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The War on Religion

When Attorney General Janet Reno, most certainly with the blessing, er...make that approval, of then President Bill Clinton, flame-broiled the Branch Davidians, I thought that something of significance had occurred. Both the old main-line religions and the fast-growing evangelicals were strangely mute - to their long-term disadvantage in my opinion. They didn't defend the Jews from the Nazis either.

Not that I had any particular sympathy or inclination in favor of that little cult, but simply that I believe that religious tolerance is a hallmark here, and if someone wants to follow Monty Python and worship The Holy Hand Grenade, well, that is their business.

But the November issue of Wired magazine lays it out. It profiles three leaders of a movement it labels The New Atheists. These three not only are disbelievers, it is their view that the time to respect, or even tolerate, religion is over. Wired calls it the Crusade Against Religion. I won't recount all this here, but some o…

Investment Ideas

Recently heard from my old friend Jim Garvin with some investment ideas. Jim told me to buy Southwest Airlines in about 1982. I of course totally ignored that, with a cost of a few houndred thou.

Jim says the smart money is still looking at Canadian oil sands and watching commodity plays, despite the volatility of those in the last 18 months.

If Jim says that - I'd look.

From a technical stock analysis viewpoint, the recent up move by GE looks powerful - breaking through multiyear resistance.

As always, do your own diligence.

video recording phones

About two years ago I had dinner with noted furniture industry analyst Joel Havard. He theorized that the widespread adoption of mobile phones with video camera features would lead to completely unforeseen outcomes.

The Michael Richards escapade, and the Sea-Tac airport Great Christmas Tree fiasco prove him prescient.

An immigration question

I count myself among the conservatives who are concerned about the horde of immigrants illegally entering the U.S.

But something has been puzzling me.

Countries as varied as South Korea and Ireland have moved from third, or near-third world status to growth and prosperity in little more than a generation.

Ireland did it with a bold tax plan, cutting corporate taxes to 10%, and offering additional incentives that made rates really closer to zero, thereby setting off a wave of investments from big Pharma and virtually every tech company, including Lionbridge, Dell and Microsoft.

South Korea took a very different tack, raising huge protectionist barriers that are only gradually being reduced, and assisting the growth of the chaebols; resulting in ten or so world scale monsters like Samsung, Lucky Goldstar (LG) and Hyundai.

India, which had long shunned business and open markets as the activities of a lower class, is now embracing growth and experiencing an economic boom.

China, with its mi…

Life and death - but mostly life - I

In 2003 (most recent data) 19,408 people lived too long.

In what seems to me to be the most under-reported story I can think of, the death rate is declining noticeably. In 2003, 2,448,288 people in the U.S. died. In 2002 2,443,387 died. So, 4,901 more folks left this life. "What about it", you might ask. Well there were 2,865,000 more Americans, and 19,409 should have died, using the 2002 death rate. Our average age is moving up at nothing short of an astonishing rate. (Although one could argue that it can't move up more than one year per year.....).

Why is this happening? Lots of reasons. Statin drugs are extending the lives of heart attack victims, or preventing heart attacks all together. The percentage of people driving drunk and killing themselves (sad) or killing others (tragic) is down. Seat belts, air bags, crumple zones better brakes and tires. Higher survival rates for premature babies (big statistical impact of living to a normal age length vs. dying less than a…

A sad day

I'm going to detour from my usual political/business/economy posts for a personal note: our longtime companion Schnauzer Sascha passed away last week.

She had been our little buddy for 14 years. It was a sad day.

Rest in Peace little friend.

OK - More Candidates

OK - since my post last week - two new announced Presidential Candidates - Govenor George Pataki of NY and Govenor TomVilazon of Iowa - Pataki as a Republican, Vilazon as a Democrat. I guess after Carter, we should conclude that anything is possible, but I put these two in the definite long shot category.

Unfortunately for him (and us), Vilazon's announcement speech was anything but inspiring. One point in his speech was how difficult it is for people to achieve the universal American dream of home ownership. Fact check gov: home ownership in the U.S. is an an all time high. And with home prices falling, mortgage rates reasonable, and a stupifying variety of low intro rate/interest only/LIBOR base rate/adjustable rate loans, just about anyone who has a job can own a home.

And George P.: at one point we thought you were a conservative. Now: who knows?

So, now I'm up to 7 & 9 candidates and counting....

Whether the economy II

The powerful economic cross currents continue.

The dollar plunges against the Euro (take that deficit doesn't matter crowd). Median house prices decline for the third consecutive month; an exceptionally rare occurence. Auto sales too decline. Twenty years ago, if housing and autos were both down, a recession was virtually guaranteed. Today, with technology and services far bigger economic components, it isn't a fait accompli. Interest rates continue very reasonable, with a decent chance that the Fed's next move is down, not up.

Liz Ann Sonders, a heavy hitter investor, sees the housing decline as a very bad omen, almost always followed by a recession as construction workers lose their jobs, banks deal with defaulted mortgages, building materials manufacturers lay off workers and so on.

I'm not that negative yet, but I'm looking at placing some stop loss orders just in case...

Michael Richards - v2

So Michael Richards has reached out to Jesse Jackson? Who has reached out to Al Sharpton?

Michael - why couldn't you do like everyone else and check into rehab? Please, it's not too late - rehab in some country a long way from here....

Alexander Litvinenko RIP

In what may be the weirdest story of 2006, former KGB agent Alexander Litvenenko died from radiation poisoning. Apparently, Mr. Litvenenko consumed Polonium 210. I must confess that I had never heard of Polonium before, but you can't buy it in your local hardware store, unless your local hardware store happens to have a nuclear reactor, or your local school district has invested in a particle accelerator.

In a deathbed statement, he accused Prime Minister Putin of having him assasinated.

Apparently Mr. Litvenenko had recently dined at a popular Picadilly Circus sushi bar, and became ill soon after.

I've actually been more than willing to give Mr. Putin the benefit of the doubt. However, bit by bit the successful parts of the Russian economy have been expropriated by the central government, the press co-opted, and journalists eliminated. This is looking like a message from the old Soviet: get in our way and we'll take you out, even if you are in a free country, and we'…

The Speaker of the House

After watching Nancy Pelosi in action recently, I've become concerned that she isn't too bright, and she's only two people away from the Presidency. But upon further reflection, I don't think that Dennis Hastert was publishing articles on string theory in the Journal of Science either....
be well W.

Handicapping the Presidency

The Congressional elections have now all been decided, and the race for the 2008 Presidency is in full swing. This is a seriously crowded field. Here are my early thoughts.

On the Republican side, there are at least six candidates.

Govenor Mitt Romney. Smart. Amazingly telegenic. Squeaky clean. A very rich, very smart capitalist (a co-founder of Bain Capital). Anti-abortion views will appeal to the religious conservatives, fiscal policy is likely to appeal to deficit hawks. Experience however, is rather light. Somewhat of a long shot.

Senator John McCain. Experienced, war hero, author; he owns the stateman position. We must assume he is the front runner, and has a legitimate claim to the centrist/moderate position. Age and temper may work against him, although he does seem to have mellowed a little in the last few years. Not the favorite of either the fiscal hawks or the religious right.

America's Mayor Rudy Guilani. Exhibited leadership after Sept. 11 that no one forsaw. Messy divorc…

On Nancy Pelosi

There will eventually be a woman president of the U.S.

Perhaps as soon as 2008 with Ms. Clinton. She is certainly smart enough, highly skilled and qualified. We'll see.

However, I'm not too enamored of Ms. Pelosi in that role. Maybe she would surprise me and rise to the occasion. Is my knowledge of the Constitution correct? Is she third in line?

W is a healthy guy. That is a good thing, because if something were to happen to him, Dick "more gravy please" Cheney could go at any time. He's got more electronics and chip power in his chest than a good size data center.....and just like that - Nancy's in....

A Pox on Both Your Houses

As far as I can recall, yesterday was the first time I haven't voted in over thirty years. I felt totally betrayed by the Republicans, who were spending in a way that Lyndon Johnson and Tip O'Neill would have found embarrasing. They tried sidling up to us at the end, talking about spending, the borders and so on, but it struck me as totally phony. They were in power for years; if they had wanted to control spending, build a levee againist the tsunami of illegal immigrants, fix the death tax or deal with the mind-numbing crisis of Social Security, they could have. But they didn't.

On the other hand, I couldn't get excited about Jim Webb, or putting Nancy Pelosi in as Speaker of the House. So I stayed home.

I was bummed out about the election and some things at work, so I lit up a Macanudo. I'm not sure what they call it - it was a small ring gauge - so a panatella or a lancero - and listened as the election reports came in. Not a rout, but nontheless a big vic…

On Deadlines

Do you remember your first high school term paper? Did you scramble at the end to get it done? Or in college? Pull an all-nighter?

Work on any big programming projects? Do those milestone dates and go-live dates keep the pressure on you to complete your work?

While the broadcast media has reporters standing in malls on the day after Thanksgiving to check the crowds, in fact for most retailers the weekend before Christmas is typically produces the biggest revenue.

The Post Office accomodates all those last minute tax filers by staying open until midnight April 15th. The public is sufficiently frightened of the IRS, fines, penalties, big brother, etc. that most all the returns are filed by that deadline. (Wesley Snipes notwithstanding).

What is the point of this you ask? It is time to change the debate from "Stay the Course" or "Cut and Run". It is time to set a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq. And one that will get attention. Sixty days or less. Enforce it b…

Memo to Republicans

You've been in control of the Presidency, the House and the Senate for six years now. You are no longer entitled to blame former President Clinton for a weakened military, stripped-down intelligence capability, culture of immorality, strengthened terrorist organization, the failure to get Bin Laudin, or anything else.

Six years and, oh, I don't know, two trillion dollars of spending or so, is enough to change all the variables.

It is all your responsibility now.

Memo to Democrats

The Korean nuclear issue was not caused by President Bush's failure to engage the Chinese, or the administration's failure to create an international coalition.

It is because the poor North Koreans are subjugated to a whack job who is prepared to counterfeit money, sell drugs, starve his own people and arguably to sell nuclear material to advance his weird personal agenda, whatever that may be.

Innovation

Audi is winning Formula Car races with diesel engine vehicles. Tesla's pavement-ripping, 150 MPH, 0-60 in 4 seconds electric car is sold out for its first year of production. Investors in Tennessee are building soybean crushers to turn soybeans into biodiesel. Mercedes newest diesel car will be available here soon, with snappy 0-60 times and a whopping 700 miles to the tank. The new Lexus GS 450 has sub 6 second 0-60 with a powerful hybrid engine, while getting 20+MPG.

Sixty dollar per barrel oil is igniting a wave of innovation that will ultimately rival the Internet.

Highway signs

Making my weekly drive from VA to PA, I kept thinking about the PA turnpike signs that say:

Stay Right
Pass Left
It's the Law

Brevity is a rare and valuable attribute of written communication, and those signs certainly have that.

However, we now understand that in the YouTube/MySpace world, it is important to make a visceral, emotional connection with your audience.

I respectively submit to the PA Department of Transportation some alternative phrasing:

Get your pokey butt over in the right lane
So that people with someplace to go
Can drive in the left.

On Forgiveness

The Amish have received substantial contributions since the senseless slaughter of those girls.

They've decided to share some of it with the family of the evil slimeball who killed the girls.

That is a quality of forgiveness beyond my comprehension.

Evil

George Roberts killed five little girls.

And once again, we see the face of evil.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families.
gene

On Health

So several innocent people perished recently by trying to be healthy. Not from smoking, or trans-fats, or riding their motorcycles without helmets, or running with scissors: they ate spinach.

I'm nursing a blown knee - torn meniscus - apparently from jogging - and worse, jogging slowly - on a treadmill. Excuse me a minute while I light a cigar and pour a vodka - this healthy thing isn't getting it any longer.
gene

Dennis & Tip

For years, I thought the late Congressman Tip O'Neill was the quintessential big government tax and spend liberal. I must qualify that by saying that I also felt that he believed in what he was doing - what I would call an honest liberal.


And, I thought Congressman Dennis Hastert was a conservative who stood for limited government and budgetary restraint.






Is is just me, or is Hastert beginning to look like O'Neill? Sadly, I don't believe my more liberal friends could call him an honest conservative.
gene




The Interstate Highway System

Driving from Philadelphia to Leesburg VA and back again over the weekend stimulated questions:
1. The most expensive highway construction bill in history was passed last year. Where the hell is that money going?
2. Can it make any sense that I-81, or I-40, or The Pennsylvania Turnpike are two lanes? Those highways opened as two lanes 40 years ago, when there were many less people, and phenomenally fewer vehicles on the road. Shouldn't every interstate highway be six or eight lanes?
3. What must be the economic cost of thousands or even millions of cars and trucks sitting on the road going nowhere? Gasoline alone must be billions.
4. Finally, can't we all drive 100??? My laptop is, I don't know, 10,000 times faster than twenty years ago; I can email someone in Japan in about four seconds on my cell phone, and I'm driving slower than I did in 1970....

Former President Bill Clinton

William Jefferson showed his repertoire on Fox Sunday with his interview with Chris Wallace that has generated a lot of interesting press and subsequent discussion. I'm a long-time Fox Sunday watcher, so I caught it - didn't think it was quite the meltdown widely reported.

I must admit always liking Clinton. I don't know if it is because we are both Southerners, or because I have lots relatives in AR (my father, brother and sister live there currently) some of whom know Clinton personally, or what.

If there is anyone else in elected office who understands the workings of government better, I don't know who it could be. And with Rubin in his administration, it was arguably the best economic management ever.

Former President Carter (who is likable, keenly intelligent, but a flaming disaster as President) has gone on to notable charitable work, largely with Habitat for Humanity. Former President Ford is by all accounts in very poor health. And the gentlemanly older Bush se…

The Devil Makes a Comeback

Hugo Chavez compared President Bush to the devil; Jerry Falwell stated that Hillary C. would motivate religous conservatives to vote more than if Lucifer himself was on the ballot....

That old debil must have a new PR agency...
gene

Hugo Chavez & The United Nations

Apparently during his crack-cocaine induced nutball rant, Presidente-For-Life Hugo Chavez called for the relocation of the U.N. to Caracas. I know this looks like the biggest opportunity for the Conservative Movement since Clinton played with cigars and interns, and actually may even hold some appeal to liberals, I ask you to stop and think for a moment.

Where did old Hugo, and his hirsute simian sidekick Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who clearly is striking a powerful blow against the creationism doctrine) hang out while in the Big Apple?

I'm betting on a suite in the Mandarin or the Penninsula at $1,200 per night or so. And I bet that dinner was something other than a slice at The Original Ray's. Add in the other several thousand erstwhile world leaders living the loca vida in NY courtesy of the starving peasants back in whatever Godforsaken hell hole they escaped, and the U.N. must be pumping billions into the U.S. economy.

They're buying suits at Barney's, dinner at Nobu, hand…

The Pope's Comments

The Pope quoted someone quite relatively unknown from 600 years ago or so, and thereby rhetorically asked for a statement of the positive, redemptive values of Islam.

Some enlightened Al Qaeda member called for his assassination.

It was so pathetically obvious that there really wasn't any irony.
gene

Economic Connections

In my running stream of consciousness connections, here is the next one.

I was driving from VA to PA Sunday, cruising at about 85 and getting passed uphill by folks in Escalades. (I was listening to the Earth to America CD by Widepread Panic, produced by star producer Terry Manning at Compass Point Studios in Nassau. Second Skin alone is worth more than the cost of the CD). Anyway, the thread goes like this:

We have a crystal meth/crack/heiron addiction to Middle Eastern Oil.

Electric Cars could finally be a reality. See www.teslamotors.com or search for wrightspeed.

But, somewhere we've got to get the juice for these dynamo driven rockets.

Therefore, we need new power plants; nuclear power plants.

So, Congress needs to pass legislation that allows fast track construction of nuclear plants without twenty years of environmental obstructionism lawsuits, which enables power plants, which enables electric cars, which sends us all to the Betty Ford Center for eliminating dependence on foreig…

A Civil War Required?

I've been thinking a lot about the situation in Iraq. I'll admit to been discomfited as soon as it became obvious that there weren't stashes of nerve gas, anthrax, etc. there, much less the chemical lab trucks Colin Powell described to the United Nations as being as ubiquitous as UPS trucks.

However, he is obviously a bad actor, and I could rationalize it. But it now looks like we are getting in the middle of a cross fire between religious factions.

Let's put some long view perspective on the topic, place some disparate data together and see if a skein of argument results. First, about 146 years ago, the U.S. splintered into two political entities, and proceeded to fight a horrific civil war that resulted in casualties of about 3% of the population (source: Wikipedia). According to the late Shelby Foote, who wrote the definitive history of the U.S. civil war, the war created America. Second, in the immediate two centuries or so following the death of Christ, there were m…

Sean Hannity

Driving from Philly to VA last night, I listened to Sean Hannity. He seems like a nice young man and sincere. Unfortunately, he has drunk the Kool Aid. The Republican Party now treats real conservatives like the Democratic Party treats blacks: they are taken for granted. After all, where would a conservative voter go? Sean continues to defend the Republicans and recommend voting for them to retain power.

With Brobdingnagian deficits, uncontrolled borders and increasingly protectionist trade policies, it is hard for me to see where a conservative fits in this party...George Bush will prove to be the John Major of the U.S. conservative movement, banishing the conservatives to minority status for a generation.

First Draft

After a complete crash of my FrontPage site at genemorphis.com and the associated crash of my laptop, I've gotten the bug to resume blogging.

It's late; I've had a long day at work with an impressive string of bad news. So, I wanted to just get this set up tonight and get to real work over the weekend.
gene