Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Facts You Won't Find In the New York Times or on NPR

Relatives mourn the death of 4-year-old girl Lama Hamdan.
Americans may find it difficult to remember that Palestinians are human beings,
since the Times and other American sources
rarely print photos of Palestinian civilians suffering.


As Israel turns from genocide by blockade and starvation to just plain old brute force, Americans may be surprised to learn that it is Israel that occupies Palestine, not the other way round. [1] This is just one of a vast array of facts about which Americans are ignorant thanks to a grossly biased (or timid) media, government and academe.

Here are some more:
Number of Israelis killed by rockets and mortars in the 2001-2008 interval: 23 (433 injured)
Number of Palestinians killed in the same interval: nearly 5000 (1000 under 17 years old)

On the BBC (Tuesday, Dec. 30), Benjamin Netanyahu equated Palestinian rockets with German V1 and V2s fired on London during the Second World War.

Number of Britons killed by V1 and V2 rockets: 8938 (25,000 injured seriously)

In one day, Saturday Dec. 27, Israel killed 230 Palestinians (5% of all the people Israel has killed since the beginning of 2001). 70 of that 230 (30%) were civilians.

From the ceasefire Hamas (not Israel) announced on June 2008 until Saturday, Dec. 27, no Israelis had been killed by Hamas by any means.

This one should go without saying: Palestinians have no tanks, no fighter/bombers, no helicopters, no heavy artillery.
Palestinians in Gaza have been deprived of food, water, fuel, medical supplies since Fall, 2007
Collective punishment of civilians is a war crime under international laws to which both Israel and the United States are signatories.

Israel has been charged with crimes against humanity by Richard Falk (UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Occupied Territories), Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, and former President Jimmy Carter.

Activists trying to bring medical aid to Gaza by boat on Tuesday, Dec. 30, were attacked by Israeli gunboats while in international waters. Among the 15 people onboard was former Representative Cynthia McKinney.

Despite claims by Israel that it "pulled out" of Gaza in 2005, Israel has controlled land, sea and air access continuously (with the exception of the land crossing with Egypt, where Egyptian authorities have carried out Israeli policy).

NOTES

1. A 2004 study found that only 29% of Americans university students did not know that Israelis are both the occupiers and the settlers in the West Bank (and at the time Gaza). http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/07/18/opinion/fenton/main630386.shtml

Five sisters killed in Gaza.

America is Shovel-Ready!


Shovel-ready. What the fuh does that mean? Man, I hope Obama is more than a mouth full of words. Shovel-ready.

Let us consider. What do we shovel?

Maybe too few Americans have ever even seen a picture of a farm. Plenty there to shovel. Get my drift?

I used to live in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. Before the super-duper new sewage treatment facility — making the neighborhood safe for overpaid Wall Street type pole-up-the-ass Manhattanistas — you could smell all that was shovel-ready on a 'nice' summer day. (Actually, those Manhattanites need a hose up the ass to ship everything that was 'shovel-ready' to us dumbasses in the outer boroughs. And with the new Bloomberg-Paterson proposals, we're going to get plenty more 'shovel-ready'.)

And Greenpoint, so aptly named, was also ground zero for the largest oil spill in human history, still going after 50 years. Couldn't shovel it, but you sure as hell could smell it and drink it — in Greeeenpoint.

Shovel-ready. Lawrence Summers. Timothy Geithner, Rahm Emanuel. Eric Holder, Robert Gates — all shovel-ready.

What else do we shovel? Coal into the furnace. The way the government and corporate leaders have been treating We The People, I guess We are shovel-ready. Bailout the billionaires. Shovel the rest of us into the economic oven. Ouch. But, daaaamn, that's what they're doing. Can anybody deny it?

But let's just take the shovel Obama and Company have in mind. The Shovel of Progress! The Shovel of Economic Renewal! Onward, Through Difficulties, to the Broad Sunlit Uplands of The Future. Future, heaven of the poor [and 1, 2]. Our finest hour is at hand. . . . or at least, their finest hour.

This is the Culture of They. They make decisions for us. So it is around the world. Billionaires decide for 300 million Americans. Five million Israeli Jews decide for four million Palestinians. One billion Chinese decide for six million Tibetans, nine million Uighurs. European Australians decide for aborigines. European Guatemalans decide for Mayans. On and on.

We the People are Shovel-Ready. God help us.
"These are the stakes:
To make a world in which
all of God's children can live,
or to go into the Dark.
We must either love each other,
or we must die."
— LBJ, 1964

And the days are not full enough

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
        Not shaking the grass.
— Ezra Pound

Whispers of Heavenly Death, Whitman

WHISPERS of heavenly death, murmur'd I hear;
Labial gossip of night — sibilant chorals;
Footsteps gently ascending — mystical breezes, wafted soft and low;
Ripples of unseen rivers — tides of current, flowing, forever flowing;
(Or is it the plashing of tears? the measureless waters of human tears?)

I see, just see, skyward, great cloud-masses;
Mournfully, slowly they roll, silently swelling and mixing;
With, at times, a half-dimm'd, sadden'd, far-off star,
Appearing and disappering.

Some parturition, rather — some solemn, immortal birth:
On the frontiers, to eyes impenetrable,
Some Soul is passing over.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Harvard Teaches By Example

Or "Harvard Blows Its Wad"
Caroline Kennedy takes her cue as author from Alan Dershowitz, "borrowing" other people's work and calling it original. (You have to be a student at Harvard to be punished for plagiarism, as Kaavya Viswanathan learned the hard way.) Kennedy, it must be admitted, is smarter than Dershowitz: She called her grade-school caliber work an "anthology". Fair enough. And she also had the example of daddy's Profiles in Courage for the 'right' way to pass off another's work as one's own.

Similarly, Wall Street execs, no small number of whom 'studied' at the Harvard Business School, follow the example of their alma mater when taking massive bonuses even though they suck as businessmen.

Thus The Financial Times reports the newest development in the continuing saga of well-rewarded failure among America's elite:
Harvard’s top money managers paid $26.9m
By Rebecca Knight in Boston
Published: December 19 2008 23:34 | Last updated: December 19 2008 23:34

Harvard, the world’s wealthiest university, said on Friday it paid six senior investment officers a combined $26.9m (£17.5m) this year to manage its endowment.

The fund has lost $8.1bn since the summer [four months].

US college heads accept voluntary thrift - Dec-10

The Harvard endowment earned 8.6 per cent during the last fiscal year but has since taken a big hit.

Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president, said in a letter to university deans this month that the endowment lost about 22 per cent of its value between June 30 and the end of October, bringing it from $36.8bn to roughly $28.7bn. . . .

The endowment funds about 35 per cent of Harvard’s annual operating budget. The university is preparing for a 30 per cent reduction in its endowment by the end of the year.
Yale's endowment, second largest in the world, has lost 25% of its value. So much for the nation's 'best and brightest'.

Look for some special earmarks — a privileged bailout — directed Harvard's way by Sen. Chuck Schumer (darling of Wall Street, Bernie Madoff, and other money-grubbing, cretinous vermin).

Likewise, look for revelations about Harvard, Yale, and other universities' ties to everybody's favorite whipping-boy conman — Bernie Madoff, who like Gov. Blagojevich, only made the mistake of being excessively brazen in the practice all the nation's money-grubbers were indulging in.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We Don't Need No Friggin Dynasties

Caroline Kennedy has offered her account of why we she should welcome her as an appointed senator. (But do we really need to speculate about the real reason ^ ?)
  • She can raise mountains of money. (The un-stated reason, but she could run as Republican or Dem on this one.)
  • Mother, lawyer, author, education advocate. (She lumped these together.)
  • Family with generations in public service.
Let's start at the end: family with "generations of public service". I can think of another such family. Do I need to name it? But let's just consider this on its merits. How about this: "I haven't been to medical school, but I come from a family with generations of doctors. Mind if I perform open heart surgery on you?"

I'm a father, designer and justice advocate. Want to vote for me?

Author? Let's review:
  • A Family Christmas. An anthology of other people's work. I understand that Alan Dershowitz has established the Harvard Standard for originality with his entirely plagiarized "Case for Israel", but, Caroline, you're not at Harvard anymore.
  • A Family of Poems. Again with the family and another anthology. Check above.
  • The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jeeez.
  • The Right to Privacy. Finally something she might claim to have written, or co-written — a popular-audience casebook.
  • In Our Defense. Another casebook, also co-written with Ellen Alderman.
  • Profiles In Courage For Our Time. Well, at least book publishing hasn't come to Moby Dick 2.
Okay, you're an author Caroline. Too late to just keep that your little secret.

Money. Money. Money. Sounds vaguely like Mr. Blagojevich. To Mr. B's credit, we was up front about his motives. As for Charlie Rangel and his brand of Democrat (or Republican), they're in the same game. They just stay within the lines better. As for Caroline Kennedy, she's surely better than most, but frankly, we tried to get rid of dynasties in 1776. It's about time we actually finished the job.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Confirmation that Arctic Ice Decline Accelerating

Scientists in the US have confirmed that "warming in the Arctic is accelerating," according to the BBC:
Scientists say they now have unambiguous evidence that the warming in the Arctic is accelerating.

Computer models have long predicted that decreasing sea ice should amplify temperature changes in the northern polar region.

Julienne Stroeve, from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, told a meeting of the American Geophysical Union that this process was under way.

Arctic ice cover in summer has seen rapid retreat in recent years.

The minimum extents reached in 2007 and 2008 were the smallest recorded in the satellite age.

"The sea ice is entering a new state where the ice cover has become so thin that no matter what happens during the summer in terms of temperature or circulation patterns, you're still going to have very low ice conditions," she told the meeting.
MORE >
As a result, there can no longer be any doubt that polar bears and other species (beluga whales, seals, the arctic fox, etc.) are at grave risk.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Big Investors Get a Dose of Their Own

Bloomberg reports that "The Securities and Exchange Commission hadn’t examined Madoff’s books since he registered the unit with the agency in September 2006."

Meanwhile, some of the investors who were dumb enough to trust the goose have been identified. (We must always remember the American dogma that wealth is a virtue and that the wealthy must be more intelligent; else, how would they get welt
  • Director Steven Spielberg
  • Publishing and real estate tycoon Mortimer Zuckerman
  • New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon
  • GMAC (GM financing arm) Chairman J. Ezra Merkin
  • Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman
  • French bank BNP Paribas
  • Tokyo-based Nomura Holdings Inc.
  • Spanish bank Santander, possibly $3 billion in losses
  • Britain-based bank HSBC, possibly $1 billion in losses
  • Zurich-based Neue Privat Bank
  • Yeshiva University in New York was an investor
And hedge funds (which have historically taken only investments from the very rich):
  • Fairfield Greenwich Group, possibly $7 billion in losses
  • Tremont Capital Management of New York
  • Maxam Capital Management LLC reports a loss of $280 million
  • Sandra Manzke, Maxam's founder and chairman: "I'm wiped out."
Senator Charles Schumer was one of the larger Congressional beneficiaries of Madoff campaign contributions. So too was New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Bush Ducks Thrown Shoes in Baghdad

How to Make Money and Screw People

Forthcoming from Rotting Ideas Press: How to Make Money and Screw People, from the gliterati who brought you The Bonus, The Crash, and The Bailout. Pre-order your copy and get a free t-shirt!

Partial contents to include:
Better Business Advisory Boutique by Dick Fuld. The former chief executive of Lehman Brothers plans a comeback with a small advisory firm to harness his contacts in US companies once the dust settles on Lehman’s bankruptcy.
Fall and Fall Again. Robert Rubin tells how you too can be called on as an advisor to presidents even after conceiving one of the greatest financial disasters in economic history.
Effective Toadying on the Way to the Crash. Timothy Geithner, Neel Kashkari and others offer advice on Wall Street's most time-honored practice: saying yes clearly while having one's nose buried in the boss's ass.

How to Get into Harvard. An essential entry guide to the university key to destroying whole economies (even more than the Chicago School of economics!) Greatly enhance your odds of getting an advisory role in the new and improved Obama Administration.
How to Be a 'Brilliant' Criminal. Henry Kissinger, while not an economist, can provide unique insight into committing monstrous crimes while remaining a darling of universities, news media and governments around the world.
Stay Rich! Rob Others! Bernard Madoff shows the cost-effective way to the tried and true method of American corporate criminality. Commit crimes with tiny penalties while netting yourself billions! This is the finest instance of the law and economics thesis we've seen. Learn how to profit legally through criminal activity with minimal costs to yourself and friends.
And more more more! The best insider info on how to rob from the poor and give to . . . yourself!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Cult of Money

The rich have conned themselves. Decades of the pseudo-science, the dismal delusion — economics — had the Milton Friedmans, Alan Greenspans, Robert Rubins believing their own lies and the money-grubbing toads of Wall Street likewise believing while inventing further cons to deceive us out of our savings. Billions were made, now billions are lost. Sadly, the principle losers will not be the architects of the con but us. The bailout is just the beginning.

The newest development in Wall Street's Comedy of Errors — Bernard Madoff's ponzi scheme conning people out of some $50 billion. According to the BBC and other news organizations,
Some of the world's wealthiest private and corporate investors are reported to be victims of an alleged $50bn fraud by Wall Street broker Bernard Madoff.

Mr Madoff is alleged to have confessed to a huge Ponzi scheme (pyramid fraud).

Reports say the main owner of the New York Mets baseball team, Fred Wilpon, and former American football team owner Norman Braman are among the victims.

Others facing losses reportedly include French bank BNP Paribas, Japan's Nomura Holdings and Zurich's Neue Privat Bank.
The rich fall prey to their own con.

Again according to the BBC, Madoff has also said, "that he planned to surrender to the authorities but not before he used his last $200m-$300m to pay 'selected employees, family and friends'."

But here is the best part. Madoff ran a pyramid scheme that burned $50 billion. But, "If found guilty, US prosecutors say he could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 [million]."

So, if were not for the fact that he is now 70 years old, he might very well conclude that robbing $50 billion is cost effective. This pales when compared to the Wall Street conmen who, like John Thane of Merrill Lynch, are still seeking bonuses in the millions.

This is the nature of American justice. Steal a car, serve 5 years. Steal tens of billions, as Wall Street has done, get a bonus.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab Director Next Secretary of Energy?

What to make of this one? The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
President-elect Barack Obama is expected to nominate Nobel-laureate physicist Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a renowned expert on alternative fuels and climate change, as the nation's energy secretary.
Alternative fuels. Smarts. And . . . weapons research, nuclear weapons.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blagojevich — Business as Usual

All who pay any attention to the news have now heard about Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich's trolling for payment in return for appointing so-and-so to Barack Obama's now-vacant Senate seat.

Much shock expressed in Washington, the news media. Yadda yadda yadda.

Come on, let's not act so surprised. American politics is largely about how much a candidate or supporters are willing to pay for office. The only distinguishing feature is legality — and that's a pretty gray area.

On one side we have Ted Stevens, Tom Delay, Rod Blagojevich, William Jefferson, and on and on. The politicians who glaringly, stupidly, cravenly grub for money.

On the other side, we have cases like Michael Bloomberg, who spent almost $69 million of his own money to buy the 2001 New York mayoral election — $92.60 per vote. He is the respectable extreme. Respectable because this is the way "Washington," broadly taken, does business from day to day. Other "respectable" businessmen have taken the same approach — Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, Jon Corzine, Ronald Lauder. (Billionaires are willing to spend a lot to reassure themselves that someone likes them.)

Less extreme but no different in kind are Charles Rangel, with his special rent-stabilized million dollar apartment. New Yrok Governor Paterson is also a member of that club.

Whatever Obama's merits, whatever he has done or will do, he has unambiguously established one new standard — raise raise raise money and dismiss federal funding. Howevermuch Republicans may wave their hands over Obama's "broken promise" to take public funding, we can be sure that they respect his example. And by gum, they'll follow suit. And if they can't, because the people are sick and tired of right-wing idiocy, then Republicans will just turn to the tried and true oldies — PAC money, etc. The Democrats are little better.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Way the World Ends

Let us count the ways, my droogies. Let us be analytical, or anal-ytical. First,

Animate versus Inanimate
In today's lesson we will not consider rocks, ice cubes or exploding stars. No meteors, comets or novas. No changes in the Earth's orbit, etc. It has to be our fault or somebody else's. Somebody is to blame, dammit! Second,

No Homefield Advantage
In the battle for Planet Earth, there is no homefield advantage. The visitors always have the upper hand. Third,

Smarts versus Dumb Luck
A tough one. Do we want to lose out to a foe which can play 3D chess with eyes closed, or are we okay with plain old fashioned brute force? Bear in mind that a repeat-appearance will be made by Dumb Luck on our side. And,

We Have Met the Enemy, and You Know the Rest
Yeah, we can defeat ourselves. Tens of thousands of years of humans piling on humans tells us this again and again. Fifth,

The End is the End
It's not apocalyptic if their isn't a pretty much all-consuming disaster. We have to be done for. . . . Mostly. Not completely done for, just mostly, pretty much. So, either Washington or New York has to be destroyed.

Reality vs. WTF?!
Some films actually take the end of the world seriously, especially if made during the reign of murderous maniacs like George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. But this can wear on one, so most take the entertaining road of unreality, antireality, fantasy, delusion, illusion, denial. Finally,

The Suck Veto
I reserve the right to pass over films that just plain suck, as opposed to suck in a fun, late night camp way. Tim Burton's Mars Attacks just plain sucks.

Let us begin.

1. The War of the Worlds
Tom Cruise. No big victories, we just get lucky.
And nobody has a clue. Nice.
Weakened by the rosy ending with a near-perfect
Boston street, but for badly parked cars. (In some
sense understandable, who would bother
attacking Boston?) Cruise might join our classic heroes
noted below.

2. The War of the Worlds
The original. Scientist knowing
it all detracts from doom and gloom.
Screaming dimwit woman sidekick is a downer.

3. Children of Men
Now this is the way to end
things. Nasty, brutish, and drawn out.
And a good post-apocalyptic hero has
a nice cynical realism. (Witness two of
our heroes below.)

4. The Blob
That blob is best of the dumb luck, brute force brigade.
But not good enough to beat Steve McQueen.
Excellent camp factor. (Sorry, the cast of
the remake sucks so massively, I cannot
take it seriously.)

5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The original.

6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy,
Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams,
Veronica Cartwright. Has that great
70s Stalinist gloom quality.

7. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (aka Invasion)
Uggh.

8. 28 Days Later
Night of the Living Dead, but with
less camp, more stamp.

9. Omega Man
Charlton Heston takes on the end thing
and blows away . . .

10. I am Legend
This could have been so much better.
How did Will Smith get that James Bond
house going, anyway? And just how dumb
can a person be and make it through 3 years
of apocalypse?

11. The Planet of the Apes
The original. One of The Great Three
Charlton Heston apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic
movies. The third being . . .

12. Soylent Green
What a dystopia here. And in each of the
Big Three, Heston has that great
resigned cynicical realist vision. He
just toughs it out.

13. Battlestar Galactica, Revelations
Just that one scene at the end earns this
episode a place on the list. I never thought
the producers would have the guts for a
plot turn like that.

14. Independence Day
Windows spammers can't even write a good virus for the Mac.
How did Jeff Goldblum write code to hack the aliens here?

15. Road Warrior
The rip-roarin-est best of the
post-apocalypse chase.

16. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Delicious vision of post-apocalyptic tribalism.
And Mel Gibson is the third of the just
tough it out lot, with Heston and Owen
(and maybe Cruise in War of the Worlds)

17. Threads vs. The Day After
Threads is the brutally bleak British answer
to the picnic nuclear apocalypse, The Day After (1983).
Day After is so sunny, you half expect it turn into a
musical midway through.

And forthcoming: The Road
I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell
that Hollywood can get this one right.

And the awful that shouldn't be mentioned but must be lest we forget:
Battlefield Earth. How did Travolta get work after this?
Waterworld. How did Kevin Costner get work after this? Would have been better as Wayne'sWaterworld.
The Postman. And how did Kevin Costner stay on the roster to strike out again?
Signs. Had some nice touches, like the sense of isolation. But what the hell are the aliens up to? They're just making crop circles? What about leveling something?!

And what have we learned today, my droogies?
If you're going to survive the End of the World, you better have that don't-grin-and-bear-it attitude. Plus, running or racing, be fast. And watch out for people who have got religion.

A Heap of Humans

This courtesy of entomologist and great biodiversity E. O. Wilson:

Take all humans on earth — all 6.5 billion of us — and log-stack us, we humans would fill a cube just 1 mile on a side. One cubic mile of humans on the whole earth. So few humans in many senses, yet each of us, on average, now requires roughly 24 acres of Earth's surface to support our consumption (much more than 24 acres for those of us in the US and much much less for those in the poorest nations).

That entire cube could fit into the Grand Canyon.

This little mass of humanity is annhilating life at a rate greater than any natural disaster in the history of the planet.

Monday, December 8, 2008

No Shame At All, Pt. 2: The Spirit of Christmas

ABC television's version of the spirit of christmas. Broadcast "A Charlie Brown Christmas" with 4 minutes of advertising for every 3 minutes of program. That's the real timing, plus or minus 30 seconds. Thanks for the memories, ABC.

No Shame At All

John Thain, head of Merrill Lynch and graduate of MIT Sloan School of Business, is seeking a bonus of 10 million dollars. Assuming that Thain worked 50 weeks at 50 hours per week (both overestimates, we can be sure), that bonus adds up to $4000 per hour.

Merrill Lynch is merging with Bank of America after being an early headliner in the current economic collapse. But John Thain's miserable excuse for management hasn't taught him humility.

Fortunately, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is opposing the bonus, calling it "shocking".

My suggestion: Imprison Thain and his Wall Street cohorts. With the collusion of Congress, they are bankrupting the United States, robbing us blind. Try them for treason and imprison them.

Good News! Dow Chemical Cuts 5,000 Jobs!

My thesis for some time has been that one key feature of the American financial landscape is that We the People are irrelevant. How we suffer, how little we make, how long we go without work altogether — none of this matters. We the People are The Other. The decision-makers in Congress, on Wall Street, in boardrooms, know that they are exempt, immune to whatever befalls us.

Thus, news like today's from Dow Chemical is common. Dow announced that it is slashing 5,000 jobs — 11% of its labor force. Wall Street loved this news, Dow's stock soared.

Scan the past 20 years of labor news and you will find that, more often than not, Wall Street responds well to news of job cuts. It takes something really drastic, like the news of 533,000 job losses in one month, to dismay investors.

Why? Well, the easiest short-term way to improve the bottom line is to cut jobs. And the bottom line is all that matters. Needless to say, just as corporations are bemoaning the terrible state of things and laying people off, they are still finding ways to compensate executives. AIG, one of the leading recipients of bailout money, promised to cut bonuses — then reintroduced bonuses with a new name . . . a rose by another name.

So it goes. With 'globalization' (of profiteering, not of labor), it is increasingly possible for corporations to profit without employing people domestically. The illogical, irrational extreme of this trend is a nation with an elite class of millionaire and billionaire owners and investors and a vast underclass of people underemployed, unemployed, poor.

Friday, December 5, 2008

533,000 Jobs Gone in One Month

Two million jobs lost so far in 2008.

Biggest job losses in over 30 years.

Some will say that 10% unemployment is the "defining point" of depression.
"Today's employment report begs the question of whether the meltdown we're experiencing should be called a Depression."
— Robert Reich, former secretary of labor, professor at Berkeley
"The threat of a widespread depression is now real and present."
— Peter Morici, professor, University of Maryland
The real unemployment rate is certainly over 10% now. (The real unemployment rate is significantly higher than the official rate, now at 6.7%, because the government cooks the numbers.)

Finally, it begins to sink into the glitterati of Wall Street. The masters of Congress. The pundits, the academics. It's bad. We the People, who have to live with Their Decisions — the decisions of The Immune, The Exempt — already knew this.

We must ask what kind of "science" economics is if so many "economists" predicted the opposite of what we are now seeing, or at least got it drastically wrong. Is economics a science in the way Physics was in, say, 1700? Or is economics just no science at all?

If We the People are ill-equipped to do economics ourselves (though we can now reasonably ask whether we are just as well equipped as the so-called economists), we are perfectly equipped to judge the public assertions of economists. They have, with the exception of a small, progressive or liberal minority, been dead wrong.

So is economics just so poisoned by the self-serving interests of economists that it cannot realize its scientific potential? Or is it simply not a science? (And that raises the question of what makes Physics or Biology a science but not economics.)

Things We Need That We Don't Really Need

Sabretooth Mouse. I put this on the need side. Mouses jess don't have enough protection against cats.

Leaf blowers. Definitely a NO NEED. We have a leaf blower . . . wind. I see the guys blowing leaves into the street. Fifteen minutes later, it's back on the sidewalk. People worry about saving energy. Leaf blowers?

Things with more than 4 legs. Four legs is plenty. Ya got balance. Speed. Stability. What's six legs for? Eight? A thousand? That's crazy talk.

Cars. The world is too fast anyway. Then we give millions of people multi-ton murder machines. No cars.

Dinosaurs. On the need side. We need something that is really scary and big. I don't like scary and small. I can't hide from a spider.

Neanderthal people. On the need side. We need smart alternative hominans, somebody who "thinks different" for real.

Sea monkeys. Why don't we have any pets that really can take care of themselves? Dogs. Cats. Very nice. But they need care, attention.

Bamboo paper clothing. I hate doing laundry. Really hate it. But trees grow slow slow slowly. Bamboo is fast fast fast. Makes great paper. Let's have disposably bamboo paper clothing. Recycle the clothing to make paper.

On-writable desks and tables. My desk is covered with little sticky notes. People write on their desktop, placemat calendar. Let's make the desk on-writable, eraseable.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Britain's DNA Highway

There is a peculiar kind of highwayman in Britain — the run-of-the-mill cop. In Britain, upon arrest, a person is instantly swabbed for a DNA sample. The British practice has been to keep all such samples. Those eventually released, eventually not charged, eventually found not guilty, nevertheless can count on the DNA remaining in the system.

Currently, the UK has some 4.6 million DNA samples on file. That is, more than one in every fifteen Britons has DNA on file. Moreover, 860,000 of those 4.6 million have no criminal record at all.

This in country which is also distinguished for having the most extensive video surveillance system in the world and whose labor government has sought to mandate an national ID card for every citizen.

So bad as the US is on many counts, Britain may well come nearer to being a police state.

Now the European court of human rights has intervened, The court, affirming a fundamental human right of privacy, criticized “the blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the British practice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

If It Walks Like a Duck . . .

Remember AIG? Got over $100 billion in government handouts because it was the "world's biggest insurer" and "too big to fail". Then there was a big stink because execs were having big, expensive shindigs in swank locations.

Then the sky fell. Andrew Cuomo threatened legal action. The AIG mongrels backed off — even said they would forgo their bonuses.

Now it turns out they are getting "cash awards" — up to $3 million per person.

Solution? Tax away all of their income and most of their assets. Try them on charges of treason and put them in prison. After all, the possibility of Dubai Ports World taking over management of an American port was widely called a threat to national security. The vile money-grubbing execs at AIG, Goldman, Citigroup have done far more to damage, even destroy, the United States.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The World In Collision!

This from the BBC:
World 'must tackle space threat'
By Julian Siddle
Science reporter, BBC News

The international community must work together to tackle the threat of asteroids colliding with Earth, a leading UN scientist says.

Professor Richard Crowther's comments come as a group of space experts called for a co-ordinated science-led response to the asteroid threat.

The Association of Space Explorers (ASE) says missions to intercept asteroids will need global approval.

The UN will meet in February to discuss the issue.

In the ASE report, the group of scientists and former astronauts point to the historical record to highlight the dangers of asteroids; an impact 65 million years ago may have wiped out the dinosaurs, and the Tunguska impact in 1908 produced a 2,000 sq km fire in Siberia, big enough to engulf a city the size of New York.

They say the next major threatening event could occur in less than 20 years. Asteroid Apophis is due to pass close to the Earth and analyses suggest a one in 45,000 chance of a collision.

An impact by Apophis would generate the equivalent of a 500 megatonne blast, at least 100 times more powerful than the Siberian event. [The most powerful thermonuclear weapon ever tested by humans had a yield of about 50 megatons. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs probably had a yield of about 15 kilotons. So an impact by Apophis would have a yield about 30,000 times greater than Hiroshima . . . 30,000 Hiroshimas. (HES)]

Monday, December 1, 2008

Republicans Broke Law to 'Guard' Convention

The ACLU of Minnesota, following on the discovery of a document by Wikileaks.org, reveals how the Republican Party used federal forces in efforts to "protect" the 2008 Republican National Convention from such threats as anti-war protesters, free speach advocates, etc.
Revealing RNC document leaked
For Immediate Release
November 21, 2008

The American Civil Liberties Union recently came across a revealing RNC Homeland Security Document. This official document was uncovered by the website Wikileaks, which according to its website "We help you safely get the truth out". This document outlines the planning leading up to the Republican National Convention and how security forces would be working together during the RNC. Many federal, state and local organizations were mentioned in this document, a number of which the ACLU did not know were involved. A number of these agencies are military based, which may directly conflict with Federal law that prohibits the military from engaging in domestic intelligence gathering.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), is one of the organizations that is mentioned in the report that is particular cause for concern. NGA provides mapping tools and imagery intelligence that are obtained from the United State's military spy satellites which are controlled by the National Reconnaissance Office. In other words during the RNC, these top spying tools could have been utilized to gather intelligence on the homes of activists and media workers who were a part of the demonstrations. That information could have then been relayed to local officials.

A second agency that was involved in the planning is the Pentagon's Northern Command, NORTHCOM. Having NORTHCOMM at the table, assisting in the planning is troubling because it could mean that the military was involved in the crowd control strategies and dealing with potential civil unrest. According to a report in Army Times, it said that an active military unit has been deployed by NORTHCOM in the United States. This deployment marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment within U.S. Borders.

Furthermore it appears that the FBI may have been using a station faking technology that would allow them to locate an individual through their cell phone. The ACLU is concerned with how this technology is used and if there was proper judicial oversight. In the USA Patriot ACT, this process for obtaining a track was made easier, and could allow for little to no judicial oversight. This tracking via cell phones could have been used during the RNC without the knowledge of even the phone companies.

"These behaviors are a radical departure from separation of civilian law enforcement and military authority, and could, quite possibly, represent a violation of law," said Teresa Nelson, ACLU of Minnesota. The ACLU-MN will continue to investigate and will use their findings in future lawsuits against law enforcement officials.

Fuuuunny mooooovie

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Disguised Mother Woos Juror in Bid to Free Son

Hollywood couldn't do it this good! Mother pulls off complete transformation, knocking 16 years off her age, all to catch a juror's admission that the woman's son was railroaded.


Now, how to cast the movie? In the Hollywood version:
  • Charlize Theron as mom (after Monster success);
  • Skeet Ulrich as son (check out the resemblance to the son).

Have to carry story through to conclusion, so need a good, skeptical cop figure. This cop can also develop a love interest with the mother, that is, in addition to the next role — the male juror — good-looking but slightly malevolent or at least bad quality . . . . Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood are too old for detective. Must have New York grit. And for juror . . . I'm stumped.

And there's the whole Mark Fisher murder angle. He was 6' 5", so actor must be young, tall, handsome, the model of future success.

This is Hollywood Gold. Watch, I guarantee it will get picked up. If nothing else, it'll be a Law & Order episode.

Charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure

New Scientist summary of a recently published book by Stephen Baker: The Numerati.
  • simply by knowing gender, birth date and postal zip code, 87% of people in the United States could be pinpointed by name
  • the people most likely to click on car rental ads are those that have recently read an obituary online, apparently planning their trip to a funeral.
  • Microsoft has filed patents for technology that monitors the heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, facial expressions of office workers, and even their brain waves.
  • By tracking the use of cellphones, email and laptops it may even be possible to map workers' movements and social networks of each person.
And it goes on.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Wee Bit o' the Creature for Wall Street

Dark times may have fallen on the best and the brightest, that is in out time, the wealthiest, because after all, wealth is a virtue. And being wealthy is proof of intellect and competence.

It must be terribly confusing, terribly vexing, for the Gods to find that their Power is questioned, not just be The People but by Nature herself. The Boardrooms of Wall Street, like the Halls of Congress, are populated by people utterly convinced of their own superiority. So now is a time of schism. How to reconcile the facts of recent events with the dogma of superiority?

Well, if reconciliation is difficult, it can always be greased with the oil of alcohol. A bit of dutch courage. So reports The Financial Times:

The titans of Wall Street have taken a battering in the financial markets recently, but they are eating well and drinking more, according to the people who run Manhattan’s “power” dining spots.

At the 21 Club, a longtime redoubt of corporate chieftains and big names, alcohol sales are up 9 per cent from last year, and businessmen can be seen drinking $14-a-glass cocktails as early as 3pm on a weekday.

“Where people used to have one vodka on the rocks, now it’s a second one or maybe a third,” says Roger Rice, the floor manager. “I don’t know what to attribute it to. Maybe it’s the last year of the expense account.”

Others say their customers are drinking more to drown their sorrows. “People want to feel a little numb because it’s numbing out there,” says Steve Millington, general manager at Michael’s, the restaurant of choice for publishing and media executives.

Yes, they feel numb. They are also confronting the bitter truth of their own inadequacy.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Why good lenses cost so much:

God hath thereby cleared our title to this place . . .

"But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by smallpox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not 50, have put themselves under our protection."
So wrote the city-on-a-hill proto-American demigod John Winthrop nearly four hundred years ago. This pox was the white gift for which the native peoples of the northern Americas could offer thanks.

Title was of no small concern to John Winthrop. He was an early exponent of the view that the colonists could seize land because the native people had failed to mix their labor with it. (Though it did help when God stepped in to obliterate huge percentages of the indigenous population, thus reducing the possibility of resistance).

The European legalism is still at work today, explicitly in some eminent domain cases, and abroad particularly in Israeli seizures of Palestinian land (in the variant form that "there are no Palestinian people" and they weren't "here" anyway). But it is also tacit in the arguments for allowing the vastly wealthy to keep their gains free of taxation. By dint of superior intellect and labor, the wealthy have earned vast compensation. Since We the People are occasionally skeptical, further arguments are adduced: for example, that we all benefit, albeit indirectly, by the benefit of the few at the top of the food chain.

This latter argument also has historical precedent. In the medieval home of a nobleman, the scullion (the male equivalent of a scullery maid, women not typically being allowed to do such work eight hundred years ago) would get the leftovers after the nobles had eaten. Trickle down theory. No doubt it is a practice that goes back tens of thousands of years.

All of which gives new meaning to the line "When will we ever learn?"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Jeremy Scahill Skewers Obama Hawks, Clintonistas and Neocons

Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater, summarizes the gross problems in Obama's choices to date for cabinet posts and advisors. In particular, he raises the alert over the terribly conservative foreign policy choices Obama is making: Hillary Clinton, the only Democrat to argue that al Qaeda was connected to Saddam Hussein and one of the most belligerent Democrats; Madeleine Albright, apologist for Clinton era atrocities in Iraq; Joe Biden, also among the most hawkish Democrats.

Also on the list of hawks: Rahm Emanuel, Richard Holbrooke, Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, John Brennan, Robert Gates, Sarah Sewall, Michele Flournoy.

Leading Economist Says Crisis May Run for "Years and Years"

Bloomberg News is running a video of leading economist Robert Shiller sounding a great deal more pessimistic than anyone so far named to the Obama team. Shiller's views add to a solid minority of opinion that is profoundly pessimistic about American prospects.

This is the Shiller of the Case-Shiller Home Price Indeces. He is a leading figure in behavioral finance, hypothesizing that investors' and traders' decisions "are often driven by emotion instead of rational calculation." For over twenty years, he has repeatedly and correctly challenged the orthodoxy, accounting for market downturns, particularly in 1987 and following 2000.

In addition to the Bloomberg coverage, the Wall Street Journal reports that the "U.S. Housing Slump May Exceed Great Depression":
Yale University economist Robert Shiller, pioneer of Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home-price index, said there’s a good chance housing prices will fall further than the 30% drop in the historic depression of the 1930s. Home prices nationwide already have dropped 15% since their peak in 2006, he said.

“I think there is a scenario that they could be down substantially more,” Mr. Shiller said during a speech at the New Haven Lawn Club.

Mr. Shiller, who admitted he has a reputation for being bearish, said real estate cycles typically take years to correct. Home prices rose about 85% from 1997 to 2006 adjusted for inflation, the biggest national housing boom in U.S. history, Mr. Shiller said. “Basically we’re in uncharted territory,” he said. “It seems we have developed a speculative culture about housing that never existed on a national basis before.” Many people became convinced that housing prices would increase 10% annually, a notion Mr. Shiller called crazy.

I am consistently astounded that thinking like Mr. Shiller's can be considered wrong, even obviously wrong.

Remember "Dow 36,000"? Remember the endless nightly news reports that characterized any market decline as "a correction" and any increase as proof that we had entered a new economy, where there would never again be prolonged declines?

John Kenneth Galbraith reviews the history of this pattern of absurdity in "A Short History of Financial Euphoria".

What strikes me as painfully obvious is that no price can continue to rise without limit at a rate that will exceed the capacity of people to pay. Now, that is almost certainly an oversimplification. Fine jewelry may rise who knows how much simply because the people who buy it — fantastically rich to begin with — simply never run out of money to pay for it.

But housing? In New York City, a huge percentage of people pay 30%, 50%, even more, for rent or for mortgage. The annual increase in those payments simply cannot grow continuously at a rate that will result in people owing more than 100% of their income.

But take the average renter. Consider his or her annual rental increase. Even the increase set by the Rent Guidelines Board regularly exceeds the rate of inflation, exceeds the rate of increase in renters' incomes. Rents for those not in stabilized housing drastically exceeds inflation and wage increases. This is patently unsustainable.

New York City, and many other places like it, have counted on

  1. a constant influx of people who can pay and
  2. the willingness and ability of those unable to pay to move further away while continuing to work in the city.

But that only delays the tipping point. And the delay is modulated by the indifference of government to the obvious and inevitable. So, for example, commuting costs cannot continually be increased when the people who face those costs are exactly those who moved to reduce costs in the first place. (Never mind the minimal or non-existent attempts to make an inconvenient and usually unpleasant commuting experience more tolerable.)

My own opinion is that the single greatest problem we now face is the gross inability of those in power to contemplate or grasp the circumstances of the rest of us. Commuting, taxes, infrastructure, education, healthcare are all developed with no eye at all to the conditions of average citizens. Lip-service is paid. Heads are noddd. Grim faces adopted. But ultimately, even the erstwhile "good guys", like Representative Charles Rangel of New York, today identify themselves with the privileged. They certainly lead privileged lives. So, too, do the leading figures of American media.

A combination of circumstances are now making impossible the practical indifference of "leaders". That is, leaders have been rhetorically concerned, they say the right things (to the extent needed to get reelected). But in practice they do little or nothing to alleviate the crushing burden of regular expenses — especially in housing, energy, food and healthcare — the necessities.

Moreover, they frequently let slip the near-contempt (in not outright disdain) they feel for us. Witness Charlie Rangel's initial response when his financial and housing shenanigans were made public. He was genuinely taken aback when his own constituents bared their rage in his presense — the sign of a man long divorced from any understanding of reality.

The combination includes the housing bubble (preceded by the tech bubble just a handful of years before), the obscene war which now has cost us who knows how much (Joseph Stiglitz and others estimate one trilllion), the decades of deliberate, even malicious, undermining of public institutions like social security, health care, education, the environment, etc.

The US government has systematically and profoundly failed to serve the interests of the people. I, for one, am increasingly of the view that Obama merely did a great job of paying lipservice. His choices for high-level positions — particularly the total exclusion of progressive or really liberal opinion — are entirely in keeping with the utter indifference that has characterized Washington at least since the Reagan years.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Maybe Obama Fears a 1933

Raise your hand if you've heard of the McCormack-Dickstein Congressional Committee? How about the 1933 plot to overthrow President Roosevelt?

Absurd, you say? The rantings of left-wing conspiracy theorists? Well, check the November 21, 1934, edition of The New York Times.

With the election of Roosevelt, many of this country's wealthiest business leaders looked to Hitler's Germany as a preferable model. The support of Bush patriarch — Prescott Bush — for Hitler is well-documented. Likewise the support of Joseph Kennedy. Other leading American business leaders looked very favorably on Hitler's ruthless suppression of socialism and communism.

Here in the US, a plan was hatched to overthrow FDR. The McCormack-Dickstein Committee investigated this plot in 1934:
The Business Plot (also the Plot Against FDR and the White House Putsch) was a political conspiracy in 1933 wherein wealthy businessmen and corporations plotted a coup d’├ętat to overthrow United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1934, the Business Plot was publicly revealed by retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler testifying to the McCormack-Dickstein Congressional Committee.
Perhaps the explanation for Obama's conservative choices for the economic "dream team" lies here. He doesn't want to bite the hand that feeds him. Goldman Sachs was one of his biggest boosters. Three hundred million Americans clamoring for health care couldn't move the US government. But a few thousand business executives wailing over Wall Street won seven TRILLION dollars in aid. Now that's power. What might those thousands do if really angered by a new President genuinely pressing support for The People?

The Bush administration — with the support of many Democrats — won passage of the Military Commissions Act, the John Warner Defense Authorization Act and the Martial Law Act of 2006 (all three signed on October 17, 2006) undermining, if not outright nullifying, the Posse Comitatus Act (1878) and the Insurrection Act of 1807. Now the President has the power to use military forces domestically.

Establish the legality of a military presence domestically. Then use that military for . . . what? A conspiracy theory? It was more than just a theory in 1933.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Will the American People Be Too Big To Fail?

When the time comes, and it is our actual savings that are on the line, will the government save us? And how?

Here's the news lead to come:
In addition to the $20,000 now owed by every American man, woman and child to Citigroup, AIG, and Goldman Sachs, Americans now owe an additional $20,000 to themselves, for a net obligation of $40,000 per American.
And we're just beginning to see the smoke of a really big fire (as if the conflagration already under way weren't enough). Here's a November 25th Financial Times lead:
‘Problem’ banks stoke fears over FDIC fund
By Saskia Scholtes in New York
November 25 2008 19:29

The list of “problem” banks grew by almost 50 per cent in the third quarter, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reported on Tuesday, stoking fears that further bank failures could put the agency’s insurance fund under severe pressure.

Sheila Bair, FDIC chairman, suggested more failures were likely in spite of government support for the banking industry. While the US Treasury’s capital purchase programme would bolster bank capital levels and revive lending, she said the scheme was not intended to help banks that were not “viable”, such as those on the problem list.

Rapture Economic

Excellent Democracy Now interview with Naomi Klein, Robert Kuttner, and Michael Hudson.

Representative Barney Frank has mocked those who are criticizing Barack Obama's economic team choices. But who can deny that Obama's "change" is proving to be "the more things change, the more they stay the same."


THE ECONOMIC RESCUE TEAM

Nearly all of Obama's economic team to date hails from the Clinton deregulation mania.

Behind many of the "experts" is Robert Rubin, right up there with Alan Greenspan in giving us the current disaster.

Among the named "experts", Lawrence Summers joins Rubin and Greenspan as chief among those bearing responsibility for the deregulation insanity that has doomed the American economy.

And Timothy Geithner won the accolades of Wall Street precisely because the Street knows that Geithner won't change things.

The track record of this gang is not isolated to the United States. Summers, who successfully opposed any regulation of the derivatives underlying the crisis, was instrumental in the shock therapy approach to Russia which lead to the current cult of oligarchs.


TAXATION

During the election, Obama made much of wealthier Americans paying more, much of the injustice of Bush tax cuts. But Michael Hudson and others note, Obama is now changing his tune. Moreover, the rich do not primarily pay taxes through the income tax. If they pay anything, it is largely through capital gains taxes. Obama has never suggested increasing taxes on capital gains.


LABOR

Obama speaks of stimulus for American jobs, yet labor representatives are denied a seat at Obama's table.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Economic Rapture: Chapter III — Give Citigroup Something For Nothing

This is the Economic Rapture. The faithful are being called up to economic Heaven. The rest of us poor saps will rot in everlasting damnation.

On Friday, November 21st, Citigroup stock closed at less than $4 per share.

Today, the US government announced that it would effectively guarantee Citigroup a per share price of about $10.

Wow! The government won't guarantee American workers a wage of $8 per hour. As of July 2009, if you have a job, you must be paid $7.25 per hour. If you work 40 hours per week, or 1080 hours per year, $7,830 per year.

But the government does not guarantee you a job! The government gives you a very modest amount for a limited time if and only if you qualify for unemployment. You may also qualify for food stamps and for housing. So the government may help you achieve mere survival if you qualify.

And for years now, the Official Dogma has been to tighten qualifications on the thesis that doing so — instituting a stick approach — will get people moving, will force us lazy-ass Americans to find work. (Never mind that they may just not be work.)

What is the qualification for a bloated financial institution getting federal assistance? Fucking up! The bigger Citigroup or Goldman Sachs or AIG fucked up, the more money the government gives them — exactly the opposite of the line they take with us.

What's the difference? Well, friends of feds run those institutions. Buddies who went to Harvard, Yale, Chicago. Friends from college, business school. Friends who were colleagues at Goldman or Citi.

This past weekend, guru Robert Rubin was busy meeting with federal officials. Current Citi head was meeting.

When was the last time any Bush figure — or for that matter, any Obama figure — met with a labor leader?

For months I have been saying that this is an economic downturn with an essential difference — the wealthiest Americans, the creditors, the Rentier class — is at risk. In past downturns, when regular folks — you and me — were at risk, who cared? "Let us eat cake."

But Bush and Paulson, or Obama and Geithner, can't let their peers suffer. And make no mistake, even if Obama came up from nothing, he ain't there any more. Stop kidding yourselves, folks. Check out who Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner hang out with. It ain't production line workers.

If the automanufactures get a bailout from Obama, will they be required to refrain from laying off workers? Will they be required to keep jobs in the US?

No requirement has yet been imposed on financial institutions to loan to regular debtors. The British did impose such a requirement, so it can be done. But not in the US.

This will come back to haunt them. Even if We the People don't wake up, as we did in the lead-up to the first round of bailouts (before the media and the elite closed ranks), we must be able to buy stuff.

Bush may have sounded like the craven idiot he is when, after 9/11, he urged us to go out and buy stuff. BUT all he was doing was saying what the Wall Street brigade was thinking. Now they are saying it more explicitly. That's the whole damn point of (supposedly) injecting 'liquidity' into the economy.

But if it doesn't work, and we lose our ability even to buy the food and water we need to live, somebody wiser than our leaders will step in. Watch for China, or some other Asian giant, to formulate its version of the Marshall Plan . . . for us. At the moment, we are still the world's leading buyers, consumers, wasters.

Of course, we needn't be. The US comprises less than 5% of the Earth's human population. Five percent can go by the board with the world's economy still doing quite well. After all, for decades here in the US, 3% or 4% unemployment has been called "full employment". (How's that for Newspeak?)

So if China, India, Korea and others can find other, more flexible recipients of aid, perhaps they'll give up on the US.

_______________
AN ASIDE

Monday, November 24, Citigroup saw its stock soar, increasing in value by almost 60%. How many of the insiders, do you suppose, took advantage of their advance knowledge? In the chaos of the Rapture, given the Bush hostility to regulation and oversight (as opposed to just plain spying on just plain folks), how much inspection will there be of trades by the Rubins or Geithners or Paulsons?

Our British Time — The US Replaces Britain as the World's Richest Third World Nation

Through the 1930s, the US and Europe suffered economic depression. Along came the Second World War and everything changed. After the war, Europe was a basket case. The US, having undergone massive industrial development during the war, wanted to sustain industry. To do that, there had to be somebody to buy American goods. Americans alone could not suffice. Enter the Marshall Plan. Rebuild the economies of Europe and get a ready market in the bargain.

For Great Britain — Europe's greatest pre-war economy and the world's greatest pre-war military power — that was it, the sun set on the Empire. India won independence, Israel statehood, and so on.

We are now seeing the sun set on the American Empire. Precisely what the Niall Fergusons, the Kagans, the George Packers — the broad spectrum of war's idolators — saw as necessary confirmation of American imperial status has instead punctuated the American end. The developing recession, or depression, will be the full realization.

For what must happen for the US not only to recover economically but to regain its status? Americans must find good work, work that pays — something no American employer, in the brave new economics, wants to provide. And somebody needs to buy American stuff. But everybody's buying Chinese, or Asian, stuff.

The best we can hope for is that China and other developing superpowers see the need for the US to remain a solid purchaser. But if those developing powers see better purchasing potential in other regions, then we might just fall by the wayside.

One way or another, I think we cannot hope for the economy of Germany or France or Israel, all of which greatly value education, industry, effort and keeping jobs at home for the sake of the people and the nation.

What we can hope for is Britain, at best. And probably not that. Whatever Obama believes, he will not risk the political blowback of a single-payer — a (horrors!) 'Socialist' medical system. He will not seriously cut military spending any more than Clinton did. We may see some modest improvement in education and research spending. But unlike Clinton's years, we are unlikely to see a brand new bubble in the next eight years to buoy us up as the tech/internet hysteria did through Clinton's terms.

The enormous pension systems which have invested in Wall Street pyramid schemes are now beginning their collapse. Hostile to invention and independent thought, the little giants of American industry — the big three automakers — are failing. And companies, desperate for We the People to buy buy buy, are still determined to lay us off at the nearest possible moment, still determined to cut our wages, to cut our benefits.

So the US becomes the second greatest instance of The Tragedy of the Commons. All, individually, advocate for others what they are unwilling to do themselves. And thus what all advocate (individually) fails to come to pass.

The US marches to replace Britain as the world's richest third world nation.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cult of Personality, Cult of the Middle

At 11:20pm, 21 November 2008, I am watching the fantastically annoying Charlie Rose interview the quite interesting Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law professor, who speaks glowingly of Saint Barack.

Lessig joins a host of academics I have heard describe Obama in glowing, near-reverential terms. (Lawrence Tribe was among this number.) That so many, at Chicago and Harvard especially, rave so uncritically raises serious questions about what apparently is a sad absence of great minds at these institutions.

In the endlessly glowing reports is an oft-repeated dogma — the magic of the middle "not left, not right". Someone who steadfastly walks the middle of the road is likely to get hit by a car. But not according to the American political dogma in which moderation is a virtue no matter what the content of that moderation.

The endless accolades remind me of the early days of Clinton. Several moderate and liberal friends of mine were beside themselves when I raised doubts about Clinton. His early capitulation on healthcare, his attacks in Iraq and elsewhere, his passion for deregulation — all spoke to a man who was no liberal in any sense I recognized.

Strikingly, this evening I heard an ABC reporter compare Obama to Clinton with Obama's likely selection of Gen. James L. Jones to be National Security Adviser. The reporter felt that Obama, like Clinton, liked to surround himself with military men to compensate in some degree for his own lack of military experience. Let us hope that Obama doesn't follow Clinton's example with an early attack on a civilian population (as Clinton did in an April 1993 attack in Iraq).

I did admire Obama in the run up to the primary and through much of the election cycle. I voted enthusiastically for him. It was genuinely moving to crowded into the entry hall of the Brooklyn Museum with hundreds of other voters. All of them, it seemed, were eager to vote for Obama.

But to hear Prof. Lessig or anyone speak so fulsomely (in the actual meaning of "fulsome"), so glowingly — with absolutely no qualification, as if this were indeed the Second Coming — should raise concerns for anyone, especially anyone who shares the characteristic that Lessig praises in Obama, namely an expansive, open view of the world, including the world of ideas.

An expansive, open view must include the possibility of criticizing Obama. But there is none of this in the developing Cult.

But there is plenty to support criticism. There is simply nothing so far in Obama's choices for advisers or cabinet members to sustain hope for a "transformational presidency".

Moreover, the idolization of the middle — now in the form of the enlightened moderate Obama — is purely fallacious. Where on earth do Americans, including Stanford or Harvard law professors, get the notion that being in the middle means being correct? The notion is patently absurd. The middle of WHAT?

If being pro-civil rights in 1955 meant being left — and it did — then the left was correct. Being pro-union in 1932 was a leftist position. And it was the true position.

There is a world of difference between giving a hearing to all sides and trying to find a solution that synthesizes all sides — between hearing all sides and trying to make all sides happy. It is a sad commentary on American discourse that even the "best" educated clearly do not understand this. It is particularly discouraging in a nation where it is routinely assumed that any issue has only two sides, two to match the two parties.

Moreover, Obama is most emphatically not giving a hearing to all sides. Entirely absent from his advisers are any representatives of labor, of the common people, of advocates for single-payer health care, of advocates for Arab or Muslim rights (most especially the rights of Palestinians in their own homeland). Obama has already ruled out any prosecution of Bush administration figures. That is not a moderate position, it is mere surrender to political expedience.

All of this points to a nascent Cult of Personality with Obama as the Revered One.

Anyone even dimly aware of the history of the past three or four thousand years should be wary, at best.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Remember: This is Not Happening

"New claims for unemployment benefits jumped last week to a 16-year high," according to the Times and other news outlets. The stock value of Goldman Sachs (the people who gave us Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, and the bailout) has dropped below its IPO price — ten years of increases gone. "The index of leading U.S. economic indicators fell in October for the third time in four months as stocks and consumer confidence plunged, signaling a deepening recession." So reports Bloomberg.


"The U.S. may need to spend as much as $1.2 trillion to stabilize the eight largest financial institutions because private investors are unwilling to take the risk, an FBR Capital Markets analyst said." (Bloomberg) One point two TRILLION for EIGHT firms. Four thousand dollars for every man, woman and child in the US.

One TRILLION for the war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two TRILLION for extended bailouts domestically.

And not one penny of direct help for three hundred million Americans.

But conservatives like John McCain, Amity Shlaes, and others believe "fundamentals are strong". Now I'm a broken record on the conservatives, but there is a more general point here.

So are moderates — especially the broad spectrum of the Democratic Party — any better?

Barack Obama and the incoming Congress show little real sign of the 'great awareness' that they are credited with. Obama is packing his cabinet and his staff of advisors with exactly the people who created this disaster and then denied it was happening.

More important, largely absent from government are people who know what it is like to hear the wolves at the door. Barack Obama's adult life has been one of considerable privilege. So too for very nearly every person within 100 yards of him. So too for very nearly every member of Congress. So too for very nearly every person at the Times or the Wall Street Journal or CNN or the Harvard Business School.

In other words, the people taking charge of the solution show neither sympathy for nor experience of the most dire problems they must address. This is true to of healthcare, military policy, pensions, and on and on and on.

How can people who are entirely insulated from, immunized against the consequences of terrible policy feel invested in a good solution? To the solve the problems we face, the problem solvers must be more interested in a genuine solution than in getting re-elected, being popular, or lining their own pockets. With choices like Rahm Emanuel and Hillary Clinton, I have growing doubts about Obama. And with the likes of Nancy Pelosi or Joseph Lieberman holding leadership positions in Congress, I have no hope at all that Congress will do anything, even with a Democratic majority.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Under the News

Marine dead zones set to expand rapidly
Rising levels of carbon dioxide could increase the volume of oxygen-depleted 'dead zones' in tropical oceans by as much as 50% before the end of the century — with dire consequences for the health of ecosystems in some of the world's most productive fishing grounds.

Top judge: US and UK acted as 'vigilantes' in Iraq invasion
One of Britain's most authoritative judicial figures last night delivered a blistering attack on the invasion of Iraq, describing it as a serious violation of international law, and accusing Britain and the US of acting like a "world vigilante".

Emanuel Apologizes to Arab-American
Congressman Rahm Emanuel, recently appointed White House Chief of Staff to President-Elect Barack Obama, called American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) President Mary Rose Oakar to repudiate negative comments about Arabs made by his father Benjamin Emanuel. [See also: The New York Times]

Israel Blocks Food, Fuel for Gaza
UN closes Gaza aid centers, citing lack of food
Gazans seeking food aid walked away empty-handed from locked United Nations distribution centers Saturday after a strict Israeli border closure depleted U.N. food reserves. . . . U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to open the crossings to humanitarian aid and condemned the rocket fire on Israel. Measures that increase the suffering of Gaza's civilians "are unacceptable and should cease immediately," he said in a statement.

Chronic malnutrition in Gaza blamed on Israel
The Israeli blockade of Gaza has led to a steady rise in chronic malnutrition among the 1.5 million people living in the strip, according to a leaked report from the Red Cross. It chronicles the "devastating" effect of the siege that Israel imposed after Hamas seized control in June 2007 and notes that the dramatic fall in living standards has triggered a shift in diet that will damage the long-term health of those living in Gaza and has led to alarming deficiencies in iron, vitamin A and vitamin D.

International Federation of Journalists Condemns Israeli Ban on Entry of Journalists to Gaza
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned Israel's decision to deny foreign journalists entry into Gaza for one week. "Once again, Israel has shown its disregard for press freedom by restricting the right of foreign journalists to move freely," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. According to media reports, military officials in Israel said only humanitarian aid workers and Palestinian patients are allowed to enter or leave Gaza as a result of the resumed shelling of rockets into Israel by Palestinians militants from Gaza. The IFJ is concerned that this decision is likely to have a serious impact on the proper covering of the conflict between Israel and Palestine if journalists are prevented from freely gathering, assessing and reporting information about the ongoing crisis, particularly in the Gaza Strip. "The crisis is made worse by censorship and media restrictions which only encourage fearfulness and rumour. It's time for Israel to end the media blockade of Gaza and to allow all journalists -- Palestinian and foreign alike -- to do their job without interference." White said.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hope

Bread-line, Kentucky, 1937. Margaret Bourke-White.

Remember Clinton's "I still believe in a place called Hope"?

And Barack Obama's "Audacity of Hope"?

Just what are they talking about? Whose hope? What hope? I have just listened to a remarkable piece on a public radio's Hearing Voices: Prison. Interviews with some very thoughtful convicts in the deplorable American prison system. As Milan Kundera (whose work I think is greatly overrated) said — that only one who had lived in a world deprived of freedom to understand freedom — so too can only those who have been deprived of hope truly understand what hope is. (I don't quite believe this, but there is something right about this notion.)

Christmas dinner, sometime in the 30s.

Hope is what so many have invested in Obama. Millions of Americans have given up on the US political system. Corrupt, dedicated to the wealthy, indifferent to the common people. A combination of bad times and the very worst politicians our nation has seen, genuinely awful people — Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales — has robbed and raped us but opened the door to hope.

Breadline during the Depression.

Remember the song that signaled the arrival of FDR? Depression-era music is so dominated by the blues. But then there is "Happy Days Are Here Again". So the Depression is also an era of big band and jazz. Call it a musical debate.

The Republicans have, for at least three decades, worked overtime to criminalize mere bad luck — poverty, being black or now Muslim, unemployed, hungry, drug-addicted. All criminalized in the public consciousness, and often in law, by a massive political movement utterly indifferent to the conditions of the majority. Democrats have spent most of this time meekly going along. Or in the case of Nancy Pelosi, Joseph Lieberman and their ilk, actually endorsing the revolting tactics of the Republicans.

Can Obama change this? Are Rahm Emanuel or Robert Rubin counterpoints, loyal opponents, to an Obama liberalism? Or are they shape of things to come?

"Happy Days Are Here Again". Are they?

Hey, They're Catching On! BBC Reports that Obama Is Clintonizing

The BBC headlines a current article, "Is Obama recreating the Clinton era?" Well, clearly not the era, much as he might like to — tried and true route to reelection, if it were possible. Economic good times; a nice, continuous, low-level bombing campaign directed at a largely defenseless population to provide pretty pictures of explosions for the nightly news; undisputed American currency and business dominance.

But can't turn the clock back, can we. So Obama is settle for second best by picking up the pieces — Clintonizing — appointing a raft of Clinton people in any number of capacities. Rahm Emanuel, Robert Rubin, and even Hillary herself.

What will this get him? They lucked out the first time round. But they also laid a good deal of the groundwork for the current disaster.

Both Time and The New Yorker play on the comparisons between Obama and FDR. (Newsweek opts for a Lincoln analogy.) But as John Kenneth Galbraith noted towards the end of his life, FDR had people who approached the Depression, the reconstruction of Japan and Europe, as genuine problems to be solved. What form should a body of law take to provide a democratic foundation for a country heretofore a-democratic. How best do we deliver aid to get an economy back to health. These questions are getting little more than lip-service if the current cabinet prospects are anything to go by.

Obama is choosing idealogues who want to sound smart and inventive but will try to hammer square pegs into round holes, not least because they start from the premise that certain ideas are entirely unacceptable, or worse, reprehensible.


So just as when Hillary (before she became the craven political creature she is now) found herself gravitating towards a single-payer system as the best solution to the healthcare crisis, now the authorities, the 'experts', have already decided some solutions will be ruled out before the evidence and research is in.

This is not problem-solving. So it is bound to fail as a strategy to solve the problem