Thursday, December 18, 2008

Global cooperation needed to redress systemic threats

A while back I posted excerpts from an article about how complex interconnected systems tend to collapse quite rapidly. Here's some more thoughts from Jeffrey Sachs:

We will also have to remember that our risks go far beyond finance, and the fixes we need go far beyond financial policies. The interactions of the economy and the physical environment are similarly tightly coupled. The reckless gambles the world took on the recent financial bubble are dwarfed by the long-term gambles we have been taking by our failure to address the interconnected crises of water, energy, poverty, food, and climate change. The financial crisis should quickly and urgently open our eyes to these much greater systemic threats and the global cooperation needed to redress them.

I suspect that many world leaders are far more cognizant of this than most US national political leaders, ESPECIALLY the republicans. I'm hopeful President Obama "gets it." Don't expect the MSM to get it. And don't expect the corporate owners of MSM to get it either. Far easier to take the short term point of view that its all about the power to control who the money goes to. Expect the rich to get richer. Expect the poor, to get poorer. Expect a whole lot of conflict. Expect things to get hotter.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Window of opportunity never greater than in the first five years of a child's life

This must read article appeared in Commercial Appeal dot com - Memphis online. The author, Bobbi Lussier, is executive director of the Office of Early Learning in the Tennessee Department of Education.

A child's early experiences establish the framework for his or her cognitive and social development by creating the architecture of the brain, which in turn builds a child's capacity to learn. The rapid development of children during their first five years emphasizes the critical importance of high-quality early educational experiences.

Research tells us the window of opportunity to develop particular skills such as language, social-emotional development, music and logic concepts will never be greater than during the first five years of a child's life, the period in which a child's brain grows most rapidly and reaches its peak of activity. If such skills are not developed during this time, they may never develop to their full potential.

As a child's first teachers, parents need support in their efforts to provide experiential opportunities for their children. The most significant obstacle that prevents parents from providing such opportunities is poverty. In 1995, researchers reported that by age 3, middle-class children had working vocabularies almost twice the size of those of children from low socioeconomic families. Research also showed that lower socioeconomic children begin school 18 months to two years behind their more advantaged peers, and this disparity widens each year without effective intervention. Pre-kindergarten programs have been proven to close this gap.

Research shows that children who attend a high-quality preschool or pre-kindergarten experience greater social and academic success in kindergarten, throughout subsequent grade levels and in life outside the classroom.

The cornerstones of this body of research are found in three major studies that have shown both short- and long-term positive effects of preschool and early learning on cognitive, social, emotional and economic development. The High/Scope Perry Preschool study in Ypsilanti, Mich., the Chicago Child-Parent Centers study and the Abecedarian Study in Chapel Hill, N.C., identified children at risk for school failure and collected data through adolescence and adulthood. The preschool programs in each study were considered high quality, adequately supported financially and professionally administered.

All three studies found strong evidence of social, educational and economic effects on the participants...

Such findings show there are many benefits for children who attend high-quality prekindergarten programs. These benefits include increased graduation rates, less need for special education, less grade repetition, less involvement in crime and greater employment opportunities and increased wages as adults.

President elect Obama has stressed the importance of early education. Hopefully he will make good on his promises in this field.

When "lower socioeconomic children begin school 18 months to two years behind their more advantaged peers, and this disparity widens each year without effective intervention" it is not at all surprising to find that urban children of poverty in fourth grade reading at levels three years behind their grade. To compound the problem, what kinds of reading materials are available for students who are reading, on average, three years below grade level?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The reality is that bad governance is the problem

Dave Neiwert charges that the failures of the present administration in Iraq lie in its failed ideology.

There's no better way to lose a war than to have your on-the-ground decisions be forced through an ideological prism. And it was obvious even to outsiders that this was how Bush was conducting the Iraq war -- indeed, it was the decisive factor behind the very decision to invade in the first place. It's even more telling that the military minds involved saw that this was occurring too.

But in truth, this constitutes not merely the entire Bush approach to governance, but conservative governance as well. Thus -- to use one example out of many -- during Bush's tenure there was not a single economic problem that could not be solved by anything other than tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation of the financial sector.

So when we hear conservatives tell themselves that the reason they lost this last election was their failure to adhere to "conservative principles," we know they're continuing to cling to the very reason they lost. Because such adherence inherently means that these "principles" -- that is, conservative dogma about how they believe the world ought to be, particularly the insistence that government itself is the problem, when the reality is that bad governance is the problem -- trump their ability to face realities on the ground.

What Neiwert has written reminded me of a 2004 Naomi Klein article that appeared in Harper's Magazine:

[T]he most common explanation for what has gone wrong in Iraq, a complaint echoed by everyone from John Kerry to Pat Buchanan: Iraq is mired in blood and deprivation because George W. Bush didn't have “a postwar plan.” The only problem with this theory is that it isn't true. The Bush Administration did have a plan for what it would do after the war; put simply, it was to lay out as much honey as possible, then sit back and wait for the flies.


The honey theory of Iraqi reconstruction stems from the most cherished belief of the war's ideological architects: that greed is good. Not good just for them and their friends but good for humanity, and certainly good for Iraqis. Greed creates profit, which creates growth, which creates jobs and products and services and everything else anyone could possibly need or want. The role of good government, then, is to create the optimal conditions for corporations to pursue their bottomless greed, so that they in turn can meet the needs of the society. The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush's Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.


[I]n keeping with the belief that private companies are more suited than governments for virtually every task, the White House decided to privatize the task of privatizing Iraq's state-dominated economy. Two months before the war began, USAID began drafting a work order, to be handed out to a private company, to oversee Iraq's “transition to a sustainable market-driven economic system.” The document states that the winning company (which turned out to be the KPMG offshoot Bearing Point) will take “appropriate advantage of the unique opportunity for rapid progress in this area presented by the current configuration of political circumstances.” Which is precisely what happened.

The tone of Bremer's tenure was set with his first major act on the job: he fired 500,000 state workers, most of them soldiers, but also doctors, nurses, teachers, publishers, and printers. Next, he flung open the country's borders to absolutely unrestricted imports: no tariffs, no duties, no inspections, no taxes. Iraq, Bremer declared two weeks after he arrived, was “open for business.”

One month later, Bremer unveiled the centerpiece of his reforms. Before the invasion, Iraq's non-oil-related economy had been dominated by 200 state-owned companies, which produced everything from cement to paper to washing machines. In June, Bremer flew to an economic summit in Jordan and announced that these firms would be privatized immediately. “Getting inefficient state enterprises into private hands,” he said, “is essential for Iraq's economic recovery.” It would be the largest state liquidation sale since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

... In September, to entice foreign investors to come to Iraq, he enacted a radical set of laws unprecedented in their generosity to multinational corporations. There was Order 37, which lowered Iraq's corporate tax rate from roughly 40 percent to a flat 15 percent. There was Order 39, which allowed foreign companies to own 100 percent of Iraqi assets outside of the natural-resource sector. Even better, investors could take 100 percent of the profits they made in Iraq out of the country; they would not be required to reinvest and they would not be taxed. Under Order 39, they could sign leases and contracts that would last for forty years. Order 40 welcomed foreign banks to Iraq under the same favorable terms. All that remained of Saddam Hussein's economic policies was a law restricting trade unions and collective bargaining.

Iraq was to the neocons what Afghanistan was to the Taliban: the one place on Earth where they could force everyone to live by the most literal, unyielding interpretation of their sacred texts. One would think that the bloody results of this experiment would inspire a crisis of faith: in the country where they had absolute free reign, where there was no local government to blame, where economic reforms were introduced at their most shocking and most perfect, they created, instead of a model free market, a failed state no right-thinking investor would touch. And yet the Green Zone neocons and their masters in Washington are no more likely to reexamine their core beliefs than the Taliban mullahs were inclined to search their souls when their Islamic state slid into a debauched Hades of opium and sex slavery. When facts threaten true believers, they simply close their eyes and pray harder.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rank has its privileges

My San Antonio News reports:

A speeding pickup rear-ended a woman's sedan on the South Side on Friday morning and sheriff's officials say the driver said it was Jesus' will because the other motorist was not “driving like a Christian.”

[The driver of the pickup, Michael E.] Schwab told first responders at the scene that “the other vehicle was not driving like a Christian and it was Jesus' will for him to punish the car,” according to the release.

... Schwab told deputies he was driving faster than 100 mph at the time, Coleman said.

The impact caused both vehicles to spin across a median before they came to a stop along a barrier in the southbound lanes. No other vehicles were involved.

“God must have been with them, 'cause any other time, the severity of this crash, it would have been a fatal,” [Lt. Khyle] Coleman said.

USA Today reports:

Schwab was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and his bond was set at $50,000.

He also will undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Of course, when the forty-third President of the United States claims to answer to a higher power in decisions to make war, no one would think to have him undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Rank has its privileges.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Warning of the risks of investment schemes that sound too good to be true

I find the Chinese approach to punishing investment fraud quite rational. Hopefully, the Obama Administration will pass the enabling legislation.

China has executed the leader of a bogus scheme for breeding ants to make aphrodisiacs that conned investors out of 3 billion yuan ($439 million), the official Xinhua news agency said on Thursday.

The fictitious ant-breeding project that Wang fronted features prominently in posters and other government educational materials warning of the risks of pyramid schemes and other investment schemes that sound too good to be true.

Wang promised investors in the fictitious project returns of 35 to 60 percent, Xinhua said. The ants were to be used for making liquor, herbal remedies and aphrodisiacs.

Repeat after me:

Be very wary of investment schemes that sound too good to be true.

Swallow, rinse, repeat.

A damaging mix of drought and torrential rains

Reuters reports on one of the seldom considered impacts of climate change in Italy

Output of white truffles -- which are not cultivated and only grow naturally in forests -- has fallen in Italy over the past few years, largely because climate change has brought a damaging mix of drought and torrential rains.

Scarce supply has pushed prices for normal-sized truffles above 4,000 euros (3,307 pounds) for one kg and Italian restaurants have kept purchases to a minimum, although demand from foreign restaurants has remained stable, truffle associations say.

Apparently the wealthy truffle afficianados of non-italian countries are not willing to cut back on their truffle purchases.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Where we go, our "stuff" goes with us

Tom Engelheardt explains the mother-of-all rationals preventing a 16-month U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq. We've got so much stuff over there, we can't possibly vacate it all in less than, oh, say, three years. Read it and weep.

It's the ultimate argument, the final bastion against withdrawal, and over these last years, the Bush administration has made sure it would have plenty of heft. Ironically, its strength lies in the fact that it has nothing to do with the vicissitudes of Iraqi politics, the relative power of Shiites or Sunnis, the influence of Iran, or even the riptides of war. It really doesn't matter what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or oppositional cleric Muqtada al-Sadr think about it. In fact, it's an argument that has nothing to do with Iraq and everything to do with us, with the American way of war (and life), which makes it almost unassailable.

In a nutshell, the Pentagon's argument couldn't be simpler or more red-bloodedly American: We have too much stuff to leave Iraq any time soon. In war, as in peace, we're trapped by our own profligacy. We are the Neiman Marcus and the Wal-Mart of combat. Where we go, our "stuff" goes with us -- in such prodigious quantities that removing it is going to prove more daunting than invading in the first place. After all, it took less than a year to put in place the 130,000-plus invasion force, and all its equipment and support outfits from bases all around the world, as well as the air power and naval power to match.

Today, the Pentagon and the military top command plan to be far more responsible consumers and far better environmentalists, however long it takes, and the Department of Agriculture's "stringent requirements" for the "power-washing" -- this, in the desert, of course -- of every object to be returned to the U.S. will help ensure that this is so. "Ever since U.S. authorities found plague-infected rats in cargo returning from the Vietnam War," the AP's Hanley has written, "the decontamination process has been demanding: water blasting of equipment, treatment with insecticide and rodenticide, inspections, certifications."

And now, as the mission threatens to wind down, the top brass are evidently claiming that an Obama timeline for withdrawal would violate our property rights and squander a vast array of expensive equipment. You'll hear no apologies from the military for traveling heavy, despite the fact that they are now arguing against a reasonable withdrawal timetable based on the need to enact a kind of 12-step program for armed consumer sobriety.

Irony hardly covers this one. The Bush administration may have succeeded in little else, but it did embed the U.S. so deeply in that country that leaving can now be portrayed as the profligate thing to do.

Emerging from the same ideological petrie-dish as Bernanke and Paulson

At Counterpunch, Mike Whitney suggests that loss of credibility of government, financial and media institutions have contributed mightily to the loss of consumer confidence.

Bernanke and Paulson are trying to tackle the financial crisis from the wrong end. This isn't about liquidity or "access to credit", it’s about confidence. The public's trust has been betrayed a million times over. They've been tricked with WMD, bamboozled with phantom enemies, and cheated with bogus securities. All the surveys say the same thing; public confidence is at an all-time low. As a result, fear and pessimism are more widespread than any time in recent history. People no longer expect tomorrow to be better than today. In fact, they expect it to be worse, and for good reason. The country has broken loose from its moorings and is adrift. There's no accountability at any level of government anymore; it doesn't matter how big or heinous the crime, no one pays. The justice system is a sham. In fact, the D.O.J. is just a weapon for destroying political enemies; that's it. The one noteworthy conviction in the last 8 years was home-decorating guru Martha Stewart. What a joke. In his memoirs, Bush can boast, "At least we got Martha Stewart off the streets."

And it's not just the justice system that lacks credibility either; it's the financial system, too. The stampede out of the stock market to US Treasuries shows how quickly trust can turn to panic. The downward spiral of the economy reflects the mood of the country; dark and gloomy. That's not something that can be changed with more liquidity. After all, the economy is more than the sum of its parts, just like people are more than just consumption machines that can be zapped like rats into spending themselves into oblivion. They're sentient beings who can see the deteriorating economic conditions closing in on them and threatening their security. They're scared. Bernanke -- the academic -- sees the economy through the lens of his research on the Great Depression. He, like many other monetarists, believe that the depression was the result of the one-third contraction in the money supply during the 1930s. It is a widely held view and it could be true. But if that's the case, than why haven't the Fed's myriad lending facilities--which have flooded the financial system with trillions of dollars of liquidity -- stopped the markets from crashing and the recession from deepening. Could it be that there were other factors besides just money supply? People are hunkering down for a reason, and its not just lost revenue. They've lost faith in their institutions--the government, the banks, and the media; everybody is in it for themselves, and it shows. Even now, with the economy teetering at the brink of disaster, high-ranking officials like Paulson are still diverting hundreds of billions of dollars from the Treasury to their Wall Street buddies leaving nothing behind but a few scraps for the working stiffs. And Paulson isn't alone either; his "dog eat dog" creed is the prevailing ethos of the corrupt oligarchy that runs the country, Republican and Democrat alike, it makes no difference. It's "me first" and the public be damned.

Whitney also warns that (1) things are not much likely to improve under Obama and his economic team - which shares the culpability of the current financial meltdown, and (2) that things will get a whole lot worse.

The ... Obama star-studded economic recovery team emerges from the same ideological petrie-dish as Bernanke and Paulson. Their world view is shaped by the same strong sense of entitlement which will ultimately prevent them from enacting the regulatory reforms that need to be put in place to restore transparency, confidence and credibility. Instead, they will unleash a torrent of stimulus spending (infrastructure and green technology mainly) followed by unorthodox monetarist/fiscal chicanery (like purchasing stocks on the equities market or buying long-term Treasurys) all of which will hide the fact that they are not forcing the bad debts out into the open so they can be written down and the markets can reestablish equilibrium.

Regardless of what the new administration does, the stock markets will take another leg down between the end of 2009 to early 2010, finding a bottom on the Dow of 4,500 or thereabouts. 70 per cent plus declines took place on the NASDAQ following the bust, Japan during the 1990s "lost decade" and the Great Depression. In none of these cases was the bottom reached in the first year. Hedge fund redemptions will force more deleveraging and more wild swings in volatility. The banks, which have accounted for nearly half of their losses, will need to write off another $800 to $900 billion before its all over. No one knows where they'll get the capital. Unemployment will skyrocket, housing will overshoot to the downside, and there will be the first random incidents of political instability in major US cities. The economy will remain flat on its back for some years into the future. How quickly the markets rebound depends on whether Obama's team understands that the system needs deep structural changes and a banking system that is not paralyzed with debt.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Handicapped by the Bush Administration

Patrick Lang makes several important observations about the ongoing occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq:

To some extent wars like these are always messy in their ending. It took the US military, handicapped by the Bush Administration, a long time to recognize these situations for the insurgent conflicts that they always were. Adequate forces and a proper strategic approach could have led to an effective if "temporary" pacification of Afghanistan. The time and opportunity for that are nearly gone. Once again, we are "broke" and that reality will govern the outcome. Iraq will not be Iowa in the Middle East, but it will also not be Saddam's Iraq, nor will it be the takfiris' dream of Iraq. Perhaps that is victory enough.

Among those who have bled in these wars, there will be cries of "stab in the back," and "nous sommes trahis." Get used to these kinds of outcomes, boys and girls. This is how the game is played.

About that the handicap imposed by the Bush administration - does this mean that our military leaders believed the propaganda perpetrated upon the American people, that our troops were fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq? Or does it suggest that our military leaders figured out our troops were fighting an "insurgency" some time ago, but never had the integrity to tell the truth?

Also not quite sure what game is referred to in this statement - "This is how the game is played." The "game" of war? The game of "strutting the stuff" of our military might?

For my mind, Commander Jeff Huber's explanations make the most sense:

It sounds like [retired Marine General James L.] Jones buys into the mythos-based ethos that his buddy John McCain subscribes to, the one that says we know we can't win the war we're in militarily, but we can't afford to lose or the bad guys will make fun of us, which is the second worst fate possible.* We can't lose as long as we keep fighting, so we have to keep fighting even though we know we can't win. When people ask what we're trying to achieve by all this endless fighting, we tell them "success," and when they press us for what we mean by that, we talk out our hats until they leave us alone.


*The worst fate possible is that everybody figures out we can't accomplish anything militarily anymore and slashes our budget to a stump.

At some point, we have to stand up

Booman remembers a LOT of the historical rhetorical failures of the U.S. defense department.

[T]he real concern on the left is that Obama is filling out his foreign policy team almost exclusively with people whose instincts were wrong on Iraq. That is not promising if the goal is to change the paradigm through which Washington views its foreign policy options.

There is no doubt that there is value in staffing up with some hawks and some ardent pro-Israeli thinkers if your goal is to move in a more dovish direction. It is wise to protect the right flank. But the Democrats run a risk. Since at least the time of McCarthy, Democrats have consistently found it necessary to protect their right flank, which is why they tend to select Republicans to run the Defense Department. It is a structural feature of American politics that the right wing will attack the Democrats as being soft on defense, even going so far as to concoct intelligence and statistics to make their case.

We saw this happen first with the whole 'Who lost China' debate, then the 'Let's Nuke China' debate, then the 'Let's invade Cuba' debate, then the 'Let's invade Vietnam' debate, then the 'The Soviets have established military superiority' debate, and finally the 'Democrats are soft on terror' debate. At some point, we have to stand up and beat back this structural deficit.

Who lost China? - Chiang Ki Chek & company lost China. The state department hands who had been warning of the impending uprising, those who got China "right" were fired or demoted. As if China were "ours" to lose.

Is there any reason to assume Obama wants to do anything other than continue fighting the GWOT, except move the "theater" from Iraq to Afghanistan? Not really.

Is there any reason to assume that Obama will not acquiesce to the wishes of the Israeli government?

Didn't Obama (as well as Clinton and Edwards) say that "nothing was off the table" in regards to possible responses to Iran, nothing off by implication including nuclear options on the table?

ONLY if the enormity of the ongoing financial crisis (shopping malls and hotels starting to default on loan repayments - another load of toxic collateralized waste about to hit the fan) seeps into the frontal lobes of consciousness of the president-elect and his incoming administration in conjunction with the enormity of the repeated failures of the U.S. military to achieve and implement U.S. political objectives in such places as - Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan will there be any hope of significantly reducing our military's commitments around the globe.

A licence for capitalists to steal

From Donald E. Westlake's 2003 crime novel Money For Nothing:

"Socialism, for a clever man," Mr. Nimrin told him, "is a license to steal. Capitalism is a license for capitalists to steal. As the name suggests, you first need capital."

They cannot solve problems by throwing money at them

William Lind notes the rise in Afghanistan of a domestic "middle" force opposed to both the Taliban and the coalition forces and how the rise of such forces ultimately signal when the occupying forces should leave. In Iraq, such a time has probably arrived, although Lind doubts the U.S. military will take heed:

The American military will probably ignore all this, as it ignores military theory generally. European militaries do pay attention to military theory, in part because they know they cannot solve problems by throwing money at them and in part because the 20th Century taught them the perils of Great Power hubris. Europe can do little to affect the war in Iraq, but if the Europeans were to decide that the moment to leave Afghanistan had arrived, the U.S. government would have to listen.

Commenting on the Lind piece, newsjarheaddean sagely observes:

And I find the fallowing most curious, “Europe can do little to affect the war in Iraq, but if the Europeans were to decide to leave Afg. the U.S. gov would have to listen”. Here I’m amazed at how governments are looked upon as so limited and yet the prime foe (in GWOT) is nothing but small organizations. This suggests that Exxon/Mobil could defeat US with an insurgency. Or maybe they already have with lobbyist and thus the odd strategies and tactics. Or maybe US is “playing war” for the MIC. IMO one thing is for sure US tax payers are getting ripped off.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

We think that's counterproductive

Trying to check on the information from a Bloomberg article entitled U.S. Pledges Top $7.7 Trillion to Ease Frozen Credit proved problematic. While chocked full of useful information and fascinating quotes, the article might have been improved by presenting the financial information in tabular form. Below is a summary of the twelve major places where the money has gone, or to which it has been pledged.

$ (Billions)

$ 306 Guarantee Citi-Corp Debt

$ 700 TARP

$2,400 10-27-2008 program to buy commercial paper

$1,400 10-14-2008 program FDIC guarantee bank-to-bank loans

$ 29 to JP Morgan to engineer buyout of Bear Stearns

$ 122.8 AIG

$ 20 Treasury injection to Citi-Corp

$2,300 Commercial Paper Funding Facility/MMIFF

$ 300 FHA "Hope for Homeowners" distressed mortgage

$ 200 Shore up Fannie & Freddie (promised, not allocated)

$ 139 Loan guarantees to General Electric's finance unit

$ 29 "Wells Fargo Notice" - Tax Break for Wachovia purchase



Almost 8 trillion dollars.

$ 7,945,800,000,000

In response to Bloomberg's FOIA attempt and federal suit aimed to force the Fed to disclose which banks will get the loot, and what collateral that will put up in return, we learn of a considerable difference of opinion between Bernanke's views and those of the chief economist at a banking corporation:

“Some have asked us to reveal the names of the banks that are borrowing, how much they are borrowing, what collateral they are posting,” Bernanke said Nov. 18 to the House Financial Services Committee. “We think that’s counterproductive.”

The Fed should account for the collateral it takes in exchange for loans to banks, said Paul Kasriel, chief economist at Chicago-based Northern Trust Corp. and a former research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

“There is a lack of transparency here and, given that the Fed is taking on a huge amount of credit risk now, it would seem to me as a taxpayer there should be more transparency,” Kasriel said.

Some of the most chilling comments come from Treasury Secretary Paulson, one of so many in the Bush administration that seem to not get anything right:

Paulson told the House Financial Services Committee Nov. 18 that the $250 billion already allocated to banks through the TARP is an investment, not an expenditure.

“I think it would be extraordinarily unusual if the government did not get that money back and more,” Paulson said.

In his Nov. 18 testimony, Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee that the central bank wouldn’t lose money.
“We take collateral, we haircut it, it is a short-term loan, it is very safe, we have never lost a penny in these various lending programs,” he said.

A haircut refers to the practice of lending less money than the collateral’s current market value.

Oh for the days when we could wring our hands over mere $400 haircuts not paid for by tax dollars.

And then there's this:

Requiring the Fed to disclose loan recipients might set off panic, said David Tobin, principal of New York-based loan-sale consultants and investment bank Mission Capital Advisors LLC.

What does David Tobin know that the rest of us don't?

Meanwhile, at Counterpunch, Kevin Zeese finds some research that helps put (a mere) $7.6 trillion in perpective, and asks some good questions:

We don’t know where the bottom is yet, see no evidence that the bailout is working and already, as Barry Ritholtz, author of "Bailout Nation," points out, the bailout has cost more than Marshall Plan, Louisiana Purchase, moonshot, S&L bailout, Korean War, New Deal, the Iraq war, the Vietnam war, and NASA's lifetime budget – COMBINED! In fact, the bailout is almost double:

- Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion

- Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion

- Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion

- S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion

- Korean War: Cost: $54 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion

- The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est),
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)

- Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion

-Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion

- NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion,
Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion

You’d think for $7.7 trillion we’d get health care for all, tax relief or free college education! But Americans got none of that. Is this a wise use of tax dollars? Are there better ways to use this money? Will this trickle down approach work this time, even though it has failed in the past?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Steady move into making and selling real he-man cars and trucks

In Counterpunch, Former U.S. Senator James Abourezk reflects upon the 70's when the Big Three lobbied against legislation mandating improved gas mileage, and chronicles production / marketing decisions these automakers made that have put imperiled their industry.

When I was a member of the Senate Energy Committee in the 1970s I attached an amendment onto a piece of legislation that would have required the automobile manufacturers to make new cars that delivered a minimum of 26 miles to the gallon. That was in the 1970s when we all thought that mileage level would be a great victory. Nowadays, Toyota doesn’t make a car, I don’t believe, that delivers less than that. But back then, 26 miles to the gallon was revolutionary, even radical. So the Big Three came in and lobbied against it and defeated it. And they steadily moved into making and selling real he-man cars and trucks, such as the Hummers, the big pickups and the SUVs that more resemble a battleship than a car. At the same time, in Europe, taxes levied on gasoline made it so high that if one bought an American gas-guzzler, he would be thought of as crazy. So the Europeans made smaller cars that ate much less gas, and the Japanese began to move into the American market, selling high gas mileage cars to those of us who felt guilt at driving a four-wheeled monster.

The Europeans and Japanese also built high speed rail transportation that moved people so efficiently that cars became sort of redundant for longer trips.

Although, some would argue persuasively that the auto industry is dying as fossil fuels become more scarce and the cost of extraction becomes more expensive.

World wide problems for auto industry

Spiegel Online reports that the German auto industry also faces crisis amid much uncertainty.

Sales are declining rapidly worldwide. If there is one thing anxious consumers can postpone, it is the purchase of a car. Economic crises normally affect one major market, which allows large car companies to make up for the difference in other countries. But this time the financial crisis is shaking North America, Asia and Europe at the same time.

Suppliers are likewise threatened. Banks have cut off funding for necessary investments. Some suppliers are already on the verge of bankruptcy. If the biggest manufacturer of rear-view mirrors or door locks fails, carmakers will be forced to stop production, and it will be difficult to quickly find replacements.

Providing consumers with financing is also becoming more difficult. Part of the reason VW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche have enjoyed such phenomenal sales growth in recent years is that they have offered customers attractive leasing and financing packages. Now the carmakers' lending divisions must pay high interest rates to obtain the necessary funds on the capital markets, if they can borrow at all. As a result, they can no longer attract customers with low-interest car loans.

Ultimately, the entire business model of VW, Mercedes-Benz and BMW is beginning to falter. It is based on the assumption that carmakers can constantly increase sales by constantly introducing new models. This is the only way they can guarantee jobs. For car companies, standing still is in effect moving backwards. Companies that are not increasing sales are in fact shrinking, because productivity in their plants grows by 5 to 10 percent every year.

Still, it's difficult not to think that some manufacturers are merely trying to divert attention away from their own mistakes. Many of the problems are homegrown. The companies placed too much emphasis on growth at all costs, while at the same time neglecting to develop fuel-efficient cars earlier in the game.

And then there are the business models (always based on assumptions) that are not holding up in the present day (unanticipated) reality:

BMW based its leasing calculations on an estimated residual value for the cars when customers return them after three or four years. But this value has little to do with reality these days, because used car prices fall during an economic crisis. Besides, more and more customers who purchased a BMW on credit can no longer afford their car payments. In the first nine months of this year alone, BMW had to establish reserves of more than €1 billion ($1.25 billion) to make up for the difference, and more reserves are likely to follow.

The second risk for BMW lies in the fact that customers are increasingly buying smaller models, or at least are opting for smaller engines in the larger 5 Series and 7 Series.

Daimler [too] has a large Achilles heel: Daimler's shareholder structure. Because it lacks a major shareholder, the company is constantly at risk of being bought up and dismantled.

For this reason, the Stuttgart-based carmaker has to be managed using the same criteria that led General Motors to the brink of ruin: It must earn high short-term returns and pay large dividends. This is the only way to bring up the share price and thus prevent a takeover. But, under these conditions, how can the company be expected to continue designing cars that lead the world in technology, design and quality? And how can Mercedes-Benz justify its high prices in the long term?

[E]ven the VW Group faces a serious challenge. The board must correct its model strategy. Until now, developers at VW headquarters in the central German city of Wolfsburg were fixated on developing more and more powerful engines. In addition to a 16-cylinder engine, the company has two different 12-cylinder engines -- which not even BMW or Mercedes-Benz can offer. But this does Volkswagen little good, because smaller, fuel-efficient engines are now in demand.

Where did you get those socks, Ben?

The New Yorker has a fascinating article about Ben Bernanke and the current financial crisis. This anecdote caught my eye. Seems to say quite a bit about what catches the eye of the decider-in-chief.

In June, 2005, Bernanke was sworn in at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. One of his first tasks was to deliver a monthly economics briefing to the President and the Vice-President. After he and Hubbard sat down in the Oval Office, President Bush noticed that Bernanke was wearing light-tan socks under his dark suit. “Where did you get those socks, Ben?” he asked. “They don’t match.” Bernanke didn’t falter. “I bought them at the Gap—three pairs for seven dollars,” he replied. During the briefing, which lasted about forty-five minutes, the President mentioned the socks several times.

The following month, Hubbard’s deputy, Keith Hennessey, suggested that the entire economics team wear tan socks to the briefing. Hubbard agreed to call Vice-President Cheney and ask him to wear tan socks, too. “So, a little later, we all go into the Oval Office, and we all show up in tan socks,” Hubbard recalled. “The President looks at us and sees we are all wearing tan socks, and he says in a cool voice, ‘Oh, very, very funny.’ He turns to the Vice-President and says, ‘Mr. Vice-President, what do you think of these guys in their tan socks?’ Then the Vice-President shows him that he’s wearing them, too. The President broke up.”

Used to read about how assuring the Bush administration was (in the early days). How prompt they were to arrive at meetings, and how professional looking in their suits, and how on message everyone stayed; certainly an improvement over the relaxed attitudes and style of team Clinton.

Interesting, that Bush's eye (and apparently attention) kept returning to those tan socks. Wonder if any one in the room was thinking, "Geez, give it a rest already Mr. President?"

Nice to know these guys could laugh back in the halycon days of 2005 when things looked forever like it was all summertime, and the livin is easy.

The thought of Dick Cheney pulling up his pant leg to slowly reveal a patch of tan doesn't exactly fill one with warm fuzzies either.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Buying American

In Counterpunch, Saul Landau blasts the leaders of the auto industry:

[I]n recent years, the auto bosses have behaved like the Wall Street idiots and other titans who directed the US economy straight into the toilet. They made stupid decisions, rewarded themselves with high salaries, bonuses, perks and stock options and sneered at critics who warned that by continuing to emphasize SUVs and Hummers and not try to make a car for the times, they would lose their traditional markets. Eventually, even the stupidest Americans learned that “buying American” meant owning a gas guzzling, road destroying, environment polluting collage of heavy metal and cheap plastic. Furthermore, it would break down far more rapidly than the much demeaned but more gas efficient and environmentally friendly cars.

“Can you imagine these jerks coming to Congress, not to plead their case and admitting they were terrible managers, but we shouldn’t worry because they’ll do better in the future?” an irate House Member confided to me. “These multimillionaire losers walked in here with a sense of total entitlement! As if they had earned our infinite respect because they led GM, Ford and Chrysler. I hope someone gives them the news. They’re not number one any more.”

Look how quickly the mavens of free market economics abandoned their prized dogmas. Those who demanded bailouts of Wall Street and now the car industry had steadfastly demanded deregulation so the invisible hand of the market could govern their business dealings. As soon as business got really bad, they came like indignant beggars to demand government help for financial and manufacturing business they had run into the ground.

Instead of simply taking over the financial and manufacturing areas, the government seems intent on lending taxpayer money to these arrogant airheads -- because liberals in Congress want to forestall more huge job losses. But cars had their century – 20th. This century’s environment has sent dire warning signs about continuing to employ technology that relies on fossil fuels and causes insane highway congestion, noise pollution and death.

Armed gangs heading to the countryside

The Independent reports an increase in poaching in rural areas across Britain (and Scotland).

Police in rural areas across Britain are reporting a dramatic increase in poaching, as the rise in food prices and the reality of recession increases the temptation to deal in stolen venison, salmon, or rarer meat and fish.

Organised and sometimes armed gangs of poachers are accused of behaving dangerously, intimidating residents, causing damage to crops or to gates and fences. Squads have also been out in the countryside "lamping", poachers using lights to transfix animals.

There have even been reports of drive-by poachers, aiming guns through the open windows of moving vehicles to pick off deer or other game. Others go about their work more discreetly, knowing that in some parts of the countryside, if they are careful, their activities can pass unnoticed for weeks.

Last week, rural landowners and businesses in Scotland launched a new campaign to get the public to report instances of poaching or illegal hare or deer coursing. Scotland's National Wildlife Crime Unit has records of 335 incidents of poaching in 18 months, with the numbers now running at more than 20 a month. During August, the number of recorded incidents was 22, almost double the previous year's figure.

An increase in crime seems to follow along with tough economic times.

Now this is REALLY dim

The NYT's Gail Collins offers a stinging indictment of the corporate heads of U.S. auto industry:

The heads of America’s great carmaking corporations are so dim that they couldn’t even survive hearings run by members of Congress who actually wanted to help them. Really, when somebody asks you exactly how much money you need, the answer should not be something along the line of “a whole bunch.”

A proven money-maker for criminal gangs

The New York Times recently featured this article about an increase in the use of personal security guards in Mexico, which has been precipitated Mexican President Calderón's recent change in policy towards the drug cartels.

With drug-related violence spinning out of control and kidnappings a proven money-maker for criminal gangs, members of Mexico’s upper class find themselves juggling the spoils of their status with the fear of being killed.

Dinner party chatter these days focuses on two things that are making their lives, still the envy of the country’s masses, far less enviable: the financial crisis, which is chipping away at their wealth, and the wave of insecurity, which is making it more perilous for them to enjoy what remains.

Mexico’s violence afflicts both rich and poor, but the nation’s income gap is so pronounced that criminals scour the society pages for potential kidnapping victims, for whom they demand, and often receive, huge sums in ransom. A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Mexico had the largest divide between rich and poor of the group’s 30 member nations, virtually assuring that wealthy targets stand out.

Wealthy Mexicans have long hired bodyguards, but experts say the numbers of those seeking protection have jumped since President Felipe Calderón challenged the drug cartels, bringing unprecedented levels of related violence — which had been mainly confined to the areas bordering the United States — into the major cities.

An estimated 75,000 members

The Chicago Sun Times reports on the extent of Chicago gang drug dealing

There are at least 80 gangs dealing drugs on the city's streets, protecting their business and territory with guns.

On Saturday, Chicago Police gang and tactical officers from across the city will meet to learn about the best ways to anticipate what these criminal organizations -- with an estimated 75,000 members -- are doing and how to dismantle their operations.

That's a LOT of armed gang members.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Money-under-the-mattress investments

Had we all been prescient enough to re-allocate our stock and mutual fund portfolios to positions similar to those of the current lame duck resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 in of 2006, the present stock market free fall would not seem so painful. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Going back to his 2006 financial disclosures, Bush had between 2% to 4% of his money in stock and balanced funds.

The rest of was tied up in, as one pundit put it ``money-under-the-mattress investments'': bank checking accounts, certificates of deposit, money-market mutual funds and Treasury bills and notes.

Bush disclosed between $US4.6 million and $US9.7 million in these low-risk investments compared with just $US205,000 in stock and balanced funds.

Mincing no words, the SMH concludes:

While Bush and Cheney appear to have adopted extremely defensive personal finance strategies, their administration's stewardship of the national wealth, particularly in relation to Halliburton, reek of the sort of crony capitalism which would have embarrassed a South American junta.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Priorities, ya know

Ian Welsh has a cynical take on the $700 billion bail out:

... [T]he real job of the bailout was to save Congress's white collar friends. The real goal of not passing a bill that gives auto companies 25 billion, a fraction of the 700 billion given to Wall Street so they could give themselves 70 billion of bonuses, is to destroy a major union.

Priorities, ya know.

Disastrously long stretch

Paul Krugman notes a parallel between 2008 and 1932:

The interregnum of 1932-1933, the long stretch between the election and the actual transfer of power, was disastrous for the U.S. economy, at least in part because the outgoing administration had no credibility, the incoming administration had no authority and the ideological chasm between the two sides was too great to allow concerted action. And the same thing is happening now.

Krugman suggests things are QUITE a bit worse at this point, than at a comparable juncture in 1932:

we’re in the midst of the worst stock market crash since the Great Depression: the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has now fallen more than 50 percent from its peak. Other indicators are arguably even more disturbing: unemployment claims are surging, manufacturing production is plunging, interest rates on corporate bonds — which reflect investor fears of default — are soaring, which will almost surely lead to a sharp fall in business spending. The prospects for the economy look much grimmer now than they did as little as a week or two ago.

...What’s really troubling, however, is the possibility that some of the damage being done right now will be irreversible. I’m concerned, in particular, about the two D’s: deflation and Detroit.

But nothing is happening on the policy front that is remotely commensurate with the scale of the economic crisis. And it’s scary to think how much more can go wrong before Inauguration Day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Impose ever-increasing minimum speed limits and then employ lots of extra morgue attendants

Money Week editor John Stepek has some unkind things to say about Ben Bernanke. Stepek says these unkind things quite well.

I wouldn’t want to put Bernanke in charge of road safety. His idea of efficient traffic management would be to impose ever-increasing minimum speed limits and then employ lots of extra morgue attendants and road sweepers in the hope that the carnage from multiple pile-ups could be cleaned up more quickly and so avoid traffic jams.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Working definition of Clinton Derangement Syndrome

Eric Boehlert considers Maureen Dowd's ill-considered hissy-fit in Sundays NYT and draws some conclusions that suggest to me a likely direction in which the beltway pundit courtiers may be headed in their decision as to whether to coronate president-elect Obama or begin conspiring to have him overthrown, even perhaps, before he is sworn in to office.

[I]t's been less than 72 hours since reports first surfaced that the new Obama administration could include Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and within those 72 hours the press, and especially the pundit class, has managed to embarrass itself multiple times.

My hunch is that the emotional, and often irrational response, is because some in the press are furious that Clinton has not been sufficiently vanquished and humiliated in the wake of Obama's victory. For many in the press, that seemed to be the whole point of the election cycle.

Here, for me, is the key ... source of Dowd's complaint:

There are Obama aides and supporters who are upset that The One who won on change has ushered in déjà vu all over again. The man who vowed to deliver us from 28 years of Bushes and Clintons has been stocking up on Clintonites.

Think back to the campaign and try to recall a single instance during his 20-plus months on the trail when Barack Obama ever promised to rid the country of the Clintons. I remember plenty of references from Obama about doing away with the failures of Bush. But Clinton? I can't recall a single example and my guess is that's because that's not how Obama felt.

And now, some in the press are furious that Obama's non-existent promise has been broken. They're furious that Obama has made clear, yet again, that he respects and admires Hillary Clinton. They're beside themselves that Clinton may soon be viewed as a very important player on the national and international stage. They can't stand the idea of her succeeding.

And that is the working definition of Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

Will Clinton Derangement Syndrome help to push preemptive assaults on the Obama administrations attempts to deal with ongoing crises which threaten the world as we know it (global warming, fossil fuel dependency and its implications for for agriculture production and resource wars, being far more threatening to humanity than the breakdown of the world wide financial systems which will likely attract the most attention)?

Specializing in silly tales driven by overblown evidence

Bob Somersby continues his ever-vigilant watch upon the beltway pundit corps and also issues a warning that those celebrating 2008 as a turning-point election might be premature in their festivities.

Some Democrats—and some pundits—seem to think that Campaign 08 is a turning-point. We think liberals and Dems should perhaps be a bit more sober in their long-term projections.

But that’s if you want to be sound in your thinking. Most of the Washington pundit corps bows to a different set of longings. They’re the nation’s only “D-plus elite”—the dumbest of our professional cohorts. In our view, they’ve been eager to showcase their D-plus culture in the two weeks since Obama’s healthy win.

The foolishness has various faces. Some big pundits have marched to war, insisting we’re still a “center-right nation.” Other pundits have happily clowned as they picture the GOP’s demise. In our view, this overpaid cohort’s D-plus culture has been visible on various sides. They specialize in silly tales, driven by overblown “evidence.” Analysis isn’t their thing.

This is a deeply unimpressive elite. Their culture seems to be built around riding to hounds, lovely food and the dance. As we ponder Obama’s win, we’ll consider their D-plus work all week. As always, we’re especially sad when the emerging progressive/liberal world seems determined to ape their dumb culture.

Stay tuned as Bob continues to call these drivers of our national discourse out on their shallowness, vapidity, and perpetual transmission of GOP talking points into the consciousness of American thought, exposing as fraudulent such fairy tales as: the center-rightness leanings of the American people and Ross Perot "took big chunks of votes from Bush and Dole" in 1992 and 1996

Those with authority generally weren't humble or meek

Talk To Action has this riveting personal account of one man's 26 years as a member of an Assembly of God Church. I have considerable problems with the self-proclaimed "born again" 43rd POTUS at every intersection of being saved and making a major mistake:

Being saved had a lot of advantages. If someone made a major mistake, they could write it off: God had willed it. Or they could blame it on Satan, too. It depended on the circumstance, but there was always an excuse or reason. Former criminals or outright liars were often guests at the church, telling us lurid stories of their pasts in testimony. We always looked forward to that.

GWB took take his presidency as a sacred call to do the deity's will. Thus, he could do no wrong, and would not countenance the presence of any who expressed contrary opinions.

My Assembly of God was a church plagued by teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, drug abuse, promiscuity, strict social castes, and outright mental illness. It had every problem that existed in every other organization of people. It was full of sniping, backbiting, toadying, and gossip. Only the members refused to see the problems and speak about them or seek real remedies. They would just pray and hope or pretend a problem or abuse didn't exist. Besides, we were all headed to Heaven, so what did a few minor indiscretions here on earth matter, anyway? This was just the practice run. Those that had authority in the church generally weren't humble or meek. They were confident they'd been saved and God worked through them; they weren't much for saying they were sorry.

That confidence continues to fester amongst many of the corporate-political class crossovers. Here's a prime example that won't melt down any time soon.

America's most dangerous enemies

At FiredogLake, Chris Hedges the FDL Book Salon interview with Andrew Bacevich on Bacevich's new book,
The Limits of Power
. Below are a few of Hedges' introductory remarks.

Barack Obama and those around him embrace, as does John McCain, the folly of the “war on terror.” The Obama administration may want to shift the emphasis of this war to Afghanistan rather than Iraq, but this is a difference in strategy not policy. By clinging to Iraq and expanding the war in Afghanistan the poison will continue in deadly doses. Bacevich warns us that these wars of occupation are doomed to failure. We cannot afford them.

The “war on terror” is an absurd war against a tactic. It posits the idea of perpetual, or what is now called “generational,” war. It has no discernable end. There is no way to define victory. It is, in metaphysical terms, a war against evil, and evil, as Bacevich writes, will always be with us. The most destructive evils, however, are not those that are externalized. The most destructive are those that are internal. These hidden evils, often defined as virtues, are unleashed by our hubris, self-delusion and ignorance. Evil masquerading as good is evil in its deadliest form.

America’s most dangerous enemies are
not, in the end, Islamic radicals but those who promote the perverted ideology of national security that, as Bacevich writes, is “our surrogate religion.” If we continue to believe that we can expand our wars and go deeper into debt to maintain an unsustainable level of consumption, we will dynamite the foundations of our society.

Complex systems collapse quite rapidly

Here's a fascinating article from The Oil Drum: Australia & New Zealand which chronicles the failure of a complex computer system and draws on analogies to sand castles, academic studies of complex systems, and the world wide financial sector meltdown. Here's the description of the computer system meltdown:

Our internal network here has been having problems ... I was reminded that the speed of collapse in a network is often a function of the natural frequency (speed) of the network, while the breadth of failure depends on a number of factors, including load and the degree of interdependence within the network.

The problem was eventually traced to a problem with one piece of software on one machine on our intranet.

Our Intranet network could have been built to be reliable, but instead it was built to be "efficient". Far from being a network of fail-safe systems, our network is a network of interdependencies. When the system was loaded, a single failure brought the whole system down.

Our network operates at electronic speeds, and it failed with the same rapidity.

Understanding how this happened is critically important. There are four parts to creating the complete meltdown of a network:

1. Create a network by building connections between systems.
2. When a particular part of the network approaches overload (goes red), recognise that this is happening and use the connections you have created to allow you to switch load to another part of the network.
3. Continue doing this until all areas are red.
4. Now add more load.

In summary: The ability to measure and monitor the system gives us the capacity to avoid small avalanches in individual areas. However, if we keep adding load without adding capacity we overload the entire network and thus make an all-encompassing avalanche inevitable.

If we can’t add capacity, then it would have been better to allow a series of small avalanches.

Read the whole article which goes from computers, to sand castles, to financial systems, to peak oil and beyond.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

NCIS - Political statement perchance?

It's a network TV show I watch - NCIS. Last Tuesday night Special Agent in charge Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) has an agent trainee attached to his crew, and is asked by the Director to evaluate the trainee. The Director explains,

"With the new administration coming in, we want to weed out the ones that are political appointees."

Be still my heart.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Too far left - clarified

Digby opens my eyes about what it means to be "too far [to the] left":

[T]he lesson of Clinton isn't that he went "too far left." It's that he didn't handle congressional egos or the media properly. If they really believe that [Obama] can't "go left" (defined as doing something that will make conservatives and the political establishment upset)and see a move like Feinstein's as something that has to be defeated, then they have learned the wrong thing from the Clinton experience and they are going to get rolled by the conservatives. Just like he did.

To go left: doing something that will upset conservatives and the political establishment

The political establishment:

consists of incumbents,

lobbyists (the bagmen that carry campaign contributions from the corporatists and the wealth elites to the incumbents in return for being allowed to write the laws the politicians should be writing),

the beltway media "elites" (courtiers - talking heads and air heads who use their face time and op-ed space time to advance the conservative agenda of the media owners; eunuchs. Not to be confuse with the owners of media.)

Conservative: a once honorable label coopted by

the neocons (warmongers who believe that might makes right and usually believe the the U.S. and Israel are both always right),

the theocons (religious fanatics that have coopted the label "Christian" while teaching that the U.S. is a "Christian" nation and thus has a god-given obligation to wage war on Muslims indiscriminately killing Muslim children, women and men; that men are superior to women; that women have no rights over their reproductive systems; that human beings whose affection preference is for other human beings of the same sex are entitled to lesser human rights than other human beings),

the corporate-cons (mostly white, mostly male executives who believe they are worth every penny of the salaries they have convinced their boards of directors to approve for them for their kickbacks to lobbyists, accountants [a guild of white collar whores paid to sign off on fictitious numbers used by ponzi schemes to dazzle boards of directors], lawyers [a guild of white collar whores paid to input loopholes into legislation they feed the lobbyists to write for the incumbents, and to deregulate new industries in which to incorporate the next ponzi scheme]

The opinion-makers (those who shape U.S. public opinion by shamelessly waging political propaganda upon the American people via television (network and cable), radio, and the now-dying news-paper industry; they are desperately and vigilantly seeking the means to control information available on the internet, and will most likely succeed). Not to be confused with the media "elites". The opinion-makers TELL the media "elites" what to think.

The wealth elites (18 U.S. families whose fortunes are so vast, they are no longer induced to play ponzi, but rather direct their lawyers, lobbyists and opinion-makers to convince the U.S. public of the evils of the "death tax", the Marxism of raising marginal tax rates on incomes of $250,000- $280,000 by 3% and the Communism of raising marginal tax rates on incomes above $280,000 by 3%, and the anti-Americanism of taxing Capital Gains above a rate of 15%.

Friday, November 14, 2008

When hiding under the cloak of national security fails to distract - then we hear of the importance of unity and comity

In the American Conservative, Daniel Larison explains clearly, cogently, and lucidly, why the Obama administration must investigate the crimes of the Cheney administration. Quite simply, failure to do so renders the phrase "the rule of law" utterly meaningless.

[A} system governed by the rule of law would require ... that those suspected of abuses of power, corruption or the commission of crimes under the color of authority be investigated and, if the evidence merited it, prosecuted.

Most Americans cannot conceive of executive branch officials, much less the President himself, having to answer for their crimes, which is one of the reasons why so many members of different administrations, but particularly the current one, have held the law in such contempt–because they know they will not have to answer, much less pay, for what they have done.

This is what the members of the party now headed out of power will probably call “criminalizing policy differences” because there is a frighteningly large number of partisans of the outgoing administration who believe that disputes over interrogation techniques, detainee treatment and illegal surveillance are merely policy disputes about which there are supposedly two equally legitimate positions. Actually, administration defenders probably think that the illegal activities carried out during this administration are more “legitimate,” because they are justified by what Prof. Bacevich has called “the ideology of national security.”

High-ranking members of both parties go along with these sorts of arguments, and invoke the importance of bipartisan cooperation, because there is something that they wish to preserve that is certainly far more important to them than the law, which is the ability of members of both parties to be able to likewise break the law in the future without fear of prosecution. Hiding under the cloak of “national security” is the first response, and when that fails to distract we hear about the importance of unity and comity. Bipartisanship enables the initial illegality through collaboration in creating or acquiescing in the relevant administration decisions, and then it is summoned to cover up for it. In the process, we see that there is no real benefit to be derived from an adversarial party system and the idea of accountable government is revealed to be a joke.

As I've previously blogged, I believe that high-ranking members of the Democratic party put the issue of impeachment off the table almost immediately after the 2006 mid-term elections because they understood their complicity and culpability in the matters of "interrogation techniques, detainee treatment and illegal surveillance." It was reported that Alberto Gonzales "scared" them.

The crimes of the outgoing administration should be investigated, and the complicity of the so-called opposition party should also be investigated on a NON PARTISAN basis.

Is this at all likely to happen? No, sadly, tragically.

We the people deserve the governments we elect, and all the consequences, short term and long term that those elections entail.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

One of the most dismaying, childish, foolish policy proposals of the Obama campaign

At The Left Coaster, Paradox has a must read post foretelling the opposition President-Elect Obama's administration will face from the Legislative and Judicial branches as well as "a rankly corporate journalism corps" in any (assumed forthcoming) efforts to initiate "liberal enterprises."

But the issue Paradox takes up is Obama's policy proposals for beefing up military operations in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, however, was one of the most dismaying, childish, foolish policy proposals of the Obama campaign that offends me on many levels. What, pray tell, is the mission of America in Afghanistan? It cannot be articulated, because there is none. Defeat the Taliban, perhaps? How? By inserting 10 more brigades and creating another occupied Iraq?

Afghanistan has turned the stupid imperial reaches of militaristic countries into hamburger for centuries. If any citizen thinks the American experience will be different they are delusional. The only successful policy option for Afghanistan is to get the hell out of there and turn whatever mission of the week they decide for it into a tiny, covert operations one.

Furthermore, the [emplacement] of more troops for Afghanistan represents a nauseating I’m Your Big Dick President endorsement to American politics that has been an utter disaster, way to go on the change there. Tightly weaved into this retro machismo is a frightening American nationalism of horrifying mass violence and tragic militarism, the only things we build truly well anymore are only good for killing other humans.

Jeff Huber too has recenetly remarked upon the idiocy of the present Afghanistan foreign policy, and offered his reservations about President-Elect Obama's stated strategies there:

The Bush administration celebrated Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election by blowing away another Afghan wedding party. The airstrike, which came within hours of the election, killed 40 civilians and wounded 28 others in Kandahar Province.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai held a press conference on Wednesday to congratulate Obama on his victory, and said that his first request of the new American president would be “to end the civilian casualties.” We've been bombing weddings in Afghanistan for over six years now, and the tactic clearly isn't working.

I'm rather hoping that Obama's foreign policy platform has room for an alternative to bombing weddings and other mainstays of the neocon tactics manual, but I'm not yet convinced that it does.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Losing the Republican Scapegoat - Retiring the Innocent Bystander fable

In Salon, David Sirota exhorts President-elect Obama to think big and take advantage of a mandate to govern more progressively.

Only a few years ago, Democrats were almost relegated to permanent minority status by a Mission Accomplished sign and a flight suit. But since President Bush's 2004 reelection, they gained at least 50 House seats, 12 Senate seats, seven state legislatures and seven governorships. As Republicans used "socialism" attacks to make the election a referendum on conservatism, Democrats also registered their biggest presidential triumph since 1964.

What the party gains in strength, it loses in a Republican scapegoat that previously justified inaction. On huge issues -- whether re-regulating Wall Street, reforming trade, solving the healthcare emergency, or ending the Iraq war -- America envisages enormous progress in the months ahead, and Democrats will have no one to blame for failure but themselves. After all, with more than 360 electoral votes, President Obama cannot credibly claim he lacks the political capital to legislatively steamroll a humiliated GOP and its remaining senators.

To meet the challenge, Democrats have to abandon their worst habits.

They must, for instance, acknowledge their progressive mandate, rather than denying it as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did on Tuesday. "This is not a mandate for a political party or an ideology," he fearfully told reporters.

They should also retire the Innocent Bystander fable about being powerless onlookers. Democrats first cited this myth as reason the Iraq war continued during their congressional majority -- expecting the country to forget that Congress can halt war funding.

Democrats need to discard other lies, too -- especially those about Bill Clinton. To hear the pundits tell it, Clinton's first-term pitfalls underscore why the next administration should avoid "governing in a way that is, or seems, skewed to the left," as the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus most recently asserted. History, of course, proves the opposite. Recounting Clinton's early years to Politico, a lobbyist correctly noted that the new president didn't move left -- he pushed conservative policies like NAFTA, thereby demoralizing his base and helping Republicans take Congress.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Forgive and deliver us

A dear friend forwarded a prayer to me, portions of which I excerpt below.

Forgive us for choosing the patterns of empire.
Thank you for using the weak to shame the strong
and the foolish to confound the wise.
Protect us from becoming too strong or too wise.
Protect us from ourselves.

Forgive us…
for the groaning of creation
for the millions who die of hunger and curable diseases
for warehousing people in prisons and using them for labor
for the scandal of billions wasted in war
for worrying about tomorrow and storing up more than this day our daily bread
for an economy that mirrors the seven deadly sins
for our Caesars and our Herods
for the violence and greed in our own hearts
Save us from ourselves.

Deliver us…
from the arrogance of power
from the myth of redemptive violence
from the tyranny of greed
from the ugliness of racism
from false hope and counterfeit change
from the cancer of hatred
from the seduction of wealth
from the idolatry of nationalism
from the paralysis of cynicism
from the ghettoes of poverty
from the ghettoes of wealth
from the blood-stained pages of history
and from the legacy of slavery.
Deliver us oh God.

Give us the courage…
to bless the poor in a world that blesses the middle class.
to bless the meek in a world that admires aggression.
to bless the hungry in a world that feeds the already fed.
to bless the merciful in a world that shows no mercy on evildoers.
to bless the pure in heart in a world of clutter and noise.
to bless the peacemakers in a world that baptizes bombs.

Give us imagination…
that we might not conform to the patterns of this world.
that we might shatter indifference and interrupt injustice with grace
that we might be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves
that we might consider the lillies and sparrows as they shame Wall Street’s splendor
that we might choose the dream of God over the dreams of nations

Everybody responsible for our post-Soviet era goat grope deserves to be horse whipped

Jeff Huber provides another of his always lucid, candid, compelling and well-reasoned assessments, this one regarding Obama in the foreign policy arena. Jeff's not bothered by the lack of experience but has serious concerns about who is advising him and what some of his advisers have already done. Huber continues to hammer home his points on the Iranian "threat" to the U.S. (non-existent in the absence of some stupid military or political move on that country) and how Iran has helped to reduce the violence in Iraq.

Obama's much-publicized lack of foreign policy experience didn't bother me. In fact, I consider it more of an asset than a limitation. In the main, Americans can be proud of the influence their country has had on humanity. We save the world three times in the 20th century, winning two world wars and the Cold War. But anybody who claims credit for the last 15 years or so of U.S. foreign policy is an idiot because everybody responsible for our post-Soviet era goat grope deserves to be horse whipped.

Obama didn’t draw his brain trust from the same tree that McCain plucked his off of, but apple and orange and pachyderm and ass alike, all those foreign policy wonks move in the same orbits.

One of their social functions this past year was thrown by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an offshoot of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The occasion of this particular gala was a meeting of something WINEP calls the Task Force on the Future of U.S.-Israel Relations. The Task Force released a report in August titled "How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge." Among the more alarming assertions of the report is that Israel and the U.S. should discuss taking "preventative military action" against Iran.

It's downright alarming, in fact, that Obama let two of his advisers endorse a policy statement drawn up by proxies of any foreign country, much less Israel. The change the Obama administration needs to make first and foremost is to stop letting Israel lead us around by the foreign policy tool. If the Israelis insist that we guarantee to keep them absolutely, positively safe from the Muslim world then let them move to Utah and pay our taxes. I'm sure they'll find a way to handle the Mormons all on their own.

Obama needs an adviser who will remind him that Iran's defense budget is less than one percent of ours, and that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, and that Iran's conventional forces cannot possibly project power across the distance that separates it and Israel, and that by brokering a cease fire between Muqtada al Sadr and Nuri al Maliki, Iran is as responsible as General David Petraeus, if not more so, for the reduced levels of violence in Iraq. Obama also needs an adviser who will point out that General Petraeus's "brilliant job" in Iraq amounted to doing what Petraeus consistently accused the Iranians of doing: handing out money and weapons to Iraqi militants.

For the sake of our children and grandchildren, somehow

The Sacrament Bee prominently featured a front page story of a Folsom, California Mormon family that contributed $50,000 towards the passage of California Proposition Hate.

Pam and Rick Patterson have always followed teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and tried to live within their means.

He drives a 10-year-old Honda Civic to his job at Intel. She is a stay-at home mom who makes most of the family meals and bakes her own bread. The couple, who have five sons between the ages of 3 and 12, live in a comfortable but modest three-bedroom home in Folsom.

It's a traditional lifestyle they believe is now at risk. That's why the Pattersons recently made a huge financial sacrifice – they withdrew $50,000 from their savings and donated it to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign, the ballot measure that seeks to ban same-sex marriage.

"It was a decision we made very prayerfully and carefully," said Pam Patterson, 48. "Was it an easy decision? No. But it was a clear decision, one that had so much potential to benefit our children and their children."

I keep re-reading this article, desperately hoping to find just how this $50,000 decision is going to benefit their children and grand-children.

Mormon officials contend that this "is not a Mormon issue. And it shouldn't be portrayed that way," said Lisa West, spokesperson for the church in the Sacramento region.

West said church members have given generously to this issue because it strikes at the core of their beliefs – that marriage is between a man and a woman and lasts for eternity.

"The No. 1 reason members are donating and working toward this cause is the preservation of the traditional family," she said.

That's why Auburn resident David Nielson, 55, is giving. He said the church has not pressured him to contribute.

"Absolutely not," said Nielson, a retired insurance executive. He and his wife, Susan, live on a budget. The couple donated $35,000, he said, "because some things are worth fighting for."

If ever evidence was needed that insurance executives make too much money - this ought to be it. (a) Mr. Nielson is retired at age 55, and (b) This living-on-a-budget couple has $35,000 to give to a political cause. Oh, there WILL be sacrifices.

The couple will forgo a vacation for the next two years and make other sacrifices to pay for their donation, he said.

"If it doesn't pass, then at least I can tell my grandchildren I gave everything I could," Nielson said.

The article concludes with some more about the Patterson family:

The Pattersons, who have been married 14 years, say [they] were thinking about their children's future when they decided to tap into their savings to contribute. And they also said no one pressured them into giving.

They were reluctant to talk about their donation – not even their families knew how much they contributed – and agreed to do so only because it is listed on public campaign documents.

"The amount may surprise people," said Rick Patterson. "But people who know us, know how much the family means to us."

Will they regret donating so much of their savings if the ballot proposition fails?

"No. I feel totally at peace about it," Pam Patterson said. She said they will continue to live frugally. "We have done what we feel is right."

A decision that had so much potential to benefit their children and grand children. How exactly is this? By increasing the pool of potential wives from "merely" heterosexual females to heterosexual and lesbian females? Not so sure that will work out well. Or do they feel/fear that one of their own boys is homosexual and want to impress upon them an overwhelming sense of guilt?

Especially when, as Mormon officials contend, this is NOT a Mormon issue. (Just an issue with which some Mormons have taken a very significant financial stand on.)

The preservation of the traditional family. Well, many of the families with which I am familiar include one or both parents who have been divorced(or had marriages annulled at least once, and many other families where there has been no divorce have produced zero or one offspring.

None of the married gay couples I know would ever wish to deprive the rights of a Mormon family (nor any other family) to marry and create as many children as their hearts desire; to remain married forever. More to the point, the married gay couples I know would want, almost as much as anything, for those condemning their unions to come and spend some time in their houses. To see how they live their lives, sharing in the companionship of each other, and other members of the gay AND straight communities. Preparing meals, discussing the events of the day, their triumphs and disappointments in the work place, their dreams and aspirations for themselves, their hopes for the world, and especially for their children. Yes, married gay couples have children, loving, accepting children.

My sister's wife's daughter at age seven had this profound insight: “A family is a bunch of people, or not so many, who love each other.”

Those who feel their own marriage is somehow threatened by permitting same sex couples to marry probably have some underlying issues within the framework of their own marriage that need to be addressed. Your marriage is what YOU make it. Shouldn't being able to show the strength and commitment of your marriage to your children and your grandchildren be sufficient to prove its sanctity?

Let this not be a vain boast for the sake of posturing and political correctness

In a Pakistan Daily Times editorial, Farish A Noor makes an impassioned plea for President-elect Obama to truly oversee change in America vis-a-vis foreign raising fundamental questions and setting objective standards that will remove the oratorical promises of change from mere generalities to concrete deeds revoking the policies of the last four administrations.

note: URL error message keeps popping up when i try to link to this piece. Not sure what the problem is. URL =\11\07\story_7-11-2008_pg3_3

Obama’s campaign was, from the outset, driven by a simple message that nonetheless resonated with a vast cross-section of American society: The time has come for change. The old crumbling power structures that has for so long been dominated by the same incestuous community of white, upper middle class, elite men whose genealogies date back to the founding fathers of America, seems to have been opened up for a while, allowing for this rupture in the collective imaginary of the American people and forcing all of us to question some of the settled assumptions that have guided our understanding of America for perhaps too long.

Those of us who reside in Asia would have our own set of questions that ought to be put before the latest resident of the White House, and there are lingering dilemmas and quandaries that need to be laid to rest before we herald the coming of a new order.

For a start, let us begin with the claim that the victory of Obama will lead to a new America, one that is confident and strong. Obama’s promise was to restore, to America and Americans, the sense of pride that was severely compromised during the Bush years and to recover much of the credibility and standing that America has lost since the fateful invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

If America’s pride and dignity are indeed to be restored, then how? A strong America is not necessarily a bad thing, and even worse would be the prospect of an America falling apart at the seams and sending debris all over the world.

But for too long, America’s political elite have understood this grand project in terms that were decidedly militarist and hegemonic. A strong America need not and should not be understood as a license for greater American hegemonic influence, and certainly not greater military clout and belligerent prowess. This was precisely the fatal error of successive American governments beginning with the Reagan administration that sought to restore American pride following the country’s graceless exit from Vietnam in 1975.

Yes, we welcome a strong America that is grounded in Universalist principles, but no, we do not welcome a strong America that arrives on our shores with Humvees, stinger missiles and B-52s. (And lest we forget, B-52s do not make good ambassadors of goodwill.)

Related to this is the question of America’s moral standing and its moral credibility today, which is at an all time low. Mr Obama has reiterated his claim that he will seek to restore the image and moral credibility of the United States in the eyes of the world, but let this not be a vain boast for the sake of posturing and political correctness.

America has been using human rights and the promotion of democracy as a bargaining chip since the time of the Helsinki accord at the peak of the Cold War, and the Carter administration was keen to highlight the human rights abuses of other countries then, provided they were all in the Soviet bloc or showed signs of harbouring pro-leftist sympathies. During this period, both Democratic and Republican administrations paid scant attention to the horrendous human rights abuses that were taking place in countries that were firmly allied to American interests, ranging from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel to Indonesia and the Philippines.

No, Mr Obama, we will not take seriously your claims to defend fundamental liberties unless and until you personally see to it that institutions such as the prison at Guantanamo Bay are shut down during your watch. And don’t wait four years to do it, or you may end up like the incumbent leader of Malaysia who was also known to have waited too long before attempting his reforms.

Only then can America preach human rights with confidence and credibility, and when doing so please focus your attention on those countries most closely allied to your own American concerns too.

Mr Obama would also do well to relieve us Asians of the blight and burden of being designated as the ‘second front in the War on Terror’. During the Cold War, Southeast Asia was likewise called the second front in the ‘war on communism’, and the net result of this was the promotion of military dictatorships, the use of draconian laws, the wanton murder, torture and incarceration of millions of innocent Asians deemed dangerous due to their leftist sympathies, and the annexation of East Timor that took place under the nose of Washington.

Mr Obama should realise that the War on Terror has been nothing more than a blanket excuse used by the governments of Southeast Asia to curry favour with Washington, and to build a vast network of anti-terror centres, prisons, detention facilities and to further perpetuate antiquated colonial laws used to detain even more Asians, ostensibly to protect Americans and American foreign interests.

To expose the anti-terror scam for what it is — nothing more than an elaborate fiction and a lie that serves the economic interests of repressive regimes, arms manufacturers and the security industry — would not only raise the image of the America that Mr Obama wants to save, but also prove to us that America may still be able to redeem itself.

Thus for all these reasons, we hope and pray that America under its new president will prosper; but let it prosper with the world and not against it. American strength and pride should never be at the cost of the weakness and humiliation of other nations.