January 3, 2007

Iraq and the US: ‘Violent Death’ Stats That Will Iraq Your World

SEE GRAPH AT UPDATE 2.

This post is staying at the top for the rest of Wednesday because of the importance of the topic.

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The Associated Press released an interesting set of stats (host link stored for future ref) a couple of days ago that I would suppose were designed to suck away any optimism any fools who still support the mission in Iraq might have (bolds are mine):

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Government officials on Monday reported that 16,273 Iraqi civilians, soldiers and police died violent deaths in 2006, a figure larger than an independent Associated Press count for the year by more than 2,500.

The tabulation by the Iraqi ministries of Health, Defense and Interior, showed that 14,298 civilians, 1,348 police and 627 soldiers were killed in the violence that raged in the country last year.

The Associated Press accounting, gleaned from daily news reports from Baghdad, arrived at a total of 13,738 deaths.

Pretty grim, isn’t it? And this is for “violence that raged in the (whole) country.”

(Aside: Yes, I know I didn’t excerpt the last paragraph about the UN claiming that “100 die each day.” Give me a break — The UN is winging it with no support. And besides, I thought AP, despite Jamil “Captain Tuttle” Hussein, is the gold standard in reporting. Dear reader, you wouldn’t be getting cold feet about AP, would you?)

Man, what a downer. I mean, this is an honest-to-goodness Grade A bona fide quagmire.

So, to reinforce the “obvious” assumption that we simply have to get out now (or at least “redeploy” to, I don’t know, maybe Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, or something), I decided it would useful to deepen my depression about the fate of the hopelessly lost Iraqi people while making myself feel better about how much safer folks are and have been here in the USA. So I started digging into US murder statistics.

Oops — What I found made me less depressed about Iraq, and more concerned about the US. I even began to wonder why the police in some of our larger cities in the fairly recent past didn’t decide to redeploy to, I don’t know, maybe Mississauga, Ontario, or something. In a couple of the more current cases, I’m half-surprised that the cops haven’t retreated to, I don’t know, Medicine Hat, Alberta, or something.

Anyhow, let’s put this in perspective. Below are 10 listings for US cities and years. Your mission to accomplish (so to speak), is to guess whether each particular city’s murder rate in the year identified was higher or lower than 2006′s “violent death rate” in Iraq (which is, from all appearances, all-inclusive; linked proof to the contrary is welcome –however, Taranto’s Best of the Web from last year that worked with different numbers, a different source, and a different time period doesn’t count). Let’s use the Iraqi government’s higher number of 16,273 just for the heck of it, even though the Associated Press will “surely” be bothered that I’m exaggerating the level of violence compared to what their records show (somehow, I think they’ll get over it). Using the government’s figure means that Iraq’s violent death rate in 2006 was 56.49 per 100,000 residents (16,273 deaths, and a population per Wiki of 28,807,000).

So here are the US cities and the related years:

1. New York City – 1990
2. Washington, DC – 1991
3. Gary, IN – 2005
4. Detroit, MI – 1991
5. Compton, CA – 2005
6. New Orleans, LA – 2006
7. New Orleans, LA – 2004
8. New Orleans, LA – 2003
9. Atlanta, GA – 1973
10. E. St. Louis, IL – 2004

If you’re on the home page, click “more” when you’ve made your guesses (if not, no fair peeking ahead!).
(more…)

Bleep You, Bob Nardelli. Bleeeeeeeeep You.

Filed under: Business Moves,Consumer Outrage,Corporate Outrage,Scams — Tom @ 3:22 pm

This is one of those times when you have to adapt a saying Winston Churchill was fond of and remind yourself that “It is said that Capitalism is the worst form of organization for an economy, maximizing long-term wealth, and lifting people out of poverty — except for all the others that have been tried.”

Nardelli

When I first saw the headline about Bob Nardelli and his $210 million, I said “Good. I’m glad he’s giving that much back to shareholders as partial compensation for six years of miserable performance.”

Uh, no.

Bob Nardelli is 2007′s first and the year’s likely worst example of a greedy bastard who not only accomplished nothing at the company he supposedly ran, but systematically gutted it for the benefit of himself and his insider buddies. Yet HE is the one getting $210 million. Bleep you, Bob Nardelli.

Home Depot shareholders should not stand for this, but they’ve been doing the battered-spouse thing and putting up with so much abuse for the past six years, why would anyone expect things to be different now?

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UPDATE: Someone in a position to know e-mails me –

Incredible…..he destroys a company and its culture of success, pushes good people out the door, decides to quit and enjoy his remaining time on the planet and has a Friend of Bob (FOB) take his place to protect his misguided and lofty place in (the) history (of the company), as well as his picture on the wall. He leaves with more green than all of the people he has destroyed ever earned at HD.

UPDATE 2: A ONE-YEAR non-compete? Un,real.

UPDATE 3: Memeo is on it.

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Previous Posts:
- July 11, 2006 — Home Depot wants to own a bank (1st item at link)
- June 14 — Three Months from Hero to Goat? (first item at link)
- June 12 — Home Depot’s Arrogant Annual Meeting (fourth item at link)

ADP + ISM + Other Reports = Mixed Bag (More on Way Thurs. and Fri.)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 2:57 pm

ADP Employment

ADP’s employment increase came in at a LOSS of 40,000 jobs in December. AP said that “the market” predicted +110,000. ADP’s correlation with the official Bureau of Labor Statistics report, which comes out Friday morning, has been looser than you would expect. With all due respect, this just doesn’t seem to mesh with reality (i.e. November ISM reports), but we’ll see.

ISM Manufacturing

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Manufacturing Index confounded the experts. In November, it came in below expansion mode after 41 consecutive months of expansion by the barest of margins at 49.5 (any reading about 50 indicates expansion).

AP said that “the market’s” prediction for the index was neutral — 50 flat. Surprise: The actual reading came in at an expansion-mode 51.4 that AP calls a “surprise.” A look at the detail does show that the manufacturing employment component of the index was still in slight contraction mode at 49.2.

Vehicle Sales

Chrysler — down 1% for Dec., down 5% for year
Ford — down 12.8% in Dec., down 7.9% for year; SUV and larger vehicles were down much more for the year (14%) than car sales were (5.4%)
General Motors — down 13% in Dec., down 8.7% for year
Toyota — up over 12% for Dec., up 12.9% for year
Honda — up 0.8% for Dec., up 3.2% for the year
Nissan — up 0.6% for Dec., down 5.3% for the year

Construction spending

It went down 0.2% in November, as the slump in the housing sector was nearly offset by pickups in the others.

Still to Come Thursday

  • Factory orders — Expectations are for a 1.5% pickup for November, after a 4.7% decline in October.
  • The ISM’s services report for the 86% of the economy that isn’t manufacturing (i.e., this report is a biggie). In November, this ISM report stumped the experts by rising from 57.1 to 58.9 instead of declining as predicted to 55.5. AP says that the reading for December “is expected to come in at” 57.0.
  • Retail sales reports from the major players besides Wal-Mart (which had better than expected news yesterday). The early line is that many of them will have less than stellar Christmas shopping season results compared to what they expected a few weeks ago.

Still to Come Friday — The Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Report (New Jobs and Unemployment Rate). Given the cold water ADP just threw, this one will be interesting.

Deal Flow in 2006 Reached an All-time High

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy — Tom @ 1:35 pm

I knew that things had picked up nicely, but I had no idea that it was to that degree:

M&A Hits Record $4 Trillion in ’06
Dec 29, 4:59 PM (ET)

The stock market’s big 2006 advance gave a boost to more than investment portfolios – it fueled a frenzied pace of mergers and acqusitions, with hedge funds and private equity shops sending the total value of acquisitions to a staggering $4 trillion.

This set a record for M&A, besting the dot-com boom in 2000, when the value of deals totaled $3.3 trillion, according to M&A tracking firm Dealogic. It gave Wall Street bankers a lot to smile about, especially given the astronomical bonuses doled out this year.

….. The deals are expected to continue into 2007.

“It’s hard to have one record breaking year after another, but even if the number of deals slow, you’ll still see extremely large levels of deal flow in absolute terms,” said Howard Horowitz, director of research for Water Island Capital, which manages the Arbitrage Fund. “Deals are getting bigger and bigger. Cash levels will be comparable to this year, if not above it.”

There were 31,825 deals this past year – about 800 more than in 2000, according to Dealogic. Private equity firms contributed to 18.4 percent of all the deals in 2006, spending a record $725.3 billion to take companies private.

Participation by these buyout shops has injected the market with a massive amount of liquidity, analysts said. And companies, many fed up with scrutiny from investors and regulators, have been willing to become private companies.

Firms like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, which engineered the buyout of RJR Nabisco in 1989, are flush with cash to go shopping with. It is said that private equity firms head into the new year with some $2 trillion in buying power.

If there’s a possibly troubling side to this, it’s the (I believe) historically high number and dollar amount of the private deals. Historically, public companies have outperformed private ones for a lot of reasons, some of which were explored here last year.

Wouldn’t it be in interesting turn of events if the so-called “corporate social responsibility” people started advocating Sarbanes-Oxley reform because they realize it’s a lot more difficult to monitor and browbeat private companies compared to publicly-traded ones over their “duties as corporate citizens”?

The Story of the 14% and 86% (Rounded to 15% and 85%)

I’ve been meaning to comment on this for a long time, and never got to it. Enough already.

It comes from PrestoPundit, who reports on a presentaton made by political consultant Allan Hoffenblum:

Hoffenblum divides the electoriate into two groups, the “14%’ers” and the “86%’ers.” The “14%’ers” are actively involved in politics, they participate in local elections, and they keep themselves up-to-date on what is happening in their communities. The other 86% don’t much care about politics and don’t spend any effort informing themselves about what is going on.

The informed “14%’ers” are much more partisan than the uninformed “86%’ers” and get their information from a much more diverse range of sources. The “86%’ers” — when they learn anything — tend to get their information through television and advertising.

I’ve used this info in numerous radio interviews and other opportunities and changed the numbers to 15% and 85% (CPAs like numbers with 0s and 5s :–>), but what Hoffenblum says rings very true, and explains a lot.

It explains why the economy gets a bad rap it doesn’t deserve. It explains why the War in Iraq’s support has deteriorated. It explains any number of items that cause people to answer polls and vote to the left of where they really are philosophically. It happens because 85%-86% of the population gets its news from top-of-hour radio broadcasts, what little local and national evening news they overhear, and the morning infotainment exercises. It’s not exacty a secret which direction those items lean. The only consolation s that the 85%-86% don’t vote as consistently as the active 14%-15%, but those that do (obviously) still outnumber the actives.

Until the center-right side of the blogs and the rest New Media (and that would include talk radio) figure out a way to reach the other 85%-86% that the formerly Mainstream (and more agenda-driven than ever) Media is getting to continually, it’s going to be difficult to have a consistent impact.

Keeping Loan Sharks Away from the Military

From Biz Weak’s January 8, 2007 issue (requires subscription):

The Defense Dept. is about to become a major financial regulator, and that’s throwing lenders for a loop. Pentagon officials and consumer advocates pushed Congress this summer to help the many thousands of service members incurring excessive debt, some of whom have lost security clearances as a result, making them ineligible under Defense rules for deployment to Iraq. The main culprit, the Pentagon said, are so-called payday lenders, which cluster around military bases and charge as much as 800% interest to provide soldiers with cash advances against their paychecks. Congress gave the Pentagon broad new authority to cap interest rates on most consumer loans to more than 1.4 million active-duty personnel and their families.

….. Now even mainstream lending institutions and traditional financial regulators say they fear the hastily written law will have unintended consequences. “From our perspective, the scope of the measure that was enacted is so broad that we’re still trying to get our arms around it,” says Diane Wagner, a spokeswoman for Bank of America. Among the uncertainties: whether the law applies to existing loans, and also what happens when any of the 1.2 million reservists or National Guardsmen are called to active duty.

….. Kevin Mukri, spokesman for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), which regulates national banks, adds: “To my knowledge, this is unprecedented—giving consumer credit regulation to the Defense Dept. I wouldn’t know how to write a regulation for bombers.”

….. The law, which was attached to a defense bill last fall and will take effect on Oct. 1, 2007, establishes a 36% cap on interest rates for most loans to military members and their families. Unlike most credit regulations, the new law requires the annual percentage rate for military loans to include all fees. Factoring in fees can push the APR beyond the law’s cap. Home mortgages, auto loans, and credit secured by personal property are exempt.

With all due respect (i.e., very little), if the OCC had been doing its job all these years and had been regulating national banks properly, our military wouldn’t be facing absurdities like universal default, sky-high rates, and out-of-control fees. A Congress with a brain (yes, that means the GOP Congress that was in power for 12 years) would have done something to prevent lending opportunists taking from advantage of patriotic but less than financially savvy soldiers, and for that matter less than financially savvy citizens throughout the nation. It had a golden opportunity to do just that in 2005, when it could have demanded reciprocity in return for the industry-written bankruptcy “reform” legislation it passed (with plenty of Democratic help, by the way).

But nooooooo. Instead, the OCC, and most regulation of lending practices in general, is a laughingstock that lets lenders put almost anything they darn well please into loan agreements.

(Note: In an ideal world where high-schoolers received a decent education about money and personal finance before graduation, or in this day and age before age 16, none of this would be necessary. But, thanks to the education system as it currently exists, it is. Solve that, and this post wouldn’t be necessary. Good luck.)

I’ll acknowledge that Defense will probably stumble a bit in this area, but at least they’ll try, and their default posture will usually be to take the soldier’s side. And although it would never happen, there’s also a small of amount of satisfaction in imagining stormtroopers occupying the worst of the payday-lending operations.

If OCC wants to regulate, it’s going to have to show some teeth, and a willingness to use them. Otherwise, I’d just as soon let DOD take on the task of protecting our soldiers from domestic loan-shark attacks.

Couldn’t Help But Notice (010307)

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:23 am

Pretend It Wasn’t Invented There SyndromeNixGuy and Right Angle Blog catch the What’s Left of Cleveland Plain Dealer opposing privatizing the Ohio Turnpike while Republican Ken Blackwell backed it, but wanting to “explore a similar proposition” now that Democratic Governor Ted Strickland nears inauguration.

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Imagine that — There isn’t anything even resembling a scientific consensus (HT Coyote Blog via Porkopolis) on “global warming” and “climate change.” Specifically, a recent survey of more than 12,000 environmental scientists and practitioners revealed that:

  • 34% disagree that global warming is a serious problem;
  • 41% disagree that warming trends “can be, in large part, attributed to human activity”;
  • 71% disagree that human activity has significantly contributed to hurricanes;
  • 33% disagree that the US government is not doing enough about global warming;
  • 47% disagree that international agreements such as the preposterous Kyoto Protocol provide a useful framework for addressing global climate change.

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Wal-Mart’s December sales recovered nicely after a dismal November. This is why the recovery took place, and this was the subsequent prediction I made shortly after the American Family Association dropped its plans to boycott the store on the first two business days after Thanksgiving:

Yes, the retailer had a relatively weak first Christmas-shopping weekend, simply because it (the AFA) didn’t announce its change of heart until the previous Monday, and not all who had been upset got the news in time to alter their shopping plans. I’ll bet that most of the remaining Christmas season will be better for the company than the previous month has been.

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Supply-Side Commies? China is “unifying” its top corporate income tax rate at 25%. It was 33% for domestic companies and 15% for foreign firms. That nets out to a major cut on an overall basis. One would expect tax receipts, which have been growing at about 20% a year during the past two years, to skyrocket, especially as more private firms functioning in the underground economy decide to go legit.

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Everybody else who would have reported took the day off yesterday except the Semiconductor Industry Association. I can’t say I blame them — “Global chip sales increased 11.3 percent in November, driven by strong demand for consumer electronics ….. to record levels.”

Somebody Is Intent on Making a Point about Apple Software Security

Filed under: Business Moves,Privacy/ID Theft — Tom @ 6:18 am

And that person is getting noticed:

The hacker behind the MoKB (Month of Kernel Bugs) plans to take a big bite out of Apple Computer’s insecurities.

As first reported by Brian Krebs, “LMH” is teaming up with Kevin Finisterre of Digital Munition on a month-long “Month of Apple Bugs” project that will expose unpatched Mac OS X and Apple application vulnerabilities.

I had a quick chat with LMH over IM today and he confirmed that the Apple flaw project will launch on Jan. 1, 2007, with a working exploit for a gaping code-execution hole in the QuickTime media player.

So far, LMH and Finisterre have stockpiled exploits affecting Safari, iTunes, iPhoto, Camino and Firefox. Details on these bugs will be released one day at a time, throughout the month of January.

Details of the QuickTime exploit referred to in the excerpt are here.

Although yours truly is a 20-plus year Mac user, I’ve never thought the Mac to be uncompromisable (if that’s a word), as some have. So it’s probably useful that someone is making sure that Apple’s recently-acquired smugness about security, which it had studiously avoided for so many years, gets a fresh bucket of cold water thrown on it. The company’s decision to go to Intel chips may have on balance have been a good one, but there’s no denying that it, along with the concurrent move to allow Windows to run native on Macs through Apple’s Boot Camp and Parallels’ Desktop for Mac, has made Macs more vulnerable to the bad guys than they have ever been.

There’s Been Phishing, Now There’s ‘Vishing’

Filed under: Money Tip of the Day,Privacy/ID Theft — Tom @ 6:13 am

From USA Today in late November — I wasn’t sure this was significant, but some people have told me they are getting the calls described here:

And consumers thought they were safe by not clicking on links in unsolicited e-mails.Now comes a new batch of phishing scams that rely on an old tool — the phone — to trick people into giving away their personal information.

Vishing — short for voice phishing — is one of the latest iterations of phishing, a long-running e-mail scam that instructs recipients to click a link in the e-mail to confirm data such as their Social Security number and credit card number. But the link is really connected to a bogus website where the data are stolen.

Vishing has emerged as a new threat with the rise of Voice over Internet Protocol, technology that allows cheap and anonymous Internet calls.

The new batch of e-mails appear to come from PayPal, eBay’s online payment service, and — like most phishing e-mails — they warn the recipients about a problem with their account. An e-mail advises victims to call a number to verify basic data. But the number is actually recording data with the intent to steal it. The information often winds up on cybercrime forums, websites that function as digital marketplaces for stolen personal data.

Some vishing attacks don’t even begin with an e-mail. They come as calls out of the blue in which the caller already knows the recipient’s credit card number, and asks for the three-digit security code on the back of the card.

This appears to be an outgrowth of the fact that phishing expeditions are of necessity very short-term in nature. As I mentioned in a post last week, the average life of a phishing operation is one hour, down from a week a couple of years — so it makes sense for such an operation to be driven by phone response to e-mails or even direct phone-ins. Most e-mails won’t get the one-hour response required.
The advice is simple: DO, NOT, RESPOND.

If you’re in the mood, route the e-mail to the correct vendor’s abuse prevention operation.

Racially Motivated Fire Alarms?

Filed under: Education,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:08 am

Apparently (HT Taranto at Best of the Web) — a school in Texas gave this excuse for poor performance on standardized tests:

At Jane Long Middle School in Bryan, a fire alarm went off during the social studies TAKS exam. Bryan officials argued that the alarm had distracted the school’s black students, whose scores had fallen short of the acceptable bar.

Other students apparently weren’t “distracted.” Aside from the hysterical weakness of the excuse, are administrators telling the state that their black students can’t cope with stress the way other students can? Isn’t there an “R-word” for that?

Another 21st Century Demerit for the GOP: Failure to Restrain Excessive Regulation

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:03 am

I found this in the course of cleaning out old posts I never got to post at the time the info was originally published. The graphic would have been from roughly May or June of last year in the Wall Street Journal. It speaks for itself, so further commentary isn’t needed:

Red Tape Chart

Positivity: Plastic Semiconductors

Filed under: Business Moves,Marvels,Positivity — Tom @ 5:58 am

Funded, in production by the end of 2008, and promising to radically lower costs:

Plastic may spell the end of the silicon microchip
Published: January 2 2007 22:07

….. In 2000 Plastic Logic, a Cambridge-based start-up company, announced it was attempting to commercialise a form of plastic electronics that had developed from research at the laboratory.

By using a cheap and simple set of processing operations to build up layers of circuitry on plastic “substrates” – the material on which circuits are formed – rather than silicon wafers used in conventional microchips, the developments promised to slash the cost of making semiconductors.

That was potentially a step forward of enormous significance: over the past 50 years semiconductors have grown into a huge industry fundamental to just about every form of economic activity.

But while Plastic Logic continued to develop further the technology behind plastic circuits without going so far as to put its new devices into production, the ideas behind its creation could easily be dismissed as little more than an academic curiosity.

What has given the science behind the company more substance is today’s announcement that Plastic Logic has attracted $100m (£51m) of investment that will fund a plant to make plastic semiconductors – the first of its kind in the world. The factory should be in operation in Dresden, Germany, by the end of 2008 and employ 140 people.

….. Morry Marshall, vice-president for strategic technologies at Semico, a Phoenix-based semiconductor research group, says plastic semiconductors have “tremendous potential” and add up to a “breakthrough that is waiting to happen”.

The initial products from the factory will be pieces of plastic about A4 size. The basic plastic substrate will be polyethylene terephthalate, a form of plastic used to make drinks bottles.

“I would not be surprised if Prof Sirringhaus gets a Nobel prize for his achievements in this technology,” says Mr Hauser.

By 2009 the Dresden plant should be producing 2.2m units of A4-size semiconductor sheets a year. They will initially be used as flexible “control circuitry” for large displays the size of a piece of paper that can hold large amounts of information – equivalent to thousands of books.

There’s a lot more at the link. As they say, read the whole thing.