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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The New Opium Wars

The French daily, Le Monde, reports today on the narco-State of Afghanistan. The most significant observation reported is that farmers in Afghanistan produce 93% of the world's supply of opium. This amounts to a stunning 8,200 tons!

Fighting hard and giving their lives to support the world's heroin addicts are the military forces of Europe, Australia, and the United States. This effort is costing the people in these developed nations billions of euros annually. Billions of euros spent to support and grow the population of heroin addicts in major metropolitan regions everywhere!

There is no evidence to support the claims of some ISAF commanders that "they are doing everything possible to eradicate drug production." Opium production is expected to increase nearly 50% in 2007! To support this noble cause, U.S. Congress just approved billions of additional euros of spending for the War in Afghanistan. There was no mention of any expenses towards drug eradication and farmer education programs.

ENCOURAGE OTHER CROPS?
Queenstown New Zealand 0035
Of course there are some efforts being made by the government of Afghanistan to persuade farmers to grow something other than the beautiful opium poppy. Some farmers have actually switched to growing cannabis in order to manufacture more hashish!

In other ways the U.S. and other wealthy countries are doing everything they can to convince Afghan farmers to grow even more opium. Farm subsidies given to EU and U.S. farmers make it impossible for farmers in poor nations to sell wheat, corn, or rice to the rich nations. So the poor farmers grow the crops that rich nations like to import. These are the most valuable cash crops in the world, they are: cocaine, cannabis, and opium.

REDUCING DEMAND FOR DRUGS?

Compared to war spending, the present government in the U.S. spends very little on drug rehabilitation. The big pharmaceutical firms like Merck, Eli Lilly, and Johnson & Johnson certainly profit from outdated, ineffective drug laws. There is no immediate profit in drug-law reform, no Blackwater or Halliburton to donate to political campaigns. It is true that governments spend huge amounts of money locking up drug dealers in prison. The recent change in the way judges issue prison terms is unlikely to achieve much besides increase the number of crack dealers. This makes the voters think that something is being done about the drug problem but in reality there is always another young person ready to make easy money selling on the street corner.

Directing money into programs that would create real jobs for inner-city youth would make sense. The promise of a job at Wal-Mart or Kentucky Fried Chicken seems unlikely to convince a crack or heroin dealer to switch professions.

Spending more money on primary and secondary education would certainly help. But schools are of little concern to politicians that prefer instead to torture and bomb people. School spending, like spending on public transportation, appears to buy few votes for the mostly corrupt political leaders in rich nations.

THE RESULT?

The result of all this war spending and torture is likely to be more widespread violence, growing drug addiction, including heroin addiction, and widespread poverty all over the world. The next time you hear about the elected officials in Brussels and Washington voting to give more subsidies to farmers and less money for schools remember this. In the end we get exactly what we deserve from every euro we spend.

Sources:

BBC News

New York Times

BBC News

Le Monde

Monday, December 10, 2007

Why No Health Insurance?

I recently asked a number of friends, strangers, and associates if they had health insurance. More than half of them said they do not. I then asked them why they do not have health insurance. The responses other than a simple "I cannot afford it" are worth noting here:

Note: Most of the respondents are hourly wage earners
The Jolly Flatboatmen 19774

1. My employer does not offer health insurance.

2. My employer only offers a limited health insurance plan. I cannot afford the deduction from my small weekly paycheck.

3. One out of five people in the U.S. smoke cigarettes. I do not. Why should I subsidize people who deliberately want to commit slow suicide?

4. The plans offered to me at my work cover almost nothing and have a $5,000 deductible.

5. Health insurance executives are some of the highest-paid people in the U.S.. They are nothing but pirates running huge pirate ships.

6. Why bother? I can always go to the emergency room and write "Indigent" on the forms and "no fixed address" in the other blanks. They get angry but they still treat me.

7. If I get really badly hurt I will end up bankrupt even if I had health insurance.

8. Hospitals and doctors are just pushing pills for the drug firms. The side-effects of many medications will ruin your life or kill you faster than the sickness. Most hospitals are so full of germs and disease I would rather die at home than risk going there.

9. I go to teaching hospitals. My charges for services there have never been close to the annual cost of health insurance.

10. The most likely place where I will get hurt is in a car accident. I carry extra medical coverage on my auto insurance policy.

11. I am not a legal U.S. citizen, I cannot get health insurance for myself or my family. When we need doctors we just go to the emergency room like the police tell us.

12. Doctors, hospitals, and the entire U.S. health care industry are a pack of thieves.

13. We go home to India/Mexico when we need expensive surgery. Otherwise we pay out of our own pockets when we need health care.

14. When a particular member of the family gets really ill we do sign them up for health insurance and lie about pre-existing conditions. We have not been caught yet.

15. The government is about to offer Universal Health Care. We are healthy enough to wait until then.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Finding Alan Watts

I was reading Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action last night before sleep. All night I heard Alan Watts' voice reading passages from The Way of Zen and Nature, Man, and Women. Mind you, I have never heard Mr. Watts voice before in my life. I was mystified as to why I heard him reading with a British accent. Furthermore, I had not read Mr. Watt's works since the 1980's, when I read perhaps 10 of his books, each several times. Korzybski must have led my subconscious from Hayakawa to Watts. Imagine my surprise to learn from Wikipedia that Mr. Watts was born near London, England. I always considered him a U.S. native. Then I found this site and Mr. Watts himself, sounding just the same as in my dreams. Bird 15408

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Reluctant Prophet

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead & rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing. - Benjamin Franklin

I recently searched for references to my blog entries and found many, in other blogs and even newspaper articles. Quite frankly, I did not expect to find so many references. Was I ever wrong!

Admittedly, my search required the use of web-based translation tools and a variety of search engines. I only invested a few hours of weekend time on the task so there could certainly be many other people reading what I write and passing it on to others.

Here is one of the more stunning revelations:
Monk, Bihar, India 002
In China and Italy I am called a "prophet", whoa! It seems my revelations about human behavior, politics, and especially technology, are so far ahead of everyday conversation that they deserve special mention. Many writers used one or more quotations from my work to initiate long treatises on the future. One Chinese newspaper columnist declared that I must be a worker in one of the most secret U.S. military labs. An Italian blogger suggested outright that I am a prophet with access to information that is not available from any other sources.

For the record, I have never been an employee of any government. I have consulted for many of the three-letter agencies in the U.S. government. Oh, I taught some secretaries in the Haitian government how to use WordPerfect, again as a consultant only.

These discoveries jogged my memory of days long past. In the 1980s I travelled regularly throughout rural and urban India speaking about the coming Internet Age. Some speeches were attended by hundreds of people eager to learn about this new global network. Other talks attracted only 4 or 5 curious listeners. In every case, the Indian people that attended my talks quickly understood that new fast data connections to the West could be a real source of income for India. I strongly urged many Sikh and Jain businessmen to connect to new VSL phone lines as quickly as they could. Teleconferencing, customer support, and computer program writing could be accomplished anywhere the connection was fast enough, I insisted.

I kept in touch with many participants from India long after returning to my project in Haiti. E-mail made this easy and affordable, at least at my end of the connection. (I had my first business e-mail account in 1982. I received my first Internet e-mail in 1983 when my employer connected their network to a global business network.) My e-mail correspondents went on to form some of the largest outsourcing firms in South Asia. This remains an important accomplishment in my career despite how some people in the U.S. feel about outsourcing.

The idea of being branded a "prophet" in this day and age strikes me as both interesting and troublesome. Prophesy is a rather dubious description for a person like me that simply researches the most advanced technologies available and shares that information freely. There are too many religious connotations to the word "prophet" for me to ever be comfortable wearing such a moniker. I understand how the idea arises but I do not like the places it takes some thinkers.

I do understand a great deal about where today's technologies will take society. In some cases what I have learned disturbs me so much that I refuse to share my discoveries anywhere expect my private journals. In other cases I have dropped a revelation, oops, an insight or two here in this blog. For example, my series Will Google Become God? led readers down a strange path strewn with all kinds of future uses of massive computing power. In other cases, for example my system of integrating all forms of battlefield surveillance into a single real-time solution for military use, is deliberately being left on the cutting room floor. Nevertheless, the Pentagon is working on a program called "AngelFire" that incorporates two or three of the ten sources and concepts my OverSight system would incorporate. I remain a silent prophet in that case.

Information is a powerful tool. In the right hands it can help feed millions and permit free speech in places where dissidents are routinely executed. In other cases though, certain information can be used to empower corrupt leaders currently using torture, kidnapping, and disinformation to transform entire nations into submissive flocks of sheep. In those cases you can rest assured this "prophet" will remain silent until long after the despots go back to their lairs to lick their wounds in private.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Senate Stops All Bush Appointments

The Senate is refusing to actually declare recess because President Bush will no doubt try to slip another crony in his wicked mix.

U.S. Capitol 19914 v. White House
The people of the United States are so beaten down by the Bush Presidency that they are reduced to celebrating the absence of their Senators. If this Senate really wanted to do one thing about thoroughly corrupt President and out-of-control Vice-President, the illegal spying, Katrina, health care, Veterans benefits, the wars and the ongoing use of torture, the Senators would actually meet in working sessions. They could craft and pass legislation that would address the nation's issues and go home to their districts successful. Instead they do no constructive work and give me no reason to vote for the whole lot come election time. We need entirely new legislators, the crooks now in office are destroying this nation.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Learning To Love Iran

I know, I know, what an outrageous title for an essay. How could anyone learn to love a nation that still engages in torture or enforces the death penalty for many crimes? How could anyone possibly love a nation that is building new nuclear power plants? Certainly we must detest all other nations that want to acquire the necessary technology for building nuclear weapons. Nations that steal land and invade other nations for the purpose of stealing resources must be shunned at all costs, correct?
Peace 37479
Nevertheless, two articles in the largest U.S. newspapers hold promise that the escalating Iran war rhetoric may at last be subsiding. The Washington Post and the The New York Times reported a U.S. Navy Admiral and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had something nice to say about the government in Tehran:

A military spokesman said Iran appears to have kept its promise to stop the flow into Iraq of bomb-making materials and other weaponry that Washington says has inflamed insurgent violence and caused many American troop casualties.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that Iran had made such assurances to the Iraqi government.

''It's our best judgment that these particular EFPs ... in recent large cache finds do not appear to have arrived here in Iraq after those pledges were made,'' Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, director of the Multi-National Force-Iraq's communications division, told reporters Tuesday.


Someone, somewhere inside the massive and often inhumane U.S. government, finally figured out that you catch more flies with honey than you catch with vinegar. For the first time in years, Iran has been credited with doing something favorable in the U.S. government's eyes. This talk may be related to Secretary of State Rice's efforts to hold a Middle East Peace Conference in Annapolis, Maryland. This could also be the result of some diplomat actually looking at the price of gasoline while at the Self-Serve pump. Such glimmers of hope in the success of diplomacy may be all we get for many more weeks. There is also the outside chance that someone got around the reading the report of the Iraq Study Group. This author will always treasure such talk over the specter of a mushroom cloud any day.

Iraq Study Group

AliBaba.com and Emerging Markets Volatility

Many Chinese stocks collectively represent a huge economic bubble. Stocks like BIDU (Baidu.com, Inc.) are not really valued according to real returns. The ratio of Profits to actual Earnings at BIDU is nearly 200. Yet 345% YTD returns are quite irresistible, especially to experienced investors. So go ahead, dive in, at considerable risk.

PTR (PetroChina Company Limited) today is not really worth more than XOM (Exxon Mobil Corporation), no matter how many investors fool themselves into thinking it is. Shrewd investors ride the roller coaster to the highest point and then sell their shares as the dips begin. The mentality is, "Who cares what the underlying business is worth? If I can make money from the foolish choices of other investors, why not?" This is also referred to as the the Bigger Fool Theory. This mentality led to the Dotcom bubble of the late 90s and the more recent U.S. Housing Bubble.

To be sure, there are distinct differences between stocks valued only on the potential for a web site to attract visitors and stocks based on potential production profits. PetroChina could reap billions from oil fields in the Sudan and South China Sea. Baidu may give Google a run for the money in the on-line advertising business. Communist China is still a great unknown to the most astute analysts.
Skyline Seoul Korea 000006
Elsewhere in Asia, PKX (POSCO, Incorporated), IBN (ICICI Bank Limited), and MT (ArcelorMittal, Inc.) are examples of enterprises sustaining exceptional returns (i.e. greater than 50% YTD) on the basis of solid business growth. Proving it is possible to invest long term overseas and still limit the overall risk involved.

Environmental and natural resource concerns loom large over the unsustainable growth rates of several Asian economies. Delhi, Seoul, Taipei, and Beijing are literally choking on factory and auto exhausts. The amounts of copper, iron ore, oil, and gas required for growth simply may not materialize in sufficient volumes. Resources like oil or copper could eventually reach prices that absorb most profits. Investors should step back and look at the larger picture from time to time.

A large amount of the growth found in China is being fed by demand from the US and European nations. Cheap Chinese goods really help many households in the U.S. cope with reduced purchasing power. Good manufacturing jobs go to Mexico and Asia every month while people learn to live on the lower salaries paid by the Service sector. People that once worked in auto plants are now working the register at WalMart or even filling positions in a local hospital. It is a transition that threatens the dreams of many in Western nations while fulfilling aspirations of millions of young Chinese factory workers.

Investors enjoy it when speculative bubbles inflate but suffer drastic losses quickly if they do not get out when the bubble is largest. Lately, the Chinese market has performed like those puncture-proof tires found on some limousines. Actions by Chinese market regulators recently popped a hole in the bubble but the massive amount of foreign money that wants to invest in China quickly fills the hole. Even the exodus of Warren Buffet's Berkshire money failed to stem the inflows to Chinese energy shares. Besides the energy stocks this is happening in many other shares, most noticeably Alibaba.com (Alibaba.com Corporation) Some investors can lose interest quickly as could be the case with BIDU but rest assured other investors will swoop in like vultures to carrion. Clever investors jump from new IPO to new IPO, cashing in quickly on the hype but always ready to take profits and move on to the next big issue.

The Emerging Markets have at least another 3 years of this hectic growth ahead of them. Overall the value of the Emerging markets shares is vastly lower than the combined GDP of the nations that make up Emerging markets (Brazil, India, Russia, and China, aka BIRC, and others). In contrast, in the Developed world (EU, US, etc.) the value of the shares is approximately equal to the GDP. Emerging Markets success is all about "room for growth" though you can still get burned by buying too high in the hot spots. Realize there is a bubble, learn to invest wisely while it exists, and take profits regularly. If you do not take profits you are just like the little kid that keeps riding the same roller coaster all day long. You miss the thrill of the other rides and could eventually get sick and lose it all.

Note: At the time of writing the author directly owns shares or owns shares in mutual funds which hold investments in those firms mentioned above.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

COMING SOON! Nuclear-Equipped Militants in Pakistan

General Pervez Musharraf just declared martial law in Pakistan. This is an understandable action, even as this writer sits in a two-party democracy 20,000 kilometers away. Government troops exert little control over Western Pakistan, Baluchistan, and recently lost the Swat region to militant Islamic leaders. Radical fundamentalists seem to have free reign over Pakistani-held Kashmir and a significant presence in the southern city of Karachi.

It seems fair to say government forces control less than 50% of the territory of Pakistan.

Regardless of what we think about Musharraf, the alternative is the no-girls-schools, chop-your-hand-off, Taliban-inspired, militant Islamists. If they take control of the entire nation of Pakistan they also assume command and control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
Nuclear Blast 1945How long do we have before radical Islamist members of the Pakistani army decide to appropriate a nuclear warhead for catastrophic purposes? This is not beyond the realm of possibility if the Musharraf government fails completely.

In the meantime, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney bang the war drums for the impending invasion of Iran. After all, Iran may just manufacture their first nuclear bomb in the next 5 to 10 years. This represents a far greater threat in the eyes of the Bush Administration than loose Pakistani bombs, already assembled and ready to explode anywhere. Remember, in today's global economy all you need to deliver any weapon is a 20-foot shipping container and a few people along the way willing to support your cause.

If the Musharraf-led state of emergency government in Pakistan cannot control the failing state, those deliveries could be arriving at a port near you.


Note: I realize former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto represents an alternative to the militant Islamic forces, but her presence appears to be too little, too late.

We need to be equally concerned about the example Musharraf is giving George W. Bush. This idea of imprisoning the Supreme Court justices and instituting martial law would certainly appeal to Cheney & Co. as their term of office expires.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

One and a Half Million Secrets In Syria

A Middle East news correspondent who has lived in Beirut for more than 30 years recently had this to say about Syrians:

Syria has accepted almost one and a half million Iraqi refugees – caring for them, providing them with welfare and free hospital services – while Washington, when it isn't cursing Iraq's prime minister, has accepted a measly 800 Iraqis.

And Lebanon? No one realises that this tiny Arab country has accepted 50,000 Iraqis since the great refugee exodus began.


Those are the words of Robert Fisk, a man who always gets his information from the source, at great personal risk. Before people in the United States jump to any conclusions about Syria, they need to know the facts. Unfortunately the Washington Post, New York Times, and all the other big corporation news sources in this country have neglected to report the real impact of war on civilian populations. Yes, there have been a few stories on the Iraq Civil War refugee crisis but have you ever heard the numbers Mr. Fisk cites anywhere else before?
Anti-War Protester 70527
Fisk goes on to mention this about the Iraqi refugee groups he has encountered in Beirut:

Of course, the Shia Iraqis have moved into the Shia southern suburbs (home of Hizbollah), the Sunni into Sunni areas of Beirut and Sidon, the Christians into Christian east Beirut and the Metn hills. And because the Lebanese have always called the Iraqis brothers and sisters, there has been no friction between the different Iraqi groups...

It seems strange that no other news source found it important to investigate and report these basic facts about the Iraqi Civil War. It is long past time for U.S. troops and assorted bands of hired mercenaries to pack up their weapons and go home.

Links: Independent article by Robert Fisk

How Could A Fire Start In Orange County?

Concepcion said onshore winds Thursday morning should help firefighters "get the upper hand on this thing."

The arsonist's motive was a mystery to Concepcion.

"That's the part that I really can't figure out, to tell you the truth," he told CNN. "That individual knew on Sunday when this fire started that we had, really, the perfect storm, if you will. We had the heavy Santa Ana winds, we had the low relative humidities, we had the high temperatures.

- Orange County Fire Battalion Chief Kris Concepcion

Chief Concepcion really seems to lack even rudimentary knowledge common to most fire investigation teams. It could also be that he deliberately does not want to provide reasons to any potential arsonists. In any event, here are some common and not-so-common possibilities for why the Santiago Canyon fires were started. They are listed in no particular order.
Goose Bay House Fire 0004
POSSIBLE REASONS FOR ARSON

- Insurance scam

- Resident was unable to afford rising mortgage payments and about to default

- Pyromania or sickness related to starting fires could easily be a reason

- Years of watching California state and federal funds pour into Orange County while the arsonist's community is neglected

- Revenge for some ongoing dispute with individuals or organizations in the affected region, most likely downwind of the fire origin point(s)

- Eco-terrorists seeking to "save the environment" from some perceived threat.

- Fire fighting personnel needing money starts fire(s) to generate more work

- Deranged real estate agent or builder with some plan to generate more business

- Foreign operative seeing an easy opportunity to attack U.S. citizens

- The concentration of wealth in Orange County must be despised by more than a few people. The arsonist may have grown to hate arrogant super-rich Orange Co. residents who flaunt their wealth.

OTHER POTENTIAL REASONS FOR FIRE

- Children playing with matches or lighter

- Cigarettes tossed from car windows.

- Catalytic converter lights dry grass while a car is idling by the side of the road.

- Incorrect backlighting procedures followed by poorly trained fire fighters.

SUMMARY

These are all legitimate possibilities for how a fire could have been started by other than natural causes such as lightning or friction. As a researcher specializing in man-made and natural disasters, I can usually provide lengthy lists of potential reasons for any calamity. It remains the job of experienced investigators to pinpoint actual causes.

Disclaimer: I have no knowledge of any actual causes of these fires and have not visited California in the past 12 months.

Links: CNN article

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

California: What the Real Estate Agent Neglects To Tell You

(composed to be the script to some stand-up act or Ted Talk or speech with beautiful scenes of California on the screen behind the speaker. It is intended as a tongue in-cheek piece, not necessarily to be taken seriously, people!)

Aahh, California with its perfect streets, perfect homes, and perfect weather. Workers there earn higher salaries than almost anywhere in the world. Most California days are sunny days; not too cold,
not too hot. To tell you the truth, I would enjoy living in California this very minute.

But maybe not the next.

These myths perpetuated by real estate salesmen and other con artists belie the reality that is life in California for most people. If you a privileged enough to live close to the Pacific, California can be a very healthy place to live. Fresh salt air, good food, sunny days, and generally friendly people make it a fun place to be. I lived outside Santa Cruz, up in a giant redwood forest.  Silent as an empty cathedral up there. But relatively few people live up in those mountains. They live in very large communities found all over the state. I drove all over the place most of the time I was a resident of the Redwood State.

Most of the major population centers in California are adjacent or directly over major active fault lines in the Earth's surface. It is the nature of the Pacific Rim. In a sense not that much different than residents of Alaska, Russia, Japan, China, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Peru and central America face. Major earthquakes devastate some areas of the state every decade. So they rebuild and everyone that survived has a story to tell. Annual wildfires spread rapidly every year when the Santa Ana winds blow. Sometimes water table gets so low most natural foliage does not stand a chance of surviving. Volcanoes threaten the northern part of the state. This is also California.

It's a big place, Californians often shrug off state events that happen outside where they live. Too much to keep track of. Northern California and Southern are almost two different nations, culturally.

The price of everything in California including, but not limited to, housing, food, fuel, education, taxes, and clothing is typically much higher than in any other state. New York City is comparable, I suppose, but not so far as the cost of waterfront homes off Long Island are concerned.

Californians spend more time stuck in their cars in huge traffic jams, than the residents of any other state. The air quality in many parts of the state is abysmal at best. Taxes and government fees drain the pockets of the middle class faster than any other state. If you plan to move to California you should also plan to pay much more for the right to live there. Too many people neglect to consider the costs and end up moving back out of California or living in a barrio on welfare. Those few months or year or two will be memorable but moving back East is like giving up the garden of Eden. I eventually  moved away to Puerto Rico so I didn't go through that trauma.

California is the source of much of the nation's food and entertainment. Hollywood movies and television programming perpetuate a national culture of violence, promiscuity, and blind consumption. But most people just watch these films and shows and go back to living the same way they always have. Comfortably numb. A few movies are actually pretty interesting.

The West Coast is almost Biblical in proportion to other places. Plagues of insects and disease are kept at bay by farmers only through the use of cancerous pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. There are plenty of organic farms but commercial farming still deposits incredible amounts of poison on the land. The poisons are better designed but not the best way to grow food for consumption. They have no other choice, to meet demand every technique from genetic modification to cloning to DNA modifications are apparently on the table. I think two of those are essentially the same thing but it seems a shame to throw away millennia of farming with seeds from the plants themselves. Only to substitute some Frankenberry, to get that much more out of an acre. Rice, corn, wheat and just about any berry important to all humans are in the lab, getting modifications done under the hood, like a Detroit-build hot rod.

A prized genetic modification for most plants is to make them more drought-resistant. A drought resistant variety of rice could prevent millions from starving, in the event of a long dry season. Drought-resistant corn might make the difference between a farmer going bust and a farmer getting by with little rain some weeks.

I don't know the answer, I just know the prior ecosystem had a very long track record of supporting human civilizations. Natural disasters will always happen, anywhere. It just seems that all of them, except hurricanes, are common in California. The 2017 "rivers in the sky" rain events certainly mimicked a hurricane's rains, but not the wind.

The fresh water supply for California's citizens and farmers could be doomed by declining snow packs in Colorado and the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. 2017 snowpack broke some records, California's is becoming a feast or famine rainfall record.  The agriculture industry dries up just like the state's lakes and rivers, then an El Nino event roars in to fill the the deserts a little too quickly.

he food production chain is also dependent on gasoline and other fuels, transportation is a significant part of the price we pay to have food shipped across the country. Many farmers have switched to natural gas on farm equipment. Food still is affordable, but wouldn't it be better for the environment to consume food that didn't need to be trucked 3,000 miles?

Certain parts of California do not exactly reflect ideal living. Watts and Compton are hardly ideal places to live. San Diego, major Navy Base, is also the capital of pornographic film production.  Of course, like all of California, there's a huge mix of different businesses in the San Diego area.

The extreme concentration of wealth and greed in places like Cupertino, Malibu, or Wiltshire Boulevard concentrates wealth and the fear of losing it all, behind locked iron gates. There are more illegal aliens living in California than any other state. A massive church in Orange County helps people justify their gross over-consumption of natural resources while people in the Sahel or central Asia cook scraps collected from dumps over dung-fueled fires.

California is not paradise. California is not heaven on earth. California is an extremely overcrowded place known to burn, shake violently, and empty your wallet faster than a clever pickpocket. When the next major fire or earthquake devastates some part of California, the people living there will cry out to their idols and ask "Why?" Yet the answer is always right there in front of every resident of California. A beautiful place to visit but a very dangerous and expensive place to live, that is California.

Note: The author once lived in California but the earthquakes, smog, traffic, taxes, and crowds drove him away.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Is This Really Old-Fashioned Investing?

I was recently accused of being an old-fashioned investor. I was proud to own up to that fact in this response:

You are right I am a long term investor. I bought a serious amount of Apple (AAPL) in early 2004 and on dips since. That whole position is up over 300%. And some old T Rowe Price funds back in 2004, PRMSX and PRLAX, again only up a few hundred percent. You're certainly on the money I bought old fashioned VZ early last December, that position's only up 37%, I should sell it and continue to buy more IFCAX, that fund has been a wild ride. Some very old JNJ and BAC positions keep sending me bigger and bigger dividend checks every quarter. My India funds including IIF and IFN are up 70% since I took 'em on board. You are also dead on in that I could have retired anytime in the last ten years without depending on Social Security or a pension, can you say that?

I like Hon Hai in Taiwan and Posco (PKX) in Korea, my investments there are all up over a hundred percent.
Seoul Korea Congestion
This kind of experience makes me extremely sensitive to firms like Beacon Power Corp with a -1255% Net Profit Margin. This whole flywheel-based energy storage scheme is a little shaky as far as technology ideas go. I mean the ancient Romans and Chinese used flywheels to throw pottery thousands of years ago. This is not exactly bleeding-edge technology here. Flywheels are in use all over the place including an old wrist watch I once owned.

A few years working in a patent law office taught me to be extremely cautious about certain things like perpetual motion machines and flywheel schemes. Nevertheless Beacon Power Corp. could do all sorts of lucrative things with their particular flywheels. I'll still take my rapidly growing ICICI Bank (IBN) investment since 2005 any day of the week.
Monk, Bihar, India 002
I see the future taking place not only here in America with firms like Apple (AAPL) or Broadcom (BRCM) but especially in Brazil (PBR, RIO) and throughout Latin America (AMX), which is also part of America last time I checked my globe.

Russia and Asia contain some real fast growing economies, except maybe Japan and Burma. Australia's mining firms have been fun as have some New Zealand resource stocks.

For now Beacon Power Corp (BCON), even at 134% YTD, remains too undocumented for me. Give them time to start production somewhere. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Careful Now Turkey, You're Toying with the New Empire

Instant Karma's gonna get you,
Gonna knock you right on the head,
You better get yourself together,
Pretty soon you're gonna be dead,
What in the world you thinking of,
Laughing in the face of love,
What on earth you tryin' to do,
It's up to you, yeah you.
- John Lennon

Americans finally want to recognize the "1st Genocide" of the 20th century. The Armenian Genocide, authorized by specific Ottoman Empire legislation, is a historical fact. Nearly two million Armenians were systematically put to death by the Ottomans in the years between 1894 and 1923. Contemporary accounts in the New York Times, along with detailed historical research, leave little doubt about the events that took place. Men, women, and children of Armenian descent were rounded up in huge numbers and systematically put to death, just like Germany did to millions of people in the 1930s and 40s.
U.S. Capitol 19914
U.S. Congress, the enabler of the new Empire's armies of colonization in the Middle East, wants to pass a resolution acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. President George W. Bush, increasingly an irrelevant lame duck leader, effectively denied the existence of the Armenian Genocide in a statement earlier in the week. Bush sees no benefit to the Republican Party in the whole affair so he ordered the White House to join with the people of Turkey in the cover-up of the mass murders.

The support of the White House for Turkey seems strange considering that Turkey refused to allow U.S. armies to pass through to Iraq at the start of the U.S. War of Occupation. Turkey has also been told to stay out of the Kurdish sector of the new U.S. colony. The U.S. Air Base, at Incirlik Turkey, was later permitted to support the brutal invasion and subsequent colonization of Iraq.

A committee in the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the Armenian Genocide resolution on Tuesday. Bush quickly dispatched his loyal servant, Secretary of State Rice, to Turkey to apologize for the U.S. Congress. Bush is worried that Turkey might use the whole affair as an excuse to steal part of the new U.S. colony of Iraq. This would upset his dear friends the U.S. oil companies. Exxon Mobil and the rest of the gang have their hearts set on exploiting Iraqi oil reserves they were promised by Dick Cheney.

How Do The Jews Feel About Genocide?

One surprising detail in the historical records since World War II is the total silence of Israel and the Jews about this event. A day never passes where people in Europe or North America are not reminded of Nazi Germany's slaughter of the Jews, homosexuals, and other peoples deemed undesirable by Nazi leadership. Significant evidence even points to the Armenian Genocide as an example used by Hitler to support his own systematic slaughter of certain ethnic population. The silence of the neighboring Zionists in this new debate is almost deafening.

Turkey's Short-Sighted Response

Today the focus switched to the Turkish response to the U.S. Armenian Genocide Resolution. Turkey recalled their ambassador to the United States. Years ago this would have been seen as the last step before war breaks out between two nations. Now it simply means another diplomat is leaving a luxurious residence in Washington for an inconvenient stay back in his homeland. The Turkish Ambassador's wife probably misses shopping in the United States already.

Over the years Turkey has received billions of dollars of aid from the U.S.. The financial benefits of having a fraction of the Empire's fleet based in Turkey are significant to the economy around Incirlik Air Base. That flow of U.S. dollars is about to come to an abrupt halt.

Turkey's neighbor, the European Union, has long been skeptical of Turkey's human rights record. The rise of Islamic Fanaticism in Turkey is another source of concern for the E.U.. For years Europe has been considering Turkey as a possible new addition to their expanding union of nations. However Europe's relationship with the United States is significantly more important than any benefits Turkey might bring to the EU at some future date.

The Future

It seems more likely that the Turkish economy will suffer far more from this debacle than U.S. consumers. A shortage of designer jeans and other clothing imported from Turkey will be quickly covered by Communist China's sweatshops, no doubt. U.S. tourists, just beginning to discover the delights of a holiday in the Eastern Mediterranean, will be dissuaded by the U.S. State Department. Turkish visitors will continue to be harassed upon arrival at U.S. ports of entry, like all Muslim visitors since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the U.S. investment community will hesitate to flood any more capital into a region demonstrating hostility towards it. In this way the murders of all those innocent Armenians in 1915 will come back to haunt the descendants of the killers, as it should be in the end. Justice sometimes has a strange way of surfacing so many years after the crime is committed.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

How To Slice An Apple

From Sunday's pool party out in the 'burbs:

An old accountant asked me how my stocks were doing these days. Of course I mentioned Apple along with my Brazilian and Chinese plays.

"Heard Apple shares might split soon." he quickly added.

That got me listening closely, of course. I almost coughed up my beer. At first I thought he was asking me. We always talk Apple stock when he sees me. I suspect he owns a few shares himself but he never talks directly about his portfolio.

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He plainly said the split would be entirely about liquidity. There are some on Apple's board that do not like the fact that 70% of AAPL shares are owned by institutions, like university endowment funds, mutual funds, and state worker pension funds. They want to increase the ownership base. Stocks like Exxon (XOM) or BAC (Bank of America) are only 50% or less owned by institutions.

He went on to say, "Splits do impact the liquidity of most stocks. There are always going to be more investors ready to buy 10 shares of AAPL at $80/share than Mom and Pop buyers willing to pay $160/share for only 5 shares. Some Apple directors probably want to make more investors out of those young people wearing iPods."

I normally discount any discussion of splits as a waste of time, even when stocks I own split. Nevertheless, this mature gentleman has worked in Finance for 40 years, mostly managing those funds I mentioned earlier.

I told him I bought the majority of the Apple shares I do own a year or so before the last split.

He said, "Has it been fun to see your investment go from approximately $40 a share to, what? $150 a share? Around 250% gains, right?"

"You bet." I quickly answered.

"Made nearly as much on any other stock?"

That answer took some thought, "Uh, 100% gains on some Level 3 Communications (LVLT) I bought in 2005. A fund I own is up 85% since I bought it. And of course, America Movil (AMX)."

"Have you told anybody else about these stocks?"

"You bet." I said again.

"You just proved another point. Splits are almost free publicity. Small investors talk about splits nearly as much as gains. Yet there is really no value added whatsoever by a split. There's some accounting expenses but they're rather minimal." he added.

"So you really think Apple's gonna split?" I said, trying to prod Abe into giving me more details.

"Yes, I do. Now some of my associates do say with Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt (GOOG), the Apple board is stacked with people that would rather just see the price go up and up. The options scandals might make Apple's directors shy of any stock price manipulation of any kind. Those are good points but she'll still split soon.
Say didn't you work for Schmidt in a previous position?"

"Yes, you could say I worked under Eric, way under, for a short period after Cambridge Technology was bought by Novell in 2001. I was a Senior Consultant for CTP. I was a certified Novell Netware network instructor and net installer for 6 years prior to 1998, independently, not as an employee of Novell. Novell did give me plenty of referral work when I was with ExecuTrain though.

How soon before Apple splits?" I still wondered.

"It would typically be announced after a major board meeting. But one more thing, don't buy any shares now just because you're thinking two for the price of one. Remember, the math doesn't work that way. Besides, the price will often dip a little just after a split. Some little investors do not read about the split and sell blindly, thinking they missed something drastic. Automatic price triggers can go off too."

"So when should I buy more?"

"On any significant dips, just like always. Watch it like a hawk just after the split. Definitely, definitely buy it before the holiday sales numbers come in...And one more thing, there's the Beatles thing sneaking up, they already have the solo work of Paul, John, George, and Ringo on iTunes, don't they? Once this McCartney divorce is cleaned up those songs will go on iTunes in a heartbeat. You know it. Not really sure how that translates to significant earnings. It would certainly be nice to have an Apple green iPod loaded with every Beatles song available by December. Might introduce more Boomers to iTunes."

At that point he wandered over to the barbecue and I walked over to a group of women. They all wanted to know what Abe and I were just talking about.

"How to slice an apple." I answered.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Communication at 186,000 Miles Per Second: Woven Fibers Changing Lives

Is Fiber Optic Communication Worth It?

How do we justify massive government and private investment in technology?

Years ago people criticized the French and Japanese for their massive investment in fast trains. Today the citizens of those countries could not live and properly do business without those "bullet trains."

There was plenty of criticism of the United States government when they proposed building the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. That road network may be rapidly failing today but the benefits remain obvious to most people at this point.

Do I feel the U.S. should have continued to invest in train systems? Private business entities including Union Pacific, Burlington Northern, and Norfolk Southern still do exactly that, profitably.

Japan is about to complete installation of fiber optic cable to nearly every business, government office, school, hospital, and home. Light is available to carry information to millions every second of every day. At an astronomical cost, the Japanese government has heavily subsidized this light-speed communication system. Now people are starting to question the benefits in light of such high costs.
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Why Improve Communication?

A nation that provides many pathways for young minds to grow and seek knowledge is sure to succeed. Those nations make sure that all children living within their borders receive health care. Responsible nations maintain their school buildings and properly compensate their educators. Education through college should be accessible to all citizens, as they require it, where they can reach it.

Advanced nations are just starting to recognize the need to build fast communication systems. Citizens in some places can communicate with each other at the speed of light. Beyond copper-wired telephone lines lies a system of communicating that reduces the disruption of the communication tool to nearly zero. There seems to be a never ending issue surrounding the capacity of our current communication systems.

People want to send and receive video.

High-resolution teleconferencing looks poised to spread quickly through new business, government, education, and medical applications.

Sports programming is paid for and demanded in real-time, no delays whatsoever.

Movie producers want to transmit movies to theaters and directly into homes.

Actors, musicians and other entertainers want more people to see their shows, hear their tunes and, yes, pay for the privilege of doing so.

Television image quality improves dramatically over fiber. Fiber can carry a significant selection of audio and video channels. Capacity also keeps increasing as scientists learn to bounce more data though each fiber glass strand.

Traffic cameras use fiber to make jams visible faster within a metropolitan network, Security and police surveillance camera networks, like 'em or not, are more responsive over fiber.

Education and training benefit from glass wire. Real-time distance training in a rich virtual classroom environment can benefit both the geographically challenged as well as the physically challenged members of our society. That kind of video rich content needs a fiber connection to really work.

Internet telephone calls must be sharp and without pauses. Calls to emergency numbers like 911 must get through to the correct call center, instantly. Phone systems should not be designed to fail during major emergency situations.

An X-Ray image stored in a hospital office must be visible in great detail in a doctor's office, instantly. Surgeons must be able to hold a discussion or conference call with a primary physician or specialist shortly thereafter and be able to point to parts of that X-Ray during the video discussion. This conference could be held at a time when seconds mean life or death.

New product designers need to send and receive designs faster. Factories need to receive updated product designs faster. Product safety issues need to be resolved faster.

Scientists need better images at shorter intervals for myriad reasons.

New mothers, and fathers, must see baby on-screen at the day care center. This may seem like a scene out of Brave New World but it is reality, like it or not. Maternity benefits are only sufficient in a handful of European nations and Singapore. Ironically, these nations typically have already built fiber optic networks.

Soldiers may kill fewer innocents if they had instantaneous access to real-time imagery of the situations they are about to face. One less grieving family, one less devastated soldier, one less mad bomber blowing up in the marketplace, all for a clear, sharp image of what is actually going on out there. This is more about the use of fiber optic cable among intelligence sources. Sometimes every second is important when the person that approves an attack is 15,000 kilometers away. More importantly, rich content could make a difference even though the final leg to the soldier is likely to be wireless.

Protesters living under evil right-wing regimes and juntas need to send images of military and police repression to the "free world" faster. Imagine if there was a channel that carried live remote camera footage of the Darfur region of Sudan or parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo every morning. Fiber is not necessary but rich digital content could be, no it would definitely be very convincing evidence of the atrocities taking place. When the junta in Myanmar shut off the Internet in that country, it taught the world a multi-faceted lesson people are not likely to forget.

Why Not Just Go Wireless?

Wireless services still require a super fast backbone system of communication. Speed and necessary bandwidth issues will remain an obstacle to certain wireless systems. If there was not so much duplication and waste through competition, wireless would succeed in some respects. There is the promise of widespread WiFi Max and G4 phone systems, someday. Nevertheless, the total capacity of fiber optic communication will always exceed wireless channels by colossal margins. It is all about sending information at 186,000 miles a second with very little interference or attenuation. Think about that speed and sharpness.

What About Satellite Communication?

Satellite communication is an important part of the world's communication system but it is not yet ready to provide an instantaneous, high-bandwidth solution for a multitude of new applications. There are too many miles between the nearest satellite and the surface of the earth. One hundred miles of atmosphere creates an unacceptable delay among other stormy disruptions. Still, this author sits here listening to satellite radio programming and using GPS signals nearly every day. Satellite technology will undoubtedly bridge many communication gaps but it has so far failed in respect to upload bandwidth.

Who Is Building Fiber Optic Networks?

In the United States, a firm called Corning Inc.(GLW) invented and manufactures much of the fiber optic core. Many others buy Corning's glass and incorporate it into other products and services. In the U.S., Verizon Inc. (VZ) and AT&T (T) pay the most money to install new fiber optics. AT&T actually buys wireless services from Level 3 Communications (LVLT). Verizon markets their own fiber optic network, FiOS, as an alternative to cable television. Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) certainly makes money supporting fiber connections. Other, smaller, firms benefiting from fiber optic investment include ADC Telecommunications Inc. (ADCT), CommScope Inc. (CTV), General Cable Corporation (BGC), and Optical Cable Corporation (OCCF), but there are many others.

What about Dark Fiber?

Dark Fiber or unlit fiber optic glass line is not really the issue it was years ago. Developments continue in the science of using glass to transmit data. Corning, MIT, and NIST (The U.S. National Institute of Standards) seem to be leading the pack of switch designers and connector manufacturers. As fast as Verizon, AT&T, and Level 3 partners sell space in dark fiber, scientists learn to move more data through each strand. Butter's Law of Photonics applies here, the amount of data able to pass through glass fiber doubles every nine months. Therefore, the cost of data transmission drops by half every nine months.

A recent earthquake in the Pacific severed a major undersea communications cable. Fiber optic cables allowed almost instantaneous shifting of that huge data stream to a different network. Spare fiber optic cable capacity can also be seen as redundancy that further supports fiber optic claims of superior reliability. Optical Cable Corp., mentioned above, is one of several fiber optic vendors to military customers. Some cell phone towers and service providers can always be expected to fail in unusual circumstances. Spare capacity in fiber optic networks may be the only available space for data to flow during major emergencies.

The Future

Fiber optic communication appears to be the only answer to huge communication issues, not the least being ever-increasing demand for bandwidth. New applications that make use of optical network capacity appear every year. Fiber optic solutions are being installed every day in every city across the nation. One inventor I know is working on an emergency system to allow police and fire departments to automatically unlock all WiFi routers and connect that network to every cell phone network, using fiber optic networks, of course. The resulting nearly seamless network could be immediately used by First Responders anywhere in the United States. Of course each user would need to be carrying a device with capabilities similar to the iPhone. Spooky project but not without some advantages.

How are you going to use your new fiber optic connection tomorrow?

Link: New York Times article

Monday, October 01, 2007

Investing In Cell Phones (Mobile Phones)

The international boom in telecommunications is only set to continue. Investor focus is naturally pulled into the markets where new customers are signing up in great numbers. Look at year-to-date increases in the value of the shares of a few players:

China Mobile (CHL, 97%)
Brasil Telecom, (BRP, 77%)
America Movil (AMX, 45%)
Millicom International (MICC, 40%)
Bharti Airtel (532454, 35%)

Key suppliers including Nokia (NOK, 88%), Broadcom (BRCM, 15%), Apple (AAPL, 85%), and Sony (SNE, 15%) are hardly in a rut for 2007. Check out the firms that own collections of cell towers: American Tower (AMT, 18%), Crown Castle (CCI, 26%) and SBA Communications (SBAC, 30%)*.
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People living in more and more remote areas are finally getting reliable phone service from someone other than a state telephone company. Cellular towers are springing up in every imaginable place. As much as I dislike the clutter of the cell tower I do appreciate the benefits of the affordable phone service they provide.

Farmers now make a quick cell phone call to check prices before bringing goods to market, buyers check on suppliers with a quick call from the city, sales people cannot live without it, international and domestic tourists take their cell phone along for the holiday, and finally, the Internet often rides those last few miles on a cell phone network. A trend in Africa, banking solely by cell phone, will merge with smart card technology to bring easy commerce to any geographic location. Any location served by cell phones, that is!

In the U.S. and Europe most people already own at least one cell phone. In the UK people appear to own 4 cell phones (children are carrying some of those handsets). In Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, cell phone usage is spreading to the village level. Though the top players could change, look for the overall trend to continue for many years.

*I am currently researching overseas vendors of cell tower equipment.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Golden Country

Golden country your face is so red,
With all of your money your poor can be fed.
You strut around and you flirt with disaster,
Never really carin' just what comes after.
Well your blacks are dyin' but your back is still turned.
And your freaks are cryin' but your back is still turned.
You better stop your hidin' or your country will burn.
The time has come for you my friend,
To all this ugliness we must put an end.
Before we leave we must make a stand.
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Mortgage people you crawl to your homes,
Your security lies in your bed of white foam.
You act concerned but then why turn away,
When a lady was raped on your doorstep today.
Well your blacks are cryin' but your back is still turned.
And your freaks are dyin' but your back is still turned.
You better stop your hidin' or your country will burn,
The time has come for you my friend
To all this ugliness we must put an end
Before we leave we must make a stand, oh yeah...

Golden country your face is so red,
With all of your money your poor can be fed.
You strut around and you flirt with disaster,
Never really carin' just what comes after.
Well your blacks are dyin' but your back is still turned.
And your freaks are cryin' but your back is still turned.
You better stop your hidin' or your country will burn
The time has come for you my friend,
To all this ugliness we must put an end.
Before we leave we must make a stand.

(repeat)

Reo Speedwagon lyrics to Golden Country, 1972 (6:44), the final track on the album R.E.O/T.W.O.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

U.S. Imperialism and the Republican Party

The American flag has not been planted in foreign soil to acquire more territory but for humanity's sake. - president William McKinley (R), July 12, 1900.

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At this point in history the United States occupied Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and many other distant lands.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Join the Buddhist Monks protesting China and Burma

Some of the bravest people in the world today are the Buddhist monks of Burma. They have been marching in the streets of that country protesting the iron-fisted ruling military junta. The dictators of Burma, though they prefer to call the land Myanmar, are nothing but a pack of drug-running killers. During past protests, these thugs have simply told the army to open fire, killing all who cannot run fast enough.
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In the case of the current Buddhist monks marching in the streets, the murderous generals have only gone so far as to arrest some of the monks. Jail? What a strange punishment for a Buddhist monk. Have the generals even set foot inside a Buddhist monastery? Jail will provide even more time for the monk's silent meditations, so essential to seeking and understanding the correct path. The monks are also quite likely to convert the inmates and guards at the same time.

The monks must be allowed to protest, Aung San Suu Kyi must be released from house arrest, and the government of China must stop propping up the murderous dictatorship in Burma. Until that happens there is no reason for anyone to buy tickets to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Links: New York Times

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Next War: Iran

The Washington Post gives retired General Wesley Clark space to describe why the "next war is always looming."

It does not have to be this way. The citizens of the United States are not doomed to always live under a kleptocracy, i.e. ruled by thieves. We still have a chance to show the door to the thieves currently in power. People must get up from their couches and demand accountability.Nuclear Blast 1945

If the people in the cities choose not to participate the people living out in the small towns and surrounding countryside must speak out.

General Clark reminds us all with these words about the upcoming Iran War, "Think another war can't happen? Think again." He goes on to describe a scenario all too commonly understood by everyone who paid attention to the start of the 2003 Iraq War.

This writer is not defending the actions of Iran, but does our nation have the right to kill another million people in our quest for fuel for our gas-guzzling economy? Many nations, including our own, have nuclear weapons. Our own Air Force recently mishandled 5 nuclear bombs, leaving open the possibility of a horrific accident somewhere in the Midwestern United States.
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Are the nations of Pakistan, China, Russia, and Israel any less likely to be the scene of a "mishandled" thermonuclear device? Does anyone really know how many people will die if even one of these thousands of weapons leaks or detonates in error or on purpose?

The time is ripe for a global summit on nuclear weapons. This notion that the United States should be the sole force controlling the sources of energy or nuclear weapons is pure nonsense.

Dick Cheney is planning. George W. Bush is sleeping. Are you awake? What plan do you have for protecting your family from a White House hell-bent on starting The Next War? Speak to your neighbors, speak to the people you voted for, demand answers, demand accountability. Now is the only chance you have, the next war may well be the last war, for everyone on Earth.

Links: Washington Post article

Friday, September 14, 2007

Quicksand in Iraq: Why The U.S. Cannot Leave

When someone asks me why the U.S. Army should stay in Iraq I can think of only one major reason. The Roman Empire's desertion of England.

Sometime between 407 and 411 AD the Roman Senate voted to pull their army out of England. It seems that Hadrian's Wall and all the former might of the Roman Army was insufficient to maintain order in that distant colony.
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Insurgent Englishmen were killing members of the Roman Legion whenever they ventured out of their forts. The English would pull boards out of key bridges so that Roman chariots would crash into the streams below. Archers hid in the trees and shot arrows at diplomats and soldiers in transit. Buildings occupied by Romans were set on fire. So the Romans decided to leave England.

After the Roman army left, it is estimated that all hell broke loose. Sectarian violence broke out all over the vast island. Records from the post-Roman period are sketchy, of course, but archaeologists believe that the post-Roman occupation violence went on for decades. Far more people died during that period than during the entire period of Roman occupation. Many of the English probably pined for the relative calm they once enjoyed while the Legions occupied their land.

So the United States is stuck in Iraq, probably for decades. U.S. taxes will go to fund the roads, police, sewers, and corruption in Iraq for years to come. No matter who the voters elect as president in 2008, Bush's Colonial War for oil will be with us for a generation.

History seems bound and determined not to be repeated in just this one case. Maybe an Iraqi citizen or two should be taught the lessons of the Roman withdrawal from England. It could save a few thousand Iraqi and U.S. lives over the next few years.

For Sen. Ted Stevens, Bribery is a Family Trait

The Seattle Post Intelligencer is reporting that an oil industry exec admits bribing Sen. Ted Steven's son, Ben Stevens. The younger Stevens was President of the Alaska State Senate at the time of the alleged bribe. The allegations occurred on the stand during a trial of another Alaska lawmaker, Pete Kott.

The individual on the stand was none other than VECO Corporation's former CEO and owner, Bill Allen. VECO is an engineering and construction firm that handles Federal and private contracts up there in the 49th state. VECO has since been acquired by CH2M Hill. One must wonder if the bribery issue was disclosed prior to the sale of VECO.
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The issue complicates matters for Republican Senator Stevens, already under investigation for matters related to his second home, a million-dollar retreat in Alaska. There are suspicions that builders did much of the work in return for Federal contract awards. Ted Stevens gained additional fame for his "Bridge To Nowhere" $200 million earmark intended to build a bridge to an island with less than 200 residents.

These politicians must get pretty bored way up there in America's OPEC state. This writer has heard that the cold, dark Alaskan winters can drive a man insane. Alcoholism has been a issue for Alaskans for decades. Bribery and corruption appears to be no less an issue.

Links: Seattle Post Intelligencer, Washington Post, Local news

Related Blogs: Breitbart
Price of Oil

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Paying The Cost of State-Sponsored Terrorism

Recently a judge in the U.S. held Iran accountable for the 1982 bombing of U.S. Marines that had invaded Lebanon. The judge fined Iran $2 billion for their support of Hezbollah.

The timing of this decision is quite a coincidence, given the recent White House push for a war with Iran.

That's a good start but the U.S. courts need to keep going if they want to be seen as fair about settling the scores. The U.S. has also sponsored terrorism many times throughout history.
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What exactly do we owe the families of Iraqis who were quite plainly tortured at Abu Ghraib? What do we pay the people of Falluja for the chemical weapons we dumped on that city? There is no shortage of evidence proving those terrible war crimes, your honor.

The U.S. provided the phosphorus weapons and cluster bombs that Israel used on Lebanese civilians in the 2006 invasion of Lebanon. How much do we owe the Lebanese, Judge Lamberth?

The U.S. trained and funded Guatemalan death squads that killed countless people and continue to kill politicians to this day. The CIA has admitted participation in these war crimes. How much does the U.S. owe the families of victims of those atrocities, your honor?

The U.S. funded the Contras, who subsequently killed thousands of civilians. What was the cost of that crime? The good justice should surely be able to ballpark a figure for that.

The U.S. poured agent orange and napalm on the farmlands and villages of Vietnam. What should we pay those chemical burn victims, Judge?

The U.S. provided the chemical weapons that Iraq used against Iran in the Iraq-Iran War. Those weapons killed and maimed thousands of Iranians. What is the cost of that? We need to do our calculations here and come up with a fair judgment.

The U.S. shot down an Iranian civilian airliner. The U.S. paid Iran for that "mistake", but hardly $2 billion, more like a few million. Was that a fair sum? Do we deduct a more fair amount from the amount they owe us for the 1982 Beirut bombing?

The U.S. used weapons of mass destruction on the civilian populations of two Japanese cities. These are the only 2 nuclear bombs ever used in war (If we still refuse to count the U.S. use of depleted uranium weapons all over the world). How much does the U.S owe Japan for that?Nuclear Blast 1945
A judge now needs to determine how much back pay, with interest, the U.S. owes the African people that were placed in chains, brought to the U.S., and forced to work without pay for more than a century. We should certainly be able to come up with a round number for that crime.

What does the United States owe the native American people for the near total destruction of that civilization as well as theft of all lands? Didn't we purposely give them blankets laced with disease as well?

There are many more war crimes the U.S. knows it is responsible for, these cases and victims also deserve their day in court.

Link: BBC article

Impact of iPhones, iPods, and other devices on Our Future

A local newspaper writer recently sought input on the "newspaper of the future."

The new flexible, scroll-like LED displays were mentioned as one solution.

My response was this:

In the not too distant future the little ear piece millions of people call their "bluetooth" will also project a very sharp, holographic image just before us in whatever dimensions we desire. Transparency will be adjustable. I have seen lab models of such a tiny projector. Right now there are heads-up displays that project certain controls on windshields of different craft. Both devices will distract us from driving and life much like the iPod and mobile phone do now. Special glasses already allow users to watch wide-screen movies anywhere they want, except while driving!
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My additional comments, not included due to space restrictions in the newspaper comment box, were:

For those concerned about battery-power restrictions, these devices may not require batteries. One solution is a microscopic gas-powered turbine. At this stage in life I am somewhat concerned about wearing a gas-turbine behind my ear, no matter what the size. Nokia had a cell phone that uses fuel cells under development, at one time. A third possibility is a microscopic reactor, already in-use in some heart pacemakers. A reactor behind my ear has even less appeal than a gas turbine in the same location. Another researcher has proven that sufficient power can easily be derived from excess heat given off from the human head. I am not sure about a steam turbine behind my ear either!

The amount of power consumed by portable electronic devices is decreasing as microchip developers design chips that require less power. Already flash memory provides data storage using a fraction of the power spinning hard drives require.

Projection systems are notorious for their electricity consumption. However the portable Apple computer I am using to write this piece already incorporates LED backlighting technology. These displays were made available in June of 2007. I have been told super-efficient solar panel technology can derive power from basic room lighting.

Another type of projection technology takes existing room light and magnifies it with a lens, this technology uses only a small amount of additional energy to create an image.

Controls for new portable devices will be voice-activated for the most part. I already press a button on my bluetooth headset, speak the name of my contact, and my cell phone dials the correct number for me. Voice-recognition software has come along way from the early versions of Dragon Naturally Speaking. Customer Service applications of voice recognition software may not be appreciated by many but they sure beat longer wait times on-hold.

The initial objections that I had to new portable devices form my strongest arguments against them. With each new device our young people learn to carry around with them there is less and less contact with the outside world. Every day I pass thousands of people, young and old, wearing headphones or glued to a cell phone. When these iPod-obsessed minds are forced to interact, by some unexpected interruption, I notice that they cannot easily talk to me or other people. Their minds are elsewhere, far off in the distance realms of fantasy, musical or otherwise.

Cell phone users are even more distracted by the devices they now use to fill nearly every walking hour. Driving or walking along urban streets in oblivion, they pose a real hazard to themselves and others. Every other driver now seems distracted by a cell phone to a great extent. The more we rely on devices to entertain us the less capable we seem to be of entertaining ourselves and others. Some of the most boring people I spend time with are those who must always be listening to an iPod or talking on the cell phone. Now that people can do both, with devices designed along the lines of the new iPhone, I have nearly given up hope of meeting a conscious being during my daily outings.

An attack by an EMP or electro-magnetic pulse bomb would destroy every unshielded electronic device. This unfortunate occurrence might actually be a blessing in disguise for a modern society so obsessed with living anywhere except in the present.

Link: Washington Post article

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Looking Through the Apple iPhone

Many institutional investors focused on Apple Inc. shares (AAPL) during the June run-up to the iPhone release. Mom & Pop investors (a popular industry moniker for the individual investor) jumped on board and drove the price of Apple shares to $146 near the end of July. Somewhere around that time a mid-day high of 148.92 was reached. Stock trading is not a horse race, however. Investors need to take their blinders off and look at the synergies Apple, Inc. generates.

AT&T (T) is an interesting play. From a low of 33 at the beginning of 2007 it reached $41.93/share at some point in the past 8 months. Any good news from Steve Job's team at Apple, Inc. on Oct. 16 is quite likely to rub off on Randall Stephenson's AT&T. A recent article in USA Today suggests AT&T is using the iPhone boost as a platform to jump into other wireless market services.
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The WiFi computer connection is no longer viewed as a threat, at least for one phone company. The USA Today article cites Stephenson saying that data usage by iPhone users is double what AT&T expected. Half of that was at WiFi hotspots. T-Mobile (DT or Deutsche Telecom) provides quite a few of those WiFi hotspots if I remember correctly. Starbucks (SBUX) and T-Mobile have an arrangement going that many people count on for a few minutes every day. Starbucks and Apple have a cute arrangement to tell an iPhone user when they are near those ubiquitous coffee shops.

One company called FON is even trying to give free WiFi routers to people that live near a Starbucks coffee shop. Why would a firm go to such lengths to provide a WiFi connection to the Internet?

Hotels, libraries, and even homeowners, with unsecured WiFi-capable routers, support a multitude of wireless computer users. The iPhone, all laptop computers and many other portable devices can jump on the web using those connections as well. Deep down in the iPhone and many devices a tiny device made by Broadcom (BRCM) facilitates this WiFi link. Broadcom shares were $26/share at this time last year, right now my stock ticker displays $35.50. Qualcomm (QCOM)is also in this business but failed to play by the rules here in the U.S.. Would you say I made a mistake buying Broadcom shares last year?

I could not pick out all the good technology shares very well so I bought shares in an ING fund called IDTOX. I know there are better technology funds but there were many that performed poorly too. I'm OK with an initial 11% 12-month gain on such a broad play as IDTOX. They brought DST Systems (DST) to my attention, I will not forget that. DST shares are up $1.80 today. My investing is for retirement 20 years from now, not immediate income this year or the next.

Looking overseas, EWT, an exchange traded fund, based on the Taiwan market is up about 100% since the tech market crash settled down in 2002. PRMSX is up 275% since that same point. Why invest in funds if you want AAPL-like returns? Taiwan is the home of Hon Hai (AKA Foxconn). Hon Hai makes iPods along with a host of other electronic devices sold in Europe, Japan, North and South America. Those two funds, EWT and PRMSX, also have rather low fees of around 1.25%, attractive costs for phenomenal long-term returns. Of course rich people may soon stop buying electronic gadgets altogether and get into organic gardening. That's a risk you just have to take!

My shares in a T. Rowe Price Latin Fund (PRLAX) are up nearly 60% in 12 months, even in this volatile market. Why? A mobile phone company called America Mobile (AMX) is one reason. There is a huge potential for growth in Latin American cell phone markets, unlike the saturated EU and U.S. markets. Latin America energy firms drove up those PRLAX shares too.

So I started started talking about a new phone producer, Apple Inc., and ended with a Latin American cell phone service, America Mobile. In the middle I mentioned AT&T, Broadcom, DST, Starbucks, and T-Mobile.

NOTE: I don't directly own SBUX, QCOM, or DT shares but I have owned the other firms for quite some time now. A fund I have managed for the past year owns shares in PKX (up a measly 150%) but that's another story...

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Impact of the U.S. attack on Iran

Somebody just asked if Russia will cut-off oil sales to the EU when the U.S. attacks Iran. They also asked about the impact of an expanded Gulf war on Apple computer sales. Two good questions, just a little unusual to see them from the same source. It was definitely an AAPL investor based outside of the U.S. Likely a Canadian or U.K. national.

Here is my response:

To begin with, a U.S. attack on Iran is a given. That is expected prior to the end of September, maybe in October. The only people that are not aware of this are U.S. civilians and folks without sufficient clearance. The rest of the world has been getting regular updates on the unprecedented Persian Gulf build-up nearly every day in print and on satellite dish.
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It is likely to be one of those Clintonesque cruise missile burps, along with shots from unmanned Predator drones. Cheney can't get the cash or approval from Congress for a bigger effort.Nuclear Blast 1945 What has the crude market concerned is the Iranian reaction directed at Gulf oil tanker traffic and terminals. U.S. commanders claim to have any Iranian response covered but you know one or two tankers will definitely burn.

The Chinese have been hacking U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates PCs,along with French, German and UK defense systems, just to pick up any chatter they could. China drinks a lot of Iranian crude you know.

The Russians are mixed about this. They stand to make billions on the short term sale of crude while the Gulf becomes a playground for weapons systems. Russia will never, ever cut-off any market when the price is so high. Have you ever heard of a market closing when customers are lined up out the door and willing to pay top dollar? Hell no! Smart business people stay open later and open earlier in those conditions.

iPods and iPhones will still be under Christmas trees no matter what happens. Part of the recent blip in INTC shares is due to chips going in to Macbooks and some other devices I cannot determine right now. Is there an INTC ship in the iPhone or new iPods? I really don't know where those extra INTC chips are going. Maybe weapons systems for the build up.

If you are concerned about the upcoming attack on Iran you can write your Senator or Congressman but they really don't care. They spent the day in Washington bashing Iran along with General Petraeus. War is a sport for millionaires and billionaires who could care less about the millions that might die as "collateral damage."

Links: New York Times article

2007 BBC article

The Herald UK article

2006 BBC article

I wish I had more domestic U.S. links to include but the U.S. press has chosen not to pursue this terrible possibility.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fake Bin Laden Video




I really did not want to comment on the latest Osama Bin Laden cartoon but my associates asked me for my opinion as a photographer.

The video is an obvious fake. It is amazing that media outlets are promoting something that belongs only on YouTube or in a supermarket tabloid. I suppose there is a value in that it reminds people of the years and lives wasted pursuing oil in Iraq rather than shutting down all paramilitary training centers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia. The Taliban continue as a force while the U.S. prepares to invade Iran.

Simply compare available known images of OBL from prior to 2001 to the poorly made-up actor posing in this farce. Search Google images for bin ladin or bin laden. You will spot other recent fakes as well. Place those side by side to the actor in the video. Observe closely. OBL changed hair color on his head and his beard? Sunni Muslim men might use henna (in Arabic hina) but certainly not shoe polish black or some drug store dye. Is that really Usamah's nose? Ask a friend with experience in video production or even someone that knows PhotoShop how difficult it might be to concoct a fake Usamah Bin Ladin video.

It is also necessary to consider who (Bush) benefited from such precise timing at APEC (not OPEC) in Australia (not Austria). U.S. government intelligence analysts and any U.S. attorney hand-picked by Republican politicians are not permitted to be honest about this very dumb ploy.

International Islamic scholars and intelligence analysts know very well the true fate of Monsieur Usamah Bin Ladin.

There seems to be no limits to the lengths people will go to scare those who might be so easily deceived.

As we trace the genius of a nation by their taste in poetry and music, so by their encouragement of these we may judge of their rise or fall; good authors have never been wanting in happy climes. Barbarism begins her reign by banishing the Muses. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!

- Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, (1749)

Links: Forbes article al Jazeera article Newsday Article

Why China Is Hacking Computers

The Chinese are looking deep into the computers of the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, and of course, the U.S.. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had his computers hacked by the Chinese. When nations secretly plan wars that might impact a major source of energy for a nation, that nation is compelled to look closer.

To spy.

Everyone else in the world, except the average person on U.S. streets, knows Uncle Sam is about to attack Iran. It is obvious. It is more than a hunch or whispers on the breeze. It is openly being discussed in major dailies from so many countries. The United States is going to use nuclear weapons on Iran to protect Israel.
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They need to use nuclear bunker busters to knock out Iran's nuclear centrifuges.
Nuclear Blast 1945
The U.S. has extra carriers in the Persian Gulf Region. The generals and admirals have plans all written up. The U.S. has to do this because they think Iran will lob the first complete bomb at Tel Aviv or Israel's own nuclear bomb factory in the Negev desert. Israel can act all innocent of any wrongdoing while the U.S. is a target too far and too powerful.

Never mind the possibility Iran might strike back at Persian Gulf oil supplies.
Never mind that Russia could feel threatened by such an action. Russia would become the most important source of oil overnight. Never mind that China and many other nations depend on Iran's oil supplies.

Never mind that the U.S. wants control of all the oil in the Middle East.

That is the real but taboo reason for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "Secure the oil supplies at any cost." the oil company chiefs told Dick Cheney in those "secret meetings" held long before the invasion. We need secure access to Iraq's oil. Blame it on the terrorists and WMD's but capture the oil fields first. We need to feed those SUVs everyone in the U.S. wants to keep driving.

This has grown well beyond the blogs and the conspiracy theory people. After all, those writers have been smelling the scent of a new war for several years now. It does not help that Bush, Cheney, and Rice rattle their rusty sabers every chance they get. "No options are off the table." They repeat incessantly when asked about the U.S. posture to Iran. They think they are clever, forcing Iran to play cards it does not even hold.

For weeks and weeks of my youth a big farm boy taunted me with threats. Day after day on the school bus this much stronger fellow used to describe how badly he was going to beat me up. He wanted my seat, no matter where I sat on the bus. Gradually I was forced to move towards the back of the bus by his antics. Day after school day I dreaded what would happen next.

There were little punches here and there but the farm boy really never hurt me, he just threatened to hurt me over and over again. Finally an afternoon came where I was cornered in the back of a crowded bus and this big guy sat down next to me. I just knew I was going to die that day. All those bullying threats kept going around in my head.

Before he did a thing to me I grabbed his hair and slammed his head against that steel bar that ran exposed in the back of every bus seat. I grabbed him and slammed him so hard and so fast that he had no time to react. I slammed his head not once but three or four or even more times, hard, until my arm was too tired to keep pulling his hair and head onto that bar.

I knocked the big farm boy out cold. I may have knocked him out on the first slam for all I know. The fight was over before it even started.

I wondered if I did not do permanent brain damage to that farm boy. I was actually scared that I might have killed him for a moment. He had been kicked in the face and head by horses several times by that point in his life.

His big sister had to pretty much carry him off the bus but even she said something to me that surprised me. "He deserved what he got, I know that, he's been sayin' he was gonna beat you up for weeks now. Deserved what he got."