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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Reality TV Show - YOU WIN...A COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP!

That is correct. A new reality TV show offers full-paid college scholarships to "renowned universities" in jolly, old England. Tower of London 00014
One young man, Arvind Aradhya, has already won the first round of the program. His prize was a college scholarship. Millions of people watch the show on television, perhaps even hundreds of millions of viewers watch the weekly program.

You haven't seen it?

That's because the program is only running on Indian television, for now. There is a very good chance this show will go into syndication. Eventually, a U.S. version might appear on one of the major networks.

Now the contestants that win the Jeopardy! college tournaments get a fair chunk of money to use for college. However Arvind won an all-expenses paid scholarship to Warwick University. You could compare the academics at Warwick with any Ivy League School or a U.S. academy such as King's Point, West Point, or Annapolis. In fact, Warwick leans toward Johns Hopkins or University of Pennsylvania in curriculum, scientific, and professor rankings.

Granted, there are far more reality shows imitating the American Idol model all over the world. Nonetheless, the existence of another show that rewards the intelligent offers a glimmer of hope in the desolate landscape of brainless TV shows. Move over Jeopardy! the Indian college scholarship program was a great deal more challenging.

BBC Article

Jim Carrey Appeal For Aung San Suu Kyi



How to help the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient:

Human Rights Action Center
U.S. Campaign For Burma

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Something BIG is about to happen in Washington

Nobody wants to be in the White House, or even the Republican leadership, when George W. Bush admits the U.S. lost the war in Iraq.

They are old enough to remember the end of the Vietnam War, even though they avoided serving in it. Politicians remember when the Viet Cong invaded the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Everyone remembers those photos of the last helicopters leaving. Some people even remember when that C-5 transport full of little kids crashed.

They are resigning before the brand-new billion dollar U.S. embassy in Baghdad is overrun with jubilant Iraqis. Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, quit. Attorney General Gonzales quit this week. Karl Rove announced his last day is Friday, August 31st, 2007.
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These and other resignations are a sign that something ominous is rapidly approaching. It must be something pretty bad to drive away such high-ranking members of the President's former inner circle.

Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House, is even quitting.

These guys all know something that the general public is still not being told.

The situation can be compared to a company about to go out of business. Key executives like the Chief Financial Officer jump off the ship first. A few people in the accounting department and some people in sales leave next. A vice-president or director will suddenly announce a "desire to spend more time with their family." Low-level employees often do not find out until one day they cannot understand why the front doors are locked.

This is about more than the end of the Bush Administration. That event is still more than 19 months in the distance. No, there is something huge about to happen or something to be revealed this September.

Some big city editor must have at least one reporter working on a story the magnitude of Watergate. It could also be that Vice-President Cheney is about to hatch another crazy scheme. The hand writing is on the wall in some room in Washington, DC, and it is not a pretty message.

What ever the cause, people do not suddenly leave high-ranking positions for no reason whatsoever. Once again the people of the United States will be left with the bills to pay and the dead to mourn. The little people are always the last to find out.

Liberty and Justice but no Health Care

(The following posting was written by an anonymous writer responding to a USA Today article on the 47 million people in the U.S. that have no health insurance. The author makes a very potent case for universal health care.

Currently only Massachusetts and Hawaii provide a framework for every citizen to receive regular health care through affordable health insurance. The rest of the uninsured get no regular check-ups and resort to emergency room care only in dire situations. If the major health insurance providers enjoy watching people die from easily preventable causes they will continue to do nothing until actions are imposed upon them.)
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Having health insurance is one small step in the right direction. Having health insurance DOES NOT mean a person is getting proper health care. With all the restrictions - deductibles, pre-authorizations, limits, in-network/out-of-network, below market payments to doctors, etc - insurance companies squeeze access to care to the bare minimum or worse.

The insurance industry inflates the cost of our healthcare. Look at the labor hours/dollars spent creating, processing, and disputing claims - it's horrendous.

This system also unfairly penalizes the uninsured. Because insurance company payouts are so low, health care providers inflate the rates to the uninsured to balance their profits. The least able are saddled with the greatest share of the costs. That’s just wrong.

There is a fundamental flaw in the logic of health insurance. Companies are in business to make a profit - by nature business is always looking for ways to cut expenses (ie. claims). There are a few areas in society where the people are not served by for profit businesses, and health care is one.

For me, the question’s not, “is health care a right?” The question is, “how can we not take control of our national health care?” Right now, it’s controlling us.

We are all paying for health care one way or another - taxes, insurance premium hikes, etc. - and it's going to get worse with our aging population. And health care often controls our personal decisions can I look at another job, or moving, etc.

I'm a for profit business owner who earns a great living in a capitalist economy. There is also a role for government in society. Government run health care system wouldn’t be perfect, but it COULD be a huge improvement over the broken mess we have now.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Nobody Wants to Work for a Lousy Boss

His Secretary of Defense has quit.

His top advisor and long term confidant has quit (or perhaps was fired).

His personal attorney and, conveniently, attorney general, has quit.

Mr. Bush apparently cannot hold on to key employees in these final days of his quite controversial presidency. There seems to be few people still willing to do the really important jobs for George W. Bush.
White House
Do you ever remember working for people that you really did not want to work for? Do you recall the tyrant that ran that business in your old home town? There was always at least one employer that had a tough time keeping people.

Typically, it was an old bastard that screamed and shouted at people. He was the guy that paid the same lousy wages that every other business in town paid but still drove his workers away with unreasonable demands. Friends would go to work there and then quit with no notice. Maybe you even tried to work there, because you really needed the money or kind of liked the business. It could have been a sporting goods store or a factory that made surf boards. You refused to heed your friend's warnings and took the job anyway.

The boss seemed really nice at first. His weird friend was your supervisor when you first started working there. By the time you started work the pay was even slightly better than some other places. It seemed strange that they made you sign all those papers about keeping everything confidential. After all, you were just a stock clerk.

The job seemed easy at the beginning. It was only later when things went downhill.

You could overhear someone shouting in the front office all the time. Occasionally people drove away from the business with a loud screech of burning rubber. Suppliers never seemed to make deliveries until the last possible minute. The other people that worked there seemed to have an iron wall built around them. They acted like you would not be working there very long, so they did not make friends with you right away.

Slowly, the clues to keeping your job were shared with you. In the break room or out in the parking lot, co-workers whispered clues to you.

"Do not tell the boss any bad news yourself. He will blame you for it."

"Be careful with that machine you are using, it breaks down all the time. But the boss will shout at you and tell you it was your fault."

"Do not go near the boss until after he has his morning coffee or on Mondays."

"Do not tell anyone else about this place, they won't believe you anyway."

As time went on you learned that your boss cut some corners. Once he asked you to take some parts out of the stock room but not write them down on the inventory. Another time your supervisor told you to lie to the state inspector that comes by each month. Another time you were asked to stay late on a Friday but then come in later on Monday. You never got paid the overtime for that extra work. That happened a few times.

You noticed the boss took an awful lot of vacation time for himself. He always seemed to be out at his house in the country, especially where there was so much work that needed to get done.

One day you found a list near the dumpster out behind the business. It was entitled "Workers I Cannot Trust." That seemed really strange to you. Then all those employees, most who did a really good job, were fired all at once for supposedly doing a poor job. The people that replaced the good guys were terrible at their jobs, but they all seemed to be sort of like the boss. They were even invited to the barbecues out at the country home.

Finally something really terrible happened. You got a letter saying you had to appear at some government office, something about those state inspectors you had lied to. Right before you went to the hearing the boss called you in. He told you to say you could not remember what you said to the inspectors. He asked you not to tell the state people that he told you to lie. When you complained and said you could get in big trouble and maybe go to jail, your boss threatened you. He told you that if you did not do as he said you would, "Never work anywhere in this town again."

So you went to the state hearing and said you forgot. You lied again to the inspectors. When you got back to your job the boss told you you did a good job, he even promised to promote you to stock manager.

But slowly other problems started. The boss yelled at you for being late on that morning it snowed. You had trouble sleeping some nights. You made dumb mistakes at work. You shouted at your girlfriend and she broke up with you. The state sent a letter to your home about another hearing and you had to go lie again.

Finally you just had to quit that damn job. It was more trouble than it was worth. All your friends just laughed at you and said they knew you would not last long there.

Today you really regret going to work at that place even more. Today you look at the walls around you and wish you had never heard of that nasty boss. Today you are in jail.

Funny thing is, even your old boss does not come to visit you.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

How Many More Needless Deaths?

How many more Chinese or American miners must die before a mine is declared unsafe?

How many more drivers must die from collapsing bridges before we address the issue?

How many more space explorers must die before the U.S. Space Shuttle program is ended?

How many more young people must die in a war based on lies and failed policies?
U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis 31680
How many more must die from AIDS (SIDA) before the Catholics permit condoms?

How many more deaths from malaria must occur before the wealthy commit sufficient resources to a solution?

How many more people must starve to death while the rich get fatter and fatter?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Losing War On Crime

The police are always at a definite disadvantage when it comes to crime. Criminals can decide to perpetrate a crime any place they choose. If the bad guys are fast, they can usually get away before the police arrive. Many new forms of crime only require a computer and an Internet connection. Meanwhile, the police are still trying to make their databases searchable ($423M FBI computer database project and Connecticut police issues). The only thieves that get caught are the very greedy or the very poor. Jack Abramahoff stole millions from Indian Tribes. Tom Delay wrote big checks to the wrong people. Congressman Jefferson had $50K in his freezer.
US Capitol
America's prisons are mostly full of poor people, some rural poor but mostly urban poor. They pulled a knife on somebody or shot somebody or sold drugs. Some guys stole other people's stuff, some women wrote bad checks, one guy was caught kidnapping people. You will not find someone like Paris Hilton sitting among the other women caught drunk driving in LA County. Rich people usually hire a lawyer to get them off the hook or at least into a jail that resembles a country club. Lawyers that poor people get are typically young new public attorneys fresh out of law school or other lawyers that are not good enough to get a job at major law firms.

Yes, there are a few talented lawyers that do some pro bono legal work for the poor. Others work in defense of the public hoping to reach the heights of former New York State district attorney Eliot Spitzer. Overworked public lawyers are overwhelmed with cases across the nation, to say the least. At this point President Bush steps in and orders his attorney Roberto to fire these overworked lawyers. Great way to boost morale in the Justice Department, Mr. President.

The rest of the hoodlums run free in the streets. They make variable-rate mortgages look attractive. They peddle credit cards to people who cannot pay. Real crooks talk old folks into taking a second mortgage on the old homestead. Now the house is worth less and the loan payment keeps going up insanely. First the loan payment was for $980 each month. Now that payment is $2,200 per month. That can't be right? Why won't the bank return my calls?

Crime takes so many forms. One company sells a product known to kill millions every year. Hospitals cannot keep up with the costs associated with just this one product. Health care costs eat up more family money every year. Even worse, every year this company hooks more and more children on tobacco. Crime pays when you have the U.S. Congress bought off.

Years ago organized crime made millions of dollars selling people numbers. One number would get picked each day. The people that bought that number for that day would get some money. The mafia grew fat on the numbers rackets. Today the U.S. States peddle numbers on every street corner. U.S. elected officials figure that people will gamble anyway so why not provide a legal numbers game, legal slot machines, legal horse race betting, and anything else people want. The ultimate cost to society is never considered. The people paid to consider the issues; politicians and public employees, ignore the obvious.

The really talented people go to work for private corporations anyway. Everyone knows that.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Economic War: China v US

Once again China is threatening to sell those U.S. Treasury notes it holds. China holds almost a half trillion United States dollars this way. If China were to sell all the Treasury certificates held in Beijing, the United States could plunge into a recession. Many other nations of the world would quickly follow the U.S., causing a global recession.

There are a few major roadblocks that will prevent China from holding such a fire sale. First, China would not get far along in such a sale without the return on U.S. notes diving even faster. That could present a very slippery slope for China indeed. The Chinese could stand to make a great deal less money in the short run. It would be more profitable if they sold the U.S. notes slowly over many years. Unfortunately for China, the interest paid on U.S. debt is quite low. China can earn far more money in investments other than U.S. Treasury Notes.

Seoul Korea Congestion

That is just a small roadblock before the sale.

Chinese economists will quickly tell their leaders to pipe down or else. The U.S. in a recession would mean fewer trips to WalMart. Chinese factories all over that vast nation would begin closing up soon after the start of a U.S. recession. Out of work Chinese citizens could get real angry with their government.

There are so many nations that depend on a robust U.S. economy. Just look at all the products the 50 states are constantly importing from countries all over the world. Lumber, oil, electricity, natural gas, gold, diamonds, automobiles, ships, shall I continue? Some of you were just thinking about imported beer, wine, and cheese, weren't you? Admit it, you probably buy a lot of expensive and cheap foreign stuff. We all do.

1. The impact of a U.S. recession on the Chinese economy
2. The impact of a U.S. recession on the global economy

That's just two reasons why China would be shooting itself in the foot if it decided to shove the United States into a recession.

All the other countries in the world would get rather angry if someone turned over the apple cart in their biggest marketplace. Germany and Japan might not like it if China deliberately hurt their major trading partner. Even Russia and France would be offended if someone else offended the U.S. It's all about money. Those who fail to anticipate all the implications of disrupting any marketplace could be the first ones to starve for lack of a morsel to eat.

Finally, once China sells the U.S. debt it holds, exactly what would it do with that big pile of yuan? Many markets like South America and parts of Asia are pretty well saturated with investment dollars. China could invest the money in Africa but that would take time. It could invest the money in Europe but the EU has no shortage of wealth. To get the best return on investment, The Chinese government would probably need to increase the amount of U.S. and Emerging market stocks it holds.

China's money would simply go out the door of the U.S. Treasury and in the door of public or private U.S. corporations. Such a huge influx of investment dollars would drive down the cost of borrowing. U.S. executives would spend all that Chinese investment making U.S. corporations even more profitable.

You cannot expect to win a fight with a 400-kilo gorilla. You would be lucky to escape with your head still in place. The leaders of China need to think long and hard about that possibility.

iMarketing 401: The iPod iPhone Strategy

If there is one thing Apple knows how to do it is build up the cachet of a product. Of course the early model is priced high, flooding the market with a cheap model is the very last thing you do. Carrying an iPod remains a global fashion, art, music, and lifestyle statement, all at once, years later. So will the iPhone. Podcast is becoming a common word.

Creating real long term demand for a line of products and associated services with monthly revenue streams is an art mastered by Jobs and his team. Wharton, Stern, and all the other MBA students now study how iPod and iTunes became such a success. There's a very, very specific marketing formula at work here during the iPhone introduction years. It's right out in the open for everyone to see and learn from.

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The fascinating discovery being made by a growing number of iPod users is the Apple behind the gadget. People have heard of Apple Computers for years but when was the last time the average Windows user decided to get up early on a Saturday morning and spend all that lawnmower money on an Apple anything? Tens of millions of kids have done that for one version of the iPod music box or another.

Early on, purchasing an iPod involved a walk through an Apple retail store. Imagine the Windows kid looking at all those white laptops and shiny G5 cases. More than one of them slid the mouse around once or twice on 20 inch Apple display before or after completing their iPod sale, in the back of the store. It appears like a buyer has to go past a certain amount of product to complete a purchase in Apple Stores. (They do not, many Apple store employees appear to carry a portable cash register around their necks) They could not afford to buy that cool Apple laptop years ago when they bought the iPod.

Today that iPod kid is making payments on a condo. She has a job in the legal department of a big firm. She is using her second or even third iPod. She bought her latest iPod over the Internet. Over 500 downloads from iTunes are on her home PC and her iPod. She can afford to buy an Apple iMac, MacBook or any other manufacturer's computer.

Now the marketing blitz for iPhone crashes over the big city where this iPod customer lives. She goes in just to look at the iPhone, she thinks it's really too expensive. But there on the tables in the Apple store sit those computers she saw years ago. The prices here seem closer to the prices she saw over at Best Buy.

She asks the Apple employee a question. "I have a lot of Windows software I bought, I've heard you can use Windows software on these new Macs. Is that really true?"

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

People Build Nations, Everybody Knows That

Far out there in the distant reaches of reality, there exists a falsehood. Someone is teaching a lie at a university near you. There’s quite likely more than one error being taught as fact at any given school but this violation is egregious. It boggles the mind that so many authorities, with so many skins upon the wall, could be so wrong. Where did these fine people who lurk in the granite and glass halls of academia ever get this idea? Somehow professors of economics have long believed that it is institutions that shape the history of a nation’s markets. “Economic history was shaped primarily by great institutions" such as Oxford and Cambridge, the Bank of England and Penn State. It has been the role of General Motors, ConEd, and the Federal Reserve Bank to essentially shape our economic future.

They are wrong.

Market Day,  Purulia District 00018

If Jane does not decide to drive her Chevy to the Cadillac dealer, to see about a trade-in, there is no economy. People started the Industrial Revolution and fuel economic growth to this present day. They showed up for work at particular jobs for good reasons, they got tired of washing clothes by hand, and there was a genuine desire for shoes that did not quickly fall apart. Nutritious food caused their kids to grow up stronger and taller. In each case, people drove the demand for all products and services.

Industrial output grew from the late 1800s on because many people liked the results of working harder. People liked having enough extra money to afford one more shot of whiskey. They liked living in a better home and sending their kids to better schools. Whole cities liked the idea of a better bridge to Brooklyn.

The one thing that sends financial markets into downward spirals or up to new heights is consumer spending. Spending on everything from a doctor for a painkiller to a seat on a stagecoach going out West was driven more by that person’s need that any billboard by the boardwalk.

If many 17th and 18th century humans in Europe and North America did not sit down to study, invent, manufacture, and most important, spend, then you could rest assured we would all still be farmers. People figured out how to plant more acres with a better plow and some knowledge. Other people built bigger grinding wheels near deeper rivers to grind more grain. Some bank loan officer decided to take a chance on this half-deaf mad scientist named Edison. That’s how a great economy gets built.

Many institutions certainly do serve a legitimate purpose, conduct important research and cultivate latent talents in the population. Yet the people that sit in the highest office in the tallest ivory tower must never forget two things. It was little people that created that ivory tower and little people ultimately pay the salaries of all the people that work there. Contrary to at least one U.S. President's opinion, when little people change their minds, big changes can happen quickly.

Look around at all that was accomplished in every city and nation that went through an “industrial revolution” and tell me it was institutions that accomplished all that. Carnegie, Ford, Mellon, and Rockefeller paid for grand structures but they were nearly helpless if the hourly workers refused to show up for work. The extreme measures that were used in several major strikes like Homestead only prove how much Carnegie & Co. feared a walkout or any labor unrest at all.

Unfortunately or not, it is often the rich and leisurely that decide what stories get told in school history books. Historians have always sold more books to rich office workers than to the poor street worker. Nevertheless, the history common people live and witness themselves stands out in vivid relief against the backdrop of a professor’s treatise written for the rich man. Most folks only get a few years to peer at tattered textbooks before they march off to build tomorrow. It may be a good thing we keep the economists and philosophers locked away deep in granite hallways. The light-weight new bridges they design often cannot stand the test of time.

Article that sparked the above essay:

In Dusty Archives, a Theory of Affluence

What Will The Children Learn?

A child of 5 years will grow up into a human society vastly different than I have known for nearly 50 years. Women are now serving on the front lines in war. Women now play a serious role in politics at all levels and one may soon become US president. Women are accepted into major law firms. Slowly, women are being accepted in board rooms. This slow but continuous acceptance of women in places where the old boy club once ruled is dramatically impacting our society. Mothers and fathers must continue to instill this sense of possibility in their children of both sexes.

All citizens must move beyond pointless stereotypes that hinder the development of more humane culture. The male-dominated culture of violence has proven to be utterly worthless as a source of real advances in the quality of human life everywhere.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

America's Failing Infrastructure

The Federal Highway Administration lists over 17,000 structurally deficient bridges in the United States. A 2001 study of the I-35W bridge (Bridge 9340) over the Mississippi, conducted by the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation, found significant fatigue cracking but refused to recommend replacing the bridge in part to "avoid the high costs associated with such a project." Another government study rated the bridge a 4 on a scale of 0 to 9. The repairs that were underway at the time of the collapse were limited to the deck of the bridge, despite knowledge of the failing metal joints. Now what will the long-term costs be? What about the still untold human lives lost?

Investment in all critical U.S. infrastructure is minimal at best. Public transportation, outside of airports, receives little funding. Oil refineries, a critical part of our nation's infrastructure if there ever was one, are failing all the time. Major city water and sewage systems are in dire need of repair. The disgraceful state of most public schools outside of Orange Co., CA is shameful. Politicians and other public officials must be held accountable or you can expect catastrophes like the collapse of I35W bridge to become common events.

Federal Highway Administration
A Metallurgist’s Insights Into the Minneapolis Bridge Disaster

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