Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hell Bent on Austerity

With 59 Republican negative votes (including 27, mostly Tea Party, freshmen) on the House spending bill, a whole lot of politicians are betting that cutting federal government expenses and keeping taxes low for the wealthiest 2% are the right roads to recovery, the paths that will generate the most new jobs. But before the latest austerity measures were enacted, the economy experienced two consecutive months of job growth; unemployment dropped from 8.9% down to 8.8% from February to March. Nevertheless, austerity measures are gripping not just the feds but most states and local governments, which are beginning their cutbacks and layoffs… which in turn takes those government workers out of the consumer marketplace, creating a trickle of negativity as their reduction in spending takes its toll down the line.

Maybe that’s why the most recent employment numbers are moving back into the wrong direction: “Applications for jobless benefits rose 27,000 in the week ended April 9 to 412,000, the most in two months, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington.” Washington Post, April 14th. We’ve seen how U.S. corporations have horded cash since the economic collapse in the fall of 2008: “[Here] is a fairly staggering figure that comes out of the Bureau of Economic Analysis: Despite widespread unemployment, the BEA reports that U.S. corporations, reluctant to expand in an uncertain economy, are sitting on $1.6 trillion in cash reserves, a record amount.” ABCNews.com, April 1, 2010, and there is no sign in 2011 that they are releasing any of that money to accelerate new hires.

Globally, estimates from a Wall Street Journal article last year (July 13) tell us that the world’s wealthiest investors (folks with $1 million or more to invest) have horded $16.5 trillion dollars, a record. While it was a nice theory when it was introduced in the Reagan era, there has never been any evidence that funneling money to the rich creates a trickle down to the lower classes; this strategy has been discredited for years. So it seems pretty silly to assume if you cut taxes and put more money in the pockets of the big corporations and wealthy investors, they are going to stop doing what they have done for three years (hording) and start spending money to create jobs.

You don’t hire people because you have spare cash; you add employees to meet demand for additional products and services. Thus, you need demand to move you to create jobs. What the government did with its stimulus programs, albeit badly, was to use the government cash (i.e., government demand) to replace virtually non-existent consumer demand. But the latest mantra is to stop the government from spending which somehow will cause the economy to recover… a nice concept that sounds too good to be true… because it is.

Since consumer demand is anything but recovered, pulling the government out of that spending mode, in fact releasing more unemployed people (laid off state, federal and local personnel) into the marketplace who provide even lower consumption expectations, only further erodes that demand. Sure inflation is bad and government spending without offsetting revenues does push inflation upwards, but is a double-dip recession a better alternative? Since governmental austerity programs, like reducing the budget, by definition mean employing fewer people and providing less in retirement and unemployment benefits, pretty clearly, without sufficient private demand (not happening!), they basically are demand and hence job killers. And without jobs, who’s going to buy enough houses to stabilize that market?

Is it really just a battle between opinions: Tea Party spend-cutters and Obama spend-supporters? Or is there any tangible evidence in the post-collapse developed world that might tell us what austerity programs really produce? We can guess about the consequences of the Tea Party rush to cut spending… or we can look at England that actually imposed such austerity programs over a year ago and see how they are working.

Here’s the report card: “Retail sales plunged 3.5 percent in March, the sharpest monthly downturn in Britain in 15 years. And a new report by the Center for Economic and Business Research, an independent research group based here, forecasts that real household income will fall by 2 percent this year. That would make Britain’s income squeeze the worst for two consecutive years since the 1930s.” New York Times, April 14th. Long term, there is no doubt that the United States has to get its borrowings under control; now is just not the time to follow a path that others have already proved is a big negative for economic recovery. We know austerity programs don’t provide what its proponents promise; it’s time to try a different approach.


I’m Peter Dekom, and it is truly amazing to watch people who studied economics in college pretend they never went to class… hmmmmm… maybe they didn’t.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Economic Toll of Nuclear Meltdowns

So many people were hurt by and in the aftermath of the mega-quake-tsunami-meltdown disaster that devastated Japan in March. Whole towns were destroyed and some now perpetually unlivable. People were drowned and crushed to death. There are workers and nearby residents from the Fukushima-Daiichi reactors – now passed Chernobyl as the greatest nuclear power plant disaster in recorded history – who are just waiting to die painfully and slowly from radiation exposure. Power shortages and economic chaos have resulted in work flow stoppages, inconvenience and reduced productivity all across Japan… that drew 30% of its electrical power from nuclear generating plants before the meltdown.

But that is the obvious damage that has lingered in the headlines; the underlying economic institutions that have to deal with and pay for the destruction are providing strong suggestions that even developed nations are simply unprepared and unable to deal with the hard dollar costs that follow. On April 4th, UBS issued a report with this caveat: “At Fukushima, four reactors have been out of control for weeks -- casting doubt on whether even an advanced economy can master nuclear safety.” Who pays for the aftermath? Can anybody really afford the real cost?

That the company that would carry the responsibility for compensating those damaged by the under-designed power plant is facing bankruptcy might threaten the economic sanctity that victims might have otherwise expected. The April 8th theDeal.com explains: “Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the stricken plants, has been crippled by the event. Shares in Tepco have plunged almost 80% since the crisis unfolded on March 11. The company's debt rating has been slashed as reports of negligence, and thus potential culpability, have emerged… Liabilities of as much as ¥11 trillion ($133 billion), temporary nationalization and possible bankruptcy await Japan's biggest utility if the disaster isn't contained within two years, says Bank of Amer ica Merrill Lynch's Tokyo-based analyst Yusuke Ueda.”

Basic economic principals are changing the landscape as well. Uranium futures fell, and at least one large deal, between an Australian-owned Tanzanian uranium mining company and Russia’s state owned power agency recorded a 12% price-reduction in an existing agreement. But clearly, the cost of building nuclear power plants has to rise simply because there will be new standards and back-up requirements imposed on new facilities, with an expectation that much of this will fall onto existing plants as well. To those in the nuclear power business, they envision politicians demanding stricter standards that are optically appealing to the electorate that are viewed as unnecessary overkill. Countries that were emphasizing nuclear power are indeed looking at alternatives, and while solar and wind power are being developed, there is a vastly greater emphasis on coal and natural gas as a logical fallback. Fossil fuel with concomitant greenhouse risks.

The political backlash, however, is the driving concern from companies that build and operate nuclear facilities. Many believe that such pressures will simply price the nuclear alternative out of the market until energy demands will force governments to lower their standards. Not a good scenario any way you look at it. Germany, a densely populated nation with a vast array of nuclear facilities, is the most obvious case of political turmoil and the country (other than Japan) that has reacted at the most extreme level: “The German government of Angela Merkel, mindful of upcoming state elections and long-standing voter opposition to nuclear energy, suspended a decision to extend the life of 17 [nuclear] plants and ordered seven of them, built before 1980, to be closed for safety checks…. The move failed to save Merkel's coalition government from its own political upheaval. On March 27, voters in the southern state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg flocked to the Green Party, tripling its vote and handing it a role as a junior partner in a state coalition with the Social Democrat Party. Merkel's Christian Democratic Union found itself out of power in the state for the first time in 58 years.

“Germany ‘is clearly a country where the future of the nuclear industry is uncertain,’ says Damien Sauer, a partner at M&A adviser Greentech Capital Advisors Securities LLC and former head of M&A at Areva SA, a French maker of nuclear reactors. ‘But I don't think you will see that in many other countries.’… For the most part, the fear in the nuclear industry is not of government-mandated closures, but the likelihood of new and, as some see it, unnecessary safety requirements. These will inevitably add costs to nuclear utilities' operations, potentially making existing plants unprofitable and damaging the investment case for new operations.” theDeal.com.

Some nations, however, are undeterred. Perhaps because it is growing so rapidly or because the central government has both the willingness to take the risk and the resources to manage damage, China is currently constructing 27 new nuclear plants with 90 on the drawing boards. China is also willing to adopt new technologies at a fast clip, even where the techniques are not well-tested with years of online experience” “China is leading the world in the development of a new generation of pebble-bed reactor -- where fuel is stacked in tennis ball-sized spheres of graphite that lower the risk of meltdown -- and in smaller modular reactors, which can be built off-site and then deposited where needed.” theDeal.com.

We need electricity to fuel our lifestyles and to encourage economic growth, particularly in this post-recessionary world. We are witnessing all kinds of climate nasties, from fires raging from drought-stricken lands to powerful hurricanes to rising tides and flooding. We cannot tolerate to much more in greenhouse build-up.

I’m Peter Dekom, and there are no easy buttons, no clear near or medium-term solutions.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reach for the Sky and Hand over Those Tomatoes

Commodities prices are rising very quickly, partly because of demand increases from rapidly-emerging economies like China, India and Brazil, partly because of speculation, partly because of natural disasters and partly because the dollar is weakening from deficit-driven inflationary pressures. Copper, for example, which had fallen to as low as $1.30 a pound three years ago, crossed over into the $4+ range of late: “For the first nine months of 2010, demand for refined copper worldwide exceeded supply by about 480,000 tons, according to the International Copper Study Group, a global organization that researches copper issues. That compares with about a 60,000-ton deficit through the first nine months of 2000.” AzStarNet.com (Arizona Daily Star), January 2nd. Technical stuff, but thieves are watching; copper wire theft is booming.


This October 23, 2010 story, reported by Los Angeles television station KABC, show the extremes folks were willing to go to lift installed copper wiring from a live installation: “1 Dead, 1 Burned in Copper Wire Theft” went the headline, and the story went on to say, “A man was killed and a woman was left with critical burns Saturday apparently while attempting to steal copper wire from an electrical vault that exploded in South Gate, according to authorities… Two children, a 3-year-old and 6-year-old, were found in a truck parked near the lot… Police said they believe they are the couple's children. They were unharmed and taken into protective custody.” Sad stuff in desperate times, but this is just one example of copper theft that has seen abandoned homes stripped of their wiring, work sites pillaged for copper, etc.


But it’s not just copper or metals that are being purloined by thieves; it’s commodities in general. Fruits and vegetables even! This April 14th New York Times story tells it all: “Late last month, a gang of thieves stole six tractor-trailer loads of tomatoes and a truck full of cucumbers from Florida growers. They also stole a truckload of frozen meat. The total value of the illegal haul: about $300,000… The thieves disappeared with the shipments just after the price of Florida tomatoes skyrocketed after freezes that badly damaged crops in Mexico. That suddenly made Florida tomatoes a tempting target, on a par with flat-screen TVs or designer jeans, but with a big difference: tomatoes are perishable.” Police believe these guys are experts, tracking and planning their theft as they track posted commodities values. Heists follow big price in creases!


They’re clever, creating business sites that appear to be middlemen or freight brokers, a routine part of the trucking industry. They set up, take the shipments and disappear. “‘They were just sitting and waiting, watching the produce because they knew it was climbing,’ said Clifford Holland, the owner of the transportation brokerage firm Old North State, which was a victim of the gang. ‘It was like a snake in the grass and they struck.’… In the produce industry, buyers and sellers typically use freight brokers as middlemen to hire the trucking companies that carry goods from place to place… The thieves apparently began watching Web sites where brokers posted notices trying to connect trucking companies with loads they need carried.” NY Times. Truckloads of fruits and vegetables are disappearing with increasing frequency from all over the United States, and police are woefully under -prepared for these expert scammers. It’s a sign of the times, but it is also a hidden reflection of the downsizing of the average American lifestyle, paying more, earning and learning how to live with less.


I’m Peter Dekom, and there are tea leaves everywhere looking for readers.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Over-Revving Revenues

According to the March 30th Case-Shiller Index, the mid-tier price for a single family residence in Los Angeles/Orange County area ranged from $305,699 to $500,519. According to the April 17th New York Times, the average selling price of a condominium in central Shanghai, China is over $500,000 (25 times the average earnings of a Shanghai resident). Somebody in China is making money! And economic growth in the Peoples Republic is a searing 9.7% per annum right now, far and away the biggest number among the globe's major economies. Kind of challenges your notion of poor Chinese peasants working for chump change, although there are hundreds of millions of people who fit that description more than the PRC would like to admit.

The story, of course, is what that overheated growth rate is doing to China and the world and what China feels about it. We can start with the latter concern and note that China's leadership sees inflation sending prices soaring, as the above housing statistic for Shanghai clearly indicates. Gasoline prices are up from $3.82/gallon in 2009 to $4.50 today. Their consumer price index has risen 5.4%, the biggest increase three years. Authorities are trying to push down the free flow of cash, a driver of inflation, by upping the amount of capital reserves that must be maintained by the nation's banks (to just over 20% of their cash holdings). The government is also trying to dictate the prices on some basic consumer commodities, while upping its agricultural subsidies to stabilize food costs.

Inflation is generally a bi-product of over-borrowing (leveraging), which in China has plagued both the local municipal and private construction marketplace because of loose lending practices, and until recently, relatively low down payments for real estate with concomitant higher borrowings to support development and purchase of commercial and residential structures. Private and municipal real estate-related debts have been exploding. The fear, of course, is that China would face the same kind of bubble that sank the real estate market in Europe and the United States, and that the relevant banks would find their balance sheets trashed as a result.

While China's massive cash reserves might protect that country from having to incur massive deficit borrowings, that use of her cash reserves would have to be pull from other needed development, particularly infrastructure, education and environmental concerns. Likewise, China would have a lot less money to spend on imports, which would be quite a body-slam to economies counting on selling their wares to and in the PRC.

Moving away from China's once lowly 1.8% annualized inflation to north of 5% per year would also have the effect of increasing prices for Chinese exports, and for people who now rely on such Chinese products and services, these cost increases would represent another body-slam to the trade imbalance between China and the West: That means Americans, Europeans and other buyers will have to pay more for those goods or seek lower-cost suppliers elsewhere. In some cases, retailers are bidding for goods at prices the exporters consider too low. I hear that many Chinese exporters are rejecting orders from Wal-Mart and other Western retailers, Dong Tao, an economist at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong said. "I've been covering the Chinese economy for a long time, and I've never heard that before". NY Times. China's leadership, acting without a central banking institution like the European Union's Central Bank or America's Federal Reserve, will probably continue to require greater capital reserves and increase interest rates, but the near-term prognosis is that China needs to do a whole lot more to get these price trends under control. If they don't, prepare to pay more and live with less.

I'm Peter Dekom, and no matter what we do with our economy, we are always impacted by other economies "over there".

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sweat shops, Housekeepers, Farm Laborers, Prostitutes and Strippers

Had a tough day? Worked 12 hours at a job that doesn’t love you back? Straining to make ends meet? I sympathize, but there are folks who have it a lot worse. There are people all over the world who are working off labor contracts (not exactly legal labor contracts) in exchange for getting a job in another country, women lured to another continent by the promise of lucrative work, marriage or education only to discover that they are locked up and forced to prostitute themselves, housekeepers who travel with their “owners” to work 365 days a year, never to be allowed out of the home. They don’t speak the language, their passports (when they even have them) have been confiscated, the doors are locked, the windows (where there are any) are barred, and the loved ones they left behind are often at the brunt of threats to keep the undocumented slaves quiet. How about children sold for forced labor or “marriage” by their parents? Did I mention shame as a motivator of silence? Mind numbing drugs? Beatings? Vigilante immigration enforcement for those who seek help?

This is not just a story of the Ivory Coast or some Middle Eastern kingdom with harem girls “imported” from Russia, although those regions have more than their fair share of workers forced to work for low or no pay, viciously held captive against their will. There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the modern world, and there are almost no countries on earth that are immune from this pernicious activity: “The only places around the world where Free The Slaves co-founder Kevin Bales and his team couldn’t find cases of modern day slavery was Greenland and Iceland.” Ted.com, March 3, 2010. An estimated 800,000 people cross international boundaries every year to enter lives of slavery (ABCNews.com, March 26, 2007); internal statistics where no borders are crossed are hard to come by.

Yes, the United States is also a haven for slavery, According to FreetheSlaves.net, “Slaves in the US come from 60 countries and have been found in 90 cities. They are enslaved cleaning houses, working on farms and coerced into the sex industry. Smuggling involves [the] migrant’s consent. Trafficking involves deception and ongoing exploitation – both marks of slavery. Must be from exploiters that hide in the darkest shadows in obscure locations, right? Not exactly. Try Beverly Hills, California. “In its largest farm labor trafficking case ever, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on [April 20th] charged a Beverly Hills-based firm and eight farms with severe abuse and discrimination involving more than 200 Thai farmworkers.

“Federal attorneys alleged that Global Horizons Manpower Inc., a labor contracting firm headed by Israel native Mordechai Orian, subjected workers in Hawaii and Washington to violence, inadequate pay and nutrition, rat-infested housing, and other illegal conditions based on their national origin and race…. Global Horizons recruited Thai men to the farms under a legal farmworker program from 2003 to 2007 with false promises of steady, high-paying jobs — then confiscated their passports and threatened t hem with deportation if they complained about work conditions, according to two civil complaints announced Wednesday in Los Angeles. To secure the jobs, the workers were charged recruitment fees as high as $25,000, forcing many of them to take on staggering debt, according to Anna Park, regional attorney for the commission's Los Angeles office.” Los Angeles Times, April 21st.

That’s what they do with farmworkers. The overall skew is more interesting. “An estimated 50% of slavery in the United States is in the commercial sex industry and the other 50% is in agriculture, domestic service, manufacturing and other industries… [It is estimated that over] 14,500… slaves are trafficked into the United States annually.” FreetheSlaves.net.

Try this much more dramatic statistic on for size: “The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency estimates that 50,000 people are trafficked into or transited through the U.S.A. annually as sex slaves, domestics, garment, and agricultural slaves.” Gvnet.com. With runaways, homeless and abandoned children feeding the cycle, there are an estimated 300,000 youngsters employed in the U.S. in the sex trade (alternet.org, May 19, 2010). While some of this is “voluntary” (can a child really give consent to such practices?), it sure looks like a form of slavery to me.

The November 6, 2009 Baltimore Chronicle gives a more detailed breakdown of American slavery:

  • prostitution and sex services - 46%;
  • domestic service - 27%;
  • agriculture - 10%;
  • sweatshops or factories - 5%;
  • restaurant and hotel work - 4%; with the remainder coming from:
  • sexual exploitation of children, entertainment, and mail-order brides.

That such practices exist on this planet is outrageous, that it happens in my country is intolerable and unforgivable.

I’m Peter Dekom, and if we don’t talk about it and hunt down the perpetrators with an unyielding force, we are as guilty as the traffickers themselves.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

America’s Past Pastime?

The boys of summer, America’s professional baseball players, have a rough schedule of 162 regular season games every year. For some, they get additional games in the playoffs. But baseball players can make a whole lot of money these days, because there is no salary cap per se in Major League Baseball. Instead, there is a luxury tax assessed against the offending team – a fine that is paid to the league for various purposes – to the extent that the payroll goes over a certain limit – $178 million per team in 2011. “A team that goes over the luxury tax cap for the first time in a five-year period pays a penalty of 22.5% of the amount they were over the cap, second-time violators pay a 30% penalty, and teams that exceed the limit three or more times pay a 40% penalty.” Wikipedia.

For all practical purposes, this luxury assessment appears to be really a tax on the New York Yankees, who have such a lucrative television contract (better than any other team in the MLB by far) that they don’t care. “As of the 2009 season, only the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Detroit Tigers, and the New York Yankees have paid any luxury tax; the Yankees have contributed to over 95% ($164.1 million) of tax payments, and have been subject to six of the eleven occasions the tax has been implemented.” Wikipedia.

If you don’t have a fat payroll, the odds of moving into the playoffs, vying for a Pennant or the World Series, drop like a stone. If you have the bucks to buy the stars, the odds skyrocket. Although the last team to win the Series, the 2010 San Francisco Giants, held their payroll to under $100 million in the year of their victory, a “team with a $100 million plus payroll has won the World Series three times: the 2009 Yankees, and the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox; however, $100 million plus payrolls have only existed since 2000… [T]he New York Yankees having consistently the highest salary in baseball and have won approximately a quarter of all world series… The highest paid player in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the 2010 season was New York Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez with an annual salary of $33,000,000, nearly $9 million more than the second-highest paid player, his teammate CC Sabathia.” Wikipedia. Wow!

Hmmm…. Must mean that baseball must be increasingly popular to support all those soaring salaries… Not exactly. Attendance is falling in many arenas, and once great teams are struggling for a litany of reasons. The Los Angeles Dodgers, mired in debt, are watching their payroll being slashed and ticket prices soaring (with huge issues from a recent near-fatal beating of an SF Giants fan) as owners Frank and Jamie McCourt battle in divorce court. Fans are angry, and many are boycotting Chavez Ravine because they believe McCourt needs to go. Apparently, MLB commissioner Bud Selig agrees: on April 20th, the league took over the team.

If you’re winning, attendance doesn’t suffer that much. But while the Yankees seem to have purchased their attendance in the playoffs virtually every year, things aren’t so rosy for the neighboring Mets who came off of a losing season in 2010… and saw attendance fall over 17% last season. They dropped their average ticket price 14% for the 2011 season to spur attendance at a time when the vestiges of the recession linger seemingly interminably.

Things are even worse in some of the stadia in the rust belt. The Cleveland Indians started this season like gangbusters… well… if winning games is your measure of success. The rows and rows of empty seats tell a different story. Yeah, we can laugh at the Pittsburgh Pirates– never willing to spend on players – with a concomitant perpetual empty (and new!) stadium (pictured above), but the malaise that seems to be Pittsburgh’s permanent resident is beginning to infect MLB teams all over the United States: “USA Today reports that six teams have already had the worst single-game attendance in their stadiums’ history. It was 13,000 in Atlanta, 12,000 in Seattle, fewer than 9,000 in Pittsburgh. The Yankees and Cubs have had uncharacteristically huge expanses of empty seats. And in Cleveland, where the team has been surprisingly hot and hopeful, six games have already drawn fewer than 10,000 fans.” AOL.sportingnews.com, April 15th.

While the national statistics show a decline of about 4% this year over last, the numbers are moving in the wrong direction for a sport where payrolls are definitely on the rise. Many folks are just plain angry at the level of pay accorded to the top players… no longer the squeaky-clean athlete heroes of the recent past. Was it the Barry Bonds trial, which placed the pervasive use of steroids before the American public even though the conviction was for obstruction of justice? Slugger Manny Ramirez’s “retirement” from the sport rather than face league discipline for a purported steroid violation? Is it just too many games? Too many other choices? Lingering memories from a lost season in the 232-day strike during the 1994-95 season? What?

I’m Peter Dekom, and as a baseball fan, the money thang does indeed seem to be intruding on the sportsmanlike competition thang.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shuttin’ Down the Web

Picture if you will a massive cyber attack, mounted from servers overseas but replicating through “bots” (taking over local computers to act on their behalf by use of a virus to effect their evil intention), aimed at shutting down all financial transactions, destroying stored data and eviscerating fundamental information servers, ending banking as we know it, shutting down power grids and terminating telecommunications throughout the land. Or if you prefer… how about a growing dissent that is spreading through mobile and computer-based social networking riot-inducing and governmental destabilizing rabble-rousing but credible threats to bring down the incumbent government. What’s a leader to do? Shut down the whole damned Web?!

Hosni Mubarak did it, but where is he now… but Barak ain’t a'gonna do that; he can’t right? Well there is a bill before Congress that would give the President superpowers in a cyber-emergency to do just that with the entire private and public Internet infrastructure. It was introduced last summer by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), but it didn’t exactly pass muster. Even as the threats to our entire communications infrastructure and our financial network escalate, a new revised version of this legislation has just been reintroduced for consideration during the current session. Hell, if Michelle Obama won’t let her daughters “Facebook,” can we trust the President with such vast powers? Hell yes if outside forces threaten to bring us to our collective knees!

The January 24th CBS.com describes the current status: “The revised version includes new language saying that the federal government's designation of vital Internet or other computer systems ‘shall not be subject to judicial review.’ Another addition expanded the definition of critical infrastructure to include ‘provider of information technology,’ and a third authorized the submission of ‘classified’ reports on security vulnerabilities… The idea of creating what some critics have called an Internet ‘kill switch’ that the president could flip in an emergency is not exactly new.

“A draft Senate proposal that CNET obtained in August 2009 authorized the White House to ‘declare a cybersecurity emergency,’ and another from Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) would have explicitly given the government the power to ‘order the disconnection’ of certain networks or Web sites. House Democrats have taken a similar approach in their own proposals.”

How did Egypt do it? Was there one great big switch to throw? Not exactly. The January Techland.time.com (January 28th) explains: “Egypt's been able to effectively remove itself from the internet by pulling its normally visible routes from the BGP routing table. The IP addresses that identify computers connected to the internet through all of Egypt's ISPs are now basically invisible to the outside world. Computers inside the country are currently sort of like houses with no mailboxes that aren't on any map.

Egypt's been able to effectively remove itself from the internet by pulling its normally visible routes from the BGP routing table. The IP addresses that identify computers connected to the internet through all of Egypt's ISPs are now basically invisible to the outside world. Computers inside the country are currently sort of like houses with no mailboxes that aren't on any map.” Where the law requires, cell phone carriers likewise can be ordered to shut down, and they are just as capable of shutting down their mobile networks… completely. China runs filters, some of which operate automatically and others that are manned by about 50,000 individual censors that constantly roam around looking for elements to “eliminate.”

In the end, this is particularly scary to freedom loving, First Amendment supporting and vociferous Americans. I can see a remake of the famous “Seven Days in May” military takeover conspiracy film … but based on a complete takeover of the Web. But then again, who would believe it… er… ohhhhhh!

I’m Peter Dekom and there is no good way to look at this problem… or the solution.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bombs Bursting in Air

I always wondered why we sing the Star Spangled Banner before every major league sporting event in the U.S.; why are sports and patriotism were so inexorably linked? Matt Soniak, writing for Mentalfloss.com, provides this simple historical explanation: “After America’s entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of game one of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.


“Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution in 1931), the song continued to be played, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays and World Series games... During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.”


Well, when Canadian teams in leagues like the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League or Major League Baseball play their U.S. counterparts, “O Canada” is routinely played with the Star Spangled Banner… on both sides of the border. In fact, “[t]he NHL requires arenas to perform both the Canadian and American national anthems at games that involve teams from both countries. One American team, the Buffalo Sabres, goes a step further and performs both anthems before every game, a nod to Buffalo's location near the Canadian border and the team's substantial number of Canadian fans.” Wikipedia.


So what is the proper etiquette for those in attendance when the anthem is performed? “United States Code, 36 U.S.C. § 301, states that during a rendition of the national anthem, when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart; Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present and not in uniform may render the military salute; men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note; and when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed. Military law requires all vehicles on the installation to stop when the song is played and all individuals outside to stand at attention and face the direction of the music and either salute, in uniform, or place the right hand over the heart, if out of uniform. Recently enacted law in 2008 allows military veterans to salute out of uniform, as well.” Wikipedia. No eating, and if you are walking, stop and assume the position… but there is no penalty for non-compliance.


I’m Peter Dekom, and it’s all so complicated!