29 November, 2011

Boldly going where we've never been before

From the Institute for the Future, a visualization of trends and where they may be leading us

A look at 'the future of science: 2021, from CNN.com

Would anyone care to speculate on what some of these imply for politics and economics?  It sometimes seems like most political discussion is analogous to medieval debates over angels, pins, and biblical interpretation.  I suppose it seems important in its own context, but the world is passing it by.

26 November, 2011

The impossible triangle

It's coming down to the crunch.  The Eurozone is caught in its version of the "Impossible Triangle" in international finance: among states you can have unrestricted trade in currencies and/or fixed exchange rates (or, in this case, a single currency) and/or sovereign financial and monetary policies, BUT YOU CAN'T HAVE ALL THREE AT THE SAME TIME.  Something has to give.  So what will it be?

EUROPE: Changing The Rules In The Middle Of The Game:

I have been writing for a very long time about the changes needed to the EU treaty if Europe is to survive. Specifically, last week I noted that Angela Merkel has made it clear that the independence of the ECB must not be compromised. This week Sarkozy and the new prime minister of Italy, Mario Monti, agreed to stop their public calls for such changes (at least until their own crises get even worse, would be my guess). And Merkel has called for a new, stronger union with strict control of budgets as the price for further German aid for those countries in crisis. In seeming response: 
“The European Commission on November 23 proposed a new package including budget previews at EU level, the establishment of independent fiscal councils and growth forecasts, closer surveillance of bailout recipients and a consultation paper on Eurobonds. There is also a growing consensus among EU policy makers on the need for the adoption of fiscal rules in national legislation. However, it is far from clear whether EU countries would accept the implicit loss of sovereignty this would involve and agree to treaty changes enshrining legally enforceable fiscal oversight at EU level. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is willing to support a change in Germany’s own constitution if the EU Treaty change to that effect is agreed first.” ( www.roubini.com)But this means a major treaty change that must be approved by all member countries. Note that Merkel wants the treaty change first, or at least the language, before she takes it to German voters, which will certainly be required, since what she is suggesting is not allowed by the present German constitution. Without the changes stated clearly and explicitly in advance, it is unlikely, as I read the polls, that German voters will go along. Merkel has made it clear that any proposed changes will be limited to fiscal issues and central control and not touch on the ECB’s independence. She is adamant against eurozone bonds and putting the German balance sheet at risk (see more below). 
But will the rest of Europe go along with what would be a major alterations of their own individual sovereignty and their ability to adjust their own budgets, no matter what? And agree to all this in time to deal with the current crisis? Such changes will be controversial, to say the least. And they would require, if I understand, the yes votes of all 27 European Union members, or at a minimum the 17 eurozone members.
Unfortunately (?), some, but not everyone, are panicing:

On Friday, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Belgium’s credit standing to AA from AA+, saying it might not be able to cut its towering debt load any time soon. Ratings agencies this week cautioned that France could lose its AAA rating if the crisis grew. On Thursday, agencies lowered the ratings of Portugal and Hungary to junk. 
While European leaders still say there is no need to draw up a Plan B, some of the world’s biggest banks, and their supervisors, are doing just that.  “We cannot be, and are not, complacent on this front,” Andrew Bailey, a regulator at Britain’s Financial Services Authority, said this week. “We must not ignore the prospect of a disorderly departure of some countries from the euro zone,” he said. 
Banks including Merrill Lynch, Barclays Capital and Nomura issued a cascade of reports this week examining the likelihood of a breakup of the euro zone. “The euro zone financial crisis has entered a far more dangerous phase,” analysts at Nomura wrote on Friday. Unless the European Central Bank steps in to help where politicians have failed, “a euro breakup now appears probable rather than possible,” the bank said. 
Major British financial institutions, like the Royal Bank of Scotland, are drawing up contingency plans in case the unthinkable veers toward reality, bank supervisors said Thursday. United States regulators have been pushing American banks like Citigroup and others to reduce their exposure to the euro zone. In Asia, authorities in Hong Kong have stepped up their monitoring of the international exposure of foreign and local banks in light of the European crisis. 
But banks in big euro zone countries that have only recently been infected by the crisis do not seem to be nearly as flustered. 
Banks in France and Italy in particular are not creating backup plans, bankers say, for the simple reason that they have concluded it is impossible for the euro to break up. Although banks like BNP Paribas, Société Générale, UniCredit and others recently dumped tens of billions of euros worth of European sovereign debt, the thinking is that there is little reason to do mo
Evidently, the French banks are convinced someone MUST save them.  Denial?

'via Blog this'

Police militarization

Cops have a right to clear a public sidewalk, if that sidewalk is being blocked.
Cops have a right to physically move protesters off of a public sidewalk.
Cops do NOT have the right to use "nonlethal" weapons (a misnomer in any case) against a small group engaged in passive resistance.  Many are trained to do this, as part of the general trend of "militarizing" the police.  Maybe--just maybe--people will begin to realize how wrong it is.

22 November, 2011

No room to cut the "defense" budget?

Of course, comparing expenditures is a crude measure of capabilities, but

I think there must be SOME room to trim.  Pity that if the DoD has its way the cuts will probably protect the pork at the expense of the things (like training) that are really needed.

20 November, 2011

Hard talk

I mentioned this in class the other day. The whole interview (from BBC) is worth the time. For many people, the idea of "saving" the Eurozone is turning into a (sad) joke. One of my favorite quotes:

"...you know how screwed up Europe is when you have a German pope and an Italian central banker."

The real fun begins around the 12:30 mark.

This is why the enterprise needs a view screen

...instead of just looking out the window.

New Scientist TV: Seeing Relativity: Mind-bending tour of the solar system

Science can be cool.

One nation under law

17 November, 2011

"Seal Team Geronimo" is a big fat lie

Can I be any more clear about this? The sources suck, the analysis is self-serving, and the conclusions--particularly in regard to WMD--are insupportable.
Or let's get another opinion--from Danger Room:
Author Chuck Pfarrer is taking flack over his account of the Osama bin Laden raid in his new revisionist history, SEAL Target Geronimo. But that’s overshadowed another big problem with the book: Pfarrer’s claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are absolutely bananas.
To read SEAL Target Geronimo is to get sucked into a vortex of WMD insanity. Pfarrer says that Saddam Hussein had dangerous, active chemical, biological and nuclear programs up until the day of his downfall. Worse, those weapons made it into the hands of Osama himself. Why didn’t you know about it? Because craven politicians and the lying media hid the truth about what U.S. military weapons experts uncovered.
Well, sorry, Charlie. I was one of those military experts in Iraq. I learned the full, underwhelming truth about Saddam’s programs because I was there to help the Iraqis settle the issue once and for all. And SEAL Target Geronimo’s claims are the literary equivalent of a smoking gun that could have been a mushroom cloud — a paranoid, evidence-free fantasy, fueled by ignorance.
Start with all that Iraqi WMD that U.S. forces found. Pfarrer gasps over an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit’s 2003 discovery of an artillery shell filled with the nerve agent sarin, part of an early homemade bomb. To Pfarrer, that bomb would have “spread a mortal, invisible cloud over a dozen city blocks” where “death would have come quickly for ten thousand Iraqi civilians living near the airport and three thousand coalition troops stationed at nearby Camp Victory.” If two of those sarin-laced bombs went off in a crowded football stadium, it would have caused more casualties than “those suffered by the United States during the entire Vietnam War.” His emphasis.
Absolutely none of this is plausible. You’re talking about a piece of steel that needs to survive being fired out of an artillery piece, and then burst apart by explosives in order to disseminate the chemicals inside. Much of the chemical material is destroyed in the process. And it would take a lot of sarin to achieve any deadly effect. Saddam’s vicious gassing of the Kurds at Halabja in March 1988, for example, was a coordinated military campaign lasting for two days. During that time, the Iraqis murdered up to 5,000 people — nowhere near Pfarrer’s stadium scenario. An actual chemical artillery round might — might — kill dozens. Not thousands.
This sounds a lot more plausible to me. If the rest of the book is as inaccurate as this--and so far as I've seen, it seems to be--I can only wonder about the agendas of those promoting and publishing it.

Law and the banks

It does seem that way, don't it?

Congress is less popular than the IRS

From the Washington Post: Congress is less popular than the US going Communist.

 Congress Less Popular than Communism, BP During Spill, Nixon During Watergate Or King George During American Revolution