Posted by: The moderator | May 18, 2012

The Cold War Industry Makes a Comeback

The House approved a defense bill Friday that calls for the construction of a missile defense shield along the east coast, presumably to protect us from the hotbed of nuclear confrontation that is Western Europe. After Republican lawmakers spent months claiming to be champions of cutting wasteful spending, they now decide to plunk down billions of dollars on military spending to prevent the next British invasion or to quell French aggression. And 77 Democrats in the House drank the Kool-Aid too.

Over fifty years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican with a distinguished military career, warned of the powerful Military-Industrial Complex. We saw the excesses of that close symbiotic relationship during the past decade in Afghanistan and Iraq, which created most of the massive debt we’re currently trying to tackle. Now that we’ve stopped warmongering, the military subcontractors and aerospace companies are having to stir up sales by pushing unnecessary programs through Congress. These are programs that only made sense in the Cold War, and even then they didn’t make enough sense to actually be enacted.

On a related note, I have little confidence that the sequester planned for military spending in the aftermath of last year’s failed Supercommittee will actually happen. Congress has the power to alter the sequestration and will likely eliminate the cuts to the military while pushing the burden of budget cuts on programs that impact the poor and middle class. They’re too spineless to stand up to their campaign financiers and lobbyist buddies in the defense industry. It’s sad that one industry can have such a strong leash on our elected officials.

Posted by: The moderator | April 25, 2012

They don’t make them like they used to

Watch where you step. A girl in China fell through a concrete sidewalk into a 20 foot sinkhole, all of it on camera of course. CNET wants to make a fuss about the girl being engrossed in a cell phone conversation at the time, but I don’t think she would have been able to prevent the sidewalk from collapsing beneath her even if she wasn’t distracted.

Posted by: The moderator | April 10, 2012

Finally

With Rick Santorum finally bowing out of the race, we can move on to the real showdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Nevermind that Romney’s chances of energizing any voters are slim at best. The Republicans were hoping Obamacare would become an liability for the president in the campaign, especially if the Supreme Court strikes it down this summer. Now it doesn’t really matter since Romney’s health reforms in Massachusetts spawned Obamacare. Its going to be a strange campaign season this year.

Posted by: The moderator | April 8, 2012

The Magic Wears Off

Apple’s new iPhones and iPads, while accompanied by the usual rave reviews when they were released in October and March, are proving to be troublesome for Apple just a few months later. First there were reports that the iPad 3 was overheating, a complaint that made 2010’s iPhone 4 reception issues seem trivial. Now Apple is running into legal challenges in the United States and overseas for false advertising regarding both the iPad 3 and the iPhone 4S.

Now that 3G and 4G networks are no longer limited to North America, people around the world are snatching up the 4G enabled iPad 3 expecting it to work in their own country. The problem is that 4G networks in Europe and elsewhere operate at different frequencies and are therefore incompatible with the iPad 3. That hasn’t stopped Apple from marketing their 4G product to international customers, resulted in legal challenges in Australia and Britain.

This comes less than a month after customers started suing Apple in the United States for false advertising regarding Siri, the personal assistant built into the iPhone 4S. It seems Siri doesn’t really understand many people’s commands out-of-the-box and even after extensively playing with the device, the results you’ll get are a far cry from the television ads.

Looks like the iPad and iPhone are not as magical as they once were. Maybe it’s because Apple’s customers have grown older and are more jaded in their approach to technology. Maybe it’s because Apple no longer has Steve Jobs to soothe upset customers. Or maybe it’s because Apple has been going overboard in advertising new versions of their products when these new iPads and iPhones are really just minor upgrades of the previous generation. Regardless, Apple’s ridiculous stock surge hides a much darker forecast for the company if their products don’t live up their promises.

Posted by: The moderator | March 31, 2012

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Canada is discontinuing their penny this year, with the final batch of pennies rolling out in April followed by the gradual removal of the coins from circulation in the months and years that follow. While not legally required, retailers are expected to simply round to the nearest five when dealing with cash while credit card purchases may remain exact. The change in making change is expected to save the government money since pennies cost more to make than they are worth.

There have been similar calls in the United States to eliminate the penny, although none have taken off. I wish we could expect that the US will use the Canadians as a model as we try to save money when making our money, but we don’t seem to pay attention to successes outside our own country. After all, the US is still stuck on paper dollar bills even after Canada successfully switched to a dollar coin in 1989.

Posted by: The moderator | March 25, 2012

New Leader, Old Shenanigans

President Obama visits the DMZ between North and South Korea

With President Obama visiting South Korea this week for a nuclear summit, all eyes turn to the North where the communist state is preparing a satellite launch using missile technology that violates a deal the United States struck with North Korea earlier this month. It’s hard to negotiate with a country that routinely breaks its promises.

With the death of Kim Jong Il in December, nobody knows how his son and successor, Kim Jong Un, will lead the isolated country. Some commentators even believe Kim Jong Un will be more hardline than his father. That’s assuming Kim Jong Un is actually in charge, with President Obama admitting “It’s not clear exactly who is calling the shots and what their long-term objectives are.”

Ever since the Bush administration lumped North Korea into its “Axis of Evil,” I’ve felt that the United States has failed to really follow through with any meaningful change in our relations with the North Koreans. Our policy of isolating the North while pursuing UN resolutions and piecemeal agreements has been as successful as our decades-long hostility toward Cuba, with little results in either case. With the United States redeploying many of the troops withdrawn from Iraq to garrisons throughout Asia, are we hoping our military might can provide more leverage in negotiations? Can we expect anything new from this new leader or will he be controlled by his father’s advisers? What would it take to really make a change?

Posted by: The moderator | February 26, 2012

Inevitability

Political commentators have made up their minds about Vladamir Putin regaining the Russian presidency, regardless of the large vocal opposition that continues to demonstrate in the streets. Whether he wins legitimately with his base of supporters in the Russian frontier or rigs the outcome like last year’s legislative elections, it is assumed that his return to the presidency is inevitable.

But what is also becoming inevitable is that Putin won’t be able to retain control of his presidency for the next six years. The Putin regime has already lost some legitimacy in all the upheaval and the protesters are preparing for the long-haul. As internet access chisels away at the power of Russia’s state-owned media and cracks appear in Putin’s public facade, it’s only a matter of time before serious regime change takes place. The question now is whether Putin will have to step down early like his unpopular predecessor Boris Yeltsin or whether an armed uprising like those sweeping through the Arab world will ultimately do him in.

Posted by: The moderator | February 15, 2012

You Can’t Take it With You

Your worst enemy

If you’re going to Russia or China, you’d better leave your phone at home says the New York Times. It doesn’t really surprise me that hackers in Russia and China are tapping into foreigners’ digital devices to grab passwords, steal trade secrets, and spy on people. What does surprise me are the lengths to which companies and governments are going to prevent these kind of security breaches. These range from¬†avoiding typing passwords directly into their devices by copying their passwords from USB drives to preventing a phone’s microphone from being used even when powered off by removing the batteries to the extreme that McAfee takes: “if any employee’s device was inspected at the Chinese border, it could never be plugged into McAfee’s network again. Ever.”

The digital world is opening the door to all sorts of high-tech theft, espionage, and industrial sabotage. Now we have to constantly check our gadgets to make sure they haven’t been bugged. Does this mean we’ll all have to live more like James Bond?

Posted by: The moderator | February 8, 2012

Libya in Syria?

We’ve watched for months as the bloodshed in Syria escalated, to the point that Syria’s neighbors and several Western countries have come to an agreement that something must been done soon to wrestle control away from Syrian President al-Assad. Unfortunately, with Russia and China blocking action by the UN Security Council, there are not a lot of good options left on the table. Pulling ambassadors and sending diplomatic communiques are fine and dandy, but they haven’t brought any change in the situation in Syria for the past few months.

Something more forceful needs to be done, but Americans don’t want another war and the West’s intervention in Libya’s civil war last year is one reason Russia and China gave for using their veto in the Security Council when a demand for ousting Assad was brought to a vote (lucrative arms deals and trade are the other, less-publicized reasons for their vetoes). Regardless, the military and intelligence communities in the United States are gearing up for something and commentators are lining up to show why this will or will not be like the Libya intervention.

Will we use another no-fly zone and tactical bombing campaign with no clear political solution after Assad is gone? Or are we going to arm rebels that we’ll fight ourselves a couple decades later like we did in Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded and in Iraq when they were at war with Iran? Or are we going to talk about it for another six months while more Syrians die? There’s just nothing good that we can do.

Posted by: The moderator | January 30, 2012

They grow up so fast

After 31 years of building an advanced economy by exporting high-tech gadgets to the world, Japan has joined the United States in the pantheon of rich countries that don’t bother making stuff anymore. Japan is now experiencing a trade deficit resulting from an aging workforce,¬†unfair competition from cheap Chinese labor, and natural disasters disrupting domestic production. At least we won’t be alone in our decade of decline.

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