Thursday, October 30, 2008

Naomi Klein on Bush's Exit Crimes

Naomi Klein has an excellent essay on the Bush and Republicon campaign to loot the United States Treasury, rob from the American people, and in general rape and pillage this nation, something they've been doing anyway since at least the Reagan years.

Klein specifically addresses the theft of bailout funds, a multi-pronged Republicon strategy beginning with the absence of any real control over how recipients spend the funds on to gross overpayment by Paulson and on and on.
In the final days of the election, many Republicans seem to have given up the fight for power. But that doesn't mean they are relaxing. If you want to see real Republican elbow grease, check out the energy going into chucking great chunks of the $700 billion bailout out the door. At a recent Senate Banking Committee hearing, Republican Senator Bob Corker was fixated on this task, and with a clear deadline in mind: inauguration. "How much of it do you think may be actually spent by January 20 or so?" Corker asked Neel Kashkari, the 35-year-old former banker in charge of the bailout.

When European colonialists realized that they had no choice but to hand over power to the indigenous citizens, they would often turn their attention to stripping the local treasury of its gold and grabbing valuable livestock. If they were really nasty, like the Portuguese in Mozambique in the mid-1970s, they poured concrete down the elevator shafts.

The Bush gang prefers bureaucratic instruments: "distressed asset" auctions and the "equity purchase program." But make no mistake: the goal is the same as it was for the defeated Portuguese--a final frantic looting of the public wealth before they hand over the keys to the safe.

How else to make sense of the bizarre decisions that have governed the allocation of the bailout money? When the Bush administration announced it would be injecting $250 billion into America's banks in exchange for equity, the plan was widely referred to as "partial nationalization"--a radical measure required to get the banks lending again. In fact, there has been no nationalization, partial or otherwise. Taxpayers have gained no meaningful control, which is why the banks can spend their windfall as they wish (on bonuses, mergers, savings...) and the government is reduced to pleading that they use a portion of it for loans.

What, then, is the real purpose of the bailout? I fear it is something much more ambitious than a one-off gift to big business--that this bailout has been designed to keep pillaging the Treasury for years to come. Remember, the main concern among big market players, particularly banks, is not the lack of credit but their battered share prices. Investors have lost confidence in the banks' honesty, and with good reason. This is where Treasury's equity pays off big time.

By purchasing stakes in these institutions, Treasury is sending a signal to the market that they are a safe bet. Why safe? Because the government won't be able to afford to let them fail. If these companies get themselves into trouble, investors can assume that the government will keep finding more cash, since allowing them to go down would mean losing its initial equity investments (just look at AIG). That tethering of the public interest to private companies is the real purpose of the bailout plan: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is handing all the companies that are admitted to the program--a number potentially in the thousands--an implicit Treasury Department guarantee. To skittish investors looking for safe places to park their money, these equity deals will be even more comforting than a Triple-A rating from Moody's.

Insurance like that is priceless. But for the banks, the best part is that the government is paying them--in some cases billions of dollars--to accept its seal of approval. For taxpayers, on the other hand, this entire plan is extremely risky, and may well cost significantly more than Paulson's original idea of buying up $700 billion in toxic debts. Now taxpayers aren't just on the hook for the debts but, arguably, for the fate of every corporation that sells them equity.

Interestingly, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both enjoyed this kind of unspoken guarantee. For decades the market understood that, since these private players were enmeshed with the government, Uncle Sam would always save the day. It was the worst of all worlds. Not only were profits privatized while risks were socialized but the implicit government backing created powerful incentives for reckless investments.

Now, with the new equity purchase program, Paulson has taken the discredited Fannie and Freddie model and applied it to a huge swath of the private banking industry. And once again, there is no reason to shy away from risky bets--especially since Treasury has not required the banks to give up high-risk financial instruments in exchange for taxpayer dollars.

To further boost confidence, the federal government has also unveiled unlimited public guarantees for many bank deposit accounts. Oh, and as if this wasn't enough, Treasury has been encouraging the banks to merge with one another, ensuring that the only institutions left standing will be "too big to fail." In three different ways, the market is being told loud and clear that Washington will not allow the country's financial institutions to bear the consequences of their behavior. This may well be Bush's most creative innovation: no-risk capitalism.

There is a glimmer of hope. In answer to Senator Corker's question, Treasury is indeed having trouble dispersing the bailout funds. It has requested about $350 billion of the $700 billion, but most of this hasn't yet made it out the door. Meanwhile, every day it becomes clearer that the bailout was sold on false pretenses. It was never about getting loans flowing. It was always about turning the state into a giant insurance agency for Wall Street--a safety net for the people who need it least, subsidized by the people who need it most.

This grotesque duplicity is an opportunity. Whoever wins the election on November 4 will have enormous moral authority. It can be used to call for a freeze on the dispersal of bailout funds--not after the inauguration, but right away. All deals should be renegotiated immediately, this time with the public getting the guarantees.

It is risky, of course, to interrupt the bailout. The market won't like it. Nothing could be riskier, however, than allowing the Bush gang their parting gift to big business--the gift that will keep on taking.

Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) Took Bribes?

Two Minneapolis-St. Paul reporters try to pin down one of the dumbest Senators ever to bear the title, Norm Coleman. Coleman is being challenged by comedian Al Franken this year. (What continually astonishes me is the number of Americans who assume that our politicians must be reasonably intelligent merely because they hold seats in the Senate or House or Oval Office.)

The Bailout, Day 27

Let's review some landmarks of the bailout to date:
  • A large portion of the money will go to big bank buyouts of smaller institutions (Schwarzman, Blackstone Group)
  • AIG, beneficiary of a separate bailout scheme, is "rapidly running through $123 billion in emergency lending" (New York Times, Oct. 29)
  • Unlike the British, the Treasury has placed few restrictions on how its (meaning our) bailout funds are spent (or not spent).
  • A record $200 billion deficit in U.S. pensions has developed during the current stock turmoil. (Bloomberg, Oct. 29)
  • American Express has announced that 7,000 jobs will be cut. (Bloomberg, Oct. 30) Job cuts so far this year exceed 500,000.


Better Living . . . Through Science! (or How to Save the Earth Without Solving the Problem)

Scientists around the world, some begrungingly, recognize the problem of global warming. Granted, "intelligent design" scientists (1, 2) affiliated with Republicons and the Bush administration are still trying to prove that the Earth is just 6,000 years old. The vast majority of the scientific community, however, has moved from trying to convince the Palinites (aka, idiots or blockheads) to working on what to do.

Now, some might think that if you have a problem like, say, smoking that has bad consequences, one obvious course is to stop doing the thing that causes trouble . . . stop smoking. In the case of the global environment, stop pumping millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

But this is the age of The Modern Human or, as discussed some time ago, Homo funestus — Dead Man or Fatal Human. Why solve a problem when you can balance it out with a new problem?

Thus many scientists are now knocking heads to come up with geo-engineering schemes that might reduce the impact of global warming. Here are some of the brilliant ideas:
  • Mirrors in space, to deflect sunlight away from the earth, previously tried in The Simpsons. Whether Fox or Matt Groening will seek patent protection remains to be seen.
  • More pollution or global sunblock. Seed the atmosphere with still more particles to block light from reaching the Earth's surface. Previously tried in Jimmy Neutron, a 3D animation show for kids.
  • Iron the ocean. Salt the ocean with iron filings to promote growth of plankton that absorb CO2. How this works I have no idea.
Once upon a time, science took great ideas from great science fiction, as in geosynchronous satellites from Arthur C. Clarke. Times have changed.

Nevertheless, scientists are brimming with novel novelties. Still, missing from this impressive list is a brilliant idea recently proposed by yours truly — Earth 2. This is far and away the the most absurd, most implausible and, most importantly, most expensive and therefore most best idea for Saving the Earth Without Actually Solving the Problem. I urge all to contact Congress, especially our most right-wing and dimmest Senators and Representatives, to promote this option.

1. Behe, Michael. 'Professor' of Biochemistry at Lehigh 'University' and Senior CSC Fellow at the 'Discovery' 'Institute'.
2. Discovery Institute.
3. Center for Science and Culture.
4. "Climate damage science studied" in The Guardian, Thursday, 30 October 2008.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Paulson Kicks Billions Back to Goldman Sachs, or Spreading the Wealth Republicon Style

Henry Paulson may be committing crimes by overpaying Goldman Sachs (his old stomping ground) and the eight other financial firms receiving the initial payout from the $700 billion bailout fund.

William Greider of The Nation has summarized and expanded upon the charge brought by Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers Union.

The key is the deal already struck by everybody's favorite financial wiz these days, Warren Buffett. Buffett's deal with Goldman Sachs provides us with the benchmark against which to gauge the deal Paulson has struck, just twenty days following Buffett.

USW's Gerard writes,
"I am sure that someone at Treasury saw the terms of Buffett’s investment. In fact, my suspicion is that you studied it pretty closely and knew exactly what you were doing. The 50-50 deal — 50% invested and 50% as a gift — is quite consistent with the Republican version of the “spread-the-wealth-around” philosophy that seems so much in vogue."
Greider asks the obvious question: Will anyone take notice in the midst of the election campaign chaos?

The question I ask is: Does a Congress beholden to massive donors rather than the People care? Do they already know?

Let your members of Congress know that you know:

Voting Machines that Suck and Politics Has Nothing to Do With It

This via Gizmodo:

Remember the voting machines in West Virginia that just couldn't bring themselves to let people vote Obama? Jackson County Clerk Jeff Waybright, who "hates stories like this" was good enough to show Video the Vote how a mis-calibrated voting machine would take a vote for Obama (or anyone) and turn it into a vote for another candidate—and not necessarily John McCain, either, though that's what would happen if you picked a straight Democratic ticket.

Fortunately, New York State is still using machines from the 1940s and 50s, so we don't need to worry about our votes being changed. We just need to worry about our votes being tallied at all.

In Case You Forgot, the Environment is a Disaster

The World Wildlife Fund has released its Living Planet Report. There's some good news and there's some bad news.

The good news is: We ain't dead yet. The bad news is: We will be, we will be.

The report concludes that "Humanity's demands exceed our planet's capacity to sustain us" (as if that was news). Britain's Guardian newspaper has a nice summation of the reports findings, which can be boiled down to
"[H]umans are using 30% more resources than the Earth can replenish each year, which is leading to deforestation, degraded soils, polluted air and water, and dramatic declines in numbers of fish and other species."
That's the average for the world as a whole. Humans in civilized countries like the United States are only using maybe 900% more resources than the Earth can replenish.

People like Michael Bloomberg or Stephen Schwarzman (the Blackstone chief who threw himself a multi-million dollar birthday party) use 100,000% more than the Earth can replenish. BUT THAT IS THEIR GOD-GIVEN RIGHT, by God! And if you suggest otherwise, you're an America-hating, Palin-bashing, anti-American Commie Pinko Socialist Marxist Anarcho-syndicalist BASTURD!

BUT there is a silver lining:

IF, by the 2030s (a big twenty years away), we can find A SECOND EARTH, we can all keep living just the way we are now.

So, Solution 1: The Earth 2 Buyout Fund. Congress must allocate $750 TRILLION to find and acquire Earth 2. Alternatively, we can use Earth 1 to build Earth 2. . . . No, no, that's not it. We can clone Earth 1. Or maybe we can do that thing like in Arthur C. Clarke's 2010, only use Jupiter to manufacture Earth 2. That would create jobs. (I am announcing my candidacy for President of the United Nations based on a platform of job creation through Jupiter reconstruction for Earth 2.)

Solution 2, favored by Republicons, Bloombergs and other fascists: Find a way for 99.99% of the world's population to live on 10% of the absolute minimum needed for basic human survival so that Wall Street, innately superior Corporate Executives, and members of Congress can live on the remaining 100,000%. Advantage: This is the solution already being worked on by Michael Bloomberg, Bush, McCon, Palin, and company.

Do I sound a little sarcastic? Pessimistic? Cynical? I apologize. Something about chronically suicidal, species-wide self-annihilation, endorsed by the enlightened 'experts' and 'leaders', just gets me a little down. That's all.

Plus. . . . I have a friggin' cold.

In the future, I will do my best to be more optimistic about the tiny tiny minority of self-appointed über-supremicists destroying the lives of the rest of us.


More Good News! Bonuses Are UP!

According to Bloomberg News,
"More than one-third of Wall Street employees . . . expect a bigger bonus this year than last year even amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression."
Guess where the money for those bonuses will be coming from. Have you lost your job this year? Faced pressure to accept a pay cut? Wondering how to pay off the credit cards? Worried about your mortgage?

Fuhgeddaboudit! Your taxes will be going UP UP UP so that Wall Street Billionaires can amass more billions. Billions in bonuses for destroying the world economy. Maybe these people also feel the Nazis deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dow Up 10% — Nearly 900 Points — What's the Good News?

Consumer confidence dropped to its lowest point ever.

Prices of single-family homes dropped by the greatest percentage ever in August.

New York State Governor Paterson forecast a budget shortfall next year of $12.5 billion (up nearly 100% from what was projected a few months ago) and a total of $47 BILLION in shortfalls over the years ahead.

Job losses for New York State will likely exceed 150,000.

Job losses nationwide for 2008 currently exceed 500,000 (yeah, half a million).

Time, Inc. is cutting 600 jobs (10% of workforce).

Whirlpool plans to cut 5,000 jobs (6.8% of workers).

Home foreclosures continue at a pace unprecedented in American history.

This is the kind of good news that lifts the hearts and minds of Wall Street. AND, there are bargains to be had! The Fed may lower interest rates on Wednesday, October 28! SO BUY! BUY! BUY!

More important, the bad news is bad for regular people — 'Main Street' in the term of the day — so Wall Street reacts favorably. Make average and poor Americans poorer, Wall Street gets richer. And with the Bailout, the government has abandoned any pretense of acting in the public's interest.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bailout for BONUSES!

Weegee. "The Critic", November 22, 1943. The war was on. We were still in the Depression. Look familiar?
The sheer Audacity of Greed. This is why the architects of Christianity invented Hell. There has to be some place where justice is finally meted out to evil monsters who steal from us and run organized crime machines like Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Lehman, Bank of America, and on and on. The People need some assurance that sooner or later these revolting worms will get what the United States government is absolutely unwilling to do. Thus Heaven for the poor, Hell for the leaches who make us poor. (1)

What am I raving about? The Boneses for Wall Street execs. Bloomberg news has a report on the BILLIONS being set aside by Goldman Sachs and others to kick back to their financial charlatans this holiday season.

My guess is that Michael Bloomberg, if he says anything, will support these kickbacks. First, these thieves are his friends. Second, for years it has been their obscene pay — and theirs alone — that has sustained the broader obscenity of New York City real estate prices.

Things were already bad. Over a year ago, reports flashed across the journalistic radar of the multimillion dollar party that Blackstone head Stephen Schwarzman had thrown for himself. But now We the People are pulling their asses out of the fire. We get laid off. We lose our homes. And they get bonuses totalling billions and billions of dollars. Perhaps Andrew Cuomo or someone with a comparable sense of decency will go after these beasts. We can be sure it will not be anyone in Washington, DC, including, I suspect, Barack Obama if elected.

The Schwarzman 60th birthday bash in 2007 included $1 million for Rod Stewart. Schwarzman, a Republicon, has said, "I don’t feel like a wealthy person."
I'm trying to imagine some historical or fictional representation of the poor or regular people coming upon the trappings of wealth.

Perhaps A Night To Remember — the classic 50s film about the sinking of the Titanic — when the steerage passengers, initially barred from reaching lifeboats (fact), finally break through the gates and pass through the first class areas of the ship.

Or perhaps the experience of the French peasants on overthrowing Louis XVI and seeing, however briefly the staggering wealth of the monarchy (before the Reign of Terror and Robespierre et al. tried to make themselves monarchs in all but name) .

It should bring tears to our eyes. Or rage. But most Americans seem unmoved. Rather, people lionize, idolize — American Idolize — the rich. "Future, Heaven of the poor" said poet W. S. Merwin. "In the Future, I'll win the lottery, become a star baseball player, an actor. I'll be rich, so they are my peers." Needless to say, the rich do not agree. Years ago, when I lived in Boston, a report emerged during a surge of public opposition to a very modest tax increase: Of those who bought lottery tickets, most spent more on lottery tickets than they paid in taxes each year. Such is the state of our delusions.

For a moment, we were moved by the bailout, moved to flood Congress with calls and emails. So the first pass at a bailout bombed. But now it's old news. And people like "Joe the Plumber" — middle class people — can still seriously fret over 'tax and spend' Democrats, as if a lottery win were just around the corner, just about to make us millionaires and catapult us into the party with Michael Bloomberg, Stephen Schwarzman, Henry Paulson.

Where are our tears? If We the People have no sense of decency, how can we condemn the self-appointed UberVölk of Congress and Wall Street?



I don't know much about the intellectual history of Western religion, but it has always seemed to me that religion played a terribly important role in mollifying a possibly restless serfdom. "Things suck now, and the Lords live off the fat of our labour, but someday we will be rewarded for our suffering." Thus the religious class taught the poor while, of course, allowing the rich to buy their 'indulgences' for entry to Heaven.

Today, the religious class roughly parallels the politically powerful. (Not quite right, because we worship before the feet of the corporate elite, too.) The rich corporate Titans buy their indulgences in the form of bribes (called campaign contributions) to politicians.

I don't think it's any coincidence that, as times have gotten worse in recent years and particularly as disparities in the distribution of wealth of grown ever more extreme, people are turning more to religion. Increasingly, Americans are abandoning any hope of a good life and praying instead for a good life after.

2. New York Times essayist and conservative idiot Ben Stein has some vaguely relevant blather about a year ago. It should surprise none that he was dead wrong on very nearly every point. But he has a cool Ivy degree and that annoying delivery, so he must have been right even though he was wrong. That's religion, folks.

3. The Bride Wore Ritzy. New York Times, 22 April 2008

Attack of the Bailout Behemoth

We've already heard that the insurance and automotive industries are nosing up to the trough for money money money from Uncle Sam — meaning Us. The US slot is payin' big time, and the bigger you are, the bigger you get!

The Christian Science Monitor has a nice little survey of the Mighty Morphin' Money Machine.

Now, the US (unlike the British) has included NO requirement that banks actually dole out the money they get. As many have noted, Goldman Sachs et al. could just sit on that pile of dough until hell freezes over — or until it's Bonus Time in Bloombergburg.

What the insurance industry or the car makers will do if they get on the gravy train is anybody's guess. But we can safely say it won't involve cutting insurance rates, lowering car prices, or guaranteeing a better product (e.g., affordable hybrid autos).

Back in the 80s the US car makers moaned and moaned and moaned — "boo hoo boo hoo, if only we could get a little breathing space from the Japanese, we could improve our cars and become more competitive". The Japanese gave in to the sob story, voluntarily restricted exports to the US.

What did Our Glorious Car Makers do? They raised prices.

The Shape of Things to Come.


Broken Securities Industry Still Has $20 Billion to Pay Bonuses. Bloomberg, 27 October 2008.
Five straight quarters of losses and a 70 percent slide in its stock this year haven't stopped Merrill Lynch & Co. from allocating about $6.7 billion to pay bonuses.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, both still on track for profitable years, have set aside about $13 billion for bonuses after three quarters, down 28 percent from a year ago. Even some employees at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which declared the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history last month, will get the same bonus they received a year ago.

Merrill Brokers May Get Big Bonuses to Stay
. New York Times, 24 October 2008

Car makers may be next up for bailout. CNN, 27 October 2008


Sunday, October 26, 2008

So the US Didn't Attack Iran (which could defend itself)

The US under the Bush regime has engaged in another act of war — an aerial attack within the borders of Syria. Syrian officials are saying that four children are among the dead.

A US attack on Syria would fit a recent pattern, that of attacking third party nations in which the US has no declared hostility, most notably Pakistan, where the US has repeatedly attacked, frequently using drones (unpiloted, remotely controlled aircraft) and causing numerous civilian casualties.

For over two years, there has been speculation whether Bush and his band of war criminals would try an October surprise style attack on Iran. Plenty of Bush insiders and 'advisers' have advocated such an attack. The problems: (1) Iran can actually defend itself, even to the point of attack beyond its borders and (2) too politically risky if seen as nothing more than a Republicon grab for votes.

But Syria. . . . Well, Israel attacked with American support (perhaps even actual air support) in September, 2007, and the Europe and North America remained silent. More important, for cowards such as those that infest the Bush regime, Syria is far less able to defend itself than Iran:
  • poorer - virtually no oil wealth, GDP of $90 billion versus Iran's $763 billion
  • smaller - 185,000 sq km as opposed to 1.6 million sq km
  • far fewer people - 20 million as opposed to 66 million
  • more accessible - particularly to naval forces in the Mediterranean and airforces in Turkey
  • border US ally - namely Israel
  • vastly weaker military - less than $5 billion in Syrian military spending v. $19 billion in expenditures for the Iranian military
But most importantly, NO ECONOMIC BLOWBACK in a Syria attack. Iran can threaten Gulf oil shipments and of course is a major source of oil itself. The last thing the US and Republicons want is a spike in oil prices prompted by a drastic cut in supplies.

So is this the beginning of a late October Surprise to aid the McCon campaign? Probably not. McCain is beyond hope.

More likely, the Bush brigade realizes that once the election is over, they really have nothing to lose anymore.

The Guardian quotes Joshua Landis (Co-director, Center for Middle East Studies University of Oklahoma): "The Bush administration must assume that an Obama victory will force Syria to behave nicely in order to win favour with the new administration. Thus White House analysts may assume that it can have a "freebee" - taking a bit of personal revenge on Syria without the US paying a price."

References (as of 11:50pm, Sunday, 26 October, 2008)

'US troops' strike inside Syria
. BBC. The BBC is fond of single quotation marks these days. Why . . . the effect is to cast doubt.

US forces kill eight in helicopter raid on Syria
. The Guardian.

Syrians Blame U.S. in Deadly Blast on Iraq Border. New York Times. The Times makes no mention of children killed — a pretty standard Times omission. Note also how the Times describes a "deadly blast" — avoiding any ascription of guilt.

Syria accuses US of deadly raid. al-Jazeera.

U.S. confirms strike on Syria that killed eight
. Ha'aretz.

ANALYSIS / U.S. takes page from Israel's book in Syria Strike
. Amos Harel. Ha'aretz. Harel takes a view somewhat reminiscent of my own: "Those who anticipated an American bombing of Iran on the eve of the presidential elections or immediately after must for the moment be satisfied with a somewhat lesser replacement: the helicopter attack Sunday night in north-eastern Syria. "

Syria accuses U.S. in deadly helicopter attack. Syria Comment.


Joe the Asshole's (I mean Plumber's) Party

Here's the real reason the Republicons have to paint Obama and Democrats as "socialists" (a label Democrats should embrace, but that's another story). Republicon expenses certainly clarify why the Spend & Spend Party doesn't want to "spread the wealth" — how can a body possibly get by on a $50 haircut when a $10,000 style wins so many votes?!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Shhhh. . . . It's the "S" Word

John McCain is turning to the golden oldies as his campaign burns. Charge Obama as a "tax and spend" liberal or even . . . a SOCIALIST.

The "S" word has American journalists in a dither. Is the bailout SOCIALISM? Soon to come to this very website . . . The TEST. You too may be a SOCIALIST! Answer ten simple questions and find out. Check back here.

In the meantime, listen to a terribly terribly concerned 60 Minutes JOURNALIST ask a CORPORATE EXECUTIVE if we've all become awful, evil, god-denying SOCIALISTS.

The answer? We have the same thing we had six months ago. A Government in the Service of Corporate America. State Capitalism. Take from the poor and middle class, give to the rich.

The World Wants Obama

Don't let the Americans know. Xenophobia alone could swing the vote McCain's way if The Economist's poll makes headlines. The Economist map is interactive and very thorough, but also suspect. It pegs support for Obama in the US electoral college at 80%.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Gestural Language of John McCain

Journalists, loathe to investigate, scrutinize, analyze, or report on matters of substance, often obsess on things like "body language". The kicker is that, even when they still don't do anything substantive. There really is something to be seen in body language, especially that of John McCain. Reporters still ignore it. (Hear them speak of many politicians as friends, and we may have the explanation.)

I believe that McCain, like Nixon before him, is fighting an inclination to withdraw, or a tension between that inclination and the need to prove himself. After all, his father and grandfather were, in the American context, great successes — both admirals.

Struggling with this tension, McCain exhibits a strained effusiveness through which the real, closed McCain unavoidably emerges. He keeps his arms out like a wrestler (and he was a wrestler in high school). He's a small man, physically, so this is partly a 'puffer-fish' display — a way to make himself seem marginally larger. But it is also suggestive of a person who feels trapped and is trying to push his arms out against the box trapping him.

Other gestures are quite familiar to anyone who sees a few of his appearances — the thumbs up, the tight-fingers-together flat-handed gesture. Late comedian Chris Farley used this second gesture a lot. Not sure what it's about. Very emphatic, directive, directorial. "Look! Don't you see?! Isn't it obvious?"

These are all indicative of a severely repressed personality. This is also indicated by his early military record, from his time in the Naval Academy. He was something of a loose cannon, given to drink, etc. This a man who was struggling against a family history of control. Who knows, maybe he got shot down and chose to stay in the 'Hanoi Hilton' as part of a buried desire for death. ("buried desire for death" I make joke)

He must also feel some ambivalence over his "war hero" status. After all, what's his claim to fame? Getting shot down?! That makes you a hero? Landing in prison? And when did he get shot down? When he was bombing civilians! Operation Rolling Thunder. A war crime. So his big moment before the cameras was for something almost entirely out of his control. And he was a famous prisoner because of . . . his father and grandfather!

(That none can raise or challenge this in the pop media tells us again just how cowed the 'fourth estate' really is.)

This also puts the Palin choice is a very different light. McCain really did choose his opposite number. He chose someone who seems genuinely at ease with being out there, on display (Palin was third in the 1984 Miss Alaska 'beauty pageant'). She makes a mistake, a big one, and she justs smiles on. Similarly, McCain's first wife modeled for a time. Cindy McCain was a cheerleader (a role she continues to this day).

I almost feel sorry for the sap.

McCainisti Steal Obama Signs . . . On Candid Camera

The person was caught at least twice on camera stealing signs.

Republicons Seek to Steal Another Election

Tina Fey and Will Ferrell Bushify and Palinize

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Patricia Williams in The Nation

No president in American history has more systematically, more thoroughly, more brazenly failed to uphold his oath of office. Indeed, the Bush administration in all but name directly rejected any obligation or duty incumbent on the Office of the President under the Constitution and Laws of the United States.

This is what I take from an important essay by Columbia law professor Patricia Williams (slightly reformatted by your resident ranter to emphasize some content). Many, many other scholars, observers and just plain folks have made similar observations at different times and contexts.

Predatory Scapegoating
by Patricia J. Williams

Some three weeks before New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign his office in disgrace (sex! scandal! floozies!), he published an op-ed in the Washington Post. Titled "Predatory Lenders' Partner in Crime: How the Bush Administration Stopped the States From Stepping In to Help Consumers," the piece expressed Spitzer's concern that for several years there had been a marked increase in predatory lending practices, including distortion of terms, surprise balloon payments, hidden fees and deceptive "teaser" rates. These practices, he wrote, were having a "devastating effect on home buyers." In addition, the sheer number of such transactions, "if left unchecked, threaten...our financial markets." To those in the know (OK, those few egghead "elites" not enthralled by the birth of the Brangelina twins), the situation loomed so egregious that the attorneys general of all fifty states, both Democrats and Republicans, lodged suits against the worst predatory subprime lenders. A number of states, including New York, passed laws to rein in such practices.

The response was shocking, and not nearly well-publicized enough: the Bush administration employed a little-used 1863 law to annul all state antipredatory-lending laws and, if that wasn't enough, to block states from enforcing their own consumer protection laws in suits against national banks. Thus, when Spitzer tried to open an investigation into discriminatory mortgage lending in New York, the administration actually filed a federal lawsuit to block it. These interventions were so extreme and so unprecedented that the attorneys general and the banking superintendents of all fifty states came together to oppose the rulings unanimously. But to no avail.

It is worth quoting the last paragraph of Spitzer's op-ed in its entirety:

"When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners, the Bush administration will not be judged favorably. The tale is still unfolding, but when the dust settles, it will be judged as a willing accomplice to the lenders who went to any lengths in their quest for profits. So willing, in fact, that it used the power of the federal government in an unprecedented assault on state legislatures, as well as on state attorneys general and anyone else on the side of consumers."

Spitzer wrote his article eight months ago, in February. To some, it might be tempting to characterize his observations as prescient. It's probably more accurate to say that Spitzer just had his eyes open (if not for Mata Hari) — and he was not alone. Nobel Prize winner and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been sounding the knell for a very long time. But, frankly, I worry that even now there is too little attention — in media or in political debate — to the incremental ingredients of this crisis. For it is not merely a failure to regulate Wall Street; it's a failure to govern at all.

  • The FDA is packed with industry insiders who seem content with the gross understaffing of inspections bureaus. Animal feed laced with melamine was imported from China, consumed here and has now entered the human food chain.
  • Nontherapeutic experimentation with pesticides on humans has been given the nod.
  • Pharmaceutical companies have gotten approval for drugs like Vioxx and Fen-Phen that should never have been put on the market.
  • Efforts by farmers to do voluntary testing for mad cow disease have been blocked by the Agriculture Department.
  • The Justice Department's civil rights division has been gutted.
  • The FCC has hacked away at public access to the airways and OK'd obscene concentrations of media power.
  • The Transportation Department is underfunded beyond all conscience, and the toll has been tragic: collapsed bridges, breached levees up and down the Mississippi and nearly unnavigable railroad tracks.
  • And FEMA... well, we all remember FEMA.

Maybe now is not the time to be ungraciously partisan; perhaps in the middle of the tornado we "don't want to argue about causes," as Sarah Palin said of global warming. But let's make one thing crystal clear: neither this global economic catastrophe nor the impending plunge in our standard of living is the fault of poor blacks or other disenfranchised minorities. It should be obvious, I suppose: African-Americans are only about 13 percent of the population, and about 48 percent of them are homeowners. Yet I emphasize this because to listen to some widely exported theories by John McCain's surrogates and right-leaning radio shock jocks, you could get the impression that this all came about because penniless black slackers took out home loans they were just as unqualified for as the jobs they stole from more qualified white contenders.

Perhaps the most insidious and ubiquitous propagation of this imagery is the McCain ad that features a scary photo of Franklin Raines, former head of Fannie Mae, the single black head of any organization implicated in this mess. Yet of all the hundreds of CEOs, crooks and swindlers who could be named — from Ken Lay to AIG's Christopher Swift to Jack Abramoff — it is Raines who is used as the Willie Horton-ized whipping boy of civilization's downfall. This is pure manipulation: Raines is not connected in any way to Barack Obama. Yet McCain's campaign director was a top manager at Fannie Mae. If we must look for figureheads, allow me to nominate George Herbert Walker IV, who just happens to be George W. Bush's second cousin. He also happens to be Lehman Brothers' investment management director, who, just before the firm's collapse, dismissed a suggestion from the asset management firm Neuberger Berman that top executives forgo their multimillion-dollar bonuses so as to "send a strong message...that management is not shirking accountability for recent performance." Walker actually apologized that the very notion had been circulated: "Sorry team. I am not sure what's in the water at Neuberger Berman. I'm embarrassed and I apologize."

Leathery Toad Channels Bart Simpson Before Congress

The economic war criminal Alan Greenspan was uncharacteristically intelligible in what will likely be the closest he offers by way of an apology. Greenspan joins Robert Rubin, William Donaldson, Henry Paulson and the cast of thousands in substantially avoiding any admission of his own role in an economic disaster for which WE THE PEOPLE will be held to account.

Greenspan effectively said, "I can't help feeling partly responsible." This is one of the leading advocates of deregulation in the history of modern economics.

Still the media faun all over him, just as they do with all of these arrogant shits. Charlie Rose had "Ace" Greenberg on last night (October 22nd). Now, Rose's specialty is grovelling before those whom he admires or with whom he agrees and being obnoxious to any others. But Rose outdid himself, even compared to recent interviews with Warren Buffett and Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg (no relation to "Ace").

The New York Times, meanwhile, invited Myron Scholes (vide Wikipedia) of Long Term Capital Management notoriety to suggest questions for Obama and McCain — no mention of Scholes's vested interest in covering up the roots of this absurd, obscene bailout.

And NPR interviewed William Donaldson, former head of the SEC and also a major advocate of deregulation. NPR accepted at face value Donaldson's claim that he voted for more regulation while at the SEC. Presumably that translates as "There was this one time I voted for spending less on coffee at our daily briefings". Donaldson was at the helm when the SEC released Goldman Sachs (then headed by Henry Paulson) and other investment firms from the "net capital rule" in April, 2004, effectively allowing the firms to go into unlimited debt.

Likewise, Robert Rubin (also from Goldman Sachs), now advising the Obama campaign, advocated for deregulation while Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton years.

See the connections?

It's as if the captain of the Titanic had survived and instantly been offered the command of another great passenger liner by his buddies formerly in the navy with him.

In truth, this should come as no surprise. Ours is an authority-driven society. Thus, a degree from Harvard Business School can mask a multitude of sins.

We have a hybridized Buddy-Authority System (BAS). The figures in positions of authority are all buddies. They cover for one another. And they make damn sure that major media figures are also buddies, thus ensuring friendly media coverage — as if the air of authority were not already sufficient to intimidate weak-minded, not particularly well-educated journalists. Not that these journalists don't have excellent credentials — they have their equivalents of the Harvard MBA — but the notion of actually digging for truth is utterly alien to them, particularly when doing so threatens access, buddy status, or professional acceptance.

Again, no surprise. It was ever thus. The Brits couldn't conceive that Kim Philby was a spy. "He's an old Etonian! We were at Oxford together! Pish posh." And Caesar: "Et tu, Brute?"

At the head of this was the God Greenspan. We have to wonder, "Is there any depth to which conditions could descend which would prompt genuine doubt about Greenspan and his ilk?"

Fortunately, in the midst of these yea-sayers, there are the intellectuals, in the sense that Edward Said meant — the real questioners, the Mark Twains or Chomskys or Galbraiths. (See Representations of the Intellectual, 1996)

Would that Galbraith were still alive. In his last years, he wrote on precisely the phenomenon we are now witnessing (A Short History of Financial Euphoria, 1990 and 1993):
In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone. . . . In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong. . . . There is something wonderful in seeing a wrong-headed majority assailed by truth.

New York City 9th Most Unequal On Earth

A new United Nations report on the State of the World's cities finds that New York is one of the most unequal in the world, and the most unequal in North America or Western Europe. 'Ahead' of New York are cities in southern Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean. By contrast, Beijing is one of the most equal cities in the world.

Moreover, "The life expectancy of African-Americans in the US is about the same as that of people living in China and some states of India. . . ."

Want to guess on whether Mayor Blunderbuss Bloomberg will have anything to say on this?

See also: "Wealth Gap Creating a Social Time Bomb" in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NPR — National Plutocrat Radio

Where is the public in National Public Radio? In the past 20 years or so, it has steadily ceased to be what it promised at the time of its founding (if it ever was that to begin with).

Coverage of the Middle East, the US government and especially its foreign policy, and virtually any topic that requires more than a generic bachelors degree in some gut subject goes woefully under-reported. The most notable individual cases coming immediately to mind are Nina Totenberg's glaring failure to follow up after she broke the Anita Hill challenge to Clarence Thomas in 1991 and the consistently biased reporting from Israel/Palestine of Linda Gradstein, who was found to have accepted payment from pro-Israel organizations in violation of NPR's own published standards.

NPR's coverage of the first Gulf War and now of the Iraq War was almost devoid of anything that would pass for journalistic scrutiny. Now its coverage of the Wall Street chaos is matching that low.

In the case of Wall Street we should perhaps expect this. Among NPR's Board of Directors are several with degrees from Harvard, Chicago, Yale — institutions well-represented on Wall Street and in recent administrations — but more importantly, institutions that lead the US in encouraging and unquestioning acceptance of and obedience to "authority". Scroll to the end of this entry for a brief rundown of some of the behind-the-scenes automatons at NPR.

Below is an expanded version of a letter sent to NPR regarding its October 22nd interview with former SEC chair William Donaldson:
NPR continues its grossly inadequate, essentially conservative, reporting on the financial crisis with its October 22nd interview of William Donaldson.

Absent from NPR's interview is any mention that Donaldson was Chairman of the SEC during a crucial period of deregulation. Donaldson’s comments about deregulation are hardly those of a disinterested "expert". Like Robert Rubin and others, he now has a vested interest in protecting his own reputation (and now doubt his considerable personal wealth).

Indeed, Donaldson, like the rest of the SEC, uniformly advocated deregulation. In April 2004, the SEC released firms like Goldman Sachs (then lead by Henry Paulson) from the "net capital rule" which required them to hold in reserve capital, effectively limiting their borrowing. This was a crucial step in the lead-up to the current chaos.

Donaldson is quite wrong when he describes the US as the "gold standard" on deregulation. The Europeans -- on a number of fronts, not just financial -- have advocated greater regulation to protect average people (as opposed to protecting the wealthy or priviledged) and out of what many might say is an interpretation of democratic principles which surpasses that of the nation that calls itself the “world’s greatest democracy”.

As for the specific claim that better (meaning, more lax) US regulation made the US more attractive to investors globally: Of course the US was more attractive when it was easier to make a quick buck here. How attractive is the US now?

It is genuinely astonishing, and shameful, that NPR fails utterly to question Donaldson on exactly those points where he has a personal axe to grind. NPR brings out NONE of Donaldson's personal record, none of the points on which his personal record is relevant. Surely an awareness of his own involvement would influence listeners' willingness to take another Wall Street snake-oil salesman at his word.

This is entirely in keeping with NPR's reporting which has largely failed to investigate or scrutinize either the Wall Street failures or the government and business claims about them.

One telling characteristic of interviews like today’s is that NPR (and many other American news businesses) abandon the “he said/she said” approach which will be found in discussions of, say, evolution vs. “intelligent design”. There are many flaws in that approach, but on topics like that addressed by Donaldson, that approach might serve quite well. But of course, it might also serve to undermine the line that Donaldson is taking, a line that NPR has bought into over weeks of reporting.
Here's a rundown of some of NPR's board members:
  • Kevin Klose, President of NPR - B.A. Harvard
  • Antoine W. van Agtmael, Chair of NPR Foundation - M.A. Yale, M.B.A. NYU Stern
  • John A. Herrmann Jr., Vice Chairman of Lincoln International, former Managing Director in the M&A practice at JP Morgan Securities - B.A. Yale, M.B.A. Harvard
  • Lyle Logan, Executive Vice President, The Northern Trust Company - M.B.A. Chicago
  • Howard H. Stevenson, Baker Foundation Professor and the Sarofim-Rock Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus at Harvard Business School
These are people (and granted, there are more people at NPR) who share, with the exception of Klose, one key characteristic — a lust for money and a degree from one of the indoctrinating institutions of money. They all share an education in institutions which today show little evidence of encouraging critical analysis but rather encourage mindless obedience while at the same time encouraging their students to believe in their own innate superiority.

McCain Under the Lens

Try that McCain hand gesture. It tires the hands quickly. Not a gesture that comes naturally at all — especially not with that level of control.

This is a man who is constantly straining to restrain himself. Major behavior modification techniques at work. This guy fears that, if he loses control, the real McCain will be seen.

If (let us hope) he loses, watch for reports of titanic rages behind the scenes. No real prediction here. He's already known for a volcanic temper. A current New Yorker essay reports that he's enraged at how the Palin pick has turned out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

$150,000 For Palin's Clothes in Three Months

The "real American" is now a clothes horse for a wardrobe costing THREE TIMES what the average American makes in one year. And the Republicons spent this in three months.

Ancient microbes made giant magnets

Scientists have unearthed giant magnetic fossils, the remnants of microbes buried in 55-million-year-old sediment. The growth of these unusual structures during a period of massive global warming provides clues about how climate change might alter the behaviour of organisms.


Monday, October 20, 2008

HEY! The Moon is MINE!

Guardian reports on unmanned moon mission that will see a flag planting, or more accurately, a flag dropping.
India's unmanned moon mission may launch race for lunar landgrab
• Satellite hopes to map surface for rare helium 3
• Critics say cash is wasted while millions go hungry

It will be a small step for mankind, but a giant leap forward for India. In a boost to national prestige, the country will launch its first unmanned moon mission tomorrow - blasting its Chandrayaan satellite into space from an island off the Bay of Bengal, using a domestically produced rocket system. In doing so, it will match China, which last year became the first Asian nation to send a satellite to orbit the moon, signalling the possibility of a race for mineral wealth on the lunar surface.

If all goes to plan, India's tricolour flag should be drifting down towards the freezing, airless lunar surface as dawn breaks over the subcontinent on November 11.


Lloyds Chief Tells Staff They'll Still Get Bonuses

Think anything like this is happening here in the US. Frankly, I'm relieved. It pained me to think of millionaires and billionaires going hungry this holiday season -- unable to afford $20,000 bottles of wine, $1000 per ounce caviar. The thought is too terrible to contemplate.

The chief executive of Lloyds TSB, one of the banks participating in the £37bn bank bail-out, has promised staff they will receive bonuses this year despite Gordon Brown's promise of a crackdown on bankers' pay following the investment by taxpayers.

Eric Daniels has told employees that the historic government intervention will not change the behaviour of Lloyds, which is in the throes of the rescue takeover of HBOS brokered by the prime minister.

In a recorded message to employees, Daniels stressed that the bank faced "very, very few restrictions" in its behaviour despite the injection of up to £5.5bn of taxpayers' funds. "If you think about it, the first restriction was not to pay bonuses. Well Lloyds TSB is in fact going to pay bonuses. I think our staff have done a terrific job this year. There is no reason why we shouldn't," said Daniels.

The Idiots Who Rule America

Excellent essay by former Times reporter Chris Hedges:

Our oligarchic class is incompetent at governing, managing the economy, coping with natural disasters, educating our young, handling foreign affairs, providing basic services like health care and safeguarding individual rights. That it is still in power, and will remain in power after this election, is a testament to our inability to separate illusion from reality. We still believe in “the experts.” They still believe in themselves. They are clustered like flies swarming around John McCain and Barack Obama. It is only when these elites are exposed as incompetent parasites and dethroned that we will have any hope of restoring social, economic and political order.

“Their inability to see the human as anything more than interest driven made it impossible for them to imagine an actively organized pool of disinterest called the public good,” said the Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul, whose books “The Unconscious Civilization” and “Voltaire’s Bastards” excoriates our oligarchic elites. “It is as if the Industrial Revolution had caused a severe mental trauma, one that still reaches out and extinguishes the memory of certain people. For them, modern history begins from a big explosion—the Industrial Revolution. This is a standard ideological approach: a star crosses the sky, a meteor explodes, and history begins anew.”

Our elites—the ones in Congress, the ones on Wall Street and the ones being produced at prestigious universities and business schools—do not have the capacity to fix our financial mess. Indeed, they will make it worse. They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have received, of the common good. They are stunted, timid and uncreative bureaucrats who are trained to carry out systems management. They see only piecemeal solutions which will satisfy the corporate structure. They are about numbers, profits and personal advancement. They are as able to deny gravely ill people medical coverage to increase company profits as they are able to use taxpayer dollars to peddle costly weapons systems to blood-soaked dictatorships. The human consequences never figure into their balance sheets. The democratic system, they think, is a secondary product of the free market. And they slavishly serve the market.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Truth Really Is Stranger

I thought I had outdone the braindead bigots of the McCain-Palin campaign, but here is proof otherwise. At a rally in Minnesota, an attendee with a placard comparing Obama to Charles Manson.

Try getting into a Republican rally of any kind with so much as a button questioning any aspect of Republicon bullshit and you'll be stopped. So there is no doubting that officials allowed this placard in. And clearly, from the video, neither Todd Palin nor Norm Coleman said a word in criticism.

Coleman is at left, Palin at mike. Coleman is arguably one of the stupidest people ever to occupy a senate seat, and you'd be surprised how stupid many of them are — or maybe you wouldn't. (And I don't mean stupid in some hollow, rhetorical sense. Many of these members are remarkably ill-informed, and incapable of grasping anything beyond the simplest ideas.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Republicons, led by John McCon and Sarah Plain, are pulling out the stops. Desperation will do that. Remember that this is a guy who tells us that experience — most especially the experience of Vietnam — has prepared him for all the troubles that might come down upon us. But McCon is acting more like the folks in a Hollywood spoof. PANIC! PANIC! He and Sarah are running around like the sky is falling.

So here's a partial rundown of the charges:
  • Obama is a socialist.
  • Obama is a mole for "jihadis"
  • Obama is a crypto-Muslim
  • Obama would let people like Mohommed Atta get a driver's license
  • Obama is palling around with terrorists
  • Obama pals around with uppity blacks like Jeremiah Wright
Who's this supposed to win over? Reagan Democrats — also known as "racists"? Barefaced, unabashed racists — also known as "Conservatives"?

Clearly, McCon and his Eva Braun need a little help. So it's time for a contest:


There need to be some ground rules:
  1. Obama can only be blamed for events since 1900. Dred Scott decision is impermissible (bad example anyway, because McCain/Palin support Dred Scott). Benedict Arnold is right out.
  2. Obama can only be blamed for events that will happen before the sun goes nova. End of the universe is off limits.
  3. No dead languages, please. Welsh, Aramaic, French — all fine. No Etruscan.
  4. Please avoid glaring contradictions (all other contradictions are fine). So blaming Obama for the US getting into Vietnam and for losing Vietnam is a stretch.
  5. If you do feel compelled to blame Obama for something unusual like, say, the Crucifixion of Christ, please make it plausible — Obama will need a time machine.
Submitting your candidates (candidates, get it? . . . I made myself laugh)
Or . . .

Write your suggestion on the most offensive postcard you can find and mail to:
John McCain 2008
P.O. Box 16118
Arlington, VA 22215

Or call 703-418-2008

Send in your idea and if McCain wins,
you get a "Special IRS Audit". So it's a win-win!

Coral Reefs and Dumb Human Schemes to Save Them

As opposed to changing human behavior to save them.

Courtesy of New Scientist:
Mission implausible: Extreme schemes to save the reefs FIRST the bad news. The planet's coral reefs are up against it. They face a barrage of threats: burial by sediment eroding from deforested lands, strangulation by algae thriving on fertiliser runoff, overfishing of species vital for reef health, damage by anchors, toxic pollution - the list goes on and on.

As if that wasn't bad enough, soaring levels of carbon dioxide are making seawater more acidic, which will make it harder and harder for coral polyps to build their rigid skeletons.

Worst of all, when seawater gets abnormally hot, the brightly coloured symbiotic algae that live within tropical corals and produce most of their food disappear, leaving their hosts vulnerable to starvation and disease. With global warming kicking in, such "bleaching" episodes are becoming more and more common.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Undermining the Cult of Authority

As Star Trek got right years ago, the United States is a primitive, authority-driven society. So, too, its marginally more civilized clones to its east.

Authority, of course, is more accurately termed "received authority". Thus, quite a few people correctly predicted the current financial absurdity, just as many predicted the disasters of the Iraq war. We might suppose they would now (even if not then) be recognized as authories. But they aren't. They remain largely ignored because they did not and do not enjoy the ear of The Idiots In Power, the Power Elite.

In the case of Wall Street, the naysayers of two or five years ago were typically liberal or progressive, did not have the Official Degree, especially a Harvard or Chicago or Wharton MBA. (Some like Elizabeth Warren, of Harvard Law School, did have the Harvard association, but not the relevant one. A Harvard or Yale law association becomes relevant, audible, and thus Authoritative, when justifying torture or mass killing of civilians. Consider Gonzales, Yoo, and company — the architects of the Iraq/Afghanistan war crimes.)

The point is that to undermine such a structure, it helps to be in a position that commands respect or a hearing. In the 1960s, Kim Philby and other Britons spying for the Soviets were allowed great and prolonged access to secrets because "No Oxford man" would do such a thing — "We were at school together!"

In the US, universities can bring such kneejerk acceptance. The war criminal Caspar Weinberger was known to be particularly keen on fellow Harvard lackwits. But in the US it is money that really talks. So the following Financial Times story (quoted in its entirety) is particular yummy. The Harvard MBAs get their noses rubbed in it by one who outdid them at the one thing they really value — amassing wealth.

Comical, or in this case, rich:

Hedge fund manager slams ‘idiot’ bankers
By James Mackintosh in London
Published: October 17 2008 21:13 | Last updated: October 17 2008 21:13

A hedge fund manager who made what is thought to be one of the biggest percentage profits of all time bowed out of the business on Friday with a fierce attack on the “idiots” running big banks who were willing to take the other side of his bets.

Andrew Lahde, founder of California’s Lahde Capital, used his farewell letter to investors to round on the US “aristocracy” able to pay for their children to gain a top-class education.

Mr Lahde, who has made tens of millions of dollars from his highly successful bets against the financial and property sectors during the past two years, also called for the legalisation of cannabis and said he was now dropping out to spend time with his money.

Saying he was “in this game for the money”, Mr Lahde went on to mock those who traded with him.

“The low-hanging fruit, ie idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking.

“These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government.

“All of this behaviour supporting the aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.”

Mr Lahde is one of the few hedge fund managers to have correctly predicted the subprime crisis. One of his funds made a return of 870 per cent last year. Money is now being returned to investors as the remaining business is shut down.

On Friday, Mr Lahde said he would no longer run other people’s money, preferring to concentrate on managing his own, and urged wealthy hedge fund managers and corporate chieftains to “throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life”.

“I will let others try to amass nine, 10 or 11 figure net worths,” he said.

“Meanwhile, their lives suck . . . What is the point? They will all be forgotten in 50 years anyway. Steve Ballmer [Microsoft chief executive], Steven Cohen [founder of hedge fund SAC Capital] and Larry Ellison [chief executive of Oracle] will all be forgotten.”

See also the full letter of Andrew Lahde.

Wall Street Takes Its Cut

The Guardian reports that
Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40.4bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in bonuses, for their work so far this year - despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned.

Staff at six banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup will pick up the payouts despite being the beneficiaries of a $700bn bail-out from the US government that has already prompted widespread criticism. The government cash has been poured in on the condition that excessive executive pay will be curbed.

Pay plans for bankers have been disclosed in recent corporate statements. Pressure on the US firms to review preparations for annual bonuses increased today when Germany's Deutsche Bank said many of its leading traders would join chief executive Josef Ackermann in waiving millions of euro in annual payouts.

The sums that continue to be spent by Wall Street firms on payroll, payoffs and - most controversially - bonuses appear to bear no relation to the heavy losses incurred by investors in the banks. Shares in Citigroup and Goldman Sachs have declined by more than 45% since the start of the year; Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have fallen by more than 60%. JP MorganChase fell 6.4% and Lehman Brothers has collapsed.

At one point last week Morgan Stanley's $10.7bn pay pot for the year to date was greater than the entire stock market value of the business. In effect, staff, on receiving their remuneration, could club together and buy the bank. MORE >>

SIMPLE SOLUTION: The Guillotine.

Actually, I stridently oppose capital punishment, but damn. . . . These guys need to see criminal prosecution.

Hurray for Digital TV!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

If You See

Chicken Rex

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bottled Water Sometimes(?) Toxic

In our Brave New World where water is the new oil (that is, one of the most basic necessities of life on earth is treated as another money-making commodity), what happens when the market makes a product worse than nature's original? First the market lays claim to something that nature provides anyway, then the market makes that something worse — and charges us for it!

The San Francisco Chronicle has a story on bottled water toxicity exceeding that allowed by law (California law, that is. Our paid servants in most states have done nothing about this).

This joins a growing body of evidence of serious toxins in products which we use daily. bisphenol A (BPA) leaching into water and other drinks from the plastics used to contain such things is of particular concern for children because the chemical can mimic hormones. Canada and Europe have taken action. But in the US, the plastics industry continues to lead government. Nothing is being done.

Similarly, we had the scare earlier in 2008 over products made in China (meaning, a very significant percentage of goods sold in the US) — particularly children's toys which had shown high levels of lead in paint, among other things. Again, industry's initial response was to negate concerns. Now even a normally viciously jingoistic Chinese government is taking action.

Then, of course, there is the air we breathe — with water and shelter, the greatest of necessities. And here again, the government pays lipservice to concerns and does substantially nothing. New York City, for example, has some of the highest asthma rates in the nation, particularly in poor areas in high traffic areas (like the Bronx near major highways). Mayor Bloomberg and most of the City Council couldn't care less.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

You said it!

You've got me blowing, blowing my mind
Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?
-- Jimi Hendrix

In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone. . . . There is something wonderful in seeing a wrong-headed majority assailed by truth.
-- John Kenneth Galbraith, 1989

There's a certain part of the contented majority who love anybody who is worth a billion dollars. . . . The contented and economically comfortable have a very discriminating view of government. Nobody is ever indignant about bailing out failed banks and failed savings and loans associations. . . . But when taxes must be paid for the lower middle class and poor, the government assumes an aspect of wickedness.
-- John Kenneth Galbraith, 1992

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.
-- Mark Twain

Politics is the shadow cast on society by big business.
-- John Dewey

Being a prophet is a horrible business!
-- Henryk Ibsen, Peer Gynt

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
-- Ezra Pound

O generation of the thoroughly smug
and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
I have seen them with untidy families,
I have seen their smiles full of teeth
and heard ungainly laughter.
And I am happier than you are,
And they were happier than I am;
And the fish swim in the lake
and do not even own clothing.
-- Ezra Pound

The End of the World

Archibald MacLeish
Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe,
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb —
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing — nothing at all.