Friday, July 30, 2010

Bank stress tests in Europe

So out of 90 or so banks only 9 of them failed the European Stress test which means that only 10 percent of the banks are risky. I don’t think so. The tests were supposedly done on a worst case scenario. But who knows what the next worst case scenario will be. The banks are only sound at the level of the stress level and may or may not be sound under other conditions. Further more if there is a panic in the financial markets and runs on the bank even the soundest of the banks which may have passed the stress test will fail or may need governmental help in dealing with the crisis.

The market took the test result at face value and has moved on. But it should not. I am as skeptical as everybody else regarding these stress tests. If in this crisis the mighty investment banks failed with tremendous power and resources at their hands how can we be sure that the next time, these same banks that have supposedly passed these stress tests will fare any better. Next time maybe it will be something else which can knock down these banks. So all I can say now this is the Stress tests should be done each year with stringent requirements escalated upward so that we may be absolutely sure that the banks can withstand the next financial crisis.

The Case for Tuition Increases at State Colleges

There has been an ongoing debate about whether to give the State Universities in New York State to increase tuition as they please without legislative approval. The governor is all for it while the legislature is dead set against it. I believe that the State should give them the authority to raise the rates as they please but with regulation that the students aid will increase with corresponding increase in tuition. Already the State each year keeps on cutting the aid to the colleges and then they expect the colleges to spend and keep more students in their schools. How can that be possible?

The legislature is concerned that the colleges will raise tuition and it will hurt the poor students. But you know what it is already hurting the poor students because the state cuts the aid each year and then try to dictate their own agenda on the colleges. This has to stop. We all need independent universities and colleges since the name just reflect that they are owned in name only by the state since most of the budget is self generated. If the tuition is increased then the students may hurt in the short term but they will adjust since they are getting a great and quality education at low prices as compared to other states. It will hurt students also but in the end it will attract quality students and great teachers.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On the lighter Side- Movies – Eagle Eye

Shia Labeouf and Michelle Monaghan star two strangers who are targeted by a female voice who tracks their every move and wants them to perform a certain task otherwise they will be killed. Billy Bob Thornton stars as a federal agent tasked with tracking both of them down. It is a constant non stop action film and it never bores you but at the end it is too far fetched to be believable. It reminds of an earlier film starting Sandra Bullock called The Net with somewhat similar premises but that movie was in the mid nineties and this is an updated version. Good action movie. Recommended.

Car maintenance-2

Apart from the previously mentioned expenses, the biggest one is the insurance. No matter even if your car is parked in garage, you still have to buy insurance and this is the biggest ongoing expense. In order to get a good rate, you must be living in a nice town and have a perfect (meaning no points) driving record. Otherwise you get hit by enormous premiums. Another part of having car maintenance is that even if you buy your car in installment with interests involved, you cannot deduct it on your income tax returns.

So you should always know a thing or two about your car so that you don’t get duped by unscrupulous and shady mechanics (and they are out there believe me) when it is time to fix up your car. A triple A membership should also be considered although not mandatory. So like a house, you need car insurance more than ever since you will be on the road and constantly dealing with other drivers who may or may not be as good with their cars and driving habits. And you don’t want to know what happens if you don’t take care of your car and it breaks down just when you are in a hurry to go somewhere.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Car maintenance

If you have a car, you know how much you have to spend on it in order to maintain it and make sure it works when it really counts. At least with the house, if you maintain it and pour money into it, hopefully it will pay off in the future. But not with the car, the more you put into it the less likely you are going to get it (unless it is a classic then it is whole different story). You are just maintaining your car because either you don’t have the money to buy another one or you want to last it much longer or you cannot afford to be without a car for even a few days. Either way it is an expensive proposition to maintain a car.

In the winter you have to make sure, the car is warmed up and in the summer you have to make sure it is cooled enough not be get overheated. Then there are the tires. You have to make sure they are the factory recommended air pressure. Then there are the scheduled maintenances. For brand new cars it is every five thousand miles and for the old ones every three thousand. It includes oil and filter change and other regular maintenance. Although they are not that expensive but it still must be done. Any single thing screws up in the car and you have to take care of it within a certain time otherwise it can escalate into major expenses.

On the lighter Side- Movies – Population/436

Fred Durst star in this movie about a census guy who comes to a town whose population has remained the same for the last hundred years. At first everything seems normal but as he probes deeper, he finds the truth about the stagnant population. It is no horror movie, more like a thriller and certainly not a big screen movie, more like a TV movie of the week thing. Nothing good to recommend here. Watch something else. Not recommended.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On the lighter Side- Movies – Autumn

This is a British horror zombie end of the world type movie. It starts with a virus that kills billions of people in minutes and the few immune survivors holed up in a place. At first they argue and assume that everything is fine and dandy, then the corpses start to come alive and as they progress become more adapt at their predicament. Out of the survivors, three of them split up and holed up in a farm house where they come to realize that the zombies are attracted to noise and light and so they start to become silent and stay in dark. More thriller than horror with hard to understand British accent and oh one more thing you can also see David Carradine as a crazed survivor. Not great I was expecting a little more blood and gore for this type of zombie horror movie but I was wrong. Not recommended by me.

On the lighter Side- Movies – George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead

The world famous George A. Romero’s nearly endless movies with a dead theme in it comes alive again in Diary of the Dead (survival of the dead was released this year). It is about a group of students who are shooting a mummy movie in a forest when they heard that the world is being overrun with Zombies. One of the students starts documenting the events that they face as a student as they move to a safer place. Not a great movie though with less gore than usual for a zombie movie but if you are fan of Romero and you would not want to miss any of his Dead movies, watch this one then. Otherwise forgetful fare to me

Monday, July 26, 2010

On the lighter Side- Movies – Apocalypse of the Dead (AKA Zone of the Dead)

The first Serbian horror zombie movie and pretty good at that. It stars Ken Foree from the original night of the living dead as a Interpol guy escorting one of the high profile prisoners through Serbia and how they encounters zombies who have been infected with biohazard. For a first time basis, pretty good special effects for a country recently torn apart by ethnic and religious rivalry. It is a good movie but you don’t have to loose your sleep over it if you don’t see it. Only if you are obsessing about watching every zombie/dead movie can you watch it. Just for curiosity sake, an East European horror movie. There have been so many movies with dead in it that I have either lost count of it or have become desensitized to the whole zombie genre. More of it later

On the lighter Side- Movies – Confessions of a Shopaholic

Isla Fisher stars in this average movie regarding a girl who is head over heals in debt that takes a job at a financial magazine and instantly becomes a hit due to her one debt management article. It is a movie regarding how debt and debt habits can ruin ones life as a debt collector constantly hounds our heroine for her non payment of debt and the various excuses she makes to escape his clutches. John Goodman, Joan Cusack and John Lithgow also star. Overall an engrossing and lesson learning movie but not that great. Recommended but only if you are a shopaholic or you like shopping.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Extreme commuting

Extreme commuting for the citizens of the U.S. has always been the norm. But this economy has created more super extreme commuting. I was reading and have read people doing anywhere from five to eight hours of commuting both ways each day. It is extreme craziness to say the least. My commute was just half an hour each way and I can’t imagine that people would go for extreme lengths to preserve their job. If the money is right (maybe in six figures) then I can understand if you can commute two hours each max but to have a commute of three to four hours each way even if you love your job is out of my understanding.

But you know that this economy has been very unforgiving and the scarcity of jobs mean that whatever comes to you, you should take it and also since relocation for majority of families is out of the question, the man (majority of it anyway) has to suffer for this huge commuting in terms of staying away from his family and burning out much earlier if he or she keeps on going. But from my standpoint, I would not do anything beyond two hours each way and also if the pay is in the six figures.

The Secretary in Pakistan-7

All these four issues- Kashmir, water, Afghanistan and Nuclear deal have links back to the origin, Pakistan. If Pakistan does its homework right and plays its card right, it can get favorable treatment by the west and world community but as the saying goes “charity begins at home”, first you should get your own house in order so that you can start to flex your diplomatic muscle outside the country. But as things are right now, not even the so called Islamic countries care much about the issues facing Pakistan. Why, because of the bickering and the corruption of the politicians and the population, who are so seeped into state sponsored problems and propaganda that they only see the world by a myopic (Pakistani) point of view.

The American has only one concern is to make sure that no terrorists activities come from Pakistan and the nuclear weapons are secure. In order to do that, they are trying to shore up the economy of Pakistan in whatever way they can and hope that the people in Pakistan appreciate. But it is foolish to think that the U.S. will get any sympathy from Pakistan. It is also very strange that the people hate the U.S. but they also want everything latest fashion, food, music, movies from the U.S. So you can just see the confusion there. But first of all, Pakistanis will have to deal with their own internal problems themselves before expecting other countries to sort it for them.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Secretary in Pakistan-6

The fourth issue that Pakistan wants is a civilian nuclear deal like that of between India and U.S. Now here is the deal. A civilian nuclear deal was a one time deal between India and the U.S. Pakistan may or may not have gotten the same deal because of the nuclear proliferation of its scientist who spread information to three other countries (Libya, Iran and North Korea). Whatever the reasons and whoever was responsible for it, it is clear that it will take a long time or even longer than that to build a trust in Pakistan’s ability to secure its nuclear technology and not spread it. Although Pakistan is crying foul that it is not fair that India gets a deal and Pakistan do not but India does not have the same proliferation history as Pakistan does. And lets also face the fact the India has a better diplomacy and friends in the west than Pakistan does or will ever have.

Although Pakistan denies it, but the U.S. Secretary of State insists that Pakistan or somebody in their government have knowledge of masterminds of 9/11 and top leaders of Taliban. Other thing is that only negative news comes from Pakistan in the shape of terrorists’ activities or links to it. There is no denying the fact (although the people of Pakistan do) that things have changed since 9/11 and the bombings in Spain and England and in Somalia and other places have link to Pakistan and its support or tolerance of Jihadi activities. Until they are stopped and Pakistan addresses to international concerns about its role in nuclear proliferation, nothing is going to change the mind of U.S. leaders.

The Secretary in Pakistan-5

It is really funny how the Taliban hate anything western but uses their technology in their insurgencies. Anyway the point is that Pakistan wants to have a major say in any future setup of the afghan government since it says that it has suffered a lot in the war on terror and have captured and killed many insurgents on the behest of the U.S. so it wants to share in the spoils of war. But the Taliban see the Pakistan government as a puppet of the U.S. and would not want to involve Pakistan anymore once they have achieved their goals. So Pakistan should not be under any delusion that the Taliban are their friends and they should expect a so called friendly government in Afghanistan.

Anyway, Pakistan’s economy is a wreck and they should try to fix their economy for the betterment of their people instead of gaining a so called friendly government. The amount of money being spent on bankrolling and backing the different Jihadi outfits fighting wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan may be better used to give jobs to the jobless, fix their ever mounting energy shortages and increasing their exports. The U.S should make it clear to the Pakistani even if sees no clear victory in Afghanistan (whatever that means) that they would not tolerate the old ways before 9/11 and they should be ready to cooperate if they want to be a part of the whole Afghan process.

The Secretary in Pakistan-4

The third issue Pakistan wants is a say in the Afghanistan affairs and the fear that India will get an advantage there due to its heavy investment and presence since the invasion of Afghanistan nine years ago. Pakistan wants its own Pashtu population to have a majority stake in any future setup of the government in Afghanistan when the international forces leave. But it is easier said than done. The minorities who are part of the present government have not forgotten the brutal Taliban regime in Afghanistan and would resist giving any majority stake to them. Furthermore, the U.S. wants the Taliban to renounce sheltering terrorists on its soil and agree to lay down its arms to join a future government. The Pakistan government wants to make sure its proxies or its allies get a major share of the government, but the Taliban fresh from the perceived victory by ejecting the international forces will be in mood to accommodate the Pakistan government and may want to create a greater Afghanistan encompassing the tribal areas and north western part of Pakistan.

The Taliban does not give a hoot about minority rights or anybody else who does not fit their rigid religious views and also fresh from their perceived victory, they would not care less if Al-Qaeda establishes a base there again as long as they are paying them money. Furthermore, a Taliban government in Afghanistan would also endanger the nuclear assets of Pakistan since the Taliban have a desire to get their hands on them one way or the other.

The Secretary in Pakistan-3

The second issue which Pakistan is concerned about is the issue of water. India has been constructing dams on the rivers which start on its territory and which Pakistan fears will be used to stop water to its agriculture land because Pakistan is on the lower side of the rivers. Even if Pakistan’s concerns are legitimate due to its suspicions between the two countries, it came to late to start acknowledging the dam building by India. Due to the hatred of India in Pakistan (due to years of indoctrination of Anti-India materials in its school books) there has been increased chorus of extremists’ propaganda of waging war on India to gets its share of water.

The United States on the other side does not want to get involved in regional disputes regarding water since the onus will be on Pakistan to prove that India is indeed stealing water. But also due to a lack of reasoning on the Pakistan’s side, this matter is being drummed up as another plot of India to destroy Pakistan’s agricultural based economy.But Pakistan on its part has failed to build any significant dam during the past 30 years or so and its storage capacity for capturing rain water is very low. Further more there is too much wastage of water on the part of people of Pakistan, where the government has been either too slow or just ignoring the problem of global warming and not educating or informing people that water is a scarce resource and should not be wasted. Unless Pakistan puts its own house in order, nobody else can fix their problems of water scarcity.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Secretary in Pakistan-2

The lists of demands/requests/grievances are a long one. First of all is the Kashmir issue. The United States does not want to get involved in a situation where there is no solution. India will never give up Kashmir and Pakistan would not either. There is no give or take of any sort on either side. On the question of United Nations resolutions for Kashmir, it has been 62 years (1948) since they were enacted and the world has changed since then.

To be fair, the United States does not see any role for it to be a mediator or force either of the parties to a negotiating table. And in this case, India always have the upper hand since the majority of the Islamic countries don’t care much about Kashmir and the Indian lobby in the U.S. keeps the issue of Kashmir on the back burner. Furthermore, India has been a democracy from the start as compared to Pakistan, and Pakistan’s own effort to formant Jihad (or terrorist activities whatever you want to call them) has not sit well with the international community and has in fact been detrimental in presenting its case of Kashmir self determination. So unless Pakistan uses more diplomatic channels and less confrontational ways (like aiding terror groups in its own country), it has the least bit of chance of ever involving Muslim countries to its side let alone the United States.

The Secretary in Pakistan

The Secretary of State Mrs. Clinton went to the most troublesome place in the world (Pakistan) to see if she can bridge the trust gap between the two distrusting nations. She did a little bit by offering $500 million in investments in its power and water sector. But the trust deficit is as huge as the budget deficit of the U.S. Why because of some part on the United States regarding how it abandoned that area after the Afghan war of the eighties and also in part due to unrealistic expectations on the Pakistani side. Also different and competing interests in the region also have breed suspicions on both sides.

On the United States side, it wants to make sure that Pakistan fights militants and Taliban so that there are minimal risks to the security of the United States. Furthermore, it wants to make sure that Afghanistan is never used as a basis of a terror state breeding and harboring terrorists. I don’t believe it is so much to ask from Pakistan (which is getting billions of dollars in aid each year). The U.S. has still some suspicion regarding sympathies inside the security agencies of Pakistan for Taliban and the like.

Now let us look at the Pakistan Side. Pakistan to be fair is fighting a war in its own country against the local militants and Taliban and has lost over 2000 soldiers and countless civilians. Its economy is almost near collapse due to what it perceives as the cost of waging war in its own country.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Dollar Store Shopping

There are three big chains of dollar store out there out of which one is the true dollar store and the rest includes items priced more than one dollar. Besides the chains there are thousands of 99 cents store which should not be called as such since these stores have items which are more than 99 cents now than they were before. Most of the individual stores are mom and pop and they survive on the volume and the traffic of people coming into the store. But to tell you the truth, the margin is not there in the case of dollar stores. You have to sell a lot of stuff in order to just make a little bit of money and since they are not great money makers, you won’t see any advertisement of these stores on television.

Once you enter into these stores, you will see that most of the stuff is made in China (it is rare that you see stuff that is made in Europe or in the U.S.). And it is a safe refuge for low income people, especially now when the recession has given rise to much joblessness. Although now the stuff which a few years ago cost 99 cents cost more than a dollar (due to overhead and higher Chinese prices) but still it is a cost saving store if you know what you have to buy. There maybe some stuff which are cheaper to buy and some not so cheap. Brand names are still there but not that much. And people tend to overspend in these stores, but since the variety and quality is low key, the overspending is not that much to bust your budget. All in all you should try once in a while to visit these stores just to save some money.

The Real Unemployment numbers

An independent study suggests that the unemployment rate is actually more than 20 percent. But as usual with all the studies, it is hard to pinpoint how much. The study says more than 22 percent, but it could be more or it could be less. The point the study was making is that do not believe what the government shells out every month. Because the person who does not receive unemployment benefits is not counted, and who have exhausted their benefits is not counted either. Those who have simply dropped out of the market due to lack of jobs or frustration about the jobs are not counted either. Adding the underemployment and those who wanted to be employed but who opted for undergraduate and graduate school and the number of unemployed does not look pretty.

Indeed the government’s broadest measure of unemployment which does not get much news attention stands at more than 16 percent. So the unemployment numbers are way much higher than the government reports now at 9.5 percent. And this number becomes the basis of stock market rally or not. If as the news says that one job is available for every five job applicant, then it is automatically assumed that the rate is now 20 percent. But does the government advertise that number. No because at the risk of destabilizing the markets, they are not reported. It is high time now to reveal the true unemployment numbers so that the gravity of the problem is acknowledged and tackled accordingly.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sports as a Unifier

The world cup soccer is finished and Spain for the first time came out as world champions beating out Netherlands in the finals. There were great jubilations in the streets of Spain and what was remarkable was how the game of soccer united the whole nation. As everybody (or nearly everybody) knows that Spain has long been rocked by a separatist movement by the Basque to carve out a New Country. There has been bombings and killings related to it. But when the country won the world cup, everybody in Spain, whether they are immigrants or separatist came out as won and celebrated the victory.

And this is not the first time; a sport has unified a country for some time at least. You can see it happening all over the place. Even when the economy is down and people are worried about their jobs, a winning by a national team can make a person feel good regardless of his economic situation. For example, in Pakistan, wrecked by years of bombings and extremists violence and separatist movement in its western provinces, people go crazy when their team beat the Indian team (a traditional rival) in Cricket (a sport similar to cricket but much longer). But only for a moment, this unity is there when the victory is celebrated, because after a while the enthusiasm dies down, people are back to where they were before, worrying, bickering and fighting among themselves. But for a moment it seems nice that just a simple game of sport can have an unexpected effect on a nation divided by different opinions.

Water Shortage and Desalination Plants -5

Then there is the dry African continent where unsafe water kills millions of people every year due to various water borne diseases. The population there is also growing fast as compared to whatever water they receive from nature. I can keep on going on forever regarding the water problem, but what is the solution here. As the population grows, so does the need for water. But as attractive as conservation looks in the world, the dwindling supply of water has to be met from somewhere and this is where desalination plants come in. Although it is expensive but it is doable but only in rich countries unless costs come down considerably so it can be used in developing countries also.

But desalination plants can only be used in places where it borders with sea, the inland countries and places will still be water deficient. The inland areas may have to import water from coastal areas at cost, which they may not be able to afford. So in that case, the water abundant areas will have to subsidize the water deficient areas which may lead to more inefficiency on the part of inland areas. So again the question begs: How to solve this water shortage problem. Right now, nothing comes to my mind that can be a world wide solution to water shortage except that every country would have to either work on their own for this or they will have to form regional alliance to share their water resources and barter water like they did in the old days. Or may a world centralized body should be in place which can store huge amounts of water in some neutral place and release it to places where it needed most. But again politics will come into play like who is going to administer and have influence on such a thorny matter. So right now there is no absolute solution.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Water Shortage and Desalination Plants -4

Right now the South Asian countries mentioned earlier are the most vulnerable since their population is growing faster than any place in the world stressing the water resources and the global warming will melt the snows in the Himalayas even faster and the summer season will be a bit longer, meaning the snows will be less and less. Less snow will mean less water and more tension between countries sharing that single biggest source of water during most of the off rainy season. Although water problem is being solved through talks, but is also true that there is lots of wastage of what little water they have. And then because of this the extremist elements especially in Pakistan are now trying to rally people to wage water war on India. Like we don’t have enough problems of being both of them nuclear that we want to see millions of people killed on a problem which is part man made and part nature.

The rainfall that comes down in that area is not enough to sustain the burgeoning population and over that, you have wastage of whatever water they receive through rainfall and snow melting. Also the underground water level is going down fast in those countries due to over drilling of wells (authorized and unauthorized). Furthermore the farmers are also hurting since they use the most water and hence rely heavily on monsoon rains and underground water.

Water Shortage and Desalination Plants -3

Same thing happens in California, where if there is not enough rain, there begins a tussle with farmers who want more water for their crops and the urban cities who want water for every day use. Plus they have the environmental concerns which get the Federal government involved in managing water supply. And the western states are the fastest growing in the nation with one of the driest weather. Whatever the conservation of the water is going to be done, you cannot account for the population growth. The water supply will be the same, but the per capita water consumption will have to go down. And with it, a certain kind of lifestyle. Pools will be out of the question and so will the front and the back yard. Water may have to be transported from long distances. Ground water and tube wells will have to be installed. Maybe showers will be taken less frequently or shorter. And this is just in the western countries. What about the poor countries, which don’t have much, water to start with.

It is hard to promote conservation in places where people are already conserving water since they don’t have much anyway. Safe and drinking water is a dream to hundreds of million of people especially in Africa and Asia and the coming Global Warming (whatever the opponents say about it) will make the lives immensely difficult especially for people living near the Himalayas (like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and China).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Water Shortage and Desalination Plants -2

But many people despite the fact that there is no alternative to water, objects to its high cost. There was another solution that recycled water should be used, but no country has come to accept that they want to drink or take a shower with water used for their tooth brushing and toilet use. So the best and only alternative now is to use sea water. It is not a new phenomenon, since the Middle East where is also scare rainfall and thus less water has been using desalination plants for decades. As the population of the world explodes especially in the poor countries, there will be an increasing need for water and the only other solution besides the so called conservation (which you would have to teach to developing countries people) is desalination. You know people still see water as an infinite resource and they waste it ruthlessly. But as global warming becomes a phenomenon, water is being increasingly seen as a finite resource.

It has been said that the next wars will be on the basis of water. It is already become true like in states like Georgia accusing the neighboring states of siphoning off their water. And India is being accused by Pakistan of building dams on the rivers and stopping the water to the agriculture crops in Pakistan. There is increasing pressure on the Colorado River on which several western states depend on for their water supply.

Water Shortage and Desalination Plants

Water shortage has been going on for decades in different parts of the world. People in poor countries have been facing this shortage for their whole lives and maybe they will if nothing is done. Clean and safe drinking water is just a dream for hundreds of millions of people around the world, especially and specifically in poor countries. The problem can be many, but the main ones are the population growth, finite financial resources and finite water sources, Global warming (the favorite of the environmentalists), wastage of water on a large scale.

Although it is not a novel idea, but the government in Australia is constructing desalination plants to extract water from the sea, since Australia, being the driest continent in the world is always facing drought or drought like conditions. Here again there are two sides to the story. On the one hand are the environmentalists who argue that it harms the environment, since most of the electricity used for the desalination plants comes from coal in Australia and on the other there is a dire need to use water. If you can’t have enough water or rainfall in your area, what else is there to get water from? Ground or well water is of no use, since the negligible rainfall can’t refill the ground supply. The only way for the coastal areas is to get the desalination plants.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Still spying after all these years

After a long time, we found some spies living in the United States. They were not that great, otherwise they would not have been caught in the first place. But they were really sleeper cells maybe too asleep to collect anything of relevance in their course of spy business. It was a surprise nonetheless that the Russian Federation in still interested in finding out what is going on at the higher levels of the U.S. Government. Obviously for them, the Cold war lives on, only at a small scale, since you need money to recruit spies in the U.S.

It is intriguing what kind of possible incentives; the Russian may get by spying in the United States. They are not going to disrupt communications or give some information to their allies in third world countries (if they have any) because now the only allies are countries left, since the non state actors are all terrorists organizations trying to bring a global Jihad against everybody non Muslim or even moderate or minority Muslims. So it is better that the Russian and for that matter the U.S. should pool their resources and try to fight the real enemies (which I have just mentioned above). Although I must say this Spy saga would be a great material for a Spy movie.

Above 50 and Unemployed -3

I know how hard it is to get a job these days (I am right now in the same boat) for everybody let alone a person above the age of 50. But to give up is self defeating. As it has been hammered time and time again, needless to say that this group should keep themselves up to date with their skills, especially the technological one. They should at least have some sort of online presence in the form of social networking or maybe their own little blog. Refusing to learn new technology will only reinforce the stereotypes about the non adaptability of this group to employers.

I know it is difficult to tell this group what to do since they have more experience but only in their relative fields. Maybe this is the first time, they have experienced a layoff in their life and believe me times have changed in terms of what the employers are expecting since they have a wide pool of applicants to choose from. If still you think you are not getting anywhere with your job hunt, then you should seek out other unemployed persons with same interest so that maybe you could start something together like a small business so that at least some money will come into the house while if you like you can still keep on hunting for a job on the side. These are just a few of the suggestions and it will depend on what you want to do at this crucial juncture in your life.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Above 50 and Unemployed -2

I know that it is not that all the above 50 years old are having a hard time, since if you have been a CEO of a big company, you will be hired instantly since you have already proved your mantle in the corporate world by going to the top long before you are going to retire, but the majority of the people who are on the lower ladder are suffering due to high unemployment. It is no fault of theirs that they reached the “AGE” and got laid off due to the recession. But the corporate world thinks that if they were good enough they would have reached the pinnacle of career by the time they hit 50. I know that it is not the case with all the companies, but it does goes through their mind. Why should they hire somebody who is expensive, going to retire in a few years, have families and other expenses, have more experience than the employees in their offices feel threatened about, when they can hire somebody fresh or nearly fresh out of college with any of the above mentioned “burdens” and mold them into their own corporate image.

Well maybe not all is lost, the group above 50 does get jobs but much longer than the ones below them, but they have to go through hoops to blunt the effect of the stereotypes that have been ingrained in the minds of the corporate world. I don’t really understand that if can’t or hard to prove that you have been discriminated on the basis of age, how will you win your case. And how is the law on the books going to help you if it is so hard to fight this kind of discrimination. You really have to have inside information about the company’s hiring practices (or recent hires) to find out if you have been discriminated against on the basis of age.

Above 50 and Unemployed

Now here is a kicker, although age discrimination is not allowed in Federal law but it is widely practiced but it is hard to prove that you have been denied a job just because you are an older employee. It was supposed to be that if you are in your late fifties, you would be discriminated but now since this economic recession, it has come down to low fifties since the employers have a wide pool from which to choose the prospective employees.Whatever the reason (they are more experienced, more expensive to hire and insure, they demand more money, they are assumed to be rigid in terms of learning new technologies and so forth), it is really unfair to discriminate against them. That is why the people who are 60 and above, they have seen the light and have decided to apply for Medicare and society security and go into semi retirement, even though they want to work. It is a waste of their experience and talent.

I have read countless stories about the above 50 unemployed and several surveys have come out stating that they are getting a longer time to find a job if they find one which nearly mirrors their experience. You should think about where these people would go they have already been looking for a job for a long time and over that if they are discriminated against then you are wasting a lot of untapped talent and reinforcing stereotypes.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Economic Might IS Military Might-2

Although according to one survey, we are still the biggest manufacturing country in the world, but our share of manufacturing as compared to services is going down as more and more manufacturing jobs are being moved overseas in search of low cost. Are we just going to be a country of services or should we be investing more in our manufacturing base. Although we assume that everybody will go to college one day and we be a nation of college graduates, but no matter how hard we try there will still be some people who would rather work with their hands (and we do need them). For those kind of people they are worth more to us as mechanics, engineers, auto repair and manufacturers than college graduate. And what they learn on the job doing things is more than the four years of college.

Don’t get me wrong, I love college (that is why I am going for my third degree) but somewhere along the years, some of the kids will opt for manufacturing and hands on work and for these kind of people we need manufacturing, we will need a diverse variety of labor force, maybe not a majority of workers will be in manufacturing but enough so that we remain competitive with the outside world and keep this great country of ours a hub for Manufacturing. And the more manufacturing there is, the more there will be Military might. As countries which are strong in manufacturing are strong overall militarily.

Economic Might IS Military Might

A guy somewhere in the United States is making pens, lots of it but it is hard for him to make it completely hundred percent here since one or two stuff is not made in this country and the state in which the guy lives says that it should not be said Made in America but something like Made in America with imported and domestic parts (I have seen this in some products). This was an article on the internet. The guy tries it hard to make everything here and refuses to outsource his work even after getting all the temptation to do it. My point in all of this saying is that the country’s strength should be gauged by its manufacturing capacity. If we are unable to produce, even the basic of commodities, how can we be sure that in later years we will be able to produce more complex stuff?

Although I know that we are a service based and information based economy, but we started with manufacturing and it stills pay a less but pivotal part of our economy. We cannot assume that everybody will be working or get trained in information services. Our middle class rose from manufacturing and not services. Look at China, it started with manufacturing and not services. And if we have strong economy, we will have strong military. We cannot and should and must not outsource our weapons manufacturing to outside countries, where we may be at the whims of others when we do need complex weapons to fight wars.

No callers on Low rates

We are having the lowest rate on mortgages on record but nobody is coming to get advantage of it. Why is that? Because the rate has been low for quite sometime and people who want to refinance have already refinanced their mortgages (I included) and unless the rates go down to three percent (highly unlikely but you never know), there will be less refinancing to do. Furthermore the costs of refinancing like taking on additional closing costs, setting yourself back a few thousands and stringent requirements isn’t worth the cost or hassle. In addition to that people’s home have less equity or even negative equity which makes the homeowner less willing to refinance and banks less willing to extend loans.

In addition, people who want to buy homes have to go through a lot of hoops in order to get loans and they have less money to have a down payment. It is such an irony that the rates are lowest in history but the loans are not there anymore, your credit rating counts little if you don’t have enough down payment and more steady income. I really love real estate, but again not enough money on hand and scared about the future job market restricts me from pursuing to buy more real estate (especially in the less populated areas of south, northeast and north west). So unless the job market improves, people will be on the sidelines before they start to put money in their biggest investment.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pathetic rate of return

Ever since the advent of this recession, savers have been down on their luck. They have been getting the low end of the economic mess by getting extremely low to almost no rate of interest on their savings account. It is not only the retirees but also people who are try to be risk averse and putting money in savings account. The problem here is that the culture and laws favor spending over savings. We are asked to spend, spend, spend till we drop so that our factories (or rather the Chinese factories) keep on churning out stuff that we don’t want but are compelled, forced, enticed, asked, requested to buy so that our service workers (read Chinese Manufacturing workers) remain at work.

Then we get a huge trade deficit which we have to finance with selling government securities which we sell to international investors (read: Chinese/Japanese/Europeans and our own investors here) and we get more in debt. The Chinese (and other international and local investors) buy our securities and we just get more in debt. We get punished by getting abysmal or next to nothing rate of return. And then there is a lament among economists that we don’t save. There is actually no way to get higher return right now be it government securities, savings account or bonds. They are all long term and you know what is said about long term (we are all dead). Either the government should encourage more savings by giving incentives or stop making pleas about low savings return. Because unless there is a genuine cultural shift to savings (which it started during this recession) we will be continually in debt to foreign investors.

Sometimes the Luck does count

I don’t know if you believe in luck or not but sometimes you do wonder if something is beyond ones realm. You also hear that if you work hard or if your heart is into something you will succeed. But do you know that there are countless people out there who do work hard and whose heart is really into what they are doing but only a few succeed, why that is. Don’t you believe that it is sometimes luck that gives somebody go ahead to do things which others just thought about it. Sometimes you also hear that he or she was in the right place at the right time, this is also luck.

You will also hear somebody saying that it was pure luck that they achieved or gained something, even when they don’t believe it lady luck. As for me I really do believe that luck counts, otherwise how can you account for countless people who work nine to five jobs all their lives and retire with some savings and some who don’t work the regular hours reap more rewards that many people wish they could have it. Some people retire late in their sixties and some people don’t have to work even beyond 40 to enjoy their times as they see fit. Out of millions who play games, how many do you believe end up in professional sports or become actors in movies. It is pure luck or somebody would say being at the right place at the right time. Whatever you want to call it, it is still beyond ones ability to comprehend what is at play other than pure LUCK.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Best Investment Right Now?-2

There is no excuse right now for not being able to take classes since it is as easy as just sitting at home in front of your computer in whatever clothes you want to wear at whatever time you want to. It is jus that you should have the will and determination to do it. I know it is more difficult than just allotting percentages to your 401k and other investments but it is far more satisfying since it is an investment in your own self.

It was just a surprise to me to see a rare piece of article devoting exclusively to investing in you. But I ask you how many people after graduating from college or even graduate school do that. They are busier in making money (which is also very important) or just taking a reprieve from all the hard work they have done in college. But you know I am going through it now and I really regret wasting many years of my life (after my MBA) just loitering around. Even the experience you have counts but in addition you should be consistently learning new things or just enhancing your knowledge so that you should be prepared for any eventuality (like this economic recession).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Best Investment Right Now?

A solid investment advice for those young people who may come across a horde of cash out of nowhere. Invest in yourself. That is what I surprising read today in one of the articles. It goes on say that young people should take classes, open up a website, brainstorm some ideas and the like because in the end they may get more than the 20 percent return that they are expecting in the market (for stocks and the like). It is a very good advice. People have been getting advice by financial experts to max out their 401k and IRAs and put the money in the stocks and bonds and the others, but very few have said to them to invest in themselves, start a company.

I know starting a company is not everybody’s cup of tea and in these times, it is downright scary to put your money in an unknown venture. But the traditional methods of growing your money is just like a broken record to me. Why not invest in something which you know about something. The stocks have the same unknowns as starting a company is. And most of the people just try to change the percentages of what they are investing in 401ks. They don’t actively seek to manage their account and know which company is doing better. They leave it to what people say are so called “Professionals”.And as you see, these “Professionals” have turned out to be no smarter than the average Joe (may be a little smarter but then they get paid for being a little smarter).

Consolidation of towns in New Jersey-2

If we start sharing services with bigger towns, it will certainly reduce the property taxes and other expenses that we experience every year. This economic situation is unusual so it will take unusual steps to combat it. Merely saying that our schools are being shortchanged when we have a plethora of municipalities and school districts is not right.This is the right time that our politicians should start pushing for a merger of towns and municipalities across the State so that we can achieve economies of scale in terms of services and reduction of overlapping duties that we have in every town right now.

You know in the start there will be hue and cry and resistance among the town inhabitants and protests and campaigns will be launched to stop this but there is no other way except if they want to raise their taxes and cut spending. Although I do live in a small town and I like that too but I would rather have a merger than pay higher taxes to maintain my lifestyle when the economic reality states that we should all sacrifice for the greater good of the state and our finances.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Consolidation of towns in New Jersey

It was first started many years ago and it has started again in the midst of the worst economic crisis this country has seen since the depression of 1930s. There are too many towns and municipalities in the state of New Jersey and that is one of the reasons why we have the highest average property taxes in the country. We already have a budget deficit of more than $ 9 billion which is not going to go away if we keep on spending. The teacher’s union is stating that with the new cuts in education spending, the schools will be devastated. But there solution of soak the rich is no solution. How long do you think or how much do you think you can tax the rich. Ultimately you have to generate revenues beyond taxing individuals. To be sure the rich are also hurting but not that much but if you tax them too much they will hurt like most of us.

The so called small town feel in New Jersey has gotten out of control. We have in our small state, 566 municipalities and 600 school districts. We have towns with population of less than 100 who have a mayor and other town essentials. It is good that we have a small town feel but in these times, we need to eliminate some towns and share services with small towns, so that property taxes and other taxes can come down. Americans know a great deal about economics, so what happened to economics of scale.

New Jersey State Fair-2010

I went to New Jersey State Fair with my family which is held every year, the last time I went was three years ago. You know that even going to a local fair, with admission fees and rides and food, a family of three or four would have to fork out more than $100 just for one day. Although it is not a vacation, but still in these bad economic times, with people being laid off left and right, you have got to take your kids to these low cost fun times just to take your mind of job hunting and just seeing your kids and others enjoying life for a little time.

When we were done with the fair at night, we just found out that we were out of $100 in just less than four hours of fun. But I believe it was worth it. Besides the rides, the food for double than what you would have paid for if you were not in the fair. That I can understand, since the cost of licensing one food vendor can run into thousands of dollars.These vendors have to recoup their cost also and they understand that if the kids want something, the parents are not going to deny them whatever the cost. It is a captive audience. Apart from this, the rides were fun for little kids but I saw some teenagers also enjoying it also. All in all, it is a low cost affair and near the house and you don’t have to plan for packing stuff or going out of state to enjoy. It is a Mini Vacation for everybody to enjoy.

Obese Nation

With all the weight losing programs, supplemental medicines, fitness programs etc, Americans has still managed to score themselves as the most obese nation on earth.
Why is that? Most of the people blame it on a culture of fast food, not enough exercising, video games, and technology. Whatever are the reasons, individual responsibility is hardly mentioned. We as individuals are very good at blaming other factors for our obesity but we should also take our responsibility seriously too. I know that the ads regarding fast foods are all over the place, but it is the parents who can just say no to those things if they feel that is not good for their goods. Why the government does has to step every time to initiate a legislation to stop the growing trend of obesity.

There is another culture of suing everything and everybody in sight for your own actions. Everybody knows that burgers and sodas are not good to eat everyday. Excessive sugar and salt are not good for anybody be it a child or an adult, but still we may find some body suing the fast food industry for their own miseries and illnesses. It is not hard to have some self control over what we eat and what we should not, but it has to start from within and not every time we should be looking to the government to baby feed us with laws and regulations.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Skills mismatch

A story in the NYT states that the manufacturing is being ratchet up but now there is shortage of skills. The manufacturing has taken pains to upgrade their technology but the people they need to keep with up with it is in short supply. What does it say about our work force? There has been lots of layoff of people who are older and have gotten trained on old technology. And as everybody knows technology keeps on improving. The long term unemployed have lost out on working on this new technology. So when the jobs are advertised they are not a best match for the skills that the companies are looking for.

It is nice to say that workers should be re-trained but if the companies are not going to hire somebody with outdated or rusty skills, then what are the workers going to be re-trained for. But for all the blame being put on the manufacturing, it should also be the responsibility of the workers to try to get acquainted with the latest technology. I know it is hard with your family and finances ( I am in the same boat) but to say that I am not going to learn new things (believe me I have read it in newspapers online regarding comments by certain people stating that) is self defeating and unhelpful.

The more skills you have, the more you are useful to the hiring companies and the more you feel good about yourself and your self esteem instead of just giving up and refusing to not even learning new skills. There is no age limit to when you can learn things and with the internet; you can increase your skills in the comfort of your home.

Weapons for Syria from Iran, Really? How come?

There is news that Iran has given Syria new advanced radars which will not be possible for the Israeli air force to go undetected over Syria if and when they want to strike the Iranian Nuclear facilities. Now here is my question, if we say that the sanctions are working and most of the advanced countries companies are out of Iran, how come Iran is developing these radars and how is it possible that with the U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf and in Iraq and Afghanistan, they (the Iranians) were able to deliver it to Syria without being detected or being intercepted by the U.S. forces.

There is really something wrong with this picture. We think of Iran as being a developing country and in trouble with its own people and their economy is in shambles and all the negative news that our intelligence agencies keep on churning out. But if the above news is true then we should take all the negative news with a grain of salt. We should be thinking of Iran then as a country which is capable of developing weapons to defend it. You know the sanctions really do not work in my opinion (case in point Pakistan which developed its nuclear arsenal when the sanctions were in place). When you are determined and desperate about something, you will do whatever it takes to get it or develop it yourself. And this is what is happening in Iran. A developing country with an educated and proud workforce, forced into a corner with sanctions, doing whatever it can to stay one step ahead of defending itself. If what is really been confirmed that it has indeed given radar to Syria ( the news does not say if it is Iranian made or Iranian bought) then it shows that the failure of sanctions and back to the drawing board for the American and Israeli government and Intelligence and Military.

Another Bailout possible?-2

People get use to the subsidies and the bailouts and so do the politicians since they have to take care of their constituents. Now there should be gradual pain instead of having an abrupt one, since it will cause more devastation. We need to start weaning off people from the whole notion of stimulus packages and benefits, since it will addictive. But like somebody said, what if they issue debt and nobody came to buy it. Whatever the benefits and stimulus that we are giving is not paid for and it is being funded by mostly by outside investors who just care about their return on investment. If we are so fond of benefits, we should start generating funds from within the country (which we are not doing right now).

So as I said before, next time this kind of extraordinary comes, we will have less ammunition in our arsenal to deal with it, since we have exhausted most of it during this recession. The sooner we start building up (meaning reducing our debt and increasing our revenue), the sooner we will be ready for the next crisis (which surely will come, no matter what the economists say otherwise).

Another Bailout possible?

There was a news article stating that the BIS (Bank of International settlements based in Switzerland- the so called central banks bank) has stated that if there is another economic crisis and need for another bailout, most of the countries would not be able to do it and only the IMF and U.S.(maybe) will have to step in to save the world. Actually the article was specifically stating that the U.K. (which has spent nearly $1 trillion on bank bailout) would break if it is asked to have another massive bailout.

I wholly agree with this scenario. The governments of the world have put so much money into the system that if the next crisis comes, we will not have enough ammunition to stop the decline. Who will invest in our bonds or bail out countries if they are already so much in debt. You can’t expect investors to keep on buy government securities if they feel that they will not get adequate return or maybe no return. Interest rates will have to go up, spending will be cut drastically and taxes will be raised way too much. The welfare state which the western industrial countries are so proud of will be a thing of the past as it will be curtailed drastically beyond what people will be expecting. The question here is how much debt the governments can take on without destroying their finances. On top of this, many economists and commentators are arguing for more money to shore up economies, since they say that once the economy grows, then we can take care of debt. But here is another case, once you put people through subsidies, it does not go away.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY U.S.A.- 4th of July, 2010

Today we celebrate the Independence Day of our beloved country America. Since the first birthday, we have grown from 13 states and now we are 50 states plus several territories. We are the world’s richest and most powerful country which is the envy and jealously of the world. Although we have our share of problems (like everybody does) but still we are leading the world and everybody wants to come here even those who harbor sinister motives. We should be proud of our country. We should also be remembering all our fellow countrymen and women serving in our armed forces abroad and here to ensure our freedom and safety. Again Happy Birthday, America.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Environment vs. Jobs-2

So what to do then. It is a really hard choice. Although the so called Green jobs which are supposed to be replacing the old ones are environmentally friendly but are the older workers who are laid off or will be laid off due to environmental restrictions ready to be trained in the new (emerging) technology. Are these new jobs in the places where people will be willing to get hired or relocate? Will they be enough to replace the old salary? How will the workers compete with the developing world where there is no or less environmental restrictions. Are we putting our workers at a disadvantage with regard to the work from overseas? Who is to ensure that the environmental restrictions or regulations are not being cheated by other countries? Who will measure the success or failure of the regulations and what will be rewards and penalties due to it.

Will the developing world demand compensation for the loss of jobs if they implement the environmental regulations. Who will educate the people about what is good or bad for the environment. How will the environmentalists (or whoever is in charge of regulating) convince the people that their families will be taken care of if they stop degrading the environment? Will the developing world follows the dictates of the western world with regards to the environment. Will the citizens of the developed world ready and willing to compensate and give grants to the developing countries to improve their environment. How will the world react to restrictions being placed on common products which degrade the world faster like cars and airplanes?

These and numerous other questions are not being addressed, just the warnings and predictions and scare tactics about the environment. Unless something concrete is given to people to see with their own eyes, there will always be conflict between environmentalists and skeptics.

Environment vs. Jobs

There is a huge confusion or should I say conflict going on in this country which is do we save environment or do we save jobs. On the one hand saving the environment may save jobs but initially it will destroy jobs. This is the dilemma the people are facing. Helping the environment is not easy. Life style needs to be changed as well. Environmentalists worry more about what will happen to the nature while ignoring the facts that how the people are going to put food on the table. The people who have been working in a certain industry can’t just quit and retrain quickly to get another job. And the impact of saving the environment is long term. Since we (the human race) have destroyed the environment for such a long time, it will take an equally long time to at least restore the balance.

Then because this environment is so damaged all over the world that the developed world suddenly woke up to demand from the developing world to stop using chemicals harmful to the environment. Now the developing world refuses to do so since how will they be able to alleviate their citizenry from poverty if not by development. And a environmentally friendly development is not the way to go since it cost money and developing countries don’t have that. Even in the western world, the environmentalists are in conflict with people whose livelihood is threatened by laws that favor the nature rather than the people without having a viable alternative to make money.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Difference between Afghanistan and Iraq-6

Pakistanis have been suffering for a long time and they will continue to suffer as long as their leaders have this myopic view of having some influence in Afghanistan. There economy is in shambles and terrorist attacks are increasing in the country and their leaders are still having a dream of an Afghanistan that they will have influence over with so that they can concentrate on their eastern border with India. It is time that this kind of fantasy should be done with .Unless Pakistan stops supporting the Taliban and be serious about all kinds of Taliban (whether they are in favor of Pakistan or against Pakistan), the Afghanistan that the U.S. want will never happen.

U.S. wants an Afghanistan which does not harbor the Al-Qaeda or any terrorist organization on its soil and be at least friendly to the West and not be harassing its minorities. But this will not happen until the flow of arms from across the border with Pakistan is stopped and their support base in that country completely eliminated. It can be done, but only if the Pakistanis can see through beyond their myopic view of the region regarding India and concentrate in fixing up their country.

Difference between Afghanistan and Iraq-5

Maybe the top commanders of the Pakistan Army may not be undermining the efforts of the U.S. and NATO allies but some rogue elements and also some government officials secretly maybe helping the Taliban gain a foothold and create trouble for the allied forces, so that when they leave, it can an open field for them to install their government. But much has changed since 9/11 and also India has become a favorite and a very strong economic and military power allied with anybody except the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis are still in a state of denial regarding Afghanistan. The Taliban don’t care much about the Pakistanis anywhere, which they see as the puppet of the Americans.

If and when they think they will get their government (with the help of the Pakistanis) they will surely turned upon their benefactors since the so called victory will galvanize them to install their own harsh brand of Islam on the Northern Province and slowly on other parts (despite what the government says on the contrary).

You see I am not a military man but I analyze things they way they are not sugar coating them for the audience. The fact is that Taliban are winning because they can attack and retreat back to their safe havens in Pakistan (this is fact). As long as Pakistan is willingly or unwillingly playing a double game and hosting the Taliban on its soil. No amount of force can stop these people from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan.

Difference between Afghanistan and Iraq-4

Second, they (meaning the Pakhtuns) have special kinship/relations with their fellows Pakhtuns. The Pakhtuns in Pakistan do not differentiate with the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan and they have coming back and forth long before these boundaries between Pakistan and Afghanistan were made. Further there is an intense dislike for the northern people of Afghanistan since they treat them worse than non Muslims. Afghanistan can never be stabilized since Pakistan and India are vying for the influence in that country. Whatever the Pakistani Army is doing and sacrificing so many of its soldiers is just cleaning up what they created in the first place. There are still elements in the Pakistan Army (despite the best efforts of the commanders) that are actively supporting the Taliban and other elements to make sure that when the Western forces leave, they can install their own regime.

But this time, around no western or even the northern people will tolerate the excesses of the Taliban. They have suffered enough and I believe that if they don’t have help from Pakistan, they would have been defeated long ago. To be fair, Pakistan does have a genuine fear of being encircled by India from the east and an unfriendly regime to the west with Iran not so friendly to the west too. To the south it is just water. But the near obsession with the India has completely distorted the vision of the Pakistani leaders, blaming everything on India, Israel and the U.S. and not seeing their own shortcomings