Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Who Needs IT?

From MSNBC: NEW YORK - The United States is starting to look like a slowpoke on the Internet. Examples abound of countries that have faster and cheaper broadband connections, and more of their population connected to them.

...In a move to get a clearer picture of where the U.S. stands, the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday approved legislation that would develop an annual inventory of existing broadband services — including the types, advertised speeds and actual number of subscribers — available to households and businesses across the nation.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., is intended to provide policy makers with improved data so they can better use grants and subsidies to target areas lacking high-speed Internet access. He said in a statement last week that promoting broadband would help spur job growth, access to health care and education and promote innovation among other benefits.

It's really not a surprise that the U.S. is lagging behind in both access and quality of service. During the Clinton Administration annual reports entitled "Falling Through The Net" were issued detailing the countries progress towards digital inclusion. In 2001, the name of that report was changed to "A Nation Online".

In other words, politics. From one administration to another the role of the federal government in American broadband policy changed from serving as the catalyst for digital inclusion to that of a bystander.

Efforts at digital inclusion in this country are usually met with suspicion or outright opposition, because they are typically framed as a social program instead of as a necessary part of our economic infrastructure, like rural electrification. In its day, that effort was panned as bringing America one step closer to socialism, but in actuality;

"When farmers did receive electric power their purchase of electric appliances helped to increase sales for local merchants. Farmers required more energy than city dwellers, which helped to offset the extra cost involved in bringing power lines to the country."

In all fairness, there have been many recent efforts to address the issue of broadband access, including through municipal wireless initiatives. It's too early to determine how successful any of these efforts will ultimately be. We do know that some have never got off the drawing board.

We are behind the world in this respect however as other countries like South Korea and Japan have realized the potential of the internet to spur innovation and change, and made massive investments in the technical infrastructure of their societies. For example:

"In 2001, Japan was well behind the United States in the broadband race. But thanks to top-level political leadership and ambitious goals, it soon began to move ahead. By May 2003, a higher percentage of homes in Japan than in the United States had broadband, and Japan had moved well beyond the basic connections still in use in the United States. Today, nearly all Japanese have access to 'high-speed' broadband, with an average connection speed 16 times faster than in the United States -- for only about $22 a month. Even faster 'ultra-high-speed' broadband, which runs through fiber-optic cable, is scheduled to be available throughout the country for $30 to $40 a month by the end of 2005. And that is to say nothing of Internet access through mobile phones, an area in which Japan is even further ahead of the United States."

Is there any doubt that this will ultimately
promote economic development, much like space exploration and rural electrification did for the American economy?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Academy Awards for Education

You only need to look at the numbers of students who are NOT graduating within our major urban districts to recognize that there is a real problem. From The Disputed Truth Afrosphere Blog:

"I recently came across some statistics that seemed unbelievable to me in America. It appears that in 10 of our largest cities the public school systems are graduating less than half of their students. That is correct they will graduate less than 50% of their students. According to the report compiled by EPE Research and published in the USA Today, there are 14 school districts that graduate less than 50% of their students. This should be a national emergency; except for one small caveat the majority of students in these schools are minorities."

He's right, it should be a national emergency, but since it's not, it should at least be on our radar as an issue worthy of African-Americans collective attention. The graduation rate for students entering 9th grade in Houston is 48.9%! That's appalling any way you look at it, but many of us aren't looking at it at all.

The issue is that many of our students are so far behind, especially in regard to reading comprehension, math, science, and technology that it is simply not possible to get them caught up through your typical school day format. However, computer and internet technology provides a means to increase students time on task, both during and after school, giving them a chance to catch up, in addition to providing alternative educational delivery vehicles for those students who, for whatever reason, have difficulty learning in the traditional classroom setting.

So while I know it's usually all about marketing when a big multinational like Intel promotes an effort of this sort, I can't help but think they're doing the right thing in spite of themselves.

It's not often that educators are hailed as celebrities, escorted by limousine from the airport to a black-tie reception, and given an awards banquet held in their honor.

But for one night, at least, winners of the 2007 Intel Schools of Distinction Awards--which recognize K-12 schools for their exceptional use of technology to enhance math and science education--got a taste of what it's like to be treated as royalty.

"We want them to feel like stars, because they are," said Craig R. Barrett, chairman of the board for Intel Corp. "This is the Academy Awards for education."

We need more activities and honors of this sort highlighting innovation and achievement in education. I'd really like to hear in particular about innovations in minority districts and schools. This issue is near and dear to me because these kids are our future, and at this point, we are failing them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ain't Nothing Free

Not that this will come as a surprise or anything but; Bush Wrong at UN on Benefits of Free Trade

“In the long run, the best way to lift people out of poverty is through trade and investment,” Bush said. “During the 1990s, developing nations that significantly lowered tariffs saw their per capita income grow about three times faster than other developing countries. Open markets ignite growth, encourage investment, increase transparency, strengthen the rule of law, and help countries help themselves.”

As in so many of his other pronouncements, he’s wrong.

In the past few decades, as the gospel of free trade has spread, growth in the developing world has actually slipped. Mark Weisbrot, Dean Baker, and David Resnick of the Center for Economic Policy and Research (an organization that does great work in demolishing conventional shibboleths) have done research that reveals quite the opposite of what Bush contends.

“Contrary to popular belief, the past 25 years (1980-2005) have seen a sharply slower rate of economic growth and reduced progress on social indicators for the vast majority of low- and middle-income countries,” their paper says.

In a little-noticed portion of his speech to the United Nations on September 25, President Bush repeated a favorite hymn of his.

“Overall, in the 1990s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita grew by 1.6 per cent a year in developing countries,” says the United Nations Population Fund, buttressing the CEPR analysis. “But these slow gains were unevenly distributed. The per capita GDP growth of the poorest countries in the 1990s was slower than in the 1980s.”

Bush doesn’t believe the folks over at the Center for Economic Policy and Research? How about Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economics, onetime chief economist at the World Bank, and the former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers?

“The sad truth, however, is that outside of China, poverty in the developing world has increased over the past two decades,” Stiglitz writes in his 2006 book, “Making Globalization Work.” “Some 40 percent of the world’s 6.5 billion people live in poverty (a number that is up 36 percent from 1981), a sixth—877 million—live in extreme poverty (3 percent more than in 1981).”

So, what works? Ha-Joon Chang, an economist of Korean origin teaching at Cambridge, provides some answers. In books such as “Kicking Away the Ladder” and “Bad Samaritans,” Chang demonstrates that what will succeed best for the developing world are strategies that helped the West in the past: an activist state engaging in a mix of policies to protect and encourage infant industries, rather than orthodox free trade.

But to listen to people like Chang, Bush would have to stop repeating, zombie-like, the free-trade mantra he carries around in his head.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Mo' (About) Money

Just in case that last post didn't get you thinking about the real state of the economy, here's a couple of more articles to provide some additional food for thought.

The Devil and Alan Greenspan

If Americans have to learn the hard way that they cannot surf the wave of the world's savings forever, it will be a painful but beneficial lesson. If Asians learn that they cannot avoid risk by placing their savings in America, it is worth the cost, although it may be substantial. The fate of 3 billion Asians is the risk to the world economy, and it is delusional to think that it can be insured. Asians must find the means to invest in their own future and buy their own risk. Who started the global credit crisis? I don't mean to wax mystical over mundane issues in the markets, but I think that the devil did. He is just doing his job.

Why The Dollar is a 98-lb Weakling

Currencies rise and fall over time because countries really do get richer and poorer. Dig something valuable up from under the ground, or devise products or services that people value, and your money will be worth more. Let your industries fall behind, or allow inflation to debase the value of your money, and its global standing will decline.

The puzzle is that there's no real evidence that the economic prospects of Western Europe have suddenly improved 40% compared with the U.S. This makes it tempting to assign the dollar's drop to the customary moodiness of currency markets, in which traders make guesses about the future and inevitably get things wrong for years on end.

Why haven't these countries' currencies been gaining on the dollar? Because their governments won't let them. China's dollar peg, established in the mid-1990s, is often portrayed in the U.S. as a mercantilist attempt to sell more stuff here (if the Chinese yuan is cheap relative to the dollar, imports from China are cheaper too). But there's much more to it than that: by reining in the often pointless fluctuations of currency markets, countries can bring stability and encourage trade.

That's what the U.S. and the world's other big economies did during the 25 years after World War II. Up to now they've been content to recycle most of them (dollars) by buying Treasury bills and other U.S. securities. The U.S. has enjoyed the low interest rates that have resulted, while China, the Gulf States and Japan haven't wanted to face the consequence that by selling dollars, they would decrease the value of their remaining dollar holdings.

This is an arrangement that can't go on forever. It should unravel; that's the way of economic change and progress. But there's no plan in place to make it happen in an orderly fashion. The fear that the ensuing adjustment might be even more chaotic than in the 1970s probably explains most of the dollar's recent decline. It's not that we Americans have gotten a lot poorer. It's that we might be about to.

Bling, Bling

Dollar Crunch Puts Gold Centre Stage

The dominoes are toppling. What began as a credit crunch has turned into a dollar crunch. We are witnessing a run on the world's paramount reserve currency, an event that occurs twice a century or so, and never with a benign outcome.

The US dollar has fallen through parity against the Canadian dollar and plummeted to all-time lows against a basket of currencies. This is dangerous. None of the mature economic blocs seems able to take the strain, let alone step in to restore order. Ultimately, Europe and Japan are in worse shape than the US. A mood of sauve qui peut is taking hold.

Is this what gold is sniffing as it breaks out against all currencies, smashing through €500 an ounce against the euro, and vaulting to a 28-year high of $743 against the dollar?

"Central banks have been forced to choose between global recession or sacrificing control of gold, and have chosen the perceived lesser of two evils," said Citigroup in a fresh report. This could take gold to $1,000 an ounce, or higher."

Until now, the euro has served as the "anti-dollar", the default choice for Asians and petrodollar powers wary of US assets. This cannot last. Eurogroup chair, Jean-Claude Juncker, has stopped pretending that all is well. "We have begun to have great concern about the exchange rate of the euro," he said.

Europe will not let America export its day of reckoning to the rest of the world. It will counter with its own devaluation.

No doubt Ben Bernanke will use all means to avert disaster, including the "printing press" he invoked in November 2002. By this he meant that the Fed could inject unlimited stimulus by purchasing as many bonds and assets as it wants. He believes the Fed could have avoided the Depression if it had been more creative in 1931. Even so, I am not sure that the Bernanke Fed will move fast enough, given fears of moral hazard, or, indeed, whether the rate cuts on offer are enough to head off an insolvency crisis. The chart of S&P 500 looks eerily similar to October 1987, the last time a tumbling US dollar set off a crash.

Large parts of the global credit system are still shut. The $2.2 trillion market for commercial paper has shrunk by $368bn over the past seven weeks as lenders refuse to roll over loans. The $2.5 trillion market for "structured finance" remains frozen.

We wait to see what happens as "teaser rates" on some $1.5 trillion of mortgages jump with a venomous kick in coming months. The Fed should have thought about this three years ago when rates were 1pc. It is too late now.

But You Already Knew That

Study: Racism plays role in black infant mortality rates

For decades, health experts have tried to determine why African-American babies are twice as likely to die as white infants. A new series of studies from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies' Health Policy Institute, along with a small but growing number of neonatalogists nationwide, suggests that the stressful effects of racism play a role.

"That's the elephant in the room," said Michael Lu, an obstetrician-gynecologist and professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who studies disparities in infant health. "When we're studying racial disparities, for decades people have looked at stress and infant mortality without looking at the reasons for the stress."

The Writings On The Wall

Israel’s Chief Diplomat Meets Arab Counterparts In Backroom Talks

While the Iranian president was busy stealing the limelight at this year’s United Nations General Assembly, Israel’s foreign minister was quietly carrying out a new strategy of normalizing relations with Muslim countries in a series of backroom meetings. During her weeklong stay in the United States, Tzipi Livni made her case at the U.N. as well as in a series of meetings with representatives from a host of Middle Eastern and North African countries that currently do not maintain formal ties with Israel.

“As the parties take the risks for peace, we look to the international community and to the Arab and Muslim world to offer support, not to stipulate conditions,” Livni said Monday in her speech at the General Assembly.

During the week, she shuttled between meetings with the Amir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamed bin Khalifa al-Thani, and with ministers from Oman, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and Mauritania. She also participated in a meeting attended by the secretary general of Oman’s foreign ministry hosted by the American Jewish Committee. The event celebrated 10 years of a joint desalination project in Oman, the only remaining active cooperation program out of the many joint groups that were established after the Oslo Accords.

The flurry of activity comes in advance of an American-sponsored peace conference set for next month. American officials announced this week that the conference would take place in Annapolis, Md.

Why does Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin come to mind after reading this?

Mene: God has numbered your kingdom and finished it.

Tekel: You have been weighted in the balances and found wanting.

Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

Hey! I didn’t say it!

- Daniel 5:25-28!

I'll Be Reading This

The slaves, he said, "never gave up. They never accepted the reality of slavery. So this is not a book about victimhood. "Without their resistance, the middle-class abolitionist movement in England and New England wouldn't have gotten anywhere. That's a very important thing to remember."

With so much revisionist history underway regarding American slavery, it's good to see that the reality hasn't escaped everyone. More excerpts are below, but check out the entire review.

The Thinkers: Pitt Prof's new book an entree to excesses of slave trade

In many ways, Marcus Rediker believes, the African slave trade actually created the black and white races. Before the slave trade to North America took hold strongly in the 1700s, the University of Pittsburgh history professor said, most Africans thought of themselves as members of different tribes and language groups.

Slave rebellions on board the ships were extremely common, and the way that the ships were designed acknowledged that fact. The frequency of slave uprisings is a fairly recent discovery in historical research, Dr. Rediker said, and helps explain two common features on slave ships -- the netting that surrounded the deck, and the "barricado" -- a wooden wall that was built midway along the top deck. The netting was there to prevent slaves from leaping overboard, although many of them still managed to do so. The barricado gave the crew protection if the slaves started to rebel, and had holes in it through which they could fire muskets at the insurgents. The protective measures proved that "even though the slaves were in dire circumstances, they never gave up. They kept fighting even though there was no real chance of winning. In many cases, even if they managed to rise up and kill the crew, they couldn't sail the ships."

Slave resistance took other forms, too.

The refusal to eat was so common, he wrote, that "the Atlantic slave trade was, in many senses, a 400-year hunger strike" In other cases, he said, "the goal was not to capture the ship but to commit mass suicide to get off that ship." One reason slaves were willing to throw themselves overboard, even when many could not swim, was the traditional West African religious belief that when they died, they would be transported back to their homeland to live in an ideal Africa. It was called "going home to Guinea," the common term for the African coast.

"Many captains developed specific practices of terror to try to overcome that belief," Dr. Rediker said. "One captain said, 'If they think they're going home to Guinea, I want to make sure they understand they're not going home in the bodies they inhabited.' "

That captain would pick out a victim, he said, "and sever the limbs of the person, and he would throw those limbs into the areas where the people who were still in chains were forced to live, and would use the dismemberment of corpses as terror to control those who were still on board the ship."

In other cases, captains used a tactic that relied on one of the slave ship's constant companions -- sharks. He tied a rope under her armpits and lowered her into the water, Goldsmith wrote, "and when the poor creature was thus plunged in, and about halfway down, she was heard to give a terrible shriek, which at first was ascribed to her fears of drowning; but soon after, the water appearing red all around her, she was drawn up, and it was found that a shark, which had followed the ship, had bit her off from the middle."

Despite such brutal tactics, slave rebellions never died off, and that is a major reason why the abolition movement against the slave trade finally succeeded 200 years ago, in 1807 in Great Britain and a year later in the United States.

Jena, O.J., and the Jailing of Black America

A thoughtful Op-Ed from last weeks New York Times that puts the Jena situation into perspective. Or it should anyway.

Jena, O. J. and the Jailing of Black America

America has more than two million citizens behind bars, the highest absolute and per capita rate of incarceration in the world. Black Americans, a mere 13 percent of the population, constitute half of this country’s prisoners. A tenth of all black men between ages 20 and 35 are in jail or prison; blacks are incarcerated at over eight times the white rate.

The effect on black communities is catastrophic: one in three male African-Americans in their 30s now has a prison record, as do nearly two-thirds of all black male high school dropouts. These numbers and rates are incomparably greater than anything achieved at the height of the Jim Crow era. What’s odd is how long it has taken the African-American community to address in a forceful and thoughtful way this racially biased and utterly counterproductive situation.

Friday, October 05, 2007

May I Introduce...

First of all, I'd like to start by thanking God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and The Head-Brother-In-Charge that turned me on to your blog and invited me to join and express my opinions from time to time.

Second. I'd like to make it plain that I am not one of the accomplished academics sitting comfortably back on a pile of degrees and accolades studying the world through a polished telescope fine tuned by years and years of lectures, white papers, and standardized education that ensured once the proper principles were applied, we are guaranteed to come up with all of the right answers. I cannot even be easily categorized or classified as a Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, Anti-American, Anti-Communist, Religions Zealot, Radical or Rebel. (Even though I can be a little of all of these when I feel the situation calls for it.)

But, what I am is a Researcher. Every weekend, I make it a point to dig deeply into the stories behind the headlines around the world then follow the trail of untrained "common sense" until my viewpoint of the truth emerges and takes form. My research categorizes the news into Politics, Economics, Entertainment and Social Injustice. But, when you drill down to the core of the matter, all of these categories are one and the same: Who's doing right and who's doing wrong no matter what they're doing.

My goal is total enlightenment based on a thorough examination and understanding of the forces at work to disturb our opportunities for world peace and justice. (To me, the term "Terrorist" is relative.) My objective is to present the unedited information as it appeared in print from around the world. (Although I can't help putting a biblical "spin" on a story every once in my introductions. After all, I'm sure you'll soon be able to discern that there's a Higher Force at work anyway.)

Third. I'm very thick-skinned. I'm secure enough in who I am that I don't feel the need to always be right or even well liked. Once the facts hit the table, if they totally discredit all other opinions and alternative views....that's the truth. Period. Plus, the news I plan to present does not originate with me. I am only The Messenger. So, you can take it or leave it. I will never argue about whether or not it is accurate or biased. My aim is just to ensure that you don't miss the story. Sometimes, they're a matter of life or death.

My pursuit is to instigate the type of honest dialog needed to arrive at The Truth. Once we get there, that's all that's needed. Then, and only then, can we expand into how to get some things figured out and maybe even...fixed.

Fourth. I feel that where I am or where I'm from is irrelevant. I don't even think it matters whether I'm young or old. Male or female. Black or purple. When I present my research, I try to remove all personality from it and present only what the press is saying is going on around this world. Because, let's face it, the whole world is The Ghetto anyway. Your view of it pretty much depends on the altitude of your vantage point. (Six degrees of separation between the whole. Three degrees of separation between the "hoods". No matter whom you are or where you live on this planet.) The struggle continues.

Finally, all that said, I look forward to bringing whatever I can to this group. My mission is to ensure that the real issues behind the headlines are explored. Not the manufactured, diversionary politics and "spin" that usually hits the evening news. Let's take a hard look at what's really going on and try to draw our own patterns and come to our own conclusions. Am I the only one that's sick and tired of other people who don't have a clue of what my world is really like telling me how I should feel about those issues that most affect me? (As I said, my search is for truth and enlightenment.)

Now. This is where my stories begin. Just call me...Isaiah Too.