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

Fires and Al Quaeda

Hat tip to Thinkprogress for the transcript of a comment on Fox News about the California fires.

Transcript:
DOOCY: You’re looking live at pictures from San Diego — Santiago, CA, where the wildfires continue. We were talking earlier in today’s telecast with Adam Housley and apparently police officers in a hovering helicopter saw a guy starting one of these fires. And Allison Allison Camerota, an FBI memo from late in June of this year is popping up this morning and it is ominous.

CAMEROTA: This actually has happened for many years in the past as well. An FBI sent out to local law-enforcement said that an al Qaeda detainee had given them some information that the next wave of terrorism could be in the form of setting wild fires. Adam Housley said lots of people on his block were asking him about it. Obviously this is something the FBI has looked into. They will continue to investigate it.

CARLSON: If they have this person in custody it probably won’t take long to be able to develop a link if there is one.

KILMEADE: A June 25 memo from the FBI’s Denver offices reported three days ago, excuse me, five days ago, by the Arizona Republic, that is a newspaper, they have been carrying the story and they continue to expand upon it.

DOOCY: Brian, the plot they say, according to this detainee, and they don’t know if the detainee is telling the truth. The plot was to set three or four wildfires. But they don’t mention California. They mention Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. We do know for a fact that a number of the fires in southern California are of a suspicious nature and they are investigating arson.

I bet no one thought I could connect the two!

Actually, whether right or wrong, smart creative terrorists could cause havoc when required. Name some weak points not in the news. The tunnel collision linking N and S California highway systems. Computers in Utah funneling airport traffic data to coordinate national air traffic. Others?

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Busting myths right and left

The Washington Post reports:

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either “true” or “false.” Among those identified as false were statements such as “The side effects are worse than the flu” and “Only older people need flu vaccine.”

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.

The psychological insights yielded by the research, which has been confirmed in a number of peer-reviewed laboratory experiments, have broad implications for public policy. The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.

This phenomenon may help explain why large numbers of Americans incorrectly think that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in planning the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi. While these beliefs likely arose because Bush administration officials have repeatedly tried to connect Iraq with Sept. 11, the experiments suggest that intelligence reports and other efforts to debunk this account may in fact help keep it alive.

I have not much to add at the moment, running late. Something to keep in mind, and truth cuts three ways most of the time.

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Boring and humdrum

Earth Talk suggests a boring alternative to running headlong into “green” sales.

Dear EarthTalk: Short of buying a new hybrid or other “green” car, are there ways I can make my existing vehicle more eco-friendly? I bought my car recently and am not quite ready to give it up.

Choice of vehicle may well be the biggest factor in determining the environmental impact of your automobile-based travels. But a considerable amount of energy is used—and pollutants emitted—in the production of any new vehicle, including hybrids and other more fuel-efficient options. As a result, many environmentalists believe that practicing good driving habits and performing adequate maintenance on an older car are probably better options for the environment than causing the production of a new vehicle.

According to the website GreenerCars.org, there are many ways to green up one’s driving habits. Obeying speed limits, utilizing cruise control and avoiding jackrabbit starts will maximize fuel economy and minimize tailpipe emissions while also preventing unnecessary wear-and-tear. Staying off roads during rush hours is also advisable, as stop-and-go driving burns excess gasoline and promotes smog. Opening vents and windows to cool off instead of using the air conditioner, an inherently inefficient appliance that consumes more fuel and leads to more emissions, is also good advice.

Drivers can also help minimize their environmental impact by keeping their cars well maintained. According to GreenerCars.org, getting regular tune-ups—where a qualified mechanic changes fluids and checks for and corrects problems such as worn spark plugs, under inflated tires, dragging brakes, misaligned wheels and clogged filters—can significantly improve fuel economy and minimize harmful emissions. GreenerCars.org also recommends seeking out low-rolling-resistance (LRR) replacement tires, which are specifically designed to improve a vehicle’s fuel economy, when the original ones wear out.

How would an entrepreneur sell this idea and make it sexier? And how would one make money from it?

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China and Bear Stearns

Business Wire reports:

NEW YORK & BEIJING–(BUSINESS WIRE)—-The Bear Stearns Companies Inc. (NYSE:BSC) and CITIC Securities Co., Limited (SSE:600030), with unanimous approval from their respective Boards of Directors, today announced an agreement in principle to establish a comprehensive strategic alliance. This alliance will include sharing management expertise and technology to develop new capital markets products and businesses in China, establishing an exclusive joint venture combining the existing businesses of both companies in the rest of Asia, and cross-investments of approximately $1 billion in each firm by the other. The alliance will bring together Bear Stearns’ capital markets expertise globally and market leading analytics with CITIC Securities’ vast resources and extensive business network to better serve clients worldwide.

The joint venture will provide a wide range of capital markets services, including cross-border mergers and acquisitions advisory, international equity and fixed income capital markets with a particular focus on international offerings of Chinese companies, venture capital and private equity, asset management, and equity and fixed income services. The joint venture will serve as a conduit for international companies seeking access to Asian capital markets and for Chinese entrepreneurs, corporations and state-owned enterprises looking to access capital or invest outside of the region.

As you know I have picked on the stock price of Bear Stearns as a barometer of who gets punished in the derivative markets, fair or not.

Is this venture a successful rebound of the market, or something else? Not knowing the specifics makes an answer purely conjectural, but I do wonder if Bear Strearns learned anything from the loss of two of its funds, or whether this merely lets them go global and sovereign?

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Farm Bill and WTO GATS Part 2

The NYT reports:

The World Trade Organization made a last-ditch effort on Tuesday to salvage stalled global trade talks by asking the United States and Europe to lower their barriers to farm imports in return for greater export access to India, Brazil and other developing countries.

Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization, said the group was trying to goad negotiators into making some compromises.
A long proposal laying out possible compromises by 150 countries involved in the talks was issued at the World Trade Organization’s headquarters in Geneva. Officials said the draft was aimed at breaking a deadlock on issues that have eluded compromise since last summer.
Pascal Lamy, director general of the trade group, said the goal was to goad negotiators by laying out ambitious compromises they had been unwilling to make, in part because they did not see compromises by others. He said it would not be clear until September whether the new proposals would accomplish that goal.
The proposal was careful not to assign blame, but it also said time was running out on the possibility of a global trade deal. It was generally acknowledged to be a final attempt to save the talks, with the expectation that they would be declared a failure if it did not succeed.

NYT reports on complaints issued by Brazil about US farm subsidies, especially commodities.

The stalled talks are emphasizing a deeper issue: In some ways, the balance of power between advanced and developing countries is shifting, politicians outside the West, including Mr. Nath, say. “The reality is that there is a new economic architecture,” Mr. Nath said in an interview this week in his New Delhi office. “This new economic architecture is going to have new windows and new doors. It can’t be wished away.”
India and Brazil are refusing to open their markets further to goods from Western countries without a substantial reduction in subsidies provided to Western farmers.
On Thursday, Brazil filed a complaint with the W.T.O. about American farm subsidies. “This complaint attacks the entire U.S. farming policy,” Donizeti Beraldo, head of trade and international affairs at Brazil’s National Agriculture Confederation, was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying. Then, referring to the trade talks, Mr. Beraldo added, “If the U.S. fails to advance on talks, they will be at risk of more complaints.”
W.T.O. members are preparing for what is expected to be a decisive round of negotiations at the group’s headquarters in Geneva. On Monday, the presiding officers will release draft agreements that could form the basis of a compromise or, depending on the view of countries like India, give a firm indication that the current round of trade talks begun in 2001 is on its last legs.
Mr. Nath, whose office includes a shelf of thick W.T.O.-related publications, was quick to brush off questions about his flexibility, but still left no room for compromise.

The issue is not flexibility, he said: “It is removal of subsidies, which are a distortion of global trade…”

India and Brazil are asking the United States to reduce the estimated $22 billion in subsidies that it allots to farmers, and the European Union to trim its farm aid from 55 billion euros ($75.8 billion), saying the subsidies keep food prices on world markets artificially low and make it difficult for farmers from developing countries to compete.
Advanced industrial nations would like to see a substantial reduction in the taxes on exports to countries like India and Brazil to give their manufacturers access to those fast-growing economies.
Mr. Nath said he is seeking some understanding from the United States. Despite the growth of outsourcing and high-technology jobs in India in recent years, agriculture still supports about two-thirds of the country’s citizens.

India is in the midst of an economic boom that has driven up stock market indexes, wages and real estate prices to near record highs. Still, Mr. Nath was quick to distance the country from developed- nation economies.
India “is so far away from the United States and the European Union,” he said.
“We have 300 million people that live on $1 a day…”

Mr. Nath’s hard line in the W.T.O. talks was in marked contrast to his three-year stretch as commerce minister. There, his tenure has been characterized by an increasing openness to foreign investment and partnership at home. He has sometimes faced criticism that he is too business-friendly. (italics are mine)

Add the gambling issue that is being backed by the EU. Changes and more. Tariffs are not the answer.

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Foriegners in the US military since year 2000

This article adds a bit more information about who is fighting for the US as well:

More than 30,000 foreign troops are enlisted in the US Army, many of them serving in Iraq. Their reward for risking their lives for their adopted country is US citizenship.

They may have different reasons for joining the US Armed Forces, but all three are now among the more than 30,000 foreign soldiers fighting for America — not as Americans, but as a Mexican, a Portuguese and even a German. Without its foreign soldiers, the United States would have trouble coming up with enough troops to meet the demand in Iraq. The foreigners, for their part, take the dangerous job mainly for its biggest reward: US citizenship.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has granted US citizenship to 32,500 foreign soldiers. In July 2002, US President George W. Bush issued an executive order to expand existing legislation to offer a fast track to citizenship to foreigners who agree to fight for the US Armed Forces. About 8,000 non-Americans have joined the US military every year since then.
The foreigners already represent 5 percent of all recruits…

With stop-loss orders being re-issued and some bonuses for ‘hard to find’ specialties (officers) at $35,000, where are we headed?

Update:
Boston Globereports this:

A recent change in US law, however, gave the Pentagon authority to bring immigrants to the United States if it determines it is vital to national security. So far, the Pentagon has not taken advantage of it, but the calls are growing to take use the new authority.
Indeed, some top military thinkers believe the United States should go as far as targeting foreigners in their native countries.

“It’s a little dramatic,” said Michael O’Hanlon , a military specialist at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution and another supporter of the proposal. “But if you don’t get some new idea how to do this, we will not be able to achieve an increase” in the size of the armed forces.”

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Progress on right to know about sewerage!!

Right to know hearings for contamination of local water resources.

Dr. Summers, from the Maryland Department of Environment, explained how Maryland’s strong monitoring and notification requirements had helped quantify problems and were greatly appreciated by many utilities as it allowed them to explain and justify why more investment is required. Stuart Whitford, from the Kitsap County Health Department explained his support of H.R. 2452 by telling a scary story about a sewage spill that went on for two years before anyone realized what was going on (and after 4.8 million gallons of sewage was spilled!).
Microbiologist Erin Lipp did a great job of explaining how potent just a little bit of raw sewage can be and that the illnesses from sewage are vastly underreported.
Finally, even Kevin Schafer, the representative for the wastewater treatment community supported the monitoring and notification, but just wanted to make sure that details were spelled out and that the requirements were not too costly.

Sewerage is a water resource is a previous posting buy rdan.

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Farm Bill and WTO GATS Part 1

The National Ag Law Center reports:

Trade policy has always played a major role in the evolution of the U.S. agricultural sector. With the 1994 Agreement on Agriculture resulting form the WTO Uruguay Round, trade policy started to play an even more important role in domestic farm policy. As we move deeper into 2006, the intersection of these two policies becomes more prominent with the negotiations of the Doha Round that may result in a new WTO agreement on agriculture, and Congress considering what to do as the 2002 Farm Bill expires in 2007. If the Doha Round fails, Congress will need to consider the implications of the Brazil Cotton Case and whether current policy may open the U.S. to more WTO challenges. No one can predict the result of this geopolitical chess match, but one can assume that the agricultural policy landscape is poised to change in the next few years.

July post by rdan

July post 2 by rdan

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The game of statistics

The tune for the other game of statistics

The Boston Globe printed this poem.

By Mary Oliver October 13, 2007

In the language of baseball
I am 3 and 2,
and not so nimble
as I was once

and the game, at the moment,
is indecisive.
There are many poets
who love baseball
which is, after all,
a metaphor
for many things
that happen when there isn’t a game.

The ball gleams forth, and high,
and maybe it’s a hit
or maybe the runner is out.
Nothing is certain except the way

the old players hang on
to their smarts, their prowess
as long as they can
while the luminous young

keep showing up,
so swift, so quick,
with such light in their eyes
and such beautiful swings.

As I watch the playoffs, the metaphors abound, and call for sharing. Different ages, different teams, same glorious sport.

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Slavery in my backyard 2

Another point of view regarding US slavery is expressed in WAPO.

… Congress passed a law, triggering a little-noticed worldwide war on human trafficking that began at the end of the Clinton administration and is now a top Bush administration priority. As part of the fight, President Bush has blanketed the nation with 42 Justice Department task forces and spent more than $150 million — all to find and help the estimated hundreds of thousands of victims of forced prostitution or labor in the United States.
But the government couldn’t find them. Not in this country.

The administration has identified 1,362 victims of human trafficking brought into the United States since 2000, nowhere near the 50,000 a year the government had estimated. In addition, 148 federal cases have been brought nationwide, some by the Justice task forces, which are composed of prosecutors, agents from the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and local law enforcement officials in areas thought to be hubs of trafficking.

“The discrepancy between the alleged number of victims per year and the number of cases they’ve been able to make is so huge that it’s got to raise major questions,” Weitzer said. “It suggests that this problem is being blown way out of proportion.” The Department of Health and Human Services “certifies” trafficking victims in the United States after verifying that they were subjected to forced sex or labor. Only non-U.S. citizens brought into this country by traffickers are eligible to be certified, entitling them to receive U.S. government benefits.

Although there have been several estimates over the years, the number that helped fuel the congressional response — 50,000 victims a year — was an unscientific estimate by a CIA analyst who relied mainly on clippings from foreign newspapers…


Yet the government spent $28.5 million in 2006 to fight human trafficking in the United States, a 13 percent increase over the previous year. The effort has attracted strong bipartisan support.
Steven Wagner, who helped HHS distribute millions of dollars in grants to community groups to find and assist victims, said “Those funds were wasted.”
“Many of the organizations that received grants didn’t really have to do anything,” said Wagner, former head of HHS’s anti-trafficking program. “They were available to help victims. There weren’t any victims.”
. . .
Few question that trafficking is a serious problem in many countries, and the U.S. government has spent more than half a billion dollars fighting it around the world since 2000.
. . .
In the past four years, more than half of all states have passed anti-trafficking laws, although local prosecutions have been rare.

But information was scarce, so a CIA analyst was told to assess the problem in the United States and abroad. She combed through intelligence reports and law enforcement data. Her main source, however, was news clippings about trafficking cases overseas — from which she tried to extrapolate the number of U.S. victims.

Bipartisan passion melted any uncertainty, and in October 2000, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, significantly broadening the federal definition of trafficking. Prosecutors would no longer have to rely on statutes that required them to prove a victim had been subjected to physical violence or restraints, such as chains. Now, a federal case could be made if a trafficker had psychologically abused a victim.
. . .
Just as the law took effect, along came a new president to enforce it.
Bell, with Prison Fellowship Ministries, noted that when Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly in 2003, he focused on the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism and the war on trafficking.
Soon after Bush took office, a network of anti-trafficking nonprofit agencies arose, spurred in part by an infusion of federal dollars.
. . .
The CIA’s new estimate, which first appeared in a 2004 State Department report, has been widely quoted, including by a senior Justice Department official at a media briefing this year. It’s also posted on the HHS Web site.

But at a meeting of the task force this year, then-coordinator Sharon Marcus-Kurn said that detectives had spent “umpteen hours of overtime” repeatedly interviewing women found in Korean- and Hispanic-owned brothels. “It’s very difficult to find any underlying trafficking that is there,” Marcus-Kurn told the group….

The article is heavily edited to shorten to blog format and eliminated some of the history of the efforts to assess the situation, except to point out it is ‘bi-partisan’.

Of course I have a response, but am awaiting answers from experts I can contact. Stay tuned.

Update: Fixed link Slavery in my backyard Part 1

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