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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday morning News and Views

It's 0110101001. 

That's January tenth, twenty ten, ten "oh" one AM.

We will need birth certificates,  marriage licenses and social security cards the next time we get a driver’s license. We may as well be prepared in advance. Also, a passport may also be a good precaution. Travel is expected to get that difficult. And yes, despite promises we would never have National ID, the new drivers license qualifies as that.

Oh how quickly we give up our rights and privacy as a nation, and just accept it.

"The Atlantic" reports that fifty percent of Americans have not problem giving up their phone records and rights to phone privacy if it means fighting terroris.

Homeland Security has changed in meaning

“Stay calm, carry on,” is how the British dealt with the terror of Hitler’s relentless bombing of England during World War II. The British fought to an open society where freedom itself was the battle cry. They felt that homeland security meant military defense and keeping normalcy and democracy operating, no matter what. Never lose your will to be a free nation.

Former 9-11 commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste told NPR that the Bush administration use of fear redefined homeland security. Using the term brought back nostalgic memories, but the meaning and texture of the new massive department created under the Bush administration is quite different than the comfort and security the term was originally intended to communicate.

He believes our knee jerk reaction to each attack is not the way to have a safe, democratic future in this country. We need to take precautions, following the recommendations of the report, keep in mind new moves, but not to continue taking loss of liberty, invasion of our privacy and negative fear language without resistance. Stand up for what it right about America and show we can take it!

News from a worldview.

The news on the BBC was dominated by the decision of Togo to pull out of the African leg of the World Cup preliminaries three days after their team bus was attacked in Angola and three members of the team killed, one other remaining in critical condition, by regional terrorists. Little or no mention on American media, but the dominant news by far on the BBC.

The BBC also shared a story on Muslim Boy Bands in eastern Asia and Millasia. Fundamentalist oppose the contemporary or “western” music being adapted to their faith, while Muslims work wide are eating it up, just as Christian Rock was the fad in America in the 1990’s. One band even has a superhero animated cartoon reinforcing Muslim beliefs and morality.

Also on the BBC this morning, an interview with a man who knows Osama Bin Laden. He has not seen him in three years and broke away form him in 1998 over Bin Laden’s choice to take the war to civilian non-combatants and kill “all Americans” in an attempt to fire up a holy Jihad.

Business News: coke with a kick

China is now the world’s leading exporter, bypassing the US and Germany. The age of America’s industrial dominance may be over.

Bolivia is unveiling a new competitor for Coke-a-Cola. The new product will be made with coca beans, outlawed in the US, and with sugar. It is said to taste like coke did prior to New Coke, but with a tangier taste and a “kick.” No, coca beans do not in themselves mean cocaine, although the chemical is there in a less potent form. Coke-a-Cola has a similar content when it was sold as medicine in the 19th century, with some coca present in the formula until the late 1920’s.

On January 10, 2000 American on-line Chairman Steve Case announced a merger with Time Warner as a Global Media and Communication company. A three hundred and fifty billion dollar deal put AOL at the front of the name, and changed the stock market ticker symbol. But AOL lost its popularity and in time, last year, it was spun off into a new company.

Council of Economic Advisors Chair Dr. Christina Romer was on “Maria Bartromo’s Wall Street Journal Report “this morning, speaking about the economy. She says real recoveries come in fits and starts, with December a fit. Recovery will be slow.

While 85,000 jobs were lost in December, the number average per month is now one tenth what it was a year ago. She says the stimulus is doing its job and saving jobs. It cannot do the private sectors’ place. Business has to invest in the most valuable commodity, people. The president would like to focus on incentives for small businesses and seeing smaller banks loan money to individuals and small business.

The GDP grew in the third quarter. We are still an economy in the very early stages of recovery. We have a long way to go before we are recovered. We have been through an incredibly rough 2009.

What we are concerned about is getting American’s back to work, getting the deficit down. Any expert will tell you that we need to take action to help stop the growth rate of costs, with medical and insurance driving those costs.

We need to pass a health care reform bill. The president used the term “budget neutral within the budget window”. That window is, to economist, a ten-year process, not the overnight that the public may assume. Budget neutral means over time it will come out at zero cost increase, not that it will not cost money.


What is the future of the printed word? The printing press made it possible for democracy, for an educated middle class and how we currently describe literacy. But now in the digital age things may change. e-books are growing in popularity. On computers and Kindles the material read is shorter, often simpler, with far less tangible.

Flash forward (or back) to Star Trek. Captain Kirk word reading glasses and read the well-turned pages of books, despite both computer print and even friendly spoken computer reads in his stateroom. Jean Luke Piccard preferred paper as well, explaining that the tactile experience is restful for the thinking man.

2 billion actual printed books were sold in US in 2009, down 4% from the previous year. The books sold changed as well, with photographs, illustrated novels and the sometimes very large printed words of teenage pop novels dominating sales. By contrast last year only 150 million dollars in e-books were sold. But the growth curve was exponential as the year progressed, leading to industry projections of up to 20 billion dollars by 2012.

On Christmas day Amazon sold more e-books than all of their other products, including print books, combined. Was this a new trend, or did it simply reflect last minute buyers and the number of Kindle and other book readers found under the tree?

With Apple Computer expected to reveals its tablet early in February, and the Consumer Electronics show awash in e-readers to compete with Sony and Amazon, it now appears that the consumer electronics business is gambling on a continuation of the exponential growth of e-books.

I recently saw a doctor, who now reads all of his medical journals, and casual reading books, on his Sony reader.

But all is not rosy for the publishing industry, which has been losing money to more current Internet publications, to a decrease overall in America’s reading habits and to alternative ways to pass the time. Piracy is a real problem, just as it is with music and motion pictures.  Amazon, Wal-Mart and others are in a price war that means that books simply do not make money, despite the lower overhead of handling and shipping for digital versions. And then there is Google with its plan to digitize the world’s libraries, a plan that has for profit booksellers angry and litigating. So far Google has digitized over 20 million books, with no plan to sell any of them.

Not all authors want their books available as digital files. Piracy and the experience of physical books keep some authors from allowing their texts to be offered on-line as zero’s and ones. They also worry that they will see none of the advertising or other revenue from Google’s public access library or similar plans.

Financial reality also kicks in. Most books lose money. Best sellers make the money, but their shelf life is increasingly short. Books with short windows of interests or “currency” are selling well, but become excess outdated content paper in a matter of weeks.

Google plans to digitize all of the worlds printed material. Google has digitized over 20 million books.

Small bookstores are losing out to digital and to large volume Internet booksellers, both print and digital. In 1990 there were 4,000 independent bookstores in US. Today only 1800 small independent bookstores remain (less than half as many as a decade ago).

A trend I have noticed. Each term, fewer and fewer students buy, much less read, their textbooks. I understand the financials, but then I also know that come the end of the term they blame anyone but themselves for their eventual grades. Is there a national trend to stop reading, or just to stop learning? There are students who are readers and for the most part students do serviceable to excellent work, but the number who do not bother with their books is decidedly on the increase. At the same time there are those who do not use the on-line hybrid assistance and reading available to them either.

Consumer Electronics Show

Samsung’s head of product development Tim Baxer lead those who spoke about 3D television on the report, with Sony touting its planned 3D networks and on-demand. Baxter says “we have been planning for 3D for quite some time…with a launch like Avatar…this has accelerated the time for 3D at home.” Consumer electronics companies feel strongly that people will buy 3 D TV’s at a record rate, despite skeptics who feel that too many people in this recession have invested in flat screen HD (high definition) and ED 720p Extended Definition) televisions.

The industry expects ten percent of sets purchased in 2010 will be 3D with 30% by mid 2011.

The quality of 3D is less than that in the movie theaters, however Samsung and Sony openly deny that. Their glasses are lighter weight and more responsive. Long gone are the paper glasses. There is room for “growth” because only 55% of households have purchased flat screen high definition sets, plus others will expand their experience to other rooms in the house. Those with large tube sets will be driven by smaller housing and other concerns to convert to flat screens over the next few key years, as the flat screen sets continue to improve.


Shame on you Maria for calling Las Vegas, where the Consumer Affairs show is taking place, “sin city.” You would think a business host would be less sensational. But then she also allowed Baxter to say many things without contradiction. The other side in the paragraph above was brought added by me to make the story more balanced.

Dan Ackerman, senior editor for CNET and Lance Llanoff, Editor in Chief of PC Magazine were her closing guests in reviewing CES.

The show is themes instead of individual standout products.

3-D is the lead, with touch screen everything a close second. Everyone is out to get a jump on Apple with touch screen tablets and netbooks. E-readers, 3G and portability are key words, with a large line of products ready in those categories.

“The bloggy” and the “webby” are terms for small pocket camcorders designed to upload to the web directly from the product. The price is as low as $200 for 1080p quality short videos. At that price the camera is also an “ap” platform that can go to facebook and other locations, and do thing that smartcell phones traditionally have done.

Power without plugging into a cord has several incarnations, with Power Mat being the most advanced and already on the market.

Interests was high in the media primarily because Americans want to think they have turned a corner and are dreaming of their next consumer product purchases. That and the big business that fuels the media through advertising dollars, or the distribution of media product, want us to spend our money on gadgets and toys.

Even the automotive industry is banking on us wanting computer in our cars, with touch screens, despite proof by consumer safety tests that these gadgets will cost lives.

Money and profit over safety and common sense....again.

Creativity in America

CBS Sunday Morning looked at America’s creativity. As the top, or second to the top, of the industrialized nations, the US government gives less to the arts than any of the other industrialized nations. We also give a lower percentage of our personal funds, and patronize the arts far lower per capita, than any western democracy. Yet folk and grass roots are booming, plus new technology has place new forms of arts in popular hands as never before. But does this compare to our age of quilting, barn painting and home jug bands?

The founders of our country loved science and the arts, in equal balance, and used both across boundaries, instead of looking at the world as black and white. Today, with a far less liberal arts education, where history and language, the arts and culture are given a back seat and even made fun of by the majority of Americans, we may be giving up the creative formula that made America great. Right brain creative personalities are being increasingly surprised by the left-brain dominated business, capitalism pattern of thinking.  But has that tendency done what it did to previous great societies?

We have a tremendous amount going for us. The United States has a solid track record of being creative, with most of the great inventions of the 20th and now 21st century created, developed and empowered here (although it may be build or engineered elsewhere). We can fail, with failure being a part of our competitive nature, so when we fail it is not “face-loosing.” We also have a melting pot of cultures, each infusing its own creative perspectives, arts, talents and ideas into our blood stream, keeping us fresh.  Hispanic culture, while here from long before we were a country, has risen to major influence on the arts in America over the past two decades. African and African influenced regional cultures are making a comeback as part of America’s culture.

There is a lack of energy at this time in our history, with no real new burst of innovation, some say because Wall Street and the business society has taken the best of the best and burnt them out. In addition the United States is falling behind in Liberal Arts training, education, and social mobility, all of which we led the world, or came up in the top percentage in the last century. There is a reason the 20th Century is being called  “The American century.”

Students, who are not exposed to the arts, history, social sciences and other cultures, lose the basic foundation that all educated “men” had at the time of our founding, and well into the twentieth century. Liberal arts encourage exploration, understanding, non-linear thinking and an understanding of what has come before. These skills are essential for the health of a creative society, and some would say any true democracy.

Speaking of creative people, Elvis would have been 75 last Friday, had he lived. He remains one of the top arts icons for American on a worldwide scope.

On Reid and Gitmo

Guest this morning on CBS's Face The Nation":
California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein
Michigan Republican Representative Pete Hoeskstra
New York Times White House Correspondent Peter Baker
and CBS News Legal Chief Correspondent Jan Crawford

Can Harry Reid survive an insensitive remark about Barack Obama’s race? The Las Vegas Sun is the only publication that pointed out that the remark in the new book was made off the record in private conversation and should never have been printed, if the author was ethical. It was used for the purpose of sensationalism. Reid has apologized and president Obama not only accepted, but also praised Reid. Yet the RJ and Republicans are going to use it as an anvil for months to come.

Reid was generating support financially and otherwise from white church and business leaders when he made the remarks, which he admits making.

Feinstein says Reid should not resign. She says all of us are imperfect. Reid handled it well.  He has personally apologized to all of the black leadership he could reach. But Michael Steel of the Republican Party is calling for Reid to step aside. When Republican Trent Lott had a similar but worse situation no Democratic senator jumped in and criticized Lott, but Republicans are showing their ethical stripes.

Republican congress member Hoeskstra says it is an issue for Harry Reid, the president and the Democratic Party. Republicans should step aside and the media put it into the proper perspective, instead of turning and playing on hate and racism that probably did not exist.

Feinstein feels the president is doing the right things in the wake of the Christmas Day would be bomber. She says mistakes were made and that loopholes are being closed. Refreshingly, the Republican congressman seemed to agree.

Crawford was asked to talk about Harry Reid. What Reid was trying to do was to explain his early support for Barack Obama, before Obama even declared he was a candidate. In context it was not harmful, but in racial charged terms it hit pay dirt for the Republicans. Today he made 35 phone calls to political leaders. She painted Reid as on life support in Nevada and predicts he will not run for reelection (shows how little pundits know).

Baker says as long as Democrats support Reid he will stay the majority leader, and he will probably run and could win in his reelection. Crawford countered that Nevada could go Republican in the Senate and gain a house seat.

Gitmo was the next subject, with Crawford saying Congress is tying the president down, yet Obama will be blamed for not keeping his “promise.” Congress is blocking all options in financing and logistics.

Baker feels that the issue of Gitmo will grind to a halt, probably until after the fall elections. There is no political will to take the action before the election.

Crawford kept talking and dominated the segment with her somewhat beltway and bias point of view.

Local smear or yellow journalism is alive and well in Las Vegas.

The Review Journal is continuing its Fox news like attacks on US Senator Harry Reid running negative stories and timing “non-bias” polling while the stories are hot.

The latest poll has 52% of those polled with an unfavorable opinion of Harry Reid and only 33% favorable. I see this on the blogs and in Review Journal coverage, as people use slogans, single issues or Republican talking points to attack a man who stood up against Yucca Mountain, helped get financing for City Center, stood up against the mob and who is in a positions, as majority leader, to really keep an eye out for and work for Nevada. He does. But people, who move here from elsewhere seem to buy the single sentence talking points instead of getting to know the man, look at what he has done for the state and what he can do, as opposed to a freshman.

The RJ likes Sue Lowden, who was not only a news reporter and anchor, but who also controlled the funds for several lucrative casinos’ advertising as co-owner with her husband. They report that Sue Lowden would have 50% off the vote to Reid’s 40 and that Danny Tarkanian would have 49% to Reid’s 41%. They do not make clear that there is a 4 % statistical range to the poll of only 625 statewide votes (in a state of over three million), or an 8% range. Again, the poll came while the RJ and its sister publication up north were in heavy attack mode against Harry Reid. In rhetoric the RJ has replaced “Obamacare” with “Reid’s bill” on what was really a heavily Republican, Lieberman and “blue dog” Democrat influenced Senate health care plan. The RJ finds every aspect anyone might disagree with in the bill and attempts to make them seem life shattering if they were to go into effect.

And on health care.

Buried on page 6A of this mornings RJ, in the middle of an article headlined with “health care cost to rise slightly”, comes the reality of health care reform. Not the talking points or the many deliberate poison pills put into the bill by Republicans and some Democrats at the bidding of the insurance industry, but reality.

The existing health care reform packages in the house and senate both:

·      Take the US from thirtieth in the world in terms of coverage of its citizens to within the top ten.

·      Covers people with illnesses or medical conditions that up to now could disqualify them from being covered. This includes conditions most people think are covered, including any vascular or heart problems if you ever had high blood pressure or collapsed from fatigue, or had injuries as athletes, or have diabetes, or do not fall under some insurance companies definition of “normal.”

·      Small business owners who cannot afford to cover their employees, a rapidly growing segment of our society, will get tax credits to help with the costs.

·      Insurance companies will be required to offer free preventative care

·      Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping someone because of accident or illness.

·      The cost of prescription drugs will go down.

·      People will be able to choose their coverage and carrier, with low cost options universally available.

These bullet points more then justify passing, even a flawed bill. The alternative is status quo where many Americans are denied coverage, denied preventative medical, turned down on needed treatments or simply dropped because their employers can no longer afford to provide health care.

In this month's "Atlantic" also comes the question "does the US Senate function anymore?" It's poltiics, but it is more than that. The high cost of winning a senate seat. The tangle of rules, regulations and game playing just to get something into law. The ability to put, or hide,  any old thing on unrelated bills. The reality of spinning truth to the point of lies, deceiving voters and putting those who finance your campaignnd your future once you leave, first and foremost (while making excuses to justify it in your own mind).