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Friday, April 28, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

What he said: Say It With Me: Supply and Demand.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via CNN: Ex-Colombian leader’s sister slain

The sister of former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria was killed late Thursday in a botched kidnapping attempt that underscored fears of violence a month before national elections.

Liliana Gaviria, a 52-year-old real-estate agent, was killed by unknown assailants in the province of Risaralda, 175 kilometers (110 miles) west of Bogota.

Cesar Gaviria was president of Colombia between 1990-1994, before becoming secretary general of the Organization of American States. He currently leads the main opposition party, the Liberals.

Sad and senseless.

Gaviria is no stranger to the violence in Colombia, as he became the Liberal candidate for President (back when the the PL won all the time) when Carlos Galán was gunned down in 1989. Gaviria was Galán’s campaign manager and went on to take his place in the 1990 primary.

I also recall a documentary in which Gaviria acknowledged that going into politics meant taking risks with himself and his family–making one wonder why anyone can be persuaded to stand up for election in Colombia. Of course, given his sister’s profession, it is possible she was targeted simply for money.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT (U.S. Economy Still Expanding at Rapid Pace) we get the bad news/good news on the economy:

Gas prices are rising, as are mortgage rates. House prices in many once-hot markets have started slipping. The American automobile industry shows no sign of recovery. And the paychecks of most workers have not even kept up with inflation over the last four years.

Yet the national economy continues to speed ahead, with families and businesses spending money at an impressive pace. Forecasters expect the Commerce Department to report this morning that the economy grew at a rate of around 5 percent in the first quarter, the biggest increase since 2003.

Ultimately, it would seem, the second paragraph is of greater significance than the first, insofar as a robust and growing economy will allow us all to weather the issues mentioned in the first. Further, interest rates were bound to go up soon, and the housing boom to cool, so neither of those things is a radical problem for the economy. Further, there has been no dramatic change in rates, nor has the housing market burst, so the degree to which either of those items affects the average citizen is questionable.

The gas price issue, with its inflationary implications, not to mention daily hits on one’s budget, is clearly of concern, but the end of the world it is not. As such, I think that this is misplaced emphasis in the piece.

Of course, there are countervailing views in the public on the topic, not just in this NYT piece:

A well-known index of consumer confidence has risen to its highest level in four years, according to the Conference Board, a research company in New York. In the most recent CBS News poll, conducted last month, 55 percent of respondents rated the economy as good, even though 66 percent of Americans said the country was on the wrong track.

In 23 years of polling by CBS, only once — in late 2005 — did a higher percentage of people say the country was on the wrong track.

Of course, the wrong track numbers correlate well with Bush’s disapproval numbers and likely have far more to do with Iraq than with the general health of the economy. They also, no doubt, capture the gas price blues as well.

The following also, no doubt, plays into the figure:

The average hourly wage for rank-and-file workers — who make up roughly 80 percent of the work force — has fallen by 5 cents in the last four years, to $16.49, after inflation is taken into account. Yet most well-paid workers have continued to receive raises.

And I find this an odd place to go for a quote (although I do like the restaurant in question):

R. Michael Welborn, the chief administrative officer of P. F. Chang’s China Bistro, a fast-growing restaurant chain based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said he could sense the gap between economic growth and overall unease. “All of the indicators look pretty positive, with the exception of gas prices,” he said. “But there seems to be a level of discomfort.”

Somehow one would think that the NYT could have at least gotten someone in the financial sector or an economics professor, or, even better, a pollster, to pull out their “discomforturometer” to provide an assessment. Of course, beyond being a random executive, the whole assessment is more on the anecdotal than analytical side.

Back to interest rates, they may be rising, but they still are historically on the low side:

The average rate on a 30-year conventional mortgage was 6.3 percent last month, lower than at any point in the 1970′s, 1980′s or 1990′s, according to the Fed.

I can’t remember the exact figure off the top of my head, but I paid more than that on my first mortgage in 1998, and at the time the rates were considered quite low.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Iran spurns UN pressure in nuclear dispute.

And I so thought they would listen.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the LAT: Panel Says to Scrap FEMA

The committee’s report, scheduled for release to senators today and to the public next week, recommends replacing FEMA with a new National Preparedness and Response Authority, which would remain in the Department of Homeland Security. Its director would have direct access to the president during disasters, much as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff provides information and advice during a military crisis.

Can anyone tell me how this differs in any substantial way from simply renaming FEMA after doing some re-organization?

It is at times like this that I can’t decide if the members of Congress are stupid or if they think we are stupid.

This sounds a lot like the creation of the TSA: blame airport security for 911, so fire all the security folks and rehire them and give them Transportation Security Administration uniforms and all will be well.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via the Sci Fi Wire: SCI FI Announces Caprica

SCI FI Channel announced the development of Caprica, a spinoff prequel of its hit Battlestar Galactica, in presentations to advertisers in New York on April 26. Caprica would come from Galactica executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, writer Remi Aubuchon (24) and NBC Universal Television Studio.

Caprica would take place more than half a century before the events that play out in Battlestar Galactica.

Most intriguing.

Update: Unqualified Offerings has a few more details on Aubuchon. His reaction is similar to one that I had when reading the show’s description yesteday: “This could be good or it could suck” (although that is probably true of all new shows, although some have greater potential in both directions). On balance, however, my overriding view at the moment echoes that of Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money: “At this point, I think I would trust Ron Moore with just about anything.”

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By Steven L. Taylor

I notice from my referrer logs a hit from a Turnitin report.

I wonder which of my posts was plagiarized and for what purpose?

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Support for Colombia’s Uribe down but above 55 pct

Support for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is shrinking ahead of May’s election but still strong enough for him to avoid a runoff vote, said an Invamer Gallup poll published on Thursday.

The poll said 55.7 of Colombians intend to vote to re-elect the 53-year-old lawyer, popular for reducing urban crime as part of his military crackdown on leftist rebels, down from 64 percent polled in March and 70 percent in July 2005.

[...]

Center left candidate Horacio Serpa of the Liberal party, who lost two previous presidential campaigns, captured 17.9 percent in the recent survey while leftist contender, former judge Carlos Gaviria of the Democratic Pole party, got 14.3 percent.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

I always wonder about polls in developing countries, and given the low turn-out that is historically the case in Colombia, I wonder how (if?) pollsters control for that situation. As such, that opinions may be sharpening going to the actual elections shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

I remain convinced that Uribe will be re-elected, and that he almost certainly will do so in the first round.

And proving that politicians are the same the world ’round, we have the Colombian version of “Joe-mentum”:

“The president should be worried,” Serpa told reporters. “With 55 percent, if there’s is a margin of error of 4 percent, he could actually have only 51 percent.”

Given that a mere 51% gives him four more in the Casa de Nariño, methinks he isn’t too worried. My question is: if Serpa loses again (he lost in 1998 and 2002) will the PL finally nominate some new blood in 2010?

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via CNN: Senators to push for $100 gas rebate checks

Every American taxpayer would get a $100 rebate check to offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline, under an amendment Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote Thursday.

However, the GOP energy package may face tough sledding because it also includes a controversial proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, which most Democrats and some moderate Republicans oppose.

[...]

As outlined by the senior GOP leadership aide, the energy package would give taxpayers a $100 rebate, repeal tax incentives for oil companies and allow the Federal Trade Commission to prosecute retailers unlawfully inflating the price of gasoline.

The measure would also give the Transportation Department authority to issue fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles, expand tax incentives for the use of hybrid vehicles and push for more research into alternative fuels and expansion of existing oil refineries.

In reading this, the following comes to mind:

it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.

–Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5

While it may not signify nothing, it certainly doesn’t signify much. And at the risk of sounding impertinent, the idea that idiots are involved here has some salience.

While I like getting checks in the mail, I must confess that $100 isn’t really going to alleviate my gasoline bill all that much. More to the point: since when is it the government’s job to do so?

I don’t know enough about the tax incentives in question to evaluate their inherent value or lack thereof, but the immediate move to repeal them is clearly more about “do something” syndrome than it does about the value of the policies in question.

And why is it that every time prices go up, politicians feel the need to talk about illegality, even in the absence of any evidence? I would love for prices to come down, but the hysteria here is utterly ridiculous.

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By Steven L. Taylor

Via Reuters: Immigrant boycott aims to “close” US cities

Pro-immigration activists say a nationwide boycott and marches planned for May 1 will flood Americas’s streets with millions of Latinos to demand amnesty for illegal immigrants and shake the ground under Congress as it tackles reform.

Ok, so the point here is to demonstrate the financial significance of the immigrant community, and to make clear the numbers involved.

However, this strikes me as a wholly counter-productive activity. Not only do the marches and demonstrations have a negative effect on the minds of those who see this situation in black-and-white legal terms (and therefore will simply cause them to see hundreds of thousands of criminals), but the fact the organizers of this event are calling for outright amnesty will hardly be politically productive.

Further, boycotts of this nature rarely work all that well.

I wonder how long before some of the critics of immigration reform link May 1st to May Day/International Labor Day, which is linked to communist and socialists? The symbolism here has not been well thought out.

In general this all strikes me as a bad idea.

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