Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tom Engelhardt, "Pentagon Time: Tick…Tick…Tick…"

"Pentagon Time: Tick…Tick…Tick…"
By Tom Engelhardt

"Back in 2007, when General David Petraeus was the surge commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, he had a penchant for clock imagery. In an interview in April of that year, he typically said: “I'm conscious of a couple of things. One is that the Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock, so we're obviously trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit and to produce some progress on the ground that can perhaps give hope to those in the coalition countries, in Washington, and perhaps put a little more time on the Washington clock.” And he wasn’t alone. Military spokespeople and others in the Bush administration right up to the president regularly seemed to hear one, two, or sometimes as many as three clocks ticking away ominously and out of sync.

Hearing some discordant ticking myself of late, I decided to retrieve Petraeus’s image from the dustbin of history. So imagine three ticking clocks, all right here in the U.S., one set to Washington time, a second to American time, and the third to Pentagon time.

In Washington - with even the New York Times now agreeing that a “majority” of 100 is 60 (not 51) and that the Senate’s 41st vote settles everything -- the clock seems to be ticking erratically, if at all. On the other hand, that American clock, if we’re to believe the good citizens of Massachusetts, is ticking away like a bomb. Americans are impatient, angry, and “in revolt” against Washington time. That’s what the media continue to tell us in the wake of last week’s Senate upset.

Depending on which account you read, they were outraged by a nearly trillion dollar health-care reform that was also a giveaway to insurance companies, and annoyed by Democratic candidate Martha Coakley calling Curt Schilling a “Yankees fan” as well as besmirching handshaking in the cold outside Fenway Park; they were anxious about an official Massachusetts unemployment rate of 9.4% (and a higher real one), an economy that has rebounded for bankers but not for regular people, soaring deficits, staggering foreclosure rates, mega-banking bonuses, the Obama administration’s bailout of those same bankers, and its coziness with Wall Street. They were angry and impatient about a lot of things, blind angry you might say, since they were ready to vote back into office the party not in office, even if behind that party’s “new face” were ideas that would take us back to the origins of the present disaster.

It’s worth noting, however, that they’re not angry about everything - and that the Washington clock, barely moving on a wide range of issues, is still ticking away when it comes to one institution. The good citizens of Massachusetts may be against free rides and bailouts for many types, but not for everybody. I’m speaking, of course, about the Pentagon, for which Congress has just passed a record new budget of $708 billion (with an Afghan war-fighting supplemental request of $33 billion, essentially a bail-out payment, still pending but sure to pass). This happened without real debate, much public notice, or even a touch of anger in Washington or Massachusetts. And keep in mind that the Pentagon’s real budget is undoubtedly close to a trillion dollars, without even including the full panoply of our national security state.

The tea-party crews don’t rail against Pentagon giveaways, nor do Massachusetts voters grumble about them. Unfettered Pentagon budgets pass in the tick-tock of a Washington clock and no one seems fazed when the Wall Street Journal reveals that military aides accompanying globe-hopping parties of congressional representatives regularly spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on snacks, drinks, and other “amenities” for them, even while, like some K Street lobbying outfit, promoting their newest weaponry. Think of it, in financial terms, as Pentagon peanuts shelled out for actual peanuts, and no one gives a damn.

It’s hardly considered news - and certainly nothing to get angry about --when the Secretary of Defense meets privately with the nation’s top military-industrial contractors, calls for an even “closer partnership,” and pledges to further their mutual interests by working “with the White House to secure steady growth in the Pentagon's budgets over time.” Nor does it cause a stir among the denizens of inside-the-Beltway Washington or the citizens of Massachusetts when the top ten defense contractors spend more than $27 million lobbying the federal government, as in the last quarter of 2009 (a significant increase over the previous quarter), just as plans for the president’s Afghan War surge were being prepared.

Nor is it just the angry citizens of Massachusetts, or those tea-party organizers, or Republicans stalwarts who hear no clock ticking when it comes to “national security” expenditures, who see no link between our military-industrial outlays, our perpetual wars, and our economic woes. When, for instance, was the last time you saw a bona fide liberal economist/columnist like Paul Krugman include the Pentagon and our wars in the litany of things potentially bringing this country down?

Yes, striking percentages of Americans attend the church (temple, mosque) of their choice, but when it comes to American politics and the economy, the U.S. military is our church, “national security” our Bible, and nothing done in the name of either can be wrong. Talk about a blank check. It’s as if the military, already the most revered institution in the country, existed on the other side of a Star-Trekkian financial wormhole.

Which brings us to Pentagon time. Yes, that third clock is ticking, but at a very different tempo from those in Washington or Massachusetts. Americans are evidently increasingly impatient for “change” of whatever sort, whether you can believe in it or not. The Pentagon, on the other hand, is patient. It’s opted for making counterinsurgency the central strategy of its war in Central and South Asia, the sort of strategy that, even if successful, experts claim could easily take a decade or two to pull off. But no problem - not when the Pentagon’s clock is ticking on something like eternal time. And here’s the thing: because the media are no less likely to give the Pentagon a blank check than the citizens of Massachusetts, it’s hard indeed to grasp the extent to which that institution, and the military services it represents, are planning and living by their own clock. Though major papers have Pentagon “beats,” they generally tell us remarkably little, except inadvertently and in passing, about Pentagon time.

So, for the next few minutes, just keep that Pentagon clock ticking away in your head. In the meantime, we’ll go looking for some hints about the Pentagon’s war-fighting time horizons buried in news reports on, and Pentagon contracts for, the Afghan War. Take, as a start, a January 6th story from the inside pages of my hometown paper. New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt began it this way: “The military’s effort to build a seasoned corps of expert officers for the Afghan war, one of the highest priorities of top commanders, is off to a slow start, with too few volunteers and a high-level warning to the armed services to steer better candidates into the program, according to some senior officers and participants.” At stake was an initiative “championed” by Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal to create a “912-member corps of mostly officers and enlisted service members who will work on Afghanistan and Pakistan issues for up to five years.”

The news was that the program, in its infancy, was already faltering because it didn’t conform to one of the normal career paths followed in the U.S. military. But what caught my eye was that phrase “up to five years.” Imagine what it means for the war commander, backed by key figures in the Pentagon, to plan to put more than 900 soldiers, including top officers, on a career path that would leave them totally wedded, for five years, to war in the Af-Pak theater of operations. (After all, if that war were to end, the State Department might well take charge.) In other words, McChrystal was creating a potentially powerful interest group within the military whose careers would be wedded to an ongoing war with a time-line that extended into 2015 - and who would have something to lose if it ended too quickly. What does it matter then that President Obama was proclaiming his desire to begin drawing down the war in July 2011?

Or consider the plan being proposed, according to Ann Scott Tyson, in a January 17th Washington Post piece, by Special Forces Major Jim Gant, and now getting a most respectful hearing inside the military. Gant wants to establish small Special Forces teams that would “go native,” move into Afghan villages and partner up with local tribal leaders -- “one tribe at a time,” as an influential paper he wrote on the subject was entitled. “The U.S. military,” reported Tyson, “would have to grant the teams the leeway to grow beards and wear local garb, and enough autonomy in the chain of command to make rapid decisions. Most important, to build relationships, the military would have to commit one or two teams to working with the same tribe for three to five years, Gant said.” She added that Gant has “won praise at the highest levels [of the U.S. military] for his effort to radically deepen the U.S. military's involvement with Afghan tribes - and is being sent back to Afghanistan to do just that.” Again, another “up to five year” commitment in Afghanistan and a career path to go with it on a clock that, in Gant’s case, has yet to start ticking.

Or just to run through a few more examples:

* In August 2009, the superb Walter Pincus of the Washington Post quoted Air Force Brigadier General Walter Givhan, in charge of training the Afghan National Army Air Corps, this way: "Our goal is by 2016 to have an [Afghan] air corps that will be capable of doing those operations and the things that it needs to do to meet the security requirements of this country." Of course, that six-year timeline includes the American advisors training that air force. (And note that Givhan’s 2016 date may actually represent slippage. In January 2008, when Air Force Brig. Gen. Jay H. Lindell, who was then commander of the Combined Air Power Transition Force, discussed the subject, he spoke of an “eight-year campaign plan” through 2015 to build up the Afghan Air Corps.)

* In a January 13th piece on Pentagon budgeting plans, Anne Gearan and Anne Flaherty of the Associated Press reported: “The Pentagon projects that war funding would drop sharply in 2012, to $50 billion” from the present at least $159 billion (mainly thanks to a projected massive draw-down of forces in Iraq), “and remain there through 2015.” Whether the financial numbers are accurate or not, the date is striking: again a five-year window.

* Or take the “train and equip” program aimed at bulking up the Afghan military and police, which will be massively staffed with U.S. military advisors (and private security contractors) and is expected to cost at least $65 billion. It’s officially slated to run from 2010-2014 by which time the combined Afghan security forces are projected to reach 400,000.

* Or consider a couple of the long-term contracts already being handed out for Afghan war work like the $158 million the Air Force has awarded to Evergreen Helicopters, Inc., for “indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract for rotary wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance and supervision necessary to perform passenger and cargo air transportation services. Work will be performed in Afghanistan and is expected to start Apr. 3, 2009, to be completed by Nov. 30, 2013.” Or the Pentagon contract awarded to the private contractor SOS International primarily for translators, which has an estimated completion date of September 2014.

Of course, this just scratches the surface of long-term Afghan War planning in the Pentagon and the military, which rolls right along, seemingly barely related to whatever war debates may be taking place in Washington. Few in or out of that city find these timelines strange, and indeed they are just symptomatic of an organization already planning for “the next war” and the ones after that, not to speak of the next generation bomber of 2018, the integrated U.S. Army battlefield surveillance system of 2025, and the drones of 2047.

This, in short, is Pentagon time and it’s we who fund that clock which ticks toward eternity. If the Pentagon gets in trouble, war-fighting or otherwise, we bail it out without serious debate or any of the anger we saw in the Massachusetts election. No one marches in the streets, or demands that Pentagon bailouts end, or votes ‘em (or at least their supporters) out of office.

In this way, no institution is more deeply embedded in American life or less accountable for its acts; Pentagon time exists enswathed in an almost religious glow of praise and veneration- what might once have been known as “idolatry.” Until the Pentagon is forced into our financial universe, the angry, impatient one where most Americans now live, we’re in trouble. Until candidates begin losing because angry Americans reject our perpetual wars, and the perpetual war-planning that goes with them, this sort of thinking will simply continue, no matter who the “commander-in-chief” is or what he thinks he’s commanding. It’s time for Americans to stop saluting and end the Pentagon’s free ride before America’s wars kill us."

Nutrition: "What's So Special About Fish Oils?"

"What's So Special About Fish Oils?"
by Peta Bee

"
Fish oils are a type of polyunsaturated fat - a 'healthy' fat. Unlike saturated animal fats, they don't raise your cholesterol levels, but are known to have a positive effect on health. Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two groups of what are called Essential Fatty Acids (or EFAs) - omega-3 and omega-6. Both omegas are essential in helping to regulate blood clotting, body temperature, blood pressure and the immune system; they are also needed to make prostaglandins, important hormone-like chemicals in the body. The only way we can get them is through our diet.

Omega-3 has particular benefits, producing vital substances such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), thought to play a key role in the development of brain and cognitive function, and EPA ( eicosapentaenoic acid), vital for brain health. The richest source of omega-3s are fish oils - salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna and herring. While most Britons consume more than enough omega-6 oils (found in most edible oils, but particularly sunflower and corn, as well as meat), they are deficient in omega-3.

WILL THEY PROTECT MY HEART? There have been a number of studies suggesting fish oils boost heart health, but the most compelling evidence was a study last year published in the Journal Of The American College Of Cardiology. Led by Dr Carl Lavie, of the Ochsner Cardiology Clinic in Louisiana, the study showed omega-3 oils help to prevent blood clotting and regulate or lower blood pressure.

The strongest heart-protective effect is for patients with established cardiovascular disease, the study found. 'This isn't just hype - we now have tremendous and compelling evidence from very large studies, some dating back 20 and 30 years,' Dr Lavie said. Under guidelines issued by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), doctors are encouraged to prescribe supplements to patients after they have had a heart attack to prevent repeat attacks.

WHAT ABOUT MY BRAIN? There has been great interest in the fish oil effect on the brain - both in preventing disease and boosting brain power. Studies have shown, for instance, that DHA can reduce the formation of plaques in the brain; these have been linked to Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Too little omega-3 has been linked to mild depression, and there is some evidence that fish oils may help here. DHA has been shown to boost foetal brain development. However, parents who feed their children fish oil supplements before exams might be wasting their money, as the evidence for fish oils boosting intelligence and exam performance is tenuous.

WHAT ELSE CAN THEY DO? Eating oily fish once a week has been shown to protect against age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness in the older generation. They might also be helpful in the fight against some forms of cancer. Last year, Professor John Witte, from the University of California, suggested a high intake of omega-3s reduced men's risk of prostate cancer by about 60 per cent. There is some evidence, too, that a regular consumption of omega-3s can help prevent bowel cancer.

WILL THEY HELP ME LOOK YOUNGER? Anti-ageing? One study suggests fish oils help to keep you looking youthful. Last week researchers from the University of California suggested omega-3s - whether from supplements or fish - helped cells in the body live longer. When they studied heart disease patients, they found the more omega-3 the subjects ate, the slower the damage to the DNA in their cells. That, in turn, meant better protection against inflammation and the ageing process. So will fish oils help you live longer - and look younger?

Heather Yuregir, a researcher at the British Nutrition Foundation, says it's possible, although more evidence is needed to confirm the anti-ageing effect. 'The study found fish oils may protect against ageing, which does indicate another possible benefit of consuming such oils in the diet. But it must be remembered that it is only one study; the claims need to be strengthened.'

SHOULD I TAKE FISH OIL PILLS? The best food supply of omega-3s is oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring. Other sources include rapeseed, evening primrose and walnut oils, fresh seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower, wholemeal bread and wholegrain cereals. However, they provide omega-3s in a different chemical form which is more difficult for the body to convert into DHA and EPA, so it would be difficult to consume enough.

In Britain, there are no recommended daily levels for fish oils, although the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) say eating two portions (140g each) a week of fish, including one of oily fish, will meet most people's needs - providing around 250mg of omega-3s. (Note, canned tuna does not count, as the processing reduces its omega-3 levels to those similar to white fish).

However, a team of doctors reporting in the Journal Of The American College Of Cardiology last year suggested there is now 'compelling evidence' for the benefits of fish oils and recommended people try to consume 500mg of omega-3 fish oil a day, while those with heart disease or heart failure take at least 800 to 1000mg in their diet. Many experts think it is better to eat fish to provide the oil, as this ensures you also get other important nutrients and protein, and the suggestion by some researchers to take supplements instead remains controversial. 'UK guidelines suggest adults get their omega-3 intake from fish and there is no recommendation to take supplements as well,' says Bridget Benelam, of the BNF.

Indeed, although NICE now recommends those who've had a heart attack take a supplement, eating more oily fish is preferable, explains June Davison, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation. The charity recommends anyone who has suffered a heart attack eats two to three portions of oily fish a week over taking a capsule. 'For most people with or without heart disease, supplements are not generally suggested as a daily requirement,' says Davison. However, last week a survey of more than 3,000 British consumers by NutraSea found 40per cent of people never cook fish. Getting your omega-3 from other sources is preferable to getting none, says Dr Rafe Bundy, nutrition lecturer at Glasgow University.

WHAT ABOUT COD LIVER OIL? Cod liver oil does contain some DHA and EPA, but not as much as the oily fish - but there are other reasons to consider it. It's a good source of vitamin D, and experts are increasingly concerned that in Britain our levels of this vitamin are low (the main source is the sun). Vitamin D deficiency is now being linked to a range of conditions, including diabetes. The vitamin is also important to prevent the bone disease rickets, which has made a comeback.

Last week, the British Medical Journal revealed that spending too much time indoors, combined with poor diets, has led to a drop in vitamin D levels among children - and a rise in rickets. The fact that children are no longer being given a daily slug of cod liver oil is also thought to be contributing to the problem."

"Recurring Dreams And Their Meanings"

"Recurring Dreams And Their Meanings"
Dr. Michael J. Breus

"Does this sound familiar? You arrive in the classroom and take your assigned seat. As you reach down to open your book the teacher says "Okay class, remember books away, it is time for the final exam!" Final exam, what is she talking about? Is that my boss sitting next to me? And where are my clothes? You wake in a cold sweat, still wondering where your clothes went.

One of the topics I get the most questions about is dreams. In my last post, we reviewed information about if we dream, why we dream, and one method for influencing our dreams (lucid dreaming). The content of most dreams seems to be dreamt once but many people can experience a repeat occurrence. Today I wanted to write about these recurrent dreams. Recurrent dreams appear to fall into two main categories: stress related and full-on nightmares. Some of the more common dreams associated with anxiety and fear are:

• Dreams of being chased - Often you will feel like you are in slow motion (this may mean that you are having this dream while in REM sleep, when your body is paralyzed. This physiological experience occurs so that you do not act out your dreams).

• Dreams of falling - Some think that this may represent the transition from one sleep stage to another.

• Dreams of being in a haunted house - Some think that this could have something to do with your surroundings or sleep environment.

And most recurrent dreams are relevant to the person who is dreaming, according to Dr. Daniel Condron (Director and Dream Researcher at the School of Metaphysics). His theory is that the dream represents a question or message (often related to a limitation, habit, fear or doubt) to the dreamer. And he thinks that the dream will reach a conclusion (and may even stop repeating) once the dreamer understands the message and resolves to make a change.

There do appear to be some common themes in repetitive dreams for everyone:

(1) Being in school long after the dreamer has graduated.

(2) Being in houses that keep changing.

(3) Seeing a deceased person who is alive in the dream.

What these mean is still up for debate. You can interpret your dream and I can interpret your dream, and we could both be right or wrong - no one can know for sure. However, remember that the dreams are about the dreamer, as are any symbols in them, so when looking at your dreams (after writing them down in your dream journal) it is important to personalize your interpretations of them. As an example let's take a look at the three categories above and think about what a general interpretation could mean and then how to make it more specific to you.

In my opening dream report, the dreamer is back in school (one of the three most popular categories), what could that mean? It all will depend upon what school means to the dreamer:

• School may represent education to the dreamer, so maybe they have anxiety about a particular subject and need to learn something for work, home or with friends.

• School may represent a social scene to the dreamer, so maybe they feel anxious about an upcoming social event or party.

• School may represent a structured situation to the dreamer, so maybe the dream represents anxiety or stress about an upcoming training seminar or conference or time when they will need to take a test.

• School may represent a time of security to the dreamer, so maybe they feel anxious because they are in a situation which is currently dangerous.

Thus, an interpretation is best when the dreamer personalizes the content of the dream, by the theme, and then looks for things in the dream to help answer the question of why the dream occurs. Clues may include people, places or things that have meaning to the dreamer in particular. The higher the emotional attachment to the person, place or thing, the more likely it has a meaning regarding why the dreamer dreamt at all.

So in the above dream, the dreamer might have identified that they need to learn more about a subject that they fell inadequate about. Now for the Clues:

• In the dream they noticed that their boss was sitting next to them, so maybe this is a topic from work.

• Being naked is like being exposed, so maybe they are concerned that a colleague from work is going to find out that they need to learn more and expose it to their boss.

It is impossible to know if this is an exact and correct interpretation, but if the interpretation matches with the dreamer's thoughts, then there is something to be gained. Hopefully there is some insight into the message, or problem, and hopefully some type of resolution.

One of the most famous accounts of a recurrent dream is from Abraham Lincoln. While discussing the war with General Grant during a cabinet meeting he told the general that there would be big news from the warfront. When Grant asked why he thought this he replied: "I had a dream last night; and ever since this war began I have had the same dream just before every event of great national importance. It portends some important event that will happen very soon." That evening Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

What are your recurrent dreams? And what do you think that they might mean?"

"How It Really Is"

Howard Zinn

"The challenge remains. On the other side are formidable forces: money, political power, the major media. On our side are the people of the world and a power greater than money or weapons: the truth. Truth has a power of its own. Art has a power of its own. That age-old lesson – that everything we do matters – is the meaning of the people’s struggle here in the United States and everywhere. A poem can inspire a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution. Civil disobedience can arouse people and provoke us to think, when we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress. We live in a beautiful country. But people who have no respect for human life, freedom, or justice have taken it over. It is now up to all of us to take it back."
- Howard Zinn

Yesterday, while traveling with his daughter in California, 87 year old Howard Zinn suffered
a fatal heart attack and died. He will be sorely missed, but the lessons he taught will live forever...
- CP

David Walker, "The Scary Budget Numbers"

"The Scary Budget Numbers"
By David Walker

"The recession and attendant financial shock appear to be easing as I write this. But in Washington, financial imprudence is part of the fabric of government. You can see that in a single document that gets updated every year: the US budget. In putting together the budget, the president and Congress set our national priorities and allocate resources among them. The results have been pretty consistent. Over the forty years ending in 2008, revenues have averaged about 18.3 percent of our economy and spending has averaged over 20.6 percent, resulting in an average deficit of about 2.4 percent.

But that gap began to widen under Bush 43, who cut taxes while starting two wars, bolstering homeland security, adding an expensive prescription drug benefit to Medicare, and increasing other spending. In 2007, the federal deficit stood at $161 billion, or 1.2 percent of our economy. In 2008 it was $455 billion, or 3.2 percent. In 2009, figuring in the billions spent to pull our economy out of recession and on various bailout efforts, the deficit rocketed to about $1.42 trillion, 9.9 percent of our economy.

In Washington, they speak of our "fiscal exposure" - the sum of all the benefits, programs, debt payments, and other expenses that will cost us big bucks in the future whether or not we want to cut spending. The term I've used for all of that is our "federal financial hole." In the first eight years of this century it has grown from $20.4 trillion to $56.4 trillion - a 176 percent increase.

Maybe you have a few bills - mortgage payment, auto loan, cable TV, phone - deducted automatically from your checking account. How would you feel if those expenses had risen 176 percent in eight years while your income remained steady?

The hole is getting deeper because we are doing little to bring our income into line with our spending. And until now I haven't even talked about the interest payments on our federal debt. Suppose our government fails to increase federal revenues above the current rate. Based on the GAO's latest long-range alternative budget simulation, within about twelve years, our interest payments will become the largest single expenditure in the federal budget. By 2040, all of our federal tax revenues will add up to enough to cover only our two biggest expenses: interest on our debt and Medicare and Medicaid. Everything else - Social Security, defense, education, road building, you name it - will fail to be funded.

As you know, benefits payments are the biggest chunk of the government's massive obligation. Since the 1960s, the growth of these mandatory payments has overtaken what we spend on defense as a share of our national output - and what we spend on everything else in our federal budget, from law enforcement to border protection, children's programs to national parks, highways to foreign aid.

Although defense has declined dramatically as a percentage of the overall federal budget over the past forty years, we have actually increased total defense spending. In recent years, we have added resources to fight terrorism abroad. That means that other discretionary programs are much more susceptible to cutting. These include education, research, transportation, infrastructure, and other programs that, if properly designed and effectively executed, can promote economic growth and development. How will squeezing those areas serve to keep America great?

All of this puts us in a major-league quandary. Our nation has to bring what we earn into line with what we spend at a time when our spending literally is out of control. One option - cutting investments in America's future in order to finance our large and growing mandatory spending programs - is another way of cheating the next generation. Unfortunately, today we are both cutting our investments in the future and handing our descendants a mountain of debt. That is a double whammy for young people and the unborn. It's not just irresponsible, it's immoral and downright un-American."
David Walker served as United States Comptroller General from 1998 through to 2008 and is now the President and CEO of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation. He is also the author of "Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility."

"With a Recovery Like This, Who Needs Enemies?"

"With a Recovery Like This, Who Needs Enemies?"
by Bill Bonner

"What a recovery! If the economy keeps recovering like this we’ll soon all be busted… House sales are falling… unemployment is rising… and people are getting poorer! The Dow rallied a piddly 23 points yesterday. Oil is selling for less than $75 this morning. Stocks are in trouble. As we said yesterday, this could be the beginning of the end for this bear market. We’ve seen the first leg down. We’ve seen the rally. We’re ready for the next big plunge.

Yesterday, the latest numbers on existing house sales for December came out. They were disappointing – nearly 17% lower than the year before. Unemployment is still rising, as near as we can determine. It is rising for two reasons. Because we are in a depression. And, because the feds are trying to ‘do something about it.’

In this regard, we refer to three different phenomena. They are inter-related…they all show the same thing: an economy going downhill.

First, initial jobless claims surged last week…with 36,000 more claimants. This also from "Bloomberg:" "Employment dropped in 39 US states in December, seven more than in the prior month, indicating job losses were widespread. Payrolls in California showed the biggest decline, falling by 38,800 last month, according to figures issued today by the Labor Department in Washington. Texas followed with a 23,900 decline and Ohio was next with a 16,700 drop. With the national unemployment rate projected to average 10 percent this year, state budgets may continue to be strained by limited tax revenue and jobless insurance payments. While the pace of firings has eased over the last year, the time it is taking to find a job rose to a record 29.1 weeks in December.

Employment is ‘still very weak, which is why we think the unemployment rate is going to continue to rise,’ Marisa Di Natale, a director at Moody’s Economy.com in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said before the report. ‘There are some states that are in pretty big trouble, fiscally speaking. 2010 is not going to be a good year.

“The jobless rate in the US held at 10 percent in December, the Labor Department said on Jan. 8. A jump in the number of discouraged workers leaving the labor market kept the rate from rising… Employment in all 50 states dropped in 2009, with Wyoming, Nevada, Michigan and Arizona showing the biggest percentage decreases. The District of Columbia gained jobs, adding 6,200 in the 12 months to December. Nevada and West Virginia had the biggest increase in joblessness among states last year, each climbing 4.6 percentage points. Alabama was next with a 4.5-point gain, followed by Michigan’s 4.4-point increase.”

An analysis done by the AP shows that stimulus spending has no effect on employment. The AP looked at counties that got a lot of stimulus money to repair roads and bridges, and those that didn’t. They found no connection between the spending and employment rates. Even we are a bit surprised. We knew that stimulus spending was a waste of money. But we figured the feds could force a little extra hiring here and there if they really put their minds to it. Apparently not… At least not on the scale of the present stimulus spending program.

Stating the finding a bit more broadly: stimulus spending doesn’t really stimulate at all. In fact, it retards. And then it debilitates… by taking capital out of productive uses and squandering it. Instead of leaving the private sector alone so that it can find new ways to put resources to work, the feds take the resources and waste them in the old-fashioned, unproductive ways. Result: money spent; no stimulus; people poorer.

Second, the Brookings Institution came out with a warning yesterday. It said 30% of the nation was either in poverty already or headed to it. The US is becoming like a ‘developing nation,’ said the report, with 39.1 million people living in poverty. Many cities have already reached the 30% poverty rate – including Cleveland, Detroit, Youngstown, Buffalo, Syracuse, Dayton and Hartford, Connecticut. But poverty is increasing fastest in the suburbs, says the report. We add a footnote. About 40 million Americans are also living on food stamps – a new record.

Third, while the feds take money away from productive enterprises and honest savers, they also encourage people NOT to work. How is this possible? Alan Reynolds, writing in "The New York Post" last month, explained how the feds had probably added two points to the unemployment rate simply by stretching unemployment benefits from the traditional 26 weeks to the current 79 weeks. “When you subsidize something, you get more of it…” he writes. That is how the feds operate. They punish success and reward failure. If a man is lucky enough to get a good job and earn a lot of money, the feds tax it away from him. If he fails to find a job, on the other hand, they give him money. The longer he stays unemployed, the more money they give him.

If a banker runs his bank well, he gets nothing but trouble from the feds…paperwork, bureaucracy, pettifogging regulations. But if he runs it badly, he gets billions of dollars worth of bailouts. If an automaker takes the best business in the world and runs it into the ground, he gets the support of the federal government. If he runs his business well, he gets nothing but headaches. The feds’ recovery program pays for failure. Naturally, they get a lot of it."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could;
some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit
to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Astronomy: "A Field Guide to the Milky Way's Life Zones"

"A Field Guide to the Milky Way's Life Zones"
by Casey Kazan

"Where in the Milky Way are we most likely to encounter advanced technological civilizations? Virginia Trimble, of the University of California, Irvine and one of the world's leading astronomers specializing in the structure and evolution of stars and galaxies, believes that it is highly probable that most of the stars that are both rich enough in metals (all the elements except for hydrogen and helium are called "metals") to harbor habitable terrestrial planets (such as Earth) and are more than five billion years old exist considerably closer to the center of the Milky Way than we are. It’s as if the Milky Way had formed from the inside out, with the older disk stars forming in the dense galactic center about 12 billion years ago. The upshot is that a 6 billion year old terrestrial planet has a potential 1.5 billion-year technology headstart to produce some pretty awesome next-generation iPods.

Stars in spiral galaxies such as the Milky Way have been divided by the world’s experts in galactic structure into four general categories.

The huge, outer halo is thinly populated with some 500 million stars all more than twice the age of our Sun with less than 10% solar metal content. It’s here, in the outer halo that terrestrial planets may never have formed but if they did, could be ten billion years in advance of homo sapiens of Planet Earth.

Somewhat more metal rich than the outer halo, the inner halo and thick disk populations of stars present a more crowded, younger star-scape, making up about 10% of the Milky Way’s total star population. Like the outer halo, though, there is about a 10 billion-year jumpstart on Earth but, again, perhaps with few or no terrestrial planets as hosts for Spore-like evolutionary events in the heavy-element deficient halo and thick-disk stars.

The rest of the galaxy’s stars belong to the thin disk- home to the Sun- and Milky Way’s central bulge, a region that up until recently with the launch of the Spitzer infrared and Chandra x-ray space observatories has been difficult to study because of the dense interstellar dust surrounding the massive Sagittarius A black hole. The Milk Way's center is small too- a 600 light years across while the galaxy itself is 100,000 light years across.

The thin disk and central bulge stars are the best bet to find habitable terrestrial planets- an Earth’s twin with the added bonus of a possibly vastly advanced technological civilization based solely on the potential amount of time they’ve had to think about things like warp drive systems and time travel. The average metallicity of thin disk solar objects is about two-thirds of solar. It is likely that most bulge stars are significantly older than the sun and the average K giant and has twice the solar iron abundance. Main sequence stars like the Sun are too faint to be studied directly in the central bugle but are not expected to be chemically different from the giants.

Milan Cirkovic of the Astronomical Observatory in Belgrade, points out that the median age of terrestrial planets in the Milky Way is about 1.8 gigayears (one billion years) greater than the age of the Earth and the Solar System, which means that the median age of technological civilizations should be greater than the age of human civilization by the same amount."
Source: Virgina Trimble, "Galactic Chemical evolution:
Implications for the Existence of Habitable Planets, pp. 184-191, Extraterrestrials," Cambridge University Press.

Kurt Vonnegut



"Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be."
- Kurt Vonnegut

"Better Off Deadbeat: Suing the Bill Collectors"

"Better Off Deadbeat: Craig Cunningham Has a Simple Solution
for Getting Bill Collectors Off His Back. He Sues Them."
by Kimberly Thorpe

"Unlike his neighbors' homes, Craig Cunningham's house in Northeast Dallas looks abandoned. The grass is dried out. The concrete slab under the front door is lopsided and cracked. The green exterior has faded to a toxic-looking shade. Yellow Pages pile up near the front door, and the black mailbox is stuffed full. Maybe the home has been foreclosed on. That wouldn't be a surprise in this economy.

But no, that's not the case. Inside, the 29-year-old Cunningham hunkers his 6-foot-2-inch frame on a dumpy couch. His heavy arms extend from his sides, palms up, so two Chihuahuas, Angel and Chuay, can curl under them. Although it's 10 a.m. on a weekday, he's wearing slippers.

He leans forward to lift some paperwork out of a plastic tub on the coffee table. The phone rings, and he answers with a soft voice. It's just a friend, and soon he hangs up. He's waiting for a particular type of phone call- one from a representative of a debt collection agency or a credit card company, whom he'll try to ensnare like a Venus fly trap. It's not unlikely that Cunningham's next call will be from a bill collector, since he's between jobs- except for being in the Army Reserve- and owes $100,000 in debts.

While most Americans with unpaid bills dread the collector's call, Cunningham sees them as lucrative opportunities. Many collection and credit card companies, intentionally or not, violate little-known consumer rights laws, and Cunningham's favorite pastime is catching them doing so and then suing them. In fact, it's a profitable side job.

Call it ironic, but the only house on the block that appears to be the foreclosed end to some sad financial story is in fact the home of one of the debt collection industry's emerging and persistent threats. Cunningham calls himself a private attorney general- someone who files private lawsuits in the public interest. Debt collectors call him a credit terrorist.

Patrick Lunsford, who edits "InsideARM," a trade magazine for the debt collection industry, knows the term. "There is a sub-group out there that does actually advise people on how to bait collectors," he says. "That's something that really gets under the skin of, well, obviously, collectors."

Cunningham beats the debt collectors at their own game. He turns their money-making practice into a financial liability. He is a regular guy who has become a radical enemy of the banking system..."

The rest of the story is here: http://www.dallasobserver.com/content/printVersion/1653972

Know your rights, Good Citizen:
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: http://www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/fdcpajump.shtm
Wikipedia information on FDCPA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_Debt_Collection_Practices_Act

Sue the Bastards: "15 FDCPA Violations You Can Sue Them For, And Win"
http://credit.about.com/od/debtcollection/tp/fdcpa-violations.htm

Free Attorneys: http://www.westopdebtcollectors.com/Home.html

Kahlil Gibran, "A Poet's Voice XV, Part Four"

"A Poet's Voice XV, Part Four"
by Kahlil Gibran

"You are my brother, but why are you quarreling with me? Why do you invade my country and try to subjugate me for the sake of pleasing those who are seeking glory and authority?

Why do you leave your wife and children and follow Death to the distant land for the sake of those who buy glory with your blood, and high honor with your mother's tears?

Is it an honor for a man to kill his brother man? If you deem it an honor, let it be an act of worship, and erect a temple to Cain who slew his brother Abel.

Is self-preservation the first law of Nature? Why, then, does Greed urge you to self-sacrifice in order only to achieve his aim in hurting your brothers? Beware, my brother, of the leader who says, "Love of existence obliges us to deprive the people of their rights!" I say unto you but this: protecting others' rights is the noblest and most beautiful human act; if my existence requires that I kill others, then death is more honorable to me, and if I cannot find someone to kill me for the protection of my honor, I will not hesitate to take my life by my own hands for the sake of Eternity before Eternity comes.

Selfishness, my brother, is the cause of blind superiority, and superiority creates clanship, and clanship creates authority which leads to discord and subjugation.

The soul believes in the power of knowledge and justice over dark ignorance; it denies the authority that supplies the swords to defend and strengthen ignorance and oppression - that authority which destroyed Babylon and shook the foundation of Jerusalem and left Rome in ruins. It is that which made people call criminals great mean; made writers respect their names; made historians relate the stories of their inhumanity in manner of praise.

The only authority I obey is the knowledge of guarding and acquiescing in the Natural Law of Justice.

What justice does authority display when it kills the killer? When it imprisons the robber? When it descends on a neighborhood country and slays its people? What does justice think of the authority under which a killer punishes the one who kills, and a thief sentences the one who steals?

You are my brother, and I love you; and Love is justice with its full intensity and dignity. If justice did not support my love for you, regardless of your tribe and community, I would be a deceiver concealing the ugliness of selfishness behind the outer garment of pure love."

"Price of US Wars? $1 Trillion and Rising"

"Price of US Wars? $1 Trillion and Rising"
by Jason Ditz

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

"The Congressional Budget Office’s newly released budget outlook notes that Congress has approved over $1 trillion in direct spending on wars and war-related activities since 2001, and that price tag is only getting higher as the wars drag on. The spending was divided between $708 billion for the Iraq War, $345 billion for the Afghan War, and $22 billion for assorted other war activities in other countries. The Obama Administration’s repeated projections of a lower budget output for wars in coming years aside, they show no sign of slowing.

The estimated price tag only includes direct costs incurred as a result of the US occupations of those nations, and does not include the trillions of other dollars spent on the military since 2001. Nor does it include the overall cost of the war to the American economy, a figure economists put at several trillion dollars years ago, and which has only risen as the US presence overseas continues to grow.

The US currently has over 100,000 troops in Iraq, and the escalation in Afghanistan will soon have America’s commitment there near 100,000 as well. The Obama Administration has projected cuts to the Iraq force since taking office, but recent bombings have raised serious doubts about America’s ability to withdraw from the nation, years after both parties agreed that the war was successfully “won.” Troop numbers in Afghanistan will likely continue to rise for the forseeable future."

Adam Michnik

"Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. Do you believe in free speech? Then speak freely. Do you love the truth? Then tell it. Do you believe in an open society? Then act in the open. Do you believe in a decent and humane society? Then behave decently and humanely."
- Adam Michnik

"What Is the 'Overview Effect?'"

"What Is the 'Overview Effect?'"
by Rebecca Sato

"In February, 1971, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell experienced the little understood phenomenon sometimes called the “Overview Effect”. He describes being completely engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness. Without warning, he says, a feeing of bliss, timelessness, and connectedness began to overwhelm him. He describes becoming instantly and profoundly aware that each of his constituent atoms were connected to the fragile planet he saw in the window and to every other atom in the Universe. He described experiencing an intense awareness that Earth, with its humans, other animal species, and systems were all one synergistic whole. He says the feeling that rushed over him was a sense of interconnected euphoria. He was not the first- nor the last- to experience this strange “cosmic connection.”

Rusty Schweikart experienced it on March 6th 1969 during a spacewalk outside his Apollo 9 vehicle: “When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change… it comes through to you so powerfully that you’re the sensing element for Man.” Schweikart, similar to what Mitchell experienced, describes intuitively sensing that everything is profoundly connected.

Their experiences, along with dozens of other similar experiences described by other astronauts, intrigue scientists who study the brain. This “Overview Effect”, or acute awareness of all matter as synergistically connected, sounds somewhat similar to certain religious experiences described by Buddhist monks, for example. Where does it come from and why?

Andy Newberg, a neuroscientist/physician with a background in space medicine, is learning how to identify the markers of someone who has experienced space travel. He says there is a palpable difference in someone who has been in space, and he wants to know why. Newberg specializes in finding the neurological markers of brains in states of altered consciousness: Praying nuns, transcendental mediators, and others in focused or "transcendent" states. Newberg can actually pinpoint regions in subjects' gray matter that correlate to these circumstances, and now he plans to use his expertise to find how and why the Overview Effect occurs. He is setting up advanced neurological scanning instruments that can head into space to study- live- the brain functions of space travelers. If this Overview Effect is a real, physiological phenomenon, he wants to watch it unfold.

Newberg's first test subject will not be an astronaut, but rather a civilian. Reda Andersen will be leaving the planet with Rocketplane Kistler. She says, that as one of the world's first civilian space adventurers, she is more than happy to let Andy scan her brain if it can help unlock the mystery. Why do astronauts all seem to experience a profound alteration of their perceptions when entering space, and will it happen for Rita and the other civilian explorers as well?

After decades of study and contemplation about his experience, Ed Mitchell believes that the feeling of “oneness” with the Universe that he and others have experienced is a consequence of little understood quantum physics. In a recent interview with writer Diana deRegnier of "American Chronicle," Mitchell explains how the event changed his life and his entire perspective on the world and how each of us fits into the grand scale of the cosmos. “Four hundred years ago. the philosopher Rene Descartes came to the conclusion that physicality, spirituality, mind and body belonged to different realms of reality that didn't interact. Now, that served the purpose to get the Inquisition off the backs of the intellectuals so they could disagree on material things with the church and without the fear of being burned at the stake. So that ended that, but it did cause, for four hundred years, science to consider consciousness and mind a subject for philosophy and religion and not a subject for science.

Now, one of the things that happened, in the 1940s, was the mathematician, physicist, Norbert Wiener (MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for the first time really defined information as the negative of entropy, and entropy as the idea of the universe is running down and wastes energy. But, Wiener defined information as the negative of entropy, and that's wonderful but it didn't go far enough.”

Mitchell says that in an attempt to fill in some of the missing gap, the 2008 revised edition of his book "The Way of the Explorer" explores the largely ignored science of human consciousness. Using what he calls the “dyadic model” he outlines the “two faces” of energy. “Instead of being two separate things, it's the energy as the basis of our existence in matter. And, it’s the basis of our knowing and information,” Mitchell explains.

“We had not had, in science, a definition of consciousness. The only definition of consciousness from the dictionary is that at its basic level it is awareness. Consciousness means to be aware, and then we have different levels of consciousness depending upon how complex the substance is. It has been demonstrated many times over in laboratories that basic awareness is demonstrable at the level of plants, at simple bacteria, at simple life forms. This is done with Faraday cages. It's shown that this information at this deep level, at the quantum level, can transcend electromagnetic theory. And, now we're getting into quantum physics and we don´t want to go there at this point. But it's a very fundamental notion that awareness is at the very basis of things.”

Mitchell believes that perhaps both the theologians and scientists have missed the mark. “All I can suggest to the mystic and the theologian is that our gods have been too small; they fill the universe. And to the scientist all I can say is that the gods do exist; they are the eternal, connected, and aware Self experienced by all intelligent beings.'

In response to DeRegnier questioning whether or not Mitchell believes in the idea of God, he responds that while he does not believe in the traditional “grandfather figure” version of God, “we do have great mystery about what is the origin of the universe, how it came to be. There's a great deal of question as to whether the big bang is the correct answer to the way the universe arose, and under what auspices and conditions. I don't think we have the full answers to that yet. Hopefully in due course we'll be able to find a much better way to describe all this.”

But while Mitchell does not claim to know how to perfectly interpret his experience, he is certain that it was a glimpse into a largely ignored reality: People, places and things are all more closely connected than they sometimes appear. He also mentions the need for better stewardship of our precious planet. “The great thinker and philosopher Buckminster Fuller pointed out at the beginning of our space exploration that we are the crew of ‘space ship earth’. But we 're a crew of mutiny and how can you run a space ship with a mutinous crew?”

The Daily "Near You?"

Cold Spring, New York, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

James Baldwin


"Not everything that is faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
- James Baldwin

"Plutocracy, Democracy- What's the Difference?"

"Plutocracy, Democracy- What's the Difference?"
by Rodrigue Tremblay

"Plutocracy* is defined as a political system characterized by “the rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth.” Democracy, on the other hand, is defined as a political system where political power belongs to the people. This means “a political government either carried out directly by the people (direct democracy) or by means of elected representatives of the people (representative democracy). The terms "the power to the people" are derived from the words "people" and "power" in Greek.

This fundamental idea of democracy was well summarized by President Abraham Lincoln, in his 1863 Gettysburg Address, when he said that it is “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” This is a definition that is based on the basic democratic principle of equality among human beings.

But now, the Roberts Court's decision must have made President Lincoln turn in his grave, because that decision, in effect, transfers political power from the living “people” to artificial corporate entities, with tons of money to spend. If Congress does not act quickly to reverse this decision, legal entities will be able to spend freely in the media to support or oppose political candidates for president and Congress, and this, as far as the last moment of a political campaign. This is quite something!

By a stroke of the pen, the Roberts Court has thus abolished the laws governing American electoral financing and removed limits to how much special money interests can spend to have the elected officials they want. The government they want will largely be “a government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.” Truly amazing!

To reflect the new political philosophy of the five-member majority of the Roberts Court, the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution** that says, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union...” should, maybe, more appropriately be changed for “We, the business corporations of America...”

It is that much more ironic that the word “corporation” appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution or in the Bill of Rights. It is scarcely conceivable that the drafters of the Constitution had anything resembling corporate entities in mind when they drafted the Bill of Rights. But the Roberts Court majority does not seem to agree with Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Mason... etc. Because of their decision, the five conservative members of the U. S. Supreme Court of today have become the new Fathers of the U. S. Constitution.

For nearly a century, it has been assumed that the U.S. Bill of Rights protected persons, not corporations. Even if sometimes the courts have extended the rights of the14th Amendment banning the deprivation of property without due process or equal protection of the law to the property of corporations, it was never thought that the purely personal rights of the first Amendment of the Bill of Rights applied to corporate entities as well as to human beings. This is understandable. Business corporations are created through legislation that gives them potentially perpetual life and limited liability to enhance their efficiency as economic entities. While such characteristics can be beneficial in the economic sphere, they represent special dangers in the political sphere. That is the rationale for not extending constitutional rights to purely legal entities.

But now, the five-member majority of the Roberts Court have said that such legalized artificial entities have the same constitutionally protected rights to engage in political activities as living individuals. This is clearly revolutionary or, more precisely, counter-revolutionary."
Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal and can be
reached at rodrigue.tremblay@yahoo.com.He is the author of the book "The New American Empire."
Visit his blog site at www.thenewamericanempire.com/blog.

"How It Really Is"

Calvin



"Know what's weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change,
but pretty soon... everything's different."
- Calvin, from "Calvin and Hobbes"

"Why Are We Donating $2,000 Per Family to Wall Street Bonuses?"

"Why Are We Donating $2,000 Per
Family to Wall Street Bonuses?"
by Les Leopold

"President Obama won't tell us in his State of the Union address. The deficit hawks won't crow about it. Don't expect the Tea Party or Rush and Beck to highlight our generosity either. But the sad fact is this: During the worst year since the Great Depression, with 30 million people out of work or forced into part-time jobs, Wall Street is awarding itself $150 billion in bonus money... and it comes from us!

That's $500 for every man, women and child in the country - $2,000 for a family of four. (Maybe we should try deducting it from our income taxes as a charitable donation.)

Had we not bailed out the financial sector, there would be no bonus pool this year. Zip, zero, ziltch.

It seems like financial Alzheimer's setting in as many forget how all this happened. Wall Street, and no one else, crashed the economy through its fantasy finance extravaganza. It created, sold and traded a slew of newfangled financial instruments that were supposed to remove risk from risky investments. Wall Street went begging for subprime debt in order to create and market their new financial securities, the most profitable activity in their history. As a result of their securitization casino, which leveraged bet upon bet, the housing market turned into a bubble and finally burst. Wall Street had miscalculated, big time. The risk returned with a vengeance.

Not matter what Rick Santelli proclaims, government interference didn't cause the crash. Greedy, stupid home buyers didn't cause the crash. Poor people backed by the Community Reinvestment Act didn't crash the system. And China didn't cause it either. The book should be closed on this: Wall Street's fantasy finance casino did us in.

Once housing prices stopped their meteoric rise, the entire precarious structure of bets piled upon subprime loans, turned toxic. The banking system froze and the real economy was tossed off a cliff. We truly were on our way to the next Great Depression.

Policy leaders of all stripes bailed out the financial system because they thought there was no choice--and that was true to an extent. Preventing total financial collapse was necessary. The choices to be made were about how to prevent a further collapse and what kinds of demands we'd make on the banks that had brought disaster upon themselves and the rest of us. Bush, Paulson, Bernanke, Obama, Geithner, Summers and Congress made their choices. They poured money into the banking sector like never before. We gave the Wall Street banks gigantic loans and enormous guarantees on their toxic assets. We gave them TARP. It all totaled to more than $12 trillion, with most of it still in play, even after the TARP repayments.

We can, and should, argue about whether the bailout was put together properly. A strong case can be made that the victims (the public), rather than the perpetrators (Wall Street's casinos), should have received our support. Clearly, there were much better ways to rescue the failing economy and produce jobs, which is still by far our number one problem.

Wall Street was saved from bankruptcy, including Goldman Sachs which now cavalierly insists that it didn't really need the bailout money (yet it took $12.9 billion of taxpayer support via AIG, and tossed it into its bonus pool.) Wall Streeters actually think they've earned the $150 billion in bonuses through their own cleverness. Think again. It's nothing more than taxpayer welfare.

Of course, no one wants to admit that we put the richest people in the world on welfare. It's embarrassing to acknowledge that we are rewarding those who killed millions of jobs. And worst of all, our political establishment doesn't have the nerve to take our money back.

Instead the President talks about getting back every penny of our TARP money, with interest. Not good enough, because that still leaves the $150 billion of taxpayer largess in the bankers' pockets, where it doesn't belong. The deficit chicken hawks (who now seem to have Obama in their roost) also have no intention of clawing back our money. Instead they would rather attack domestic programs that assist unemployed workers, the old and the infirm. (Of course, you won't hear them question the wasted billions in the military budget or in the needless war in Afghanistan.)

The only group really kicking up a fuss is the Tea Party. But their ideology is so screwed up that they'd rather see the money stay on Wall Street. Their righteous indignation is fueled by blaming government, Obama, the Fed and the liberal elites for putting it there. They have no room in their ideological universe for windfall taxes on unwarranted bonuses, which they derisively call the redistribution of income, even when their own hard-earned incomes are being redistributed to Wall Street bankers. Very generous of them.

That leaves the terrain wide open for a new progressive populist movement aimed directly at taking back our $2,000 per family from Wall Street's unearned bonuses. It's not a panacea for our jobs crisis or even a solution to Wall Street's dysfunctional role in our economy, but it is a very good place to start."

Les Leopold is the author of "The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It," Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009.

Bruce Barton


"Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change -
this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear;
out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress."
- Bruce Barton

Richard Russell, "Why me?"

"Why me?"
by Richard Russell

"It's eleven PM at night. I wake up, and I start to think. Why me? I'll be 86 years old in July. How did it happen? Most of my friends and old school mates have died. I'm living with a different generation. My wife, Faye, is 32 years younger than I am. I was born in 1924. Why me? Why am I still alive? I could have died in World War II. One minor adjustment by a German 88 anti-aircraft gunner, and I could have been blown out of the nose of my B-25. Why did I live through the War when many of my buddies didn't make it? I had two heart attacks, but I lived through them. Then I had a stroke over a year ago.

I came out of the stroke in good shape mentally. My balance is no good, and I have trouble walking any considerable distance. After 100 yards my hip joints hurt. I live with it. On the one hand I hate being old (ahem, older). But I'm thinking tonight that I've lived through and seen sights that not many living people have seen.

Funny thing, after my stroke I'm able to remember many names and events that I haven't thought of for decades. For instance, I have a recording of "Brother Can you Spare a Dime" by George Michael. A week ago I suddenly remembered the name of the fellow who wrote that song - it was Yip Harburg. Yip was a friend of my parents. The song became the theme song of the Great Depression. Everybody sang it from Bing Crosby to Rudy Vallee. I haven't thought of that name, Yip, for many years. Why did that strange name come back to me? And the words, the sad and cutting words of the Great Depression...
"Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodle Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!
Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?"

Back in the Depression, a dime was real money. You could go to the White Tower and buy two hamburgers for a dime, yes, they were a nickel a piece, and when ever I had a spare nickel I would buy one of those juicy little burgers.

Sometime I'm out with Faye, having dinner at a party being given by her law firm. I'm sitting with a bunch of kids in their late 20s or 30s. Actually, I'm a little embarrassed because I come from a different world. What do these kids know of "the War" or the Great Depression? They've all grown up during good times. One of them brings up something about Vietnam, and another asked me whether I had been in that war. I blush and tell them that "No, I was in a different war." They ask me which war. I tell them World War II and it's as if a shock-wave hits them. They ask me what I did during the war. I tell them I was a bombardier in Europe. They ask me all sorts of questions. Some don't know what a bombardier is. I feel like a freak, a ghost from a different world.

I don't tell them that I saw Babe Ruth hit a home run. I don't tell them that I was on a youth hostel trip in 1939 and I was in California during the Great Depression. I saw signs north of San Diego posted outside orange groves, signs that read, "All the oranges you can pick for fifty cents. You pick 'em. We can't afford to."

I'm probably one of the few white men alive who has visited Minton's Playhouse in Harlem during the '40s when many of the great jazz men would gather to jam the night away.

I attended NYU during the early 40s. I was part of the first class of GIs after the War to attend college under the GI bill. In those days, NYU was pretty much a Greenwich Village "subway school." I used to stop after school at one of the many little bars in the village. At one bar (I forget its name) I got to know a group of lesbian girls who rode Harley motorcycles. They taught me how to ride, and I've had motorcycle fever ever since.

I bought a Harley in NYC, an old police-style 45, and on many a hot summer nights I would ride out of Manhattan and head for Atlantic Beach on Long Island. The first thing I did when I moved to California in 1961 was to buy a BMW bike, a "one lunger." But in California you need a big bike, and I soon switched to a larger R-60. One time when I was leaving Mexico I stopped at a border Chevron station. A few minutes later about 50 Hells Angels rode in to gas up. They were heading to San Diego. I asked them (on my "sissy BMW") whether I could ride back with them, and they said "sure." So there I was, riding with a gang of Hells Angels heading for "Dago," as they called it. Halfway to San Diego a police car halted the group. Two of the Angels stopped, but the rest of them just kept riding. I stayed with the group and kept riding, fearing what would happen if the cops grilled me.

Sadly, very few of my old friends from high school are left. One is James Salter, who's my age and still alive and kicking. I call Jim about every six months to see how he's doing. Salter graduated from West Point and was a fighter pilot (jets) playing hide and seek with the Russkies in "MIG Alley" during the Korean War. Now Jim's a well-known writer, and famous throughout literary circles.

Sometimes I look in the mirror, and I wish I was young and beautiful again (I was a good looking guy when I was in my 20s and 30s). Faye tells me that I still look good, but I don't believe it - I'd settle to look like 50 again. I've always had dogs, and they are a great comfort to me, even though the pups can be a lot of trouble. I have a three year old Standard poodle now, and we just added a five-month old reddish-blond standard, who we named Tyler. He's a little devil and he spends all his time wrestling with Zoro, our three year old. They say Standard poodles are the clowns of the dog world, and I have to agree, The two keep Faye and I laughing during the day. Tyler will be a terrific guard dog, he barks and investigate the slightest sound. Zoro has developed into the biggest Standard poodle that I have ever seen. He looks like a black bear,and my new name for him is "bear."

I find that everything in life is a trade-off. Is there any advantage to living to 86? The trade-off is that I've seen a lot and lived to tell it. People ask me how I find something to write about every day. I tell them that after 86 years, you've collected plenty to write about. Which reminds me, one of these days I'll tell you how my fascination with Cacti brought me to the West Coast, and why my interest in Cacti changed my life.

I've met Marlon Brando and I've met Marilyn Monroe and Janis Joplin. Which, in turn, reminds me... aww, I'll save that for another site.”

He's Back! The Mogambo Guru: "False Hope in Financial Free Lunch"

"False Hope in Financial Free Lunch"
By The Mogambo Guru

01/27/10 Tampa Bay, Florida – "Last week’s winner of the Mogambo Most Stupid Quote Of The Week (MMSQOTW) goes to that arch-idiot, Barack Obama – after the contest judge (me) was found (my wife tracked me down) in a local tavern (low-rent girlie bar), and was hurriedly sobered up (to no avail) with some hot coffee (too weak) and a lot of screaming from my wife (loud), mostly centered about what a lowlife bastard I am (with examples).

After being driven home with her “loud snotty harangue” as musical accompaniment, I ran across this startling AP news item entry, which was so shocking that it sobered me up pretty quick! The most recent staggering stupidity (our contest winner!) is from the White House, where “President Barack Obama said Thursday he wants to tax banks to recoup the public bailout of foundering firms at the height of the financial crisis.”! Hahaha!

I am sure that you, being the astute Junior Mogambo Ranger (JMR) that you are, are laughing merrily with along with me – Hahahahahaha! – because this is so, so, so Theater-of-the-Absurd funny on so many, many, many levels, once you get beyond the horrifying, un-funny realization that it is abysmally, shockingly, alarmingly stupid on just the one level: it is a known fact that a tax on a business is just another expense to the business, like labor and raw materials, that is added to the prices that they must charge their customers in order to make a profit, which makes prices go up as the businesses raise prices to maintain their profit margins by recouping the tax they had to pay by, in case you haven’t been paying attention, raising prices, which is inflation, which is the one thing a country does NOT want, making a tax on business the most stupid thing you can do.

In this case, the banks will charge higher fees for their “banking” services and charge higher interest rates to their customers, neither of which is a good thing for the people who have to pay the higher prices! Hahahaha!

And now that idiot Obama wants to raise banking prices and interest rates (which affects all other prices, as interest rates are also an expense that must be recouped through the prices they charge) so that the government can have more money to spend on itself and its greedy, grasping little friends? And so how much money are we talking about? Agora Financial’s 5-Minute Forecast finds that “Details are still shady, but we hear the measure is supposed to raise $90 billion over the next 10 years.”

Of course, my Initial Mogambo Reaction (IMR) is to laugh out loud at $9 billion a year, as it means a lot of hassle for a lot of people so that the government will get another measly $9 billion a year to spend, which, in the case of us profligate United Dumbheads of America, means that the idiotic Congress we elect will authorize the Treasury to borrow another $9 billion, plus postage and handling, so that the money supply will expand just a little, teeny bit more in a laughable attempt to keep interest rates low, low, low, even though the idiotic government is borrowing huge, huge, huge freaking huge amounts of money to spend in some bizarre attempt to repeal the Laws of Economic Nature, the most basic of which is that (and you may want to write this down, especially if you are a Democrat or – dare I hope? – Obama himself) there is no such thing as a free lunch.

In fact, when I become emperor and have awesome powers and complete lack of liability, anybody who even suggests that there is such a thing as a “free lunch” will have the phrase “There is no such thing as a free lunch” tattooed on their foreheads, so that the next time they say something stupid like, “let’s expand low-income housing” or, “let’s give free healthcare to illegal immigrants and everybody else who shows up asking for it,” the listener can say, “How in the hell can we do that, when there is no such thing as a free lunch, as you have already had tattooed on your forehead, you idiot?”

Now that I am completely sobered up, let me tell you, without slurring my words or accidentally peeing in my pants, that there is no painless “solution” to the problems caused by excessive creation of money and credit to the point of unbelievable national and personal bankruptcies, AND there never has been one, AND there never will be one, AND that is why it is so important that you not create money and credit in the first place.

So if you are not personally bankrupt yet, then use all your money to buy as much gold, silver and oil that you can get your greedy, grubby mitts on, because such insane inflation in the money supply is going to result in terrifying, horrifying inflation in prices so that the recent travails of Zimbabwe (which tried this Same Stupid Stunt (SSS)), whose currency went to literally zero value after annual inflation in prices soared past the trillion percent mark, will seem starkly familiar while making every day of the rest of your life into a living hell, while the prices of gold, silver and oil will soar right along with them, meaning that people who buy them do not get clobbered! And that is why I always say, “Whee! This investing stuff is easy!” And look! I just said it again! Hahaha!"

Richard Daughty (Mogambo Guru) is general partner and COO for Smith Consultant Group, serving the financial and medical communities, and the writer/publisher of the Mogambo Guru economic newsletter, an avocational exercise to better heap disrespect on those who desperately deserve it. The Mogambo Guru is quoted frequently in "Barron’s," "The Daily Reckoning," and other fine publications.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Howard Zinn

"It is this change in consciousness that encourages me. Granted, racial hatred and sex discrimination are still with us, war and violence still poison our culture, we have a large underclass of poor, desperate people, and there is a hard core of the population content with the way things are, afraid of change.

But if we see only that, we have lost historical perspective, and then it is as if we were born yesterday and we know only the depressing stories in this morning's newspapers, this evening's television reports.

Consider the remarkable transformation, in just a few decades, in people's consciousness of racism, in the bold presence of women demanding their rightful place, in a growing public awareness that gays are not curiosities but sensate human beings, in the long-term growing skepticism about military intervention despite brief surges of military madness.

It is that long-term change that I think we must see if we are not to lose hope. Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act.

There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often in this century we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

The bad things that happen are repetitions of bad things that have always happened — war, racism, maltreatment of women, religious and nationalist fanaticism, starvation. The good things that happen are unexpected. Unexpected, and yet explainable by certain truths that spring at us from time to time, but which we tend to forget.

Political power, however formidable, is more fragile than we think. (Note how nervous are those who hold it.)

Ordinary people can be intimidated for a time, can be fooled for a time, but they have a down-deep common sense, and sooner or later they find a way to challenge the power that oppresses them.

People are not naturally violent or cruel or greedy, although they can be made so. Human beings everywhere want the same things: They are moved by the sight of abandoned children, homeless families, the casualties of war; they long for peace, for friendship and affection across lines of race and nationality.

One semester, when I was teaching, I learned that there were several classical musicians signed up for my course. For the last class of the semester I stood aside while they sat in chairs up front and played a Mozart quartet. Not a customary finale to a class in political theory, but I wanted the class to understand that politics is pointless if it does nothing to enhance the beauty of our lives. Political discussion can sour you. We needed some music.

Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.

We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places— and there are so many— where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
- Howard Zinn