Monday, November 27, 2006

Times are tough all over?

Japundit: Money, money, everywhere, but poverty on the rise. . .
Japan has officially entered its longest period postwar economic growth ever, and economic experts are quibbling over what to name it. Suggestions include “Escape from deflation” (datsu-defure), “Candlelight,” “Koizumi,” and even “New Bubble.”

Many people who are living here swear they have not felt any of the benefits that normally are generated by economic expansion, there are quite a few stories appearing in the news these days indicating that there is still quite a supply of “funny money” floating around for those willing to grab it or lucky enough to stumble across it.
Despite all this, a noted economics professor claims that the relative poverty rate and income disparities in Japan are growing at alarming rates. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development seems to agree.

International Herald Tribune: Roh loses support as South Koreans struggle via DPRK Studies
SEOUL: Bruised by South Korea's cutthroat politics, bewildered by voters' rapidly changing concerns and battered mercilessly in the polls, President Roh Moo Hyun is limping toward the last year of his term.

But it is not Roh's engagement of North Korea, or even its recent nuclear test, that has saddled him with a current approval rating of 11 percent.

"The main reason we have lost support is that we were not able to perform well on issues of livelihood," said Chun Jung Bae, a senior lawmaker in the governing Uri Party who is a close ally of Roh.

"The overall economy is not bad - the growth rate is over 4 percent - but the life of the average person is very difficult,"

........With South Korea experiencing solid growth and record stock prices, Roh initially dismissed descriptions of a slumping economy as opposition bombast, experts said. He failed to see that growth was not trickling down to the average voter, who became increasingly frustrated with rising household debts, high education costs and unaffordable real estate prices.

The Big Picture:Its Still the Economy, Stupid
So while the media drones on about whether the GOP will suffer from Iraq in tomorrow's elections, or prosper from the "strong" economy, you can be sure they know not what they say. While those of us in the top percentiles are doing very nicely indeed, the rest of the country is scraping by.

The economy, despite good overall data and record high corporate profitability, does not exactly imbue to the incumbent's advantage. ......

• Over 2000-05, workers with four-year college degrees saw their inflation adjusted wages fall 3.1%

• Only two groups, who together make up just 3.4 percent of the workforce, saw inflation-adjusted wages rise: workers with doctoral degrees or specialty degrees, such as medicine or law, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.........

Those numbers are precisely why the Middle Class rates the economy only fair to poor, despite the data showing overall (but diminishing) strength.

All these economies are seeing similar issues, economic growth is occurring, but very unevenly, with the benefits going to a small portion of the population.

This is hilarious

Japanpundit:Extreme ironing in Japan

I stumbled across an interesting Sunday Feature article on The Japan Times website, about a new “sport”: Extreme ironing! If you are into outdoor activities, and you don’t manage to find the time to iron your clothes, then this activity is for you :an extreme sport and a performance art in which people take an ironing board to a remote location and iron a few items of clothing. Extreme ironing is “the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.” according to Wikipedia.

Hey, if curling is a sport.....

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Yahoo News:Man injured after launching firework from bottom

LONDON (AFP) - A man was rushed to hospital in Britain with severe internal injuries after trying to launch a powerful firework from his bottom, an ambulance service spokesman said.

It is thought that the 22-year-old could have been trying to imitate a scene from "Jackass: The Movie", a controversial film featuring a series of edgy pranks.

Footage of the incident in Sunderland, north-east England, was captured on a mobile phone by a gang of youths and shows a white flash followed by hysterical laughter and a youth shouting: "Ha ha ha ha," followed by an expletive.

A spokesman for the North East ambulance service said: "We received a call stating there was a male who had a firework in his bottom and it was bleeding."

He is now recovering in a Sunderland hospital after sustaining internal injuries including a scorched colon.

The incident took place on November 5, when Britons light bonfires and let off fireworks to commemorate a 17th century plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Military Option for Iran?

Commentary Arthur Herman:Getting Serious About Iran: A Military Option
.......Despite Iran’s richly developed repertoire of denials, deceptions, and dissimulations, there is ample evidence that it has no intention whatsoever of relinquishing its aim of becoming a nuclear power. Moreover, this aim may be achievable not within a decade (as Senator Biden fancies) but within the next two to three years. In September, the House Intelligence Committee reported that Iran may have already succeeded in enriching uranium; some intelligence analysts believe that it may already have access to fissionable nuclear material, courtesy of North Korea. If that is so, no diplomacy in the world is going to prevent it from acquiring a bomb.

But neither are nuclear weapons the only threat posed by the Islamic Republic. While the international community has been preoccupied with this issue, the regime in Tehran has been taking steady steps to achieve hegemony over one of the world’s most sensitive and economically critical regions, and control over the world’s most precious resource. It is doing so, moreover, entirely through conventional means.

To put it briefly, the Islamic Republic has its hand on the throttle of the world’s economic engine: the stretch of ocean at the mouth of the Persian Gulf known as the Straits of Hormuz, which are only 21 miles wide at their narrowest point. Through this waterway, every day, pass roughly 40 percent of the world’s crude oil, including two-thirds of the oil from Saudi Arabia. By 2025, according to Energy Department estimates, fully 60 percent of the world’s oil exports will be moved through this vital chokepoint.

The Straits border on Iran and Oman, with the two lanes of traffic that are used specifically by oil tankers being theoretically protected by international agreement. Since 9/11, a multinational force comprising ships from the U.S., Japan, six European countries, and Pakistan have patrolled outside the Straits, in Omani waters, to make sure they stay open. But this is largely a token force. Meanwhile, the world’s access to Saudi, Qatari, Kuwaiti, and Iraqi oil and gas, as well as other petroleum products from the United Arab Emirates, depends on free passage through the Hormuz Straits.

The Tehran regime has made no secret of its desire to gain control of the Straits as part of its larger strategy of turning the Gulf into an Iranian lake. Indeed, in a preemptive move, it has begun to threaten a cut-off of tanker traffic if the UN should be foolish enough to impose sanctions in connection with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. “We have the power to halt oil supply,” a senior Iranian official warned the European Union last January, “down to the last drop.”
Something like this very nearly happened in 1987 during the Iran-Iraq war, when only direct U.S. intervention kept the Straits open and the world’s oil flowing. For the United States is hardly the only country with a stake in keeping the Gulf and Straits free of Iranian control. Every country in Western Europe and Asia, including those that complain most bitterly about American policy in the Middle East, depends on the steady maintenance of the global economic order that runs on Middle Eastern oil.

But—and herein lies a fruitful irony—so does Iran itself. Almost 90 percent of the mullahs’ oil assets are located either in or near the Gulf. So is the nuclear reactor that Russia is building for Iran at Bushehr. Virtually every Iranian well or production platform depends on access to the Gulf if Iran’s oil is to reach buyers. Hence, the same Straits by means of which Iran intends to lever itself into a position of global power present the West with its own point of leverage to reduce Iran’s power—and to keep it reduced for at least as long as the country’s political institutions remain unprepared to enter the modern world.

Which brings us back to the military option. That there is plentiful warrant for the exercise of this option—in Iran’s serial defiance of UN resolutions, in its declared genocidal intentions toward Israel, another member of the United Nations, and in the fact of its harboring, supporting, and training of international terrorists—could not be clearer. Unfortunately, though, current debate has become stuck on the issue of possible air strikes against Iran’s nuclear program, and whether such strikes can or cannot halt that program’s further development. Optimists argue they can; pessimists, including those highlighted in Time’s cover story, throw up a myriad of objections.

The most common such objection is that the ayatollahs, having learned the lesson of 25 years ago when Israel took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, have dispersed the most vital elements of their uranium-enrichment project among perhaps 30 hardened and well-protected sites. According to Time’s military sources, air sorties would thus have to reach roughly 1,500 “aim points,” contending with sophisticated air-defense systems along the way. As against this, others, including the strategic analyst Edward Luttwak in Commentary (“Three Reasons Not to Bomb Iran—Yet,” May 2006), argue convincingly that it is hardly necessary to hit all or even the majority of Iran’s sites in order to set back its nuclear program by several years.

But, as I have tried to show, the most immediate menace Iran poses is not nuclear but conventional in nature. How might it be dealt with militarily, and is it conceivable that both perils could be dealt with at once? What follows is one possible scenario for military action.

The first step would be to make it clear that the United States will tolerate no action by any state that endangers the international flow of commerce in the Straits of Hormuz. Signaling our determination to back up this statement with force would be a deployment in the Gulf of Oman of minesweepers, a carrier strike group’s guided-missile destroyers, an Aegis-class cruiser, and anti-submarine assets, with the rest of the carrier group remaining in the Indian Ocean. The U.S. Navy could also deploy UAV’s (unmanned air vehicles) and submarines to keep watch above and below against any Iranian missile threat to our flotilla.

Our next step would be to declare a halt to all shipments of Iranian oil while guaranteeing the safety of tankers carrying non-Iranian oil and the platforms of other Gulf states. We would then guarantee this guarantee by launching a comprehensive air campaign aimed at destroying Iran’s air-defense system, its air-force bases and communications systems, and finally its missile sites along the Gulf coast. At that point the attack could move to include Iran’s nuclear facilities—not only the “hard” sites but also infrastructure like bridges and tunnels in order to prevent the shifting of critical materials from one to site to another.

Above all, the air attack would concentrate on Iran’s gasoline refineries. It is still insufficiently appreciated that Iran, a huge oil exporter, imports nearly 40 percent of its gasoline from foreign sources, including the Gulf states. With its refineries gone and its storage facilities destroyed, Iran’s cars, trucks, buses, planes, tanks, and other military hardware would run dry in a matter of weeks or even days. This alone would render impossible any major countermoves by the Iranian army. (For its part, the Iranian navy is aging and decrepit, and its biggest asset, three Russian-made Kilo-class submarines, should and could be destroyed before leaving port.)

The scenario would not end here. With the systematic reduction of Iran’s capacity to respond, an amphibious force of Marines and special-operations forces could seize key Iranian oil assets in the Gulf, the most important of which is a series of 100 offshore wells and platforms built on Iran’s continental shelf. North and South Pars offshore fields, which represent the future of Iran’s oil and natural-gas industry, could also be seized, while Kargh Island at the far western edge of the Persian Gulf, whose terminus pumps the oil from Iran’s most mature and copiously producing fields (Ahwaz, Marun, and Gachsaran, among others), could be rendered virtually useless. By the time the campaign was over, the United States military would be in a position to control the flow of Iranian oil at the flick of a switch.

An operational fantasy? Not in the least. The United States did all this once before, in the incident I have already alluded to. In 1986-88, as the Iran-Iraq war threatened to spill over into the Gulf and interrupt vital oil traffic, the United States Navy stepped in, organizing convoys and re-flagging ships to protect them against vengeful Iranian attacks. When the Iranians tried to seize the offensive, U.S. vessels sank one Iranian frigate, crippled another, and destroyed several patrol boats. Teams of SEALS also shelled and seized Iranian oil platforms. The entire operation, the largest naval engagement since World War II, not only secured the Gulf; it also compelled Iraq and Iran to wind down their almost decade-long war. Although we made mistakes, including most grievously the accidental shooting-down of a civilian Iranian airliner, killing everyone on board, the world economic order was saved—the most important international obligation the United States faced then and faces today.

In fact, there is little Iran could do in the face of relentless military pressure at its most vulnerable point. Today, not only are key elements of the Iranian military in worse shape than in the 1980’s, but even the oil weapon is less formidable than imagined. Currently Iran exports an estimated 2.5 million barrels of oil a day. Yet according to a recent report in Forbes, quoting the oil-industry analyst Michael Lynch, new sources of oil around the world will have boosted total production by 2 million barrels a day in this year alone, and next year by three million barrels a day. In short, other producers (including Iranian platforms in American hands) can take up some if not all of the slack. The real loser would be Iran itself. Pumping crude oil is its only industry, making up 85 percent of its exports and providing 65 percent of the state budget. With its wells held hostage, the country’s economy could enter free fall.

Could we accomplish a lot of the same just by using less oil? We're going to have to make the change sooner or later. That'd also cut off the spout where the money comes out for the Sunni nuts too.

Nice Little Slap Across the Snout

House Gets Trucking's Counsel on Highway Policy
Christopher Lofgren, president and CEO of Schneider National, put it this way: "I think people recognize that there isn't one answer, there isn't one mode to solve the problem. There's more of a willingness to say how do we work through this, where traditionally we have fought each other to get whatever share we could get. It is different today. There is a new spirit of collaboration in the industry."
Lofgren suggested a raft of policy changes, from tax breaks on federally mandated equipment to lowering speed limits. One suggestion was directed at the driver shortage.
"Driver pay is our No. 1 cost," he said. "It hasn't changed in real terms since 1980 – it's actually less. We have to be able to recover that cost and the market does not allow us to do it."
Part of the solution would be to expand permanent employment visas to cover immigrant truck drivers, he said. "We know there is a significant population of potential immigrants with truck driving experience. Existing immigration laws have allowed us to successfully recruit a limited number. To do more, the laws must recognize truck driving as a critical skill."
This drew a sharp response from the Teamsters' DeFazio, who said that instead of importing cheap labor, the industry should raise driver pay. "If we don't open the door to immigrants who will work for less, then maybe everybody will have to raise their wages and you won't be at a disadvantage." DeFazio also suggested a federal minimum wage and benefit standard for truck drivers.
"With all due respect, sir," Lofgren told DeFazio, "I don't know that you guys have been proved to be real successful with these kinds of activities."
"Well," DeFazio replied, "it doesn't sound like you've been real successful in your business here, because you want to import labor into a country that has a labor surplus among people who have less than a college education. And, as you pointed out, you're paying people less than in 1980. I don't consider that to be a great success, either. Maybe profitable, but at some point you have to have a middle class, and truck drivers used to be middle class. And if you want to put them in the poverty class then you are moving in the right direction."

This shows the rapaciousness of corporate America. They've driven pay below 1980 levels and it's not good enough. They're all for the free market until it doesn't work in their favor, then they want to change the rules. It's a bit of an open question who's going to buy the crap we haul when no one makes a dime.