daddies." This is about Blackwater, and the contractors that shoot at Iraqi civilians first, and then refuse to ask questions. All of these details link together into a colossal screw-up by this Bush White House in sending the U.S. into this disastrous war in Iraq. The American people realize this, and they want no part of this war. That is why the Army is struggling to find volunteers--no one wants to fight in this war in Iraq.

You would think that the Pentagon would realize this. I guess not.

State Department to use lasers to blind Iraqi motorists

I don't really know how to comment on this boondoggle of a story. From ABC News:

The State Department plans to equip its motorcade security details in Iraq with lasers to "dazzle" suspect motorists and helmet cameras to record it all.

U.S. officials also say the State Department plans to double the number of its diplomatic security agents to 90 so that one of its agents can accompany every convoy guarded by Blackwater and other private security contractors.

Security experts say the lasers, emitting a green beam and already in use at some U.S. military checkpoints in Baghdad, overload the optic nerve but, if used from at least 10 feet away, will not cause any permanent eye damage.

Lasers designed to cause permanent blindness have been banned by international law since 1995.

The lasers being sent to Iraq, experts say, are intended only to dazzle or temporarily blind vehicle drivers and alert them to stop.

So, the State Department wants to equip their security guards with these lasers in order to blind Iraqi motorists so they can stop--or crash! The State Department wants to blind Iraqi motorists so they can stop. Who is the madman in the State Department that thought up this insane idea?

Let's continue on with this story:

"I've had them tested on me, and while it is certainly uncomfortable, like a flashbulb going off in front of your face, there is no permanent damage whatsoever," said Tony Diebler, a former State Department security official who now works at Cohort, International, the company providing the lasers and helmet cameras to the State Department.

The lasers, with a pistol grip, are about the size of a three-battery flashlight. They sell for around $9,000 each.

Laser_dazzler The State Department has ordered 26 of the lasers for full field testing in Iraq.

"They are proving great so far, and State wants them like yesterday," Diebler said.

You have got to love the marketing here. Tony Diebler was a former State Department security official, who then went to work for Cohort International--which is building these $9,000 lasers. Diebler goes back to the State Department to sell these lasers, and State is all happy to buy these things--we've got back-scratching going on between Cohert and State. And let's not forget that Diebler said these lasers are perfectly safe--this guy is a frickin' salesman who will say anything to get the government to buy Cohort's laser products. At $9,000 a piece. I just know that the more State and the U.S. military uses these lasers against the Iraqi motorists, the greater the chance that you are going to see a major accident, as a motorist is blinded and unable to control their car.

Then again, what do you expect from a Bush administration that is more than happy to reward their cronies with wasted taxpayer dollars?

J.C. Penny reports a 9.1% drop in third-quarter profit

This is from Marketwatch:

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- J.C. Penney Co. reported Thursday a 9.1% drop in third-quarter profit, hurt by sweeping discounts to clear unsold merchandise. The department-store operator cut forecasts for the fourth quarter and the full year, citing macroeconomic concerns.

It marked another ominous sign for the retail sector's prospects as the holiday shopping season -- the biggest selling period for retailers -- approaches. Discounts and promotions are expected to be the theme this year as store receipts were recently forecast by an industry group as likely to be the worst in five years.

[....]

Like many other retailers, Plano, Texas-based J.C. Penney's sales have been hurt by unseasonably warm weather and softer consumer spending, forcing it to lower prices more than expected to clear increased stocks of goods.

Against a backdrop of record-high oil prices and slowing housing and credit markets that have hurt mid-priced shoppers, the retailer lowered salary expenses, is reducing the size of its Big Book catalog and will keep a tight rein on inventory and other expenses heading into the holiday season.

Again, it is the increasing oil and gas prices, the subprime mortgage mess and home foreclosures, and the tightening credit markets that are spooking the American consumers, resulting in their cutting back on holiday shopping. So J.C. Penny's profits are being hurt by the big discount price cuts just to get the inventory off their store shelves. More to come as Christmas approaches.

Barclays to write down $2.7 billion on subprime lending

Well, it appears that the subprime mortgage mess has hit another big bank. From Marketwatch:

LONDON (MarketWatch) -- Britain's Barclays on Thursday became the latest bank to disclose write-downs from subprime lending and the related credit crunch, taking a charge of 1.3 billion pounds ($2.7 billion), a far lower provision that rumors in the markets had suggested.

From July to October, the bank's Barclays Capital investment-banking division will take write-offs and charges stemming from a combination of the impact of rating agency downgrades on a broad range of collateralized debt obligations and the subsequent market downturn, the bank said.

Bob Diamond, president of Barclays Capital, said the write-down calculations were "conservative," and outside observers largely agreed.

"This looks as close to the kitchen sink as managements are allowed to go in the IFRS (accounting rules) era," said Alex Potter, an analyst at U.K. brokerage Collins Stewart.

In the update, brought forward by two weeks, Barclays says it still has 7.3 billion pounds of exposure from unsold underwriting positions in leveraged finance and 19 billion pounds of exposure to its own, on-balance-sheet conduits. Barclays said those conduits have been able to fund themselves through issuing commercial paper.

Now the current exchange rate reports that one British pound equals $2.0483 U.S. dollars. This means that the 7.3 billion British pounds that Barclays had exposed in unsold underwriting positions equals $14.952 billion in U.S. dollars. I'm not sure if Barclays is overexposed on these unsold underwriting positions, but if the number of American home foreclosures continue to increase due to the shifting of higher interest rates on adjustable-rate mortgages, then I'm guessing that Barclays will be reporting even more losses and write-downs over the next year or so.

There is another interesting detail in this Marketwatch story:

The update goes some way to soothe rattled investor nerves over Barclays' exposure. The U.K. bank had been seen as particularly at risk since it originated many of the structured vehicles that are now encountering difficulties. It also had exposure through the purchase in March of Equifirst, a U.S. subprime lender.

Now in August, 2007, Equifirst reported that they will cut an unspecified number of jobs out of the 1,400 people employed in the North Carolina firm. Barclays purchased Equifirst in April, 2007 for $76 million--right at the point when the subprime mortgage industry was starting to collapse due to the rise in delinquencies. Barclays originally agreed to purchase Equifirst from Regions Financial Corp. for $225 million back in January 2007. Barclays may have wanted to get into the subprime housing bubble back in January 2007, and offered Regions Financial a fat price for Equifirst. But as the housing market started slowing, Barclays may have had second thoughts on the deal, or Regions Financial may have needed the money from the sale quickly, so the deal was renegotiated for $76 million. Now Barclays may be sitting on a subprime mortgage lender with billions in subprime loans that will need to be written off as losses.

U.S. military says Iraqi government wasting an opportunity for reconciliation

Graph showing the number of civilian deaths in Iraq over the past two years. From The Washington Post.

This is from The Washington Post:

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq -- Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaeda terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias.

In more than a dozen interviews, U.S. military officials expressed growing concern over the Iraqi government's failure to capitalize on sharp declines in attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but "it's unclear how long that window is going to be open."

The lack of political progress calls into question the core rationale behind the troop buildup President Bush announced in January, which was premised on the notion that improved security would create space for Iraqis to arrive at new power-sharing arrangements. And what if there is no such breakthrough by next summer? "If that doesn't happen," Odierno said, "we're going to have to review our strategy."

Brig. Gen. John F. Campbell, deputy commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, complained last week that Iraqi politicians appear out of touch with everyday citizens. "The ministers, they don't get out," he said. "They don't know what the hell is going on on the ground." Campbell noted approvingly that Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, the top Iraqi commander in the Baghdad security offensive, lately has begun escorting cabinet officials involved in health, housing, oil and other issues out of the Green Zone to show them, as Campbell put it, "Hey, I got the security, bring in the [expletive] essential services."

Indeed, some U.S. Army officers now talk more sympathetically about former insurgents than they do about their ostensible allies in the Shiite-led central government. "It is painful, very painful," dealing with the obstructionism of Iraqi officials, said Army Lt. Col. Mark Fetter. As for the Sunni fighters who for years bombed and shot U.S. soldiers and now want to join the police, Fetter shrugged. "They have got to eat," he said over lunch in the 1st Cavalry Division's mess hall here. "There are so many we've detained and interrogated, they did what they did for money."

This is a big story. What it means here is that the civil war in Iraq may be starting to wind down because the Sunni fighters need to go back to making money so they can eat. It is not because the Sunni fighters are giving up here, nor is the Iraqi government or U.S. military winning the war here. The ethnic war in Iraq is slowing down for a moment, as the Sunnis work and save money. When the Sunnis have saved enough to start the war up again, the ethnic civil war will continue on.

Now we come to the problem with the Iraqi government. The civil war is a war between the three ethnic groups Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. They are all fighting for control of Iraq's resources--especially the oil here--and no one wants to cede control of any resources to help bring essential services to the Iraqi people, regardless of ethnicity. The Shiite-controlled Iraqi government fears an encroaching Sunni power within the government could force the Shiites out of power. So the Shiite government in Iraq is unwilling to compromise or reconcile with the Sunnis. Going back to the WaPost story:

Diplomatic officials, none of whom were authorized to speak on the record, insisted that progress is being made, even if it lags behind military successes. They highlighted two key elements needed for political reconciliation in Iraq, one domestic and one external. Internally, sectarian politicians remain deadlocked on a range of issues. Shiite political groups are holding back as they vie for national power and control over resources, while the majority Shiite population fears that the Sunnis hope to recapture the dominance they held under Saddam Hussein.

[....]

The U.S. military approach in Iraq this year has focused on striking deals with Sunni insurgents, under which they stop fighting the Americans and instead protect their own neighborhoods. So far about 70,000 such volunteers have been enrolled -- a trend that makes the Shiite-led central government nervous, especially as the movement gets closer to Baghdad.

Indeed, all the U.S. military officials interviewed said their most pressing concern is that Sunnis will sour if the Iraqi government doesn't begin to reciprocate their peace overtures. "The Sunnis have shown great patience," said Campbell. "You don't want the Sunnis that are working with you . . . to go back to the dark side."

The Army officer who requested anonymity said that if the Iraqi government doesn't reach out, then for former Sunni insurgents "it's game on -- they're back to attacking again."

If there is no agreement between the three ethnic groups on the sharing of power and resources within Iraq, will walk away from the table, and pick up their arms again to start fighting. The Iraqi government needs to realize that now is the time to make a deal with the Sunnis. However, considering that the Shiites want to take control of as much power and resources as they can, I doubt that there will be any serious attempts at reconciliation by the Shiites over the next six months to a year. Expect the fighting to pick up again.

House passes new war funding bill tied to withdrawal

This is on MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - House Democrats pushed through a $50 billion bill for the Iraq war Wednesday night that would require President Bush to start bringing troops home in coming weeks with a goal of ending combat by December 2008.

The legislation, passed 218-203, was largely a symbolic jab at Bush, who already has begun reducing force levels but opposes a congressionally mandated timetable on the war. And while the measure was unlikely to pass in the Senate — let alone overcome a presidential veto — Democrats said they wanted voters to know they weren't giving up.

"The fact is, we can no longer sustain the military deployment in Iraq," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Staying there in the manner that we are there is no longer an option."

The White House pledged to veto the bill, and Republicans said they would back the president.

"These votes, like the dozens of previous failed votes, put the interests of radical interest groups ahead of the needs of our military and their mission," an administration statement said.

The bill represents about a quarter of the $196 billion Bush requested for combat operations in the 2008 budget year, which began Oct 1.

It would compel an unspecified number of troops to leave Iraq within 30 days, a requirement Bush is already on track to meet as he begins in coming weeks to reverse the 30,000 troop buildup he ordered earlier this year. It also sets a goal of ending combat by Dec. 15, 2008, and states that money included in the bill should be used to redeploy troops and "not to extend or prolong the war."

The measure also would set government-wide standards on interrogation, effectively barring the CIA from using such harsh techniques as waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

So far, we're looking at symbolic politics being played here by the congressional Democrats on sticking another withdrawal timetable in the war funding bill. President Bush vetoes the bill, then the Democrats will cave and give Bush the war funding bill he wants--without timetables, restrictions, or standards on torture. We've seen this little game take place on war funding, telecom immunity, domestic spying--it is endless congressional rubber-stamping for King George The Deciderer! Think about it. The congressional Democrats pass a war funding bill with a withdrawal timetable. Bush vetoes the bill, saying that the Democrats are weak on fighting the Great War on Terror, are not supporting the troops, are unpatriotic Americans who side with the terrorists, and are losing the war in Iraq to the terrorists. The Republican Party and Faux News will jump on the president's bandwagon, reiterating and re-amplifying these stale, distorted arguments. The congressional Democrats will become so worried over the GOP claims that they are "weak on terrorism," and become so worried that they will lose to the GOP in the 2008 elections on this theme, that the Democrats will again cave to President Bush's demands for war funding without restrictions. And again, the congressional Democrats will show to the American people that they really are "weak on terrorism" because they continue to cave to Bush over the Iraq war funding issue. For once, I would love to see the congressional Democrats say no, and not give President Bush the war funding until he agrees to withdrawal the troops from Iraq. But I'm not holding my breath on this latest Iraq war funding bill with the withdrawal timetables, because looking at the Democratic leadership's past experience over the course of this year, they have continually caved to the Bush administration on practically everything. So I expect them to cave on this war funding bill as well.

I wish I could be wrong here.

One third of Americans worried about homelessness

This MSNBC story really speaks for itself, when you consider just how bad this housing bust and subprime mortgage mess is wreaking the U.S. economy. From MSNBC News:

WASHINGTON - Nearly a third of Americans have at one point worried about becoming homeless and many more are taking in friends and relatives needing a home, a survey found.

The homelessness issue has touched more than those who are living on the streets, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.

"People are worried even though it might not ever happen to them," said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless. "When people read the news and read about bankruptcies, home foreclosures and auto plants being closed, they worry that they may be next."

Overwhelmingly, those polled — 92 percent — said more effort is needed across the nation to address the issue of homelessness. Thirty-five percent said the federal government should take a lead role fighting homelessness, while 25 percent identified state governments as most responsible for addressing the issue.

"It is clear from this poll that Americans are very concerned about homelessness and do not feel enough is being done to address this critical issue," said Stacey Stewart, senior vice president of the Office of Community and Charitable Giving at Fannie Mae.

Twenty-eight percent said they were concerned at one time about becoming homeless. A greater percentage, 44 percent, said they had opened their own homes to a friend or relative who faced being forced onto the streets.

The poll was conducted on behalf of mortgage giant Fannie Mae, which has grant programs that provide funding for low-income housing.

Now the MSNBC story reports that 58 percent of respondents think that the number of homeless are increasing, over that of ten years ago. However, statistics from the Department of Housing and Urban Development show a decline in the number of chronically homeless by 12 percent from 2005 to 2006, or from 175,900 to 155,600. Chronically homeless are described as continuously living on the streets for a hear, while homeless is described as living on the streets for at least four times in the past three years. HUD estimated that there were at least 754,000 homeless people in 2005. So what we're seeing here is that Americans are more fearful of becoming homeless, as they continue to be exposed to the media reports of the housing bust, the subprime mortgage mess, bankruptcies, and home foreclosures. What is more, the 44 percent of Americans who took in family and friends to their homes, who were forced on the streets, reinforces this notion that the number of homeless are rising, and increases Americans demands that the government take action in fighting homelessness. I believe that home foreclosures will continue to increase in 2008--right into the election year. Homelessness will become another big election year issue, and perhaps even a serious criticism against the Bush administration and the Republican Party if nothing is done to politically resolve the issue.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

McCain supporter asks about Hillary: "How do we beat the bitch?" McCain campaign capitalizes on "the bitch" question

Here is another posting on two connecting stories. I'm going to start with the first story, going through Salon's War Room, titled Clinton, McCain and the B-word:

At a campaign event in South Carolina Monday, a female supporter asked John McCain: "How do we beat the bitch?"

If the Arizona senator objected to that particular characterization of Sen. Hillary Clinton, he didn't exactly say so.

Instead, as the room erupted in laughter, McCain said he'd try to offer a "translation." Somebody in the audience shouted out, "I thought she was talking about my ex-wife." There was more laughter all around, and then McCain said: "That's an excellent question."

McCain cited a recent Rasmussen poll showing him with a statistically insignificant two-point lead over Clinton, then finally got around to saying, "I respect Sen. Clinton, and I respect anyone who gets the nomination of the Democrat Party."

And here is the YouTube video of this exchange:



I think what I am so amazed is the vicious hatred that this McCain supporter has against Hillary Clinton--even to the point of calling her a "bitch" before television cameras. And what is more, the entire McCain staff laughs at the question--even McCain laughs at it. What is worst, McCain even agrees that it is "an excellent question." McCain doesn't ask that the woman refrain from such language in a public appearance, being filmed by news cameras.

But there is more to this story. Now the McCain campaign would love to capitalize on this entire "bitch" question. This is off The Huffington Post:

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain says he respects Hillary Rodham Clinton and that he said as much when a woman used the word "bitch" to describe her.

"How do we beat the bitch?" the woman asked Monday at a McCain event in South Carolina.

Watch the video here.

....On Tuesday, CNN's Rick Sanchez raised the question of whether McCain should have admonished the woman, and McCain's campaign criticized that criticism on Wednesday.

"Most people who have seen it are looking at it as a real mistake on his part in terms of the way he handled it," Sanchez said on the cable network's "Out in the Open."

McCain's South Carolina campaign manager, Buzz Jacobs, said in a statement Wednesday: "It not only reflects poorly on him, but on CNN. If Mr. Sanchez had even the faintest perspective on the race for the White House, he would know that Senator McCain has expressed his utmost respect for Senator Clinton numerous times on the campaign trail, as he did at Monday's event in Hilton Head."

Hours later, the McCain campaign was using the controversy to raise money for his candidacy.

Campaign manager Rick Davis e-mailed supporters, saying, "We are asking you to help us fight Rick Sanchez and CNN and stand with John McCain. Please make your most generous contribution from $25 up to the maximum limit of $2,300 to the only candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton."

So McCain claims he respects Hillary Clinton, and yet he won't admonish the lady who asked the question, made a joking response to the question, and now is attempting to raise campaign money as a result of this incident. You have to marvel at the blatant hypocrisy of McCain here.

A tale of two headlines--Bush vetoes $10 billion health and education bill, War in Iraq will cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.5 trillion

I saw these two stories yesterday, but I was unable to comment on them here. The first story is an ABC News story, titled Bush Wields Veto Pen _ Again:

President Bush, escalating his budget battle with Congress, on Tuesday vetoed a spending measure for health and education programs prized by congressional Democrats.

He also signed a big increase in the Pentagon's non-war budget although the White House complained it contained "some unnecessary spending."

[....]

Since winning re-election, Bush has sought to cut the labor, health and education measure below the prior year level. But lawmakers have rejected the cuts. The budget that Bush presented in February sought almost $4 billion in cuts to this year's bill.

Democrats responded by adding $10 billion to Bush's request for the 2008 bill. Democrats say spending increases for domestic programs are small compared with Bush's pending war request totaling almost $200 billion.

[....]

The $471 billion defense budget gives the Pentagon a 9 percent, $40 billion budget increase. The measure only funds core department operations, omitting Bush's $196 billion request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, except for an almost $12 billion infusion for new troop vehicles that are resistant to roadside bombs.

So President Bush vetoes a $10 billion, bipartisan, health and education bill, while at the same time asks for a $40 billion budget increase for the Pentagon. And that doesn't even include the $196 billion supplemental funding for the wars. This really shows President Bush's priorities--kill more Iraqis over providing health and education to American children.

Now let's go to the second story I found in The Washington Post, titled 'Hidden Costs' Double Price Of Two Wars, Democrats Say:

The economic costs to the United States of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far total approximately $1.5 trillion, according to a new study by congressional Democrats that estimates the conflicts' "hidden costs"-- including higher oil prices, the expense of treating wounded veterans and interest payments on the money borrowed to pay for the wars.

Graph showing the total costs of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now at $1.5 trillion dollars. From The Washington Post.


That amount is nearly double the $804 billion the White House has spent or requested to wage these wars through 2008, according to the Democratic staff of Congress's Joint Economic Committee. Its report, titled "The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War," estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have thus far cost the average U.S. family of four more than $20,000.

"The full economic costs of the war to the American taxpayers and the overall U.S. economy go well beyond even the immense federal budget costs already reported," said the 21-page draft report, obtained yesterday by The Washington Post.

The report argues that war funding is diverting billions of dollars away from "productive investment" by American businesses in the United States. It also says that the conflicts are pulling reservists and National Guardsmen away from their jobs, resulting in economic disruptions for U.S. employers that the report estimates at $1 billion to $2 billion.

The economic costs of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan total approximately $1.5 trillion dollars. This Bush administration has wasted so much of American taxpayer's money--$1.5 trillion that could have been spent in providing better health, education, or even improving our nation's crumbling infrastructure. That will now never happen, not since Bush has increased our national debt by almost $4 trillion dollars, due to the war costs, and his tax cuts to the uber-rich. This is another example of how President Bush and the Republican Party has completely screwed this country.

Monday, November 12, 2007

November consumer sentiment tumbles

This is also off MSNBC News:

NEW YORK - Consumer sentiment posted a surprisingly sharp fall in early November, hitting its lowest in two years as high energy costs and falling home prices pummeled confidence, a survey released on Friday showed.

The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said its gauge of consumer sentiment fell to 75.0 from October’s final result of 80.9.

The November reading was well below economists’ median expectation of a reading of 80.0 in a poll conducted by Reuters and was the lowest since 74.2 in October 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Consumer sentiment is often seen as a proxy for future spending, which accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

Consumer sentiment has dropped for the first couple of weeks in November. Consumer sentiment has slowed in September, and October. We also have weak retail sales taking place for October in both big box and luxury stores. What we're seeing here is that consumers are starting to get worried about the economy, and they are cutting back on their spending. Consumer sentiment has been dropping since September (Perhaps even longer). And now we're seeing retailers getting worried about slowing Christmas sales, causing them to slash prices just to move the inventory off their store shelves. I wonder if we're going to see slowing November and December sales, even in the midsts of retailer's cutting prices.

Dow drops below 13,000 for first time since August

This little story is off MSNBC News:

NEW YORK - Wall Street ratcheted its way through a fractious session Monday before finally closing lower on expectations of further fallout from the ongoing credit crisis. The Dow Jones industrials, up more than 100 points during the day, ended below 13,000 for the first time since August.

Stocks lost ground for the fourth straight session. Analysts said investors had few reasons to sustain a rally, even with many stocks at enticingly low prices after recent routs. The Nasdaq composite index was the biggest decliner among the major indexes as investors sold technology stocks.

News stories kept the subprime contagion in focus. Late Friday, E-Trade Financial Corp. said the value of its mortgage-backed securities has fallen significantly and that it will need to take bigger-than-expected write-downs in the fourth quarter.

[....]

“The problem is just the mood of the market,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners, said of Wall Street. “There is a tense feeling that there will be still more problems with the subprime situation and a fear that things are going to get worse rather than better.”

[....]

The Dow fell 55.19, or 0.42 percent, to 12,987.55, after falling 4.06 percent last week.

The last time the Dow traded below 13,000 was on Aug. 17, when it index hit a low of 12,847.24, and the last time it closed below 13,000 was on Aug. 16, when it ended at 12,845.78.

The Dow has fallen 1,210.55, or 8.53 percent, from the all-time trading high of 14,198.10 that it reached Oct. 11. Its record high close was 14,164.53, set Oct. 9.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index on Monday fell 14.52, or 1 percent, to 1,439.18, while the Nasdaq composite index dropped 43.81, or 1.67 percent, to 2,584.13.

I'd say that investors are in a really sour mood, when looking at what has been happening with the subprime mortgage mess, and how it has been causing banks to write off huge losses on mortgage-backed securities and derivatives. So now the Dow has dropped below 13,000. With two months left in the year, I wonder if the Dow is going to give back all of its gains for the year?

Daily Headliners--Citygroup CEO to get $12.5 million bonus, Boston Globe provides alternatives to $611 billion Iraq war funding, U.S. in Recession?

And now, for today's Daily Headliners....

For Ousted Citigroup Chief, a Bonus of $12.5 Million: This is from The New York Times;

This year, thousands of Citigroup employees can expect bonuses based on their work in 2007, when the bank’s results have been less than stellar. One, however, will get a bonus based largely on his performance in 2006, which was a better year: Charles O. Prince III, who resigned under pressure as chairman and chief executive last week.

Mr. Prince, arguably the person most responsible for Citigroup’s enormous problems, can expect at least a $12.5 million cash bonus, compared with last year’s cash payout of $13.8 million.

And as he awaits his official retirement next month, Mr. Prince can rest assured that he will leave with $68 million, including his salary and accumulated stockholdings; a $1.7 million pension; an office, car and driver for up to five years — all in addition to the bonus. That is on top of $53.1 million he has taken home in the last four years, a period when $64 billion in the company’s market value has evaporated.

His $12.5 million bonus is based on a formula that adjusts the 2006 bonus for current stock performance, instead of simply awarding it on his performance during 2007, as with most everyone else. Pay experts say the unusual time-traveling maneuver effectively guarantees him a windfall.

Mr. Prince’s payout raises questions about Citigroup’s compensation philosophy at a time when Wall Street bankers are anxious about smaller bonuses and the current credit crisis. It also raises new questions for Citigroup’s board, which for years handed Mr. Prince lavish paychecks that encouraged risk-taking — and is now handing him extra money despite the billions in losses on his watch.

So Citygroup CEO Charles Prince get a $12.5 million bonus, even as Citygroup writes down $6 to $10 billion in losses due to the subprime mortgage scandal. Talk about rewarding failure and incompetence here!

'Boston Globe' Web Site Calculates Other Uses For $611 Billion Spent on Iraq: The Boston Globe has taken a unique view of what the American taxpayers could have alternately spent the $611 billion that this Bush administration has wasted in the war in Iraq. Editor and Publisher has a review of the Boston Globe's findings;

• "U.S. drivers consume approximately 384.7 million gallons of gasoline a day. Retail prices averaged $3.00 a gallon in early November. Breaking it down, $611 billion could buy gasoline for everybody in the United States, for about 530 days."

• "In fiscal 2008, Medicare benefits will total $454 billion, according to a Heritage Foundation summary. The $611 billion in war costs is 17 times the amount vetoed by the president for a $35 billion health."

• "According to World Bank estimates, $54 billion a year would eliminate starvation and malnutrition globally by 2015, while $30 billion would provide a year of primary education for every child on earth. At the upper range of those estimates, the $611 billion cost of the war could have fed and educated the world's poor for seven years."

• "At almost $15 billion, Boston's Central Artery project has been held up as the nation's most expensive public works project. Now multiply that by 40 and you're getting close to US taxpayers’ commitment to democracy in Iraq – so far."

• "At published rates for this year, $611 billion translates into almost 14 million free rides for a year at Harvard University. Tuition and fees at the University of Massachusetts-Boston could be paid for over 53 million years."

Unfortunately, the incompetence of this Bush administration has wasted this money in this useless and lost war. You have to wonder just how much better this country would have been if we didn't have this incompetent idiot as a president.

Recession hinges on coping with credit crisis: This is an interesting MSNBC News story;

No, it's not just you — the U.S. economy really is bewildering. The government says gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of nearly 4 percent in the third quarter, the fastest pace in a year and a half. The stock market is still up by 4 percent for this year, despite a sharp 3 percent drop on Nov. 7. On the other hand, growth in consumer borrowing slowed unexpectedly in September. Some economists argue that the U.S. is teetering on the brink of a recession, if it isn't in one already.

Oil has exploded to nearly $100 a barrel, gold is near an all-time high, and the cost of food is soaring. It seems like high prices are breaking out all over, right? Yet the core rate of inflation is less than 2 percent a year, according to one widely followed measure. Confusion reigns right on up to the Federal Reserve, whose interest ratesetters are openly disagreeing about whether more cuts are needed.

Step back a little, though, and the situation becomes clearer. What we're observing, in all its bizarreness, is the ancient paradox of what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. The irresistible force in this case is the U.S. economy, which has managed to expand through all kinds of adversity for more than 15 years, aside from one brief recession in 2001. The immovable object is a wall of debt that accumulated during several years of profligate lending and now can't be paid back. The risk has increased for a generalized credit crunch that puts both borrowers and lenders in dire straits.

So, either the U.S. economy will overcome the debt crisis and keep growing, or it won't. It's that simple — and that important, with millions of indebted homeowners struggling to stay above water, the stock market seesawing uncertainly, and just a year to go before the next President is elected.

This story is rather interesting since it shows the signposts which will determine whether the U.S. has entered a recession due to the mortgage mess. These signposts will be what happens in the housing market, the job market, default rates on homeowners, interest rate spreads on securities, and consumer spending. There are a lot of economic numbers to watch for here.

Monday Schoolhouse Rocks--Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla

For this morning's Monday Schoolhouse Rocks, I thought it would be important to instruct the class in the importance of pronouns. I mean--how many times can you say Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla, before you get worn down? Music is by Bob Dorough, lyrics are by Kathy Mandary, and the song is performed by Jack Sheldon. From YouTube:

Saturday, November 10, 2007

US among worst in world for infant death

You can thank the Bush administration for making this country the worst in the world for infant death. From Yahoo News:

The rate at which infants die in the United States has dropped substantially over the past half-century, but broad disparities remain among racial groups, and the country stacks up poorly next to other industrialized nations.

In 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available, roughly seven babies died for every 1,000 live births before reaching their first birthday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. That was down from about 26 in 1960.

Babies born to black mothers died at two and a half times the rate of those born to white mothers, according to the CDC figures.

The United States ranks near the bottom for infant survival rates among modernized nations. A Save the Children report last year placed the United States ahead of only Latvia, and tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia.

The same report noted the United States had more neonatologists and newborn intensive care beds per person than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom — but still had a higher rate of infant mortality than any of those nations.

Doctors and analysts blame broad disparities in access to health care among racial and income groups in the United States.

Not surprisingly, the picture is far bleaker in poorer countries, particularly in Africa. A 2005 World Health Organization report found infant mortality rates as high as 144 per 1,000 births — more than 20 times the U.S. rate — in Liberia.

Babies born to black mothers died at two and a half times the rate of those born to white mothers, according to the CDC figures....The same report noted the United States had more neonatologists and newborn intensive care beds per person than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom — but still had a higher rate of infant mortality than any of those nations. This is what happens when you have a health insurance program where Americans can't afford basic health care, and an insurance industry that favors excessive profits over that of providing health care to Americans. I don't know what the answer is, but I do believe that the health care system in the U.S. is completely broke, and no one on either the Democratic or Republican side really has a program to fix this mess.

Update: I've been hunting for the statistics on this posting, and I may have found something here. According to this 2006 Save The Children report:

The United States is tied for second-to-last place with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia (in all five countries, there are 5 newborn deaths per 1,000 live births).

The United States has more neonatologists and neonatal intensive care beds per person than Australia,Canada and the United Kingdom, but its newborn mortality rate is higher than that of any of those countries.

• In the United States, the newborn mortality rate for all races combined is 4.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, but for non-Hispanic blacks, the rate is 9.3 deaths per
1,000 live births.


I think that this is the report that both Yahoo, and ABC News is getting its information from. I have yet to fully look into the report. I found another report titled The State of the World's Children, 2006, and Saving the Lives of Mothers and Children, 2007 report, which also has some statistics on infant mortality rates for the U.S.

Wachovia loses $1.1 billion in securities due to housing crash

This is from MSNBC News:

NEW YORK - Another day, more writedowns on Wall Street.

Wachovia Corp. on Friday became the latest major financial institution to warn of mounting losses in the credit markets, saying the value of securities it owns that are backed by loans sank by about $1.1 billion in October.

The nation's fourth largest banking company also said it plans to boost its allowance for loan losses in the fourth quarter due to expected credit deterioration in the housing market in certain regions. The provision is pegged at $500 million to $600 million in excess of charge-offs in the quarter.

Wachovia shares dropped 45 cents to $39.85 in afternoon trading Friday after sinking earlier in the day to a 52-week low of $38.05.

The news heightened fears that the fallout from the subprime turmoil is spreading deeper into credit markets. It also raised questions about the bank's 2006 acquisition of adjustable-rate mortgage lender Golden West Financial Corp. of Oakland, Calif.

Wachovia is now the latest bank to get hit with the subprime mortgage crash. And since Wachovia bought out Golden West Financial, you have to wonder how much of Wachovia's loses are due to it acquisition of Golden West. Or has Golden West even disclosed their own investment position in the subprime mortgage market? How much has Golden West lost in the mortgage market?

Saturday Morning Cartoons--Popeye's debut in Popeye The Sailor

I found a really good cartoon here with Popeye The Sailor. This is the corn cob smoking, spinach eating sailor's debut cartoon. Now the cartoon, Popeye the Sailor, came out in 1933, but Popeye was already established as a newspaper comic strip character since 1929. Keep your eyes open for Betty Boop, as she dances a hula in the carnival. Interestingly enough, the cartoon was featured as a Betty Boop cartoon, although Betty only makes a cameo appearance. So here is Popeye's debut cartoon, Popeye The Sailor. From YouTube:




I'm Popeye the Sailor Man! Toot!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Fun Stuff--Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody in Legos

For today's Friday Fun Stuff, I've got Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody performed with Legos. From YouTube:



I guess someone has too much time on their hands--and too many Legos in their closet!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Better off dead....

I found this story through Shakesville, and I'm just amazed by it. The original source is through Rocky Mountain News:

If your town got as many presidential candidate visits as little Decorah, Iowa, does, you might need your own electronic sign to keep tabs of all the comings and goings, too.

On Thursday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney became just the latest presidential contender to stop by Decorah, a college town within spitting distance of the Minnesota border.

Here's a partial transcript of what he said when asked what he would say to a gay couple that wants to get married;

"For those who are not familiar with it, of the four nationally leading candidates for president -- and I count myself as one of those, but also Mayor (Rudy) Giuliani, and Sen. (John) McCain and (former Sen.) Fred Thompson -- there's only one of us who's in favor of a federal amendment to the constitution to limit marriage to the relationship between a man and a woman. And that's me."

"I feel very strongly about this because, as I said earlier, I believe that maintaining the strength of the marriage relationship, the family relationship, is critical to the strength of an entire society."

"And I believe that the development of children is enhanced by having a male and a female as part of their upbringing in their home. Even when there's a divorce, you still have a mom and a dad. And even where one member of the partnership may pass away, the memory and the characteristics of that gender, of that partner influence the development of a child."

"I'm in favor of promoting, as a society, the marriage of men and women and the development of children in that kind of setting."

So I guess Romney thinks it is okay for a child to have one dead parent, over that of a child having two gay parents. Excuse me while I bang my head on the computer here:

Weak October sales give retailers nightmare of a "Blue Christmas"

This is from The New York Times:

The holiday shopping outlook just got even grimmer.

From discounters like Wal-Mart to luxury emporiums like Nordstrom, the nation’s big retail chains reported a second month of weak sales growth this morning, blaming economic clouds that show no signs of lifting before the end of the year.

Sales rose just 1.9 percent in October, below industry estimates, according to Retail Metrics, a research firm, which said 70 percent of the retailers it tracks fell below their forecasts.

The poor results for October — which followed a dismal September — suggest that this will be a tough season for retailers and a deeply-discounted one for consumers.

Wal-Mart Stores, the nation’s largest retailer and a bellwether for the industry, said sales at stores open at least a year rose a meager 0.4 percent last month, even after the company lowered prices on toys and electronics to drum up business.

Even more worrisome: Wal-Mart predicted sales growth could be flat for November.

Mid-priced department stores did not fare much better. Sales fell 1.8 percent at J.C. Penney and 3.8 percent at Kohl’s.

Even higher-end stores struggled. Sales fell 1.5 percent at Macy’s and 2.4 percent at Nordstrom.

“The carnage was worst in the department store industry,” said Ken Perkins, the president of Retail Metrics.

We have seen consumer spending slow down in September, and now we're seeing poor retail sales results from the big box department stores in October. Retailers are going to have to start slashing prices on their products, just to get their inventory off their store shelves before Christmas. And the reasons for the consumer slowdown in spending are pretty much obvious--increasing oil and gas prices, higher food prices, higher mortgage payments due to increase in adjustable-rate mortgages, fears of slowing economy, a potential U.S. recession, and job layoffs. With all these economic worries, is it no wonder that consumers are going to cut back on their spending?

Senate Overrides Bush Veto on Water Bill

After seven years of Congress' rubber-stamping the Bush administration's failed legacy, Congress has finally overridden a Bush veto. From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush suffered the first veto override of his seven-year-old presidency Thursday as the Senate enacted a $23 billion water resources bill despite his protest that it was too expensive. It was the first in a decade that Congress has passed a bill over a presidential veto.

The vote was 79-14 to pass the bill. Enactment was a foregone conclusion, but it still marked a milestone for a president who spent his first six years with a much friendlier Congress controlled by his Republican Party. Now he confronts a more hostile, Democratic-controlled legislature, and Thursday's vote showed that even many Republicans will defy him on spending matters dear to their political careers.

The bill funds hundreds of Army Corps of Engineers projects, such as dams, sewage plants and beach restoration, that are important to local communities and their representatives. It also includes money for the hurricane-hit Gulf Coast and for Florida Everglades restoration efforts.

The House voted 361-54 to override the veto Tuesday. Both votes easily exceeded the two-thirds majority needed in each chamber to negate a presidential veto.

Forgive me if I don't feel too excited over this, but Congress is going to have to override a lot more Bush vetos here--say overriding the SCHIP veto, domestic spying, FISA, Bush tax cuts to the rich, Iraq war funding and timetables. There is a lot more of this failed Bush agenda that Congress needs to remove here.