Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Job Growth Numbers Are Grim & "Journalism" Fails: Where News Reporting Has Jumped Off a Cliff

I was reading an essay just yesterday that makes the argument that the U.S. government needed to print money (a lot and soon) to finance its way out of this economic hole in the road. Although that seems wrong to many of us, it is the only way quickly to finance many new programs that will be able to immediately put more money into the hands of consumers, who need to spend to revive this sputtering recovery. (And we're not even considering here ("There Be Dragons!") the obvious concerns of whether recovering back to where we were before would be a disaster for the environment and the world economy.) And, gee, when even the New York Times decides to lecture President Obama's numbers guys for going too slowly, you know it might be time to get serious on some "jobs" action. For those of us who've already lost years of our normal working lives during this cycle (through the policies that encouraged outsourced industries, the importation of cheap labor, the declining quality in products and services, etc.), and the benefits that would have accrued for this work never to be recovered in future employment or through any other means, it's probably too little too late if they finally do move forward now on actually funding jobs programs. For the newly unemployed, it's a start that may not have occurred for years otherwise.

The trick I'd been hearing about for the first two years of the Obama administration was to give the rightwingers a lot of what they wanted during the first term (building bridges of goodwill!), so that the real programs for job creation, education, infrastructure repair, protection of the ecology, etc., could be passed with votes from both sides during the second term. But after what we've seen in the House of Representatives so far, good luck with that approach. Anyone else out there think there is a good reason to move that jobs-creation program effort forward?

May 30, 2011 The Numbers Are Grim A month ago, when an initial gauge of first-quarter economic growth came in surprisingly weak, many policy makers and economists expected the bad news to prove fleeting. But when revised data were released last week, the growth estimate remained stuck at an annual rate of 1.8 percent, compared with 3.1 percent at the end of last year. More troubling in the latest figures, consumer spending — the largest component of the economy — was especially slow. Stagnant wages and higher prices for gas and food are squeezing family budgets, while falling home equity hurts consumer confidence. That suggests more bad news to come. When consumers are constrained, so is hiring, because without customers, employers are hard pressed to retain workers or make new hires. A recent Labor Department report showed a greater-than-expected rise in the number of people claiming jobless benefits even as private-sector economic forecasts are being revised downward — both very bad omens for continued job growth.

Republican lawmakers have responded to renewed signs of weakness with a jobs plan that prescribes more of the same “fixes” that Republicans always recommend no matter the problem: mainly high-end tax cuts, deregulation, more domestic oil drilling and federal spending cuts.

The White House has offered sounder ideas, including job retraining, plans to boost educational achievement and tax increases to help cover needed spending. But its economic team is mainly focused on negotiations to raise the debt limit, presumably parrying Republican demands for deep spending cuts that could weaken the economy further while still reaching an agreement on the necessary increase.

The grim numbers tell an unavoidable truth: The economy is not growing nearly fast enough to dent unemployment. Unfortunately, no one in Washington is pushing policies to promote stronger growth now.

The sinkholes in the economy should be obvious. Most prominently, the housing market is still awful, and state and local government budgets are still a mess. Conditions apparently have to get worse before deficit-obsessed policy makers will be ready to address them, including with bolstered foreclosure relief and more fiscal aid to states. More delay would only imperil the recovery, such as it is. And without a strong recovery, it will be even harder to repair the budget. Continued hard times means low tax revenues and high safety-net spending.

If Washington won’t do what is needed to make things better, there are still things that can be done to try to keep the economy from getting worse.

The administration could work to ease the rules for refinancing mortgages owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-run mortgage giants. Easier refinancings would lower monthly payments for potentially hundreds of thousands of borrowers in good standing, and in that way, free up spending money to boost the economy.

The Federal Reserve, for its part, must be prepared to continue measures to bolster the economy as needed, even if that means looser policy for longer than it originally planned. Democrats in Congress must lay the groundwork for an inevitable fight over extending federal unemployment benefits, which expire at the end of this year.

There’s a long way to go before the economy will thrive without government help.
It's good to see the Times actually reporting some relevant numbers (not that they don't publish numbers all the time, but still, it's nice to see a little bit of context right out there in the lead editorial) Wonder when they'll come clean and publish some good editorial context about the loss of journalism numbers? James Howard Kunstler feels the same way I do on that subject and has no problem with letting the world know. (I love to read this guy (except for his "nuclear" blindness). Sometimes you need someone to just say what's true without any sugar-coating ("the numbers have improved over the horrible numbers of last month"), disclaimers ("but they didn't mean it"), or excuses about how they will eventually be better ("in the future . . . someday").
Where’s the Real News Reporting Gone? 27 May 2011 When I was coming up in the TV reporting business, “60 Minutes” on CBS was the pinnacle of TV news. I was lucky enough to make it to the networks (ABC and CNN) and now run my own site on the internet (which is where the news business is all heading). Today, as far as I am concerned, “60” is not the pinnacle of journalism. I don’t know what it is, but it is not the truth and light it once was. That was clearly evident in the first and second interviews with Fed Chief Ben Bernanke in the last couple of years. I was so upset about how poorly the second interview was conducted, I wrote a stinging criticism of the segment called “CBS Allows Fed to Spread Disinformation Unchallenged.” What Bernanke said was so preposterous, Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” made fun of it. To be fair, I have also complimented the show when it has done good reporting. That said, good reporting is not being done on much of the mainstream media (MSM) these days – journalism fail. Journalist and science fiction author, James Howard Kunstler, agrees. Mr. Kunstler is here with his take on what the MSM is telling the public and what you really need to know. - Greg Hunter Get Real

By James Howard Kunstler

Americans gathered around the hearth of CBS’s 60 Minutes must have been bemused to hear reporter Scott Pelley announce self-importantly that the US Department of Justice is investigating Lance Armstrong’s bicycling team for performance-enhancing drug use. Does it really matter if any pro athlete takes drugs? Why not throw Babe Ruth out of the Baseball Hall of Fame for drinking sixteen beers the night before a World Series opener? Or Ditto Mickey Mantle for that, plus smoking two packs of Marlboros in the dugout during every game.

Notice that Scott Pelley did not announce that the US DOJ is investigating Goldman Sachs, or Citi, or Merrill Lynch, or Bank of America or several other so-called banks for looting the American public and influence-peddling in the halls of government. Or the SEC and the CFTC for failing to regulate the trade in frauds and swindles. The window for that sort of action is closing, and with it the reasonable hopes of citizens in the legitimacy of institutions that manage things.

The failures in journalism are now so stupendous that there are only a few possible explanations.

1. The major media, hard pressed by declining revenues and the extremes of competition on cable TV and the Internet, are in thrall to corporate advertisers who expect cheerleading for the status quo in return.

2. Major media editors and producers – the officer corps of journalism – are not smart enough to tell the difference between what’s important and what’s not and can’t run their newsrooms.

3. Mainstream media only reflects the cognitive dissonance that pervades the collective imagination of a culture – too much noise to think coherently.

4. We really don’t want to know what’s going on – it’s too scary.

5. Sometimes a generation of leaders just fails.

For those of you interested in a digest of reality, here’s what’s going on:

• The global energy predicament really is a crisis, even though nobody is currently lining up at the gasoline pumps. It’s a crisis because peak oil is for real and oil is the primary resource of advanced economies, and there are no miracle rescue remedies (“drill, drill, drill,” shale oil, shale gas). Peak oil means that we can’t increase supply in relation to still-growing demand, which creates disturbances in the energy markets. Peak oil also leads directly to a crisis of capital (money), because a nation (an economy) that can’t get increasing energy “inputs,” can’t create more wealth, can’t generate more loans (debt), and most importantly can’t expect what we’ve come to think of as normal economic growth. This creates further disturbances and distortions in financial markets.

• Without that sort of growth you get stagnation and then contraction. We’re probably past the stagnation phase and into contraction. We tried to compensate for stagnation (and conceal it) by allowing the financial part of the economy grow from 5 percent of all activity to over 40 percent of all activity. In the process, banking changed from a boring utility aimed at directing capital into legitimate investment (highly regulated) to a swashbuckling realm of unregulated swindles having nothing to do with real capital allocation but rather aimed at the sales of worthless “innovative products” (CDOs, et cetera), the creaming off of huge transaction fees, the use of computers to game exchanges, colossal carry trades between banks and public treasuries (you borrow money at zero percent – for free! – and invest it in paper that pays, say, 2.5 percent and keep rolling it over), and let’s not forget pervasive accounting fraud practiced by government and private business to the degree that money matters are now completely opaque and dishonesty can run rampant. After a while, nobody can have faith in the way things work, and that is a dangerous situation because it leads to political problems. The ultimate question is: how does a society manage contraction?

One way to think about it is to stop using the word “growth” and substitute the term “economic activity.” There are lots of useful things we can do to rearrange daily life in the USA that would put people to work, but they would tend to defy the status quo. We could recognize that peak oil means that we have to grow our food differently and make local agriculture a more up-front piece of the economy. We could rebuild the railroads so that people don’t have to drive everywhere. We could rebuild our inland ports to move more bulk freight on boats. Notice these are very straightforward activities, unlike the manipulation of financial paper and markets. We’re not interested in focusing on agriculture and transport reform. Business and political interests are arrayed against changing anything. Something’s got to give.

• Political problems arise when many people in a society lose faith that their institutions are competent, trustworthy, and fair, and seek ways to bring them down. We’re in a political crisis and we don’t know it. Other parts of the world know it, and more of them are finding out every day.

Yesterday was Spain’s turn, as the governing party took a beating in local elections and unemployed young people moiled in the city squares. Many of them probably expected to work in corporate jobs. They may end up back on the farm or in the cork orchards. The rest of Europe has a lot to sort out, too, and after a half-century of being the world’s fairy-tale theme park, the terms of daily life have suddenly changed. The tensions between the requirement to adjust to change and the resistance to change will produce all kinds of disorder within and between the different nations of Europe. It will be hard to believe as it occurs, but essentially each nation, or region, will be thrown back on whatever resources it can muster, and that will be very difficult.

• The trouble in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is probably not so much over abstract ideas about “freedom” and “democracy” (we flatter ourselves to think so) as food scarcity and the pressures of exploding populations. The OCED nations might not care so much if this region didn’t produce so much of the world’s precious oil – but it does, of course, so we can’t help but meddle in the politics there.

I would not bet on continued stability of the type that has prevailed for decades, and by that I just mean the expectation that regular supplies of oil will get to the market. The USA is pissing away vast money resources to keep these supply lines open. We’ve made an enemy of Persia (Iran) and they want to rule the region, so we are trying to make a baloney sandwich out of them with garrisons east and west in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s not working so well.

Now, Persia is making noises about establishing missile bases in Venezuela. They may overstep on that one. Pay attention. China has a deep interest in keeping the oil supply lines open, and it’s possible, if the wells, pipelines, and terminals are not wrecked by whatever happens next in MENA, that China will get some oil even if we don’t.

They offer engineering aid; we just send guys in desert camo with night-vision goggles and guns. Japan, you can possibly forget about. I maintain that they will be going medieval, especially now that they’ve foresworn further nuclear power development.

• If the US is politically nervous, it is not showing a whole lot at the moment, but there is so much potential for financial havoc and economic hardship that I have a hard time imagining the 2012 election will play out as many suppose another red-blue pie-eating contest bought-and-paid-for by Wall Street.

We’re cruising straight into some kind of money crisis that is going to spin heads. This isn’t the first time I’ve said we could wake up one morning and find a Pentagon general in charge of things. If US economic history is any rule, Barack Obama would just be plain un-reelectable. But would anybody really vote for such a bumbling, glad-handing Babbitt non-entity as Tim Pawlenty? The things that really could tip the USA over are boring issues like interest rates and currency values – and the rule of law in money matters. They can’t compete for sex appeal with Lance Armstrong and whoever the latest incarnation of Lindsay Lohan is these days.

(Mr. Kunstler is a prolific and talented author. Some of his recent books include: “The Witch of Hebron,” World made by Hand,” and “The Long Emergency.” To check out Mr. Kunstler’s bio (click here) To go to his website (click here).)

Ah. Currency values . . . interest rates . . . exciting subjects for another day. ___________________

Monday, May 30, 2011

Why the "Always Wrong" Continue to Win/Rule (They Forgive Themselves (And Have the Power to Make It Stick)) DFB* - "Crafty" As Hell

For Gil Scott-Heron (1949 - 2011)

Standing On Your Shoulders.

"You will not be able to stay home, brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out. You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip, Skip out for beer during commercials, Because the revolution will not be televised. David (F*.) Brooks, he of the constantly stealing-from-already-published-somewhat-ancient-sources ideas, columns, and whining about how Reagan would have been sooooo much better (today, somewhat exposed in The Guardian) . . . has written a book that formulates for the ruling class new excuses for failure and the ability to continue to travel down the same path of personal (heretofore immoral) self-enriching, self-aggrandizement and never-ending nonthink. (Good to see that DFB has been keeping up with his best-seller reading!) My guess is that he's publishing (at Short Books) and speaking in England because he knows the audience for his particular brand of nonsense is limited throughout the rest of the educated, civilized world. Also, it's good to keep in mind that the corporeality of a DFB is an impossibility where the media aren't owned by the richest entities. Couldn't happen (as no one would be reading his "thoughts" without a huge, never-ending PR campaign by those who benefit from his narrowed logic). But we now hate any type of competition (and particularly that concerning those embracing well-thought-out ideas) in the USA! USA!! USA!!! (And you thought our mis-educated masses weren't a stroke of planning genius?)
But what's important about Brooks is not so much that he acts British, but that he thinks British. His new book, The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens (idea stolen from dozens of sources), is steeped in the anti-rationalist philosophical reflections of the British Enlightenment. And this is no ordinary book: even before publication this week it has become, according to Times columnist Rachel Sylvester, "the must-read text for politicians searching for a new prism through which to examine the apparently intractable challenges of social immobility, school dropout rates, welfare dependency and crime". Education secretary Michael Gove believes it contains vital clues for turning around failing schools; universities minister David Willetts reckons it may help define modern Conservatism; policy minister Oliver Letwin thinks it articulates the cherished Tory notion of the Big Society. The book is so hot that both David Cameron and Ed Miliband are meeting Brooks this week, and Steve Hilton, the PM's top strategist, has invited him to hold a seminar at No 10 on Friday. Brooks hails British rather than French Enlightenment thinkers as the guys who really understood what makes the social animal tick. While Voltaire, Condorcet and Descartes used reason to confront superstition and feudalism, thinkers across the Channel – Brooks cites Burke, Hume and Adam Smith – thought it unwise to trust reason. Rather, and here Brooks quotes Hume with approval: "Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions." Why is The Social Animal so important if it just dusts off old thoughts of Brits from 200-plus years ago? First, Brooks argues misplaced faith in human rationality has underpinned policy-making for too long. Second, research in neuroscience, behavioural economics and psychology stressing the importance of our non-rational minds can, if applied, create a better world. Brooks says that, overwhelmingly, human decision-making is not rational but unconscious. Much of the book's pleasure consists in reading digests of experiments (such as international differences in the incidence of touching during coffee) that show how non-rational we are and yet how successful the social animal when breaking free of mere rational decision-making. The style and substance will be familiar to readers of pop psychology bestsellers such as Malcolm Gladwell's Blink or Jonah Lehrer's Proust Was a Neuroscientist: for Brooks the unconscious isn't a seething Freudian netherworld of sexual urges, but where we make the key decisions of our lives – whom to date and marry, how to vote.

Most success stories stress academic ability, IQ, hard work, he argues. Brooks rather stresses non-cognitive skills, which, he writes, is "the catch-all category for hidden qualities that can't be easily measured, but which in real life lead to happiness and fulfilment." "By that I mean emotions, intuitions, genetic inheritance. Soft stuff, which is pretty rich given that my wife thinks I'm insufficiently touchy feely."

And what are these mysterious non-cognitive skills? Good character (energy, honesty, dependability, recognising your weaknesses and controlling your worst impulses). He also mentions "street smarts", by which he means reading situations and people, often unconsciously, and developing human relationships. He thinks these skills can be honed.

He gives examples of policy-making without non-cognitive street smarts. "When we invaded Iraq we were blind to the social problems that would be involved. We didn't realise they didn't trust us."

Hold on – didn't he write a New York Times column urging invasion? "I did. I was so blind about it. In that column I wondered what Michael Oakeshott [the British conservative political philosopher] would have said. He would have said: this society is very complicated and you should be circumspect in thinking about what you can achieve, and that invading to install democracy without trust is doomed. And then I wrote: 'Having said that, I think we should invade.'"

Another example is the banking crisis, which, he reckons, happened because we trusted bankers. "Many thought we should let these rational wealth-seekers get on with it. We shouldn't."

The Social Animal's thesis is expressed through the form of a novel. He creates a couple, Harold and Erika, he from a rich background, she from a broken family in a disorganised neighbourhood, and traces them through their formative years, marriage, careers, retirement and death. The book has become a US bestseller and is worth reading – even if with mounting exasperation – since it seems to promise answers to some of western society's deepest problems: how to generate social mobility and reform a non-society devoid of mutual trust and bristling with security cameras.

No wonder leading Tories welcome Brooks. He is to the Big Society agenda what Richard Layard was to Labour's happiness philosophy and Richard Sennett was to Blair's respect agenda. "The Big Society appeals to me because I don't think appealing to people as individuals gets you far. Many social problems are caused by insufficient social capital. Kids are brought up in broken homes and crime-ridden neighbourhoods; they don't go to university because they're not attached to their schools . . . to solve these problems you need to build dense social networks. You have to get beyond treating people as rational machines who respond to the economic incentives."

Brooks thinks his book, written with the US in mind, speaks to British problems. . . .

"There's also a liberal revolution in the moral sphere that says the state shouldn't impinge on choices about marriage, family structure, the role of women. That liberal revolution also took religion out of the public square. Together these revolutions undermine communal trust and law and order." It also . . . led to welfare policies that "enabled lonely young girls to give birth out of wedlock, thus decimating the habits and rituals that led to intact families".

Perhaps the fact that you're a self-described socialist will appeal to Ed Miliband, I suggest to Brooks. "Yes, but my socialism doesn't value state over society. It favours a more communitarian style of politics. The point is to ensure that people from different classes feel united in a common enterprise. When I meet Ed Miliband, I might ask if my kind of socialism appeals, or if he's stuck with the old one."

My hunch is that Brooks's socialism would make Miliband queasy. In the book, he eulogises charter schools – schools that get public money but are granted autonomy from state control in exchange for producing certain results, notably targeting kids from tough backgrounds. Erika, his character from a tough background, manages to get to just such a school established by a billionaire hedge fund trader.

But aren't charter schools anti-egalitarian, don't they stop people from different classes feeling united in a common enterprise? "These schools are unequal, but in an unequal society you need that. Poor kids need different things from schools than rich kids because they often don't have the structure in their homes or neighbourhoods to give them a chance of success and most schools don't help with that."

Isn't there a risk that decentralisation undermines your socialism? . . . Brooks cites Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee . . . . "It was a good article because it argued that when budget deficits are cut the poor are at greater risk. Not that I'm saying cutting the deficit is wrong; it's right, but it needs not to fall on the poorest hardest."

. . . Brooks reminds me of a reverse Jonathan Freedland. While Freedland's book Bring Home the Revolution argued the egalitarian ideas of American revolution should be imported to reform Britain's insufficiently rational polity, Brooks seems to be arguing that it doesn't matter that Britain's political institutions aren't rational, just that they need to be infused with more communal spirit and funky-sounding streets smarts. Whether that's a message Britain wants to hear is another matter.

You had no idea I was going to open with a hilarious bit, did you? That Brooks, what a kidder (or just more wingnutter PR?)! Catch this next one for more yucks.
May 28, 2011 David Brooks: The Lesson For Republicans on Destroying Medicare is They Need to Do Something 'More Crafty' Heather David Brooks apparently thinks that the way for the Republicans to fix their messaging on them wanting to destroy Medicare as we know it and turn it into a voucher system isn't so much a problem with what they want to do, but with how the voters perceive what they want to do with it. Here was his advice for Republicans during the PBS Newshour. DAVID BROOKS: I do think that is the lesson. The Republicans are telling themselves, this year, it's different. This year the people are so disgusted by the debt they want us to be serious. And so what they effectively did was, they saw a line of battlements and a field of 400 yards with no cover, and they ran straight at it. And they get mowed down. And so I think a lesson for the Republicans has to be, do something more crafty. Don't just run straight at it. "Do something more crafty", yeah, that's the ticket. So in other words, don't let the voters know what you really want to do to Medicare, and be more sly about it. Jesus, what a hack. And as I've said before, any time you hear one of these pundits using the word "serious" on the air, that's code for sticking it to the working class. Brooks apparently also thinks if the Republicans just get their messaging right, voters won't realize they're sticking it to seniors or future seniors with their budget plans which destroy our social safety nets.

Transcript via PBS below the fold.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let's bring it home and talk about politics in this country. There was a congressional - a special election in a congressional district, New York State's 26th District, where we saw the Democrat win, in part, David, by going after the Republican for embracing the Paul Ryan Medicare proposal.

What - are there lessons from this? Is it a one-time deal or what?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I don't think it's a one-time deal. If you ask Americans, do you think Medicare should be cut to help trim the deficit or trim the debt, 78 percent say, no, don't touch Medicare. So, Medicare is pretty popular.

When Barack Obama cut it by $400 billion or $500 billion as part of health care, Democrats - Republicans went after him for death panels and all the rest. Paul Ryan and the Republicans went after it. And the Democrats have gone after them for ending Medicare. Both those charges are more or less untrue.

Nonetheless, they struck a chord because people want to keep their Medicare. And so, to me, the depressing thing is not a partisan thing, is just the lesson for both parties is never touch Medicare, never touch Social Security, don't touch it.

And that would be fine if we could afford it. The problem is we can't afford that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we heard - in fact, Bill Clinton, former President Clinton, told Gwen Ifill this week in an interview that the Democrats have to be careful about assuming from the results of this election that they can get away with doing nothing about Medicare.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes. No, the president did say that. And, in fact, he said something similar to Paul Ryan in a - sort of an off-the - off-the-microphone comment as well.

Judy, the reality is, any time there's a special election, and seats turn from one party to the other, especially where it's a seat that has been long held by one party, as is the case in the 26th District of New York - for over 40 years, a Republican - the winning - the losing side always says, it was local factors, unique local factors that caused the defeat. And then they usually confide that our candidate wasn't that good.

That was the case in Massachusetts, you will recall, last year when Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley. The winning side, by contrast, said, no, this is part of a national tide. It's a national movement. It's that Kathy Hochul was a far better candidate, the Democrat, than Jane Corwin. Make no mistake about that. She was a superior candidate.

But this was a Republican district. And Medicare was defining. The problem for the Republicans is this. They never ran on Medicare last fall. They ran on cutting the size, scope, and spending of the federal government, that government had gotten too big, that the economy was in terrible shape. They never mentioned Medicare, other than, as David pointed out, we're going to stop Barack Obama from cutting $500 billion, and we're going to defend the 65-year-olds and all the rest of it.

The problem for the Republicans is they're now on the defensive. They rushed to vote on this, this Ryan plan, and they're all on the record. And that - now the Democrats are emboldened. They're on the offensive. They have been playing defense now for two years. And Republicans who gloated over the fact that the Democrats were supporting health care when the polls were against them - David just cited a poll. The Republicans are in that position on Medicare right now.

So, the total role reversal of the two parties politically is really a change-change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I mean, in both cases, the parties were trying to do the right thing.

We can talk about this or that aspect of the Ryan plan, but it was an attempt to try to deal with a national problem, which is the debt problem. There is a significant chance that, over the debt ceiling fight, there will be a big national catastrophe if we don't reach an agreement on that.

There's also a very significant chance, over the next four years or five years, there will be a serious problem because of the debt and the credit rating of the country. And so, we do have to do something. This result, which I think accurately reflects public opinion, says, do nothing.

And what the Democrats did this week in Congress, there were four budgets put up for vote in the Senate. Every single Democrat voted against every single one of them. So, Barack Obama's budget got zero votes. And so, it's fine and it's politically smart to lay back and play possum and say, "Hey, I'm not for anything, nothing unpopular here." But, eventually, somebody is going to have to find a way to reach some sort of bipartisan deal on this.

MARK SHIELDS: I'm not saying there won't be a bipartisan deal and shouldn't be a bipartisan deal.

I just think the Republicans ran through several stop signs and red lights to do this. I mean, we talked...

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean voting for the Ryan plan.

MARK SHIELDS: Voting for it.

There was - health care - Obama ran on health care in 2008. And then the Democrats took the next 19 months of - of trench warfare, of making the case, of compromising. This was introduced and voted on in two weeks, and with absolutely no preparation, no public persuasion.

It was an act of incredible political arrogance and hubris on the part of the Republicans, and they're going to pay for it, and they are paying for it.

DAVID BROOKS: I do think that is the lesson. The Republicans are telling themselves, this year, it's different. This year the people are so disgusted by the debt they want us to be serious.

And so what they effectively did was, they saw a line of battlements and a field of 400 yards with no cover, and they ran straight at it. And they get mowed down. And so I think a lesson for the Republicans has to be, do something more crafty. Don't just run straight at it.

And of course the very "serious" people out there will never talk about raising taxes on the rich to take care of our budget problems.

From our favorite blog on "the news" (actually always "the olds") at Goldman Sachs:
Sunday, May 29, 2011 Goldman Sachs: Fraud and Manipulation
The reward for cheating the financial system and manipulating the markets is money - bundles of money, for example, from us to Goldman Sachs. People who are moral leave the cheating environment and the cheaters prosper, thinking of themselves as pure geniuses. That is why it is important to prosecute cheaters so that honest people can run the system. Laws that allow unetheical practices should be "deregulated" including commodity speculation which, apparently, is not illegal, but certainly morally reprehensible. Goldman Sachs is, by nature, speculative. You can view the video here You can view the video here. Rev Up Goldman Sachs's Revolving Door Goldman Sachs is trying to live up to its moniker "Government Sachs" by hiring Judd Gregg as international advisor to the bank. It helps that Gregg served on "Appropriations; Banking; Housing and Urban Affairs; and Health Education Labor and Pensions Committees." Gregg turned down an offer to serve in the Obama Government. He was an outspoken critic of Obama's administration. Just what are the incentives for a Senator to join Goldman Sachs?
Former Senator Judd Gregg to Join Goldman Sachs By Adam Martin - Atlantic Wire It's been a good month for government regulators going to join the companies they regulate. On May 11, Comcast announced Meredith Baker would leave the FCC to join its board, after she approved its merger with NBC Universal a few months earlier. Today, the news is about Judd Gregg, the former three-term Republican senator from New Hampshire, who is going to work for Goldman Sachs.
Gregg, who also put in a couple of terms as the governor of New Hampshire, was the top Republican on the Senate Banking Housing and Urban Affairs Committee before he decided not to run for re-election in 2010. Gregg will be joining Goldman as an "international adviser," which means he will "provide strategic advice to the firm and its clients, and assist in business development initiatives across our global franchise," according to their press release. Gregg has already shown he was a friend to big banks like Goldman. In 2009, he argued against a proposed federal breakup of Goldman, saying in a Bloomberg interview, "Big is not necessarily bad.... If an entity is properly capitalized and if it does decent underwriting, big can work to the advantage of this country."

And in 2010, he cautioned against populism as Senate Democrats sought to overhaul financial regulations: "The problem we have is that there is this populist fervor, this Huey Long attitude out there that says all banks are bad and that the financial system is evil and as a result we must do things which will basically end up reducing our competitiveness as a nation." He should fit right in.

Read the article here. Goldman Sachs Reaps and Reaps and Reaps Cash (Secretly) Trying to keep track of all the money that Goldman Sachs received in bailout funds (both short-term and long-term) could be a full-time job. From an earlier post, I found out that Goldman Sachs had accumulated a large amount of financial help from various sources:
Here's another analysis of the FCIC report, including a comment on Goldman Sachs's ever-increasing amounts of money achieved via the Financial Crisis. Goldman Sachs was given $10 billion in TARP funds, $12.9 billion in AIG TARP funds for GS counter parties , $1.9 billion for its own use from AIG's TARP bailout; $5 billion investment from Buffet, and $589 billion in total short-term loans from the Federal Reserve (PDCF) and $193 billion from TSLF throughout 2008 and 2009!
Now we see that Goldman Sachs received money from another Federal Reserve emergency lending fund: ST OMO (single-tranche open-market operations). These 28-day loans were made from March to December 2008 and Goldman Sachs borrowed at least $30 billion from the fund. Are we to believe that this revelation marks the end of the funds Goldman Sachs received? Ha!
Fed Gave Banks Crisis Gains on Secretive Loans Low as 0.01% By Bob Ivry - Bloomberg Businessweek

May 26 (Bloomberg) - Credit Suisse Group AG, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc each borrowed at least $30 billion in 2008 from a Federal Reserve emergency lending program whose details weren’t revealed to shareholders, members of Congress or the public.

The $80 billion initiative, called single-tranche open- market operations, or ST OMO, made 28-day loans from March through December 2008, a period in which confidence in global credit markets collapsed after the Sept. 15 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Units of 20 banks were required to bid at auctions for the cash. They paid interest rates as low as 0.01 percent that December, when the Fed’s main lending facility charged 0.5 percent.

“This was a pure subsidy,” said Robert A. Eisenbeis, former head of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and now chief monetary economist at Sarasota, Florida-based Cumberland Advisors Inc. “The Fed hasn’t been forthcoming with disclosures overall. Why should this be any different?”

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which oversaw ST OMO, posted aggregate data about the program on its website after each auction, said Jeffrey V. Smith, a New York Fed spokesman. By increasing the availability of short-term financing when private lenders were under pressure, “this program helped alleviate strains in financial markets and support the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses,” he said.

Not in Dodd-Frank

Congress overlooked ST OMO when lawmakers required the central bank to publish its emergency lending data last year under the Dodd-Frank law.

“I wasn’t aware of this program until now,” said U.S. Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who chaired the House Financial Services Committee in 2008 and co- authored the legislation overhauling financial regulation. The law does require the Fed to release details of any open-market operations undertaken after July 2010, after a two-year lag.

Records of the 2008 lending, released in March under court orders, show how the central bank adapted an existing tool for adjusting the U.S. money supply into an emergency source of cash. Zurich-based Credit Suisse borrowed as much as $45 billion, according to bar graphs that appear on 27 of 29,000 pages the central bank provided to media organizations that sued the Fed Board of Governors for public disclosure.

New York-based Goldman Sachs’s borrowing peaked at about $30 billion, the records show, as did the program’s loans to RBS, based in Edinburgh. Deutsche Bank AG, Barclays Plc and UBS AG each borrowed at least $15 billion, according to the graphs, which reflect deals made by 12 of the 20 eligible banks during the last four months of 2008.

Read the full article here

And they deserved every cent of those bonuses for such glib arguing. And, look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird, a plane or more failing upwards flying high? Those Rethugs (Chicago School especially!) cannot actually be allowed to fail. (Scary!) But it's not as though no one were paying attention . . . Simon Johnson is! From Baseline Scenario comments (read the whole essay!) about Christine Lagarde's nomination to the position last held by the disgraced-and-under-house-arrest Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Yes, totally unqualified, but perfect from the viewpoint of the banksters!
I see Ms. Lagarde’s nomination in much the same light as I saw Ben Bernanke’s when Obama decided to keep him at his post. It is obvious to most of us, if not all, that the largest banks in the world are really the most influential when it comes to major economic decisions, especially in the West. Not only are governments unwilling to increase capital requirements and cause a restructuring of finance in so doing, but they are willing to walk much further out the gangplank toward the abyss in every other way to appease their political backers. Mark my words, if we leave governance in the hands of those who would willingly destroy the world for a buck and damn the rest of us in the process, then all is going to be lost. The dominoes are in line. Touch one, and we will have a crisis which will consume most of the world’s economies. I am completely amazed that that the other economic powers even attend these conferences or remain members of the IMF (which could, at this point be renamed the EMF, since only Europe seems to matter to it). I really think that your wonderful article is quite restrained, in that sense. China, India, Brazil, et al, should really be terrified. If the Eurozone collapses (seems a decent bet at this point), their exports will fall drastically and immediately, and then all hell will break loose. I want truly and deeply to be wrong.

. . . Legarde, Legarde, hummm.

This is the chick who was sleeping over in one of the palaces in Tunisia the month before the revolution, right?

The girl who almost got thrown out of government for errors of judgment?

Oh well, its been a whole four months.

. . . By her own frank admission in an interview with the WSJ last December:

Lagarde knowingly entered into a conspiracy to break the EU treaties.

“We violated all the rules because we wanted to close ranks and really rescue the euro zone.”

“The Greek and Irish rescues – €110 billion and €67.5 billion, respectively – and the creation of the bailout fund were, Ms. Lagarde said, “major transgressions” of the Lisbon Treaty that is the European Union’s governing document. “The Treaty of Lisbon,” she says, “was very straightforward. No bailing out.”"

By normal standards that should be enough to disqualify her from any position of trust.

Certainly she should not be put in charge of another treaty-based organisation, the IMF.

. . . Nigel mentioned Portugal and Spain. Unemployment among the young people (18-26) there is something like 43%. Protests were held all over Spain last week. These demonstrators were ordered to disperse by beefy, gun-wielding, baton-carrying Planet of the Apes police, in a sign of the times. As Nigel says, the amount of debt for Spain exceeds the total amount in the Euro-kitty, what then?

Here are some clear photos taken in Barcelona documenting the events.

The writing on the wall is clear, can general war be far behind?

. . . Seems to me the best person would be an honest accountant who still understands double data entry…

. . . Are the Swedes sucking on the Swiss teat`s for temporal sinecure (simony & ideology) conterminous continuum?”

After all, the Swedes being the norm (religion?), have not the symbiosis attributes to co-exist fiscally (stern $ criterion) with the “Calvinist Swiss”? Again, the question that should be asked is where is “Waldo”? The answer please…it’s on the back-of-the-envelope – “Basel”! Surprised?

Ref: “Get on with it” (5/28/11) – “Fisching for a job” (5/27/11) – “En Garde” (5/26/11)
Well, you gotta admit that the people who are promoting her must have very specific instructions in mind that she will follow perfectly. As a lawyer should. World, stay tuned for further disaster! * David (Fucking) Brooks ___________________________

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Grift Continues (Too Many Tricks) Lots of Inside Jobs (As Drift Toward Infamy Gains Speed) Please Don't Assume Everything's Okay Now

Lifted gently from Tony at Afghan Central:

Wednesday, 25 May 2011 Obama And His Game Of Tricks Barack Obama wants it both ways. Like every United States president since Bill Clinton, who partially brokered the now-defunct Oslo Accords in 1993, he aspires to act as a trusted intermediary in the 63-year old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, while simultaneously pandering to America’s massive pro-Israel lobby. These clashing goals have spurred him to propose an array of conflicting claims and positions that, aside from being fundamentally incompatible, are often simply painful to observe.
Over the course of four short days in mid-May, he managed, in three separate addresses - at the US State Department, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House briefing room, and at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful flagship of the Israel lobby – to offer blatant discrepancies, of policy or omission, on nearly every aspect of the conflict. This jarring discord did nothing to bolster Washington’s role in the situation and, to careful listeners, reinforced its ultimate irrelevance to any genuine resolution of it. More Here from Reality Zone Blog.
Sandy Underpants at The Aristocrats (ironically enough) asks the question of the hour (and it's a natural for all the Presidents since Jimmy Carter):

Our Very Efficient Ex-Dem-Prez

Here's former Pres. Bill Clinton disagreeing with a presumed strawman he created in the previous sentence. This guy doesn't even need to use up any real strawmen. He's evolved:
"I'm afraid the Democrats will draw the conclusion that because Congressman Ryan's proposal is not the right one, that we shouldn't do anything. I completely disagree with that." - Bill Clinton
Note how he not so subtly doesn't include himself in "the Democrats". What the fuck is he then?
Seems obvious to me that he (and all of the rest of them) were "Aristocrats!" It's a terrific blog. Go read it sometime! Here's one more (it's too yummy to only eat one):

This time let's see a Republican nominee who's representative of them, enough of that weakass McCain crap

Fishing for a Republican Jesus. Hope they land the biggest dang conservative in the lake. No Taxes! Bigger bombs! Grind up the poor for cattle feed! Steal the world's oil! Bulldoze the Palestinians into the sea! Death to gays and abortionists! Fuck the unions! Fuck the middle class! Fuck Medicare!
If only. (See the entire movie, Inside Job here. It makes clear how the international con game was run (on us all). Lots here on the IMF too - and don't forget there were very good reasons why Dominique Strauss-Kahn was gotten rid of so quickly on such spurious evidence (and don't forget what Eliot Spitzer was tracking down too).) It's pretty easy to see (after the fact) how "deregulation" and the political-financial alliances of the entities that brought this concept to us have ruined our financial world. (And more is to come if more people don't awaken from the "bailout" slumber.) From Goldman Sachs 666 we learn the latest counter-ruses:
Justice? and Goldman Sachs We hope that Goldman Sachs's fate within the Justice System does, indeed, impact negatively on Lloyd Blankfein. However, when you consider how Mozilo, of Countrywide fame, merely paid a fine without having to admit any wrongdoing and walked away a millionaire with his fraudulently earned money, then how could Blankfein fare any worse? We surely need an Act of God in order to obtain a different outcome for Goldman Sachs. Maybe Justice Itself is sick. Goldman CEO Blankfein's Fate in Hands of DOJ If a probe by the DOJ into Goldman’s conduct ahead of the financial crisis is expedited and the focus turns to Blankfein’s actions, the thinking goes, Goldman’s board of directors will likely offer Blankfein up as a sacrifice in exchange for leniency. . . . The DOJ probe stems from a referral made by Senator Carl Levin's (D-Mich.) committee based on Blankfein’s testimony last spring on the firm’s role in the financial crisis.

In a hearing recalled largely for Levin’s repeated use of a four-letter word, Blankfein denied that Goldman had made huge bets shorting the mortgage market, which allowed the firm to fare better than its competitors during the housing crisis.

Blankfein insisted Goldman had simply hedged against a downturn.

Levin's committee has discovered e-mails which describe the position as "the big short."

The above headline and article is a first for this blog. It's from Fox Business. (The fix is in!) And speaking of the fix being "in." Have you counted lately the countries we are invading in the MidEast? Anyone want to lay odds on when the Iran invasion/bombing "awe" begins? (Not any real "shock" anymore, is it?)
May 24, 2011

James Risen’s Subpoena

Jane Mayer As soon as The New Yorker published the story of one aggressive leak prosecution by the Obama Justice Department, the news was topped by a second.

Today, William Welch II, the same federal prosecutor who is pressing espionage charges against Thomas Drake, sparked a new showdown against the press. In a surprise move in another case, Welch issued a subpoena aimed at forcing James Risen, a national-security correspondent in the Washington bureau of the Times, to testify against a former C.I.A. officer who is accused of leaking national-security secrets to him. The subpoena is expected to pit the freedom of the press to cover highly sensitive intelligence issues against the government’s authority to define what must remain secret in order to protect national security.

The case in question involves a book that Risen wrote, “State of War,” in which he described a failed effort by the C.I.A. to sabotage Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer, is facing trial on ten felony charges relating to the leak of the information. (He has pleaded not guilty.) Risen, along with Eric Lichtblau, another Times reporter, also wrote a 2005 news story exposing the Bush Administration’s warrantless domestic-surveillance program. Risen has been a target of federal leak prosecutions ever since.

Sterling’s lawyer, Edward MacMahon, described the subpoena of Risen as part of a campaign in which the Obama Administration has pursued leakers in much the same way the Bush Administration did:

“Eric Holder’s every bit as aggressive a prosecutor as John Ashcroft. He just has more friends in the media,” McMahon said. “If John Ashcroft had brought any of these cases, there would have been a whirlwind of ‘Shame on you!’”

Under current Department of Justice procedures, the attorney general himself must sign off on all subpoenas of news reporters — an indication of how serious the underlying issues are in such constitutional clashes. “In issuing subpoenas to members of the media, the Department seeks to strike the proper balance between the public’s interest in the free dissemination of information and effective law enforcement,” Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the D.O.J. told the Times. “We make every reasonable effort to attempt to obtain information from alternative sources before even considering a subpoena to a member of the press, and only seek information essential to directly establishing innocence or guilt.”

In a lengthy motion explaining the prosecution’s reasons for forcing a reporter to testify against a confidential source, Welch and the rest of the prosecution team described Risen as a “an eyewitness to the serious crimes” — the leak of national-security secrets. The testimony of Risen “is directly relevant to, and powerful evidence of, the factual issues that the jury must decide at trial,” the government argued. He is “commanded” to appear in the federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia, on September 12th, to testify in the case. Risen released a statement to the Times yesterday, saying that “I am going to fight this subpoena. I will always protect my sources, and I think this is a fight about the First Amendment and the freedom of the press.”

This is the government’s third effort at subpoenaing Risen in the case. He has been subpoenaed twice before, to appear before grand juries. He fought the first subpoena legally, and eventually it expired. The second time, the presiding judge, Leonie Brinkema, quashed the subpoena. Rather than accepting the judge’s position, the government has now subpoenaed Risen a third time, to testify in the trial itself.

One lawyer familiar with the case, who asked not to be identified, believes that the government is hoping to pressure the judge into making Risen testify, or else, if the judge refuses, hold her responsible should the case collapse. The lawyer also suggested that the government “just wants to put Risen in jail.”

So, we've got "bully" overreach everywhere? (Or are there much more devious reasons? $$$$$) Want to know what GOP overreach produces? (Democrat Hochul wins in Republican NY stronghold.) So people are starting to wake up a bit. Nicely done, Paul (Ryan) the Great! (Rethuglican)
Hochul had focused like a laser on the Republican plan to turn Medicare into vouchers that would funnel the money to private health insurers. Republicans didn't exactly take it lying down. The National Republican Congressional Committee poured over $400,000 into the race, and Karl Rove's American Crossroads provided Corwin an additional $700,000 of support. But the money didn't work. Even in this traditionally Republican district - represented in the past by such GOP notables as Jack Kemp and William Miller, both of whom would become vice presidential candidates - Hochul's message hit home.

Ryan calls it "demagoguery," accusing Hochul and her fellow Democrats of trying to "scare seniors into thinking that their current benefits are being affected."

Scare tactics? Seniors have every right to be scared. His plan would eviscerate Medicare by privatizing it with vouchers that would fall further and further behind the rising cost of health insurance. And Ryan and the Republicans offer no means of slowing rising health-care costs. To the contrary, they want to repeal every cost-containment measure enacted in last year's health-reform legislation.

The inevitable result: More and more seniors would be priced out of the market for health care.

Vermont has provided a way forward (in many areas). Take a look.
A rally in Vermont for single-payer healthcare, 05/05/10. (photo: Jobs with Justice/flickr) Single Payer Healthcare: Vermont's Gentle Revolution

Amy Goodman, Guardian UK

25 May 11

The green mountain state was the first to ban slavery, in 1777. Now, it's the first to pioneer a truly public healthcare system.
ermont is a land of proud firsts. This small New England state was the first to join the 13 colonies. Its Constitution was the first to ban slavery. It was the first to establish the right to free education for all - public education.

This week, Vermont will boast another first: the first state in the nation to offer single payer healthcare, which eliminates the costly insurance companies that many believe are the root cause of our spiralling healthcare costs. In a single payer system, both private and public healthcare providers are allowed to operate, as they always have. But instead of the patient or the patient's private health insurance company paying the bill, the state does. It's basically Medicare for all - just lower the age of eligibility to the day you're born. The state, buying these healthcare services for the entire population, can negotiate favourable rates, and can eliminate the massive overhead that the for-profit insurers impose.

Vermont hired Harvard economist William Hsiao to come up with three alternatives to the current system. The single payer system, Hsiao wrote, "will produce savings of 24.3% of total health expenditure between 2015 and 2024". An analysis by Don McCanne, MD, of Physicians for a National Health Programme pointed out that:

"[T]hese plans would cover everyone without any increase in spending since the single payer efficiencies would be enough to pay for those currently uninsured or underinsured. So this is the really good news - single payer works."

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin explained to me his intention to sign the bill into law:

"Here's our challenge. Our premiums go up 10, 15, 20% a year. This is true in the rest of the country as well. They are killing small business. They're killing middle-class Americans, who have been kicked in the teeth over the last several years. What our plan will do is create a single pool, get the insurance company profits, the pharmaceutical company profits, the other folks that are mining the system to make a lot of money on the backs of our illnesses, and ensure that we're using those dollars to make Vermonters healthy."

Speaking of healthy firsts, Vermont may become the first state to shutter a nuclear power plant. The Vermont legislature is the first to empower itself with the right to determine its nuclear future, to put environmental policy in the hands of the people.

Another Vermont first was the legalisation of same-sex civil unions. Then the state trumped itself and became the first legislature in the nation to legalise gay marriage. After being passed by the Vermont House and Senate, former Governor Jim Douglas vetoed the bill. The next day, 7 April 2009, the House and the Senate overrode the governor's veto, making the Vermont Freedom to Marry Act the law of the land.

Vermont has become an incubator for innovative public policy. Canada's single payer healthcare system started as an experiment in one province, Saskatchewan. It was pushed through in the early 1960s by Saskatchewan's premier, Tommy Douglas, considered by many to be the greatest Canadian. It was so successful, it was rapidly adopted by all of Canada. (Douglas is the grandfather of actor Kiefer Sutherland.) Perhaps Vermont's healthcare law will start a similar, national transformation.

And about Obama's latest Israeli/Palestinian tongue twisters? From our buddy at the TomDispatch:
Tuches aufn tish: Buttocks on the table. That's the colorful way my Yiddish-speaking ancestors said, "Let's cut the BS and talk about honest truth." It seems like a particularly apt expression after a week watching the shadow-boxing between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that brought no tangible progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace. The truth, like the table, is usually hard and uncomfortable. President Obama's carefully hedged public call for a two-state solution along Israel's 1967 borders may indeed represent a new step. Maybe it will even prove part of some long-range game plan that will eventually pay off. But here's the problem: as of now, Obama shows no inclination to back his words with the power the U.S. government could wield. Until he does, those words won't provoke any change in Israel's domination of the Palestinians. And there's a deeper issue. The influential Israeli columnist Sever Plocker pointed to the heart of the matter: the American president has "unequivocally adopted the essence of the Israeli-Zionist narrative." Plocker might have said the same about all top American political leaders and the U.S. media as well. The American conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dominated by the story that most Israelis tell. Ass-Backward Realities Tuches aufn tish. Let's be honest. The Israeli story doesn't merely distort the truth, it turns the truth ass-backwards. Eerily enough, its basic claims about the Palestinians more accurately describe the Israelis themselves.

The Israelis might as well be looking in the mirror and talking about themselves when they say things like "They are the aggressors; we're the victims just defending ourselves." That's part of an Israeli-generated myth of insecurity whose premise is that Israel bears all the risk in the conflict with the Palestinians. Obama fed into that myth in his recent "Arab Spring" speech when he called, in effect, for an even swap: the Palestinians would get a state and the Israelis would get security, as if the massively stronger Israelis are the main ones suffering from insecurity.

In the process, he repeated a familiar mantra, "Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable," and offered a vague warning that "technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself." Perhaps that was a coded way of hinting that someday some other Mideast nation might have a handful of nuclear weapons - as if any of them could threaten Israel, which already has as many as 200 nukes and can surely build more.

Obama did make one reference to what he called "the assumption of Palestinian security." That's how the Israelis typically phrase their long-standing hope that the Palestinian police will become what Netanyahu once called Israel's "sub-contractors," taking over from Israeli soldiers the job of quashing resistance to Israel and its policies. Again, the premise is that Israel bears all the risk.

Yet the Palestinians are far more insecure than the Israelis. Like any victims of colonial military occupation, they're constantly subject to the threat of death and destruction without notice, at the whim of the Israeli military, and increasingly from Israeli settlers as well. Over the last quarter-century, the conflict has killed roughly eleven Palestinians for every Israeli who died. And yet you'll never find this line in the speech of an American politician: "Our commitment to Palestine's security is unshakeable."

Obama did declare that "every state has the right to self-defense." In the next breath, however, he demanded that a new Palestinian state must have no army. Would any sovereign nation accept such a demand, especially if its closest neighbor had dominated and pummeled its people for years and possessed by far the most powerful military in the region? Yet the idea of a "demilitarized" Palestinian state is a given in the U.S. and Israel, as if the only conceivable future threat could come from those occupied, not from the former occupier.

The staggering power imbalance between occupier and occupied points to another looking-glass-style distortion that dominates America's conversation about the issue: the absurd idea that the two parties could negotiate as equals, that the weaker of the two, which has already given up approximately 78 percent of its territory, must be the one to make the major compromises, and then operate as a nation from a position of utter weakness.

Obama told a meeting of Jewish leaders in private that he knows the truth of the situation: "Israel is the stronger party here… And Israel needs to create the context for [peace] to happen." But as long as his public words reinforce the myth of Israel's insecurity, the Israelis can safely resist any demands for change.

You are cheating yourself if you don't watch Inside Job. It is a comment on everything that has and will happen. I promise you. _________________________

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Is "Enough" Too Much? "Bad Things Happen To Those Who Threaten the Energy Alliance" & Getting Wise to the Owl, a Charismatic Sentry in Climate Change

Interestingly enough (but hardly surprising), we aren't getting reportage on anything any more than we ever did on about what actually happened on 9/11 (and sooooo much more). We always think too subtly (I have come to believe upon considered reflection). We think they are racists, don't like treating people equably, want to to send women back home barefoot and pregnant. But it turns out that almost everything we object to in their actions/secret platform is ABOUT THE $$$$$$. (And if you haven't added a few Blue Dog Dims by the end of this essay to your list to defeat, you're not paying attention!)

Russ Baker, once again, provides the inside info on that defeated energy ("tax breaks for billionaires") bill (emphasis marks added - Ed.):

. . . in researching the background of the rise of the Bush family for my book Family of Secrets, so much of the unknown origins of political intrigue — from the strenuous lobbying effort to get the freshman Congressman George H.W. Bush appointed to the House Ways and Means Committee as a freshman, to John F. Kennedy’s political problems, to even Watergate — could be ascribed in part to the oil industry’s urgency for protecting tax breaks. Sometimes, the tax breaks have been the most important part of the industry’s profits. The most recent, defeated bill, sought to get rid of a number of loopholes and advantages. You can learn more here. One of the key provisions in the bill concerned the oil depletion allowance. The allowance permits firms to recover their “capital investment — the costs of discovering, purchasing, and developing the well — over the period the well produces income.” The Senate bill did not propose getting rid of this highly attractive allowance, only modifying it so that the five biggest companies could not use a formula called “percentage depletion,” in which “total deductions could (and often do) exceed the taxpayer’s capital investment.” So — get this: all the Senate Dems were doing in the area of the depletion allowance was trying to keep just the five biggest companies from deducting more than their actual capital investment. They weren’t trying to get rid of this long-controversial depletion allowance, and weren’t trying to prevent any other oil companies from deducting more than they spent. Amazing! And this tepid measure still didn’t pass. (Of course, there were other provisions, including trying to block oil companies from sneakily reclassifying royalties paid abroad as “taxes” so they could deduct them domestically—a tax connivance on par with the depletion allowance in its one-sided benefit for the industry and harm to the greater good.) The sordid history of just the oil depletion allowance alone reads like a Grisham thriller. Bad things happened to those who seriously threatened the allowance.
Yep. It's a scandal (and one we should have been informed about decades ago). Not that it's not much worse now, but, hey, they're trying to drive the USA out of business now!
What They Don’t Tell You About Oil Industry Tax Breaks
Which gives those actually paying attention a very good reason to be sure that their replacements do. I have to admit that I have a special interest in owls. (If you know me, you know why.) This article fills in many of the blanks for me as to why I've been so entranced by them all of my life (and will continue to study and learn about them as much as possible). (Emphasis marks added - Ed.) Enjoy!
May 23, 2011 Getting Wise to the Owl, a Charismatic Sentry in Climate Change By For 19 years, the owl researcher Denver Holt has journeyed to Barrow, Alaska, each summer to map out the predator-prey relationship between the lemmings that crawl across the tundra and the white owls that hunt them from above. As he prepares for his 20th field season in the Arctic, he says that the snowy owl has a role to play in understanding ecological changes in one of the fastest changing places in the world. “When lemmings are doing well, everything is doing well — eider ducks, sandhill cranes, arctic fox and weasels,” Mr. Holt said. “If climate change results in habitat changes and it affects the lemmings, it will show up in the snowy owls because 90 percent of their diet is lemmings. The owls are the key to everything else."

Twenty years of data provides an unusually deep look at a species’ population trends. And more research on snowy owls in other parts of the world — they are found throughout the arctic region — could flag changes in the global arctic ecosystem even without other indicators.

“It’s a believable point,” said John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Orthinology, at Cornell University. “Systems are complex, and if we have an easily accessible barometer for the system beneath it that’s a really good thing, because we can measure cheaply and easily how an ecosystem is doing. It gives us a quick handle.”

There’s an unscientific reason to study the snowy owl as well, Mr. Holt says. They are a charismatic ambassador to the world to warn of problems caused by climate change. The males are often pure white, the females white with mottled gray. And there is something captivating about owls. “People pay attention to owls more than other birds because they look like us,” he said. “They have a symmetrical face, eyes facing forward, a round, flat face and a round head with feathers that look like hair.”

Mr. Holt may know the order strigiformes better than anyone. He has been the director of the nonprofit Owl Research Institute for more than 30 years. “He’s Mr. Owl,” said Dr. Fitzpatrick. “He’s one of the premier owl researchers in the world.”

The institute, with a staff of four, operates in a converted farmhouse at the foot of the snow-draped Mission Mountains near here, on the edge of a national wildlife refuge. Mr. Holt didn’t know it when he moved here from Boston 32 years ago, but there are 15 species of owls in western Montana, 14 of which breed here, more than any other state. Owls, because they are most often active in the dark and low-light conditions, and can’t rely on appearances, also communicate in a complex language. “Hooting, tooting, whistling, hissing and clacking at night — owls are very vocal birds,” Mr. Holt said. “Their mysterious calls at night are why they are associated with witches.”

These attributes are the reason owls show up so frequently in literature, as product mascots, and in popular culture. Harry Potter, for example, travels with Hedwig, a snowy owl.

Owls are also highly evolved hunters and killers. They have the best hearing in the bird world — some owls, like the great gray, can hear a mouse moving under a foot of snow or more and swoop down and capture it without ever seeing it. In owls with a facial disc, the ears are hidden behind it, and are asymmetrical — one is higher than the other. That allows the birds to locate prey both horizontally and vertically for more accurate detection. The round face functions as a kind of satellite dish, funneling the sound to the ears, so the owl can make in-flight course corrections based solely on sound.

Their exquisite hearing does not mean that their powers of sight are diminished. Owls have many more rods in their eyes than humans, which bring in much more light, akin to natural night-vision goggles. Like humans, owls have binocular vision, which means they see in three dimensions. They can also rotate their heads 270 degrees. “In two turns,” Mr. Holt said, “they can see all around them.”

Their wings stand out as a marvel of evolutionary engineering. There is a comblike serrated feather on the leading edge of the wing, velourlike feathers on top and a trailing edge of feathers on the rear of the wing. “These three things combine to reduce aerodynamic flight noise,” so they can surprise their prey, Mr. Holt said. Being rigged for silent flying means they can also hear their prey better.

The owl also has the lowest wing-loading ratio of any bird, which means the wings are much larger than its body mass and provide a great deal of loft. “That gives them great aerial agility,” Mr. Holt said. “They can fly really slow, just above stalling speed. It also gives them the ability to gain lift easily with prey.”

There are about 250 species of owl worldwide, on every continent except Antarctica. They range from the two-ounce elf owl, found in the American Southwest, to Blakiston’s fish owl, a Japanese bird that weights up to 10 pounds. Owls in the tropics eat mostly insects, while temperate owls eat mostly small mammals. “We don’t know a heck of a lot about most species,” Mr. Holt said, in a rapid-fire Boston accent.

That means if they are in trouble, no one knows. The short-eared owl, a ground-nesting bird which has been thoroughly researched, has shown a 70 percent decline in recent years.

Owl researchers are a rare breed because most of the birds are active at night and fieldwork is grueling. Two researchers at the lab, Jessica Larson and Matt Larson, are currently staying up all night to call and net flammulated and saw-whet owls to study their migration.

Though most hunt at night, owls can be coaxed out during the day for research. On a recent spring morning Mr. Holt and two other biologists hiked up a ravine and strung up a mist net, similar to a volleyball net, though with much finer mesh. They headed for a magpie nest that had been appropriated by a pair of long-eared owls, because of voles that live on the grassland around it.

In flashes of gold, brown and white, three owls flushed. Then, seeking to stay beneath cover, they zoomed through a narrow natural tunnel in the tangle of hawthorn and chokecherry trees, until they hit the net and were stopped cold. The biologists ran toward the docile birds, now suspended in the mist net, and carefully unwrapped each to weigh, band and measure it. As the birds were held and studied, they sat quietly with their yellow eyes wide, looking curiously at the captors. They made occasional clicking sounds with their beaks.

“We’re harassing them, but we try to minimize it,” Mr. Holt said, “so we can learn about their behavior.” A study Mr. Holt published concluded that flushing isn’t stressful to the birds, though their stress hormones shoot up during banding and blood drawing. The birds recover quickly though, he said, and don’t abandon the nest.

Mr. Holt has been trapping long-eared owls for 25 years, year round. The population of these small birds, between half a pound and a pound, has been shrinking, though their decline is not nearly as steep as that of the short-eared owl.

The length of the study has given researchers a detailed portrait of the long-eared owl, which only looks like it has long ears — they are actually feather tufts. At three weeks of age the owlets do something called branching. They crawl from the nest out on a branch, long before they can fly. Sometimes they tumble to the ground, but are still fed by the parents. Eventually, using their beaks, feet and wing-pumping, they climb back up.

Long-term studies are rare, Dr. Fitzpatrick said, but valuable. “Long-term studies allow us to understand how organisms deal with variations in nature through time,” he said. “One extreme year in 10 can drive the system, and so long-term data gives us context. But it takes a lot of patience and endurance to keep a study going that long.”

Mr. Holt says the rigors of owl research are catching up with him. “I’ll tell you, I’m 55, and hiking 10 to 15 miles on the tundra, I feel it,” Mr. Holt said, as he trudged out of the ravine where he had captured the long eared-owls, with a backpack full of equipment. “But I can still climb trees better than most students."

(Courtesy of my lovely friend, Marja, in Christchurch, New Zealand.) ______________________