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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Morning News and Views, Part III

The morning after Congress finally raised the debt ceiling, at great cost to social programs and "entitlements", came poor economic news on just about all fronts, far worse than expected. Then on Friday Standard and Poors, which said it would not downgrade the credit rating if we raised our debt ceiling. The ratings agency did lower our historically solid Triple A plus credit rating down an entire full level to Double A plus. They then indicated that the economic outlook for America is "poor" and another downgrade could occur in a year to 18 months if action is not taken. S&P criticized our congress for its political quagmire and inability to govern, and our inability to rise about recession levels.

Governments and markets around the world were not impressed with the US budget compromise, or on how the Congress held the nation hostage on what should have been an automatic protection of their investment in our country, the raising of the debt ceiling. They feel the US is sound and a leader in the world, but with the downgrade that changes the future prospects of a country far more stable than much of Europe and the world. S&P says the difference between our political parties have been extraordinarily difficult to deal with. Many are calling it the "Tea Party Downgrade" for the lack of education behind fixed in stone pledges signed by many Congress members. Meanwhile Republican presidential candidates are calling it "Obama's downfall" showing, they say, is that President Obama cannot govern. S&P actually praised the president and put the blame squarely on the congress not being able to take the actions needed to deal with the recession. Spending, not just cuts, raising of taxes and expansion programs are needed for growth according to the economic experts at S&P and elsewhere.

Standard and Poors openly blames the Congress for its inability to govern.

The US is in much better shape than most of the nations in the worlds, several of them maintaining higher or the same ratings as the US since S&P's downgrade. President Obama indicates S&P was off by over two trillion dollars in their calculations. Yet the news of the week indicates there is reason for concern and possibly justifying the downgrade.

9.1% unemployment, record foreclosures, deep loss in "asset" strength by individual Americas and our corporations. The programs of the 1990's. 1970's and 1990's worked, but the Republican Congress will not consider any of those programs and prematurely labeled and convinced millions of Americans that they had failed before their actual impact had a chance to kick in and be seen.

Vast numbers of Americans, the largest number since the Great Depression, are out of work, with the largest number of chronically unemployed in 70 years, yet Congress is cutting off extending unemployment benefits. This signal shows, according to S&P and others, a disconnect with economic reality and the citizens of the country. That translates into a decrease in the ability of a country to provide a foundation to build on toward the future.

China is putting 9.8% of their Gross National Product into infrastructure. We are putting in two percents and with the compromise even less. We are not investing as the nations that are climbing out of the recession or growing are doing, despite their debt. These same countries put a value in the capitol that is people, with increased social services, medical care and education initiatives and progress. Again, social services and education are being deeply cut across the US, and the same Republican majority in the house are seeking to undo medical reforms made over the last few years.

Standard and Poors discussed all those issues in their decision, and other nations are pointing to them in their fears that the US will drag the world down deeper into a recession through our political bickering and stagnation.

You cannot sign agreements not to do certain things and then expect to govern.

Republicans insist that undoing the tax cuts, key word there is cuts, will keep the wealthy form investing in their country and helping us to create jobs and raise our own boat. They blame the Democrats for the wealthy sitting on their money or investing overseas, saying a fear of regulations and an uncertain liberal agenda are what is keeping business and individuals from investing.

They say a ratings agency should not dictate US policy, and if we do lower the budget, cut "unneeded" programs, slash "entitlements" and shrink government than our credit will rise and Americans will see higher employment and a return to a high standard of living.

Unfortunately economise, business annalists and international monetary experts all disagree. Taxation, government infrastructure, taking care of the population with social services are part what has proven to raise the standard of living and lead to economic recovery in the past, here and around the world.

Interesting the media is reporting we may face another recession, when most Americans are still in recession and have not seen any real "recovery." Things are worst here in the boom cycle growth areas of the Southwest and in the inner city regions of the decaying industrialized east.

Alan Greenspan says that the Israeli and Arab markets have tanked today, however there are other factors such as the Arab Spring-Summer and the financial crisis in Greece and Italy. He said the S&P decision hit a nerve, because we have to see and know that something is very wrong. We are stable and our bonds are safe, but confidence that we can recover in another recession is lower than it should be. Remember two other ratings agencies retained the US Triple A status.

Members of the US Congress were openly saying "maybe it is OK if we default", which has the world nervous and no longer trusting our government. The blame lies, internationally,on Americas' Republicans and a policy that does not directly and immediate stimulate the economy.

Greenspan feels that the momentum is there for a stock slip that will hurt, here and internationally, and will take months to years to fully recover. But it will recover. There is no need to say the sky is falling, unless it is falling on your today!

S&P says we have to raise revenues, which translates into taxes, as well as make strategic cuts that do not damage the infrastructure, education and key services.

82% of Americans disapprove of the job performance of Congress, while 14% see Congress as doing a good job. President Obama has a 48% approval rating, which is among the highest of any president at this point in their first term.

Greenspan believes that there will be a solution to this, and in time today will be history. The economy, world wide is slowing down, and the numbers used by those who calculate growth and the deficit are all based on a past that no longer exists. It will take pain to solve this problem. Both increase of taxing, and a decrease in service and funding have negative effects on the economy, and both can produce eventually positive results.

Sunday Morning News and Views, Part II

There is a bad side to super-high rise living. Muslims living in the world's tallest tower will have to wait even longer to break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Mohammed al-Qubaisi, Dubai's top Muslim cleric, said Sunday that Burj Khalifa residents living above the 80th floor should wait two additional minutes to break their dawn-to-dusk fast while those above the 150th floor must wait three extra minutes because they will be able to see the sun longer than those on the ground. The half-mile high tower has 160 habitable floors. Al-Qubaisi said the decree is similar to those relating to Muslims traveling on airplanes, and harkens back to a time when people living in the mountains broke their fast after those at lower elevations.

Nevada health officials are urging residents to protect themselves from bug bites after mosquitoes in two ponds in Clark County and another in Lyon County tested positive for West Nile Virus. Officials say the ponds in Mason Valley in northern Nevada, and Logandale is southern Nevada, could signal the virus is in other areas of the state this summer. The warning includes Greater Las Vegas.

Corrections officials at Nevada State Prison have pulled the plug on a pilot program allowing inmates to use PlayStations at Nevada State Prison after inmates were caught using them to watch pornographic movies. The Nevada Appeal reports some prisoners who were allowed to buy the units are suing to get the computer game devices back or be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket costs.

Authorities say a San Diego police officer is in "extremely critical condition" after being shot while waiting at a stop light. A police statement says the officer was at an intersection late yesterday afternoon when a car linked to an earlier shooting came alongside. Witnesses told police someone fired a shotgun at the officer from the passenger window. Police Capt. Jim Collins told the San Diego Union-Tribune the shooting appeared to be "totally unprovoked." Police say they tracked down the suspected car shortly after the attack and fatally shot a suspect who tried to avoid arrest.

Census data shows the number of gay and lesbian households in Nevada jumped 87 percent in one decade, and about a quarter of those couples are raising children. The data released last week shows Nevada had more than 9,000 households led by same-sex couples in 2010, up from fewer than 5,000 such households counted in 2000.

There is fighting in the area where the Taliban shot down a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter, killing 38 people, including 30 American troops. Two dozen of those were US Navy Seals. Also lost were 8 Afghan Special Forces Comando's. Wardak provincial spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said this morning that a joint operation was taking place in the Tangi Joy Zarin area of Sayd Abad district where the large transport helicopter went down late Saturday. He says there were reports of Taliban casualties overnight, but had no additional information. NATO says it has begun an operation to recover the remains of the helicopter. The deaths marked the deadliest single loss for American forces in the decade-old war. The Seals were members of the now famous elite Seal Team 6. Officials believe a rocket grenade took down the helicopter, which was on its way to take out a Taliban command compound in Eastern Afghanistan. The mission was considered key to crippling Taliban command of the porous boarder wtih Pakistan.

The world's leading economies are conferring by telephone about the stability of financial markets following a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. South Korea's central bank says deputies from the Group of 20 advanced and emerging economies talked today about proposals to minimize market shocks. Group of Seven ministers plan to talk by phone before Asian markets open tomorrow. They countries are concerned Standard & Poor's downgrade of the U.S. credit rating late Friday will shake global markets. The credit-rating firm bumped the country down to a notch below the top rating for the first time in U.S. history. In a sign of the fallout, Middle East markets tumbled today on their first day of business since the downgrade. The White House reaction is that the downgrade is based on a two trillion dollar error by Standard and Poors. Also, couched in other words, the president is indicating that if the Congress had worked with him on broad changes and not tied the debt ceiling to budget cuts we would still have a Triple A rating. Meanwhile Republican candidates for President, a full year before the Republican Convention, are blaming President Obama for the downgrade, and denying that Congress holding the nation had any impact, despite Standard and Poors statement that the political stalemate and non-functionality of our congress was a large part of the reason for the downgrade.

When Spain was downgraded the reality of that change led to a recession and major economic problems. The official reaction in Spain and across the world are that the downgrade could lead to a "Black Monday" and a major collapse in the International  economy. Markets open today, in the Arab World and Israel, are radically down, with Asia, the US and then Europe ahead tomorrow.

Congress and many US business organizations are downgrading the potential impact, saying that a drop for a week does not make for a worsening recession or depression. The reason the give is that the US can finance its debt and will not face the problems of Greece, Italy and elsewhere. But there will be less money one economic stimulus,with political "paralysis" indicated by Standard and Poors as one of the reasons.

Israel has formed a panel of government ministers and some of the country's leading economic experts to draw up a plan to reduce the soaring cost of living. The announcement comes after three weeks of mushrooming protests sparked by complaints over housing costs, including one yesterday that drew over a quarter-million people into the streets. The protests have gained new momentum as Israelis grow increasingly frustrated with their struggle to make ends meet despite economic growth in the country that is outpacing that of other developed nations. There is new apprehension this weekend, as the decrease in the US bond ratings will impact the stability of a nation closely tied economically to the US.

Catholic hospitals say they're dismayed that President Barack Obama's health care law may force them to cover birth control free of charge to their employees. The Catholic Health Association provided critical support last year for passage of the law, defying the bishops to do so. A provision in the law expands preventive benefits for women, and the administration is requiring that birth control with no copays be included. But Sister Carol Keehan says a proposed conscience exemption is so narrowly written it applies only to houses of worship. Keehan is president of the umbrella group representing more than 600 hospitals. It's not just Catholic hospitals. Educational and charitable organizations of any faith may not qualify for the exemption. Obama administration officials say they are open to considering alternatives.

Reaching that first double-digit age of 10 is a milestone for any kid, but for these Guatemalan twins born conjoined at the head, it's cause for joyous celebration - they've repeatedly defied the odds against survival at all. The girls, Maria de Jesus and Maria Teresa Quiej-Alvarez, garnered international attention when they were separated in 2002 in a 23-hour surgery that riveted the world as it unfolded at Mattel Children's Hospital at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center. On Saturday, the sisters, known as Josie and Teresita, celebrated their 10th birthday at a private home in Malibu with a party complete with bounce house and a steel-drum band. Guests at the Hawaiian-themed bash included many members of the 50-person surgical team, as well as two dozen of the girls' school chums.Hula dancers adorned two birthday cakes. "It is a miracle," said Jenny Hull, an executive board member f Mending Kids International, the organization that arranged the $1.5 million surgery and has financed much of their care through donations. Also among the guests was Mel Gibson, a long-time supporter of Mending Kids who has known the sisters for most of their lives. The actor walked with the girls up a hill to the party, laughing with Josie and blowing bubbles with Teresita. "It's good to be here. It's good to see the twins," Gibson said to reporters before heading inside.

Sunday Morning News and Views, Part I

Do you do jazz? Are you a jazz listener. My daughter insisted she did not listen to Jazz, yet she listened to Madonna and other artists, all of whom performed primarily jazz influenced music at the time. A third of the bandleaders at the Newport Jazz Festival which concludes this evening are under 30, and many of the young folks are bringing contemporary points of view to traditional jazz forms. They manage to share stages with their elders while breathing new life into a traditional American form. Weekend Edition Sunday featured a story on the youth movement within a graying art form, and the changes and challenges ahead.

The US is, for the first time since ratings began, since our founding, no longer the highest credit rating of any nation in the world. On Friday afternoon the United States was downgraded by Standard and Poors, from Tripple A Plus to Double A Plus. They justify that by saying despite the raising of the debt ceiling and the US agreeing to meet its debt, the political system or environment is toxic and less conducive to policy making that is "stable and predictable", with no real progress on how to consolidate the Federal Budget and correct the recession  and recession related fiscal issues. The cost to individuals will be higher interest rates, slower job growth, a lowering of our investment rate from other nations (needed to shore up our industry, growth and currency).

The two remaining rating agencies, which do not carry the pull of Standards and Poors, did not lower the US rating, and say the nation is still stable and deserves it's Triple A Plus top ranking.

August 6, 1945. The US drops the first of only two uses of Atomic Weapons in world history, on Hiroshima. At 8:13 AM the bomb went off, killing over 70,000. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

This weekend marks the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and there are commemoration ceremonies as usual. But this year, the crowds are expected to be larger because the ceremony is infused with Japan's latest nuclear disaster: the reactor melt-down that followed the tsunami of March 11. This year the commemoration of the event led to protest against the use of nuclear energy, given this years nuclear accident in the wake of the Tsunami. At the same time there is a severe power shortage in Japan due to the number of nuclear reactors still off line.

An unresolved question is whether the US had the right to drop two devastating bombs, weapons that led to the escalation in the cold war creating far more ominous weapons of mass destruction. Most now believe that the Japanese would have fought to the last man, woman and child and that there would have been mass suicides as there were at Okinawa and other Japanese held islands. Most certainly suicide attacks against US ships, suicide charges and the use of every last argument would have taken many US lives in the process. The competition between the Japanese Navy and Army would have solidified a race to see who could do the most damage to our "invading army.".

This weekend, the University of Alabama will award degrees to students who would have received them last Spring. But a devastating tornado postponed graduation. The school will also honor the six students killed in the storm.

Micronesia says it will establish a shark sanctuary covering a vast area of the Pacific. It's the biggest and latest declaration of its sort -- designed to help preserve the world's rapidly declining shark population. Conservationists say 70 million sharks are killed each year, mostly for their fins for shark-fin soup. The largest culprit are commercial fishing vessels out of Japan

In Spain another solemn remembrance this week, of the August 2nd, 1980 bombing of the Balona railroad station. That nations worst terrorist attack since World War II occurred on a Sunday and is being remembered today.

This weekend the Daughters of the Confederacy are meeting at their annual convention. There are 23 women alive today who are the daughters of Confederate soldiers. The United Daughters of the Confederacy recognizes and celebrates them as living links to Civil War history. In recent years, the group has also embraced so-called "Real Daughters" who are African-American. It's a big change for an organization that was once a club exclusively for white women.

Nothing solemn about today for me. It is my birthday. I was born on a Sunday, August 7th (if you do some calculations you can figure out my age as of today). What is it that they say about Sunday' Child? A thank you to all who called, texted, Facbooked, e-mailed and to the very few who still use the US post office to write or send cards. I am grateful to my friends, associates and family. God bless.

New information, or at least educated speculation, about dinosaurs. Turns out they were quite loud and tuneful. Evidence indicates they communicated with a wide range of music, or trumpeting, using their beak like hollow bone are in their nasal cavities. The tones may have been quite different, controlled and far closer to a language than we may be comfortable. They may also have been smarter than we thought, as educated speculation about their brains using medical science and paleontology, show that more of their Brian was for communication and through than originally thought, There were bird like dinosaurs, reptilian dinosaurs (not the one or the other tought), extremely large and very small creatures. They hunted for the most part in packs, if they were carnivores, and with detailed planning and communication, Most were fast, not slow. Some were feathered, to scare off larger predators. Others camouflaged to hide. Most ate plants and not each other. There were plenty of animals, marine creatures, insects and other creatures living at the same time as the dinosaurs.It was a very noisy, crowded and diverse world they lived in. But not as crowded as you may think if you falsely assume they lived at the same time. Actually several major types lived further apart in time than the distance between the T-Rex and man.

The Navy SEAL community is mourning the loss of more than two dozen members. They were among 30 Americans killed yesterday when their helicopter came under fire during an operation in eastern Afghanistan.