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Hagel Out: A New Obama In?

Chuck Hagel was all but officially fired from his post today as the Secretary of Defense.

With the “shellacking” that the Democrats took in the Midterm elections this month, coupled with a fact that the move seems to be motivated by “Foreign Policy,” could this mean that there may be a strategy shift coming with the War on Terror — specifically, with ISIL?

After playing artful dodger for several weeks on his continued tenure in the White House and at the Pentagon, he told PBS recently, “I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity I’ve had the last two years to work every day for the country and for the men and women who serve this country. I don’t get up in the morning and worry about my job. It’s not unusual by the way, to change teams at different times,” but added also that “I serve at the pleasure of the President.”

With these things in mind, do we now have a path that could lead to a ‘boots-on-the-ground’ policy when it comes to ISIL? Could there be a shift on defense policy coming — or is this just simply post-second-midterm-personnel reshuffling beginning?

I lean toward no on the last part of that question. It’s been noted that President Obama “asked” for his resignation — which is akin to a firing. Why request someone relieve themselves of their job if you have their confidence? Particularly in gridlocked-Washington. I think the following the confirmation of his successor, we may see some kind of drastic shift in Defense and Foreign Policy — particularly centered around the Middle East.   With the loss of the Democratic leadership in the Senate, confirmations will be interesting to say the least, and the hard-line that Obama is taking with Executive Action on Immigration seeming to push Republicans away, the ancient Chinese curse of “May you live in interesting times…” certainly seems apt today.

Signs of Pre-Revolution France becoming alarmingly apparent in America…

Anonymous_-_Prise_de_la_Bastille

Storming of The Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël

Continued income inequality… continued loss of political capital… wage stagnation… as these problems continue — they’ve alarmingly become worse — and with that, warning signs have begun to appear.

Back in the 18th Century, we had the French Revolution. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Jocularity aside, it was a time of political and social realignment in France that saw an end to established power and an economic and social liberalization that rapidly changed the face of the nation forever.

In a time where powerful oligarchies, the Church and economic elites ran the nation, the people themselves felt pushed out of the system, felt out of control and oppressed by the aforementioned elites. With them holding the political capital of the nation, the people turned against the ruling classes and gave rise to a liberal France, Napoleon Bonaparte and a shift in French history that’s seen and felt even today.

Fast forward to the United States of America in 2014. Still reeling from major political decisions such as Citizens United v. FEC and the Hobby Lobby case — where old power bases, such as religiously conservative institutions and “Old Money” continue to gain political capital in America; add to that stagnating wages, a growing income gap, a continued gap of benefits compared to the industrial/post-industrial world AND a continued rise in the wealth of the top 10% of America… and what do you have? You have a dangerous recipe for what sounds a lot like the French Revolution.

The New York Times published an op-ed of Steven Rattner, a Brown-educated presidential economic analyst, who illustrated that the income and wealth gap — already a chasm, continues to widen. The bottom 90% continue to lose as the top 10% continues to grow. Add to this mix the Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United and the Hobby Lobby case, along with mounting conservative pressure in America to resist a liberalization of the economy and way of life — such as same-sex marriage, and other liberal reforms.

Add to that the recent economic problems — and the near-collapse of 2007, which wiped out many jobs, and replaced them with jobs that often paid less, and required more work.  An abysmal recovery, that — while gaining traction, is doing so at an anemic pace, while the upper echelons of society continue to reap the benefits.

Sound familiar?

Could it happen tomorrow? Not likely. Could it happen if some kind of realignment doesn’t happen and the bottom-half of society isn’t allowed to catch back up? I think so. There’s gasoline being poured in what’s already a spark-filled room. Could it ignite?

Further Reading/Watching:

NYTimes Op-Ed: Rattner:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/17/opinion/inequality-unbelievably-gets-worse.html

YouTube: Nick Hanauer: Warning to Plutocrats: http://www.ted.com/talks/nick_hanauer_beware_fellow_plutocrats_the_pitchforks_are_coming?language=en

chinese-yuan

UK begins borrowing in Chinese Yuan — dangerous thing to do?

The Treasury of the United Kingdom has noted that it has begun trading bonds in the Chinese Yuan.

Why is this a concern? The concern is two-fold: one, the currency and economy is centrally planned and manipulated in the People’s Republic of China. Not only is this in direct contradiction of the free-market model of the Western world — and not only is this validated by the Western world by sovereign funds trading in yuan; but this is also a concern of the authoritarian regime having a bigger centrally-planned grasp on Western economies, that is supposed to be relatively free from governmental controls past base consumer and business regulation.

Further, a serious concern is the manipulation of the currency itself by the Chinese government. Quite often, it depresses the yuan compared to the United States dollar, to inflate the US’ trade deficit with the PRC. Inso doing this, while it may be doing it strictly for the sake of manipulating its debt compared to the US currency, the reserve currency of the world, as it sits today — is the United States Dollar; and devaluing its currency compared to the US Dollar manipulates its value across the board. Is the United Kingdom taking a willing part in letting the PRC government manipulate its own currency and economic status by taking the yuan on as an informal reserve?

Further Reading:

- China’s currency dream gets U.K. lift

http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/09/investing/china-yuan-uk/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

Ebola Doctor

Americans with Ebola Released From Hospital… But…

The fact that the Americans who contracted Ebola and returned to the United States for treatment — and have now been released from the hospital after apparently recovering should be a cause for celebration. We now have a potential cure for such a devastating disease.

However, there are those who have said that it took Americans to get sick to come up with a cure for the disease. To a point, that’s kinda true — however…

The Scientific Method

The Scientific Method

As a scientist myself [admittedly in my own crack-pot, not-yet-a-REAL-doctor, amateur, Emmett-Brown kinda way], there’s one thing drilled into the psyche of every scientist: be it a surgeon, a researcher, a social scientist or a biologist: the Scientific Method. “Real” research takes time, indeed, often a lifetime’s worth of testing, re-testing, hypothesizing, re-hypothesizing, failures, and successes, before the fruit can be borne. Indeed, Albert Einstein’s own “Great work” which he died writing, is still being written even now by his successors! [That being a revision of general relativity, essentially.]

It takes a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of effort to come up with true scientific data, particularly when it comes to that of real scientific progress, as opposed to an undergraduate paper being written the night before its due.

It *did* take Americans getting sick to get approval for the drug, “ZMapp” to be released, it would seem — but… it’s still untested. Its side effects, if any, are unknown. Could Ebola be completely wiped out of the body by the drug? Or, could the treatment be similar to how HIV is treated: where it can be functionally eliminated, but still “hide” in the body somewhere, and when treatment stops, the virus gains a foothold on you again. We simply don’t know.

The FDA’s “Compassionate Use” protocol allowed those who knew full-well the risks involved, indeed, scholars in the area themselves, to take part in treatment, knowing that further down the road could bring more problems. What if there is some side-effect that the medication has that winds up causing problems down the road? Could it be an unknown carcinogen? Could it degenerate the brain? That’s what painstaking research and the scientific method is all about — and that’s exactly why it takes years for drugs to be made available for everyone.

Is the system perfect? Of course not. Do “bad drugs” still slip through the system? Of course. But its BECAUSE of the system of test, re-test, test again, test repeating and re-testing the test results that people don’t die from new drugs every day. I herald the day that these people were allowed to go home and continue their recovery, indeed, I celebrate it — Ebola DIDN’T lose two of its most prominent soldiers fighting against it, and indeed, I’m willing to bet that these individuals may find a renewed determination in fighting this terrible disease because of their experience. But, it doesn’t mean that Americans get “preferential” treatment just-because. The rest of the world isn’t a petri dish for the American way of life. We care too — which is exactly why untested drugs don’t go to just “anyone.”

Lunar_Colony_by_BlackRizo

Asteroids are fine… BUT…

Have Americans Given Up On Space?
– Topic of Fareed Zakaria

Yes — and No.  The retirement of the Space Shuttle, without a conceivable and cemented-in-plans vehicle replacement, my fear is that the love of space has been lost in America — for now.

While the prospect of landing on an Asteroid, and even controlling its direction is a laudable and heady goal — it’s my feeling that this isn’t quite what people want to see.– at least in an exclusive goal.

new-mission-to-fly-by-mars_64718_600x450With this in mind, I believe an eye back to the Moon should be the most urgent goal, with a plan of permanent colonization, similar to the Space Station.  Indeed, not only could it serve as a model for an eventual Martian research colonization, but indeed, the Lunar outpost could serve as a “pit stop” on the way to Mars to pick up supplies previously launched.

A goal of settling the Moon with a research team, as a model for a similar Martian research colony could do a lot to buoy American and world confidence in the Space Program again; and the return to progress, as opposed to the perception of figuratively spinning our wheels in space exploration…

…what do you think?

KA9PAZ Facebook Banner-2

Why I became an Amateur Radio Operator…

I grew up exposed to all kinds of cool stuff, computers, telecommunications technology… getting to get my hands on government, commercial and military grade equipment as a kid (all above board, of course…) It was great!

QSL Card from His Majesty, King Hussein of Jordan

QSL Card from His Majesty, King Hussein of Jordan

One particular interest of mine was Amateur Radio. My Dad was always on it, made all kinds of friends from all over the place and making contacts all over the world, including King Hussein of Jordan [Callsign JY1], Patty Loveless [Call ex-KD4WUJ] and I as a kid even got to talk to Astronauts and Cosmonauts on the Space Shuttle and the Space Station! Indeed, some of the oldest friends of my family, and of my own, are/were Amateur Radio operators.

Realizing I was approaching my 30s and never having been licensed for such awesome stuff, and it having played a big part of my life. Why not get in on it? Why not enjoy the fun too? This was further expanded on by my friend Emmett Plant and a group he founded called TrekFan, which gives away a “starter kit” for those who are interested in Amateur Radio. I received by Gordon West book, my Baofeng UV-5R and a Raspberry Pi to begin some Amateur Radio over IP stuff with in the future.

After a couple of weeks of study, I took and passed my Technician Class license exam on 03 June 2014, getting my original callsign exactly one week later from the FCC.

In disasters ranging from Earthquakes, to Hurricane Katrina to 9/11, when communications go down, the last line of defense is Amateur Radio.

Tomorrow will be exactly one month since I got licensed, and I’ve already made new great friends, and reconnected with other ones I knew through Dad. I’ve still got a lot of learning to do, but I’m having a LOT of fun doing it. :D

73 from KA9PAZ   :D

I bet you know a few Amateur Radio Operators — and don’t even know it!

Laurel B. S. Clark, M.D.

KC5ZSU-SK, Captain Laurel B. S. Clark, M.D.

FO5GJ-SK, Marlin Brando [Actor]

EA0JC-SK,  King Carlos I [former King of Spain]

KD5ESI-SK, Dr. Kalpana Chawla [Died aboard Space Shuttle Columbia] 

KC5ZSU-SK Captain Laurel Blair Salton Clark, M.D., USN [Died aboard Space Shuttle Columbia]

- KC5ZTC-SK, Captain David M. Brown, USN [Died aboard Space Shuttle Columbia]

KG4UYY,  Lance Bass [Singer]

W5CY-SK, Howard Hughes [Business magnate, aerospace engineer]

KB2SGD-SK, Walter Cronkite [Media personality]

G3UML, Laurie Margolis [BBC Anchor]

9DRV-SK, David Packard [Co-Founder of Hewlett-Packard] 

NY6YOS, Priscilla Presley [wife of Elvis Presley]

- K1OKI, Mickey Schulhof [Head of Sony USA]

K2HEP, John Sculley [Former CEO of Pepsi and Apple Computer]

JY1, King Hussein of Jordan

JY1, King Hussein of Jordan

KA7EVD, Donnie Osmond [Singer]

UA1LO-SK, Colonel Yuri Gagarin [First man in space]

VU2SON, Sonia Ghandi [Indian Politician]

 

By scummingsvz Posted in think
Obama Announces End to Military Campaign in Afghanistan-post2014. Courtesy Reuters

The US War in Afghanistan draws to a[n official] close…

Fifteen years after the events of 9/11, when United States military forces were deployed to Afghanistan shortly after — the US War in Afghanistan will be over.

President Barack Obama announced a plan for the remainder of 2014 and beyond of the United States military presence in Afghanistan.  Stating that the official conflict itself would be over at the end of the current year.  The current number of troops listed by the White House, as of today, is 50,000.  By the end of the year, that number will be reduced to less than 10,000.  The remaining forces will be reduced gradually through 2015, to a complete withdrawal by the end of that year.

While the sitting President of Afghanistan, outgoing President Hamid Karzai has stated he would not sign the upcoming Status of Forces Agreement, the two individuals currently seeking election to become the nation’s newest Chief Executive have said they are both willing to cooperate with the United States on this timetable, according to Deutsche Welle.

A war that’s far exceeded the time-table of virtually any strategist, that will have included four presidential terms [both Bush and Obama’s terms] and has resulted in a shattering blow to the Taliban and its insurgency, and its oppressive government, and even the death of Osama Bin Laden — for all the good and bad that’s come, is finally coming to a close.

While this is the beginning of the end of the War — the beginning of the War on October 7, 2001 was launched with orders, and an address from President George W. Bush:

By scummingsvz Posted in think
ol fed deficit

The Average American Taxpayer pays… WHAT?

If you’re a taxpayer in the United States, you may find it interesting how much you actually pay to businesses and other interests you already pay money to…

Thanks to some compiling by Moyers & Company, and a couple of other sources; I’ve put together a list:

- A policy analysis from the Cato Institute from 2012 shows that the United States Federal Government loses about $100 Billion a year to corporate subsidy, on everything from energy, to the food and housing industries.  With the methodology of 115 million families, that’s over $800 a year.

- The State and Local Governments themselves are different picture.  The New York Times ran an investigation that determined that State and Local (i.e., the County and City/Town level) gave on average $80 Billion.   That adds up to be almost $700 per year.

- Retirement Banking Fees are another hefty loss for taxpayers — on average costing over $350 per year; which assumes a 1% management fee per year of one’s retirement fund, and a middle-range percentile retirement fund amount as cited by the Economic Policy Institute was assumed to be about $35,000.

- A report by the International Monetary Fund reports that over $83 Billion winds up in interest payments on loans and banking.  That accounts to $722 per year.  A further sobering fact: the five wealthiest banks in the world, JPMorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs account for THREE QUARTERS of these subsidies!

- Overpriced Medications were a surprise to me on this list — while the notion itself was not, the amount certainly was.  A study conducted by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that US drug patent monopolies raises the price of prescription medications in the US by over $270 Billion per year!  That translates to over $2000 per year.

$870 per year goes to corporate tax subsidies, which total about $100 Billion per year, as mentioned by The Tax Foundation.  This includes everything from depreciation, and even experimental tax credits.

- Corporate Tax havens are a very serious problem.  Indeed, the US Public Interest Research Group found that the average taxpayer family paid $1231 per year to offset the losses by those [such as large banks and wealthy individuals] who offshore their monies to avoid taxation.

According to my calculations, that’s $4873 PER YEAR.  Almost five thousand dollars; assuming an average income of about $50,000.

Consider these numbers, when one looks at what they pay out for social programs:

- The Examiner released some information in 2012 about what Americans pay in social programs, such things as Education, etc.  A complete list can be found at that link, but leaving out the costs of Defense [as the Military Contract Industry is another racket in and of itself…], the costs turned out to be LESS than $500 PER YEAR.  This accounts for everything including Veterans Benefits spending, Housing, SSI, and even things like our contributions to the Railroad Retirement Fund!

…who should you *really* be mad at when it comes to who can’t afford what?  Where *IS* the “Big Government,” really?  I’ll let you decide.

I freely admit, I’ve abridged *some* information — mostly, related to Defense in Social Spending, but that, to me, doesn’t count…  and even then, admittedly, is only another $250 per year.  I also admit, I rounded *UP* on those figures — so the *actual* costs for Social Programs, are ACTUALLY a little lower.   But I’m a fair guy.

All of a sudden, the political cartoon above isn’t so ridiculous, is it?

I want to especially thank Moyers & Co., and Paul Buchheit for their work on compiling some of this data.

JCCT

China set to surpass the US Economically This Year — Wait, not so fast…

US-China-Economy-2011

US and China – 2011. Courtesy: WSJ Click for Larger.

While it’s true that the economy of People’s Republic of China [PRC] is indeed set to surpass that of the United States “soon,” [some estimates even say by the end of the current year] — that’s really not that important.  Here’s why:

The United States has held the top economic spot in the world for well over 120 years.  It turns out, if you count everything but sheer “mass money,” America still is the largest economy — and still will be for quite some time.  Here’s why:

Firstly, the Chinese market and economy is manipulated and controlled directly by the Chinese government.  While a lot of what goes on in China that involves international trade or business goes on in “Special Economic Zones” [which are areas that involve far less government intervention than anywhere else], its relatively safe to say that the Chinese economy, as such, is otherwise centrally planned and managed.  The world knows this, and this is something born in mind in any economist, businessman/businesswoman or otherwise when considering the economic power of the PRC.

Secondly, PPP.  Fareed Zakaria aptly demonstrates that the Purchasing Power Parity of the United States still far exceeds that of the PRC.  Indeed, Fareed’s demonstration of the same loaf of bread in China being bought for $1.66, compared to that of $2.39 on average in the States.  Further, his example of the cost of utilities, on average being a third the cost in the PRC compared to a similarly sized home in the US also further demonstrates the US’ superior PPP standing.

Quite so, when one analyzes the PPP of the US and China, China could combined its PPP with that of JAPAN and still not exceed that of the United States.  Indeed, China’s still not able to bank on its PPP — it has to pay for everything at the prevailing exchange rate — not the rate based on its PPP, unlike the US.  And this is just one singular example.

So… is China really overtaking the US economically?   In the words of Tom Wright at the Wall Street Journal, “Yes and No.”  You decide.

Further Reading:

- Tom Wright.  China’s Economy Surpassing U.S.?  Well, Yes and No – The Wall Street Journal Blog

- Chung-Tong Wu. China’s special economic zones: five years later – Asian Journal of Public Administration

- Fareed Zakaria  Is China really about to overtake the US? - Fareed Zakaria 360 – Global Public Square

Anti-Airbrushing Laws = …why?

JessicaAlbaShowsRetouching

Jessica Alba – Left Original, Right Retouched. Photo Courtesy Campari.

Recently, the internets have been abuzz regarding possible Anti-photoshopping/Anti-extreme photoshopping use in advertisements, claiming that ad agencies and companies are overusing photoshop and other airbrushing tools to make people self-conscious as to how they feel about themselves, because of unrealistic images given by ads.

I see two problems with this:

One, virtually everyone knows that advertising is always over-done, airbrushed, polished and given the best possible view as to what an item is. That $1 sandwich on TV isn’t what it looks like, usually… the car on TV isn’t always driving at 110 MPH on the road, with a license plate that matches the color of the vehicle, likewise, women aren’t all D-cup, 115 pound blondes of walking sex.

As we speak, Congress is currently considering the Truth in Advertising Act, which would, among other things reign in on airbrushing and excessive photoshop effect usage in advertisement — a good idea on the surface…  but…

That having been said, doesn’t the legislature have enough problems to deal with? Past consumer education on what *I* [admittedly…] consider non-issues, don’t we have Veterans Health benefits to worry about? What about school funding? Are we to believe that the government’s partisan infighting is over?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m for political-correctness… but… isn’t this taking it too far? Particularly when we have bigger issues to tackle in Congress? I mean, I’m a guy, so I’m not on the receiving end of a LOT of what society puts on people to be “pretty, sexy and hawtt,” but… what say you?

By scummingsvz Posted in think