Thursday, December 31, 2009

U.S. Jobless Claims Drop to Lowest Level Since 2008

Good news for 2010: "Fewer Americans than anticipated filed claims for unemployment benefits last week, pointing to an improvement in the labor market that will help sustain economic growth next year. "

"Initial jobless claims fell by 22,000 to 432,000 in the week ended Dec. 26, the lowest level since July 2008, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington."

"It’s boding well for outright job growth. It seems that some of the layoffs that took place in the early part of the year were excessive," said Stephen Gallagher, chief U.S. economist at Societe Generale in New York.

Jeffrey Joerres, chief executive officer of Manpower Inc. says, "What we’ve seen is definite stability and just a hint toward things trying to get better." He goes on to say "The world’s second-largest provider of temporary workers, is experiencing 'slow but steady increases in people who are out on assignment,” he said. “It’s a little in every office, which is a good sign because it’s broad-based.'"

"Twenty-seven states and territories reported a decrease in claims, while 26 reported an increase. These data are reported with a one-week lag."

Hopefully this means that the new year will be a better year for all. Kind of sucks that the layoffs earlier in the year may have been "excessive"...

Hope you all have a safe and happy New Year! =]

Read. Click.

-Annie Yang

Seven CIA Workers Killed in Afghanistan, Six Injured

Some bad news for the end of 2009, seven Central Intelligence Agency employees killed and six more injured in a terrorist attack on Dec 30th at a base in eastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan.

"This has to be one of the highest losses in a single bombing [in the agency’s history]. To lose seven at one time, that’s a bit staggering," said Mark Lowenthal, former CIA assistant director for analysis and production.

"CIA officers operating from such a base regularly mingle with the local population as part of their job, so it wouldn’t be unheard-of that an attacker could slip through security, Lowenthal said."

"The Taliban claimed responsibility, Agence France-Presse reported earlier."

"Obama has stepped up pressure on a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan by increasing the U.S. military force by 23,000 earlier this year, including 4,000 trainers, and authorizing 30,000 more to be in place next year."

Lowenthal claims that the incident won't affect the CIA's role in Afghanistan (they had first been deployed after the 2001 terror attacks) and instead "What they’ll rethink is how can we do this more safely."

"The U.S. is pressing the government of neighboring Pakistan to cooperate more in combating militants on its own territory, and Obama has vowed to use all elements of U.S. power to destroy al-Qaeda and undermine its allies."

What happened: "an Afghan National Army officer wearing a suicide vest entered the base and blew himself up inside the gym, the AP reported, citing a statement from Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid."
"A U.S. official briefed on the blast also said it took place in the gym, the AP reported" as a second opinion reference.

It seems that what it takes for further measures of security to take place is after tragedy strikes. Hopefully, going into 2010, there will be less loss for both sides of this long war.


-Annie Yang

All Charges in Blackwater Case Are Dismissed

"A federal judge dismissed all charges Thursday against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in a crowded Baghdad intersection in 2007.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina said Justice Department prosecutors improperly built their case on sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity. Urbina said the government's explanations were 'contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility.'

The decision throws out a case steeped in international politics. The September 2007 shooting in busy Nisoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead and inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad. The Iraqi government wanted the guards to face trial in Iraq and officials there said they would closely watch how the U.S. judicial system handled the case.

'We're obviously disappointed by the decision,' Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said. 'We're still in the process of reviewing the opinion and considering our options.'

Prosecutors can appeal the 90-page ruling.

Blackwater contractors had been hired to guard U.S. diplomats in Iraq. The shooting led to the unraveling of the North Carolina-based company, which since has changed its management and changed its name to Xe Services."

I'm not sure if people remember this, but it was BIG news at the time. I think this incident had some influence on the Iraqi government's decision to discontinue all American military support in the country. Obviously, nobody knows FOR SURE what happened but I think Blackwater must have been involved in some kind of a hostile engagement between the Iraqi civilians if they've changed their management and name. Maybe Blackwater got off easy but with a few repercussions? I'm not sure and no one else is either, disregarding actual witnesses in the area at the time. It just seems to be Blackwater's word against the Iraqi government's. There could be a MILLION factors involved here. In any case, I know Blackwater is a credible and successful PMC and it would be an outright shame to see them crumble over this. Maybe U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina thinks the same? He officially says that the Iraqi government built their case poorly, but I'm sure there's more to it.

If you didn't want to read the wall, I was ultimately saying that after analyzing the article, it seems that Blackwater was involved in SOME way, maybe not the way the Iraqis could be possibly exaggerating, but in a way that involved them to be completely built from the ground up all over again, with some extra provisions. America has some very valuable PMCs that help oversee diplomatic relations in its arsenal and I strongly believe Blackwater is one of them.

Comment away and discuss.

-Andrew Oxendine 3°

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Obama Pressured on Terrorism as Dutch Add Screening

"Lawmakers pressured President Barack Obama to boost the urgency of anti-terrorism efforts as the Netherlands and Nigeria announced they will start using full- body scanners for passengers."

"Too many people have forgotten the horror of Sept. 11," said top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee and Representative of New York, Peter King.

"The same kind of failures that were there in 9/11 were present in this one," said Tom Kean, former Republican New Jersey Governor and who led the commission that examined the Sept. 11 attacks.

We had the data. It didn’t get to the right people. Here we reorganized the system after 9/11 and the system is still broken," said former Federal Aviation Administration security chief Billy Vincent.

"The National Counterterrorism Center, created after Sept. 11, 'clearly didn’t connect these dots. We need to understand how that’s possible,'" said homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush.

"I would have thought that Sept. 11 was the ultimate wakeup call. I couldn’t imagine as a country we would backslide, but we did," said Mary Schiavo, an attorney who was the U.S. Transportation Department’s inspector general from 1990 to 1996.

The first thing I must mention is that it is in my belief that absolutely no one who experienced the traumas brought on by 9/11 has forgotten. The event was one meant for the history books and one that cannot be easily forgotten. And though it may have been a bitter "wake-up call", it's been shown through history that in order to take a step forward, many countries have had to experience a "backslide." And as one who has personally plotted retaliation plans (haha...), I don't think it to be an amateur mistake that similar actions to 9/11 passed under the noses of security and surveillance this time around. Normally, one wouldn't assume that the same course of action would be taken due to the risk of predictability. But then again, in assuming the "enemy" wouldn't make the same move twice, (not only are you making an "ass" out of "u" and "me", as Ms. Wei so eloquently puts it) it leaves these same courses of action open to act again. Think about it. If we expect them to not do the same thing twice, and who wouldn't, then the first move they may very well take is the same move as before. Maybe now, though, our government will be able to see and prevent every, if not almost every, course of action this "enemy" may take, even though it took yet another scare to put into action precautionary measurements.

...and is it just me, or does that first quote, "Lawmakers pressured President Barack Obama to boost the urgency of anti-terrorism efforts as the Netherlands and Nigeria announced they will start using full- body scanners for passengers," seem to hold an air of... competition? Then again, what is the world of politics and economics if not one full of competition. ¬_¬

Hey you. Yeah, you with the face. Give me your taco.
...I mean...Clicketh.

-Annie Yang

The Individual Mandate is Not Strong Enough

Imagine this scenario: You are 26, and working as a street mime in New York. You are perfectly healthy. You decide that you don't need health insurance. But then one day, you get cancer. You have to declare bankruptcy because you can't afford the thousands of dollars in treatment costs. And then, the new super special medicine comes out that would help you, but you can't get it because you can't pay for it and you can't get insurance because you have cancer.

Same scenario with Health Care Reform: You don't buy health insurance because you are perfectly healthy and are content to pay the $750 dollar a year individual mandate fine because it is much cheaper than buying insurance. You get cancer, and decide that now you need health insurance. And, since insurance companies can't discriminate based on preexisting conditions anymore, like cancer, you get it, and you get your medicine and you live happily ever after.

Except that health insurance premiums skyrocket as more and more people realize that they can just pay the fine and get coverage instantly whenever they get sick.

And this is why the individual mandate in health care reform needs to be much stronger. The fine needs to be more in line with what catastrophic coverage costs. Say $1500-2000 a year. This would be a much greater incentive to get younger people in the system, making it healthier overall and bringing costs down for everybody.

Internal Army Report Finds Early Missteps in Afghanistan

"In the fall of 2003, the new commander of American forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, decided on a new strategy. Known as counterinsurgency, the approach required coalition forces to work closely with Afghan leaders to stabilize entire regions, rather than simply attacking insurgent cells.

But there was a major drawback, a new unpublished Army history of the war concludes. Because the Pentagon insisted on maintaining a 'small footprint' in Afghanistan and because Iraq was drawing away resources, General Barno commanded fewer than 20,000 troops.

As a result, battalions with 800 soldiers were trying to secure provinces the size of Vermont. 'Coalition forces remained thinly spread across Afghanistan,' the historians write. 'Much of the country remained vulnerable to enemy force increasingly willing to reassert their power.'

That early and undermanned effort to employ counterinsurgency is one of several examples of how American forces, hamstrung by inadequate resources, missed opportunities to stabilize Afghanistan during the early years of the war, according to the history, 'A Different Kind of War.'

This year, a resurgent Taliban prompted the current American commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, to warn that the war would be lost without an infusion of additional troops and a more aggressive approach to counterinsurgency. President Obama agreed, ordering the deployment of 30,000 more troops, which will bring the total American force to 100,000."

I'm not going to comment too much here, since much of the article is fairly straightforward. However, I'm not too sure why the Pentagon would insist such a small military presence in Afghanistan back then. I know in hindsight it's easy to say that the government made a bad call here, but honestly I don't know why we didn't commit more additional forces in Afghanistan, when just two years prior, we were attacked. Maybe we didn't know that Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda held a strong presence there at the time and were responsible? I don't buy it. With our intelligence that can't be possible. It seems like we just dropped the ball. It also seems that the government isn't releasing too much information about this, due to it's complicated nature and if revealed would probably overflow the blog.

I know a lot of it has to do with the Bush administration's missteps and that's just going to open up a can of worms. I know most of everyone is familiar with the last paragraph and that is another good thing Obama is pushing forward, along with the larger usage of Predator missiles against Al-Qaeda, another thing Bush didn't seem to take advantage of. In my honest opinion, and maybe I need to be a little bit more informed about the subject, which is okay, Afghanistan's problems is something the U.S. should have taken care of LONG ago, almost a decade ago. Iraq was just pointless. I know we removed an abusive dictator, which is FANTASTIC, but what about all of the other dictators present in the world?

Yeah ...

-Andrew Oxendine 3°

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The 10 Worst U.S. Cities to Look for Job

"The nation’s unemployment rate in November stood at 10% of the labor force, but some cities have unemployment rates much higher than that."

"Job search engine has put together a list with the cities that are the toughest to find a job. The ranking is done by surveying major metro areas across the U.S. and using that data against the volume of jobs posted online in thousands of employer job Web sites each month to determine the worst locations for job seekers."

(Data provided by BLS for State Unemployment for November 2009)

10. Orlando, Florida - Unemployed Per Advertised Job: 8.92
State Unemployment for Nov '09: Monthly percent change - ? 0.3%
Unemployment Rate (% of total population) - 11.5%

09. Providence, Rhode Island - Unemployed Per Advertised Job: 9.23
State Unemployment for Nov '09: Monthly percent change - ? 0.2%
Unemployment Rate (% of total population) - 12.7%

08. Birmingham, Alabama - Unemployed Per Advertised Job: 9.62
State Unemployment for Nov '09: Monthly percent change - ? 0.4%
Unemployment Rate (% of total population) - 10.5%

07. Los Angeles, California - Unemployed Per Advertised Job: 10.43
State Unemployment for Nov '09: Monthly percent change - ? 0.2%
Unemployment Rate (% of total population) - 12.3%

06. Sacramento, California - Unemployed Per Advertised Job: 10.97
State Unemployment for Nov '09: Monthly percent change - ? 0.2%
Unemployment Rate (% of total population) - 12.3%

05. Las Vegas, Nevada - Unemployed Per Advertised Job: 11.85
State Unemployment for Nov '09: Monthly percent change - ? 0.7%
Unemployment Rate (% of total population) - 12.3%

04. Riverside, California - Unemployed Per Advertised Job: 12.35
State Unemployment for Nov '09: Monthly percent change - ? 0.2%
Unemployment Rate (% of total population) - 12.3%

03. Miami, Florida - Unemployed Per Advertised Job: 14.47
State Unemployment for Nov '09: Monthly percent change - ? 0.3%
Unemployment Rate (% of total population) - 11.5%

02. St. Louis, Missouri - Unemployed Per Advertised Job: 17.98
State Unemployment for Nov '09: Monthly percent change - ? 0.2%
Unemployment Rate (% of total population) - 9.5%

And the worst?

01. Detroit, Michigan - Unemployed Per Advertised Job: 20.76
State Unemployment for Nov '09: Monthly percent change - ? 0.4%
Unemployment Rate (% of total population) - 14.7%

Well, part of me is rather sad that our home state placed three times here, but then again, it's kind of not surprising, you know? *sadface* At least we're not number one in these rankings. And again, I'm not surprised that Michigan came in as the worst employed state in the US.

Thoughts? Opinions? Expectations?
Meh, I'm going to go eat now.

Want to read the original?
Click the title. Really, now.

-Annie Yang

U.S. Economy: Confidence Rises as Outlook Brightens

Well, what do you know? Some good news for 2010, perhaps?

It seems that the outlook people have for our economy is looking up as "home prices climbed in October for a fifth consecutive month." With companies, retailers and the like becoming more "aggressive" in order to sell more during the holiday season, it's no surprise that we saw many stores and restaurants open during Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

And yet, still, Michael Moran, chief economist at Daiwa Securities America Inc. in New York says, "We’re going to need a more definitive improvement in the labor market before confidence improves more than it has." Even so, it seems that people are looking to 2010 as a better year.

Then again, after 2009, could anything be worse?
...forget I said that.


-Annie Yang

Pakistani woman attacked for refusing to marry

There are not many things that I get angry at, but attitudes like this makes my blood boil for a while.

Obama Vows ‘Pressure’ as Al-Qaeda Says it Planned Plane Attack

Following up the previous posts by other students, the terrorist attempt on Christmas Day interrupted President Obama's ten-day vacation in Hawaii.

He proclaims that he will "'keep up the pressure' on terrorist groups intent on attacking Americans" while trying to figure out ways to up the security for people boarding aircrafts in order to prevent future attempts.

I suppose part of me would like to commend our president on being able to take this event as a learning experience, as life is generally a learning experience, and is trying to determine what needs problem-shooting and how to improve what needs improving. I felt that for being disturbed from a relaxing vacation with his family during the holidays, he handled the issue as a president should and spoke words with confidence so as to keep the morale and confidence of his people up.

Personally, I would've been... grumpy to say the least. Then again, I suppose that's why I'm not president. Haha, if I were... let's not go that route...

For more, click.

-Annie Yang

Iran Lashes Out at West Over Protests

"In Iran, Iranian authorities continued arresting hundreds of opposition members and accused the United States and Britain on Tuesday of orchestrating the violent demonstrations that rocked the capital and other cities on Sunday.

The sister of Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi was detained on Monday night, according to opposition Web sites quoted by news agencies.

A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said countries including the United States and Britain had miscalculated in criticizing the government’s response to the demonstrations, which the government said left at least eight people dead in Tehran. The opposition counted five more deaths in other cities.

'Some Western countries are supporting this sort of activities,' said the spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, according to The Associated Press. 'This is intervention in our internal affairs. We strongly condemn it.'"

I thought the first paragraph was hilarious. We, the West, are DEFINITELY forcing the Iranian people to protest in opposition to their government. They don't have a say, or do they? The freedom to protest against a hostile government is such an abomination. We are just so intolerant towards authority. We just need to get over evident abuse and mistreatment and move on. We need to support our government, right or wrong.

The second paragraph is unfortunate but I thought the third paragraph just proved the Iranian Foreign Ministry's stupidity. What are they THINKING? Are they even thinking? Hmm ...

The last quote by the spokesman in the fourth paragraph was, again, a knee slapper. They strongly condemn our promotion of freedom, to practically live in objection, which their own people accept as a right. Don't get mad at the West and don't get mad at your people. I wonder who's left to be mad at? It's rhetorical ...

Of course, beating and killing your own people is completely a sign of savagery.

I'm surprised Russia and China haven't chimed in on this one. Is it because they complied with the West's efforts in censoring Iran's nuclear capability?

What a joke.

The remaining portion of the article can be found in the title for those of you who are still interested.

-Andrew Oxendine 3°

U.S. Struggles Anew to Ensure Safety as Gaps Are Revealed

"In Washington, airline passengers are now increasingly being patted down, and carry-ons are being double-checked since a self-proclaimed terrorist tried to bring down a passenger jet headed to Detroit on Christmas Day. Canine teams are out in force, sniffing for explosives.

Starting this past weekend, more international flights bound for the United States have had plainclothes air marshals mixed in with passengers. Extra teams of specially trained security officers have been roaming airports looking for tells among the passengers — furtive glances or people who nervously open and close bags repeatedly.

In ways large and small, the Department of Homeland Security, once again, is struggling to strengthen an aviation security system it has already spent $40 billion rebuilding since the terror attacks of 2001."

I'm assuming most, if not all, people are aware of the terrorist attack that took place just recently, which Al-Qaeda seems to have claimed involvement in, but if you're not, you can find more detailed information in a prior article. Maybe it's just me, but security should ALWAYS be this alert. I don't really believe in threat levels because terrorist incidents can occur ANYTIME. I'm really pleased to see such an improvement in our traveling security. I'm not really sure why it wasn't increased before, there must be a reason unknown to me, and I'll be glad to hear it too. Don't tell me about civil liberties here. We're lucky we can travel in such distressful times. A little security, actually a lot of security, throughout the airport should be completely understandable by the American people.

If you disagree with me, okay, state why and how you think security should be handled differently. We all have perspectives that can be shared, just make sure it's intelligent and readable :)

The rest of the article can be found by clicking on the title.

I found this article particularly interesting since I arrived in D.C. yesterday, which would also explain why I wasn't able to post yesterday. However, I'm going to make it up by posting twice today.

D.C. is epic. The weather, especially since I'm coming from California, is FREEZING. People here are used to it though. Fortunately, I was prepared for the weather.

I hope everyone had a happy holiday and enjoy your winter recess.

-Andrew Oxendine 3°

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Underwear Bomber

The failed bombing of Northwest 253 by a Nigerian man with alleged ties to Al Qaeda has ignited a firestorm of debate about airport security. The TSA for their part has put into place new security measures, including requiring passengers to stay in their seat and not have anything in their lap for the last hour of the flight, and more stringent searches.

These measures have been criticized from both sides of the political spectrum as knee-jerk and ineffective. One longtime airline pilot and staunch conservative commented,

“The knee-jerk reactive hour-long 'seat-pan-ban' prior to landing was one of the dumbest things to come along for quite a while ... what if the guy decided to 'go boom' @ hour '5' on a 10-hour TransPac ... ???"

Another pilot and conservative described his recent experience with airport security,

I just flew United from BKK-NRT and they turned off the in-flight entertainment system (and I was in Biz class too! With a 19" screen!) for "security reasons". At first I thought this was some cop out excuse because the system was actually broken. However, as it turned out United enacted this policy in response to the attempted "terror" attack, apparently because a potential bad guy could monitor the plane's location on the in-flight GPS map deal that's
displayed. Never mind he could also just TIME the flight and get a fair estimation as to the plane's position along a great circle route...

I swear, every time some yahoo lights his shoe or pants on fire, we spend millions of dollars and waste millions of people's hours in unnecessary and pointless, knee-jerk, feel good, BS security measures that accomplish nothing. Yeah, the Crotch-Rocket Man didn't bring down the plane or hurt anyone else, but he never the less accomplished Al Qaeda's goal of enormously disrupting our lives. Who is the real enemy here? A bunch of lunatics who haven't had a solid plan in years, or our own fear?

It is interesting to note however that, had this terrorist succeeded in blowing up the plane, (as media outlets have reported that he had enough explosive to do) these same conservatives would probably be calling for strikes against targets in Yemen, where the terrorist was allegedly trained, as Senators Lieberman and Specter appeared to do on Fox News Sunday.

It is my view that the TSA is more of an illusion of security than actual security. Walking through a metal detector is not going to catch chemicals sewn into clothing that, when combined, are explosive. The level of security that would be needed to catch everything would be draconian and an unacceptable violation of privacy. Full body scans, (which display private parts in detail) pat downs for every passenger, and hand searches of all bags in addition to x-ray screenings.

Remember the old joke where people said that they were glad Richard Reid (the shoe bomber) wasn’t known as the underwear bomber?

This guy was the underwear bomber.

Angry voters look to government: Do something!

Apparently, 2009 wasn't a bad year to me alone. Straight from the article:

"Scenes from the year of the angry voter

Town halls: From crowds of furious constituents to congressional representatives cowering in fear, the summertime scenes of national town hall meetings on health care reform turned into a sign of America's partisan divide. Republicans said it was authentic grassroots anger while liberals likened the events to pitchfork-carrying mobs.

Tea Parties: Angry rallies about government deficits, spending and taxes abounded. But both parties may have something to fear from the rise of a renegade force: Tea Party activists are now more popular than Democrats or Republicans, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found.

Same-sex marriage: From Maine to California, there were protests to press the issue. Supporters of marriage equality hoped for a rebound in California after the 2008 passage of Proposition 8, while religious and conservative groups celebrated voters' rebuff of same-sex marriage in Maine and the New York Legislature's rejection of it.

Anti-war protests: President Obama took heat from the left - and Code Pink included - as anti-war groups backed by some of Congress' most progressive members lambasted his decision to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan.

Climate change trouble: Even as he addressed world leaders in Copenhagen, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Obama's approval ratings on the issue had dropped to 45 percent, and talk radio and public rallies highlighted growing public doubt - and political divides - over the key environmental issue."

While these problems persist and ferment between the people and their government, perhaps instead of merely bringing these problems to light, more should be done by the people. Any ideas or input? Any one for passive-aggressive? *shrug*

And as Democratic strategist and former White House spokesman Chris Lehane said, "It doesn't work if people don't trust in their government to make decisions." In my opinion, it also doesn't work if the government doesn't make decisions that the people will like.

Thoughts? Opinions? Bleh?

-Annie Yang

Obama and First Lady Offer Christmas Message for Troops at War

Though this was three days ago, I feel I have one or two comments about this.

On Christmas three days ago, President Obama and First Lady Obama sent Christmas wishes to the troops stationed away from home, as did many families whether or not their loved ones were out fighting for the freedom of America or not. As many already know, Obama decided to send in more troops to Afghanistan, 30,000 more troops, thus bringing the grand total to approximately 100k troops.

Also, "on the domestic front, Hunter [Republican U.S. Representative of California and a Marine that served in Iraq] described a “difficult Christmas” because of an unemployment rate that stood at 10 percent in November." He goes on to say, "After all the promises and all the spending we’ve seen out of Washington this year, out-of-work families are right to be asking, 'Where are the jobs?'"

It was under my impression that these "promises" also included bringing troops out rather than sending more in. Unless I'm that far behind in the happenings of our nation, Obama is backtracking a great deal here. And with the unemployment rate being as unsteady as it is, shouldn't he be trying to do more on the domestic front to bring our economy back to the way it should be?

If you wish to read more, implement the use of your right-hand index finger (or left, whichever...) and click here.

I dunno. I just felt that it was a rather... interesting Christmas wish when most families merely wish for the return of their loved ones and the return of stability.

-Annie Yang

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Revolt in Iran

Of course, both foreign policy and the economy should be the focus of next year.

Second incident on plane turns out to be a false alarm

Japan’s Industrial Production Rises 2.6% on Exports

Reporting for the first time on the blog, I decided to post on how Japan is doing recently.

The opening line of the article: "Japanese manufacturers increased output at the fastest pace in six months in November, supporting the nation’s recovery from its deepest postwar recession. "

While "weak domestic demand means that the Japanese economy is still highly vulnerable to external shocks," says Ryutaro Kono, chief economist at BNP Paribas in Tokyo, exports from Japan to the other countries in Asia are leading Japan to a srtonger economy, albeit slowly. Even so, Yasukazu Shimizu, a senior market economist at Mizuho Securities Co. in Tokyo says "The rebound in exports and the stimulus effects are the main reason behind the increase in production, and capital spending remains dull. We're still far off from a sustainable recovery in Japan."

Exports to the rest of Asia are helping to move Japan forward in recovering from their "deepest postwar recession", but there's still a lot of progress to be made. Apparently, the value of the yen has also been decreasing. It dropped from it's "14-year high of 84.83 on Nov. 27" to "91.45 per dollar at 8:58 a.m. in Tokyo".

...I had been under the impression that the value of the yen was increasing... Hm...

Wanna read more? Click the title.
...or click here.

-Annie Yang

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bomb detonated on Christmas

My webcam makes my voice sound weird. One more thing I would like to add in: that bombing incident showed that we are still in danger of another terrorist attack despite our efforts in Afghanistan. Something clearly isn't right.

Senate passes Healthcare - Don't copy this

The senate passed its own version of the healthcare bill today with a vote of 60-39. Obama touted this as "real, meaningful health insurance reform that will bring additional security and stability to the American people". Now both houses of Congress hope to form a compromised bill together for Obama to sign before the New Year, an unlikely achievement, but we'll see.

The House version of the bill:

1. Public-option: The government can set insurance rates. The industry is afraid that the rates might be set below market value, thus losing them money. This provision is unlikely to survive in the final bill sent to Obama's desk given the fact that the bill barely passed the Senate.

2. Increases income taxes on individuals making over $500,000 and families of four making over $1 million a year by 5.4%

3. Cuts Medicare spending by ~$500 billion.

4. Subsidies would be provided to families of four making $88,000 a year (or 400% the federal poverty level).

5. Health insurance exchanges will be allowed to help businesses and individuals to save money.

6. Premiums cannot change based on gender and/or prexisting conditions.

7. Medicaid coverage would extend to families of four making $33,000 a year (or 150% of the federal poverty level).

8. All individuals must have insurance coverage or face a fine of 2.5% of his/her income, with an exception of poor Americans.

9. Companies with a payroll over $500, 000 will need to provide insurance or pay a fine of up to 8% of its income.

10. Abortions would not be allowed in subsidized insurance and private policies exchanged.

The Senate version of the bill:

1. Does not have the public option.

2. 40% taxes on insurance companies that provide "Cadillac plans" at the value of $8,500 per individual and $23,000 per family (I'm assuming a family of four).

3. Also cuts Medicare by ~$500 billion

4. Subsidies would be provided to families of four making $88,000 a year (or 400% of the federal poverty level).

5. Health insurance exchanges are also allowed.

6. Premiums cannot change based on gender or prexisting conditions.

7. Medicaid coverage would extend to families making $29,000 a year (or 133% of the federal poverty level).

8. All individuals must have coverage or face a fine of $750 or 2% of his/her income, with exceptions of poor Americans. The higher fine is chosen.

9. Companies with over 50 employees would face fines up to $750 per employee that relies on government coverage funded by subsidies.

10. States would get to choose whether to provide coverage for abortions in exchanged insurances.

Just to clarify a few things, do not confuse medicaid with medicare. Medicare is public insurance provided for people over 65. Medicaid is a welfare program for poor, disabled, and old people that provides health services. It is largely determined by income, whereas Medicare is completely based on age.

From an insurance company's point of view, they should be pretty happy at all the new customers they'll be receiving, at least in the long run. In the short run, they'll be hurt by the riskier policy holders: diabetics, cancer patients, etc. However, those losses would eventually be offset by the fact that they can charge higher premiums on older people. Those costs could also shift towards younger people because there is nothing in the bills that prevent insurance companies from charging people extra based on age.

Next point of discussion would be the fines. I have doubts that they would persuade some Americans from buying coverage, at least for the Senate bill. The fines seem to be cheaper than the insurance they are encouraged to purchase. For those Americans that can afford insurance, but choose not to buy it, the law is much like the seat belt law: it's there to prevent people from facing huge medical costs that could be paid for by medicaid. Simply because those people may afford insurance, but they may not be able to pay for their own medical bills.

I'm sure there are exceptions for the abortion provision of the bills. Women who are endangered by childbirth, rape, and other noteworthy causes would be exception. Congress isn't that heartless...I hope.

There is no mention of undocumented immigrants, but they are definately part of both bills. Now, there are those of you that say that these immigrants should not be entitled to subsidies. But the work that most of these people do offset the income taxes that they don't pay. For example, a small box of strawberries cost about $1.99 (a rough estimate) because of cheap immigrant labor, but it could easily cost over twice as much if it these immigrants aren't working in the fields. The money they save us could even exceed the taxes we collect from them.

This health care reform is no doubt the highlight of Obama's presidency. It's unlikely he'll get any other major changes passed (except maybe something about the environment) because his popularity fades over time. And as it fades, so does his mandate.

That's all I have to say for now. If there are any other important provisions of either bills that I missed, feel free to point them out (the bills are a huge stack of papers and I'm sure there are more provisions that weren't included in this news article).

Monday, December 21, 2009

A look back at one of the worst years ever

"With a bang"
On New Year's Day, a man was shot by police who was riding BART. He was removed from the train to be investigated for fighting. A police officer shot and killed him. The person killed was black. The police officer was charged with murder. This set off demonstrations in Oakland where thirty more were arrested and vandalism occurred.

"Officers down"
In March of this year, four Oakland police officers were shot and killed in one incident.

A five year old boy has been missing since August Tenth and has not been seen since.

"Lowest of the Low"
This was the terrible rape of a 16 year old girl. She was attending her homecoming when she was assaulted by as may as ten men.

These are a few of the news stories of this year. After looking over these, I think it is safe to say that this has been a pretty bad year for America.

Medical tourism: '5-star' care at a discount

Canadians often travel south to get away from waiting lists on medical attention. However, Americans often look to go to Canada to escape the unreasonably high expenses that comes with medical attention.

"Former Mill Valley resident John Freeman, 61, now living in Reno, needed a coronary bypass. He had dropped his catastrophic insurance coverage because the $320 monthly premium was eroding his retirement savings and the $5,000 deductible left him with big bills.

Facing a $100,000-plus operation, he thought he had two choices: "submit or die."

A friend pointed him to a third: World Med Assist of Concord, which lined him up with a heart surgeon in Turkey. The all-inclusive cost: $18,000. He had the surgery last spring and "unreservedly" recommends the care."

Obama plan could limit records hidden from public

On December 31, a deadline has been set that would declassify about 400 million pages of records on the Cold War that were hidden from public attention. Obama is right now considering on how to deal with this situation. It is predicted that the president to sign an executive order that with create a National Declassification Center. This new center would will clear up the documents.

This is to clear up any unnecessary secrecy of these documents and to revise classification guides. THese guides need ot be revised because the last revision was five years ago.

Information in these documents include info about Soviet relations, invasion of Afghanistan, and the Berlin Wall.

This is good that they are trying to unveil unclear information of a scary time in our nations history. The government should always try to keep as little information secret as possible.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Court tosses state ban on felons' body armor Read more:

TOday, a California ban on bulletproof vests was repealed. It was a decade old ban that banned possession of body armor by anyone with a violent felony conviction. This ban was ruled unconstitutional because people wouldn't be able to tell the prohibited vests from teh non-prohibited vests. The ban was passed to protect police officers. The ban could send a person to up to three years in prison for wearing an illegal vest or body armour.

There is another law linked to this that can put someone up to five years in prison for committing a crime while wearing body armor.

What do you guys think about this?

U.S. repeals funding ban for needle exchanges

On friday, the a ban on needle exchanges was repealed. This is definitely a victory for AIDS for prevention. The Ban was a 21 year old ban, which is very long considering the effect AIDS has. The ban was a small part of a larger bill that involved $163.5 billion. Now disease-prevention can use federal funds to get clean needles.

This is great, because now that there are more needles, there will be less disease, especially AIDS spreading around. "Hundreds of thousands of Americans will not get HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C, thanks to Congress repealing the federal syringe funding ban,"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fake blood-clotting products to heal wounded soldiers

"Scientists say they have made a synthetic blood-clotting agent that could help wounded troops and patients."

Scientists have discovered a way to create fake platelets which can reduce bleeding in half and last longer than real platelets from donors. This new discovery could be available very soon.

The creators of this interesting now discovery are James Bertram and Erin Lavik. Using biodegradable polymers, they were able to design them so they link up with patients' own platelets. They hope this sort of thing can help the soldiers who get injured during war.

These new fake platelets have many advantages. First, they do not create the complications taht come with donated platelets, like rejection. Second, they also should have a longer shelf life than the donated ones, which is only five days.

Hopefully they do get this up and running soon. This could help injured soldiers recover and return home safely.

Death Sentences Dropped, but Executions Rose in ’09

The death penalty is a very important issue today.

In the New York times, an article stated that although there has been a drop in death sentences, the number of executions rose.

Over the past seven years, the number of death sentences has been steadily decreasing. Today, the number of death sentences is one third of what it was in 1994. Basically, the number has been going down for about a decade.

However, the number of people being execute has been slowly growing. In 2009, 59 people have been executed, which is ten more then last year.

World's most random post

Warning: The following is the world's most random post. Please do not read if you have something against randomness.

Mariusz Pudzianowski, (the only man to ever win the world's strongest man competition 5 times) just recently won his mma (mixed martial arts) debut.

Yeah... sorry, I was bored.

DNA clears Fla. man after 35 years behind bars

In 1974, James Bain was sentenced to life in prison for kidnapping and raping a 9-year-old-boy. Now, 35 years later, he has been released thanks to DNA testing which has proven him innocent. Bain spent more time in prison than any of the other 246 people found innocent by DNA testing. The longest-serving before Bain was James Lee, who was released last year after spending more than 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. The 54-year-old Bain used a cell phone for the first time and called his elderly mother to tell her that he had been released. He stated that he was not angry, and that he was looking forward to some fried turkey and Dr. Pepper. The courage of this man is unfathomable. I really hope that the rest of this man's destroyed life is full of joy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

House approves $154 Billion jobs package

In response to my earlier post, the House has a recently approved a bill extending deadline for unemployment benefits. More importantly, the House narrowly approved the $154 billion job creation package. Before the lawmakers leave for winter recess, Congress has urgently been trying to get this extension passed. Right now, the deadline is December 31, and if the deadline extension is accepted, then it would be extended to February. Costing about 13 billion dollars, this needs to get accepted and become reality.
There could be bad conseuqences if Congress is unable this extension up. About 1 million unemployed could lose there benefits in January. Many of these people rely on benefits because they can not afford things on their own.

THe job creation bill that was narrowly approved with a 217 to 212 vote.
This bill is overwhelming important because it helps create jobs that many Americans need. 1 in 10 americans are unemployed, and these new jobs could give them more opportunities.

Poll: Obama approval dips below 50 percent

For the first time ever, Obama's overall job approval rating is below 50%. It is currently 47%, according to this article on Also, for the first time since September 2007, 45% see the Democratic party in a "negative light". 55% believe that the country is on the wrong track. This is the highest in the Obama presidency.

Personally, I believe that these feelings are only natural during times of economic crisis. But hey, what do you folks think?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Raising the debt limit by a 'little'

There was talk by lawmakers to up the legal limit on the National Treasury Debt by 1.9 trillion dollars. This was going on last week, but now there is a new plan under consideration by lawmakers. This considers raising the limit by just a "coupled hundred billion dollars", which is enough for two months, the house majority leader stated.

The present debt ceiling is at 12.104 trillion dollars, which is an increase from Monday, in which it was 12.071 dollars.

Lawmakers need this change because if it is not changed, the nation will likely default the debt. This default could lead to a devalue of of US bonds and harm its reputation around the world with creditors. Lawmakers do not want this to happen at all costs.

However, the major opponents to this change are fiscal hawks. Lawmakers need these hawks' votes in order for this to pass.

House to vote on $167 billion in jobs measures

On Wednesday of this week, the house plans to have a vote. If the vote succeeds, then there would be $167 billion dollars worth of measures for jobs. This would help the unemployment woes that the US has experienced during the recession. These new measures would help create more jobs and create a "safety net".

These new measures would help people that were most negatively affected by the recesssion. It would extend unemployment benefits and help provide more food stamps for the less fortunate.

The vote taht is being held on Wednesday will be a part of the defense spending portion of this bill. Many members of Congress, like the Senate and other lawmakers, have been pushing for extensions on unemployment benefits.

In addition, the house plans to have a vote to decide the fate of a 154 billion dollar job creation package. "The bill would take $75 billion from the remaining Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money to fund $48 billion in infrastructure spending, as well as send about $27 billion to the states to prevent the layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters, according to sources within the House Democratic leadership. Some funds would also go to providing credit for small businesses."

This will pump money to highways and mass transit, and clean water projects and also for repairing and building of homes. The rest of the money would fund schools.

I think this is great that they are considering this. Much needed jobs will help desparate people who are in desperate times. Everyone should be given an opportunity to succeed.

Many in Illinois town hope locating Gitmo detainees there helps business

Once again, the title says it all. Obama has set the Guantanamo Bay-closing deadline for January 2010. All those prisoners need to go somewhere. And it has been decided that as many as 100 Gitmo inmates could be transferred to a prison in Thompson, Illinois. The residents there are surprisingly happy because they believe that this transfer will bring some business to their town. "I'll have lots of guards coming by for their bait" said Todd Baker, who owns a "bait and tackle" shop.

Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn are expected to meet with the White House to talk the whole thing over. Quinn said that this transfer could provide up to 2,000 jobs and $1 billion in federal money to the area!

What do you folks think about all of this?

Monday, December 14, 2009

22 million missing Bush White House e-mails found

Once again, the title says it all. Computer technicians have found 22 million missing White House e-mails from the presidency of Mr. Bush. For more info. go to;_ylt=As8tS0N1hjK8fsrq7dueqxSs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNrYTNrczUxBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMDkxMjE0L3VzX3doaXRlX2hvdXNlX2VfbWFpbARjY29kZQNyYW5kb20EY3BvcwM0BHBvcwMxBHB0A2hvbWVfY29rZQRzZWMDeW5faGVhZGxpbmVfbGlzdARzbGsDMjJtaWxsaW9ubWlz

Obama urges banks to find ways to increase lending

The title says it all. Obama has challenged top bankers to find "every possible way" to increase lending. He says that it is the responsibility of the banks to do so after being rescued by taxpayers. He asked the banks to "take a third and fourth look" at their small-business lending.

Do you guys think that banks increasing their lending is a good idea?

A Modern Day Caveman

In Utah, a man lives in a cave where his diet consists of ants, lizards, and roadkill. Sometimes, he brews tea out of almond leaves. As for hygiene, he regularly bathes in a nearby creek. He has been living like this for three years.

His reasoning for this unusual state of living is that "when I lived with money, I was always lacking...Money represents things in the past (debt) and things in the future (credit), but money never represents what is present." He has stopped using money, and lives a content life.

Without the fear of being laid off, the anxieties of piling debt, and no mortgage to pay, you might call this man intelligent. Or you might call him crazy. Although I admire this man's determination and thought process, I doubt I would be able to live without a warm bed and the availability of hot showers. What do you think? Would you consider living in a cave to evade the crisis of the downsizing economy?

-Molly Cheng

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jail Attack frees "high risk" inmates in Philippines

Hurray, my first post. In Isabela City, Philippines, 70 heavily armed men broke into a jail, and freed 31 of its inmates. All of these inmates were being detained for being violent "Muslim guerrillas". Of these inmates, many were members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization, a rather violent group with links to al-Qaida. Two of the escaped inmates were accused of beheading 10 marines in 2007.

But hey, I'm sure this was totally unexpected and a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of a thing. Right? Wrong! 3 Abu Sayyaf inmates also accused of beheading those 10 marines escaped in December of last year after overpowering their guards. At least 16 people, including 4 Abu Sayyaf members, escaped in 2007. And in the biggest jail break, 53 violent inmates escaped in 2004 after overpowering their guards using 100 machine guns! No. 50 machine guns!! No.
Try a smuggled pistol!!!

Maybe it's just my opinion, but if you are going to put a whole ton of mentally-deranged terrorists in one prison, at least make sure they can't overpower their guards with a pistol.
What do you folks think?

Sweeping bank reform clears House

First time I had actually seen anything about the bill. Basically,
"The bill, which passed 223-202, imposes more oversight and stronger capital cushions for the largest banks and Wall Street firms. It forces them to pay a total of as much as $150 billion into an emergency fund that could be tapped when a troubled company needs to be taken over and broken up."
And also according to Rep. Barney Frank,
"The bailouts of AIG and Bear Stearns would be not possible -- made illegal -- under this bill," Frank said. "If a company fails, it'll be put to death."
I'm glad they decided to do something to try to prevent another financial crisis. It would stop future bailouts of companies. I was actually surprised that I just learnt about this bill, I had not yet seen it before even though this bill has very significant changes that could prevent another financial crisis. The only questions are if the Senate would pass it and if the bill would end up being effective and properly enforced.

Map of New York City

The link above goes to a website that shows the income levels of citizens when you click on certain neighborhoods in New York City. (They should have one for California...) I just thought this was interesting!

-Molly Cheng

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mysterious Spiral of Light over Norway

So. Failed Russian missile test, or successful new fireworks design?

The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009

Finally taking the time to try and change the rules of Wall Street, the House passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act yesterday with a 223-202 vote. No Republicans voted for the bill and 27 Democrats voted against it.

The bill as passed would create the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, increase oversight of hedge funds and credit rating agencies, and impose regulations on the derivatives market. An amendment that passed 304-124 would create an exception from these derivative regulations for nonfinancial companies that use derivatives as a hedge against risk instead of as speculative investments; it would also exempt those businesses deemed too small to have an impact on the financial system. The existence of these exceptions run contrary to what President Obama had originally envisioned for regulations of the derivatives market. The bill also grants the FDIC the power to monitor the economy for systemic risk and the authority to manage a $150 billion fund to help take apart failed financial corporations. The bill would allow the GAO to audit monetary policy decisions made by the Federal Reserve. One amendment that failed to pass (241-188) would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of mortgages to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

The bill will now head to the Senate, where it will undoubtedly be changed in committee and take its time going through the system. It is unexpected that a Senate version of the bill would be passed before next year. And of course, the longer it takes to pass the bill, the less the need for such a bill weighs on the public's mind. If companies lay low and do the intelligent thing, like Goldman-Sachs limiting executive compensation even though, having already paid back the TARP money, it is no longer subject to 'pay czar' Kenneth Feinberg's rules, public outrage will die down as the economy improves. And, once some heavy lobbying takes place, the final version presented to President Obama could be even weaker than what we currently have.

The Perks of Being An Entrepreneur

Because of the current state of our economy, some economists believe the best way to get out of the financial crisis is to create new goods and services, which promote growth. This can be seen in the form of entrepreneurs, people who take risks and have new ideas to create new products. The desired effect of this, the article declares, is more competition in the market and more jobs.

However, it seems like this is a solid long-term solution rather than an immediate solution. Data shows that since 2000, approximately 5 trillion dollars have been spent on research and higher education (crucial steps that lead to innovation), but employment has remained the same and even fallen in some areas.

Perhaps the key is to be patient (but still stay determined) in these trying times.

-Molly Cheng

Friday, December 11, 2009

A bill of attainder case!!!!

I am thunderstruck. Every time I write something on the board about Congress, up pops a current day example.

More legal analysis here. The post author, Eugene Volokh, is a principled, moderate libertarian, and his resume is just ridiculous. As in, he graduated from UCLA with a computer science degree at age 15. Now he teaches law there. The comment thread to this post should be highly intelligent.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Republican Flip-Flopping

Here's a picture, courtesy of Talking Points Memo, that illustrates how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's staff is reacting to the Democrat's proposal to sell Medicare insurance to people that are 55-64 years of age.

20 years to cut carbon emissions

(Click title for full story)
According to UMKO if our emissions don't peak by 2020, keeping global temperature rise under 3.7F (2C), would be impossible. Although 2C (3.7F) might not seem like a lot at first glance it is actually quite significant and if the emissions are limited it may even get worse. Even if we have our emissions peak by 2018 and have them shrink by 4% a year, we would still only have "50% chance of keeping warming below 2C". To at least attempt this we would probably have to start making efforts now to reduce our emissions, if we wait too long the situation will probably only get worse.

Why do we have 2 parties?

Answer here.

War and Peace

Obama gave a speech in Oslo after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. In his speech, he acknowledges the controversy surrounding him being awarded the prize, and states that there are many people who are more deserving of the award than him. Obama then continued speaking on the relation between war and peace and how the world might head into a war-free era.

Speaking of his decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan, Obama states that war and violence will not end in our lives, and "There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified." He states that he must live in the real world and face facts, the facts being that non-violence movements will not convince Al-Qaeda to stop their fighting and be friends with us. There exists in the world a strong necessity for military power, as only with power can certain actions be prevented. The presence of a strong American military force in the world can help maintain security and peace and even further the development of democracy in various places.

Obama acknowledged that war is unpopular and that the concept of war is incompatible with the concept of peace. However, he maintained that military might is sometimes necessary and can occasionally be the only solution to a problem. The use of that might, according to Obama, should be strictly controlled and only used in extreme cases. "All nations -- strong and weak alike -- must adhere to standards that govern the use of force." Citing his closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison and his prohibition of torture, Obama claims that even when fighting against those that do not follow the rules, countries like the United States must always abide by those rules, as not following those rules even in the hardest of times would be not honoring them and eventually losing sight of why those rules ever existed in the first place. Obama also claimed that in the large and complex world that now exists, "America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace." A nation cannot impose its own will on the world if the rest of the world does not agree. Consensus must be formed in order to maintain the appearance of an absence of selfish national interests and a disingenuous official agenda hiding some secret ulterior motive.

Obama, quoting the words of President Kennedy, said that a global peace and an end to the necessity of armed might would happen not through "a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions." He believes that in order to begin that gradual evolution, those countries that flout the law must be dealt with in ways other than violence. Alternatives must be found that can create a significant impact on the misbehaving nation such that the government can feel it. Obama emphasized that sanctions taken against such countries must be strict and consistent, such that a nation will actually believe the global community would go through on its promise in a manner that is actually effective. For Obama, the way to achieve that is through a united front made up of all the world's nations. Citing the situation in places like Iran, North Korea, Darfur, the Congo, and Burma, Obama again said that the international community cannot be lenient; it must be willing to take harsh measures to prevent actions that endanger the global peace, and it must be willing to follow through on those measures and punish those nations if they do not hold up their end of the deal, so that those nations cannot "game the system." Obama stated that, if true peace were to ever exist, articles such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must truly be universal. There is no excuse to deny humans their rights, and that act of denying will only incite anger among the population that will erupt in violence. Obama further stated that negotiating peace cannot be about gain; the reasoning for doing so cannot be based in some attempt to accrue political capital. Often times, diplomacy with repressive regimes can be seem humiliating and worthless, but diplomacy is needed in order to help these regimes get onto the path of peace.

Obama defined peace as not being limited to a state of no war, stating that "true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want." He called for nations to not only try and promote human rights and decrease the amount of war, but also to help others in education, and economies, and come together on world-wide threats like climate change, so that the people will be able to have the freedom to enjoy their lives and not be denied any opportunities. He finishes by saying that, although humans are not perfect, we can still attempt to achieve ideals and make the world a better place. People must always hold tight to certain core, 'universal' values, or else peace is lost.

In his speech, Obama attempts to justify his choice in sending more troops to Afghanistan, claiming that it was a necessary step to maintaining peace. The rest of his speech  continues to expound that idea, laying the foundation for Obama to justify further unpopular military moves, such as not doing an instantaneous withdrawal from Afghanistan in July of 2011 like some are pretending he will. Other possible future actions that this speech attempted to justify include negotiations with unpopular governments like Iran and North Korea leading to either bending over backwards to get them to concede something meaningful or pushing the government into a corner where they might take radical actions in their desperation. Obama's speech also essentially paints America as a great, wonderful country; one that takes unpopular actions not because of flaws in reasoning and morals, but because of "enlightened self-interest." Obama seems to believe that the world will not achieve true peace until every country is just like America. I'm sure that'll go over well.

Text of the speech can be found here.

Bernanke Nomination Makes Colbert Report

Francis already posted on the nomination of Ben Bernanke to continue on as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, but since that has sunk down the page, let me recommend the first 10 minutes of Tuesday's Colbert Report. I have pitched this to my 1st period, and now I see today that one of the top economists in the country has posted it on his blog (without any comment or analysis, unfortunately). So it isn't just me! :)

Rules Committee Drama

The first part of this article illustrates the role of the House Rules Committee. Apparently there is some kind of override function under current House rules that might change the terms of debate that were presented by the Rules Committee. Sending a bill to the floor with no amendments allowed is relatively rare; clearly the bill's sponsors and the House Democratic leadership believe amendments could lead to poison pills or water down the effectiveness of the policy.

Legislators often have this dilemma: is it worth supporting a watered-down bill? If you do and it passes, you will not get another chance to pass legislation in that area for years, and if the watered down policy doesn't work, it could create arguments against further action. Sometimes you can't compromise on things (you can't "split the baby in half") because the efficacy of one part of the bill depends on another part that has been lost in the compromise. If you don't support a flawed bill, again, you may not get another chance, and if the compromise is better than nothing, you have made the perfect the enemy of the good. So it is with this financial regulation bill, and with health care as well.

This article also paints the moderate Democrats as corrupted by corporate lobbyists, which I have no way of evaluating even though I believe banking reform is sorely needed. I respect Barney Frank's intellect and therefore his policy analysis, but questions remain about the role of the Community Reinvestment Act in the subprime mortgage debacle, a law which he advocated for, so I'm open to believing that the new reforms need scrutiny and amendment. FDL is definitely on the left side of the Democratic spectrum.

Endangered Species: A Man's Best Friend?

It is always sad news to hear that a species has ended up on the endangered animals list, and it's even worse when an animal is about to be extinct. This has happened to the Christmas Island pipstrelle bat in Australia. There were only 20 of these bats sighted in February, and scientists are currently unsure if the animals are extinct or not.

To make efforts to ensure that extinction will not happen in the future, a professor at the University of New South Wales has suggested raising endangered species as pets. The idea is to raise animals and breed them until there are a sound amount of them to release them into the wild again. It's important to note, however, that not all species are fit to be raised domestically (for example, the koala).

I'm not sure how to feel about this proposal. Although this idea has reason, in the long run most animals need to live in a specific, fragile ecosystem that suits their needs, and science labs do not fulfill these requirements. What do you think?

-Molly Cheng

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Obama’s Speech on Job Creation and Economic Growth

President Obama gave a speech Tuesday in the Brookings Institution on the state of the economy and how he plans to hasten job creation. Obama mentioned how the signs seemed to be pointing up for the economy and commended himself and his administration on a job well done He claims that by using some of the money to boost the economy, the economy will get back on its feet faster and the government will earn more tax revenues as well as decreasing costs on agencies such as unemployment insurance, effectively helping to decrease the deficit. Obama also noted the poor employment situation in the nation (10% unemployment in November). Obama outlined some proposals of his to spur job creation. However, the plans listed by Obama worked indirectly to create jobs, and did not have the complete focus on job creation that some might want. Obama said that he wanted to “generate the greatest number of jobs while generating the greatest value for our economy.” He does not want to create jobs for the sake of creating jobs itself; no one is going to be paid to dig holes in the ground and then fill them up again. Instead Obama will only create jobs that he feels would have a beneficial effect on the long-term economy.

Obama split his plan up into three parts: “small business, infrastructure, clean energy.” He stated that small businesses create 65% of the jobs in America, and thus his most direct efforts would be focused on these businesses. He proposed extending tax credits for businesses, having Geithner and the Treasury increase lending to small businesses through the TARP, and creating a tax incentive for small businesses to hire more employees. Amongst his jabs at the opposition party, he addressed the concerns over using TARP money that was intended to help pay back some of the public debt. Geithner has already extended TARP so that it will not end until October 3, 2010; the program was originally set to end this year.

Obama wanted to focus a great deal on improving the United States’ infrastructure. He mentioned how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had provided funding for many projects to create bridges and roads and rail lines, increase broadband availability, and repair water systems. While the funding from that act and those projects start ramping down, he wants another boost to these areas. He also wants to improve areas like the computers of public utility systems, saying that ‘modernizing the physical and virtual networks that connect us” will allow companies to be more efficient and save money, thus allowing the industries to be in better shape once the recession ends.

On clean energy, Obama believes that “the nation that leads in clean energy will be the nation that leads the world.” In order to help this industry, Obama is proposing a tax rebate to homeowners that retrofit their houses to be more energy-efficient. He also wants to expand sections of the ARRA that provide a boost for clean energy businesses in the form of increased lending, funding for R&D initiatives, and tax incentives to clean energy companies. He claims that these measures not only help create jobs in the industry, but it will also save families money as they will pay less money as things become more energy efficient. Obama also mentioned how the Recovery Act created a fund to raise overall student math and science literacy. 

Obama's proposed methods have angered members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. Republicans are angry over the devotion of TARP funds to tasks other than what was originally intended, namely that of paying back some of the public debt. Some Democrats are also not going to like Obama's plan. In addition to concerns that it does not do enough to curb unemployment, Democratshad been working on a bill for job creation that would take its money from TARP. Obama's plan uses TARP funds for only activities such as loaning to small businesses; the deficit might not increase, but the money for some of Obama's other proposals will not come from leftover TARP funds. Some people are even wondering if Obama's plans will even be effective in creating jobs. A CEO of a company that produce wheelchairs states "You have to have a customer for that employee to serve -- so I'm confused how a tax credit would stimulate anything." His reasoning being that tax credits and more loans are all well and good, but if aggregate demand simply isn't high enough, there would be no reason to hire a new employee as that employee would have nothing to do and, tax credit or no tax credit, would only exist as an unnecessary cost that negatively affects the company's bottom line.

A video of the speech and a transcript.

Is a college degree worth less?

"Employers and career experts see a growing problem in American society — an abundance of college graduates, many burdened with tuition-loan debt, heading into the work world with a degree that doesn't mean much anymore."

Read more:,8599,1946088,00.html#ixzz0ZGNogXcL

Because of the growing number of college graduates, competition has increased and looking for a job with a degree isn't as easy as before. With record high unemployment rates for recent grads at 10.6% and with the cost of tuition rising by an average of 6.5% this fall, has the value of a college degree declined?

Though recent graduates do have a harder time getting a job than maybe 30 years ago, the economy does have a factor in this. The recent conditions of our economy have definitely made jobs more scarce and have reduced the amount of new job opening. But even if the economy was back to normal college grads will still have a harder time looking for jobs than about 30 years ago. I believe that even though it is definitely tougher now to find a job with degree, it is still worth a lot and will continue to be. Most well earning jobs would be very hard to get without at least a bachelor's degree or higher. As the economy improves, new job openings will likely open and reduce the rate of unemployment of recent grads. But a big difference is that you won't be able to rely simply on a degree to get a job as easily anymore, you will need to do or find something that distinguishes yourself.

The Need to Be Thin: A Lost Cause?

Despite America's efforts as a whole to lose weight, a third of our citizens are obese. This article states how exercising can actually cause people to gain weight because after a rigorous workout, individuals are more likely to be hungry and eat large amounts of food than if they had gotten no exercise and ate a normal amount of food.

Studies show that even though advertisements glamorize the idea that exercising will help weight loss, exercise researcher Eric Ravussin says that "In general, for weight loss, exercising is pretty useless".

So what does this all mean? People may exercise to burn off fat, but working out may make it more difficult to lose weight if a person exercises only to eat more food after due to fatigue.

-Molly Cheng

Clemency on Trial

Here's an interesting analysis of the politics of clemency/pardons, triggered by the recent story in which a prisoner released early by Mike Huckabee (former Republican Governor of Arkansas, who won some GOP primaries in 2008 and might run for President again) killed 4 cops, threatening Huckabee's career. This site and author have a libertarian point of view, fwiw. I like the distinction between pardons to correct mistakes and pardons to offer a chance for someone to be rehabilitated. This one crime will hurt many actually-rehabilitated convicts as Governors around the country will be less likely to take a chance on them. A pity.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ben Bernanke Before Senate Committee

The Senate Banking Committee began holding hearings last Thursday to consider whether to confirm President Obama’s nomination of Ben Bernanke for a second term as Federal Reserve Chairman.  Chairman Bernanke claims that the Fed’s actions under him helped prevent a more serious crisis from occurring. The members of Congress seem to be split between praising his efforts in curtailing the effects of the recession and blasting him for failing to prevent its occurrence in the first place.  Some Senators, like Bernie Sanders of Vermont, are angry over the bailouts and the size of corporate executive compensation. Sanders has said that he will place a hold on Bernanke’s nomination.

Congress is also considering if they should change the scope of the Federal Reserve’s role in the economy. A bill that is working its way through the House proposes subjecting all of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions to review by a congressional watchdog agency, hurting the independence of the Fed. Others, like Senator Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, while they favor an independent Fed, believe that the Federal Reserve has too many responsibilities to handle and this has resulted in a mishandling of these various responsibilities. Senator Dodd states that, “the country is best served by a strong, focused central bank – not one that is saddled with so many diverse missions and competing responsibilities that its independence and competency are called into question.” In order to rectify this situation, Dodd has proposed the creation of “new entities outside of the Federal Reserve to focus responsibility for bank regulation, consumer protections, and systemic risk, so these important duties will not need to compete for the Federal Reserve’s attention.” The hope is that if the burden is shared amongst multiple organizations, the chances of another recession occurring could be reduced as the economic situation will be more closely monitored and problems can be spotted earlier.

The creation of additional organizations to help manage the economy could help safeguard against future economic turmoil by catching any mistakes the Fed might make. Of course, it also raises fears that the new congressional watchdog agency would be too influenced by the political process, possibly attempting to force the Federal Reserve to make policies beneficial to certain interests instead of policies beneficial to the health of the economy. Will the creation of these new agencies improve the Fed’s capacity to implement good monetary policy and lead to effective regulation of the financial sector, or will their creation introduce bureaucratic red tape and set conflicting interests against each other, thus neutering the Federal Reserve’s efficacy and hindering any future attempts to make fast and effective economic responses when they are needed?

The Senate Banking Committee will hold its vote on December 17.

Support for the Current Health Care Reform Proposals

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has found an interesting Ipsos-McClatchy poll (currently the fifth poll on this page). This poll reveals some interesting things about American support for the current health care reform bills. Overall, 34% of Americans support the bills and 46% oppose them. However, this poll also asks of a perosn who opposes or supports the proposals why they do so (albeit in a limited fashion). Of the 46% who oppose the bill, 25% of them oppose them despite favoring health care reform overall because they feel that it doesn't go far enough. Funnily enough, 10% favor the bills because they believe that the bills in their current state will keep health care reform from occurring.

Some more statistics from the poll:
22% favor a single-payer system. 72% oppose such a system.
52% favor a public system to compete with private health insurance companies. 36% oppose a public system.
57% favor non-government run insurance co-operatives. 31% oppose such entities.
An overwhelming 76% favor regulations to ensure patient rights. Only 13% oppose such regulations.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Suspected U.S. Missile Strike In Pakistan, 3 Dead

Two missiles, fired from a suspected U.S. drone, struck early Tuesday morning in Pakistan's North Waziristan region, killing three militants. This missile strike comes after a suicide bomber killed 10 people in Peshawar and two bombs killed 49 people and injured over 100 in a market in Lahore, Pakistan's second biggest city. All of this happened just the day before. These bombings are part of a renewed Taliban counteroffensive that began in October after the death of Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistan branch of the Taliban. Since October, more than 400 people have been killed in various attacks.

Obama is planning to send additional troops to Afghanistan, but there is also sizeable dangers across the border in Pakistan. There is an incredible danger if Pakistan becomes extremely unstable, considering that the nation possesses a nuclear arsenal. Supporters of the troop increase in Afghanistan might say that we cannot allow the Taliban to regain a foothold in Afghanistan, but arguably, allowing them to gain a foothold in Pakistan could be even more dangerous. Pakistan protests the missiles, calling them "violations of its sovereignty", so it appears as if Pakistan has limits as to how much American intervention it can withstand. But, if it comes to it, would the United States be forced to "invade" Pakistan in order to stabilize the current government and provide security?

EPA: greenhouse gases bad for human health

Greenhouse gases are gases from sources (both human and nonhuman) that warm up the earth by trapping heat that normally reflects off the earth into space, much like how an actual greenhouse traps heat. Examples of nonhuman greenhouse gases include water vapor and sulfur emitted from volcanic activity. Examples of human greenhouse gases widely include carbon dioxide emitted from cars and coal burning factories. These same gases that contribute to global warming have now been found by the EPA to be detrimental to human health as well as the health of the earth. The EPA says that some of these dangerous gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. However, there's good news. In 2016, all newly produced cars will have greenhouse gas emissions standards as well as a raised fuel economy of 35 miles per gallon.

I'm actually not really all that surprised that greenhouse gases would be bad for us humans. Given the fact that cellular respiration creates waste in the form of CO2 that our body tries to get rid of by exhalation, I don't think that breathing in more CO2 would exactly be good for us. As for the new emissions standards, I think that's brilliant. I drive a Toyota Camry and always thought of it as decently gas efficient. It gets 19 miles per gallon city and 29 miles per gallon highway, giving a combined total of 25 miles per gallon. However, it seems that my car isn't quite fuel efficient enough. I'd like to see how fuel efficient the Camry is when it is produced in 2016. I also am skeptical that most of the SUVs that we see today will ever evolve to attain 35 miles per gallon. I read an article on Yahoo recently that talked about the worst cars of 2009. The top of the list? A SUV that only got 13 miles per gallon.

Airlines learning from birds

"V for victory" as the article is titled. Airlines are now attempting to find new ways to cut fuel consumption of planes. Leading companies such as Boeing and Airbus have made airplanes lighter, and thus consuming less fuel. However, a group of researchers at Stanford University are advocating another approach to greener flying. Birds, when naturally flying in a group, naturally form a V formation. This V formation, though it looks pretty neat, is actually advanced physics in the sense that flying in a V formation eases flying for mostly all of the birds in the formation. The Stanford researchers reasoned that if birds can use physics to their advantage, planes could too. In a test, three passenger jets that flew in a V formation conserved 15% of its overall fuel. Even the armed forces are now considering a V formation program to investigate and calculate exactly how to get an efficient V formation without compromising safety.

I think it is definitely awesome that we are learning from nature... but shouldn't this have been though up sometime earlier? The article says that a report from 1914 confirmed the efficiency of the V formation, yet almost a century later no one has really considered using it for commercial aeronautics. I especially like the coincidence of how nature is helping us help it, in the sense that nature is helping us become more green.

The Economics of ... McDonald's?!

In October, McDonald's had a "Monopoly" advertising program which mimicked the original treasured board game. When a customer bought certain products on the menu (for example, large fries), there would be two stickers on the food item that, if peeled, revealed monopoly properties. If a customer won some of the rarest monopoly pieces, there was a potential to win big prizes such as an Xbox or even money, in the value of a million dollars.

However, this article shows that although a million dollars may seem like a lot, over time, the amount paid to the winner is not a million dollars exactly. Since the reward is paid in annuity payments of $50,000 over twenty years, the resulting money is not as much as it seems. Say that the inflation rate is 3.5%. After taxes, and going by the $50,000 per year that McDonald’s pays its winners, the total value would be around $500,000. McDonald's organized this advertising program in the hopes that many people would not take the time to actually think out the economics of its money prizes, and understand the slim possibility of winning the game.

Would you play the monopoly game at McDonald's? Does the monopoly advertising motivate you as a consumer to spend your allowance at this fast food restaurant in the hopes of winning?

-Molly Cheng

How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the FTC hosted an open workshop in order to explore the effects of the internet on the news industry and come up with various ways in which these corporations could transition to the digital age. Some ideas that came up include news corporations receiving special tax exemptions, not being subject to antitrust laws, and modification of copyright law so news aggregators would be forced to pay the news sites for their content.

Rupert Murdoch, CEO and Chairman of News Corp., is extremely angry at companies like Google, who allow users to click on a link and be directed to a full WSJ article for free and bypass the normally required subscription. In his words, “To be impolite, it’s theft.” Murdoch believes that the news aggregators are unfairly profiting off of him, taking his articles and using those articles to help create content for their own sites. Managing editor of the Wall Street Journal Robert Thomson recently said, “There is a collective consciousness among content creators that they are bearing the costs and that others are reaping some of the revenues -- inevitably that profound contradiction will be a catalyst for action and the moment is nigh.”

That moment is definitely very close, as Murdoch is reportedly considering delisting all News Corp. articles from Google’s search engine and is in talks with Microsoft to have the articles listed solely in Microsoft’s Bing search engine, presumably at a cost. Murdoch’s action appears to be attempting to deny the news aggregators a free source of articles, and forcing them to pay for it if they want it. The question here is how much revenue would such a partnership between news provider and news aggregator bring? Would it be sufficient to make up for the amount of advertising revenue lost by no longer being accessible through Google News? Keep in mind that decreasing subscription and paper ad revenues have to be made up for somehow as well. Also, in the case of the Wall Street Journal, he is attempting to avoid the mass market advertising based revenue model and instead focus on a niche audience that is willing to pay a subscription fee. Would enough people find enough value in the articles to be willing to pay a subscription fee? Even if it did work for the WSJ, how effective would that model be for other news providers?

Arianna Huffington also spoke at the workshop, and criticizes what Murdoch has planned for News Corp. in a blog post. According to her, delisting all News Corp. articles from Google would be a terrible idea. She argues that if News Corp. were to limit access to their articles, it would not result in people being pushed into paying the subscription fee in order to gain access to those articles, but rather those people would completely ignore the existence of News Corp. and read about the news they’re looking for elsewhere. News Corp. would be trying to shift from one source of revenue to the other, but end up losing revenue on both fronts.

Arianna Huffington’s proposed model is the link economy. The Huffington Post would write some article about some interesting tidbit of news and then some other site would link to the article and all the viewers of that site that follow the link would then land on the Huffington Post website, where they can then contribute to the Huffington Post’s ad revenue. The Huffington Post would similarly have links to articles from other websites, directing viewers there and fueling their ad revenue.

The idea of the link economy revolves around the idea of advertising-based revenue streams, which Murdoch obviously opposes. But does he have a choice? New media proponents argue that news corporations must drop any kind of subscription requirements or limitations to site access in order to survive, the theory being that if a company makes money off of advertising, it is going to make more money by increasing site traffic, and forcing subscriptions and delisting itself from search engines will definitely harm site traffic and possibly lead to it being unable to turn a profit. After all, there’s no incentive to pay a subscription to get news from one site if a person can get the same news from other places for free. Somebody who uses Google News to find out about the world’s events is probably not going to suddenly notice that they never come upon any WSJ articles anymore and suddenly want to purchase a subscription so they can keep reading its content. They’ll just read what they already have and be satisfied.