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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Will 2012 Presidential Primaries Follow 2008's Pattern ?

Emphatically not, asserts Rhodes Cook, in his lengthy CRYSTAL BALL Post, '2012 Presidential Nominating Process: It’s Time for the States',  which is heavily excerpted below. But do yourself a favor, gentle, politically-interested reader, and check out the article itself, and the nifty and informative charts Cook has assembled,  comparing (1) the two major parties' nomination rules, and (2) Caucus and Primary Turnout and Outcomes.

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2012 Electoral College Map , Reflecting Census-Driven Changes to the House of Representatives (Wikipedia)
Both national parties have agreed to push back the start of their nominating process by one month from 2008. That year, Iowa and New Hampshire voted in the shadow of New Year’s Day, and by Super Tuesday (Feb. 5), more than half the country had voted. To nearly everyone in the political community, the last nominating season began too early, peaked too soon and, for Republicans, was over much too quickly. John McCain had the nomination wrapped up by early March.

Such an early ending should not occur again next year – so long as the states follow the new rules, that is. No state is allowed to vote in January. Only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will be permitted to vote in February. The rest of the country will be allowed to hold their primary or caucus beginning the first Tuesday in March (March 6, 2012), which will be the new “Super Tuesday.”

In addition, new GOP rules forbid any contests held before April 1 to award all of a state’s delegates to the statewide winner. That could be a major concern to Republican leaders in many early-voting states, who used winner-take-all in the past to attract the interest of candidates and enhance their state’s influence. If their state votes before April 1 next year, it will be required to provide for the division of delegates proportionately among candidates to reflect their share of the vote.

Proportional representation has been a staple of Democratic rules for a generation and was one reason why the 2008 contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was so long running. But for Republicans, this is new ground. And it is not completely clear yet how the proportional representation requirement for pre-April states will be implemented.

As inviting as Republican rules changes may be, an even greater factor that could alleviate “front-loading” next year is the strain faced by state budgets. No longer are many states in position to fund both a free-standing presidential primary as well as a state primary later in the spring or summer to fill out the rest of the ticket.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Blogger DJ Returns With 60's Power !

Steve Miller Band -  Livin' in the USA
Spencer Davis Group - Gimme Some Lovin'
The Animals - Don't Let Me Be Understood
The Rolling Stones - The Last Time
Jefferson Airplane- Somebody to Love
Big Brother and the Holding Company - Combination of the Two
Sir Douglas Quintet - She's about a Mover
The Righteous Brothers - Soul and Inspiration
Martha and the Vandellas - Heatwave
The Kinks - You Really Got Me

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So much for the Haley Barbour Watch...

now that the Mississippi Governor has withdrawn from the race. How does that affect other potential candidates for the GOP Presidential nomination ?  Alexander Burns assesses the impact of Barbour's retreat in THE POLITICO...

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Now, it’s not clear whether any Republican not named Romney will be able to capture the broad establishment support and cash that would have gravitated naturally to Barbour.

If Daniels enters the race, Republicans say, his friendship with Barbour and his own long D.C. track record would make him the favorite to win over the class of political professionals who have proved so influential in past GOP presidential primaries.

But there’s no guarantee Daniels will run for president — or that if he does run, he’ll be able to capture 100 percent of Barbour’s support in Washington and across the country.

“There’s a political class in Washington and around the country that, if Haley was going, they were going to be with him,” explained Tom Reynolds, former New York congressman and former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman.

“If Mitch Daniels is going to run, he is the greatest beneficiary of Haley not running,” said Reynolds, who now works at the law and lobbying firm Nixon Peabody. “If Mitch Daniels doesn’t run, it will get sprinkled across the entire campaign field.”

Monday, April 25, 2011

Will GOP Congressman Paul Ryan run for President in 2012 ?

THE WEEKLY STANDARD's John McCormack surveys recent punditry on this question. His conclusion :
Ryan's main (and sincere) objection to a presidential run is that he couldn't handle being away from his kids for two years while he would be on the campaign trail.

Of course, it's possible that Ryan can continue to debate Obama and wait until the fall to see if any viable candidate takes up his budget. By that time, if no one has risen to the occasion, Ryan could jump in when the entire campaign season would last just over a year. And if he wins the presidency, he would get to work from home and see his kids almost every day.
For more info on Ryan, check out his website.

What's the WLI, let alone the ECRI ? And why should we care ?

As Doug Short explains in his SEEKING ALPHA post,  ' ECRI '  stands for the Economic Cycle Research Institute, ' WLI ', is  the ECRI's Weekly Leading Index, and the WLI just reached its highest level since May 14, 2010.  Good news, yes ?

Just how reliable is the WLI in predicting economic declines and rebounds ? According to Short, the index is " more sensitive to upturns than either the Philly Fed's ADS Business Conditions Index (ADS) or the Chicago Fed's Current Activity Index."

And just what are these other indexes (or even indices, and how do they really stack up against the WLI ?  Check out this analysis on Short's website.

Global Food-price Surge Not as Severe as Those of 2007-2008 The Carnegie Endowment.   Why ?

Several of the factors behind today’s increase parallel those that drove the 2007-2008 food-price crisis—including export controls, biofuels production, high oil prices, and poor harvests. But the prices of cereals, particularly rice, have increased less than in 2008 and domestic prices in some of the world’s poorest countries have actually fallen amid better local harvests. The lower incidence of harmful policy responses, which amplified the crisis last time, likely helped as well. 
What can be done to limit food price surges or lessen their adverse impact in the future ?
Today’s food price increases reinforce several aspects of what is by now common wisdom among food policy analysts. First, given the role good local harvests played in limiting the surge’s impact, global food security depends on well-functioning global markets. Policy makers must ensure markets are not disrupted or distorted by trade restrictions.

The G20 can play an important role by establishing a better framework for monitoring and increasing accountability in the global food system. Providing information on stock levels, for example, could prevent panic buying. The G20 could also develop parameters that define extreme circumstances under which export restrictions for humanitarian purposes are justified.

Moreover, the current episode shows the need to protect the poor against volatility in the prices of their most important budget items—food and fuel—which are increasingly moving in tandem. This highlights the need for policy makers in developing countries to provide conditional, targeted safety nets, such as cash and in-kind transfers, to their most vulnerable citizens. Provision of micro-credit can also help. In designing these interventions, policy makers in different countries should look to one another for best practices.

Longer-term policy measures are also crucial. Increased investment in agriculture, more research and development around increasing yields, diminished incentives for biofuels production in the United States and Europe, and limits on export restrictions, as well as agricultural trade reforms (as envisaged in the Doha Agenda), will make markets work better.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Haley Barbour Presidential Campaign Watch Starts Now

Of all the GOP's candidates, announced or unannounced, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour seems the most likely to win the nomination, at least to this blogger. Hence the inauguration of the Barbour Watch, with an article from conservative New Hampshire daily,  The Manchester Union Leader.

Barbour's quoted remarks about the U.S. role in Afghanistan and Libya--advocating in the one case minimal involvement, and in the other no involvement whatsoever--are intriguing. If nothing else, they indicate that Barbour will not make it easy for the President to do in 2012 what he has consistently done from the primaries through his inauguration and the 2010 Elections, and persists in doing even now, namely, campaign against George Bush.     

For more on Barbour, check out the Wikipedia article, or survey the many articles in THE POLTICO,  or check out the Governor's website, as opposed to his PAC site.

Talk About a Political Role Reversal ! That's Just What's Happened to the Right and Left in the U.S.

says Daniel DiSalvo in his COMMENTARY article, ' The Reformist Right and the Reactionary Left ', excerpts from which follow.

* * *

The action in America’s state capitals reflects a broader trend with profound ramifications not only for present-day governance but also for the ideological alignment of the nation’s parties. This trend, put fully into gear by the Great Recession, is the reconfiguration of the political categories of the West, and in a manner that has surprised almost everyone.

Initially, most analysts believed that the profound crisis of capitalism suggested by the market meltdown of 2008 would redound to the benefit of the left. It seemed logical. The Times of London even dragged Karl Marx out of the dustbin of history to ask whether his “hour has come at last.” Instead, the cunning of history, operating through the selfsame financial crisis, brought center-right governments to power in many countries. Even many places in which leftist governments are hanging on have adopted policies often associated with their adversaries. The dismal fiscal situation and even more dismal prospects for the future forged a rough consensus internationally on the policy medicine needed to move forward. It involves slashing spending, avoiding tax increases, cutting red tape, and shrinking government.

For the first time in more than a century, the left, normally preoccupied with imagining a better future, appears bereft of a major policy project and is stuck defending its past achievements, even those of extraordinarily recent vintage, like the passage of the health-care bill. The Great Recession and the underlying fiscal disaster it helped reveal has caused a crisis in what Walter Russell Mead has called the “blue social model.” According to this model,  both blue collar and white collar workers hold stable jobs, a professional career civil service administers a growing state, with living standards for all social classes steadily rising while the gaps between the classes remain fairly stable, and with an increasing “social dividend” . . . longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks and so on.

The “blue social model” suggested that incremental improvements engineered by government would proceed apace, but fundamental changes would be unnecessary. This was how a modern society should be run. It was logical, practical, and fair.

Myriad factors—from mass migration to technological innovation to global competition—has [sic] rendered the “blue state model” obsolete. Now the nations of the West face two intractable problems. One is the exploding cost of health-care entitlements and old-age pensions, which are straining budgets. Another is that government work is expensive but not very efficient: every year, taxpayers spend more for less. Addressing these problems will require complex and innovative solutions. Those solutions are already meeting resistance from those most immediately affected—and they just happen to be the backbone of the left. As the principal architect of the social safety net, the left is resistant to changing its composition. Paul Starr, editor of the American Prospect, has noted that liberalism has become largely “defensive” and “oppositional.” It must not only defend policies put in place a half-century ago, like Wisconsin’s collective bargaining rules, but also the signature piece of legislation of the Democratic political and electoral wave that rolled over the Republicans in 2006 and 2008 before it was engulfed in turn by an anti-Democratic wave in 2010.

What to Make of Egypt's Protest Movement ?

In their COMMENTARY piece, ' Egypt's Islamists: A Cautionary Tale ', Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby read much signficance into the following incident. On February 18, 2011,when crowds gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to celebrate Hosni Mubarak's ouster, the Muslim Brotherhood denied Wael Ghonim--" the young Google executive whose secret work on Facebook and elsewhere on the Web had been so crucial to organizing the protests "--a chance to speak. Instead they brought to the podium Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a prominent Egyptian exile who had no role in the protests but represents " the chief ideologue and spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood worldwide." 

What exactly does that portend for the the future of Egypt, and the Egyptian-Israeli relations ?  Not much good,  say Fradkin and Libby :
It is true that senior leaders of the Brotherhood were not members of the committee of youth who first organized the protests. But that committee included a leader of the youth arm of the Brotherhood, so the senior leadership knew what was happening. Other members of the youth committee, moreover, included the Brotherhood precisely because they believed they might need their ranks swelled by Brotherhood members. The Brotherhood supplied that need on the first occasion that suited its own institutional requirements: January 28, the first Friday of the revolt. The weekly Friday prayers permitted the Brotherhood to mass its forces easily in the mosques and with the protective cover of religious duty. Large groups of people who emerged from the mosques were led to Tahrir Square under the supervision of Brotherhood monitors. This pattern was repeated on all subsequent Fridays, and the Brotherhood declined to participate in a mass demonstration in March that did not fall on a Friday.

None of this suggests that the Brotherhood had simply a subordinate role in the Egyptian events. But it does exemplify the Brotherhood’s characteristic caution. When Mubarak was still on the scene, and even following his fall with the military in charge, there was—and there still is—a substantial risk in being too conspicuous.

Nor should one take too much comfort from the analyses that say that the Brotherhood has the support of only about a quarter of the electorate. That is a shaky estimate and may be too low. To get that 20-30 percent number, analysts are relying on the results of that 2005 election, but given the extent to which those elections were limited, controlled, and stolen, those results may well understate the degree to which the ordinary Egyptian is in sympathy with the Brotherhood. Indeed, some polls show that a high percentage of the public holds extreme views on key issues, views that should make Brotherhood candidates attractive to them. In truth, we do not know reliably what the Brotherhood’s strength might be, and the Brotherhood may not either. Only the senior Brotherhood leadership is privy to their strategy going forward. Indeed, that strategy is necessarily a work in progress, since they, like all Egyptians, cannot foresee how events will unfold or what crises or turning points might lie ahead. Thus it has ever been in revolutions, and the Brotherhood has been through several.

Westerners have little cause for comfort in the pronouncements of the Brotherhood that it is attracted to the “Turkish model.” That may seem like a course we can welcome, given that the Brotherhood has also praised the bravery of Iran’s leaders and their model for governance. But Turkey should give us pause. Yes, Turkey’s Islamist AKP was democratically elected, then re-elected, and may win yet a third term this spring. But its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, knows to play his own cautious game, skillfully using state power to weaken the army and other institutions, like the press and judiciary, whose independence could check his ambitions. The Turkish model is characterized by growing authoritarianism through intimidation, questionable detentions of opponents, and diversion of public assets to friendly hands. That may be more congenial than the “Iranian model,” but that ought to be cold comfort, given the speed with which Erdogan is effecting Islamist changes in what was the most secular country in the Muslim world [emphasis mine].

What Should We Expect from the Census-Driven Congressional Redistricting ?

The title of Richard E. Cohen's POLITICO piece says it all : 'Redistricting could boost 50 GOP freshman'.   How ? Glad you asked.  According to Cohen...

Congressional redistricting efforts are only just getting under way – new maps for Iowa, Louisiana and Arkansas were approved by their respective state legislatures this week – but certain political factors influencing the process are already emerging, House elections guru David Wasserman said Friday. Wasserman, the House editor for The Cook Political Report, gave a briefing on the process to the newsletter’s subscribers.

The bad news for Democrats, he said, is that perhaps 50 House Republican incumbents, many of them freshmen, will get a boost from the new state maps — notably in such states as New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. And he said that the biggest GOP gains could come in North Carolina.

But he added that Democrats will have opportunities in states where they retain political control, particularly Illinois. Wasserman predicted Democratic gains in California, though he said many experts predict that the state court will supplant the new bipartisan commission in drawing the final map. And he said that a new Florida law approved by voters last November could boost Democratic legal challenges, even though Republicans control the state legislature.

Experts from both parties who joined Wasserman’s discussion mostly accepted his bottom-line conclusions, though they cautioned that plenty of uncertainties remain on the redistricting playing field.

The Chinese Succession Is One More Thing That Could Go Bump in 2012

The signs are already there, according to Matthew Gertken and Jennifer Richmond, whose intriguing and informative STRATFOR article, ' China and the End of the Deng Dynasty ', is excerpted below.

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Beijing has become noticeably more anxious than usual in recent months, launching one of the more high-profile security campaigns to suppress political dissent since the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

Meanwhile, the Chinese economy has maintained a furious pace of credit-fueled growth despite authorities’ repeated claims of working to slow growth down to prevent excessive inflation and systemic financial risks.

These security and economic challenges are taking place at a time when the transition from the so-called fourth generation of leaders to the fifth generation in 2012 is under way. The transition has heightened disagreements over economic policy and insecurities over social stability, further complicating attempts to coordinate effective policy. Yet something deeper is driving the Communist Party of China’s (CPC’s) anxiety and heavy-handed security measures: the need to transform the country’s entire economic model, which carries hazards that the Party fears will jeopardize its very legitimacy.

As Hu [ President Hu Jintao ] seeks to step down, his challenges are to prevent economic overheating, counter any humiliating turn in foreign affairs such as greater U.S. pressure, and forestall unrest from economic left-behinds, migrants or other aggrieved groups. Hu cannot allow the Party (or his legacy) to be damaged by mass protests or economic collapse on his watch. Yet, like Jiang, he has to control the process without having Deng’s prestige among the military ranks and without a succession plan clad in Deng’s armor.

More challenging still, he has to do so without a solid succession plan. Hu is the last Chinese leader Deng directly appointed. It is not clear whether China’s next generation of leaders will augment Deng’s theory, or discard it. But it is clear that China is taking on a challenge much greater than a change in president or administration. It is an existential crisis, and the regime has few choices: continue delaying change even if it means a bigger catastrophe in the future; undertake wrenching economic and political reforms that might risk regime survival; or retrench and sacrifice the economy to maintain CPC rule and domestic security. China has already waded deep into a total economic transformation unlike anything since 1978, and at the greatest risk to the Party’s legitimacy since 1989. The emerging trends suggest a likely break from Deng’s position toward heavier state intervention in the economy, more contentious relationships with neighbors, and a Party that rules primarily through ideology and social control.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Libya's Rebel Forces " Hopelessly Disorganized "

..according to U.S. and European sources quoted by Mark Hosenball and Phil Stewart in a  REUTERS article, excerpted below.

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U.S. and allied intelligence agencies believe NATO's no-fly zone and air strikes will be effective in stopping Muammar Gaddafi's forces from killing civilians and dislodging rebels from strongholds like Benghazi, the officials say.

But the more the intelligence agencies learn about rebel forces, the more they appear to be hopelessly disorganized and incapable of coalescing in the foreseeable future.

U.S. government experts believe the state of the opposition is so grave that it could take years to organize, arm and train them into a fighting force strong enough to drive Gaddafi from power and set up a working government.

The realistic outlook, U.S. and European officials said, is for an indefinite stalemate between the rebels -- supported by NATO air power -- and Gaddafi's forces. 

How Significant is Union Membership in Determining U.S. Voting Patterns ?

In a CRYSTAL BALL blog post entitled, 'A Declining Constituency : Union Voters and the Democratic Party',  Alan I. Abramowitz concludes :

" While labor unions remain a crucial source of financial support and campaign workers for the Democratic Party and its candidates, union voters make up a much smaller component of the Democratic electoral coalition today than in the past. This is due to both the decline in the proportion of voters in union households and the declining loyalty of union voters to Democratic candidates. Part of this decline in loyalty reflects the impact of cross-pressures on the voting decisions of white union members who are also either regular churchgoers or gun owners. Evidence from the 2008 National Exit Poll indicates that even in an election in which the economy was the dominant issue, both church attendance and gun ownership exerted a substantially stronger influence than union membership on candidate preference among white voters. It remains to be seen whether an increase in the salience of issues affecting unions such as the collective bargaining rights of public employees will alter this pattern in 2012. "

Is it possible to fight a humanitarian war ?

That, in essence, is the question George Friedman addresses in a very interesting STRATFOR article,  'Immaculate Intervention: The Wars of Humanitarianism'.  Extensive excerpts follow.

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There are wars in pursuit of interest. In these wars, nations pursue economic or strategic ends to protect the nation or expand its power. There are also wars of ideology, designed to spread some idea of “the good,” whether this good is religious or secular. The two obviously can be intertwined, such that a war designed to spread an ideology also strengthens the interests of the nation spreading the ideology.

Since World War II, a new class of war has emerged that we might call humanitarian wars — wars in which the combatants claim to be fighting neither for their national interest nor to impose any ideology, but rather to prevent inordinate human suffering. In Kosovo and now in Libya, this has been defined as stopping a government from committing mass murder. But it is not confined to that. In the 1990s, the U.S. intervention in Somalia was intended to alleviate a famine while the invasion of Haiti was designed to remove a corrupt and oppressive regime causing grievous suffering.

In humanitarian wars, the intervention is designed both to be neutral and to protect potential victims on one side. It is at this point that the concept and practice of a humanitarian war becomes more complex. There is an ideology undergirding humanitarian wars, one derived from both the U.N. Charter and from the lessons drawn from the Holocaust, genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia and a range of other circumstances where large-scale slaughter — crimes against humanity — took place. That no one intervened to prevent or stop these atrocities was seen as a moral failure. According to this ideology, the international community has an obligation to prevent such slaughter.

The doctrine becomes less coherent in a civil war in which one side is winning and promising to slaughter its enemies, Libya being the obvious example. Those intervening can claim to be carrying out a neutral humanitarian action, but in reality, they are intervening on one side’s behalf. If the intervention is successful — as it likely will be given that interventions are invariably by powerful countries against weaker ones — the practical result is to turn the victims into victors. By doing that, the humanitarian warriors are doing more than simply protecting the weak. They are also defining a nation’s history.

The point here is not simply that humanitarian interventions tend to devolve into occupations of countries, albeit more slowly and with more complex rhetoric. It is also that for the humanitarian warrior, there are other political considerations. In the case of the French, the contrast between their absolute opposition to Iraq and their aggressive desire to intervene in Libya needs to be explained. I suspect it will not be.

There has been much speculation that the intervention in Libya was about oil. All such interventions, such as those in Kosovo and Haiti, are examined for hidden purposes. Perhaps it was about oil in this case, but Gadhafi was happily shipping oil to Europe, so intervening to ensure that it continues makes no sense. Some say France’s Total and Britain’s BP engineered the war to displace Italy’s ENI in running the oil fields. While possible, these oil companies are no more popular at home than oil companies are anywhere in the world. The blowback in France or Britain if this were shown to be the real reason would almost certainly cost French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron their jobs, and they are much too fond of those to risk them for oil companies. I am reminded that people kept asserting that the 2003 Iraq invasion was designed to seize Iraq’s oil for Texas oilmen. If so, it is taking a long time to pay off. Sometimes the lack of a persuasive reason for a war generates theories to fill the vacuum.

In all humanitarian wars, there is a belief that the war could not be about humanitarian matters.

Therein lays the dilemma of humanitarian wars. They have a tendency to go far beyond the original intent behind them, as the interveners, trapped in the logic of humanitarian war, are drawn further in. Over time, the ideological zeal frays and the lack of national interest saps the intervener’s will. It is interesting that some of the interventions that bought with them the most good were carried out without any concern for the local population and with ruthless self-interest. I think of Rome and Britain. They were in it for themselves. They did some good incidentally.

My unease with humanitarian intervention is not that I don’t think the intent is good and the end moral. It is that the intent frequently gets lost and the moral end is not achieved. Ideology, like passion, fades. But interest has a certain enduring quality. A doctrine of humanitarian warfare that demands an immaculate intervention will fail because the desire to do good is an insufficient basis for war. It does not provide a rigorous military strategy to what is, after all, a war. Neither  does it bind a nation’s public to the burdens of the intervention. In the end, the ultimate dishonesties of humanitarian war are the claims that “this won’t hurt much” and “it will be over fast.” In my view, their outcome is usually either a withdrawal without having done much good or a long occupation in which the occupied people are singularly ungrateful.

North Africa is no place for casual war plans and good intentions. It is an old, tough place. If you must go in, go in heavy, go in hard and get out fast. Humanitarian warfare says that you go in light, you go in soft and you stay there long. I have no quarrel with humanitarianism. It is the way the doctrine wages war that concerns me. Getting rid of Gadhafi is something we can all feel good about and which Europe and America can afford. It is the aftermath — the place beyond the immaculate intervention — that concerns me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Indispensabble Suburban Self-Defense Tips #1 : Detecting DIY Bombers

Say you see your neighbor wearing a Ted Kaczynski teeshirt,  how can you tell if he/she isn't actually cooking up IED's in his/her garage/attic/basement, or the rental truck he/she parked on the street ?  Scott Stewart gives you some answers in a STRATFOR article appropriately titled, 'How to Tell if Your Neighbor is a Bombmaker'.   Helpful excerpts follow.

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In an effort to make bombmaking activity clandestine, explosive mixtures and device components are often manufactured in rented houses, apartments or hotel rooms. We have seen this behavior in past cases, like the December 1999 incident in which the so-called “Millennium Bomber” Ahmed Ressam and an accomplice set up a crude bombmaking factory in a hotel room in Vancouver, British Colombia. More recently, Najibullah Zazi, who was arrested in September 2009, was charged with attempting to manufacture the improvised explosive mixture tri-acetone tri-peroxide (TATP) in a Denver hotel room. In September 2010, a suspected lone wolf assailant in Copenhagen, accidentally detonated an explosive device he was constructing in a hotel. Danish authorities believe the device was intended for an attack on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which was targeted because of its involvement in publishing the controversial cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed.

Similar to clandestine methamphetamine labs (which are also frequently set up in rental properties or hotel rooms), makeshift bombmaking operations frequently utilize volatile substances that are used in everyday life. Chemicals such as acetone, a common nail polish remover, and peroxide, commonly used in bleaching hair, can be found in most grocery, beauty, drug and convenience stores. Fertilizers, the main component of the bombs used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 1993 World Trade Center attack, can be found in large volumes on farms or in farm supply stores in rural communities.

However, the quantities of these chemicals required to manufacture explosives is far in excess of that required to remove nail polish or bleach hair. Because of this, hotel staff, landlords and neighbors can fairly easily notice signs that someone in their midst is operating a makeshift bombmaking laboratory. They should be suspicious, for example, if a new tenant moves several bags of fertilizer into an apartment in the middle of a city, or if a person brings in gallons of acetone, peroxide or sulfuric or nitric acid. Furthermore, in addition to chemicals, bombmakers also utilize laboratory implements such as beakers, scales, protective gloves and masks — things not normally found in a hotel room or residence.

Additionally, although electronic devices such as cell phones or wristwatches may not seem unusual in the context of a hotel room or apartment, signs that such devices have been disassembled or modified should raise a red flag, as these devices are commonly used as initiators for improvised explosive devices. There are also certain items that are less commonly used in household applications but that are frequently used in bombmaking, things like nitric or sulfuric acid, metal powders such as aluminum, magnesium and ferric oxide, and large quantities of sodium carbonate — commonly purchased in 25-pound bags. Large containers of methyl alcohol, used to stabilize nitroglycerine, is another item that is unusual in a residential or hotel setting and that is a likely signal that a bombmaker is present.

Fumes from the chemical reactions are another telltale sign of bombmaking activity. Depending on the size of the batch being concocted, the noxious fumes from an improvised explosive mixture can bleach walls and curtains and, as was the case for the July 2005 London attackers, even the bombmakers’ hair. The fumes can even waft outside of the lab and be detected by neighbors in the vicinity. Spatter from the mixing of ingredients like nitric acid leaves distinctive marks, which are another way for hotel staff or landlords to recognize that something is amiss. Additionally, rented properties used for such activity rarely look as if they are lived in. They frequently lack furniture and have makeshift window coverings instead of drapes. Properties where bomb laboratories are found also usually have no mail delivery, sit for long periods without being occupied and are occupied by people who come and go erratically at odd hours and are often seen carrying strange things such as containers of chemicals.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lest We Forget, Today Marks the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War's First Battle

Several weeks before the bombardment of Fort Sumter,  Lincoln closed his inaugural address thus:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Click here to hear Lorena.

For National Geographic articles on Fort Sumter and the Civil War Sesquicentennial, click here.

For The Smithsonian Institution Civil War Resource Web Page, click here.


Rock Hudson in NBC Production
According to Borys Kit in today's HOLLYWOOD REPORTER,  Paramount Studios has acquired the film rights to Bradbury's short story collection, which NBC translated into a mini-series of no small merit in 1980.


Remember this soundtrack from an old British Airways commercial ?  Right,  that's The Flower Duet from Delibes'  Lakme, and it was used on DANCING WITH THE STARS last night.

For a decent rendition, check out this You Tube Link.

Where not to go on holiday, unless you want to return with a [radiocactive] glow...

In DER SPIEGEL, Michail Hengstenberg, Gesche Sager and Philine Gebhardt provide ' A Survey of the World's Radioactive No-Go Zones'

The article's blurb speaks for itself.
Everyone knows about Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and, now, Fukushima. But what about Semipalatinsk, Palomares and Kyshtym? The world is full of nuclear disaster zones -- showing just how dangerous the technology really is.

What to Do, as Dollar Declines ?

In a SEEKING ALPHA piece, ' 'The Dollar's Decline: Why the Stock Market and Economy Are at Risk'',   the FINANCIAL SENSE blogger has these words of advice and/or wisdom to offer (excerpts only).

* * *

While most investors are familiar with the Dollar Index (UUP), it is actually a poor tool in gauging the strength of the USD given its weightings and only being a six currency basket. To truly see how the greenback is performing on a global scale, one needs to look at more than six currencies and include precious metals (GLD, SLV, PALL, PPLT). When one does this, it is truly amazing how much the purchasing power of the USD has declined since 2009 after two rounds of quantitative easing (QE), and it is this loss of purchasing power that has the potential to at least cause another growth scare like 2010, or even a bear market.

The last time we were in a similar scenario was late 2007 to early 2008. While I am not forecasting another crash like the one seen in late 2008, I do believe we can see the same trends. What were some of the characteristics of that time period? A weak USD, rising inflationary pressures, lower retail sales, lower corporate profit margins, and outperformance by commodities (DBC) in general, and precious metals (GLD, SLV, GDX) in particular.

If the USD accelerates its current decline, then commodity based investments would be the most likely beneficiaries. Additionally, defensive sectors like consumer staples (XLP), health care (XLV), utilities (XLU), and telecommunications (XTL) will likely outperform the more cyclical sectors such as technology (XLK), consumer discretionary (XLY), and financials (XLF).

Repatriating U.S. Jobs from China : A Pipe Dream ?

Not so, says Brendan I. Koerner in a recent WIRED article that should be required reading in corporate board rooms and executive suites, and that's entitled, ' Made in America: Small Businesses Buck the Offshoring Trend'.  Some excerpts follow..

* * *

For US firms, the decision to manufacture overseas has long seemed a no-brainer. Labor costs in China and other developing nations have been so cheap that as recently as two or three years ago, anyone who refused to offshore was viewed as a dinosaur, certain to go extinct as bolder companies built the future in Asia. But stamping out products in Guangdong Province is no longer the bargain it once was, and US manufacturing is no longer as expensive. As the labor equation has balanced out, companies—particularly the small to medium-size businesses that make up the innovative guts of America’s technology industry—are taking a long, hard look at the downsides of extending their supply chains to the other side of the planet.

“Companies are looking to base their decisions on more than just costs,” says Simon Ellis, head of supply-chain strategies practice at IDC Manufacturing Insights, a market research firm. “They’re looking to shorten lead times, to reduce the inventory they have to carry.” When accounting giant KPMG International recently asked 196 senior executives to list their top concerns for 2011 and 2012, labor costs ranked below product quality and fluctuations in shipping rates and currency values. And 19 percent of the companies that responded to an October survey by, an online sourcing marketplace, said they had recently brought all or part of their manufacturing back to North America from overseas, up from 12 percent in the first quarter of 2010. This is one reason US factories managed to add 136,000 jobs last year—the first increase in manufacturing employment since 1997.

The US certainly isn’t on the verge of recapturing its past industrial glory, nor can every business benefit by fleeing China. But those that actually build tangible goods should no longer assume that “Made in the USA” is an unaffordable luxury. Unless a company is hell-bent on selling the cheapest goods possible, manufacturing at home makes more sense than it has in a generation.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tonight, the Blogger DJ indulges his Inner Elizabethan with Sting's cover of two songs by John Dowland

Flow, my tears

      Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
      Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
      Where night's black bird her sad infamy sings,
      There let me live forlorn.
      Down vain lights, shine you no more!
      No nights are dark enough for those
      That in despair their lost fortunes deplore.
      Light doth but shame disclose.
      Never may my woes be relieved,
      Since pity is fled;
      And tears and sighs and groans my weary days
      Of all joys have deprived.
      From the highest spire of contentment
      My fortune is thrown;
      And fear and grief and pain for my deserts
      Are my hopes, since hope is gone.
      Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,
      Learn to contemn light
      Happy, happy they that in hell
      Feel not the world's despite.

Come again

   Come again!
    Sweet love doth now invite
    Thy graces, that refrain
    To do me due delight,
    To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die
    With thee again in sweetest sympathy.

    Come again!
    That I may cease to mourn,
    Through thy unkind disdain.
    For now left and forlorn,
    I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die
    In deadly pain and endless misery.

    All the day
    The sun that lends me shine
    By frowns do cause me pine,
    And feeds me with delay;
    Her smiles my springs that makes my joys to grow;
    Her frowns the Winters of my woe.

    All the night
    My sleeps are full of dreams,
    My eyes are full of streams;
    My heart takes no delight
    To see the fruits and joys that some do find,
    And mark the storms are me assigned.

    Out alas!
    My faith is ever true;
    Yet will she never rue,
    Nor yield me any grace.
    Her eyes of fire, her heart of flint is made,
    Whom tears nor truth may once invade.

    Gentle Love,
    Draw forth thy wounding dart,
    Thou canst not pierce her heart;
    For I, that do approve
    By sighs and tears more hot than are thy shafts,
    Did tempt, while she for mighty triumphs laughs.

A Book Review More Worthwhile Than the Book ?

Until I've read BISMARCK : A Life, by Jonathan Steinber,  I wouldn't venture whether this true of Henry Kissinger's review in the New York TImes,  excerpts of which follow.

* * *

It is a measure of Steinberg’s achievement in “Bismarck: A Life” that the subsequent description of the “political genius of a very unusual kind” becomes far from a panegyric. He describes — in an incisive, if occasionally distracting, psychological approach — a highly complex person who incarnated the duality that later tempted Germany into efforts beyond its capacity. Bismarck was never seen in public without a uniform, yet he had never really served in the military and was generally viewed with suspicion by the military leaders for what they saw as his excessive moderation. The man of “blood and iron” wrote prose of extraordinary directness and lucidity, comparable in distinctiveness to Churchill’s use of the English language. The embodiment of ­realpolitik turned power into an instrument of self-restraint by the agility of his diplomacy. He dominated Germany and European diplomacy from a single power base, the confidence of an aging king, without other institutional backing or great personal following.

Bismarck is often cited as the quintessential realist, relying on power at the expense of ideals. He was, in fact, far more complicated. Power, to be useful, must be understood in its components, including its limits. By the same token, ideals must be brought, at some point, into relationship with the circumstances the leader is seeking to affect. Ignoring that balance threatens policy with either veering toward belligerence from the advocates of power or toward crusades by the idealists.

Bismarck dominated because he understood a wider range of factors relevant to international affairs — some normally identified with power, others generally classified as ideals — than any of his contemporaries.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On a sunny spring day, what's better than a walk by the sea ?

Marblehead Light
Today,  the Culture Vulture and the Mrs. trucked up to Marblehead, about a 40-45 min. ride east,  from Chateau C.V. 
Shop near Washington Street

Fortunately the traffic wasn't bad, though our route, once we exited 128 to 114, was somewhat circuitous.

In Marblehead,  we soon found parking, close to the shops, restaurants, and galleries that line Washington Street.  Thankfully there was only  the hint of a breeze as we sauntered down narrow sidewalks, past the birthplace of Elbridge Gerry,  to Fort Sewall and the sea.

Fort Sewall

Saturday, April 2, 2011

In Politics, Less is Sometimes More

That's the basic theme of two articles in THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

In ' Billions Now, Trillions Later ', Matthew Continetti urges House Conservatives not to insist on every single budget cut and risk a government shutdown, but settle for making an important, not merely symbolic start at cutting the deficit :
Conservatives are on the verge of victory—if only they can take yes for an answer. The situation on Capitol Hill is fluid, but it appears House Republicans will soon be presented with a choice: accept dramatic cuts in spending for the rest of fiscal year 2011 that, while less than the amount passed by the House in February, are about the same as Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan originally proposed—or risk a government shutdown by holding out for the maximum amount of reductions, as well as other items on the conservative wish list.

The right decision: Accept a deal to cut tens of billions of dollars in the remaining months of fiscal year 2011. This would not only avoid a shutdown. It would also begin to reduce the size of government, and that would be a real victory. Congress would pass the largest reductions in nondefense discretionary spending in decades. Democrats would implicitly concede that the federal government is spending too much money. And the decks would be cleared for Ryan, who plans to deliver his fiscal year 2012 Republican budget this week.
And in ' Commander-In-Hiding : Less Obama goes a long way ', Fred Barnes points out the positive impact of presidential under-exposure  :

President Obama isn’t quite in hibernation. But he’s saying less, proposing less, appearing in public less, doing less, interacting with Congress less, plugging his health care plan less, and singling out a Republican demon less. It took two years and the harsh rejection of a midterm election for Obama to figure out what shouldn’t have been a secret: The magic of the presidency declines with overindulgence.

Now several days go by at the White House with the president listed as having “no public schedule.” Or his calendar will feature only a string of Oval Office meetings described as “closed press.” That’s Washington lingo for no media coverage whatsoever.

The shift from overexposure to carefully targeted public appearances is the smartest political move the White House has made this year. Americans appear ready for a president who’s not in their face day after day, hectoring, sounding an alarm, and, more often than not in Obama’s case, boring everyone. The less Obama does in public, I suspect, the more popular he’s likely to become. Gradually. 

To Save the Country, We Need ‘Grand Bargains’, says Morton Kondracke

Kondracke's compelling editorial in ROLL CALL is reproduced in its entirety below.

* * *

One last time: the United States will not solve its monumental problems — which threaten our future as a great nation — without a series of grand bargains between Republicans and Democrats.

We need grand bargains to tame the burgeoning federal debt, which threatens the next generation’s ability to invest and grow — big bargains to reduce spending (especially entitlements) and reform taxes.

We need bargains on energy policy to reduce our costly dependency on Middle East imports, on immigration to ensure we can attract and keep skilled labor, on education to prepare our own kids for 21st century competition and on strategies to invest in infrastructure.

We probably will need a grand bargain to re-write President Barack Obama’s health care law, which the Supreme Court may strike down but which, if upheld, will impose enormous costs on the country.

We’ll get the bargains only if Republicans and Democrats work together, because neither party is ever likely to so dominate the government that it can push through its entire agenda.

Democrats had that power after the 2008 election — including 60 votes in the Senate and control of the House and White House — and promptly lost it through over-reaching liberalism. Voters don’t want over-reaching conservatism either.

This is a “one last time” call for bargains because, after 48 years in journalism and nearly 20 writing this column, I am semi-retiring and leaving it to others to bang the gong for centrist problem-solving.

I’ll chime in from time to time, but now it’s up to the likes of David Brooks of the New York Times, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria of CNN and Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution and The New Republic to carry the cause.

And there are many in U.S. politics who understand the need for bipartisan action to solve America’s problems — as witness the “gang of six” Senators working to defuse the federal debt bomb before it brings down the U.S. economy.

If arch-conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and ultra-liberal Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) can agree to support the recommendations of Obama’s debt commission, there’s hope for the nation.

If House Republican leaders can team up with moderate Democrats to keep the government running — and refuse to yield to tea party ideologues and the demagogic presidential wanna-bes and radio-talk blowhards who urge them on — there’s hope.

If Republicans and Democrats can agree, as they did in the lame duck session of the last Congress, to extend President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for two years and also extend unemployment benefits and reduce payroll taxes, there’s hope.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Finance Friday : Gold, Oil, The Halloween Indicator, and Bearish Signs


In  'The Impending Collapse of the Gold Bubble ' , SEEKING ALPHA's Chart Prophet blogger warns that " the herd-like behavior and highly speculative participation in Gold is pointing to a huge bubble that poses severe risks and may soon collapse. "


MARKETWATCH's Myra P. Saefong cautions, 'Oil ETF buyers, beware'.   Saefong spells out the risks inherent in oil-related ETF's that are futures-based--and therefore exposed to 'tracking error' through contango and backwardation, which she clearly and succinctly explains--as opposed to equity-based

And in her piece, 'No More Storage in Cushing; WTI Will Be $90 in a Month' ,  Dian L. Chiu  reasons that since the Cushing, Oklahoma storage facility is nearly close to capacity,  consumers are cutting back, and refiners are responding to reduced consumption by paring production, the price of oil-- WTI, that is--is headed for a fall.

HALLOWEEN INDICATOR ('Sell in May and go way')

Mark Hurlbert explores two apparently profitable variations on the 'Halloween Indicator' in his MARKETWATCH article, ' Should you sell in April and go away ?'.


That's what SEEKING ALPHA's Financial Sense blogger perceives in his piece, ' Still Bullish, But Economic Indicators Are Beginning to Show Warning Signs',  excerpted below.

While there are plenty of bullish developments, leading economic indicators are beginning to diverge and wave a red flag. At major turning points for the stock market, we’ve seen the Economic Cycle Research Institute’s (ECRI) Weekly Leading Index (WLI) diverge with the S&P 500. In 2000, the S&P was hitting new highs, but the WLI failed to match the S&P 500 and was warning of a major market peak. Conversely, the WLI bottomed well in advance of the S&P 500 during the 2000-2003 bear market and was hinting that the bear market was coming to a close.

Yet again, the WLI provided early warning of a coming market peak as it failed to confirm the new high seen in the S&P 500 in 2007. Currently, a divergence has been developing between the two again as new highs haven't been confirmed by the WLI. At a minimum, this speaks of becoming more selective in the sectors to invest in as the potential of a market top in the next 12 months is a distinct possibility.

Another warning sign to watch out for is a lack of confirmation between new 52-week highs of individual stocks and the major exchanges. As you can see from the charts below, new highs have begun to grow fewer in number while the market has continued to appreciate. Simply put, this means the bull market is beginning to become more selective as fewer and fewer stocks are participating.

If a topping process is indeed taking place, the sectors that outperform the market the most near the end of a bull market are defensive sectors like health care (XLV), consumer staples (XLP), utilities (XLU), telecommunications (XTL), and also late-stage cyclicals like industrials (XLI) and energy (XLE). Going forward, investors should become more selective in sector allocation as well as putting on their risk management hats..