Delusional but True

June 2nd, 2008

It’s official, Team Clinton has officially committed to continuing the fight of the Democratic nomination.

It seems (and indeed, may in fact be) delusional, but the Clinton campaign’s current path to victory includes:

  • Remaining Pledged Delegates:

    The immediate goal of the Clinton campaign is to keep Obama from winning too many of the Pledged Delegates available through the last two primaries this week. Of course, even if Obama wins ALL the remaining Pledged Delegates, which he won’t, he still wouldn’t posses enough Delegates to clinch the nomination. But sanity ranks the effectiveness of this first tactic in keeping the nomination from Obama on about the same plane as the boy-gets-girl ending of every “Nerd” move produced through Hollywood.  It’s fun to imagine improbabilities via a movie, but sad to witness the futility of misplaced hope in real life.

  • Remaining 200 undeclared Super Delegates:

    A cursory review of news sources would probably lead one to believe that still undeclared Super Delegates are flocking, en mass, to the inevitability of Obama’s nomination. It is certainly true that Obama is inching ahead of Hillary, but it hasn’t exactly been a daily avalanche of declared support for Obama. I’ve previously noted the mere fact that these Super Delegates aren’t drawn to Obama like flies to messianic honey may be due to their secret, unrequited hope and preference for Hillary’s nomination.

    It should be noted that Obama is rumored to have accumulated an impressive reservoir of private “declarations” of support from a number of these publicly undeclared Super D’s which his campaign is holding back from public acknowledgement until the opportune moment. I believe this is true, but he doesn’t have 200 such Super D’s.

    I think it is fascinating to realize there is really no reason, at this point, for 90% of these undeclared Super D’s not to declare. If they don’t declare by Wednesday of this week (within 1 day of the final primaries), then we know the Clinton campaign may actually know something we don’t (even more “Pastor Disasters”, as is rumored?). They won’t make up the Delegate gap, but perhaps they will hold on to 25% - 50% of these undeclared Delegates.

  • Enticing Declared Super D’s to Switch Allegiance:

    Vying for two above-mentioned categories of Delegates may breathe some temporary life into Clinton’s campaign, but it won’t secure her the nomination. Without further tactical advance by Team Clinton, it is overwhelmingly likely that Obama will still eke out support from sufficient remaining Delegates to secure the nomination. This is what leads us to examine Clinton’s last, best hope to becoming the Democratic nominee.

    The last key to the Clinton strategy is to convince existing Super D’s to switch allegiance. As I wrote about here, this is, technically speaking, a completely viable option for a Super Delegate. For the sake of convenience, media organizations like the Associated Press and CNN keep track of declarations of support from Super Delegates as a way of handicapping the nomination process. But Super D’s are NOT bound to these declarations. They don’t cast their vote of support until August. Until then, they are free to publicly vacillate in support of the candidates or even remain undeclared. Hillary’s campaign hopes are completely banked upon convincing these Super D’s to switch allegiance.

    How likely is this tactic to work? Again, as I depict here, the Super D’s are pinned to the mat of reality by a monolithic media meme in Obama’s inevitable victory. The sheer repetition of his assumed nomination creates an incredible inertia of presumed public opinion against which most elected officials just won’t fight – even if they know he is the weaker candidate for the party. Thus the reason I classify this final tactic as a delusional jousting at windmills. Yet, Hillary is wisely campaigning with just such a Super Delegate this week:

    “Clinton invited Virgin Islands Super Delegate Kevin Rodriguez, a recent convert, to travel with her to South Dakota where she planned to campaign Monday. Rodriguez had initially supported Clinton, switched to Obama, and recently returned to her camp.”

    Still, as Hillary inarticulately alluded last week, an awful lot can happen between now and the convention. Consider Obama’s plummeting ratings among white Democratic women and on the “trust” of voters in general. If the media meme can be broken, Super D’s may be convinced to switch.

    I think the media is now fully invested in an Obama victory over Clinton. But continuing revelations of impropriety, racism, dangerous inexperience or poor judgment – if persistent or sufficiently shocking – may create the crack in Obama’s reservoir of Super D declarations to create a new flood of support which changes the tide of this election and buoys her drowning candidacy (to truly stretch a metaphor).

    Delusional? Perhaps.

    Technically true? Absolutely.

    Likely? Time will tell. . .

On Principle,

CBass

Econ Contrarian: Retail Spending

May 30th, 2008

I will continue to pull back the curtain to reveal the public media pieces I was tracking in March and April which led me to decisively take a stand against the near monolithic message of the pending, deep, dark and deadly national economic recession. That’s why I title this series of posts the “Economic Contrarian”; they run contrary to the media narrative which has cemented conventional wisdom in a decidedly negative direction.

Due to the myriad of headline links included in this Post, I will only provide commentary here in the Summary. What will follow below is a list of the headlines (with links to the original articles) I was following which demonstrated the economy’s strength via the consumer spending sector. Retail spending is traditionally considered an excellent barometer of economic health as it is measure of both:

  • The ABILITY of consumers to spend money (which addresses jobs, income, savings, home equity, available credit, credit ratings, etc) and
  • The WILLINGNESS of them to do so (which captures the consumer’s confidence to tap credit, savings, etc verse uncertainty in the ability to repay in the future due to concerns over inflation, job security, interest rates, etc).

Thus, when retail spending is expanding across the board, it is a good measure that the economy is NOT in recession. As you will see below, my reading of the popular media was showing that an expansion of retail spending is exactly what we were experiencing in the First Quarter of 2008. What follows below is a summary of the types of retail spending I was following.

Past Posts on This Topic:

The Economic Contrarian

Economic Contrarian – Trade Deficit

Economic Contrarian – Personal Incomes

Economic Contrarian – Sometimes You Win

Economic Contrarian – Banking Rebound

Economic Contrarian – Industry Leaders & Profits

Summary:

Consumer Retail Spending

Consumer retail spending addresses the regular spending in which consumers engage. These purchases are generally referenced as being “necessities”. In recessions (especially sever recessions), however, incomes become constrained due to job losses, spent savings, loss of home equity and “maxed out” credit cards. Thus, finding steady or growing consumer spending is not a sign in an exploding economy, but it certainly nullifies the warning that a recession is skimming all robustness out of the economy.

Examples Include:

Walmart, McDonalds, General Mills (cereals), 3M (products like Post-It Notes), Walgreens, Ebay (it must say something when we place Ebay in the “necessary/consumer” category! – Oh, how dire things are!)

Discretionary Retail Spending

Discretionary spending is an excellent measure of consumer sentiment – the willingness for consumers to part with their cash. While consumer spending may be incorrectly labeled as being “necessary”, discretionary spending is not. Consumers generally purchase discretionary items when they feel confident in the security of their savings and/or the continuation and sufficiency of their income. Growth in discretionary spending is a tremendous indication that consumers feel secure in the economy (at least for themselves). It also indicates a continued ripple of healthy economic activity as most discretionary items are carry higher price tags and involved larger supply chains (like automobiles). When purchased, they are funding larger segments of the economy than when someone purchases box of cereal.

Examples Include:

Ford (Automobiles – purchases which could certainly be delayed a year or two), Williams-Sonoma (up-scale home goods), Aetna (health care services can be decreased through lower coverage or higher deductibles), Intel (new computer models are not exactly a requirement in a recession).

International Retailers

Another interesting element of our economy which the media seems to miss and which the Democratic party loves to hate is the International strength of American companies. International sales infuse our economy with cash, funding salaries, driving domestic consumer spending and further strengthening our economy.

Examples Include:

Coca Cola (drinks sold in darkest, most primitive areas on Earth – and beyond), Boeing and Lockheed Martin (aerospace and high-tech sales to foreign governments), Caterpillar (construction equipment)

Entertainment Spending

Entertainment spending could be considered a sub-category of Discretionary spending. I separate it here as this category is an even more stunning example of consumers feeling comfortable parting with their money. Where Discretionary spending may include the purchase of cell phones (no, they aren’t “necessities”), Entertainment spending would include the upgrade to high-end cell phones and data plans. Where Discretionary spending may include DVD players from Best Buy, Entertainment spending would include movie tickets and rental clubs like (Netflex, etc).

Examples Include:

RIM (Blackberry data service is NOT a necessity – especially as the subscriber base expands), Viacom (video games), Disney (Theme parks.

The detailed list of headlines with links to the original articles follows here:

Consumer Retail Spending

Walgreen quarterly profit rises

March 24, 2008 08:11 AM ET

General Mills profit rises 60 percent

March 19, 2008 07:54 AM ET

Best Buy profit better than expected

April 02, 2008 08:35 AM ET

Futures drop on profit unease, but Wal-Mart up

April 10, 2008 07:51 AM ET

Duke Energy earnings jump 30 percent

May 02, 2008 07:55 AM ET

CSX - Income Jumped 46%

Kellogg earnings beat estimates but stock dips

April 30, 2008 04:14 PM ET

P&G quarterly profit rises, helped by cost controls

April 30, 2008 07:48 AM ET

3M profit tops Street view

April 24, 2008 08:34 AM ET

McDonald’s profit beats estimates

April 22, 2008 08:37 AM ET

Burger King quarterly profit rises

May 01, 2008 07:22 AM ET

EBay profit rises 22 pct, fueled by int’l sales

April 16, 2008 04:16 PM ET

J&J profits beat estimates

April 15, 2008 03:27 PM ET

Discretionary Retail Spending

Williams-Sonoma profit rises, but outlook cautious

March 27, 2008 07:44 AM ET

Ford swings surprise profit

April 24, 2008 12:47 PM ET

Goodyear posts quarterly profit on price hikes, forex

April 25, 2008 08:29 AM ET

Aetna profit meets Street

April 24, 2008 07:43 AM ET

Quest profit jumps 32 percent

April 21, 2008 02:56 PM ET

Abbott profit rises on sales of drugs, devices

April 16, 2008 07:47 AM ET

Intel posts in-line results, stock climbs

April 15, 2008 04:32 PM ET

International Retailers

Nike quarterly income rises on international sales

March 19, 2008 04:37 PM ET

Boeing profit up on plane deliveries

April 23, 2008 08:12 AM ET

Lockheed Martin profit rises 6 percent

April 22, 2008 07:34 AM ET

Google and Caterpillar power gains on Wall St.

April 18, 2008 04:37 PM ET

Honeywell profit tops Street view

April 18, 2008 08:07 AM ET

United Tech profit beats estimates

April 17, 2008 07:42 AM ET

Coca-Cola profit beats estimates

April 16, 2008 07:53 AM ET

PepsiCo reports higher Q1 profit

April 24, 2008 08:38 AM ET

Cisco reports higher revenue despite economy worries

May 06, 2008 04:21 PM ET

Entertainment Spending

Cellphone market Q1 growth fastest since 2006

April 25, 2008 10:42 AM ET

RIM reports strong profit and rosy outlook

April 02, 2008 04:32 PM ET

Viacom profit rises on “Rock Band”, MTV Networks

May 02, 2008 07:45 AM ET

Verizon profit rises on subscriber growth

April 28, 2008 08:00 AM ET

AT&T profit rises on wireless sales

April 22, 2008 08:15 AM ET

Hasbro’s profit tops expectations as sales soar

April 21, 2008 07:38 AM ET

Disney results beat Wall Street, shares rise 3 pct

May 06, 2008 04:37 PM ET

DirecTV posts higher profit

May 07, 2008 07:10 AM ET

News Corp profit rises on cable, TV ratings

May 07, 2008 04:05 PM ET

Requisite footnote on the “Econ Contrarian” series:

As with so many other complex issues in this modern world, I don’t claim to know what tomorrow holds for the economy. There are just too many competing systems interacting in labyrinthine layers. But, since no one else seems to want to focus upon any of the positive indicators in this complex mix, I think I’ll stand in the gap and shine a small, small light to illuminate a few contradictory indicators – indicators which make the more balanced point that while certain segments of the economy will certainly retract a bit after years of unprecedented growth, this doesn’t exactly mean the expansion of the new era of Mordor.

On Principle,

CBass

LOST Season 4

May 28th, 2008

If you have ANY inclination toward enjoying TV, you absolutely must do yourself the favor of giving LOST (ABC) a try.

I won’t even both going into the plot premise – mainly because it just sounds weird. In fact, I didn’t want to see this series when it was launched. A couple who are close friends of ours, made my wife and I watch the 3 first episodes of Season 1 (on DVD). I was hooked.

Season 1:

If you want a show that will entertain you with great acting, extremely tight writing and an intricate plot – LOST will win you over. The signature plot device of the show is the use of flashbacks. Each show focuses upon one character, there are many characters. During the course of an episode, events in the “current” timeline are highlighted by several flashbacks of prior events in that character’s life which are either connected to or which shape the way they behave in response to the current timeline. The extremely creative twist, however, is that many of the flashbacks reveal a more clever plot device: connections between the main characters, connections of which they are mainly unaware.

Season 2:

Fans of the show will probably agree with me that Season 2 suffered from a couple of major mistakes. The show was so popular that ABC place a several month pause in new episodes. Problems were compounded by the writers’ short, unexplainable deviation from flashback/connections device. This lapse only lasted about 5 episodes, but these episodes sandwiched the annoying gap in new episodes – leaving fans with double disappointment. Many fans dropped off the show during this hiatus. This was especially disappointing as a new group of main characters was introduced in Season 2. But the fans who dropped largely missed the fun and shocking twists these new characters introduced into the plot.

Season 3:

Season 3 rectified the issues of Season 2 and stunningly upped the ante by 2. First, yet another set of main characters was introduced. Well, actually, Season 3 allowed us to peer deeply into a community of characters of which only glimpses had been previously granted. And through this view, 2 years of misperceptions were challenged. Second, the season finale continued the now well entrenched flashback device. Yet, I was filled with angst while watching the episode as the events just didn’t jive with the timeline which had been previously revealed for these characters. Did the writers think no one would notice? In the final scene of the two hours, it is revealed that these incongruous flashbacks were actually flash forwards – necessitating a complete rethinking of the episode and what it added to the plot line.

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Season 4:

Season 4 has introduced yet another group of characters, has continued the flashback connections and has made the most of some tantalizing flash forwards. The question is what new wrinkle will be introduced tomorrow night? As do all fans, I have my guesses. I’ll see.

Will you?

On Principle,

CBass

The Media’s President

May 28th, 2008

Like many self-proclaimed conservatives I know, the grating, wily “Queen of Tusla” is actually warming the icy layers of my libertarian heart. There are lots of things to admire in her tenacity, but the Terminator is tenacious too. But the reason I find myself in stunned admiration is that she is actually striking the profession, principled position in terms of navigating the DNC process governing the Navigation.

I reach this conclusion through my intercept of a dialogue between a representatives of Hillary’s campaign (a “Hillarite”) and a concerned Super Delegate (”Super D”).

Super D: Cut the BS, why is Hillary still in this race?

Hillarite: No one has won enough Delegate votes to win the nomination and she’s kicking Obama’s backside by unprecedented margins. Who quits a race when they are winning states by 35% and 41%? More importantly, Hillary is FAR more electable in November.

Super D: But cut the BS. You know Hillary CAN’T win

Hillarite: Why not?

Super D: She’s 200 Delegates down and there aren’t enough Pledged Delegates left to win. Obama only needs a handful more.

Hillarite: Not true. Obama only needs a handful more until Michigan and Florida are seated, because the current counts of what constitutes the “majority” of Delegates doesn’t include these two states. That issue is getting addressed this weekend, so we’ll all know what is happening soon enough. But everyone expects MI and FL to have some of their Delegates seated at the Dem National Convention. When that happens Obama will actually need more Delegates than what he’s likely to win in the 3 remaining contests. Thus, when all the popular voting is completed, neither of us will have won enough Delegates.

On Michigan and Florida:

Super D: Cut the BS. All this pushing on MI and FL is a bit unseemly. You agreed that those states shouldn’t be counted. You agreed not to campaign in them.

Hillarite: Yes, we did agree. Yes, we did obey the rules and did not campaign in either state. But, we also stated publically that neither state should be cut out of our process. They both held legal votes. In fact, all names were on the ballot in FL and the FL Secretary of State has officially confirmed the popular vote there. Are you saying a fair, legal election shouldn’t be counted?

Super D: Well, ok. Maybe FL. But Obama wasn’t even on the ballot in MI. He obeyed the rules. Hillary did not.

Hillarite: Wrong. No DNC rule required candidates to remove their names from the ballot. Obama jumped the gun and limited his options by removing his name. Hillary showed more political judgment by leaving her options open. No one has filed an accusation that she broke ANY rules. In fact, watching how the two campaigns handled this issue provides another excellent insight as to why Obama won’t make a good national leader.

On Obama as Frontrunner:

Super D: OK, I’ll grant you MI and FL, but we Super D’s HAVE to vote for him.

Hillarite: Why?

Super D: Cut the BS. Obama has won more states.

Hillarite: Number of states won is not a criterion for success under ANY measurement system. North Dakota is just not that important.

Super D: Cut the BS. Obama has won more popular votes. The voice of the voters must be heard.

Hillarite: No he hasn’t. Hillary has won the popular vote if MI and FL are added. As we already discussed, there is really no argument that FL shouldn’t be added and it isn’t Hillary’s fault that Obama mistakenly removed his name from the MI ballot. Besides, forecasts of the remaining contests show that Hillary will further increase her popular vote lead. It is very, very likely that Obama will NOT have won the majority of the popular vote when everything’s done.

Super D: Ok, but cut the BS. Delegates are what matter and Obama is WAY ahead in Delegates.

Hillarite: Yes, Obama is ahead in Pledged Delegate count, but we don’t know that he will be ahead once Super Delegates cast their votes in August.

On the Popular Will:

Super D: Cut the BS. Super D’s are mostly elected officials. They have to vote according to the will of their constituents.

Hillarite: Wrong on 2 counts. First, if this were true, why are Senators Kennedy and Kerry supporting Obama? Hillary soundly won Massachusetts. If what you are saying is true they MUST support me. Second, if what you state was true, why would we even have a Super Delegate system? The ENTIRE purpose of having Super Delegates is to allow consideration beyond the foundational proportional distribution of Pledged Delegates.

Super D: Ok. I’ll grant you this in concept. But come on. Cut the BS. Super Delegates must follow the popular will.

Hillarite: What popular will? Hillary has won, is winning and will win the popular vote! The only “popular will” Obama is winning is the will of the Media. Are you suggesting the Media should select our candidate? Not the voters? And not other considerations?

Super D: There you go again, mentioning “other considerations”. What “other considerations” would justify overturning a major lead in Delegates?

Hillarite: What “major lead”. If you remove the Super Delegates, wait for the MI and FL decision and forecast the final 3 primaries – then Obama is still ahead in Pledged Delegates, but not by more than 2 or 3%. At that point, Hillary may be ahead by 2 or 3% in the popular vote.

Super D: Cut the BS. You know Super D’s have already stated their support for Obama. So you can’t just separate them when you look at Obama’s Delegate total.

Hillarite: There are several more months until the Convention. No Super Delegate votes until then. Until the Convention, they are free to change their mind. After all, there are several Super D’s who changed their stated support from me to Obama. Why isn’t it ok for Super D’s to switch their votes from Obama to me?

On “Other Considerations”:

Super D: Ok, but you haven’t answered, what “other considerations” would justify such a switch.

Hillarite: I’ll tell you, but first, please remember, there isn’t some MAJOR justification needed for a Super D to support someone who is winning the popular vote. Now, that being said, this cycle is compressed to an unprecedented degree. We’ve never seen this before and will be studying it when all is done to learn from mistakes made. Voters may already be doing this. Consider, since March 4th, Hillary has massively won the popular vote and in Pledged Delegates. So, the longer voters have to think, study and assess their options, the more they vote for Hillary. We even saw this in early primary states. Late deciders nearly always broke for Hillary by a huge percentage.

Super D: Is that all? Hillary’s done a better job of campaigning, finally, so she’s performing better. That’s your argument? Vote for Hillary because she finally fixed her campaign?

Hillarite: No, there’s much more. Hillary is winning all the states Democrats must win in November. She is polling ahead of McCain while Obama polls behind or even with him. And she has the larger, more stable coalition of supporters. Obama’s is very narrow in terms of the general election. If it wasn’t for Hillary’s admitted mistake not to contest the primaries in a few small states (most of which McCain is guaranteed to win anyway), she would be even or ahead in Pledged Delegates as well.

Super D: Interesting. But cut the BS. Super D’s can’t go against the will of the people. . .

Hillarite: Have you listened to anything here? The ENTIRE purpose of Super D’s is to make decisions on the larger parameters of what will help the Dem Party win in the General Election. The ENTIRE purpose. Hillary is the best candidate on all of these parameters. Obama’s Delegate lead only seems large because of Super D’s which could change their votes. Hillary is ahead in popular votes by about the same margin as Obama is ahead in Pledged Delegates – Delegates from states which won’t decide the election.

Super D: Interesting argument, but cut the BS. Obama is black. This is historic. We Super D’s can’t deny such a historic moment.

Hillarite: So, the first female President isn’t historic? Being “Black” is more important than being “Female”?

Super D: Well, the media would crush us if we Super D’s reversed the popular will and voted for Hillary.

Hillarite: WHAT POPULAR WILL?????? Hillary will win the popular vote. Arghhh! Cut the BS. As an elected official, you are going to “lead” according to the media’s vote. Doesn’t that make the media unelected “Supder Delegates” of the Dem Party?

Thus, the feckless Dem’s will nominate Obama because the media won’t “let” them do otherwise. Mainstream Corporate Media - the real Supder Delegates. . . Welcome to the Democrat’s version of democracy.

On Principle,

CBass

Econ Con: Industry Leaders & Profits

May 27th, 2008

Continuing my explanation of why I take a somewhat contrarian view of the media’s push for recession, this post will explore March and April articles I was “clipping” on the topics of Industry Leaders and Corporate Profits.

Summary:

Industry Leaders:

Economics is a game of increasing returns. Under this theory, those who take a market lead tend to expand that lead. This happens due to the proclivity of consumers around the world to purchase products, frequent stores and invest money in ways similar to everyone else around them. Thus, to cut through the complexity of global economics, leaders in each industry are often the early indicators of what will follow among their lesser known competition.

Corporate Profits:

In many of these news clippings, mention is made of the horrendous decline in profits for some companies. Yes, it is true. When profits start to fall, especially for industry leaders, it is an excellent bell weather of turbulent seas ahead. However, that should not negate a very basic underlying principle: profits are good. When business make profits,

Industry Leaders:

Accenture profit gains, raises outlook; shares up

Accenture, one of the “The Big 4” consulting firms, brings in revenue from offering consulting and “outsourcing” services. By making huge profits and raising its outlook, Accenture is sending 2 signals to the market place. First, a consultancy makes record profits when its customers have the liquid cash to pay exorbitant prices, on large contracts, over lengthy time periods. Thus, Accenture could not grow revenues if companies didn’t at least have a little free cash floating around – something which would not exist in “the worse economy since the Great Depression.” Second, some of this cash is probably coming from companies facing tough times and wanting to get leaner (thus the “outsourcing” component of Accenture’s profits). Getting leaner is synonymous with raising “productivity” – the exact measure Greenspan used throughout his tenure to explain our robust and expanding economy.

IBM profit rises on services, software strength

Thus showing that Accenture was not an “outlier”. IBM, another company requiring on the “free” spending of corporate America for services, is marking expanding revenues. Corporate America considers 2008 Q1 to be a time for productivity improvements to be ready for the next economic sprint.

Interpretation: Yes, the economy is rocky. Yes, companies see some lean months ahead. But industry leaders indicate that this economy is retooling for even more growth in the near term.

Barnes Group Q1 results top Street

Barnes Group is a major manufacturer of aerospace and industrial components. While I wouldn’t call them a “leader” in this industry in terms of size, their revenues are tied to the purchasing needs of such leaders. The article states that not only did the company do well in Q1, they raised their forecast for the remainder of 2008, based upon extremely strong demand in aerospace. Aerospace is a sector which requires massive infusion of investment over long time horizons. It doesn’t expand when companies predict a coming Depression. Investment in large, expensive items with long manufacturing terms is an excellent test case for the economic outlook from top board rooms.

Corporate Profits:

Alcoa first-quarter profit falls more than 50 pct

This leader in commodity mining is still profitable. Apparently the manufacturing sector isn’t completely trashed. Hurting? Yes. Limping a bit? Yes. But the worse period since 24% unemployment and soup lines? Not exactly.

Goldman, Lehman profits beat forecasts, shares rise

Read the article: Profits fell, but the company is STILL PROFITABLE. Despite stock market declines. Despite global panic from our mortgage market meltdown. The leading financial firms are still profitable.

Requisite footnote on the “Econ Contrarian” series:

As with so many other complex issues in this modern world, I don’t claim to know what tomorrow holds for the economy. There are just too many competing systems interacting in labyrinthine layers. But, since no one else seems to want to focus upon any of the positive indicators in this complex mix, I think I’ll stand in the gap and shine a small, small light to illuminate a few contradictory indicators – indicators which make the more balanced point that while certain segments of the economy will certainly retract a bit after years of unprecedented growth, this doesn’t exactly mean the expansion of the new era of Mordor.

On Principle,

CBass

Econ Con: Banking Rebound

May 19th, 2008

As I promised at the close of last week, I am here kicking off a series of posts outlining the data I was tracking in March and April which under girded my being pretty comfortable staking out a contrarian position on the economy – one which called out for reason when so many indicators (see below) were pointing that things weren’t (and aren’t) as bad as the press breathlessly reported.

The data making it through the filters of major media back in March was already indicating that the “crisis” in the banking and finance sector, stemming from the meltdown in mortgage markets, was beginning to abate:

Fannie, Freddie may raise $20 billion: report

Fannie and Freddie, public/private institutions underwrite a huge segment of the US Mortgage market. Their ability to remain solvent and continue to underwrite loans has a major effect upon the mortgage market. Without these two institutions, mortgage prices would likely rise beyond reach for most homebuyers – crippling our economy. As this headline reports, it was known in March that banks and institutional investors predicted Fannie and Freddie to be a wise enough risk as to place $Billions of speculative investments in these two institutions – during the midst of what so many forecasters were calling a global crisis, the worst banking situation since the 1930’s and a full-fledged recession. Maybe these investors saw something else – something like a predictable business cycle. . . ???

Existing home sales post surprise rise

Then of course, media was reporting on the RISE in home sales in February – right in the heart of the supposed recession. This data also emerged in late March. I always greet this sort of data with caution as the real estate market is very susceptible to monthly fluctuations in sales between new and existing homes, mortgage rates, the general economy, local market trends, rental rates, etc. Yet, if the entire economy was caught in the downward pull of the proverbial toilet, one wouldn’t expect to find positive trends in home sales of any sort.

Morgan Stanley earnings fall, but beat Street view

This is a huge point to which I kept returning when reviewing economic news these past couple of months: earnings and profits may be less than in the past (which is why I have acknowledged the pain of the current economy) but if companies are still making positive $’s, they are still making positive $’s. Making $ is a good thing. As long as major companies are still making $, the economy is not coming apart at the seams.

Citi says Lehman has ample liquidity

The mortgage markets are undergirded by huge banks which use these vehicles to diversify their giant pools of investment. When the banks are perceived to lack the ability to weather mortgage bankruptcies, the entire mortgage loses confidence and lenders raise the bars against the very first time home buyers and investors who were spurring growth. When the investment firms are determined to have liquidity, it is a sure sign that lenders will soon start to loosen the reins on new mortgages.

When positive liquidity is being found across the banking sector, it is a definite indication that things aren’t as dire as the reports might otherwise indicate: Bank results soothe investors. Remember, it was the supposed rotting of the entire mortgage market that was supposed to be tanking the economy in the first Quarter.

Yet, any look at the banking sector by March would have provided the insight that a recession was not likely, a down turn was certain and a rebound probably coming sooner than being widely touted.

On Principle,

CBass


Econ Con: Sometimes You Win

May 16th, 2008

I’ve had several folks remark that they thought I was out on a long, slender branch of a young sapling delicately clinging to the side of a steep cliff by striking a Contrarian course on my interpretation of the economy.

In fact, those proven to be possessed of far greater economic insight than I fully tossed their weight into the column of predicting recessions (Buffett, Buffett again and seemingly even more wrong, even eternal optimist Larry Kudlow)

Yet, surprise of all surprises, it looks like I was correct to wave a small flag of reason above the crowds of panicked analysts. Feast upon these headlines:

First-quarter growth stronger than forecast

By definition, a Recession is two (2) consecutive quarters of negative growth (shrinking) GDP. Thus, by definition, when the US economy GREW in the first quarter, we are NOT in a recession.

An economic contraction? Yes.

A tough patch? Yes.

A painful period for investors? Yes.

A time of economic realignment? Yes.

March retail sales unexpectedly rise 0.2 percent

A good hint that an economy is NOT in recession is when retail sales are expanding – no matter how slowly. Thus, when you see headlines of retail sales growth, you can discount any voices of recession. Again, note the appropriate gloom I outline above. The economy is NOT perfect. The economic environment is not a free money machine for everyone. But there is not some sort of massive mess-up.

Just to prove this point, notice that those retail sales continued to expand, yes expand (grow) in April: April retail sales barely budged: SpendingPulse

The reality is that I started accumulating a trove of positive economic indicators in March and April. Based upon my simple, daily clipping of headlines, I knew the weeping and gnashing of recession to be a bit overwrought. In following posts, I’ll provide a few of the snippets of the data I’ve been tracking.

So, breathe a sigh of relief, hug your family and get out into the economy and spend some money! J

Requisite footnote on the “Econ Contrarian” series:

As with so many other complex issues in this modern world, I don’t claim to know what tomorrow holds for the economy. There are just too many competing systems interacting in labyrinthine layers. But, since no one else seems to want to focus upon any of the positive indicators in this complex mix, I think I’ll stand in the gap and shine a small, small light to illuminate a few contradictory indicators – indicators which make the more balanced point that while certain segments of the economy will certainly retract a bit after years of unprecedented growth, this doesn’t exactly mean the expansion of the new era of Mordor.

On Principle,

CBass


Super-Disappointed Delegates

May 8th, 2008

I’m still a bit confused and baffled as to the all-consuming narrative that the Clinton campaign is caput. I may post some original thoughts in the next several days about the numerous reasons I see for her rational decision to remain in the race (and I’m someone who now believes Obama is the Republican’s best opportunity for victory). But in this post, I want to question the assumption I’m hearing often repeated that Democratic Super Delegates are nearly unanimous in their push to have Hillary withdraw from the race out of fear that she is damaging the party. In fact, I think the exact opposite is really the case.

As I’ll show below, the only two conclusions that make sense to me are that:

  1. The majority of Super Delegates actually fear that Obama will result in a Democratic defeat in the November.

    And / Or

  2. The majority of Super Delegates actually support Hillary and are awaiting an opportunity to proclaim it.

  1. Prior to PA

    If Super Delegates in any large measure were set against Hillary and feared her impact upon the race, they could have confidently come out in support of Obama following the Ohio and Texas primaries – where Hillary, despite convincing wins in two large states gained only a handful of Delegates against Obama. The mathematics of pledged Delegates was clear at that point (2 months ago!). It would have been a simple matter for more Super Delegates to throw their public support behind Obama with a simple reference to party rules and Delegate counts. In so doing, the Super Delegates could have negated the extra 6 weeks of “negative” campaigning leading into the PA primary – if they actually supported Obama, that is.

    Once again, after PA, Hillary’s sizable win didn’t make much of a dent in Obama’s Delegate lead. Thus, if Super Delegates were enthusiastic about Obama, they again could have started publically stating their support for him following PA. At that point, it was even more obvious that Hillary wasn’t going to win the Pledge Delegate count.

    So, noting the near certainty of Obama’s unassailable lead in Pledged Delegates some 2 months ago, and faced with the certain knowledge of Hillary’s need to “go negative”, why would the Super Delegates sit by quietly?

  2. Popular Vote

    When I reference the fact that Super Delegates could have thrown their support behind Obama 2 months ago if they truly were enthused for him, I’m NOT stating that all the remaining several hundred would have needed to do so. No indeed. If only 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 Super Delegates came out publically in his camp following TX and OH, the media coverage of such an “avalanche” of support would have arrested attention lavished upon Hillary’s triumph and shown her continued candidacy to be a complete farce and fantasy.

    “But wait”, you may say, “Super Delegates are largely elected officials. They are afraid to make public pronouncements until they can see the direction of public sentiment. And such certainty would be available until after more Primary votes.” This sounds reasonable, but it isn’t.

    Many of the Super Delegates represent constituencies which had already long ago voted in earlier Primaries. If they enthusiastically supported Obama, they could have easily come out in public support of his campaign with the simple statement that they are simply honoring the popular vote of their constituents.

    Heath Shuler today announced his Super Delegate vote for Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that his state, North Carolina, favored Obama by some 14% points. He can do this, because his district was won by Clinton.

    How many undeclared Super Delegates who support Obama represent districts and states which have already held Primaries? If they enthusiastically supported Obama, is it possible that there are at least 10, 20, 40 or 50 such Super Delegates? I’m willing to bet. Then why wouldn’t they publically proclaim their support, secure in their alignment with their districts, and save their party from 2 additional months of controversy and negativity?

  3. Pledges Are NOT Permanent

    It may be argued that Super Delegates, as elected officials, are notoriously careful to cover themselves. Thus, there is no reason for them to publically proclaim their support until the Primaries are completed and the vote totals are obvious. This is nonsense.

  • As I point about above, many of these Super Delegates already know the vote of their constituents. If they were enthused about Obama, they could confidently support him.

  • The party’s Congressional leadership have pretty much already publically proclaimed their support for Obama. Thus adding further cover for these Super Delegates.

Further, I suggest one further cover is available for wise Super Delegates. Instead of publically stating their “Pledge”, they could have come out with their “Intention” to support. Why couldn’t Super Delegates who secretly support Obama simply state, “Based upon the clear expression of my constituents and the overwhelming lead in Pledged Delegates held by Senator Obama, I am currently intending to (or leaning toward) support his nomination, though I’m still supportive of the entire process playing out to ensure we select the best nominee for our great party”?

Such a statement wouldn’t even need to be made directly. Every Super Delegate is deluged by interest in the leaning of their vote. They could make such a statement in a simple, off-the-cuff sort of manner in some public forum.

And notice the terminology. They aren’t “Pledging”. They aren’t making an official announcement. They are simply indicating a direction in which they may lean at the present moment – but are still open to change. This simple maneuver would provide all the cover they need to later change their minds if necessary.

All Obama needed was a small team of 10, 20 or 30 supportive Super Delegates to make such public statements in the 2 – 3 days following the TX and OH primaries. Surely his campaign is savvy enough to identify and know how to entice such a small cadre of supporters into making such statements in groups of 5 or 10 each day. This small show of support, for someone who is truly already enthused for Obama would have put enormous pressure on Hillary, would have changed the media coverage going into PA, would have provided a template for other secrete Super supporters and would have probably saved the party another 2 months of negative vetting of Obama.

When I examine the above logic, I can only assume 2 things:

  1. There are certainly Super Delegates who support Obama from completed Primary states. If they haven’t made such a simple and tentative pronouncement of support they are either even more spineless than I imagine or they are holding out for patronage from the eventual winner – which means they don’t truly support Obama enthusiastically.

  2. The bulk of Super Delegates believe Hillary’s message that Obama is the least electable in the General Election of the two candidates. They have been waiting and hoping for the past 2 months that Hillary can generate enough momentum and support to allow them to make a similar, tentative statement in her favor – to eventually cause a tipping point. But with the dismal results of Indianan and North Carolina, these Super Delegates are just super disappointed.

On Principle,

CBass


I’m Back

May 8th, 2008

Hey folks,

Sorry for the long delay and dearth in posting.

As some of you may know, I initiated my own consulting company, Successant, in January. As one would expect, beginning an entrepreneurial endeavor such as this is time consuming in the extreme.

To make blog maintenance matters worse, however, I came down with a fever in late February which lasted, in some manner, for 6 weeks. Finally frustrated, I belatedly visited the Doctor to find a simply diagnosis of Tonsillitis. (No surgery, just 5 days of simple antibiotics).

So, in summary, I haven’t stopped following the news or formulating my many opinionated thoughts. But getting these drafted out and posted just fell down the list of priorities while struggling to establish my company between fever flash-points. It does feel good to be back, however.

On Principle,
CBass


Hello world!

April 25th, 2008

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