Monday, December 29, 2008

Stay at Home and Get Paid!

Given the recent collapse of the global financial market, I am not sure its wise to push the "learn how to invest overnight" business model. I suppose television pitch-men still have to make their living too.

That said, those who decide to try and make "ten, twenty, even sixty thousand dollars month!" purchasing the simple "investment fortune in a box" programs two words spring to mind...caveat emptor.

One silver lining....the mustachiod, flip-flop wearing, yacht captain promising endless returns on real estate appears to have disappeared from the television.

- Murphy

Nixon Waiting For Federal Funds?

Incoming Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has said he will not tap into Missouri's "Rainy Day Fund" in order to make up for expected budget shortfalls.

Local legislators, State Sen. Jeff Smith and State Rep Jamilah Nasheed, have been pushing the Governor to tap into the half-billion dollar savings account the State has built up for use in emergencies. The state has not dipped into and not used since the massive floods in the early 1990's.

The Obama transition team has indicated it wants to channel much of the proposed stimulus fund into things like infrastructure, much of which will be funneled through states, many of which are facing difficult cuts due to revenue shortfalls.

Economist Paul Krugman enthusiastically endorses this idea. Krugman notes that if the states continue their cuts-mostly due to mandatory balanced budget rules such as Missouri's which leaves states little room-and the federal government doesn't help make up the shortfalls, the economy could continue to stagnate. States and the organizations they fund-directly or indirectly-are already laying off employees, thus adding energy to the downward spiral.

- Murphy

Ad Infinitum....

From today's New York Times.

“In the cabinet room today there was an energy, a feeling that after so long of showing restraint we had finally acted,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking of the weekly government meeting that he attended.

Mark Heller, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that that energy reflected the deep feeling among average Israelis that the country had to regain its deterrent capacity.

“There has been a nagging sense of uncertainty in the last couple years of whether anyone is really afraid of Israel anymore,” he said. “The concern is that in the past — perhaps a mythical past — people didn’t mess with Israel because they were afraid of the consequences. Now the region is filled with provocative rhetoric about Israel the paper tiger. This operation is an attempt to re-establish the perception that if you provoke or attack you are going to pay a disproportionate price.”

It may be that the real lesson of the 2006 Lebanon war has less to do with the strength of Israel, than the salted-earth nature of this type of warfare. 

Israel stepped up its attacks on Hezbollah in 2006 and drew little distinction between the terrorist organization and the government of Lebanon. In the process it attacked not only the group's surprisingly extensive military network of bunkers, weapons caches and communications hubs (also using top-of-the line encryption and hacking tech) but also the civilian infrastructure including bridges, the international airport and the power grid. 

For the Lebanese civilians, they found themselves trapped. Hezbollah parries and feints, raining mortars and rockets on Israel-with almost zero effect save for enraging the Israeli populace-and daring the Israeli military to attack it as it secludes itself amongst the civilian population; a living shield for their military attacks.

In the end, no gain was made. Thousands were killed, Lebanon's civilian infrastructure shattered, Hezbollah made hay over Israel's withdrawal and the soldiers whose capture set the light to the powder-keg were found dead.

Now in Gaza, with Hamas' decision to also resume its nearly pointless barrage of rockets into Israel, the Israeli leadership has decided to retaliate. A retaliation taken on with the idea that the 2006 Lebanon war was not a failure due to the nearly impossible task of rooting out terrorism with military force (a lesson whose apparent difficulty to learn is only surpassed by those determined to attempt it), but that they took it too easy in Lebanon.

Had Hezbollah and Hamas truly had the interests of their people at heart, they would not draw such fire upon their own innocent. And the Israeli government should perhaps realize that they are being purposefully drawn into something they can not really win, and whose effect will only empower their enemy. 

- Murphy

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Department of: How Is This Still Going

Shortly after the election, local Republican activist and regular Post Dispatch op-ed contributor Z. Dwight Billingsly penned a short diatribe that had as much pop as a flat soda and the thoughtfulness of a child's bowl of spaghetti careening through mid-air on its way to an unpleasant meeting with the fridge.

Somehow, that particular story has managed to top the list of the most emailed stories on a regular basis since its publication. 

Titled "A Plan to Survive the Obama Years", Billingsly spends several hundred words trying to reiterate the McCain campaign's attack plan, with even less coherence or credibility than the failed presidential bid managed to eek out. It's as if he just yells a bit louder, the American people-or at least those that happen to read his column-will suddenly....what? Rescind their vote?

The crux of his argument is that President-elect Barack Obama lacks executive experience. Followed by the assertion that for the next four years the executive branch will resemble nothing more than some sort of farce as the Ship of State-manned by a bunch of amateurs-careens into the shoals. 

What never ceases to amaze me, of course, is that had Sen. McCain succeeded in his quest, Republicans would also have elected a man with no executive experience. That point alone should have caused most people to tune out the noise, but if you go further, its easy to see how completely Billingsly's points have been refuted.

Almost without exception, Obama's choices for important positions-Cabinet level, department heads and executive staff-have been lauded specifically for their professionalism and experience. The decision to keep on Defense Secretary Gates to handle the withdrawal from Iraq alone should have been enough to prove that Obama will follow through on his promise to run a professional, no-nonsense administration. 

Republicans should be doubly pleased that it is exactly this focus on practicality and professionalism has caused some consternation amongst those on the Left who thought an Obama administration would be a direct ideological refutation of the Bush administration.

However, the Obama administration appears to be have even more important goals than ideological satisfaction, that of returning honor and professionalism to government and a reassertion of American moral authority in the world. Beyond the ideological bent of the Bush administration, their efforts demoralized and politicized vast swaths of the government. 

In a way, however that was merely the collateral damage of an administration determined to rend any form of legal restrain on those who occupy the White House. Whether it be dumping rules that protect workers, or authorizing the torture of captives.

To return to an era in which merit and professionalism are prized, where the United States leads the world by its example, and where the rule of law is more than an empty promise, that would be the greatest rebuke to the Bush administration and their churlish sycophants.

- Murphy

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More on Madoff

A collection of stories and profiles of the ultimate Pozi.....

The quiet man, from the Forward.

Don't Fence Him In, from the NYT.

More to come...

- Murphy

Top Ten Female Singers....

VH1 did a rundown of the top female popular singers (south, r&b, hip hop, rock, etc.). A great collection of great vocalists. 

My only question is, what is the "whistle octave"? Mariah Carey is apparently blessed with the distinction of having one of the widest octave ranges, including the aforementioned "whistle octave".

- Murphy

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Where exactly is half-way?

In relation to the dustup over President-elect Obama's choice of Pastor Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation, a caller on NPR asked why it's only the left that is reaching out.

Obama has made a point of talking about reaching out to those individuals who fall on the conservative end of the spectrum. His choice of Warren, his decision to keep on Secretary Gates and several of his other cabinet choices have all demonstrated a mixture of choosing individuals for their competence as well as their moderation.

The chicken littles who predicted a reign of neo-Marxists led by a muslim theocrat have certainly not had their fears borne out, something a majority of voters understood quite well.

Yet while liberals seem willing-if not eager-to try and de-escalate the conflict and attempt to open dialogue with those who disagree, there is little effort to cross the gap from the right.

Even Warren. For all his measured tones and hip "new" preacher ways, vehemently and vocally disagrees with liberals on the issues. He is not engaging the dialogue with an openness to change his views, but to try and put a less divisive face on his own.

It's the challenge of bridging the gap, you always run the risk of someone trying to pull you into the void.

- Murphy

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Meet the old boss...

Conservatives have little reason to worry about a progressive takeover. Inevitably the cozy, comfortable world of political power draws them all in.

Roll Call reports that Senator Evan Bayh is attempting to form a "Blue Dog" coalition in the Senate. The Blue Dogs in the House have long been a counterweight to attempts to enact progressive reforms, including government oversight, business regulation and environmental protections. 

Bayh has constantly been floated as a potential VP nominee due to his "moderate" image. He is certainly cementing his position now.

The question this raises is why, when the voters have overwhelmingly elected Democrats to every level of government-Democrats control both houses of Congress, the White House, the majority of Gubernatorial positions and state legislatures-do Democrats reflexively turn to the right?

Certainly it would not be beneficial for supporters of equal rights, environmental protection, labor support and a many other progressive causes to go wild-eyed into the breach, but the constant insistence on a "moderate" approach is pablum designed to placate supporters and opponents.

There is a difference in being pragmatic, however. Pragmatism is not a walk down the fence-line. It is an effort to achieve your ends, even if you have to go around and over a few walls and fences; but it is never loosing sight of the objective. The modern version of "moderation" and "third way" efforts are attempts to strike a stable position perched upon the privacy fence of political leadership.

It was inevitable that the conservative portions of the Democratic caucus would begin to stretch their muscles once they were secure in their position, but they should remember that their "moderation" was not what secured Democratic victories across the country. 

Voters were looking for someone to crack down on the out-of-touch business world, retune national security so that it once again serves our nation's purpose and restore dignity to government. 

President George W. Bush once promised to "restore dignity to the Oval Office". At the time it was seen as it was, a cheap shot at President Bill Clinton. But it dawned on the American public-beginning perhaps around the time of Katrina-that it was really a bad joke at our expense.

- Murphy