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November 28, 2008

Afghan President Wishes He Could Shoot Down US Planes Afghanistan

How bad is it getting in Afghanistan? So bad that Hamid Karzai says he wishes he could shoot down US planes bombing Afghan villages. Calgary Herald:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday he would bring down U.S. planes bombing villages if he could, in a sign of growing tension between Afghanistan and its Western backers as the Taliban insurgency grows in strength.

As Western dissatisfaction with Karzai has grown over his failure to crack down on corruption and govern effectively, the Afghan president, facing elections next year, has hit back over the killing of dozens of civilians in foreign air strikes.

In recent weeks, Karzai has repeatedly blamed the West for the worsening security in Afghanistan, saying NATO failed to target Taliban and Al- Qaida sanctuaries in Pakistan and calling for the war to be taken out of Afghan villages.

"We have no other choice, we have no power to stop the planes, if we could, if I could ... we would stop them and bring them down," Karzai told a news conference.

He said that if he had something like the rock attached to a piece of string, known as a chelak in Dari, used to bring down kites in Afghanistan, he would use it.

"If we had a chelak, we would throw it and stop the American aircraft. We have no radar to stop them in the sky, we have no planes," he said. "I wish I could intercept the planes that are going to bomb Afghan villages, but that's not in my hands."

Afghanistan has suffered its worst violence this year since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001, with at least 4,000 people killed, around a third of them civilians.

Despite the presence of 65,000 foreign troops backing 130,000 Afghan security forces, Taliban insurgents have grown increasingly confident in their traditional heartland in the south and east and have also extended their influence close to the capital, Kabul.

If that's what Karzai thinks, imagine what other Afghans must think.

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Black Friday Economy

This is horrible, on so many levels. NY Daily News:

A Wal-Mart worker died after being trampled when hundreds of shoppers smashed through the doors of a Long Island store Friday morning, police and witnesses said.

The 34-year-old worker, employed as an overnight stock clerk, tried to hold back the unruly crowds just after the Valley Stream store opened at 5 a.m.

Witnesses said the surging throngs of shoppers knocked the man down. He fell and was stepped on. As he gasped for air, shoppers ran over and around him.

"He was bum-rushed by 200 people," said Jimmy Overby, 43, a co-worker. "They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too...I literally had to fight people off my back."

The unidentified victim was rushed to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:03 a.m., police said.

The cause of death was pending.

A 28-year-old pregnant woman was knocked to the floor during the mad rush. She was hospitalized for observation, police said.

Three other shoppers suffered minor injuries, cops said.

Before police shut down the store, eager shoppers streamed past emergency crews as they worked furiously to save the store clerk's life.

"They were working on him, but you could see he was dead, said Halcyon Alexander, 29. "People were still coming through."

Only a few stopped.

"They're savages," said shopper Kimberly Cribbs, 27. "It's sad. It's terrible."

Other reports indicate the pregnant woman miscarried. Shoppers ignored Wal-Mart employees' requests that they leave the store.

It's not like people were fighting to get air or water. They were fighting to be first in line to get some crappy stuff for Christmas. But they've been programmed to the point where I guess that seems like air or water.

An artist's rendering (shewhomeasures.com, via Cryptogon):

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Listen to this, a guy in North Carolina, a mailman, a Federal employee, a postal worker, was arrested and put in jail. You know why? He would deliver regular mail, but he wouldn't deliver junk mail. They got the guy, they arrested him, and they put him in prison. We got that guy, but still no word on bin Laden. — David Letterman

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November 15, 2008

Conventional Wisdom Economy

One of the surest ways to go wrong in predicting the future of the stock market or the economy is to go with conventional wisdom. People are most bullish at the top of the market and most bearish at the bottom. That's just a fact. People are practically hard-wired to expect that current trends, whatever they may be, will continue.

With that in mind, watch this video (via John Robb). In it, Peter Schiff — one guy who saw the economic meltdown coming — tries to argue with a succession of well known idiots back in 2006 and 2007. They literally laugh in his face. But he who laughs last...

Even Schiff gets some things wrong: he predicts inflation and a surge in the price of gold. When credit bubbles burst, the result is not inflation but deflation, and that is what we're seeing now. As Robert Prechter, the heavyweight champ when it comes to predicting the present crisis years in advance, wrote recently:

Cash now buys 1.7 times as much stock and real estate, twice as much silver, and 2.5 times as much oil as it did a short time ago. And if you are incautious enough to want high-yield bonds or asset-backed (in)securities, you can get a wheelbarrow more of them for your dollar as well....This trend is far from over. The longer you hold onto your money, the more it will be worth, until the deflation ends.

Fans of gold think gold soars when the economy is in crisis, but historically that's just not true. As Prechter has shown, gold does better during economic expansions than during recessions. And over the last six months, gold has fallen just like every other commodity.

I took my retirement money entirely out of the stock market more than a year ago. It was obvious to me that all the big trends were unsustainable. I don't mention this to say I'm smarter than other people. What I am, I think, is more skeptical. My bias is to expect the conventional wisdom to be wrong on most things. It's especially wrong on the markets.

There are going to be rallies, but I think the bottom is a long way off. I do expect that we'll get a fairly good bounce soon. It's likely to be impressive. If so, you might want to take it as an opportunity to get your money out. But the conventional wisdom will tell you otherwise. People will see the market rise and they'll say the bear market's over. They'll sing "Happy Days Are Here Again," just like they did in 1930. When that sentiment reaches a crescendo, that will be the time to get out — assuming you're still in. That's how I see it, anyway.

When will it be time to get back into stocks for the long haul? When almost everybody says there's no hope.

There's a lesson here about conventional wisdom generally. Just because everybody says something, that doesn't make it so.


Disclaimer: This is not a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any financial instrument.

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Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Sarah Palin is trying to be bipartisan. She said she actually wants to help Barack Obama. And I said, "Well, hasn't she helped him enough already?" — David Letterman

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November 13, 2008

"A Very Frightening Economy" Economy

I have the feeling people just aren't getting how screwed we really are. The US economy has been running on debt. Lending has ground to a halt. Do the math.

Here's a small glimpse of what's coming (from CBS2, Chicago):

The warning is out – [Chicago] Mayor Richard M. Daley says a parade of corporate chief executives have told him huge layoffs are planned around the city and will carry into next year. [...]

Mayor Daley says corporate leaders told him huge layoffs will impact the city this month and next, and into the new year. He also says city, county and state governments should be prepared for their revenue to fall dramatically because of the souring economy.

"This is going to be all year, so it's going to be a very frightening economy," Mayor Daley said. "Each one tells me what they're laying off, and they're going to double that next year. We're talking huge numbers of permanent layoffs for people in the economy. It's going to have a huge effect on all businesses."

The mayor said the gravity of the situation cannot be underestimated.

"We never experienced anything like this except people who came from the Depression," Mayor Daley said. "When you have that many layoffs early – and they're telling me this is only the beginning of their layoffs – that is very frightening."

Mayor Daley also warned that local governments will be in jeopardy and may not have enough money to meet payroll, although he is not worried about paying City of Chicago employees.

In addition, the federal bailout plan is changing, and the big three automakers are all warning they could go bankrupt, and lawmakers say if the auto industry goes down, the huge number of jobs lost would cause more house foreclosures.

[Via Cryptogon]

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Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 11:11 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Joke Humor & Fun

I am giddy is what I am, because I had such a lovely day off yesterday, which was ruined by Barack Obama. Yesterday, the Obamas visited with President Bush. Yes, they visited with President Bush at their future residence, the White House. Hey, for the record, a real candidate of change would move into the Air and Space Museum. How fun would that be? I didn't like how Obama got all handsy with the president [on screen: Obama putting his hand on the top of Bush's back as they walked into the White House together]. You don't see President Bush invading people's personal space — unless they have oil. — Stephen Colbert

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November 12, 2008

Income Inequality And The Economic Crisis Economy  Musings

There's an important lesson in the current economic crisis that hardly anyone's talking about: income inequality as a cause.

There have been two periods of extreme income inequality in the US: 1) just before the Great Depression, and 2) right now. People acknowledge that, but almost nobody draws the obvious conclusion.

How would extreme income inequality have fed the current crisis and soon-to-be depression?

Most Americans have seen their inflation-adjusted incomes stagnate or fall over the last couple of decades. What has been the result? Consumption by average Americans is the engine that drives the American — and much of the world — economy. It accounts for 70% of US GDP. Falling income ordinarily means falling consumption, which means a slowing economy. To forestall that outcome, Americans were deluged with easy credit. They made up for the shrinkage in their incomes by borrowing, largely in the form of home equity loans and credit card debt. But now that's over. Falling home prices have taken home equity loans off the table. And I don't know about you, but I used to get a pre-approved credit card offer in the mail just about every day. No more. Easy credit is gone, so now the economy's being hit all at once, rather than gradually, with the consequences of the reduction in the average person's income. Nobody's shopping. The result will be a self-reinforcing spiral that's really only just getting underway. Less consumption will lead to layoffs, bankruptcies, etc., which will lead to even less consumption, and so on.

Meanwhile, incomes soared for the people at the top. Since there's a limit to how much stuff people can buy, all that concentrated wealth went looking for places to invest. Interest rates were low (feeding the rest of us with easy credit) so it didn't pay to stick one's money in things like Treasury bills. And with their incomes growing at a giddy pace, people at the top felt impervious to risk. Enter the mortgage-backed securities, CDOs, CDSs, etc., etc.

In a more equitable society, the average person's income would have been growing all along and there wouldn't be such a giant pool of money at the top. Average people wouldn't have needed to take on enormous amounts of debt to see an improvement in their standard of living. The well-to-do wouldn't be drowning in cash and feeling like risk couldn't touch them. No bubble, no bubble bursting.

The irony is that American capitalism has cut its own throat. By hogging the spoils, the rich created a situation where the very system that supports them is in jeopardy. A more equitable society is a more sustainable society.

Small wonder that we're not hearing much about that.

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Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 11:28 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Barack Obama is being very deferential to President Bush. Obama said last week, "The United States can only have one president." To which Bush said, "Hey, that's not what Cheney told me." — Jay Leno

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November 10, 2008

The Thing About GDP Economy

The thing to keep in mind whenever somebody talks about GDP (via AngryBear):

Unfortunately GDP figures are generally used without the caveat that they represent an income that cannot be sustained. Current calculations ignore the degradation of the natural resource base and view the sale of non-renewable resources entirely as income. A better way must be found to measure the prosperity and progress of mankind.

— Barber Conable, former President of the World Bank, 1989

Economists treat that as a minor quibble, but nothing could be more fundamental.

People look at those graphs of rising GDP and naturally assume good things are happening. But there's more to it. As I wrote a while back:

Just came across a great phrase from Al Gore: we're "operating the planet like a business in liquidation". Liquidating everything, using it up as fast as we can, last one out lock the door. Except there is no "out".

The bottom line on sustainability: unsustainable = stupid. Fatally stupid. Suicidally stupid. Pretty much by definition, when you stop and think about it. Sustainability is the fundamental requirement for long-term survival. Anything else is sawing off the limb we're sitting on — and there ain't no net.

GDP, like a lot economic abstractions, blinds us to reality. But of course we want to be blinded — otherwise it wouldn't be so easy.

Time to see clearly.

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Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

The rumor is the GOP is blaming Sarah Palin for losing the election. But to be fair, Sarah Palin didn't pick Sarah Palin. Isn't that right? — Jay Leno

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November 05, 2008

Fox Reporter: Palin Thought Africa Was A Country Politics

It's even worse than you thought:

Interesting that Fox is leading the way on this. Sounds like somebody wants to send Palin back to Alaska before she can do any more damage.

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Robert Shiller On The Economy Economy

Yale economist Robert Shiller, one of the few prominent economists who predicted the current crisis, on where we are and where we're headed:

The worst is ahead of us.

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The Onion Strikes Again Humor & Fun  Politics

Ah, The Onion:

Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress

After emerging victorious from one of the most pivotal elections in history, president-elect Barack Obama will assume the role of commander in chief on Jan. 20, shattering a racial barrier the United States is, at long last, shitty enough to overcome.

Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change.

"Today the American people have made their voices heard, and they have said, 'Things are finally as terrible as we're willing to tolerate," said Obama, addressing a crowd of unemployed, uninsured, and debt-ridden supporters. "To elect a black man, in this country, and at this time—these last eight years must have really broken you."

Added Obama, "It's a great day for our nation."

Carrying a majority of the popular vote, Obama did especially well among women and young voters, who polls showed were particularly sensitive to the current climate of everything being fucked. Another contributing factor to Obama's victory, political experts said, may have been the growing number of Americans who, faced with the complete collapse of their country, were at last able to abandon their preconceptions and cast their vote for a progressive African-American.

Citizens with eyes, ears, and the ability to wake up and realize what truly matters in the end are also believed to have played a crucial role in Tuesday's election.

According to a CNN exit poll, 42 percent of voters said that the nation's financial woes had finally become frightening enough to eclipse such concerns as gay marriage, while 30 percent said that the relentless body count in Iraq was at last harrowing enough to outweigh long ideological debates over abortion. In addition, 28 percent of voters were reportedly too busy paying off medical bills, desperately trying not to lose their homes, or watching their futures disappear to dismiss Obama any longer.

"The election of our first African-American president truly shows how far we've come as a nation," said NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. "Just eight years ago, this moment would have been unthinkable. But finally we, as a country, have joined together, realized we've reached rock bottom, and for the first time voted for a candidate based on his policies rather than the color of his skin."

"Today Americans have grudgingly taken a giant leap forward," Williams continued. "And all it took was severe economic downturn, a bloody and unjust war in Iraq, terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan, nearly 2,000 deaths in New Orleans, and more than three centuries of frequently violent racial turmoil."

Said Williams, "The American people should be commended for their long-overdue courage."

Obama's victory is being called the most significant change in politics since the 1992 election, when a full-scale economic recession led voters to momentarily ignore the fact that candidate Bill Clinton had once smoked marijuana. While many believed things had once again reached an all-time low in 2004, the successful reelection of President George W. Bush — despite historically low approval ratings nationwide — proved that things were not quite shitty enough to challenge the already pretty shitty status quo.

"If Obama learned one thing from his predecessors, it's that timing means everything," said Dr. James Pung, a professor of political science at Princeton University. "Less than a decade ago, Al Gore made the crucial mistake of suggesting we should care about preserving the environment before it became unavoidably clear that global warming would kill us all, and in 2004, John Kerry cost himself the presidency by criticizing Bush's disastrous Iraq policy before everyone realized our invasion had become a complete and total quagmire."

"Obama had the foresight to run for president at a time when being an African-American was not as important to Americans as, say, the ability to clothe and feed their children," Pung continued. "An election like this only comes once, maybe twice, in a lifetime."

As we enter a new era of equality for all people, the election of Barack Obama will decidedly be a milestone in U.S. history, undeniable proof that Americans, when pushed to the very brink, are willing to look past outward appearances and judge a person by the quality of his character and strength of his record. So as long as that person is not a woman.

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Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 10:39 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Joke Humor & Fun

I can't believe this happened. Over the weekend, a comedian, I guess on the radio, tricked Sarah Palin into getting on the phone by pretending he was French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Yeah, the comedian says it was really difficult to trick Palin into believing he was Nicolas Sarkozy, because she has no idea who that is. No clue. — Conan O'Brien

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November 03, 2008

Why I'm Voting For Obama Musings  Politics

I'm going to vote for Barack Obama. But you probably guessed that.

A few readers have, from time to time, chastised me for my enthusiasm for Obama, so I'd like to explain.

First off, I'm not someone who believes that a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote. On the contrary. No national election is ever going to be decided by a single vote, so I think you should vote for the candidate you believe in. People say that's wasting your vote, but you can just as well argue it's the other way around. When your vote is one of a hundred million, it counts for a lot less than when it's one of a million or two. In that sense, a vote for a third party candidate counts more, not less. But, people always say, what if everyone thought that way? Well, then we'd elect the candidate we really want, not the lesser of two evils.

So that's how I've voted most of my adult life. Usually, but not always. Sometimes the choice is so stark that I have to go with the lesser of two evils, quite deliberately. So I voted for Nader in 2000, but in 2004 I felt I had to vote for Kerry. I had no illusions about Kerry, but the evil of the Bush presidency was just too great. I knew the effect of my vote would be infinitesimal, but it was at least something.

I understand that the Democrats and Republicans are in many ways two wings of one Corporate Party, and I realize full well that most of today's Democratic politicians are basically what Republicans used to be before the Republicans swung so hard to the right. That said, I don't buy that there's no difference between the parties. If Gore had become president in 2000, for example, he never would have invaded Iraq. It never would have even occurred to him. The Democrats aren't progressives (there are a few exceptions), but they are better than the Republicans on most of the issues I care about. Of course that's faint praise indeed.

So a Democratic president is preferable to a Republican president, but that still doesn't explain my vote. After all, as I said, my one vote won't affect the outcome. So why vote for Obama? And why enthusiastically?

At bottom, I think it's not so much the laundry list of Obama's positions, it's more a question of who Obama is and what an Obama presidency will mean for this country.

First, as to who Obama is. I think he is self-evidently a man of rare gifts, with a level of emotional intelligence and maturity that is unequaled in American public life. He is a true grown-up, in the finest sense of the word. He embodies grace. It may sound like I've drunk the Kool-Aid, but that's what I sense in the man. And I am obviously not alone.

Second, as to what an Obama presidency will mean for the country. Think of where we've come as a nation. American politics has become so cheapened, so coarsened, so brutalized and corrupted and dumbed down that I think it will take a leader with Obama's gifts to pull us back from the brink. Think what it will mean to have a leader who appeals to what is best in us and not what is worst, who talks to us like fellow citizens of a great democracy, not like members of Jerry Springer's studio audience, and who genuinely wants government to succeed.

There are lots of other reasons why an Obama presidency will be good for America — Obama's standing in the eyes of the world; the transformative effect his presidency will have on American attitudes about race; Supreme Court nominations — but for me it's really more personal. It's the reasons I gave above. And it's this: I want to live in a country where Barack Obama is president.

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Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 09:55 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Joke Humor & Fun

In a speech yesterday, Joe the plumber said that John McCain is a real American. And who better to say who is a real American than a fake plumber? — Jay Leno

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November 02, 2008

Palin's Greatest Hits Politics

Beating a dead horse, maybe, but:

Just how cocky do you have to be to put yourself in a position where you are so utterly out of your depth?

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Cheney Endorses McCain Politics

Dick Cheney left his undisclosed location long enough to endorse John McCain.

Guess which campaign was quick to capitalize:

The kiss of death. What genius in the McCain campaign thought it would help?

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Palin Punk'd Humor & Fun  Politics

Sarah Palin gets a prank call from a Canadian comedian posing as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and she never catches on:

Yes, it's for real.

This is who they want to put a heartbeat away.

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Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 12:06 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Today, John McCain campaigned in the Ohio town of Defiance. Next comes Anger, then, finally, Acceptance. — Jay Leno

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