Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Afghanistan – Sliding Toward 9/10/2001

Now that things are going smoothly in Iraq (seriously – what’s going on in Iraq? A couple weeks it was “the Surge this” and “the Surge that,” and now its like, “what’s Iraq?”), there’s the war that everyone supported – the one in Afghanistan. Remember that one – the point was to get Osama and his friends, Mullah Omar and the Taliban. Six years and virtually no dissent later, this is what GW getting to do it entirely his way has produced:

KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 29 — A suicide bomber wearing an Afghan military uniform detonated his explosive belt near a bus full of Afghan soldiers on their way to work here in the capital early Saturday, killing at least 30 people, including two civilians, officials said. The bombing was among the deadliest in Afghanistan this year.

Later in the day, President Hamid Karzai said that he was willing to travel to the hide-out of the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, to conduct peace negotiations, and that he was prepared to allocate the leadership of some ministries to Taliban officials if they rejected further violence.

And lest you think it will never happen:

Several former members of the Taliban government serve in Parliament, and a few more hold positions in provincial governments. Prominent members of Mr. Hekmatyar’s party have been given government positions and have taken part in parliamentary elections.

As we slide the region back to its pre-September 11, 2001 state, at a staggering cost, I might add, I can only conclude that if GW were in office here for long enough, eventually Afghan courts would have to find a way to make a foreigner, namely Osama bin Laden, the country’s Secretary of State. I blame the liberals.

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Criticizing the Troops – Its Only Bad When You’re a Liberal

It used to be anyone who wondered about anything going on in Iraq was accused of criticizing the troops and treason. But when Michael Ledeen criticized the troops for sitting around in air conditioned bases drinking designer lattes instead of doing their jobs, well, that was OK. And Rush Limbaugh’s criticism of troops who don’t agree with him – fine too. And now Fox News joins in.

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Thoughts on Consulting, Jobs, and HR

About a year ago, I had some warning that my biggest client is moving into a slightly different field of operations, and after six years of feeding me, would probably not be in a position where they could use my services – and in fact, over the past few months my workflow from them has dropped considerably, and should asymptotically approach zero in the next few months. I concluded I had two options…
1. Find a real job
2. Find a way to bulk up on other clients

I enjoy being a consultant, but I also enjoyed my time in the corporate world, so either option would work. The problem with option 2 is that I’m not that great at marketing myself. I have managed to increase my work from other clients… not enough, yet, to replace that client, but hopefully that will come soon. (Anyone need a consultant?)

Meanwhile, being a cautious guy, I’ve been responding to job adds that seem like they might fit me. If I found and was offered the right job, who am I not to take it? Given my last job in the corporate world (7 years ago) was at the Senior Manager level, and that I was promoted rapidly to that position and that my skills have improved tremendously since I was last in the corporate world, I’m looking for positions that are a step up… say, something with a title more or less like Director of Analytics or what have you. (Anyone looking to hire?)

How’s that been going? Well, I’ve had two offers that I turned down, because once I got to the interview stage, it was evident the positions weren’t quite right. I also got turned down for one job for which I would have been perfect.

But all that is merely pre-amble to the point of this post, which is an observation… I’ve noticed that in several instances, when I’ve responded to job postings that seem to literally have look like my resume, I don’t get a call back at all. And in more than one situation, I’ve had responses in which I’ve been sent questionnaires asking about specific statistical software packages. (For the record, I’ve learned, forgotten, and relearned a whole heap of them… you use what’s best for the purposes among the options available to you at the time.)

That seems especially odd to me… if you’re looking for people who know how to drive, you don’t give them a questionnaire asking them about their experience with the various buttons on the dashboard of a Honda Odyssey Minivan. I would imagine such a questionnaire is likely to get you people who have spent quality time sitting in the passenger seats of a Honda Odyssey Minivan, but will also rule out most people who actually know how to drive.

But it seems most HR people and Executive Recruiters are ill-equipped to do realize or to conduct any search for positions that are remotely numerical or analytical. When I was in the corporate world, I learned to avoid HR and to conduct job searches myself whenever I wanted to fill a position; it was best not to let HR even know you were looking until you could send them the name and contact information and details of the job offer, because otherwise they would waste my time sending me resumes of people who in no way resembled the person I needed to hire.

Anyway, I don’t particularly know where I’m going with this post, but it seems to me a big part of the problem with most companies is that they have they aren’t set up in such a way as to put the right people in the right place.

Have at it.

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Feisty one lays it on the line to Americans

“When you’re up to your eyeballs in alligators, it’s hard to remember that you came to drain the swamp.”

As an anti-war crazy left wingnut, I suggest we look further abroad than our own noses for the Swampthing, the movie version actually being a love story and not a horror movie.

Hat tip to Tom Paine Dispatch for this tip on looking to deal with swamps and critters.

How To Drain The Swamp
Rami G. Khouri
September 26, 2005

Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper, published throughout the Middle East with the International Herald Tribune.

“The big question that challenges us all in the Middle East is this: how, in practical terms, does the Arab world make the transition from mild autocracies, benign monarchies and a few police state dictatorships to more democratic rule? How do we “drain the swamp”?

George Bush and Tony Blair have offered their way, via war in Iraq and an aggressive reform agenda throughout the region. Arab citizens and political actors have other suggestions, and have been constantly meeting and working to find the keys that unlock the current rigid systems and open the door to democratic transformations. I attended one such meeting in Beirut last week that provides valuable insights into both the sentiments and the transformational mechanics of the Arab quest for democracy, accountability and just plain decency in how power is exercised in our societies. Here was a group of concerned, thoughtful, and realistic Arab citizens from different countries bringing down the lofty rhetoric of freedom and democracy to the practical level of how to change society

We don’t need fancy new organizations, complex international mechanisms or slightly forced speeches by leaders of large Western democracies to drain the swamp and promote democracy and freedom in the Arab world. Anybody who wishes to move in this direction should simply listen more carefully to the thoughts of those who live in the swamp. Ordinary Arabs must enjoy the right to meet and discuss, to organize and act, and to have access to a fair system of laws and judicial courts. These three practical steps are the focus of activists throughout this region, and they should stimulate more serious strategies for political change in the Arab world by friends abroad.”

Read from the MIT Center on International Studies about Arabs and the NYT article on women and Saudi Arabia.

This sort of thing might be more compelling than any war on nation states. You know that, so talk about it.

Media Matters reports a Rush L statement:

“During the September 26 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh called service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq “phony soldiers.”

Do not push that button. In my eyes you eliminate yourself from the conversation.

Democratic leadership say things, Republican leaders say things, but it is for the perspective of the American voter, not the benefit of the ME. For that we have to get out of the box, look around to unfamiliar arguments, and consider something other than our own reflection. Some of the points about US leadership are salient and related to ME, but are not part of the swamp.

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Slavery in my backyard and a thousand points of light

Local slaves from Mexico, Russia, and…

(At the lecture) Coonan also said that it’s happening within the Chinese community as well, with traffickers promising young women a better life in America. According to Coonan, in nearby Quincy, a Chinese restaurant has Hispanic women working there and living in a small shed behind the restaurant. Many of these restaurants also have their employees living in the kitchen after hours as well.

“I think the most shocking thing is that everything is close to home,” said Danielle May, who attended the lecture. “This is not something that you see on the international news being in Cambodia, or Thailand. This issue is happening at home. I think it’s scary. Quincy is 45 minutes away and people are being enslaved. This is shocking that this is 2007 and slavery is still going on.”

According to the lecture, countries lose U.S. aid if they do not enforce trafficking laws. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, stipulates that if a victim testifies on being trafficked, they receive a Traffic Visa (T-Visa), which allows them permission to work in the U.S. for about three years and then they are eligible to apply for a green card.
Most Americans are stunned to find slavery still exists in the United States, let alone the rest of the world. Unlike the state-sanctioned, race-based crime of the past, modern-day slavery is largely an illegal, global phenomenon, fueled primarily by commercial gain.

Some are slaves in factories and farms. Others-primarily women and girls-are slaves in brothels in Mumbai, Amsterdam or Las Vegas. Still others are held in domestic servitude. Children are kidnapped as child soldiers, forced to become street beggars, or lured and abused as slaves to an underground industry known as child sex tourism.

Government alone can’t stop the international slave trade. That’s why a coalition of private citizens, nonprofit organizations and civic leaders are nurturing and leading a 21st century abolitionist movement by spotlighting the issue, increasing public awareness, pushing countries to do more, and producing programs to help throw the traffickers in jail and protect the survivors.

We are beginning to understand the tricks of today’s human traffickers, which are the same tactics as those used by the slave masters of old: deception, fraud, coercion, kidnapping, beatings and rape.

Victims obtained from a foreign country are often lured by deceptive schemes. They usually arrive indebted to their handlers, seldom know where they are, rarely speak the local language and have no one to turn to after the traffickers seize their passports and documentation.

Under the control of the traffickers, victims are subjected to overwhelming physical and mental pressures. Confined by beatings and threats against their families back home, trafficking victims surrender their dignity to poor living conditions and long hours in order to enrich their captors.

Trafficking victims-whether from across the ocean or the street-learn to trust no one, not even the police. Coerced to cooperate, trafficking victims become skilled at hiding in plain sight, disguising their shame from society, ever wary of discovery and fearful of retribution.

There’s a movement afoot. It asks each of us to be responsible, find out what is happening, pay attention to the signals, and insist on nothing less than abolition.

Categories of slavery are listed by the Department of State.

1-888-373-7888 is a number to call to ask for advice and report concerns:scared, foreign, unable to leave premises, demeanor is not natural might indicate employment is not voluntary.

Funding for a two year study of and help for slaves in the US under the The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 was won in 2003 in the area and then not renewed. Grants are notoriously fleeting.

The idea that there are 100,000 actual ‘domestic servitude’ slaves in the US is so stunning for most of us that in my opinion it simply slips away in denial rather than outrage, even for me.

Aside from the psychological aspects of slavery, 90% in one study of ‘freed slaves’ report that sending money home (meaning most of the money) was more important, as the perception was the money sent was needed to help avoid catastrophe at the slaves’ home of origin, or local traffickers would harm family that remained behind if trouble was caused. Powerful forces indeed.

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Even earlier Cheney

I have intentionally let others post about the politics of this war wanting to keep the focus on economics as that is what attracts me to this blog. BUT…for all the postings here that have resulted in supportive comments for the war, please explain this.

Dick Cheney at the Economic Club of Detroit in 1992 (2 years earlier than the 94 Cheney). Note that Cheney refers to the objectives and achieving them. Note the mention that going in would have resulted in the “disintegration of the Arab coalition”. “The world was with us” was not a post 9/11 phenomenon. It was who we always were.

“It’s not the kind of situation where you could pull up in front of the presidential palace and say common Saddam you’re going to the slammer.”

“For the 146 Americans who were killed in action and for their families it was not a cheap or a low cost conflict.”

I new when Bush was first running he wanted a war. It was in what he was saying. My sweety and I wonder how those supporting him could not see this assuming a reasonable person would not want a war talking president when there was no war potential in sight.

So please (I’m being polite here) tell me how this current war was undertaken for my benefit? Before you hit that comment button, read this too.

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There was a discussion of Greenspan as a Fed Chairman earlier today.

Different people were making various claims with no evidence to support their positions.

So I though I would put in my two cents worth, but provide a chart to show why I take the position on Greenspan I do.

The first chart is my Fed Policy index. It is my version of the Taylor rule, but the biggest
difference between my version and other versions is that this one gives inflation and
unemployment equal weights. Most Taylor rule approaches gives inflation a weight of some 2 to 3 times economic slack. The others use the GDP Gap rather then the unemployment rate, but the difference is not significant. Moreover, the GDP Gap is a quarterly series iso t is not available as quickly. This chart uses smoothed monthly data and on an unsmoothed basis the index is now at 4.8%. Other Taylor rule approaches generally says rates should have been higher in the pre-Volcker era and about the same in the Volcker era then they actually were.

This version says that Greenspan started office by tightening more then was necessary as in the late 1980s actual funds were higher then the rule implies they should have been. This obviously contributed to the 1990 recession.

But the index implies that through the 1990s Fed Policy was almost exactly what the index called for. In other words we could have programmed a computer to give us almost exactly the same policy that Greenspan actually produced. Maybe the more interesting question is, if Greenspan followed the same policy rules as pre-Volker Chairmen had, why did it generate such different results. This clearly implies that K Harris is correct to think that much of what Greenspan achieved was strictly a matter of luck. Or maybe it was the lagged impact of the unusual tightly policies Volcker implemented. But again in the early 1990s actual policy deviated from the policy index as policy was significantly more expansionary then the index implied it should have been. We are still not certain if that was the best policy.

In this chart I simply did a regression of actual funds against the index and a dummy variable for Volcker. It is just another way of showing that through the 1990s Greenspan
did almost exactly what my policy rule called for.

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Ownership society and taking responsibility for performance

This NYT article reports on new structuring of ownership of nursing home chains by private equity funds.

Habana is one of thousands of nursing homes across the nation that large Wall Street investment companies have bought or agreed to acquire in recent years.
Those investors include prominent private equity firms like Warburg Pincus and the Carlyle Group, better known for buying companies like Dunkin’ Donuts.
As such investors have acquired nursing homes, they have often reduced costs, increased profits and quickly resold facilities for significant gains.
But by many regulatory benchmarks, residents at those nursing homes are worse off, on average, than they were under previous owners, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data collected by government agencies from 2000 to 2006.

For instance, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration has named Habana and 34 other homes owned by Formation and operated by affiliates of Warburg Pincus as among the state’s worst in categories like “nutrition and hydration,” “restraints and abuse” and “quality of care.” Those homes have been individually cited for violations of safety codes, but there have been no chainwide investigations or fines, because regulators were unaware that all the facilities were owned and operated by a common group, said Molly McKinstry, bureau chief for long-term-care services at Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.
And even when regulators do issue fines to investor-owned homes, they have found penalties difficult to collect.
“These companies leave the nursing home licensee with no assets, and so there is nothing to take,” said Scott Johnson, special assistant attorney general of Mississippi.
Government authorities are also frequently unaware when nursing homes pay large fees to affiliates.
For example, Habana, operated by a Warburg Pincus affiliate, paid other Warburg Pincus affiliates an estimated $558,000 for management advice and other services last year, according to reports the home filed.
Government programs require nursing homes to reveal when they pay affiliates so that such disbursements can be scrutinized to make sure they are not artificially inflated.

However, advocates for nursing home reforms say investors exaggerate the industry’s precariousness. Last year, Formation sold Habana and 185 other facilities to General Electric for $1.4 billion. A prominent nursing home industry analyst, Steve Monroe, estimates that Formation’s and its co-investors’ gains from that sale were more than $500 million in just four years. Formation declined to comment on that figure.

One nursing home had 22 companies/affiliates with its operation. The intent is to make the nursing home licensee asset poor, and skim off cash flow at probably 20% (MY GUESS) return since this is the favored ‘new economy’ rate.

Clients and regulators cannot sort out who does what for and to whom. Seems to be the way ownership of mortgages was divided into 3 or 4 different bundles that constricted any reasonable response by companies to the mortgage hullaboo.

I still have a primitive need to know where to throw my bricks in times of a company needing to take responsibility. Hopefully we can find a better way to spend all this sloshing around liquidity. Reminds me of a financial laundry at the moment.

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Correct wringing of hands

Do you remember that silly men’s room hand washing post cactus posted a while ago?

I could hardly believe this video on WebMD. You never know what might stick in your mind from reading Angry Bear!

What’s the difference between government bonds and men?

Bonds mature.
(Now this makes the post legit.)

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