December 10, 2005

2005 Weblog Awards: 5 Days Remain

Filed under: General,News from Other Sites — Tom @ 8:10 pm

HebeClick on the graphic to vote in the Business Category poll (a vote for BizzyBlog would be greatly appreciated).
The list of all nominees in all categories is here–So vote already (one vote allowed every 24 hours). (more…)

Victory Must Be Imminent: Iraq Has an Aspiring Boy Band

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy — Tom @ 7:44 pm

From the Saturday Wall Street Journal (subscription required), a neat story, though not my cup of tea:

The Iraq Street Boys
Five friends from Baghdad dreamed of fame when they started a boy band. The war pulled them apart; now an American backer is giving them another shot.

LONDON — In a dance studio here, five young Iraqi men lined up, fists held to their mouths like microphones. They swiveled their hips and sang their love song, “Hey Girl.”

As their British trainers applauded, the singers bowed with a grin. Then they sang “While We Can,” a song about war, loss and hope:

In the time of war, in the time of devastation,
When you seek the light, you long for salvation.

They should know. The band, “Unknown to No One,” is a musical anomaly: an Iraqi Western-style pop group that sings in English. Thanks to a wealthy American benefactor, its members have traveled from Baghdad, where they contended with a radio station owned by Saddam Hussein’s son and practiced without electricity over the sounds of gunfire, to a plush apartment in the British capital. Here, a team of voice, dance and physical trainers are prepping them for a shot at the big time.

Unknown to No One, a group of young Iraqis hoping for pop stardom, rehearses in a London studio.

The music world is filled with hopeful garage bands and erstwhile managers who believe they can turn them into stars. Few ever make it. While the novelty of being an Iraqi band might be marketable, the challenges they face in becoming the next Backstreet Boys are huge.

But the roller-coaster ride these young men have already taken gives a glimpse of the dreams that ordinary Iraqis carve out amid violence and suicide bombing. And not every garage band started out being forced to write a song for Saddam Hussein’s birthday just to get air time or now worries about the safety of their families in war-torn Baghdad.

“Our heart is heavy with the pain we see from Iraq,” says Art Hartounian, the 28-year-old keyboard player and founder of the band. “We want to show the world a success story, a happy ending.”

The band members almost mirror their country’s religious and ethnic composition: one is a Sunni Muslim; two are Shiite Muslims and two are Christians. In some ways, their hopes and disappointments since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq echo those of Iraq too. Like every Iraqi who accepts the help of an American, they’ve had to weigh a potentially brighter future against the additional dangers their families may face.

Seriously, this is a great story, and in its own way says a lot about how Iraq’s recovery from decades of oppression is proceeding.

The band formed 5 years ago. Under Saddam Hussein, in return for having a love song they wrote played on the air, the band had to write a birthday tune praising the Iraqi dictator (“Our love, you bring, All bells let them ring, As we all will sing, Long live dear Saddam.”) The band says the birthday tune was played 48 times a day for a whole week (that should be in the list of justifications for going to war–Ed.), and their love song just once.

I wish these guys all the best. I just hope they don’t take it personally that I’m not going to make listening to another boy band a high priority.

Parody: There’s No Church on Christmas (at Some Megachurches)

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,General — Tom @ 3:58 pm

Item: Several megachurches are not having services on Christmas Day (HT Mike Meckler’s Red-State.com):

There’s no church on Christmas.
Worship somewhere else.
We can’t put on the show we want,
But we’ll still ring the bells.

There’s no Christmas service,
We don’t have the staff.
So don’t you come for Christmas,
And please try not to laugh.

Not Depressing News: Bernanke Understands the Great Depression

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:23 pm

I saw the best reason to be pleased with Bernard Bernanke’s nomination to be Federal Reserve Chairman in a December 7 Wall Street Journal front-page story–he has studied and understands the truth about The Great Depression (link requires subscription):

For decades, many economists and policy makers thought the Depression was the inevitable consequence of excess investment, flawed corporate governance and speculation in the 1920s, culminating in the 1929 stock-market crash. That view was reinforced by John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1955 book “The Great Crash, 1929.”

Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz upended that view in 1963. In “A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960,” they argued that the Depression was far from inevitable, but brought about by an “inept” Federal Reserve. First, they said, the Fed foolishly raised interest rates in 1928 to end speculation on Wall Street, causing a recession the next year that precipitated the crash. Then, it let thousands of banks fail and the money supply shrink. In part, it thought weak banks should be allowed to fail. It also feared that lower interest rates might lead foreigners to dump dollars, straining the currency’s link to gold.

What is Bernanke’s position?

Mr. Bernanke read the (Friedman) book as a graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1970s. “I was hooked, and I have been a student of monetary economics and economic history ever since,” he recalled at a 2002 conference honoring Mr. Friedman’s 90th birthday. Mr. Bernanke, by then one of the Fed’s seven governors, told Mr. Friedman: “Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”

More Good Economic News They Don’t Think You Can Use (121005)

Filed under: Economy,MSM Biz/Other Bias — Tom @ 11:09 am

The Federal Reserve released its “Flow of Funds” report Thursday.

zzzzzzzz….. Wake up. You’ll like these numbers reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (link requires subscription; bolds are mine):

(Household) net worth increased 2.6% (10.6% annualized–Ed.) to a record $51.1 trillion in the quarter, the 12th straight increase …..

Net worth has risen because the value of household assets, such as stock holdings and the value of homes themselves, has increased faster than household debts, including mortgages. Net worth measures household assets minus liabilities.

….. Across the whole economy, household net worth in the third quarter rose to about 5.65 times disposable personal income, the highest level since 2000′s final quarter.

Meanwhile, U.S. corporate profits outpaced business investment, the Fed said. The financing gap — the amount of money companies must raise externally to finance their capital expenditures — was negative $197.5 billion in the quarter, a record. The previous record of negative $59.3 billion was in the second quarter.

In a separate editorial later in the week (requires subscription), The Journal noted that household net worth has increased $10 trillion since the Bush tax cuts took effect in 2003. That’s a 24% increase in roughly 2-1/2 years. The negative financing gap means that companies were, on the whole, able to finance their capital expansions out of profits instead of borrowing money or selling stock.

What about debt? It’s going up, but not alarmingly in relation to asset values:

WASHINGTON (AFX) — Americans increased their household debt at an annual rate of 11.6% in the third quarter, the fastest growth in 18 years, the Federal Reserve said Thursday in its quarterly flow of funds report.

Total outstanding debt in the household sector rose to $11 trillion.

….. In the household sector, borrowing was paced by real estate loans. Mortgage debt grew at a 14% pace, while credit card debt increased 5.4%.

Household assets are $62.1 trillion (that number minus the $11 trillion in debt results in the $51.1 trillion in household net worth). Even if debt levels continue to increase at a slightly faster rate than asset values, household net worths will still continue to increase significantly.

None of the above was considered newsworthy by the WORMs (Worn-out Reactionary Media, known to most as The Mainstream Press). The proof: A Google News search on “household net worth” (in quotes) sorted by date yielded the following (subscription publications like The Wall Street Journal are not included in Google News searches):

HouseNetWorth

While there are five listings related to this news (the first and last items above cover other stories, and are included to show that the search picked up every relevant item), there are only two underlying stories. Investors Business Daily and Marketwatch carried one (written by MarketWatch, which is owned by The Wall Street Journal), and the other three (one example linked) carried a story by London-based AFXexpress.com. Of the five listings, only one headlines the household net worth news.

With record-breaking economic news, The Associated Press didn’t even bother to write a story, or if they did, no one bothered to pick it up. The “all the news that’s fit to print” NY Times, Washington Post, and LA Times didn’t cover it either.

You can only conclude that for the WORMs, good economic news is really not news.

____________________

UPDATE: How embarrassing–The Chinese Peoples Daily Online picked up the story early Saturday morning US time. Still nothing from the WORMs. Scooped by the ChiComs. Also, the a Bloomberg item from yesterday on gold noted above mentions only the net worth increase, and without any specific numbers, in the story’s last paragraph.

UPDATE 2: Dr. Sanity has a great post on this with two cartoons that are side-splitters.
____________________

Dec. 10: Wizbang Weekend Carnival participant.

This Weekend’s Unanswered Questions (121005)

Another installment in a nearly-regular series of mysteries and pseudo-mysteries (usually 3-4) this inquiring mind would like to have answers for (some links included may require free registration):

QUESTION 1: Should we have Senate hearings and a windfall profits tax on this critical commodity?

Hurricane-related damage has reduced its availability. It price is already well over $4 a gallon, and is expected to increase substantially.

You would think that our politicians would be demanding that something be done to stop this industry from gouging us. Actually, the reaction is the opposite (bold is mine):

Nationwide, orange-juice retail prices averaged $4.46 a gallon during the four-week period ended Oct. 1 — a 2.5 percent increase in prices from a year earlier.

….. However, prices will be able to rise only to a certain point before there’s a backlash from consumers, said Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League.

“Will (Wilma) raise prices? Up to a point, until you get consumer resistance,” Bournique said. “You can only go so far. You don’t want to ruin the relationship with the customer base.”

In its initial forecast for the 2005-06 citrus crop before Wilma hit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct 12 predicted that Florida would produce 190 million 90-pound boxes of oranges, up 27 percent from last year’s hurricane-damaged crop of 149.6 million.

….. However, Wilma appears to have wiped out most of those gains in fruit production, officials said.

Also Monday, U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Orlando, and other officials visited a storm-damaged grapefruit grove in South Florida. Martinez said he is working on an agricultural relief package for Florida growers.

The price of orange juice is at a 7-year high (5th para at link). Why aren’t we having Senate hearings to grill Tropicana executives?

QUESTION 2: When are the interested parties going to really get after online computer scams and fraud?

This is a fine mess the computing industry has put itself in:

About one in four Internet users is hit with e-mail scams every month that try to lure sensitive personal information from unsuspecting consumers, a study says. (I believe that percentage is WAY below reality–Ed.)

Of those receiving the phony e-mails, most thought they might be from legitimate companies – seven in 10, or 70 percent, were fooled by the e-mails, said the report.

….. nearly three-quarters of those surveyed (in a study), 74 percent, use their computers for sensitive transactions such as banking, stock trading or reviewing medical information. That leaves phishers with a good chunk of Internet users to target, Platt said.

Platt said too many people still don’t have adequate computer security to guard against viruses, hackers and other threats. The study found 81 percent of home PCs lacked at least one of three critical protections – updated antivirus software, spyware protection and a secure firewall.

One promising initiative I covered earlier in the year, The Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC), has been virtually invisible since it supposedly went live (third item at link) at the 100 largest institutions in the country back in April. If no one knows about it, who is going to use it? In the meantime, many of those same top 100 companies are trying to turn computer fraud and identity-theft protection into a profit center. Something is seriously out of whack.

It seems to me that the longer computer makers and the financial services industry don’t go after the problems full-force, the more vulnerable they are to the mother of all class-action suits.

In the meantime, since “they” won’t do all they can to protect you, follow the steps Kim Komando suggests in her most recent USA Today column before you connect any new computer, especially a Windows-based one, to the Internet.

QUESTION 3: Is this the most expensive clerical error ever committed?

You’ll have to find a different one that cost more than $225 million to be in the running. The consequences of this error are still being felt:

TOKYO — Japan’s government rebuked the Tokyo Stock Exchange and one of the country’s biggest brokerage firms Friday after a typing error caused Mizuho Securities Co. to lose at least 27 billion yen ($225 million) on a stock trade.

The error roiled the Japanese market, while jitters over the reliability of the exchange’s trading system contributing to a 1.95 percent drop in the benchmark Nikkei 225 index Thursday.

The Nikkei rebounded 1.45 percent Friday to finish at 15,404.05, but the mishap triggered concern among some traders just a month after an embarrassing glitch at the Tokyo exchange shut down the market for almost an entire day.

The trouble began Thursday morning, when a trader at Mizuho Securities tried to sell 610,000 shares at 1 yen (less than a penny) apiece of a job recruiting firm called J-Com Co. , which was having its public debut on the exchange.

It had actually intended to sell 1 share at 610,000 yen ($5,041).

Worse still, the number of shares in Mizuho’s order was 41 times the number of J-Com’s outstanding shares, but the Tokyo Stock Exchange processed the order anyway.

Mizuho says another trader tried to cancel the order three times, but the exchange said it doesn’t cancel transactions even if they are executed on erroneous orders.

By the end of the day, Mizuho Securities — a division of the nation’s second-largest bank, Mizuho Financial Group, Inc., had lost at least 27 billion yen ($225 million). That total could rise, however, Mizuho Securities spokesman Hideki Sakuma said Friday, adding that the mishap was sparked by human error.

Japan’s Financial Services Agency, the country’s financial watchdog, began an immediate probe into what went wrong and how to prevent a repeat.

“In order to maintain the credibility of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, I very strongly want this issue to be resolved quickly,” Economy and Banking Minister Kaoru Yosano told reporters Friday. “The first thing for the Financial Services Agency to do is to determine what happened in detail. Based on that, we will decide what is needed based on the rules and regulations.”

“We need to think more about putting safety measures in place to prevent confusion,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters Friday.

To revise an old saying a bit: To err is human, but to really screw things up, you need a computerized system without proper controls. (Update: Scrivener links to a story that estimates the loss at $298 million, and says “You know, typing really is an underappreciated skill.”

Dec. 13 Update: Make that $335 million.

Positivity: An Award for Bravery, 32 Years Later

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 7:11 am

From Australia:

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