Spycraft 1992 vs 2010

A Perfectly Framed Assassination


It was a little after 9 p.m. when a Palestine Liberation Organization official stepped out of the elevator into the lobby of Paris's Le Meridien Montparnasse, a modern luxury hotel that caters to businessmen and well-heeled tourists. The PLO official was going to dinner with a friend, who was waiting by the front desk. As they pushed out the Meridien's front door, they both noticed a man on a divan looking intently at them. It was odd enough that at dinner they called a contact in the French police. The policeman advised the PLO official to go directly back to the hotel after dinner and stay put. The police would look into it in the morning.

When the PLO official and his friend came back from dinner, the man on the divan was gone, and the Meridien's lobby was full of Japanese tourists having coffee after a night on the town. From here the accounts differ; in one version, a taxi blocked off traffic at the end of the street that runs in front of the Meridien, apparently to hold up any police car on routine patrol. In another, the traffic on the street was light.

What is certain is that as soon as the PLO official stepped out of the passenger side of the car, two athletic men in track suits came walking down the street, fast. One of them had what looked like a gym bag. When the friend of the PLO official got out of the car to say goodbye, he noticed the two but didn't think much of it. They looked French, but other than that it was too dark to see more.

One of the men abruptly lunged at the PLO official, pinning him down on the hood of the car. According to the PLO official's friend, one of the men put his gym bag against the head of the PLO official and fired two quick rounds into the base of his neck, killing him instantly. There was a silencer on the weapon. The two fled down the street and disappeared into an underground garage, never to be seen again.

That was 1992. And the world of assassins has changed a lot in the intervening years.

knew the PLO official, and his assassins have yet to be found. Israel's Mossad security agency was quickly assumed to be behind the killing. Israel had accused the PLO official of having been a member of Black September, and his assassination seemed to be the last in an Israeli campaign to hunt down the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympic attack. So far so good, but unable to identify even the nationality of the assassins, the French could do nothing but grumble. With no casings from the pistol found, no closed-circuit TV coverage in front of the Meridien, and no good description of the assassins, the French could not even send a strong diplomatic protest to the Israelis. If Israel indeed assassinated the PLO official, it got away with it cleanly.

Comment: Interesting ... read the whole article.

Four ways to fix a broken legal system

The land of the free has become a legal minefield, says Philip K. Howard -- especially for teachers and doctors, whose work has been paralyzed by fear of suits. What's the answer? A lawyer himself, Howard has four propositions for simplifying US law.

Comment: Worthwhile. Let me know your thoughts

How Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was killed

Dubai police chief: Mossad should be 'ashamed' over Hamas killing


Earlier Sunday, police said toxicology results showed that al-Mabhouh was injected with succinylcholine, a drug used to relax muscles during surgery or as an anesthetic, before he was suffocated. Signs indicated that al-Mabhouh resisted as he was being suffocated, police said.

Family members were told earlier that police had found blood on a pillow. Authorities have also said the killers left some of al-Mabhouh's medication next to him in an apparent effort to make the death appear natural.

But "the medication left next to him in the room has nothing to do with the killing," Tamim said Sunday.

Comment: I'm not convinced that Mossad did it! More from Times online

OS X grows market share

OS X Share Up 29% in Past Year, Slowly Chipping Away at Microsoft


Web measurement company Quantcast recently began publishing stats on operating system browser share from its sample of quantified publishers. Data shows that in January 2010, Microsoft Windows accounted for 86.8% share of North American web consumption, Apple OS X accounted for 10.9%, and mobile browsers accounted for 1.3%.

Apple’s relative share has grown by 29.4% in the past year, while Windows lost 3.8%. Mobile increased the most in the past year, more than doubling its share of web consumption.

Comment: My sense is that Windows 7 will be a great operating system. Also Windows laptops are much less expensive than Macs. But Mac lovers are devote!

California: More IOUs?

California is a greater risk than Greece


Mr Dimon told investors at the Wall Street bank's annual meeting that "there could be contagion" if a state the size of California, the biggest of the United States, had problems making debt repayments. "Greece itself would not be an issue for this company, nor would any other country," said Mr Dimon. "We don't really foresee the European Union coming apart." The senior banker said that JP Morgan Chase and other US rivals are largely immune from the European debt crisis, as the risks have largely been hedged.

California however poses more of a risk, given the state's $20bn (£13.1bn) budget deficit, which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is desperately trying to reduce.


Earlier this week, John Chiang, the state's controller, said that if a workable plan to reduce the deficit and increase cash levels is not reached soon, he will have to return to issuing IOU's, forcing state workers to take additional unpaid leave and potentially freezing spending.

Last summer, California issued $3bn of IOU's to creditors including residents owed tax refunds as a way of staving off a cash crisis.

"I can't write checks without money; that's against the law. My main goal is to keep the state afloat, but I won't be able to do it without the help of new legislation," said Mr Chiang.

Comment: More

Economic Aftershocks in Greece and California


Greece's economy comprises only 2% of the overall European economy -- about the same magnitude as Indiana's in the United States. Greece's deficit to GDP ratio, while high at about 12.5%, is not that much higher than that of both the US and Japan, around 10.5%. True, Greece has a sizable accumulated debt over many years, estimated at about 110 percent of its GDP, but even the U.S. has a debt to GDP estimated at 94 percent and projected to break 100 percent by 2012. And Greece is embedded within the euro zone which actually has a fairly low deficit to GDP ratio by today's post-collapse standards, only 6%. So there is little doubt that Europe has the capacity to absorb Greece's troubles. This is a matter of investor confidence, not economic fundamentals.

But California by comparison makes up 14% of the US economy, about the same magnitude as Germany's economy in Europe, truly "too big to fail." Yet when California threatened to default on its loan obligations last summer and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asked for a federal bailout, the Obama administration flatly rejected it. That caused California to have to issue IOUs as a way to pay its bills, and its bond rating plummeted.

California's situation in some ways is more worrisome than Greece's. Having a state that is one-seventh of the national economy in dire straits is a threat to the nation's economic recovery. It is analogous to having Germany struggling instead of Greece, striking at the heart of Europe. California has been shaken by widespread layoffs and furloughs -- the city of Los Angeles just laid off 1,000 more workers -- and core social programs have been slashed. Millions of low income children have lost access to meal programs, and community clinics have been closed. Almost three million low income adults have lost important benefits such as dental care, psychological services and mammograms.

The Earth Utterly Shaken

Big quake question: Are they getting worse?


One scientist, however, says that relative to the time period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, Earth has been more active over the past 15 years or so.

Comment: The ultimate one! Revelation 16:17-19

Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell.


Chile vs Haiti

Chile was ready for earthquake, Haiti wasn't


Chile is wealthier and infinitely better prepared, with strict building codes, robust emergency response and a long history of handling seismic catastrophes. No living Haitian had experienced a quake at home when the Jan. 12 disaster crumbled their poorly constructed buildings.

Comment: K and I are almost through the Bible. Now in Revelation and soon to start over. Currently both of us are using ESV study Bibles. Great notes! If interested, there are a lot of references to earthquakes in the NT.

Prosper January 2010 Statistics

Prosper.com Sees Debt Consolidation Hit All Time High


Notable in January was the increase in personal loans for debt consolidation purposes. Over the course of the last six months, debt consolidation loans have been ticking up, and in January hit an all time high of 59% of loans. Historically debt consolidation has tracked at approximately 45% of loans.

Comment: I am focusing on AA and A loans. My maximum loan amount target is $ 25. This provides maximum diversification. I originated 12 loans in January (AA = 9, A =2, B=1) and 10 in February (AA = 8, A = 2)


60% uptime!

Secret Service Computers Only Work at 60 Percent Capacity; Agency Uses 1980s Mainframe


A classified review of the United States Secret Service's computer technology found that the agency's computers were fully operational only 60 percent of the time because of outdated systems and a reliance on a computer mainframe that dates to the 1980s, according to Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

"We have here a premiere law enforcement organization in our country which is responsible for the security of the president and the vice president and other officials of our government, and they have to have better IT than they have," said Lieberman, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Sources tell ABC News that the Secret Service was so plagued by computer problems that the agency invited the National Security Agency to formally review its information technology systems. The Secret Service's databases are outdated and users are at times unable to conduct searches from one system to another.

Lieberman says he's had "concern for a while" about the Secret Service computers. A 60 percent, fully operational average is far worse than "industry and government standards that are around 98 percent generally," Lieberman said.

Comment: We (unnamed bank) have like 99.98% uptime. Observation from some experience here. If you have systems, they have to be updated every several years. The conversion from very old (and obsolete systems) to current systems is very expensive. To bring it down to the personal level: I used to have files on 5.25" floppies, then 3.5" floppies, etc. Imagine skipping all the intermediate upgrade steps and then finding yourself with critical files on a 5.25" floppy! Back in the early 80's I helped a ministry get set up with a TRS Model 16 running Xenix. It was state of the art for small businesses. The ministry kept that system to the point of obsolescence. The director contacted me and asked for help upgrading to Windows. They ended up doing a completely manual conversion of printing off inventory records from the old system and manually keying them into the new system. I know of some businesses that have databases on Microsoft Access 95! Guess what ... it is no longer supported.

Picture above is a Tandy 6000 HD. My friend's computer was basically this machine but it had 2 8" floppies and an external hard drive.


Spain: the deepest and longest recession in a half-century

The Euro's Next Battleground: Spain


The euro zone's No. 4 economy, Spain has an unemployment rate of 19%, a deflating housing bubble, big debts and a gaping budget deficit. Its gross domestic product contracted 3.6% in 2009 and is expected to shrink again this year, leaving Spain in its deepest and longest recession in a half-century.


Spain can't devalue its currency to make its exports more attractive and its sunny beach resorts cheaper because the euro's value is driven by Germany's bigger, competitive industrial economy. Madrid can't slash interest rates or print money to spur borrowing and spending, because those decisions are now made in Frankfurt by the European Central Bank.

Spain could still try to stimulate growth through tax cuts and spending increases. But it has already mounted enormous stimulus spending that swelled its budget deficit to 11.4% of GDP last year, and it would need to sell more bonds to raise fresh cash. Buyers of Spanish government bonds, spooked by the prospect of a Greek default, have already demanded higher interest rates from Madrid.

Comment: Hope you are following this. Spain, Ireland, Greece, Portugal ... all in fiscal crises.\

Euro - Dollar chart


Comment: Back in 2002 the Dollar and Euro were 1 to 1

Greece and Euro in Crisis

Euro in danger as the Greek crisis deepens and Merkel admits currency is at risk


The head of Germany’s leading debt management agency warned the euro would collapse if any member defaulted on its debt.


Yesterday [Greece] faced riots as workers revolted over the government's austerity plan as it tries to bring its debt under control.

Comment: The ugly result of national debt

Life imitating art

Comment: I know it's a stretch to call "Jaws" art!


Tourist's camera rolls seconds before attack!

Whale trainer had 'dream job,' sister says


From the time she visited SeaWorld as a 9-year-old, Dawn Brancheau was hooked. From then on, her family said, she was determined to be an animal trainer when she grew up.

"It was her dream job," Brancheau's sister, Diane Gross, said Thursday. "And our family got to ride along with her in her dream."

But on Wednesday, Brancheau, 40, died at the Orlando, Florida, park after a killer whale named Tillikum -- a whale she trained and cared for -- grabbed her ponytail and dragged her underwater in front of stunned onlookers.

The Orange County medical examiner determined that she probably died from "multiple traumatic injuries and drowning," the Orange County Sheriff's Office said Thursday.

Comment: As for me ... I want to EAT fish ... not be eaten by fish (or a mammal in this case!)

Madoff name changed to "Gladon"

Madoff's daughter-in-law wants her name changed


A Madoff in-law has filed for a name change, hoping to rid herself of the notorious moniker that has become synonymous with swindle.

Stephanie Madoff, daughter-in-law of the imprisoned Bernard Madoff, filed for a name change with the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, citing death threats against her family.

Stephanie, who is married to Bernard's son Mark, is seeking to change the surname of herself and her two young children to Morgan. In court documents, she said she "wishes to avoid additional embarrassment, harassment and endangerment associated with the name 'Madoff.'"

Stephanie's infant daughter and son - the grandchildren of Bernard - will retain Madoff as a middle name, but their last name will be changed to Morgan, according to the documents.

Comment: OK ... it's actually Morgan!

Shrinking Detroit

Detroit Mayor Bing emphasizes need to shrink city


Bing's staff is using its own data and a survey released last weekend by Data Driven Detroit. The block-by-block study of the 139 square-mile city showed that roughly one in three parcels are vacant lots or abandoned homes.


Detroit's population has shrunk to roughly 900,000 from 1.85 million in 1950.

John Mogk, a Wayne State law school professor, said Bing's on the right track but will face four major challenges: political support; money; creating a bureaucracy to administer the project and legal challenges.

Among the court challenges he sees ahead include the legality of cutting off city services to particular neighborhoods and using eminent domain to relocate residents

Comment: Once a great city! Poor government and crime killed it! Detroit has 2600 homes for sale from 0 to 30K. Check 'em out here

Before your wife visits the chiropractor ...

Sex offender is allowed to be a chiropractor


For the next four years, Dr. Scott Fredin can't buy pornography or use the Internet without a probation officer's approval. The police can drop by at any time to see if he has been drinking. As a registered sex offender, he must tell authorities every time he moves or gets a new job.

One thing the 41-year-old chiropractor won't have to do, however, is tell his clients he spent two years in jail for sexually assaulting two patients.

This month, more than six years after revoking Fredin's license for the felony convictions, the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners granted Fredin's request to get his license back. To protect Fredin's clients, the board said he cannot treat any female patients without someone else in the room. Fredin is working in Minneapolis, but he can't treat patients until regulators approve his new location.

Comment: I wouldn't let this guy touch my alternator!

Why does the filibuster survive?

Why does the filibuster survive?


So why does the filibuster survive? One explanation is that any proposal to change the rules would itself be successfully filibustered. But with the nuclear option available there is -- at least on paper -- a way to defeat the filibuster. As became evident during the 2005 showdown over George W. Bush's judicial nominations, a committed majority could use procedural rulings to do away with the filibuster.

The minority could retaliate by attempting to shut down the Senate through extreme delaying tactics, but doing so would risk a public backlash, as occurred when Republicans were blamed for shutting down the government during their 1995-96 budget showdown with President Bill Clinton. In the end, a majority that sticks together and has the mettle to withstand a public firestorm has the tools to change the Senate's rules of the game.

The real reason the filibuster survives is that it continues to serve the interests of most senators. The nuclear option would require the support of a solid majority, which means getting the votes of several moderates. But some of these senators -- Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh come to mind -- stand to lose if the Senate becomes a strict majority-rule institution, since the Democrats would no longer necessarily need them to form majorities to legislate.

Regardless of ideological positions, senators appreciate the attention and personal power that they can receive by threatening to filibuster. The concessions granted to Joe Lieberman after he threatened to obstruct health care reform sent a strong signal about the power the filibuster can confers on an individual senator. It would be difficult to find 51 senators willing to give up this kind of power.

For the moment, the filibuster seems to have the support of most senators, despite the palpable frustration of liberal Democrats. But as the gap between the parties continues to grow, it may not be long before a Senate majority party includes 51 members who are sufficiently committed to a shared policy agenda to pay the personal power costs involved in imposing majority rule.

Comment: Interesting read!

Wild animals should be left in the wild (part 2)

Whale grabbed ponytail, pulled trainer into tank, SeaWorld says


Whale shows at SeaWorld were canceled Thursday, and officials were re-evaluating safety procedures a day after a 12,000 pound killer whale grabbed a trainer's ponytail, dragged her under water and killed her in front of shocked onlookers at Shamu Stadium.

Dawn Brancheau, 40, was "pulled underwater for an extended period of time,"

Comment: Part 1 is here

Flashback: Olympic debt - Greek edition

Greek debt spirals after Olympics


Greece is facing a massive budget deficit as it tries to absorb the cost of the Olympic Games.

The expected 7bn euro ($8.6bn; £4.8bn) burden means the national deficit is set to hit 5.3% in 2004, said Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

He said the previous government was to blame, for concealing the extent of Greece's economic troubles.

"A large part of Olympic, social and other spending was not written up in the budget," he said.

"The real deficit was not recorded... The public debt exceeds even the most pessimistic of estimations."

Flash forward to 2010!

Euro Tumbles on Greece Concerns


Moody's warned Greek authorities that if the country doesn't stick to its austerity plan, its credit ratings will be cut, with the magnitude of the downgrade depending on how much the government deviates from the plan

Comment: Google "Greek + Debt" or "Greece + Debt" for hundreds of articles about this crisis! Blame it all on the Olympics? Absolutely NOT! But governments need to learn to say "no" like Colorado did in 1972!

Olympic economics

A $1 Billion Hangover From an Olympic Party


Well before the Games began, the global recession pushed several of the Games’s sponsors, including Nortel Networks and General Motors, into bankruptcy. Whistler Blackcomb, the resort that is hosting the Alpine skiing events, will soon be sold at auction.

Security costs, first estimated at $165 million, are now headed toward $1 billion.

Still, organizers insist the operating budget will break even. But that forecast includes $423 million in emergency money from the International Olympic Committee, and detailed financial information will not appear until after the Games are over.

As for Vancouver’s municipal government and the taxpayers, the bad news is already in. The immediate Olympic legacy for this city of 580,000 people is a nearly $1 billion debt from bailing out the Olympic Village development. Beyond that, people in Vancouver and British Columbia have already seen cuts in services like education, health care and arts financing from their provincial government, which is stuck with many other Olympics-related costs.

Comment: Denver (Colorado actually!) did the right thing to turn down the Olympics. More below. An Minnesota taxpayers .... think twice before we bid to host!

Colorado only state ever to turn down Olympics

Colorado stunned the world in 1972.

With a brash young lawyer-lawmaker named Dick Lamm leading the way, residents said they didn't want the 1976 Winter Olympics.

And they said it in a big way. The landmark vote on Nov. 7, 1972, wasn't even close -- 514,228 to 350,964. A 59.4 percent majority said they weren't willing to spend tax dollars to have the Games in their state.

2020 Summer Olympics

Legislation has been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature to create a task force to explore a 2020 Olympic bid for Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The city's past Olympic bid history included unsuccessful bids in 1932, 1948, 1952 (when the city finished second to Helsinki to host the Summer Games), and 1956. The city also finished second to Atlanta as the U.S. bid city for the 1996 Summer Olympics. TCF Bank Stadium is expandable to 80,000 seats and could serve as the Twin Cities' Olympic Stadium

Shooting Travis

After Shooting Chimp, a Police Officer’s Descent


Travis swatted the side-view mirror off the squad car “like it was butter,” Officer Chiafari said. As Officer Chiafari puzzled over how he could help the victim, Travis returned to the porch, then calmly walked around his car and approached the driver-side door.

“I forgot I had the door unlocked,” Officer Chiafari said. He had unlocked it to help Ms. Nash before the chimp distracted him. “He pulls the door open. Now we’re, like, face to face with each other. Our eyes met.”

There was blood all over the chimp, whose owner had stabbed him in the back with a butcher knife. The chimp seemed as surprised that he had opened the door as Officer Chiafari, who was pinned in his seat by a computer console and again drawing his pistol.

“He gave me a split second to react,” he said. “He shows his teeth, a snarl, and I see blood. I see his fangs. I just start to shoot.”

He said that he did not remember hearing the four shots and that the chimp had not seemed to react; he thought the gun had misfired. But then Travis screamed one last time and ambled away.

Comment: Hard to read! Hard to imagine! The poor woman!


FICO score: Cancel a credit card?

How Much Does Canceling Credit Cards Affect Your Credit Score?


While I generally check my credit report every 4 months or so, the last time I checked my credit score was November 2008. At that time, it was right at 740. Earlier this week, I checked my credit score again. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was 730+!

Why would I be pleasantly surprised that my credit score has dropped between 5-10 points over the last 16 months? Because that’s when we stopped playing the credit game.

In early November 2008, Courtney and I not only canceled our credit cards, but also paid off our only non-student installment loan. The following month, we decided to take it a step further and close our final remaining credit card.

Comment: Be sure to read this article from MyFico (blog post refers to it).


WFC: Shareholders to vote on Executive Compensation

Wells Fargo shareholders get "say on pay"


Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) shareholders will have a "say on pay" vote at the annual meeting in April, the bank said on Tuesday.

The vote, only the second in the bank's history, results from a review of corporate governance and regulatory trends as well as shareholder input, Wells Fargo said in a statement.

Compensation for bank executives remains a hot-button issue, even after banks like Wells Fargo repaid government bailouts.

Wells Fargo shareholders will get to vote on compensation for the five executive officers named in the bank's proxy statement, expected to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the middle of March.

Comment: A good way to go! Wouldn't hurt to have this in churches too! I am basically divested of WFC so I won't have much of a vote. I might have 10 or 20 shares!

Strong banks .... weak banks

Banks at risk of going bust tops 700


More than 700 banks, or nearly one out of every 11, are at risk of going under, according to a government report published Tuesday.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said that the number of banks on its so-called "problem list" climbed to 702, its highest level since June 1993.

The number of banks under scrutiny by regulators has moved steadily higher since the recession began. Just 76 financial institutions were on the list in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Banks that end up on the problem list are considered the most likely to fail because of difficulties with their finances, operations or management.

Still, few of the lenders that are on the list actually reach the point of failure. In fact, just 13% of banks on the list have been seized and shuttered by regulators.

The names of the banks on the list are never made available to the general public by regulators out of fear that depositors at those institutions may prompt a so-called "run on the bank."

Comment: Interesting graphic from the WSJ: Tracking Bank Failures. This morning at breakfast I was reading yesterday's WSJ (paper edition). An article stated that Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase are very strong banks. Can't find the link but found the article of interest.


Grim employment outlook

Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs


Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.


Some labor experts say the basic functioning of the American economy has changed in ways that make jobs scarce — particularly for older, less-educated people like Ms. Eisen, who has only a high school diploma.

Large companies are increasingly owned by institutional investors who crave swift profits, a feat often achieved by cutting payroll. The declining influence of unions has made it easier for employers to shift work to part-time and temporary employees. Factory work and even white-collar jobs have moved in recent years to low-cost countries in Asia and Latin America. Automation has helped manufacturing cut 5.6 million jobs since 2000 — the sort of jobs that once provided lower-skilled workers with middle-class paychecks.


Before 1990, it took an average of 21 months for the economy to regain the jobs shed during a recession, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by the National Employment Law Project and the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research group in Washington.

After the recessions in 1990 and in 2001, 31 and 46 months passed before employment returned to its previous peaks. The economy was growing, but companies remained conservative in their hiring.


Traditionally, three sectors have led the way out of recession: automobiles, home building and banking. But auto companies have been shrinking because strapped households have less buying power. Home building is limited by fears about a glut of foreclosed properties. Banking is expanding, but this seems largely a function of government support that is being withdrawn.

At the same time, the continued bite of the financial crisis has crimped the flow of money to small businesses and new ventures, which tend to be major sources of new jobs.

Comment: For younger people retraining a good option

George Wll: on Populism and Presidental politics

Sarah Palin and the mutual loathing society


The Republican presidential nominee, an Arizona senator, was a maverick, which was part of his charm. He spoke and acted impulsively, which was part of his problem. Voters thought his entertaining dimensions might be incompatible with presidential responsibilities. For example, he selected a running mate most Americans had never heard of and who had negligible experience pertinent to the presidency. This was 1964.


Populism has had as many incarnations as it has had provocations, but its constant ingredient has been resentment, and hence whininess. Populism does not wax in tranquil times; it is a cathartic response to serious problems. But it always wanes because it never seems serious as a solution.


Palin is united with the media in a relationship of mutual loathing. This is not her fault. But neither is it her validation.

Comment: William E. Miller.

"people wonder where to begin cutting government"

Climate science tantrums


Last week, Todd Stern, America's special envoy for climate change — yes, there is one; and people wonder where to begin cutting government — warned that those interested in "undermining action on climate change" will seize on "whatever tidbit they can find." Tidbits like specious science, and the absence of warming?

It is tempting to say, only half in jest, that Stern's portfolio violates the First Amendment, which forbids government from undertaking the establishment of religion. A religion is what the faith in catastrophic man-made global warming has become. It is now a tissue of assertions impervious to evidence, assertions that everything, including a historic blizzard, supposedly confirms and nothing, not even the absence of warming, can falsify.

Comment: Wiki Medieval Warm Period


I can now carry a handgun into a national park ..... because of the Credit Card Act?!

The Credit Card Act: Who Benefits and Who Doesn’t


Consumers will also likely see a decrease in credit card rewards or cash rebates, as well as increased Annual Percentage Rates. According to the LowCards.com Complete Credit Card Index, the advertised rate for credit cards averaged 13.46% last week. Six months ago, the average was 12.11%. A year ago, the average was 11.51%.

However, it’s not all bad news. The CARD Act will benefit those who want to visit national parks while carrying loaded firearms. Current laws only allow people to carry guns in national parks if they’re unloaded and out of reach. (Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma realized how important the CARD Act was to President Obama and traded his vote in exchange for slipping in this wholly unrelated amendment.)

From an investment perspective, analysts believe credit card companies’ revenues should be stable in the short-term, but looking forward, the CARD Act could sting slightly.

Comment: Love how Congress works!


Hamas links Fatah members to Dubai killing


Hamas claimed Friday that two ex-officers from the rival Fatah organization were involved in the assassination of a Hamas operative in Dubai, and Fatah shot back by insinuating Hamas members were the ones who collaborated with the killers.

The slaying of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a luxury Dubai hotel room last month has widely been blamed on Israel's Mossad spy agency but it also has sparked bitter recriminations among the rival Palestinian factions, which have long competed for influence in the Palestinian territories.

Comment: Hamas | Fatah | Mossad

Previous Post

Hall of Stupidity # 3


  • Credit Grade = C
  • Another one my daughter advised me against lending to
  • Why did I lend to this one? A lawyer .... studying for his bar exam. He's gonna pass that bar and be making the big bucks and will surely pay this off. What lawyer is stupid enough to default on a loan and hurt his credit rating!
  • I lost $ 23. on this one

Again I made an emotional decision and it cost me! My stupidity! My loss!

Hall of Stupidity # 2


  • Credit Grade = C
  • Defaulted after 2 payments
  • My 2nd Prosper loan (which really hurt because at the time HALF of my loans were in default
  • I lost $ 48.05 on this loan
  • Why did I make this loan? 0 DQ's. A divorced woman trying to right herself financially. I let my emotions lead me!
  • Live and learn!

Hall of stupidity # 1


  • Credit grade D
  • I'm thinking ... a Senior in college. Only needs $ 1,200. Will graduate and pay this off. Who's stupid enough to borrow this little and NOT pay it and ruin their credit!
  • This guy stiffed me for the full $ 50 I invested

When I say "Hall of Stupidity" ... It's my stupidity for loaning to the guy!

Prosper Stats


Comment: Highlights my good experience with AA and A loans and bad experience with C and D loans

Newsy video on the debt commission

Comment: Sent to me from the Community at Newsy

What I've learned about investing in Prosper


  • My periodic post about Prosper!
  • One has asked if it is unethical for me to lend on Prosper. This same one felt that it was unethical for me to invest in Fifth Third Stock. Both of these questions came about because I work for a financial (to remain unnamed) institution. To that one, who is my brother in Christ, I don't mind that you asked because of the old "iron sharpeneth iron" principle! If you have further questions about this please contact me personally for a sit down over coffee!

    • We are required to take an ethics class every year and pass the test and sign the ethics book.
    • Failure to comply to the code of ethics would be grounds for dismissal!
    • Each division in our organization has an ethics code administrator. In December I emailed him and asked about buying stock in FITB and investing in Prosper. Our code administrator has both an MBA and a JD.
    • About Fifth Third. Since I am not on the board of directors or in anyway entangled with the business of that bank, there is no code violation.
    • About Prosper: Since I am an investor who purchases a share in a note (like buying a bond) and not a direct lender (although sometimes the nomenclature of "lender" is used), I am an investor and not a lender. There is no code violation.
    • As an aside, I am a Christian (40 years now and counting) and I take ethics very seriously. That's why I contacted our code administrator and also copied my manager
    • Additionally I serve in my local church. Any ethical misconduct could potentially reflect poorly on my church. So again I take that seriously as well!

  • Generally what I have learned on Prosper is that is not easy to be a banker and is is not easy to make money lending to people. I had hoped to earn 10% per annum and so far I am earning just past 4%. That's still not bad, my CD's on INGDirect are paying 1.3%
  • This blog post highlights my missteps and key learnings
  • The following image is a snap shot of where I stand to date!

  • Notice that I am still net positive by $ 188.96
  • I have lost (note charge offs) $ 298.96
  • My charge offs will soon increase by $ 43.70
  • If I took those charge offs today ...
  • My net positive would be $ 145.26 and my charge offs $ 342.66
  • The following 2 images detail the charge offs

Already charged off

Soon to be charged off

Here are my key learnings:

  • Stick to grade AA and A
  • I only have two AA charge offs .. totaling $ 48.54
  • I have 2 A charge offs ... totaling $ 78.36
  • My B, C, and D charge offs .... total $ 140.29
  • Percentage wise, my AA and A loans are the vast majority of my notes
  • Going forward, I only loan to AA and A borrowers

What I look for in a Prosper listing (below an actual snapshot of a recent loan)

  • A long credit history. In this case 13 years
  • No delinquencies in the last 7 years
  • No current delinquencies
  • A long employment status (not shown on this image)
  • Low bank card utilization
  • Low debt / income ratio
  • A low revolving credit balance
  • I favor those who own a home

As an aside, when we moved to Minnesota 16 years ago and I applied for a mortgage with Wells Fargo, my credit check came back with one late payment. I was asked about that. It was to Sears. I understand that sometimes some people make a late payment!

I also look for their reason to borrow money. I won't loan money in these cases:

  • Getting married. Reason: Hey save up for that!
  • Buying a ring. Reason: Ditto
  • Honeymoon: Reason: Ditto
  • Taking a vacation: Reason: Ditto

I have made many loans for the following reasons:

  • Credit card consolidation
  • Paying off a high interest credit card
  • Auto repairs (rebuild engine, need a new transmission, etc)
  • Home repairs (water damage, roof repair, etc)

I also favor service men. Not one service man has ever stiffed me! Even some of the old "D" loans that I made.

Additionally the maximum amount for any loan is now $ 25. So I diversify!

My current stats.

I am currently investing $ 25 in new Prosper money every week.

"The Cover" for a VAT tax

The VAT Commission: Desperately seeking cover for tax increases on the middle class


A couple of trillion dollars in new deficit spending later, President Obama yesterday signed an executive order creating a Bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Yes, that's really what he called it. And you wonder why Americans are cynical about politics?

Having proposed peacetime records for spending as a share of the economy—more than 25% of GDP this year and next—Mr. Obama now promises to make "the tough choices necessary to solve our fiscal problems." And what might those choices be? "Everything's on the table. That's how this thing's going to work," Mr. Obama said.

By "everything," Mr. Obama means in particular tax increases. The President vowed in 2008 that he wouldn't raise taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 a year, but that's looking to be as forlorn a hope as peace in Palestine.

Mr. Obama's own recent budget proposal estimates that deficits will exceed $8.5 trillion over the next decade—even including revenues from the huge tax increases scheduled for next year and other new levies that aren't likely to pass. So the President and Democrats are desperately seeking political, and especially Republican, cover to go where the big money is by taxing the middle class. The commission is a bid for that cover.

Can Washington Meet the Demand to Cut Spending?


Conservatives all my adulthood have said the American people were, on the issue of spending, the frog in the pot of water: The rising heat lulled him, and when the water came full boil, he wouldn't be able to jump out.


People are freshly aware and concerned about the real-world implications of a $1.6 trillion dollar deficit, of a $14 trillion debt. It will rob America of its economic power, and eventually even of its ability to defend itself. Militaries cost money. And if other countries own our debt, don't they in some new way own us? If China holds enough of your paper, does it also own some of your foreign policy? Do we want to find out? And there are the moral implications of the debt, which have so roused the tea party movement: The old vote themselves benefits that their children will have to pay for. What kind of a people do that?


The GOP itself should be going forward with its philosophy, with the things it's long stood for and, in some cases, newly rediscovered, and painting the broader picture of the implications of endless, compulsive high spending.

Comment: What's a VAT tax? Stands for Value Added Tax. It's the European way of burying taxes into the cost of everything!

Joe Biden: the embarrassing uncle you try to keep away from the microphone

Biden's Diversion Strategy


... when Mr. Biden claims success for a victory won by a surge he and Barack Obama opposed, you wonder what he's up to.


Start with Mr. Biden's first whopper: telling CNN's Larry King last week that "one of the great achievements of this administration" may well be a democratic Iraq. "You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government. . . . I've been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences."

Now, many have jumped on Mr. Biden for claiming this as an Obama achievement. Perhaps more striking, however, is that the same Iraqi government that so impresses him today is something he once declared impossible.

That was back during a Democratic presidential debate in 2007, when Mr. Biden told ABC's George Stephanopoulos it was a "fundamental strategic mistake" to believe "there is any possibility in the lifetime of anyone here of having the Iraqis get together, have a unity government in Baghdad that pulls the country together. That will not happen, George."

Now it has not only happened, but it has happened, like all good things in our world, because of Barack Obama.

Comment: We need to pray every day for Barak Obama. (Don't want crazy Joe promoted!)



Interpol puts Dubai killing suspects on wanted list


The 11 people suspected of killing a Hamas commander in Dubai have been placed on international police organisation Interpol's wanted list.

Interpol has posted the photographs and names it suspects were used fraudulently by the individuals.

Dubai's police chief says he is 99% sure Israeli secret service agents were involved in Mahmoud al-Mabhouh's death, but Israel says there is no proof.

Comment: If you like "spy-stuff" this is interesting!

Kamikaze on the IRS?

Plane crashes into Northwest Austin office building


FBI sources said that the eyewitness accounts saying that the plane did not slow down is making some authorities wonder if it was an intentional act.

FBI spokesman Bill Carter said the building hit by a plane at the Echelon office complex did not contain an FBI office. While the FBI has an office at the complex, the plane did not crash into that particular building, Carter said.

William Winnie, an Internal Revenue Service agent, said he was in a training session on the third floor of the building when he saw a light-colored, single engine plane coming at the building.

“It looked like it was coming right in my window,” Winnie said. He said the plane veered down and to the left and crashed into the floors below. “I didn’t lose my footing, but it was enough to knock people who were sitting to the floor.”

The building mostly houses IRS offices, said Kathi Hall, with KVSA Asset Management, which manages the property.

Comment: Domestic terrorism?


Whistler's luge track

Comment: Two articles (one from the NYTimes, other from the WSJ) and the related graphics. Interesting stuff.

NYTimes graphic

NYTimes: Luge Athlete’s Death Casts Pall Over Games


The accident will raise questions not only about the safety of the track

WSJ: Graphic

WSJ: Speed and Commerce Skewed Track's Design


Driven in part by the desire to locate the luge and bobsled track for the 2010 Vancouver Games in a high-traffic tourist area with cold temperatures, planners chose a valley at Whistler resort that was steeper and narrower than sites of previous Olympic tracks, according to press reports and interviews with those involved.

The result was a track whose speeds marked a quantum leap in a sport where even small increases require big adjustments from the athletes. After trials of the track in 2008, the course's German designer says he told the Vancouver Games' organizers and the international luge and bobsledding governing bodies that he was revising the track's projected luge speed upward by 5.5%—to 96 miles an hour—nearly nine miles an hour faster than the standing 2000 world speed record.

According to 2008 engineering documents and letters reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, officials signed off on the course's speeds. By last year, some of these officials said such speeds are unsafe and recommended that courses built in the future be slower.



Shot to helmet

U.S. Marine Walks Away From Shot to Helmet in Afghanistan


Lance Cpl. Koenig, a lanky 21-year-old with jug-handle ears and a burr of sandy hair, is a designated marksman. His job is to hit the elusive Taliban fighters hiding in the tightly packed neighborhood near the base.

The insurgent sniper hit him first. The Casper, Wyo., native was kneeling on the roof of the one-story outpost, looking for targets.

He was reaching back to his left for his rifle when the sniper's round slammed into his helmet.

The impact knocked him onto his back.

"I'm hit," he yelled to his buddy, Lance Cpl. Scott Gabrian, a 21-year-old from St. Louis.

Lance Cpl. Gabrian belly-crawled along the rooftop to his friend's side. He patted Lance Cpl. Koenig's body, looking for wounds.

Then he noticed that the plate that usually secures night-vision goggles to the front of Lance Cpl. Koenig's helmet was missing. In its place was a thumb-deep dent in the hard Kevlar shell.

Lance Cpl. Gabrian slid his hands under his friend's helmet, looking for an entry wound. "You're not bleeding," he assured Lance Cpl. Koenig. "You're going to be OK."

Lance Cpl. Koenig climbed down the metal ladder and walked to the company aid station to see the Navy corpsman.

The only injury: A small, numb red welt on his forehead, just above his right eye.

Comment: 2nd chance at life!


More on First Energy

FirstEnergy to Buy Power Rival Allegheny


FirstEnergy Corp. agreed to acquire Allegheny Energy Inc. for $4.7 billion in a stock deal that would create a big regional utility but could encounter resistance from states unless it yields local benefits.

The transaction—the kind long predicted by analysts but slow to materialize in the fragmented utility sector—would create a company with 10 utilities and six million customers stretching across seven states.

Comment: Looks good to me because of the dividends

Motorola X 2

Motorola Sets Plan to Split Into Two


Motorola Inc. said it would split into two publicly traded companies by the first quarter of next year, the company's latest attempt to reinvigorate its disparate businesses.

The Schaumburg, Ill., company has long sought a break-up but recently shifted its strategic plans. The change was reported by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

Motorola Thursday said it will group together its core handset unit with the unit that makes television set-top boxes, placing them under co-Chief Executive Sanjay Jha.

Fellow co-CEO Greg Brown would oversee a separate company selling two-way radios, bar code scanners and gear for telecommunications carriers.

"We have been at times a drain on resources on other businesses, and we've reduced shareholder value," Mr. Jha said on a conference call, adding the split would add value to both companies.

Under the plan, the two companies would each account for roughly half of Motorola's current sales, which were $22 billion last year.

They will share the Motorola brand. Mr. Jha's company will own the brand, and license it out for use to Mr. Brown's business.

Comment: Interesting. My next stock quest is GIS. These companies look like good investments to me: Ford, Motorola, 3M, and P&G. How about First Energy - paying over 5% in dividends.

I hope he doesn't have to eat these words

Biden: Major terror attack on U.S. unlikely


"The idea of there being a massive attack in the United States like 9/11 is unlikely, in my opinion," Biden said in an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Instead, groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula "have decided to move in the direction of much more small-bore but devastatingly frightening attacks," such as the failed bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.

Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, a Nigerian, has been accused of trying to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it prepared to land in Detroit, Michigan, on Christmas Day.

"I think there are going to be attempts," Biden said, but he praised the successes of the U.S. security and intelligence apparatus in dealing with the threats.

Comment: I hope he is right!

Fiscal "Pearl Harbor" coming?

A Greek crisis is coming to America


It began in Athens. It is spreading to Lisbon and Madrid. But it would be a grave mistake to assume that the sovereign debt crisis that is unfolding will remain confined to the weaker eurozone economies. For this is more than just a Mediterranean problem with a farmyard acronym. It is a fiscal crisis of the western world. Its ramifications are far more profound than most investors currently appreciate.

There is of course a distinctive feature to the eurozone crisis. Because of the way the European Monetary Union was designed, there is in fact no mechanism for a bail-out of the Greek government by the European Union, other member states or the European Central Bank (articles 123 and 125 of the Lisbon treaty). True, Article 122 may be invoked by the European Council to assist a member state that is “seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by natural disasters or exceptional occurrences beyond its control”, but at this point nobody wants to pretend that Greece’s yawning deficit was an act of God. Nor is there a way for Greece to devalue its currency, as it would have done in the pre-EMU days of the drachma. There is not even a mechanism for Greece to leave the eurozone.

That leaves just three possibilities: one of the most excruciating fiscal squeezes in modern European history – reducing the deficit from 13 per cent to 3 per cent of gross domestic product within just three years; outright default on all or part of the Greek government’s debt; or (most likely, as signalled by German officials on Wednesday) some kind of bail-out led by Berlin. Because none of these options is very appealing, and because any decision about Greece will have implications for Portugal, Spain and possibly others, it may take much horse-trading before one can be reached.

Yet the idiosyncrasies of the eurozone should not distract us from the general nature of the fiscal crisis that is now afflicting most western economies. Call it the fractal geometry of debt: the problem is essentially the same from Iceland to Ireland to Britain to the US. It just comes in widely differing sizes.

What we in the western world are about to learn is that there is no such thing as a Keynesian free lunch. Deficits did not “save” us half so much as monetary policy – zero interest rates plus quantitative easing – did. First, the impact of government spending (the hallowed “multiplier”) has been much less than the proponents of stimulus hoped. Second, there is a good deal of “leakage” from open economies in a globalised world. Last, crucially, explosions of public debt incur bills that fall due much sooner than we expect

For the world’s biggest economy, the US, the day of reckoning still seems reassuringly remote. The worse things get in the eurozone, the more the US dollar rallies as nervous investors park their cash in the “safe haven” of American government debt. This effect may persist for some months, just as the dollar and Treasuries rallied in the depths of the banking panic in late 2008.

Yet even a casual look at the fiscal position of the federal government (not to mention the states) makes a nonsense of the phrase “safe haven”. US government debt is a safe haven the way Pearl Harbor was a safe haven in 1941.

Even according to the White House’s new budget projections, the gross federal debt in public hands will exceed 100 per cent of GDP in just two years’ time. This year, like last year, the federal deficit will be around 10 per cent of GDP. The long-run projections of the Congressional Budget Office suggest that the US will never again run a balanced budget. That’s right, never.

Comment: See yesterday's post Timeline of Europe's debt crisis

What I see coming:
  • Inflation ... hyperinflation
  • Government backing away from "commitments" to retirees (eg. social security)
  • Means testing benefits

Comments on sidebar

Tobin suggested this and I added it. Thanks. Also I turned off moderation so that all comments get posted automatically. If I get a ton of spam I will turn moderation back on.


The 1984 ad and much more!

A short video history of negative tech ads

It all goes back to the very first Macintosh TV ad — the legendary "1984." True, the commercial didn't mention Microsoft by name. But it did compare people who used IBM PCs — powered by Bill Gates and Paul Allen's MS-DOS — to a zombie army under the control of an evil overlord. That can't be considered a compliment.

Comment: Some great old ads! More on the 1984 ad here.

Timeline of Europe's debt crisis

Europe's Debt Crisis

Comment: Timeline of Europe's debt crisis (Greece, Spain, Portugal). Ours (the US) is soon to come!

"anything a human being does up there could be done by unmanned machinery for one-thousandth the cost"

Is Manned Spaceflight Obsolete?


... manned space exploration as a national goal — to be financed from public funds, organized by state or federal employees to promote some general good like stronger defenses, economic dynamism, social stability or public health — is another question altogether.

There is no case for publicly funded human spaceflight in any of those areas. Even in the matter of defense, none of the most useful off-planet projects — G.P.S., earth imaging, antimissile technology — has any requirement for human beings in space.

It is in fact a universal principle of space science — a “prime directive,” as it were — that anything a human being does up there could be done by unmanned machinery for one-thousandth the cost. With the ever-increasing intelligence of our machines, the cost gap will only get wider.

Comment: Full article presents three views. My view is the above!

A bust from the past

The Jimmy Carter Jobs Credit


The latest Senate Democratic bill will cost $85 billion and is shaping up to be largely a rehash of last year's stimulus: extended unemployment insurance, Medicaid cash for the states, and some public works spending. The one new twist is a proposal for a one-year $5,000 tax credit for small businesses for each new worker hired. President Obama calls the credit "the best way to cut taxes" to help small businesses.

But we've also seen this economic movie before—in 1977 under Jimmy Carter. During the two years it was in effect, a jobs credit worth about $7,000 in today's dollars became a $20 billion free lunch as businesses claimed the handout for one of every three new employees.

In the short term, the Jimmy Carter jobs credit appeared to reduce unemployment. The jobless rate dropped by 1.2 percentage points (to 5.8% in 1979 from 7% in 1977). But that effect was short-lived, and when the subsidies ended two years later the layoffs resumed and the unemployment rate rose again and by 1980 was back to 7.2%.

Citing this not-so-happy experience, Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind says the tax credit is evidence that Congress doesn't "do anything new around here except the history we repeat." The left-leaning Tax Policy Center recently looked at a proposal for a $5,000 payroll tax credit, which is similar in concept to the Senate jobs credit, and concluded that "The problem with subsidies such as this is that they are exceedingly sloppy. A lot of money goes to those firms that would have hired anyway."

They're right: The Labor Department reports that in December 2009 there were 2.5 million job openings. Will the government pay $5,000 for every one of these new jobs that would have existed anyway? In the dynamic American economy, thousands of workers are hired, fired or quit each day.

The President is trying to lure Republicans to support this policy as a "business tax cut." But they should know that it violates sound tax principles. Pro-growth tax cuts, as adopted so successfully by JFK in the 1960s and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, are broad-based and lower tax rates for as many people as possible. This reduces the distortions of the tax system, while permanently adding to the rewards for investment and risk-taking.

Comment: A jobs bill like this will just increase government bureaucracy and waste. The only growing job segment is the government.


Hyundai Sonata vs. Toyota Camry

Comment: Interesting. Both 4 Cyl!


Iran's 2/11 "punch" and how to deal with them

Iran anniversary 'punch' will stun West: Khamenei


"The Iranian nation, with its unity and God's grace, will punch the arrogance (Western powers) on the 22nd of Bahman (February 11) in a way that will leave them stunned," Khamenei, who is also Iran's commander-in-chief, told a gathering of air force personnel.

Comment: Following is from the WSJ

Seven Myths About Iran


"We have been trying to negotiate [with the Iranians] for five, six years. We've tried everything. We have met every Iranian. We have tried to open every possible channel. We've had new ideas and the result is this: nothing."

Thus did a senior Western diplomat recently describe to me his country's efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with Tehran over its nuclear programs. In doing so, he also finally disposed of the myth, nearly a decade in the making, that Iran was ready to abandon those programs in exchange for a "grand bargain" with the West.

Comment: Read article for the 7 myths

How the Letterman-Oprah-Leno Super Bowl Ad Came Together

How the Letterman-Oprah-Leno Super Bowl Ad Came Together


Mr. Letterman had the idea to invite Mr. Leno to participate, playing off a similar ad he put together with Ms. Winfrey the last time CBS had the Super Bowl, in 2007. “Dave wrote the bit himself,” Mr. Burnett said. “He just thought: it’s the Super Bowl, you’re supposed to entertain people.”

Steps were taken to contact Ms. Winfrey, who agreed immediately, Mr. Burnett said, and then Mr. Leno. Mr. Burnett said he spoke with Mr. Leno’s executive producer, Debbie Vickers. “She asked if this was for real and then she laughed for about 10 minutes,” Mr. Burnett said.

Mr. Leno quickly agreed, but the idea had to be passed by the top NBC executives, including the chief executive, Jeff Zucker. Permission was granted.

Mr. Leno was able to get Tuesday free – NBC had rearranged its schedule to pre-empt his 10 p.m. show that night — and took the NBC corporate jet, Mr. Burnett said. There seemed little chance though that Mr. Leno could sneak into Mr. Letterman’s theater unseen, so the idea was hatched to try to sneak him in during a live taping, in disguise.

Both guests turned up while Mr. Letterman was on stage doing his show. They were kept in a secret green room until the show was over and the theater was cleared. Then Mr. Leno and Ms. Winfrey went up to the theater balcony where a living room set was fashioned with a faux TV and a couch.

Mr. Letterman arrived a short time later. The two late-night rivals greeted each other warmly, Mr. Burnett said. “It was very friendly, very professional, totally cordial,” he said. “You could tell these were two guys who have known each other for a long time.”

The idea Mr. Letterman came up with was for him to be first seen alone, complaining about being at the worst Super Bowl party ever — then to be seen in a two-shot with Ms. Winfrey as he had been in 2007, with her telling him to be nice. And then Mr. Leno would be revealed at the other end of the couch saying that Mr. Letterman was only complaining because he was there.

Mr. Letterman followed doing a mock-Jay voice. The 15-second spot was shot quickly and efficiently, Mr. Burnett said. “I’d say it took no more that 20 or 30 minutes,” he said.

“I think everybody wanted to do it just because they all knew it would get attention and they all just wanted to do something funny.”

After the taping was completed, Mr. Letterman thanked his guests and they said a cordial goodbye, Mr. Burnett said. The two stars slipped back out into the Manhattan night, Mr. Leno back in his faux mustache.

Comment: Missed it b/c I was at church.

A productive day in the nation's capital

D.C. ‘held captive’ by storm, more snow looms - at least 430,000 workers get day off


Federal agencies that employ 230,000 in Washington were closed ...

Comment: More being accomplished by DC being closed!

15 Ways to Slash Spending in Retirement

15 Ways to Slash Spending in Retirement


Bloomberg BusinessWeek received tips from more than two dozen financial advisers on how to spend less in retirement.

The list:

  1. Adjust Your Health Insurance
  2. Flexible Travel
  3. Cut the Purse Strings
  4. Curb Your Cars
  5. Use Cash - "It feels more real—even painful—when you use cash"
  6. Watch Those Investment Fees
  7. Put Food Spending on a Diet
  8. Seek Out Freebies and Discounts
  9. Adjust Your Insurance
  10. Downsize Your Home
  11. Move to a Cheaper Locale
  12. Refinance Your Mortgage
  13. Don't Wait to Sell Your House
  14. Do a Dry Run on Your New Spending Plan
  15. Get a Handle on Monthly Expenses

Comment: We plan to do a combo on downsize our home and move to a cheaper locale.

Vouchers - education that works

Milwaukee's Voucher Graduates


A report released last week by School Choice Wisconsin, an advocacy group, finds that between 2003 and 2008 students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program had a significantly higher graduation rate than students in Milwaukee Public Schools.

"Had MPS graduation rates equalled those for MPCP students in the classes of 2003 through 2008, the number of MPS graduates would have been about 18 percent higher," writes John Robert Warren of the University of Minnesota. "That higher rate would have resulted in 3,352 more MPS graduates during the 2003-2008 years."

In 2008 the graduation rate for voucher students was 77% versus 65% for the nonvoucher students, though the latter receives $14,000 per pupil in taxpayer support, or more than double the $6,400 per pupil that voucher students receive in public funding.

The Milwaukee voucher program serves more than 21,000 children in 111 private schools, so nearly 20% more graduates mean a lot fewer kids destined for failure without the credential of a high school diploma. The finding is all the more significant because students who receive vouchers must, by law, come from low-income families, while their counterparts in public schools come from a broader range of economic backgrounds.

Vouchers are of course taboo among most Democrats, and Mr. Obama has done nothing to stop Congress from killing the small but successful voucher program for poor families in Washington, D.C. The Milwaukee program has survived for 20 years despite ferocious political opposition, and it would have died long ago if parents didn't believe their children were better off for it.

Comment: It works because it introduces true competition, choice and individual responsibility into the mix. Dems oppose because of the N.E.A.


“dress rehearsal” for US debt crisis

Race To Ruin: PIIGS vs. U.S.


An analyst at Deutsche Bank created some buzz the other day when he said that the PIIGS’ (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain) debt crisis could be a “dress rehearsal” for a U.S. one.


‘The problems currently faced by peripheral Europe could be a dress rehearsal for what the U.S. and U.K. may face further down the road,’ Jim Reid, a strategist at Deutsche Bank in London, wrote in a research note today.

Comment: Keep your eye on the debt clock!

The fleur-de-lis and what it means

Saints Aren’t the First to Call on Fleur Power


Fleur is the French word for flower and lis is lily. But the pronunciation is a matter of some dispute. Americans typically say “fluhr duh LEE.” But in French, it is “fluhr duh LEES.”

Many legends about the fleur-de-lis and its original use are obscured in the mists of history. Scholars have debated it for centuries.

It came into focus as a representation of French royalty after Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as emperor in 800 A.D. Much of its symbolism gravitated toward Catholicism.

It is sometimes seen in depictions of the Virgin Mary through association with the lily.

Joan of Arc, it is said, carried banners into battle that showed the fleur-de-lis. Drawings show her wearing a hat adornedwith them.

The fleur-de-lis is often associated with North American places like Detroit, Quebec and Louisiana, which were settled by French explorers. In sports, the Quebec Nordiques wore it on their uniforms.

The logo for the Boy Scouts of Americauses it, and so has at least one sorority.

The Saints have worn fleur-de-lis since their inception in 1967 but have enhanced the design in recent years.

More on: Fleur-de-lis & Fleur-de-lis in Scouting

An insider's view of Microsoft

Microsoft’s Creative Destruction


... Microsoft, America’s most famous and prosperous technology company, no longer brings us the future, whether it’s tablet computers like the iPad, e-books like Amazon’s Kindle, smartphones like the BlackBerry and iPhone, search engines like Google, digital music systems like iPod and iTunes or popular Web services like Facebook and Twitter.


Microsoft, America’s most famous and prosperous technology company, no longer brings us the future, whether it’s tablet computers like the iPad, e-books like Amazon’s Kindle, smartphones like the BlackBerry and iPhone, search engines like Google, digital music systems like iPod and iTunes or popular Web services like Facebook and Twitter.

Microsoft’s huge profits — $6.7 billion for the past quarter — come almost entirely from Windows and Office programs first developed decades ago. Like G.M. with its trucks and S.U.V.’s, Microsoft can’t count on these venerable products to sustain it forever. Perhaps worst of all, Microsoft is no longer considered the cool or cutting-edge place to work. There has been a steady exit of its best and brightest.

Comment: From the NYTimes. Written by a former Microsoft VP. Worthwhile read about management, innovation and progress.


H1N!1 Gone!

Goodbye swine flu! Epidemic seems to be over


Is the U.S. swine flu epidemic over? Federal health officials won't go so far as to say that, but on Friday they reported for the fourth week in a row that no states had widespread flu activity.

U.S. cases have been declining since October. An official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says swine flu cases are still occurring and are likely to continue a while longer at some level.

But another expert said a future large wave of cases now seems very unlikely.

Comment: Sure glad I bothered to get the shot! ?