Thursday, July 14, 2011

Are voters really that dumb, or is it spin?


Lawmakers snipe, Wall St. frets as deadline nears
[...] Despite McConnell's assertions that the debt problem belongs to Obama, fresh polling from Quinnipiac University suggested voters would be more apt to hold Republicans responsible than Obama, by 48 percent to 34 percent, if the debt limit is not raised. The same survey showed voters were about evenly split on whether they're more concerned about raising the limit and increasing government debt, or seeing the government go into default and damaging the economy.

"The American people aren't very happy about their leaders, but President Barack Obama is viewed as the best of the worst, especially when it comes to the economy," said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac's Polling Institute.

That helps explain why McConnell put forward a plan that would give Obama new powers to overcome Republican opposition to raising the debt ceiling.

The proposal would place the burden on Obama to win debt ceiling increases up to three times, provided he was able to override congressional vetoes — a threshold Obama could manage to overcome even without a single Republican vote and without massive spending cuts. Conservatives promptly criticized the plan for giving up the leverage to reduce deficits. But the plan raised the prospect of combining it with some of the spending cuts already identified by the White House in order to win support from conservatives in the House.

In an interview with radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham, McConnell described his plan in stark political terms, warning fellow conservatives that failure to raise the debt limit would probably ensure Obama's re-election in 2012. He predicted that a default would allow Obama to argue that Republicans were making the economy worse.

"You know, it's an argument he has a good chance of winning, and all of a sudden we (Republicans) have co-ownership of a bad economy," McConnell said. "That's a very bad positioning going into an election." [...]

What the hell is "Quinnipiac's Polling Institute"? Never heard of them. Just some university poll being used for White House spin? Gallop polls are more widely recognized, see what they say:

U.S. Debt Ceiling Increase Remains Unpopular With Americans
More are concerned about higher level of spending than risk of economic crisis
PRINCETON, NJ -- Despite agreement among leaders of both sides of the political aisle in Washington that raising the U.S. debt ceiling is necessary, more Americans want their member of Congress to vote against such a bill than for it, 42% vs. 22%, while one-third are unsure. This 20-percentage-point edge in opposition to raising the debt ceiling in Gallup's July 7-10 poll is slightly less than the 28-point lead (47% vs. 19%) seen in May. [...]

Sounds more believable to me. But a whopping 1/3 "unsure"? That's scary.

Even with 42% of voters against raising the debt ceiling, the Republicans will still allow Obama to do it, IF he also agrees to significant spending cuts. But he just can't (or won't) do it.

The press frequently called Bush "divisive", even as he frequently gave in to Democrats. But this president gives in to nothing, demonstrates no flexibility, and somehow, he's supposed to be a "uniter"? I'm not seeing it. And that's too bad, because a uniter is what we desperately need.

Gallup also said this:

On Deficit, Americans Prefer Spending Cuts; Open to Tax Hikes
PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' preferences for deficit reduction clearly favor spending cuts to tax increases, but most Americans favor a mix of the two approaches. Twenty percent favor an approach that relies only on spending cuts and 4% favor an approach that uses tax increases alone.


Responses on both sides to a large degree reflect the arguments political leaders are making. Two of the most common, and arguably the dominant themes of the open-ended responses, are concerns about the effect that not raising the debt limit will have on the economy versus concerns that raising it will not sufficiently address government spending. In the same poll, Gallup asked Americans which of these two risks concerned them more, and the public expressed greater concern about raising the debt ceiling without a plan for major cuts in future government spending (51%) than about the potential harm to the economy if the debt ceiling is not raised (32%).


Government spending seems to be the primary worry for Americans when their opinions are probed about raising the debt limit. Government leaders appear to be listening, as party leaders are proposing major cuts in future government spending as a way to persuade members of Congress to vote for an increase in the nation's debt limit. In terms of deficit reduction, Americans seem to generally back an approach that relies more on spending cuts than tax increases. A key question to be answered in the days ahead is whether an agreement to raise the debt ceiling will include any tax increases. This is something many Republican members of Congress oppose, but most Americans do not seem to share this view. [...]

Large cuts in spending, along with some tax increases, would be a compromise that most Americans would accept. A true compromise would have to encompass both. The Republicans won't be able to budge from their position, unless Obama agrees to huge spending cuts. The President needs to take the lead in getting us there, but I doubt that he has what it takes.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Greece has an 81 percent chance of defaulting?

Those don't sound like good odds:

Euro zone warns Greeks on sovereignty and privatization
BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) - Euro zone finance ministers have approved a 12 billion euro ($17.4 billion) installment of Greece's bailout, but signaled that the nation must expect significant losses of sovereignty and jobs.

Ministers in the Eurogroup gave the go-ahead for the fifth tranche of Greece's 110-billion-euro financial rescue agreed last year, and said details of a second aid package for Athens would be finalized by mid-September.

But within hours of Saturday's decision, Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker warned Greeks that help from the EU and International Monetary Fund would have unpleasant consequences.

"The sovereignty of Greece will be massively limited," he told Germany's Focus magazine in the interview released on Sunday, adding that teams of experts from around the euro zone would be heading to Athens.

"One cannot be allowed to insult the Greeks. But one has to help them. They have said they are ready to accept expertise from the euro zone," Juncker said.

Greeks are acutely sensitive to any infringement of their sovereignty and any suggestion that foreign "commissars" might become involved in running the country is an incendiary political issue and could trigger more street protests.


Juncker also said Greece must privatize on a scale similar to the sell off of East German firms in the 1990s.

"For the forthcoming wave of privatizations they will need, for example, a solution based on a model of Germany's 'Treuhand agency'," Juncker said, referring to the privatization agency that sold off 14,000 East German firms between 1990 and 1994.


Financial markets still see an 81 percent chance that Greece will eventually default, and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told Der Spiegel in an interview that Berlin was making preparations for such an event -- even though it does not expect it to happen.

Private financial institutions have held talks with finance ministry and central bank officials in euro zone countries to discuss under what conditions the private sector would be willing to help finance Greece and by how much.

Those discussions continue, with the involvement of the private sector in the next package a must for several euro zone countries as voters grow increasingly opposed to shouldering the burden of bailing out Greece on their own.

But private sector involvement must be voluntary to avoid triggering another downgrade of Greek debt to default status by ratings agencies, a development which could put the whole Greek banking sector at risk. [...]

It sounds like they (the EU) knows that what they are doing is going to fail, and they are hoping that the private sector will somehow bail them out of the mess government has made? How much sense does that make? And as for their comparison to East Germany's Treuhand selloff... well. Read the whole thing. It doesn't sound promising at all.

Meanwhile, back home:

Debt ceiling: Why Sunday could be make-or-break day for 'grand bargain'

I hope they do reach a grand bargin. I have no doubt that it won't be perfect, and that it will be criticized from both sides (as compromises usually are). But compromise IS the nature of politics in a democratic republic. An even though the "bargain" will be imperfect, I think it will be better than the continuing doubt and uncertainty being created by the ongoing lack of a budget, and lack of a plan to deal with the deficit. It's dangerous; we are teetering on the edge of an abyss. And the fact that it has been allowed to go on this long, is shocking. Tragic and shocking.


The Surprising Betty Ford

Former first lady Betty Ford dies at 93
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Betty Ford said things that first ladies just don't say, even today. And 1970s America loved her for it.

According to Mrs. Ford, her young adult children probably had smoked marijuana — and if she were their age, she'd try it, too. She told "60 Minutes" she wouldn't be surprised to learn that her youngest, 18-year-old Susan, was in a sexual relationship (an embarrassed Susan issued a denial).

She mused that living together before marriage might be wise, thought women should be drafted into the military if men were, and spoke up unapologetically for abortion rights, taking a position contrary to the president's. "Having babies is a blessing, not a duty," Mrs. Ford said. [...]

If you read the whole thing, you will see she had quite and interesting life. It certainly revealed some things about her that I didn't know.

Despite being controversial at times, I think she was most admired for her honesty.


Saturday, July 02, 2011

Ham Radio "Field Day" 2011

It's an annual event, which happened June 25th this year. PBS did a nice piece about it:

Hamming Up the Airwaves
When a giant tornado devastated Joplin, Mo., earlier this year, it destroyed more than homes, schools, and businesses. It also destroyed a large part of the city's communications infrastructure.

"Hospitals could not communicate, police could not communicate, and the only thing that was working was amateur radio," said Rick Spiegel, a "ham," or amateur radio operator.

I spoke with Spiegel and several of his colleagues on June 25 during the annual American Radio Relay League's Field Day. His group had set up five two-way radio stations in a park in Littleton, Colo., where they operated them for 24 consecutive hours over the weekend, using only battery power. That's how they stay on the air when cell phones and police and fire radio systems have been destroyed.

An estimated 30,000 hams across the country set up transmitters in public places this weekend to show off the emergency communications capabilities of their hobby, and to possibly attract new amateur radio enthusiasts. [...]

Read the whole thing if the topic interests you. But I'm going to print one more excerpt from the end:
[...] In the past, there were significant hurdles to becoming a ham. The radios themselves were expensive. In addition, a license from the Federal Communications Commission required hams to know Morse code, a telegraphic system that dates back to the 1890s. Morse code uses combinations of dots and dashes to represent individual letters of the alphabet, and is transmitted over the airwaves with a telegraph key.

Today a license is still required, but Morse code has been dropped from the exam.


Aspiring amateur radio operators today don't have to be rich, either, Brown said. He said that on eBay, entry-level, hand-held ham radios range from $100 to $300.

Actually, you can buy a NEW hand held transceiver, like the dual band Wouxun KG-UVD1P, for $99.95, plus shipping. I got one and have been using it for a while, and it's been working great. Good value for the money.

I got my technician license with a self-study book, it was fairly easy and enjoyable. There is no age limit, and I've heard of kids as young as 7, even 5, getting their licenses. There are free practice exams on-line, so it really is easier than it used to be. And IMO, it's also FUN.

H.T. to QRZ.COM where I got the link to the article.

Also see:

Radio Communications in a Changing World

Learning Ham Radio; start with a Police Scanner?

The ARRL, my missed opportunity, and my fun new hobby

Oregon Emergency Amateur Radio in Action

No more magic: "Why should I get a ham license just so that I can talk to a bunch of old geezers about their latest heart bypass operations?"

Shortwave Radio Nostalgia for a Sunday

Nostalgia for "tube" radios, a.k.a. "boat anchors"

The convergence of Ham Radio with the Internet


Friday, July 01, 2011

July's Planets, and Starry Night Software

Sky watchers may enjoy watching the show this month, starting tomorrow:

Night Sky News: Holiday Planets on Display
[...] Starting on July 2, a razor thin crescent will hang just below the innermost planet (most difficult date to find-extremely close to horizon) and by July 4 the widening crescent Moon will pair up with the 77 light year distant star Regulus. Continuing its trek up the south-western sky, the quarter Moon joins Saturn on July 7. [...]

The article says the image above was generated by Starry Night Software. I have an older version of the software that came with a telescope I bought several years ago. It can plot the constellations, stars and planets for you, and show you where they are in the sky in real time. The software is really neat; the newer version looks even more advanced. Space fans may want to check it out.