Louisiana, an unintended test case in federal aid

Years before Washington spent $787 billion on a national stimulus bill, it staged an unintended trial run in Louisiana, a huge injection of some $51 billion for which historians find few, if any, precedents in a single state.

The experiment is still playing out, but some indicators suggest that what occurred in Louisiana — dumping a large amount of reconstruction money into a confined space in the three and a half years since Hurricane Katrina — has had a positive outcome. The state’s unemployment rate of 5.7 percent in February was considerably below the national average of 8.1 percent, and it was the only state to see a drop in unemployment from December to January. It was also the only state with an increase in non-farm employment in February.

State economists specifically mention what one called “the ongoing building boom” from federal dollars as a main reason for the numbers. Largely a result of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, construction projects have not dried up as they have elsewhere, and a few can even be seen in downtown New Orleans…

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AT&T hurrying massive network update for new iPhone launch

AT&T is rushing to rollout a major upgrade to its 3G mobile data service in anticipation of a tenfold increase in network traffic from new iPhone hardware expected to go on sale in June.

Apple’s exclusive mobile service provider in the US has already laid out plans to upgrade its 3G data network on multiple fronts. Last month AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega said in an interview that “we have the infrastructure capability to go to 7.2 [Mbit/s], and we’ll have the capability to go 14.4 and 20 in the next couple of years, so I think there’s coverage we’re going to improve, there’s quality we’re going to improve, and there’s speed that’s also going to get improved.”

The current iPhone 3G only supports a maximum of 3.6 Mbit/s, so AT&T’s plans to achieve the full potential of its current 3GPP Release 5 network technology would require new iPhone hardware to fully exploit. However, the wireless link between the phone and the cell tower is only part of the network speed equasion. Another factor is the speed and capacity of AT&T’s network backbone.

Reports have already indicated that about half of the mobile data traffic AT&T handles is related to the iPhone. Web statistics from Net Applications also show that more than two thirds of all US mobile web data traffic is used by the iPhone, which also makes use of WiFi.

AT&T’s coverage sucks badly enough in critical areas that some folks – like in San Francisco, crucial to the Tech World – are dropping iPhones and going back to Blackberrys.

Not that they’re alone. 3G coverage in my neck of the prairie is non-existent. AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, whatever. Either what they offers sucks – or doesn’t exist. Now, that doesn’t hamper me because we don’t have enough people clustered around the capitol end of the state to matter.

But, PR-based stories like this should step aside for a moment and include a little reality.

While Obama is busy with his day job, he wins British book prize

US President Barack Obama fought off competition from Paul O’Grady and Dawn French to take the biography prize at the British Book Awards.

The president won with his memoir of his youth, Dreams From My Father. He was unable to collect his trophy – owing to more pressing commitments at the NATO summit.

The president was beaten to a second award by Aravind Adiga who took home author of the year for his Booker Prize-winning novel The White Tiger.

Obama’s political thesis, The Audacity of Hope, had been in the running in that category.

What a refreshing difference from the former occupant of the White House. Whatsis-name will be hard-pressed to decide how many crayons to include with his political insights.

Death on wheels

Pakistani police have found 44 bodies inside a shipping container in what appears to have been a failed attempt at human trafficking.

Some 150 people are said to have been inside the container, most of them Afghans. The victims suffocated. A number of survivors are being treated in hospital in the city of Quetta, in Baluchistan province.

The container reportedly belongs to a firm supplying Nato in Afghanistan and the driver’s whereabouts are unknown.

Rasool Bakhsh, a senior police official in Quetta, said that police had opened the container following a tip-off. The stench from the container suggested some victims might have been dead for days, he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

Not unknown here in the American Southwest. But, I can’t recall a human-smuggling disaster in my neck of the prairie where so many were trapped in a rolling coffin to die like this.

Greed and inhumanity are constants in the equation.

Judge refuses details of $35 million funds from Ferdinand Marcos

U.S. District Court Judge Manuel L. Real, who has endured a rare public censure by the federal judiciary, the threat of impeachment and removal from several cases for questionable conduct, now faces demands to account for $5 million or more in apparently missing trust funds.

Lawyers for rival Filipino groups laying claim to the seized assets of late Philippines Dictator Ferdinand Marcos have petitioned a federal appeals court to demand that Real provide a detailed accounting of $35.3 million entrusted to him nearly a decade ago as U.S. courts were pondering who should receive the money.

The appeal, made public Wednesday, does not allege wrongdoing by Real. Rather, it disparages his single page of cryptically described account activity as raising concerns about whether the full amount and any earned interest has been returned, say lawyers who filed the petition last month with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals…

In the challenge to his handling of Marcos’ funds, Real’s vague report on account activity over the past decade referred to $98 million in unspecified security purchases and $118 million in unspecified security sales, despite his own order against trading account assets and a 9th Circuit edict that he refrain from disbursing money until a final court judgment. It was impossible to verify whether the figures provided by Real were accurate or comprehensive…

Real has met with lawyers for all sides three times since the high-court judgment but provided only a single page of unspecified receipts and payments. In only two outlays mentioned over the decade he controlled the account, Real reported $63,398 for “trustee fees” and more than $4.9 million for “other disbursements.”

I have no idea if this guy is a looney – or a run-of-the-mill crooked lawyer turned crooked judge. You have to stand back in awe of a legal system that refuses to require truthful disclosure from an officer of the court.

What crap! $4.9 million for “other”. Can I try that on the IRS? Will you send me cookies in prison?

China planning to be world leader in electric cars


Daylife/Getty Images

Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.

The goal, which radiates from the very top of the Chinese government, suggests that Detroit’s Big Three, already struggling to stay alive, will face even stiffer foreign competition on the next field of automotive technology than they do today.

To some extent, China is making a virtue of a liability. It is behind the United States, Japan and other countries when it comes to making gas-powered vehicles, but by skipping the current technology, China hopes to get a jump on the next…

China’s intention, in addition to creating a world-leading industry that will produce jobs and exports, is to reduce urban pollution and decrease its dependence on oil, which comes from the Mideast and travels over sea routes controlled by the United States Navy.

But electric vehicles may do little to clear the country’s smog-darkened sky or curb its rapidly rising emissions of global warming gases. China gets three-fourths of its electricity from coal, which produces more soot and more greenhouse gases than other fuels.

I get tired and bored explaining coal realities to ignoramuses who grew up after the coal era in the United States – and don’t understand history or reality. 50% of China’s coal-based pollution comes from heating and cooking. Until gas and electricity replace coal as home fuel, the problem will continue. China’s working at it. Talking heads won’t notice anything until after it’s sorted.

It took England 20 years to make the changeover. It’s why London was called Auld Reekie.

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Palin, state GOP want election do-over

Republicans come up with lots of stupid, hypocritical plans. This one takes the dodgeball cake:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has joined the state GOP in calling on U.S. Sen. Mark Begich to resign and run against former Sen. Ted Stevens in a special election.

Stevens was convicted on seven felony counts, but the U.S. Justice Department said this week it was dropping its case against the Republican amid prosecutorial misconduct allegations. The Alaska Republican Party then called for a do-over of the 2008 election, in which Begich, a Democrat, narrowly beat Stevens.

Palin said Thursday Alaskans “deserve to have a fair election not tainted by some announcement that one of the candidates was convicted fairly of seven felonies, when in fact it wasn’t a fair conviction…”

Some U.S. Senate Republicans [in the lower 48] rejected the suggestion of a do-over, The Hill reported. Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio said “the fact of the matter is” Stevens lost the election.

“It’s happened,” he said. “I don’t think you can go back.”

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, told Fox News Channel Begich “will be in the Senate and will do a good job.”

Fracking hilarious! So, uh, when was the last time the Republican Party volunteered to do-over an election they won on specious grounds? George W. Bush in 2000? I don’t think so.

Taking the fizz out of Coke advertising claims – in Oz, anyway

Daylife/AP Photo

Claims Coke will not make children fat or rot their teeth have landed Coca-Cola in trouble with Australia’s consumer watchdog, which has ordered the soft drink company to correct its advertising.

Coca-Cola South Pacific last year ran advertising titled “Motherhood & Myth-Busting,” featuring popular Australian actress Kerry Armstrong and claiming Coke was “kiddy-safe.” As well as claiming Coke did not make children fat or harm their teeth, the full-page print ads sought to combat public perceptions that Coke was packed with large amounts of caffeine.

The company also said in the ads it was time “to state the facts and to help you understand the truth behind Coca-Cola.”

But the powerful Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Thursday ordered them to correct its claims.

“Coke’s messages were totally unacceptable, creating an impression which is likely to mislead that Coca-Cola cannot contribute to weight gain, obesity and tooth decay…”

CCSP had agreed to publish corrective advertisements in major newspapers in every major Australian city, as well as on the company’s own website, Graeme Samuel said.

Har! I remember working as a line mechanic at the firm that invented aerosol products [a tale for another time] when first I learned the stunt of dissolving rust and other oxide products from metal – by immersing the metal bits in Coke for a few days. Dissolved all the crud.