Thursday, October 6, 2011

Requiescat in Pacem

Steve Jobs, a man who saw that digital technology could be beautiful, and made it so, has died.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Occam's Razor and the Attacks of September 11.

On the tenth anniversary of the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, upon the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, many reflections occur: mostly somber and troubling, with perhaps a few faint rays of hope.

My starting point is Occam's razor: a principle in logic used to guide the choice between competing explanations of a given phenomenon: namely, the admonition to choose the explanation which requires apriori the fewest hypothetical assumptions.  Even in applying this principle to an examination of the World Trade Center attacks, one is forced upon a bifurcation: we have on the one hand the physical question -- based upon the  available evidence and the known laws of physics, of what caused the collapses of three buildings i.e. the Twin Towers and 'Building Seven;' and on the other hand, we have the (essentially) political  question: who engineered and carried out the attack, and for what purpose?

Of the two, the laws of physics are far simpler to approach, and yield (in my view) a far simpler answer.  The simplest explanation for the collapse of the buildings is (as I will later explain) that they were blown up, imploded, by explosive charges placed by demolition experts.  That is, Occam rejects the official explanation, as promulgated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), formerly the National Bureau of Standards.

However, the official account of who planned and executed the attacks -- a group of fundamentalist terrorists supported by Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden -- is clearly simpler, and more favorable to Occam, than any of the elaborate conspiracy theories which  must be constructed to justify the conclusion that the buildings were in fact demolished with explosives.

Reasonable people may disagree in weighing the merits and demerits of the alternate conclusions; since my training and professional experience lie in the physical sciences, I much prefer to establish the principle in which physics guides.  In the words of the late Nobel Laureate physicist, Richard Feynmann, "You can't fool Mother Nature."  Beyond that, I believe that history shows that the human race is eminently prone to being fooled, so I will by and large avoid the political question of who and why.  What is important is simply to establish what physics does and does not allow.

I will state at the outset the three simple facts caused me to arrive at my current viewpoint.    First, that all of Southern Manhattan was enveloped in enormous cloud of dense dust and smoke, consisting of pulverized debris.   Second, that Building Seven, which, on the afternoon of Sept. 11 2001,  collapsed as if demolished, had not been struck by an airplane. Third, that three buildings all collapsed, according to eyewitnesses and reporters on the scene, as if they were controlled demolitions.

My ordering must seem eccentric, but it was the dust cloud that first alerted me: there could simply not be enough potential energy liberated in the collapse to pulverize the wreckage, and re-launch it sky-ward.  A straightforward calculation using the bond energy of Portland Cement, and comparing the energy required to convert a kilogram of same into particles of 20 micron diameter, shows that with perfect conversion, a free fall of 300 meters has four times the required energy.  However, the entire mass of concrete did not fall 300 meters, and much energy must be lost in collisions during the fall with structural elements in the path of any falling fragment; furthermore, a comparable amount of energy is required to re-launch the dust into the enormous cloud.  Furthermore, and most damningly, much of the pulverization appears to have occurred in mid-air.

Next we have the case of Building Seven, which was not struck by an airplane, but which nonetheless suffered collateral damage, including the outbreak of several fires.  The anomalies abound here, but I will focus on the official explanation, that office fires weakened a specific structural column, whose failure triggered the collapse of the entire structure.  This defies credulity.  The collapse is quite symmetrical; the failure of one column cannot lead to the simultaneous and symmetric collapse of structural elements remote from the failure.  There would be a torque, and a listing, and the building would have to fall towards the weakened side.

Finally we have the fact that three buildings suffered asymmetrical damage, but all collapsed in largely symmetrical fashion -- that is, straight down into their own footprints, on a single day.

I have marshalled but a tiny fragment of the available evidence. The most complete, and to my mind, reputable effort to make the case for controlled demolition has been put forth by the architect Richard Gage, through his organization Architects and Engineers for 9-11 Truth.  I leave it to the interested reader to look up their website, if he so desires.  I can only caution the reader that the web contains a vast amount of crack-pot posting on these subjects, but pro and contra the opinions I have expressed.


As for who perpetrated this crime and why, I will not venture my opinions.  I will only state that readers of this weblog are well aware of my belief that the resultant Global War on Terror has been essentially an exercise in promoting a police state at home, and military adventurism abroad.

I do not think it extreme to say that America has in effect suffered a coup d'etat.  The so-called progressive left in this country, as exemplified by my blog-roll has absolutely proscribed any discussion of 9-11 truth or conspiracy -- largely, I believe, to protect themselves from the jeers of the political right wing.  This is a grave error in my view.

America will never be healed until the truth of is known of September 11, 2001.

Monday, August 1, 2011

It's All Over but the Crying, or Why I will not Vote Again for Barack Obama

For starters, after a brief flirtation with the John Edwards candidacy, I strongly supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primaries.  I had many reasons, but they may be summed up anecdotally in terms of a telling contrast.  On the one hand, long before her White House tenure, Hillary had been a staffer on the Senate Watergate Committee, and had seen and known Republican skullduggery at close range;  then during her husband's presidency, she was also served a walloping great helping of the same, which led to her correct diagnosis and identification of a 'vast right-wing conspiracy' at work.  Barack Obama, on the other hand, praised the cheerful optimism of Ronald Reagan, and mixed up (so to speak) a large pitcher of Kool-Aid, labelled 'comity' and bi-partisanship.'

To any objective observer of American politics, who had been awake since, say, 1978, the contrast between Hillary and Obama was rendered stark by comparing these motifs: Watergate versus Bi-partisanship.

I had a sackful of other reasons for dis-liking Obama in the primaries, but let this simple metaphorical take stand in for the rest.  When he won the nomination, I considered withholding my vote in the general election; but in the end, the spectre of Sarah Palin as vice-president was frightening enough to compel my vote -- the latest in a continuous string for Democratic Presidential Candidates, since McGovern in 1972.

But no more.  The debt ceiling comedy, and its horrific denouement, has torn it for me.  This has been from the start a manufactured crisis, in which Obama's principle goal was to attack the great Social Insurance policies of the New Deal and Great Society: Social Security, and Medicare. He has succeeded, beyond the dreams of any Republican president.  I will not provide hyperlinks, but the curious reader who has been asleep may, if he so desires, consult the writings of Nobel laureate and progressive gadfly and truth-teller Paul Krugman, who, from his perch on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, has analyzed with deadly accuracy the follies and mis-steps of the Obama administration in the run-up to this disastrous piece of legislation.

I will only state in conclusion what should be obvious to all.  Barack Obama is no Democrat.  He is not even a moderate Republican.  He is a mainstream Republican masquerading as a Democrat.  I will not vote for him again.  A Republican in name and deed both could do no more harm.  I weep for the future of our once-great nation.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Is Boenhner Trying to Save Obama from Himself? or Just Chicken? or Both?

The recent big news on the debt ceiling death spiral is that Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has walked away from the talks with President Obama.  The usual take on this is that it reflects the usual Republican intransigence in all dealings with Democrats, and particularly, with the current occupant of the White House.

My somewhat contrarian view is that Speaker Boehner is in fact appalled at the cuts in social programs being offered by the President, and wants no part of any deal which includes them.

In this sense, he is saving the Republican party from Armageddon -- since the proffered cuts are in Social Security and Medicare, both of which are extremely popular with Republican voters.   Also, by inadvertance (or unwelcome necessity) he is saving the President from his own misguided attempt to cut those programs.

Call it a failure of Republican nerve, or call it a political calculation which mixes a good dose of self preservation with the knowledge that those programs are more useful to Republicans as propaganda targets on the hoof, then they would be if extinguished.  Either way -- I think Boehner's withdrawal from the talks might signal, in an odd way, the best good sense we've seen from Washington in several months.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Default by Design?

As the kabuki dance of fiscal death spirals towards its uncertain conclusion, amidst conflicting reports of deals made (or not made) to raise the ceiling of the US national debt -- thereby staving off a default on same --it becomes permissible to ask whether or not certain powerful parties view fiscal default as a positive outcome, and if so, why.

There is off course the Tea Party caucus in the US House of Representatives, who are the most visible agitators for default, and in my view, the least interesting.  Their gestalt is best summarized in a quotation from the great Sam Rayburn, who (reportedly) said, "Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one."  The comparison to the Tea Party caucus is of course insulting to jackasses, but my point is simply that the Teahadists are puppets, incapable of much independent thought, essentially cannon fodder in a larger Class War now being fought in our once-great nation.

Of greater interest to me is the anti-tax oracle and agitator Grover Norquist, who famously declared his desire to shrink the US federal government to a size small enough to permit its being drowned in a bathtub. Although he perhaps does not pointedly attack the great social contract programs of the New Deal and Great Society -- most notably Social Security and Medicare -- both are surely in his gunsights, because of their size and scope.

So how does default work towards his benefit?  Through the medium of Bond Vigilantes.  These mythical beasts -- financial unicorns I call 'em -- are supposed to magically appear in these troubled times of bloated government spending, and magically enforce fiscal discipline by driving up the interest on US government debt.  The only problem is, they haven't.  US government debt remains cheap by historical standards, and would easily permit (were policy makers in Washington but to will it) expansion of the national debt, to finance entitlements, but also anti-recessionary stimulus measures.

However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist, a brain surgeon, or a Nobel laureate in economics to see that a default on the US national debt -- or even the threat of default -- could drive up interest rates over the long term, thus effectively conjuring into existence the heretofore imaginary bond vigilantes.  Therefore from Norquist's viewpoint (and that of like-minded individuals) a default is desirable; and I have little doubt that he is stirring the  congressional pot to this end, through every resource of undercover private lobbying.

Another curious fact has recently been noticed: big banks are not actively lobbying against default.  This is odd on the face of it, since banks have much to lose should default occur.  Have the banks gone over to the Norquist camp, despite the obvious dangers to them of a further financial crisis?

Another point.  Why has not President Obama strongly asserted his right to  unilaterally raise the debt ceiling under the 14 Amendment of the US Constitution?  To the cynics, the answer is of course obvious.  It has been clear, ever since he convened the infamous catfood commission, that the President's much vaunted notion of 'bi-partisanship' means simply helping the GOP accomplish its long-held goal of destroying the Social Contract in America -- or any functional equivalent.  This means Social Security and Medicare must be cut, hopefully with such severity that they will bleed to death.

He has therefore, instead of insisting on a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling, pursued the chimera of a 'grand bargain' with congressional Republicans, to reduce the deficit, and cut social entitlements.  To call this a fools' game is to be unkind to fools.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Obama's Liberal Nominations: Failure by Design

Nobel Laureate economist Peter Diamond announces, in a NY Times Op Ed piece, that he is withdrawing his name from candidacy for the Federal Reserve Board of Governers.  He was nominated by the President in April of 2010, but the Democratic Leadership -- Senate and Whitehouse -- were unable to push through his confirmation, even when they held a strong majority in the Senate.  Apparently an recess appointment was never considered; certainly never acted upon.

James Fallows has some thoughts on the broken confirmation process, and the idiocy of Senator Shelby -- sure a candidate for an "Ow the stupid! It Burns!" award.  Hat tip to Brad Delong here, who also has some worthwhile observations on what it means for the nation and the economy.

My personal view is that this is failure by design, an elaborate Kabuki  Obama nominated a strong progressive to shore up support from his progressive base -- then let the nominee twist slowly in the wind -- and never intended to push ardently for confirmation.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Breaking! Sarah Palin will NOT Run for President.

Lawrence O'Donnell has the story here.

Oh, and by the way, Rolling Thunder doesn't like her hangin' around, either.

Ripping a New One in Education Secretary Arne Duncan

I have not paid much attention to Secretary Duncan, but a recent post over at Big Orange rips him quite severely.  I hadn't realized that Race to the Top was a brainchild of his, but I am in principle opposed to all programs that purport to improve public education by applying carrot/stick methodologies according to performance metrics based on standardized testing.

Anyhow, the above-referenced link, from a high-school Biology teacher in Oklahoma, frames the problem of education reform in stark yet eloquent terms. Go read it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Big Dog on the Dark Side

An news item today quotes former President Bill Clinton -- the Big Dog, as he is fondly called by his old admiring constituents -- warning Democrats, not to turn away from Entitlement Reform, in the wake of last night's special Congressional election (NY 26th District) in which the Democratic challenger won a traditionally Republican seat, by hammering the incumbent with her support for Paul Ryan's plan to end Medicare as we know it.

Unfortunately, Bill was speaking at Fiscal Summit sponsored by the Peterson Foundation, the infamous kleptocratic think tank that stood behind President Obama's nefarious Catfood Commission, which was charged with gutting Social Security.

For myself, I am truly sorry to see the Big Dog lending his weight and prestige to the Peterson enterprise, which is aimed ultimately at ripping off middle class entitlements to engorge the (already overstuffed) plutocracy.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Food and Karma

I cannot vouch for the provenance or authenticity of this, but the conceit is irresistibly attractive:  That is, I recall reading somewhere, in a discussion of Buddhist doctrine, the statement that the total amount of food in any given world is a direct consequence of the entire sum of accumulated Good Karma, of all sentient creatures inhabiting that world.  This would include all animate beings, from humans down to sea-slugs and gnats (to name but a few.)  Obviously people will argue over who or what is good or evil, and simple dichotomies like Ghandi vs. Stalin won't illuminate much; nonetheless, I believe a certain rough consensus exists that starving people to make money is bad conduct, and therefore bad karma.

It is therefore particularly striking to me when a perceived evil action by some human agency is aimed directly at lowering the availability of food for profit.  Or, in terms less stark, action by some human agency with the perceptible and likely consequence of lowering the availability of food while turning a handsome profit.    The journal Foreign Policy recently devoted a full issue to food, and includes an article blaming Goldman Sachs for the current spike  (or bubble, if you prefer, though the two sound incompatible) in wheat prices globally.  These have added about 25 cents to the price of a loaf of bread in America, but have doubled that price in places like Indonesia, where the average percentage of household income spent on food is far higher than in America.

I am not an expert on financial derivatives, although as a worker in an industry that actually makes and exports things, I have a certain moral horror of (not to mention supercilious disdain for) business enterprises that make money from money, without serving any real purpose in capital formation.  I am assuredly not against capital markets; but to me, derivatives are as parasites on the body of an industrial economy; nonetheless, I will defer that soap-box rant for another day.

So as I understand the substance of the FP article, two factors have been operative.  First, in 1991, GS creates a commodities index product (GSCI), in which different commodities (hogs, soy , wheat, metals etc.) sliced and diced and re-assembled into a composite index.  This didn't lead to much, until de-regulation entered the picture.  From FP:

For just under a decade, the GSCI remained a relatively static investment vehicle, as bankers remained more interested in risk and collateralized debt than in anything that could be literally sowed or reaped. Then, in 1999, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission deregulated futures markets. All of a sudden, bankers could take as large a position in grains as they liked, an opportunity that had, since the Great Depression, only been available to those who actually had something to do with the production of our food.

Goldman's system was designed so that one can only buy; when time comes to roll over a futures contract it can't be sold short in a falling market.  This creates an inevitable upward pressure on commodities prices, including food.  

As other speculative bubbles (Tech, Real Estate) have burst, more and more money has flowed into commodities derivatives, hence we now find ourselves with a global food bubble -- not overly noticeable in the G7 perhaps, but disastrous in poorer countries.

So, am I being to hard on GS? pulling out the moral and rhetorical stops on them, and unleashing the impotent fire and brimstone of an obscure commentators, even whose friends are careful not to ask for the URL when this blog is mentioned conversationally?

Certainly there are countervailing opinions, by those who think that grain prices are responding rationally to the simple mechanics of supply and demand.  On the evidence I disagree.  Goldman has the global economic bit in its teeth, and is running wild.  They are altogether unchastened by their recent escapes from annihilation in 2008; and God help us all if they are not brought under control.

More Apologies for Sporadic Posting

As a business traveller, I do not fit the profile of a 'road warrior;' I have nonetheless spent 5 of the last 10 weeks away from home.  Not to complain, but this plays Hell with my routine, and my willingness and ability to face and focus upon the grim politics which form my usual inspiration for blogging.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

S&P Downgrade of US Credit Fixed!

The recent threat by rating agency Standard & Poors, to downgrade its rating of US Bonds, is easily neutralized by but this simple step:  Return the top marginal tax rate to the levels which obtained at the end of the Reagan Presidency.

Sound simple?  Hell yes!  Likely, with the Rethuglican pin-heads and Democratic wimps in DC?  Hell no!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The New Kleptocratic Normal

It has been reported that the economy is adding jobs and unemployment has fallen to 8.8%; however, as the New York Times reports, many of those new jobs do not suffice to supply life's necessities.

I have read recently that working for no pay is the 'new normal.'  Does anyone think that the kleptocrats are not winning the class war?

The Westboro Ruling: Playing Catch-up with Blind Pigs.

It is not appropriate to say of Justice Samuel Alito, that 'Even a blind pig finds an acorn sometime.'  A friend has pointed out that it would be a severe cut on blind pigs.  Nonetheless, Alito is the only one of the Supreme Nine who got it right about the hateful disruption of military funerals by Rev. (sic) Phelps and his minions.  From CNN:
The justices, by an 8-1 vote, said Wednesday that members of Westboro Baptist Church had a right to promote what they call a broad-based message on public matters such as wars. The father of a fallen Marine had sued the small church, saying those protests amounted to targeted harassment and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The father had this response the Supreme Court ruling:
 "My first thought was that eight justices don't have the common sense that God gave a goat.... We found out today that we can no longer bury our dead in this county with dignity."
Justice Alito, the sole dissenter, wrote that the
"...outrageous conduct caused petitioner great injury, and the court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong he suffered ....In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner." 
Alito has been on the wrong side of virtually every issue, since he joined the court, but he certainly got it right this time.

Sorry for the long hiatus.

Much of my recent time has been taken up with business travel.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Owww! The Stupid! It Burns!


There will be no test, so you needn't read it in full.

On Wisconsin!*

As of this writing, Madison, the capitol city of Wisconsin, has for several days been rocked by vociferous yet peaceful demonstrations, by members of the state's public employee unions (and  their sympathizers), to protest an attempt, by the  newly inaugurated Republican governor, to rescind their rights to collective bargaining.  Progressive political commentator Ed Schultz was there, and this recent segment of his reportage makes excellent viewing for all right-thinking people.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Don't touch my 4th Amendment (or my junk), or would you like X-rays with your plastique pancakes?

In case you have forgotten it-- and it seems that many have -- and most notably among those, Tony Scalia -- here is the text of the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Now the furor over the installation of airport body scanners has somewhat subsided, from the feverish peak around Thanksgiving of 2010-- when the notorious incident occurred (lately entered into the popular lexicon as 'dont touch my junk!') of a passenger refusing both the body scan and the intimate pat down, as a pre-condition of boarding an airplane.  There was at that time a call for a 'National Opt Out Day' during which airline passengers should  opt of out of the scans, and demand the pat-down, and thereby clog the security procedure to the point of effectively halting the nation's air traffic.  Fortunately or unfortunately (the latter in my opinion), this enterprise fizzled; and it now appears that the great American Sheeple, uh check that, I mean People, have gently habituated themselves to the choice between the possibility of increased risk of skin cancer, or the certainty of being groped by a stranger, whenever they fly.

I state the case too baldly you say? Perhaps I do.  First off, there are two types of scanners: X-ray and microwave.  The potential danger of the X-ray scanners, which use ionizing radiation, is described in a letter of concern from several scientists at one our premier medical schools, University of California at San Francisco.  The danger from the microwave scanners (no ionizing radiation) is less obvious, and some would rate it negligible.  (A debate on this point will be deferred to a future post.) 

But the key point about X-ray scanners, is their likely ineffectiveness!  This has been flagged by  the rightward leaning (but occasionally contrarian) Economist, which has pointed to a recent paper, by two eminent imaging scientists, demonstrating that a pancake of plastic explosive strapped to one's torso, would not be detected by the current scanners. 

So we are to submit to police state procedures, for effectively zero benefit.  My view is that the real point of the new security procedures (so called) is in fact to further socialize the American Populace to accept a Police State as the Norm.  My personal view is that this is in fact a major goal of the Global War on Terror (so called.)  My rather intemperate views on this subject will be given in future posts as well.

But a major by-product of all this pother is the further shredding of the already tattered 4th Amendment.  Brad DeLong had an excellent link, (which I have copped) on the extension of the VIPR program (visible  intermodal prevention and response) --now on display in Tampa, Florida, but  coming soon to a bus station near you-- in which passengers were frisked, and their luggage sniffed by a dope-sensing dog, as they were boarding an inter-city Greyhound.

The conflation of national security, and random searches for contraband seems poised to fray the remaining shreds of the 4th Amendment, leaving only a thread or two to which we may all collectively cling.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lacking only teh Kneepads

We begin with a famous episode in Medieval History, in which the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV walked barefoot across the Alps as penance for having offended the Pope.  To wit:

In the year 1075 AD, the conflict between Pope Gregory VII and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, gave rise to the Investiture Controversy. The Investiture Controversy was the power struggle between high ranking church officials and the kings of Europe, regarding the appointment of the regional church officials, such as the bishops or abbots. This controversy led to a civil war in Germany and the adjoining regions, and was also responsible for the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1077 AD, Henry IV took a long and dangerous journey, barefoot, through the Alps to the Fortress of Canossa in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, to meet Pope Gregory VII and beg forgiveness. It is rumored that the Pope left Henry standing in the snow for three days before opening the gates of the fort to forgive Henry.  (My italics.)

Well, my professional life in topdown organizations has taught me a good bit of grovelling, so that when I need something from management, my first step is to visit a local Builder's Supply Emporium, and invest in a new set of kneepads.  (Or as one former colleague of mine (a machinist) once addressed another, who was kneeling down working on some conductive screening, "Hey you look cute in those things, Vladimir; Jeez, maybe I should get my old lady a pair!")  But I digress....

The real point about penance and debasement and prostration is to be found in today's NY Times, describing President Obama's walk from the White House to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to exhort the nation's business leaders to loosen their monetary sphincters and let some of their great reserves of hoarded cash flow out into a river of job creation.  (The prepared text of the President's remarks is here.)

It is beyond me what the President hoped to achieve by making nice with a group which seems bent on destroying him.  The response from progressive and liberal groups was in any case tepid to negative.  All that was lacking was bare feet in the snow.  And of course, the kneepads.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Franken-foods Triumphant

More on this subject over at Alternet.  Read it and weep.

Then think about how we can organize.

Davos and the Rest of Us

Simon Johnson, at Baseline Scenario, has posted an interesting dispatch from the meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.   He writes:

On the fringes of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos this week, there was plenty of substantive discussion – including about the dangers posed by our “too big to fail”/”too big to save” banks, the consequences of widening inequality (reinforced by persistent unemployment in some countries), and why the jobs picture in the U.S. looks so bad.
But in the core keynote events and more generally around any kind of CEO-related interaction, such themes completely failed to resonate.  There is, of course, variation in views across CEOs and the people work intellectual agendas on their behalf, but still the mood among this group was uniformly positive – it was hard to detect any note of serious concern.
(My italics.)   Well my view of this is somewhat simple minded.  We start by parsing the concept of  Globalization, which to me represents the notion that in a global economy with sufficient interconnections, there is always to be found sufficient purchasing power to enrich a sufficiently globalized corporation (and its management) -- regardless of the economic conditions of workers and consumers in any particular nation.  What this says most directly is that a global labor market is a buyer's labor market, which promotes a race to to the bottom for  wages in erstwhile highly industrialized and prosperous nations, as exemplified by members of the G-8.

This runs counter to the old Henry Ford dictum: "I have to pay my workers enough to buy one of my cars."  The executive view of today is that globalization has given the lie to old Henry, and that there is no penalty for squeezing one's workers.

In this context, the unconcern (by CEO's) about unemployment is natural -- it's a feature, not a bug; depressed wages mean higher profits.  "Our responsibility is to our shareholders".... which, more and more, means to management itself.

With apologies to the ghost of the great Wallace Stevens -- letters to the NY Times

Stevens (1879 - 1955) was a great American modernist poet, strongly influenced by the French symbolists, but also by Ezra Pound's Imagist preoccupations, and the models of Chinese and Japanese lyric.  An excerpt below, from his "Thirteen Ways of Looking a Blackbird."

        I do not know which to prefer:
       The beauty of inflections,
       Or the beauty of innuendoes:
       The blackbird whistling,
       Or just after.

An awful parody of these beautiful lines suggested itself to me this morning, upon reading some letters in the NY Times, in praise of David Brooks' latest column there.  How is  this goddam rooster taken seriously?  Every time I attempt to read something of his, I throw up my hands in disgust, and wander off muttering to myself, "Who the Hell hired him?"  Thus...

      I know what which more to despise
     The bleating of inanity
     Or its supposed elevation to discourse:
     Brooks' columns in the Times,
     Or the responses.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Strange Interludes, Groucho Marx, and the Second Amendment

The prize for the worst play by an American author undoubtedly goes to Eugene O'Neill's 'Strange Interlude', in which the characters, inspired by Freudian psychology, periodically interrupt the action and dialog, to step to center stage speak their inmost thoughts directly to the audience.  It was assigned to me in a college class and I couldn't read it -- it was too wretched to be borne.

It did however, inspire some amusing parodies, notably by Grouch Marx, in "The Cocoanuts" where he closes one of his interludes with "Ahh...this would be a bettah woild fuh children if da parents hadda eat da Spinach!"

Anyhow, my thought for the day is, "This would be a better country to live in, if the Fourth Amendment were as jealously guarded as is the Second."

Blind Pig Redux

Even the august Washington Post has remarked upon  the thematics of President Obama's state of the union address, noting how the phrase 'winning the future' suggests the unfortunate acronym WTF.  Now this was also rather publicly pounced upon  by none other than our favorite sub-literate political retiree, Ms Sarah Palin.  For the record, Sarah and I don't agree on much, but each of us, for our own separate reasons, disliked the speech...(well, she's actually paid to dislike it, but that's another story.)   I, in any case, couldn't watch it, but managed to read a few snippets here.  It has been ably dissected in several quarters, and notably by Charles Blow in the NY Times, who emphasized the President's failure to mention the nation's poor in his speech:

It was only the second time since Harry S. Truman’s State of the Union address in 1948 that such a speech by a Democratic president did not include a single mention of poverty or the plight of the poor.
The closest Obama got to a mention was his confirmation for “Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear” that, indeed, “the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real.” I’m sure they appreciated that.
 I have already mentioned in other posts my theory (50% snark and the rest paranoia) that Obama is in fact a Republican mole, working on Karl Rove's payroll to advance the right-wing agenda and (in the process) destroy the Democratic Party.  Turns out other, more credible, commentators have formed similar notions.

So let us return to our titular motif, and share some WTF moments with Ms. Palin, and thank her again for showing once more that... even a blind pig finds an acorn sometimes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Franken-foods Resurgent

Terrible news today:  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack delivered a body blow to organic farmers and consumers, and announced  the approval of genetically modified alfalfa for 'unrestricted commercial cultivation.'   If you habitually buy organic milk, this should concern you, since alfalfa is commonly fed to dairy cattle. The modified alfalfa is implanted with a gene conferring resistance to the powerful herbicide Roundup, and is marketed as 'Roundup ready.'   According to the New York Times,

Mr. Vilsack said Thursday that his department would take other measures, like conducting research and promoting dialogue, to make sure that pure, nonengineered alfalfa seed would remain available.
“We want to expand and preserve choice for farmers,” he told reporters. “We think the decision reached today is a reflection of our commitment to choice and trust.”

This may sound like a pleasant sentiment, but it is disingenuous at best, and bogus at worst.  Once released into the environment in large scale plantings, genetically modified seed cannot be controlled, and in particular cannot be prevented from migrating, or cross-pollinating related plants.  This is most glaringly evident in the recent advent of superweeds, which have arisen over the past few years, likely  through cross-pollination with Roundup-ready grains, (although the process of resistance transfer may be complex,  with other mechanisms also in play; grains are  grasses, in any case, as are many weeds).

What all this  means of course is that farmers (of the non-organic persuasion) are faced with the necessity of slathering their already saturated fields with the next generation of more powerful herbicides, and presumably planting the correspondingly engineered next-generation grains.  It would appear to be a never ending cycle, of applications of ever increasing toxicity, and damn the consequences for worker or consumer safety or purity of ground water, or destruction of soil micro-organisms.  A good review of these consequences (along with a depressing account of how Vilsack was pressured) has been posted over at The Lake, and is highly recommended.

The major player behind all this is Monsanto Corp., which gets my vote for World's Most Evil Corporation -- and believe me, competition they've got.  The story can be found at Democracy Now,  of how they pursue small farmers in court cases, claiming patent violations, when modified genes, due to accidental cross-pollination from neighboring farms, are fortuitously detected in said farmers' crops.  It takes a strong stomach, but go read it.

Finally for me, there's a deeper issue at play here.  I am not a great fan of speculations in the field of pre-history, concerning the rise of civilizations; yet it seems self evident to me that all advanced civilizations owe their existence to the culture of grains.  Specifically, in a tribe of hunter-gatherers, it takes the entire tribe, hunting and gathering, to feed the entire tribe.  Once grain culture is developed, only a fraction of the tribe -- the farmers--  is required to feed themselves and the rest, so that other specialized classes can develop, and devote themselves to the pursuit of such useful arts as wood-work and pottery, or even such nominally frivolous arts as music and sculpture.  That is to say, specialized artisan classes can develop -- including also merchants and politicians.

But my point here is that if grains (and by extension, grasses) are the cornerstone of civilization, it is a form of collective insanity to undertake a huge and essentially uncontrolled experiment in the modification their genetic composition.  Which is what is being done here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Targets of Opportunity: Government by Spoiled Children

The only thing that keeps this report from degenerating into a schadenfreude-fest is the thought of those less fortunate individuals who will be screwed, as a result of the greed and short-sightedness of a few powerful sphincters.  Well maybe more than a few; after all there was a general election.

So, Long Island's wealthy Nassau County (the location of Scott Fitzgerald's fictional town of West Egg, which was home to the The Great Gatsby) elected a tea party clone as county manager.  The clone rode a wave of tax-payer angst into office, and promised relief.  Only trouble is, he didn't figure out how he was in fact going to manage the county budget.

Result?  Spiraling towards bankruptcy, the county's finances have been taken over by the State of New York.  Go read about it in the NYTimes.  At least there are a few grown-ups left in this country.

But what does this augur for the nation at large?  Nothing but ill, I fear, since there is no convenient political entity to play the role of the fiscally stern Papa, when the errant child is the size of the US of A.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Travesty of a Travesty of Justice.

Nowadays people have absorbed the notion of 'travesty' as a generalized pejorative; while in fact this fine old word finds sharper application in the description of the Shakespearean 'travesty plays', i.e. in which one or more characters cross-dress: most often women as men, although be it remembered that in Shakespeare's time, female parts were played by boys -- ergo a travesty of a travesty -- or if you prefer a more modern spin, a transvestite transvestite.

But my subject here is justice -- not drama -- (or perhaps both.)  Recall the prosecution of Alabama Governor Don Siegelman (allegedly for bribery) by the Bush Justice Department (sic).  This was widely viewed at the time as a political hit job engineered by Karl Rove, and the story even attracted the attention of 60 Minutes.  Well might it be called, in the contemporary sense of the word, a travesty of justice.

But now, we have, seemingly a travesty of the travesty.  One of the hopes among Democrats and Political Progressives, was that an incoming Obama administration would review the case against Siegelman and throw it out.  This did not happen.  Instead, the Justice Department let on to be satisfied with the results in place (Siegelman had already done jail time.)

Nonetheless, help has come from a most unexpected quarter.  Citing the Roberts' Court decision in the Citizen's United case, the Eleventh Circuit Court has apparently agreed to a re-hearing of Siegelman's conviction.  Yet the Obama Justice Department (sic) is arguing for the conviction to stand!

I believe these events taken together more than meet the requirements of iterated travesty.   I also believe that actions like this justify my view (expressed in a recent post) of President Obama as a Republican mole; but I don't demand that my readers subscribe to these, my so intemperate opinions.

Credit Where Due -- Or 'Even a Blind Pig Finds an Acorn Sometimes.'

Readers of this sheet must know how strongly I disapprove of the current administration in Washington, which has, in my view, governed so as to ruin the Democratic Brand (or what was left of it.)  I have on occasion gone so far as to entertain the notion that President Obama is in fact a Republican mole, on Karl Rove's secret payroll.  That may sound extreme to some, but I believe the record supports my assertion,

All that said however, let us now praise famous men.  The President's speech at the Tucson Shooting Memorial was reasonably well done -- and the criticism levelled at him (by a panoply of media bigwigs) was justly and hilariously skewered by John Stewart -- a video of whose performance may be viewed here.

This clip provides a cogent summary of the Memorial, as well as a sharply observed response to commentary on same by the media elite.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

And while we're on the subject of R. Reagan ... The Supply Side Claptrap

                                                 "Some crap never ends."  -- Richard Hugo

I take this opportunity to dig up an old column by N. Gregory Mankiw, Professor of Economics at Harvard University.  Sheesh!  Must be a heavy dude....

So back in October of 2009, in the run-up to some form of healthcare reform by the Obama administration, Mankiw sees fit to revive the ghost of supply side economics and the Laughable, uh, check that, Laffer curve, that predicts increased tax revenue with decreased taxes.  (Well maybe not quite like that; I guess it was more like increased tax revenue with decreased tax rates.)  Well, it makes about as much sense my original way.

So Mankiw puts forth the notion that health reform might lower the cost of health insurance to individuals, but at the cost of raising top marginal tax rates.  This is a bad thing, he argues, since high marginal rates cause people to work less hard than they otherwise might, since the extra salary will just be taken in taxes.  To support this theory, he calls upon an anecdote of Ronald Reagan, which I quote from his column.

The starting point for Ronald Reagan was the idea that people respond to incentives. The incentives that he most worried about were those provided by the tax system. According to his budget director, David A. Stockman, Mr. Reagan would regale the staff with stories of how he, as an actor, used to alter his work schedule in response to the tax code.
“You could only make four pictures, and then you were in the top bracket,” Mr. Reagan would say. “So we all quit working after four pictures and went off to the country.”

Well, I dunno; maybe.  I mean the Gipper had a reputation for reliable recollection -- like when he reportedly told Yitzhak Shamir he served in the Signal Corps during WW II, and witnessed the liberation of concentration camps.  (This is controversial; not surprisingly, right wing commentators have spilled much ink to debunk the story; but I stand by it.)  What is a matter of record is that Reagan spent the entire war stateside.

Anyhow, the Reagan tax rate story has evidently become accepted economic theory, since Mankiw finishes his column by noting:

But we should not forget the cost of translating that noble aspiration into practical policy. As a matter of economic logic, President Obama’s goal of universal health insurance cannot help but undermine former President Reagan’s goal of lower marginal tax rates. Future generations of Americans may find health insurance more affordable, but they will also find hard work less financially rewarding.

Wow.  Just wow.  Of course Mankiw is careful with his words, to divorce the fact of lost income (for upper bracket taxpayers) from the macroeconomic consequences of same,  -- namely reduced productivity -- as reportedly put forth by R. Reagan.

Anecdotally the notion that people work less if taxed more does not apply to anyone in my personal circle of acquaintance, but then again I don't hang with the big banksters.  As far as that goes, it would probably do the country some good if those roosters took a few days off.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Brief, Belated Assessment of the Reagan Legacy

Dear Reader:  This post, originally written as an obituary notice in 2004,  is devoted to a brief appreciation of our departed fortieth President, Ronald Reagan.  Given the massive publicity machine still at work buffing his image, we feel that the countervailing view cannot be too often stated.
He was an important president, but not a great one, as his major accomplishments were all negative: He destroyed our social contract.  He bankrupted the national treasury. He replaced fact with fantasy in the national discourse. He ended twenty years of progress in civil rights and race relations. He was an ardent union-buster. He gave us homelessness and tuberculosis resurgent.  He promulgated the pipe dream of space-based missile defense. He supported the Afghani Mujahadeen, who later became the Taliban and al-Qaida.  He traded arms for hostages, and used the proceeds of arms sales to Iran to illegally fund the Contra War in Nicaragua.  There is credible evidence that his agents negotiated with Iran during the 1980 presidential campaign, to insure that the American embassy  hostages in Teheran were not released prior to the election. This, if proved, would constitute (I believe) the sole instance of treason by an American president, although not precisely during his term of office.  
In lesser matters, he used then President Carter's own briefing book (stolen from the White House) to prepare for a campaign debate. He had the White House redecorated at the expense of private donors,  which elicited the comment by William Proxmire that he had never in public life seen so egregious a conflict of interest.  Reagan also claimed to have been present (as a member of Army signal corps)  at the liberation of Dachau, when in fact he spent the entire Second World War stateside,  making propaganda films in Hollywood. He committed perhaps the most notorious gaffe of the Cold War era, joking in front of a live microphone that bombing of the Soviet Union was to about to begin.  As early as  1986, he suffered prolonged episodes of mental black-out,  as recorded contemporaneously (but never much publicized)  in the memoirs of journalist Leslie Stahl.
He is said by his supporters to have held strong beliefs; but  the question of belief must remain moot in a man of such limited intellect.  Nonetheless, I will admit that he governed by two tightly-held principals: that he would act always to increase the wealth and power of those already wealthy and powerful, and that policy to this end must always  play well as theatre, must indeed  obey a dramatic logic, if no other.  (Witness the firing the air-traffic controllers.) He was, after all, an actor playing the role of president, and he understood this part of his professional responsibility quite well enough.  In this light, the example of his letters, cited as evidence of his broad intellectual engagement in policy questions, is not convincing.  As an actor, he understood the importance of good lines, and was a good enough wordsmith to string together sonorous platitudes in a convincing manner.  The act of writing probably served as a form of rehearsal as well, a means saturating himself in the role.    
In the end his most important achievement was the creation of the modern conservative movement -an unlikely alliance of populists and elitists, proletarians and plutocrats, fundamentalist Christians and intellectual Jews - a collection of disparate parties sharing little save the capacity for hatred, which was to be much exercised during the Clinton Presidency.
Beyond that, his most important contribution to American politics was to show that the truth in any situation can be made to matter less than people's perceptions - a lesson certainly put into practice by George Bush, in the run-up to the Iraq war, but which (lest we forget) was also the leitmotif of the entire Republican party in their assault upon the presidency of Bill Clinton.  
In the end Reagan embodied a model of governance in which a plausible (but essentially hollow)  front man serves as a puppet for hidden interests.  George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger are the latest examples.  They are, in that sense, the true heirs of his mantle.  
Moving on: it is fashionable to credit Reagan with winning the cold war, and to cite the testimony of Mikhail Gorbachev, who has  certainly been kind in assigning credit to his former negotiating partner.  But two points should be borne in mind:  first, that Gorbachev was smart enough to see that  the Soviet model had become untenable,  and that the Soviet empire was collapsing;  and second that Reagan's impulsive offer -- essentially  to eliminate all nuclear weapons -- was so devoid of sense and calculation as to be laughable.   What it accomplished was to tip Gorbachev that Reagan was sufficiently malleable to be led in a productive direction, which Gorbachev succeeded in doing.  I believe it is as a matter of form that he credits Reagan (most recently on the op-ed page of the New York Times) as a peacemaker. Reagan's record is indeed unimpressive when compared to those of his Cold War predecessors.  
In sum: far from being a great president, I would argue that he will eventually be assigned the place of worst president in the history of our Republic.  He will outpace George W. Bush for that title by virtue of his having essentially enabled the latter's ascent.  In broader historical terms, the political polarization that we now experience nationally  appears to me as a belated skirmish in the American Civil War: those old wounds had been healing for over a century, but Reagan succeeded  in re-opening them.  It is up to us to re-commence the healing, if indeed that be possible.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords Shot at Outdoor Town Hall Event

This is quite clearly a political shooting of a Democratic politician.  Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County says what needs to be heard in the video here.   In particular he calls out Right Wing hate radio for spreading the eliminationist rhetoric which, he believes, led to the shooting.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Industrial Policy for the US of A?

What got me riled recently was this item on China's push to become the dominant supplier to America of equipment and infrastructure for generation of wind power.  The article raises the question of whether or not China's subsidies to its own manufacturers are in violation of WTO rules.  What was clear in any case was that Beijing was bent on dominating the American market in this industry.

A related story was the recent imposition by China of export quotas on rare earth metals -- important ingredients in many manufactures, but notably in that of small magnets used for green electrical generation.

What all of this adds up to of course is not so much Chinese economic predation (although there is a component of that) as the existence of a coherent Chinese industrial policy.  Beijing targets certain industries, and pushes them forward, through subsidies and regulations, on both the national and international stages.

Jeez, what a novel idea.  Why can't we do that?  Well to some extent we do.  The great successes of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in the US are due entirely to the infrastructure created by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funds the underlying academic research, and concurrently subsidizes the training of the small army of Ph. D.'s who will move largely into careers in industrial R & D.

But, no one wants to call this an 'Industrial Policy.'  The NIH has become over time another inside the beltway political constituency (and Saints be praised for that!) which has enjoyed strong Congressional support for generations, and is of a piece with Mom and Apple Pie.

But in a larger sense, we totally lack industrial policy.  Or rather what we have is anti-industrial policy.  The apparent goals (to judge by the outcomes over 30 years) are to send American manufacturing jobs off shore, and destroy American labor unions.  Where off-shoring is the norm, labor has no bargaining power.  What is the underlying motivation?  My own cynical view is that the weakening of the labor movement was the major domestic policy goal of the Reagan administration, and what better way to accomplish same than to get rid of manufacturing jobs, which have historically been heavily unionized.

But to return to our titular theme, an excellent post up at Daily Kos makes the case for industrial policy by (among other things)  comparing the manufacture of Steinway pianos in Germany and the U.S.  German Steinways get the palm.   The point is that German governmental policy actively supports the training and nurture of workers who will become industrial craftsmen whose metier is the creation of high-end manufactured products -- just think of German automobiles.

There is also some excellent (although depressing) discussion from Yves Smith on the issue of structural unemployment and (tangentially) industrial policy.  This was originally up at Angry Bear .

And since industrial policy costs money and we are in the process of de-funding the Federal Government, it's also worth remembering that high top marginal rates have on the whole not hurt GDP, and low rates have not helped in the U. S. of A., from 1913 to the present.