Friday, August 31, 2012

"Dogs and Whales Enjoy Mysterious Connection"

"Dogs and Whales Enjoy Mysterious Connection"
by Jennifer Viegas

"Many animal experts believe that a primitive communication system unites virtually all mammals. Beyond that, a special connection appears to exist between dogs and whales. Check out this footage, for example, of a dog interacting with a killer whale. The orca, which could have easily grabbed the dog for dinner, appears to be displaying submissive, playful behaviors, such as exposing its underside to the dog.

Luna the orca socializes with dog. Luna/L98 was a male Southern resident (fish eating) orca who died March 10, 2006 when he was hit by a large tug boat in Nookta Sound. Luna lived a solitary life when he found himself alone hundreds of miles away from his feeding grounds. For more information about Luna see link below.

I was reminded of the dog-whale bond recently after speaking with Carrie Newell, who runs Whale Research EcoExcursions in Depoe Bay, Oregon. Newell often brings her dog, Kida, on her boat. "Kida is very attuned to the sea life," Newell said, "especially the whales. And various times I have had a whale travel along the length of my boat while Kida runs on the tube following it." She added that "other researchers have told me that people with dogs have better whale encounters possibly because of some connection between the two. I have also observed that if I am excited and clap or call to them, then the whales feed off this excitement and approach closer." Newell even thinks the whales she has studied so closely over the decades "have a sense of humor. Many, many times they pop up a few feet from my boat and I scream...and I am sure they get a chuckle out of it," she explained, adding that she also believes "they like teasing" Kida.

Photographer Charles S. Hall, Jr., who has collaborated with Newell, told me he has seen such behavior too. "I have been on several whale watching excursions with Carrie and know that Kida always accompanies her," Hall said. "On one occasion a gray whale rose up in front of us while we were cruising along, causing us to come to an abrupt stop, Kida got so excited she was hanging half way out the boat! I reached out and grabbed her tail just as she was about to jump." Kida is doing fine and has been on many excursions, always looking forward to the next adventure and to seeing the Oregon whales."
A photo tour of Whale Research Excursions:
Luna the Orca:

Henry Miller, "A Meter Is Running..."

"...the monstrous thing is not that men have created roses out of this dung heap, but that, for some reason or other, they should want roses. For some reason or other man looks for the miracle, and to accomplish it he will wade through blood. He will debauch himself with ideas, he will reduce himself to a shadow if for only one second of his life he can close his eyes to the hideousness of reality. Everything is endured- disgrace, humiliation, poverty, war, crime, ennui- in the belief that overnight something will occur, a miracle, which will render life tolerable. And all the while a meter is running inside and there is no hand that can reach in there and shut it off."
- Henry Miller, “Tropic of Cancer”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“The Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543) is one of the best known planetary nebulae in the sky. Its haunting symmetries are seen in the very central region of this tantalizing image, processed to reveal the enormous but extremely faint halo of gaseous material, about 6 light-years across, which surrounds the brighter, familiar planetary nebula. Made with narrow and broadband data the composite picture shows the remarkably strong extended emission from twice ionized oxygen atoms in blue-green hues and ionized hydrogen and nitrogen in red. 
Click image for larger size.
Planetary nebulae have long been appreciated as a final phase in the life of a sun-like star. But recently many planetaries have been found to have halos like this one, likely formed of material shrugged off during earlier active episodes in the star's evolution. While the planetary nebula phase is thought to last for around 10,000 years, astronomers estimate the age of the outer filamentary portions of this halo to be 50,000 to 90,000 years.”

The Poet: Lynn Ungar, “Boundaries”


“The universe does not revolve around you.
The stars and planets spinning
through the ballroom of space
dance with one another
quite outside of your small life.
You cannot hold gravity or seasons;
 even air and water
inevitably evade your grasp.
Why not, then, let go?

You could move through time
like a shark through water,
neither restless or ceasing,
absorbed in and absorbing the native element.
Why pretend you can do otherwise?
The world comes in at every pore,
mixes in your blood before
breath releases you into the world again. 
 Did you think the fragile boundary of your skin
could build a wall?

Every molecule is humming its particular pitch.
Of course you are a symphony.
Whose tune do you think the planets are singing
as they dance?"

~ Lynn Ungar, “Blessing the Bread”

Howard Zinn, "The Optimism of Uncertainty"

 "The Optimism of Uncertainty"
by Howard Zinn

"In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy? I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world. There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often 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.

What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter unpredictability. A revolution to overthrow the czar of Russia, in that most sluggish of semi-feudal empires, not only startled the most advanced imperial powers but took Lenin himself by surprise and sent him rushing by train to Petrograd. Who would have predicted the bizarre shifts of World War II- the Nazi-Soviet pact (those embarrassing photos of von Ribbentrop and Molotov shaking hands), and the German Army rolling through Russia, apparently invincible, causing colossal casualties, being turned back at the gates of Leningrad, on the western edge of Moscow, in the streets of Stalingrad, followed by the defeat of the German army, with Hitler huddled in his Berlin bunker, waiting to die?

And then the postwar world, taking a shape no one could have drawn in advance: The Chinese Communist revolution, the tumultuous and violent Cultural Revolution, and then another turnabout, with post-Mao China renouncing its most fervently held ideas and institutions, making overtures to the West, cuddling up to capitalist enterprise, perplexing everyone.

No one foresaw the disintegration of the old Western empires happening so quickly after the war, or the odd array of societies that would be created in the newly independent nations, from the benign village socialism of Nyerere's Tanzania to the madness of Idi Amin's adjacent Uganda. Spain became an astonishment. I recall a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade telling me that he could not imagine Spanish Fascism being overthrown without another bloody war. But after Franco was gone, a parliamentary democracy came into being, open to Socialists, Communists, anarchists, everyone.

The end of World War II left two superpowers with their respective spheres of influence and control, vying for military and political power. Yet they were unable to control events, even in those parts of the world considered to be their respective spheres of influence. The failure of the Soviet Union to have its way in Afghanistan, its decision to withdraw after almost a decade of ugly intervention, was the most striking evidence that even the possession of thermonuclear weapons does not guarantee domination over a determined population. The United States has faced the same reality. It waged a full-scale war in lndochina, conducting the most brutal bombardment of a tiny peninsula in world history, and yet was forced to withdraw. In the headlines every day we see other instances of the failure of the presumably powerful over the presumably powerless, as in Brazil, where a grassroots movement of workers and the poor elected a new president pledged to fight destructive corporate power.

Looking at this catalogue of huge surprises, it's clear that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience--whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.

I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world (is it just my friends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all the evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope. Especially young people, in whom the future rests. Wherever I go, I find such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem to be hundreds, thousands, more who are open to unorthodox ideas. But they tend not to know of one another's existence, and so, while they persist, they do so with the desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing that boulder up the mountain. I try to tell each group that it is not alone, and that the very people who are disheartened by the absence of a national movement are themselves proof of the potential for such a movement.

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. Even when we don't "win," there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope.

An optimist isn't necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. 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."

The Daily "Near You?"

Helsinki, Southern Finland, Finland. Thanks for stopping by.

Chet Raymo, “Why Cranes Fly”

“Why Cranes Fly”
by Chet Raymo

"There were a few Comments here recently about herons, from right around the world. What is the power of this bird to touch our minds and hearts? The naturalist Aldo Leopold was intimately familiar with the cranes of Wisconsin, cousins of our New England great blue heron, the Irish gray heron, and Adam2's aosagi from Japan, and wondered about their ability to move us so deeply. In A Sand County Almanac he watches as a crane "springs his ungainly hulk into the air and flails the morning sun with mighty wings." Our ability to perceive beauty in nature, as in art, begins with the pretty, he says, then moves into qualities of the beautiful yet uncaptured by language. The beauty of the crane lies in this higher realm, he proposes, "beyond the reach of words."

Words may fail, but poets have tried to capture the ineffable.

John Ciardi sees "a leap, a thrust, a long stroke through the cumulus of trees" and stops to praise "that bright original burst that lights the heron on his two soft kissing kites."

Theodore Roethke observes a heron aim his heavy bill above the wood: "The wide wings flap but once to lift him up. A single ripple starts from where he stood."

In Chekhov's "The Three Sisters", sister Masha refuses "to live and not know why the cranes fly, why children are born, why the stars are in the sky. Either you know and you're alive or its all nonsense, all dust in the wind."

Health: "Chronic Stress Linked to High Risk of Stroke"

"Chronic Stress Linked to High Risk of Stroke"
by ScienceDaily

"Chronic stress, prompted by major life stressors and type A personality traits, is linked to a high risk of stroke, finds research published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. Chronic stress, manifested as physical and/or mental symptoms in response to stressors lasting longer than 6 months has been linked to a heightened risk of heart disease. But its impact on the risk of stroke has not been clear.

The research team base their findings on150 adults, with an average age of 54, who had been admitted to one stroke unit, and 300 randomly selected healthy people of a similar age who lived in the same neighborhood. Levels of chronic stress were assessed using the combined quantitative scores of four validated scales, looking at major life events; symptoms, such as anxiety and depression; general wellbeing; and behaviour patterns indicative of type A personality (ERCTA scale). Type A behaviors include hostility, aggression, impatience and a quick temper. A score of 24 or higher on the ERCTA scale is considered to be indicative of a type A personality.

Participants were also assessed for known biological risk factors for stroke, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, any history of heart rhythm abnormalities, and daytime sleepiness. And they were quizzed on their lifestyle, including their caffeine, alcohol and energy drink intake, as well as whether they smoked, had a partner, and a job. The results showed that several factors were independently associated with a heightened risk of stroke.

Compared with the healthy comparison group, the risk of a stroke was almost four times higher among those who had experienced a major life event in the previous year. A high score on the ERCTA scale more than doubled stroke risk, as did a current or previous history of smoking, and intake of two or more energy drinks a day. And those with heart rhythm disturbances were more than three times as likely to have a stroke while those with a high daytime sleepiness score almost tripled their risk. And being a man boosted the risk nine-fold. But when all the factors were assessed together, the risk of a stroke was associated with a stressful life and type A behaviors. And this held true, irrespective of other risk factors, including gender and an unhealthy lifestyle."
Journal Reference: J. A. Egido, O. Castillo, B. Roig, I. Sanz, M. R. Herrero, M. T. Garay, A. M. Garcia, M. Fuentes, C. Fernandez. ''Is psycho-physical stress a risk factor for stroke? A case-control study.'' Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 2012; DOI: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-302420

"How It Really Is"

“Trickle Down Economics is a Pyramid Scheme”

“Trickle Down Economics is a Pyramid Scheme”
by Tina Dupuy

“A few years ago, I had a friend who didn’t want anyone to know she was going to therapy. Instead, she would announce at her place of business she was leaving to attend her Amway meeting. At one point I had to inform her, “You know that doesn’t make you look any less crazy, right?”

The classic multi-level marketing or pyramid scheme is where one guy at the top convinces people at the bottom to give the top money. The hope is the guys in the middle will recruit enough people under them to move from the middle to the top—hence the pyramid shape. The model is, clearly, and provably unsustainable. Only a couple of people (those at the top) do well. Everyone else gets ripped off. In fairness, Amway, has massaged its methods enough to not qualify as the illegal type of pyramid scheme. It’s now the more legal type of pyramid scheme.

But the model—the idea of those at the bottom sacrificing their retirement benefits (pensions, social security, Medicare etc.) so that the top tier can pay even less in taxes is what Romney/Ryan are peddling. Mitt Romney wants to cut taxes for the wealthy. Paul Ryan’s budget would shrink benefits to give the savings in the form of a tax cut to the highest brackets. What didn’t work in the Bush years to strengthen the middle-class (evident by their Lost Decade), they tell us will work this time! Or as veep-pick also-ran, Senator (R-FL) Marco Rubio put it, “We have never been a nation of haves and have-nots. We are a nation of haves and soon-to-haves.”

No, actually, we are a nation of haves and have-nots. We have the worst wealth inequality of all industrialized nations. Our poverty rate is the highest in more than 50 years at 15.7 percent. Contrast that with the top 1 percent of Americans who own nearly half—42 percent of the nations wealth. Also that same top 1 percent only has 5 percent of the nation’s debt. So 99 percent of Americans own 58 percent of the pie and have 95 percent of the debt. We’re fatter, sicker, further in debt and using the most illegal drugs in the world—all signs Americans have become overspent from bad economic policies. But the haves—these demigods of capitalism—won’t trickle their wealth down to us because of “uncertainty in the market” according to Republicans. Therefore we bribe them with an even lower tax rate!

Instead of calling it “trickle down” which has been largely panned for decades—the new term is “not punishing success.” “If your priority in this country is to punish success vote for President Obama,” said the offshore account holder, Mitt Romney.

If the rich get richer—we’re not getting thinner, healthier, solvent and off the crack needle. If the rich get richer, the middle-class doesn’t get more stable. If the rich get richer, the working poor don’t get pulled out of poverty. If the rich get richer—they just get richer and park their money in Luxembourg (where at least their money will be near universal health care).

We’re actually not a nation of haves at all. Not if you go by a simple majority—or even a super majority—we’re a nation of have-nots. Have-nots being sold on a fantasy of wealth trickling down if we’re nice enough to the haves. Trickle down economics is a pyramid scheme: It’s the rich telling us if we just recruit others to believe in the con then we will become the rich too. It’s a lie.”

The Economy: "Too Much of a Good Thing, Part III"

"Too Much of a Good Thing, Part III"
by Bill Bonner

"The phenomenon known as “declining marginal utility” is well known. Economists cite it from time to time. Even butchers refer to the ‘point of diminishing returns.’ And poets warble about fading light and failing love. No proof necessary. Everybody knows what happens to fat people when they eat too much. Everybody knows what happens to banks that lend out too much money or to plants when they are given too much water. As to Adolph Hitler, everybody who’s ever watched the History Channel knows he pushed his luck.

“Too much” is an expression that covers a lot of ground. It is what happens when you pass the point of diminishing returns…and keep going. Give the plant some water and it flourishes. Give it more and it doesn’t help. Keep giving it water and it will die. That is when you have gone too far and done too much. That’s when you have reached the downside.

There are some things, of course, which are excessive from the get-go. For those things even a little bit is too much. Those are the things that Adolph Hitler wanted to do. But giving the man the benefit of the doubt, Germany felt under considerable pressure in the ’20s and the ’30s. She had agreed to an armistice in 1919. Then, still subject to a starving blockade by the English navy and with no further defenses left, she was stabbed in the back…forced to take the blame for the war and to pay the cost of reparations.

What would she pay with? Germany could barely feed herself, let alone pay billions — in gold — in compensation to her former enemies. And when she failed to make the payments, the French invaded, seizing the richest and most productive industrial area of Germany, the Ruhr Valley. The situation seemed impossible. The French and British owed colossal sums to America. They counted on payments from Germany to balance their accounts. But Germany’s war debt was far beyond what she could pay. Nor could she even default and go bankrupt in the way that debtors who own too much typically do. War debt, like taxes, could not be resolved by ordinary means. Since there was no honorable way out of the crisis, Germany took a dishonorable route. She made promises; she did not intend to keep them.

When you begin looking for ‘too much’ you find it almost everywhere. Had not the war reparations been set “too high” Germany, France and Britain might have been able to come to an agreement on more relaxed terms. Then, Germany might have been allowed into the company of civilized nations; they might have worked out their differences amicably and WWII might have been averted. But in retrospect, the allies were too eager to assign the guilt to Germany, uniquely, too greedy for reparations…and then too blockheaded to see that they were making a major mistake. They practically forced Germany into a defensive, xenophobic…and ultimately delusional…position.

Adolph Hitler was ‘too much’ too. He was the kind of man who should have worked as a housepainter, giving himself plenty of time under the eaves to let his over-heated brain nurse grudges and design grand strategies. He could have simmered in a local bar after work…developed a bad case of lead poisoning…and eventually ended his days in a state mental hospital. Instead, in the ‘too much’ era of the ’20s and ’30s, history called him to do her dirty work. He was on the job in a flash…ready to add hyperbole to already overwrought situations.

As if Germany didn’t have enough trouble in the ’30s, Herr Hitler added more. He was a central planner’s central planner. He had a plan for everything. And every plan was a disaster. The biggest problem in Germany was that its farms were not very productive. A lot of labor (more and more from women) went into producing relatively little food. Any economist could have explained why: there had not been enough investment in the farm sector. Germany had wasted its capital in the trenches of Verdun and the Somme. Then, it had been forced to redirect much of the national income to the reparations payments. Until the mid-’30s, however, Germany had a market-driven economy. Left alone, farm prices would have gone up, drawing more capital to the farm sector. Agricultural investments would have almost certainly raised productivity and output. But the farmers were not left alone. Instead, when the National Socialists came to power, they almost immediately fell to telling the farmers what to do, while systematically starving agriculture of the investment capital it needed.

In the 1930s, about 9 million people worked in farms in Germany, compared to more than 10 million in the USA. But America had 7 times as much arable land. This left German farmers with low incomes and little hope for improvement. Birth rates fell in half, from the 1870s to the 1920s. This alarmed Nazi leaders, who feared a ‘race death’ for the German people. But rather than stand aside and allow modernization to lower farm population and raise farm incomes, Hitler proposed a solution. In 1933, a law was put forward that would create a new legal entity — an Erbhof. It was meant to be a farm that would be the rampart of the German peasantry. It could not be bigger than 125 hectares. It couldn’t be sold or mortgaged. And it had to be passed from father to son.

The advantage from the farmers’ point of view was that the government would take away much of the burden of debt. But the disadvantage, which became apparent later, was that the farmers no longer had a way to finance expansion, new equipment or tide themselves over through bad harvests. The Nazis wanted these farms for ideological reasons (Jews could not own an Erbhof), but the effect was to further retard capital investment on family farms.

As to the strategic mistakes, Mr. Hitler’s vision of economics was not what you could call the result of ‘too much’ thinking. Instead, it consisted of thoughts not worth having. To the problem of too little food output, the Fuhrer had a solution: invest more in the Wehrmacht! Then, he would use the army to take more farmland away from his neighbors. This may seem to the reader like a shocking and barbaric idea. But Hitler maintained that this was precisely what the English, the French, Spanish and the Russians had done. They had each seized huge territories, exterminated the people who were on it, and converted them to granaries that would feed their own people. The English got North America and Australia. The Spanish got South America. The French got large areas in Africa, north and south of the Sahara. The Russians had taken over almost the entire Eurasian landmass, from the border of Poland in the West (soon to be the center of Poland…after the Soviets grabbed the eastern half of the country in 1939)…to the Bering Straits in the East…from the Arctic to India, north and south.

Germany had been largely left out of this grab for farmland. But why was it too late, Hitler wondered? There were vast areas of Poland, the Ukraine and Russia that were sparsely populated. Why not just take them from the natives the way the Americans took Kansas or the Argentines took the pampas?

In the event, Hitler shifted Germany’s money from food production to war production. By 1938 an incredible 19% of output was directed towards the military, compared to just 2% in the US. You might think 19% is ‘too much.’ It meant that nearly one out of every five employees worked full time just to prepare for destruction and/or defense. Was this a case of ‘declining marginal utility’ or something else? Almost surely, each extra mark did not merely provide less ‘security’ than the mark that went before it. The rate of return had not only declined…it had dropped below zero. It was negative. It no longer produced more safety and security for the German people, not even marginally. Quite the opposite, it increased the risk of a violent confrontation between Germany and her neighbors. Neither the French, English, Italians, Poles or Soviets could ignore the juggernaut growing in Germany. Each had to make an accommodation to it…or prepare for war.

In the late ’30s all of Europe geared up for fighting…spending an elevated percentage of their output just for military protection (or offense, as the case may be). By 1939 they were all spending ‘too much’ — far beyond the normal needs of defense. Germany’s war spending had risen to nearly 1 out of 4 marks’ of output — 23%. France was not far behind at 17%, followed by 12% for Britain.

Curiously, some would later regret not spending more. Even though military spending had become a negative-paying investment for the Germans — actually increasing their likelihood of coming to grief in war — it then became necessary for the rest of Europe to throw good money after bad. Soon the whole continent…and the UK and America too…were in over the heads…far beyond the point of diminishing returns. They didn’t know it, but they were now on the downside…where further ‘investment’ in military matters yielded increasingly negative results.

Not that there was any other alternative for France…and Poland. With the teutons bristling with guns, they felt they had to arm themselves too. But neither tanks nor barbed wire put bread on the table or fixes leaks in the roof. The Germans — and everyone else — were getting demonstrably poorer with each passing year. Those who spent the most lost the most.

The French (before 1940) and the English had the advantage of an umbilical cord across the North Atlantic. They could spend relatively less of their own resources, counting on the support of America to make up for what they lacked. The Germans had to make do with their own resources and pay the price for their own dumbbell economic policies.

The Nazis followed the time-trodden path of all central planners. They imposed one set of rules. When these caused other troubles (unintended consequences, in the language of classical economists), they imposed more rules to fix the problems caused by the first ones. For example, shifting so many resources to the Wehrmacht left the farm sector short-handed and under-capitalized. Even before the war began they were running out of food. So, they imposed price controls to avoid soaring prices for diminished supplies of food. Then, still short of supplies, they created a system of substitution. In 1935, bread flour was diluted with cornmeal and potato starch. But hoarding and shortages appeared anyway; so, officials resorted to rationing. Food was rationed in Germany from 1935 until after the end of the war. The combination of price controls and rationing was so lethal that Party bosses began to warn about a dangerous level of mal-nourishment…on the farm and in the factories. In the spring of 1940, workers in Germany’s armament industries were beginning to collapse from overwork and under-feeding.

Most remarkable about this period is that, at least before the invasion of Poland, much of the world applauded Nazi Germany’s economic success. It was said that ‘they [the Nazis] made the trains run on time,’ and by implication, made the entire economy work. This was entirely untrue. In fact, the Nazi economy was a catastrophe from the very beginning. The trains didn’t run on time. There were shortages of almost everything. Prices were often bizarre, arbitrary and misleading. And wages were far below international standards.

Even with the most disciplined and thorough-going efforts on the part of the rail workers and their bosses, trains were snarled up in hopeless tangles all over the Fatherland. This, too, was caused by detailed planning on the part of Nazi transport officials…and by the kind of sweeping strategic planning initiatives that often originated with Mr. Hitler himself.

Coal, people, oil, ore, factories — all were moved around according to Hitler’s strategic visions. For example, essential armaments factories had to be removed from Germany’s Western border. In the ’30s, France still had the largest and most powerful army in Europe. Hitler did not want to leave his key industries vulnerable to French attack. And rather than trade peacefully and normally for raw materials, Germany was increasingly cut off from the world market, forced to make odd deals and forced to shuttle supplies along odd, improvised routes. After the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union was the major source for many of Germany’s raw materials, with Germany shipping finished weapons back to Moscow in return. All of this had to pass over a rail system designed primarily for trade with the West.

While the trains did not run on time, it was a major feat of engineering and ingenuity that any of the key elements of the economy ran at all. Hitler had determined that Germany should achieve self-sufficiency in energy (similar to the recently announced goal of Mitt Romney) and other key economic ingredients by 1940. However, the three most essential elements of a modern, mobile army — oil, rubber, and iron ore — were not physically available in the Reich. This forced the regime to stretch. It had to reach out to troublesome suppliers…or had to create synthetic materials, as it did for rubber, in a famous collaboration with IG Farben.

Each of these contortions was ‘uneconomic’ in the sense that it was not the easiest, fastest or cheapest way to get the desired end product. Each imposed costs that ultimately reduced standards of living. But Hitler & Co. were marching to a different drummer from the very beginning. Economics mattered. But only as a tool… Economics was no longer a lens through which to observe or a set of insights with which to understand. It was a wrench…or a sledge hammer.

Was farm production falling off? Were there too few trains to haul the troops…or the coal? Had the price of oil spiraled out of control? The Nazis did not try to understand why. Instead, they brought out the sledge and tried to whack it back into line. Almost all Germany’s economic problems after 1936 could be traced to a single cause — too much spending on the military. But cutting back on military spending was out of the question. Herman Goering explained:

No end of the rearmament is in sight. The struggle which we are approaching demands a colossal measure of productive ability…the only deciding point in this case is victory or destruction. If we win, then business will be sufficiently compensated… It is entirely immaterial whether in every case new investment can be amortized. We are playing for the highest states… All selfish interests must be put aside. Our whole nation is at stake. We live in a time when the final battles are in sight. We are already on the threshold of mobilization and are at war, only the guns are not yet firing.

Hitler and Goering did not consider an economy an infinitely complex natural system — like an ecosystem — to be studied, admired and protected. It was a slave…to be bullied and bludgeoned into doing what you want. Bossing around an economy is one of those things of which even a little bit is ‘too much.’ But so was almost every other feature of the Nazi economy — from price fixing to slave labor to rationing to strategic objectives and anti-Jewish commercial laws. Every little fix stole from someone. Every little regulation inconvenienced someone and made almost everyone poorer. And yet, economists kept drawing the wrong conclusion. Unemployment, for example, had been banished. The jobless rate was nearly 30% when the National Socialists came to power. By the end of the ’30s, it was negligible.

Of course, the ruling elite believed it had the right to direct labor where it wanted it. Mostly, this was not necessary. The Nazis wanted labor in the arms factories. Since they paid the highest wages, they naturally attracted workers from the fields and forests. This, however, left the fields low on man-power. Of course, German farms had needed extra labor for many years. It was traditional to attract seasonal workers from Poland. But the Poles were treated so badly under Nazi guidance and labor rules, few signed up. It soon became necessary to take a more muscled approach…both with the Poles and, later, with the French.

Germany’s economic growth rates were likewise impressive. They were the strongest in Europe, averaging about 8% per year in the 6 years leading up to the beginning of the war. Where did Germany…short of resources…burdened by overbearing regulations and strangled by heavy military spending…get the wherewithal for such progress?

There are two parts to the answer. First, the ‘growth’ was fraudulent; preparations for war are a form of economic activity, but they do not make people, generally, any better off. Instead, directing resources to weapons and ammunition makes them poorer; they end up with fewer of the goods and services they really want. Second, the Nazis were living on borrowed time and borrowed money. In the 6 years leading up to the invasion of Poland, the government received only 62 billion marks in revenue (the personal tax rate in Germany was only 13.7% in 1941). It spent, however, more than 100 billion. Politics…Nazism…central planning…deficit spending…strategic visions — all were way past the point of declining marginal utility. They had no utility left. The Third Reich was neither on the rise…nor on a plateau. It had reached the downside. Germany was going broke fast.”

Greg Hunter, "Weekly News Wrap-Up 8.31.12"

"Weekly News Wrap-Up 8.31.12"
By Greg Hunter’s

"There’s a new U.N. report out that claims Iran has doubled its number of uranium enrichment machines.  This does not bode well for diplomacy in settling the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program which is largely being done in heavily fortified underground bunkers.  The Obama administration has said once again, this week, diplomatic options will not remain open “indefinitely.”  On the other side of the Middle East, there are reports that Russia is backing out of Syria.  If this is true, then look for the conflict to get much more heated as the rebels and the West try to finish off the Assad regime.
The big news at the GOP convention is not Romney or Ryan but the talk of gold and the fiscal cliff.  It looks like the Republicans are not backing down on cutting taxes.  The Democrats are just as adamant on raising taxes, and this standoff is spooking some on Wall Street.  There is also not much talk about the GOP and a Fed audit and talk of some sort of gold standard.  I think many see the dollar’s reserve currency status slipping away and are going to be forced into some sort of gold weighting for the buck to preserve that status.  The Fed met this week in Jackson Hole Wyoming, and many are expecting a big announcement.  I don’t think so, at least, not just yet.  The FDIC just announced bank earnings were up for the quarter to $34 billion.  The housing market had its first year-over-year gain since 2010.   Lots of folks are seeing the Fed on hold— at least, for now.  Eventually, they will print more money and they will do that when we have another calamity.  Could war in the Middle East cause the Fed to print?  Could a big bank failure cause them to print?  Could another EU meltdown with Spanish or Italian bonds cause it to unleash the money flood gates?  The answer to all is yes, yes and yes.
And also out, this week, is a new report that shows the 50 states are in the red by nearly $4.2 trillion.  Illinois had its debt rating cut, and many other stats are also in bad shape.  Will the states cut spending, raise taxes or both?  Finally, there’s good news and bad news for Hurricane Isaac.  The bad news is 25 inches of rain, massive flooding and half of Louisiana lost power.  The good news–the storm is going to make its way into the Midwest and help with some of the drought ravaged crops.  It’s too late for the corn, but soybeans and other crops are going to be helped out by the rainfall, and that is good news indeed!  Greg Hunter gives his analysis on these stories and more in the Weekly News Wrap-Up.

"I Always Wonder..."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"The Risk..."

"Biology says that we are who we are from birth. That our DNA is set in stone. Unchangeable. Our DNA doesn't account for all of us though, we're human. Life changes us. We develop new traits. Become less territorial. We start competing. We learn from our mistakes. We face our greatest fears. For better or worse, we find ways to become more than our biology. The risk of course is that we can change too much to the point where we don't recognize ourselves. Finding our way back can be difficult. There's no compass, no map. We just have to close our eyes, take a step, and hope to God we get there."
- "Grey's Anatomy"

Musical Interlude: 2002, “Challenge From Heaven”

2002, “Challenge From Heaven”

"A Look to the Heavens"

"The dark Horsehead Nebula and the glowing Orion Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky's most recognizable constellations, they appear in opposite corners of the above stunning mosaic. 
 Click image for larger size.
The familiar Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow at the lower left. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion's belt and is seen as the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. The magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42), lies at the upper right. Immediately to its left is a prominent bluish reflection nebula sometimes called the Running Man. Pervasive tendrils of glowing hydrogen gas are easily traced throughout the region."


"The human life is made up of choices. Yes or no. In or out. Up or down. And then there are the choices that matter. Love or hate. To be a hero or to be a coward. To fight or to give in. To live. Or die. Live or die. That's the important choice. And it's not always in our hands."
- "Grey's Anatomy"

Chet Raymo, "Probing The Soul”

"Probing The Soul”
by Chet Raymo

“More than three centuries ago, Pascal said: "Man considering himself is the great prodigy of nature. For he cannot conceive what his body is, even less what his spirit is, and least of all how body can be united with spirit." Pascal lived at the dawn of the scientific era, but his words still ring true. We have sent spacecraft to the planets. We have listened to signals from the dawn of time. We have unraveled the mystery of starlight. We can even conceive what the body is. But the deeper human mystery remains: What is the spirit, and how is it united with body?

There is a sense among neuroscientists, psychologists and artificial intelligence researchers that the riddle is ripe for solution. Powerful new imaging technologies make it possible to probe the living brain- watch the orchestra play, as it were, even as we listen to the music of thought. More powerful generations of computers provide analytical tools to model the complexity of neural circuits. Subtle refinements of molecular biology and chemistry let us fiddle with the machinery of the soul.

A philosopher colleague of mine worries about the experimental manipulation of consciousness. As we learn more about the brain's chemistry, he foresees increasing reliance upon drugs to control our mental lives- a pill for this, a pill for that. "Increasingly, there's no room for us to talk to one another about our lives," he says. "No room for our histories, our stories, our art; no room for ourselves."

The self has become another object to be investigated, analyzed and manipulated, he says, nothing more than a flickering image on a brain scan monitor as electrochemical activity flares up, dies down, perhaps under chemical control. "Science is squeezing us to spiritual death," he groans, with the deflated spirit of an unreconstructed romantic.

Of course, all knowledge holds potential for abuse. But my colleague's pessimism is unwarranted. As Pascal said, "Man considering himself is the great prodigy of nature." The discovery that our spirits are inextricably linked to electrochemical processes in no way diminishes our true selves. We still have histories, tell stories, make art. We love, we cry, we respond with awe to the marvelous machinery of cognition. And, when necessary, we arm ourselves chemically against the devils of mental illness.

Many of us seem to believe that anything we can understand cannot be worth much, and therefore- most especially- we resist the scientific understanding of self. But the ability to know is the measure of our human uniqueness, the thing that distinguishes us from the other animals. Understanding the machinery of the spirit does not mean that we will ever encompass with our science the rich detail of an individual human life, or the infinitude of ways by which a human brain interacts with the world. Science is a map of the world; it is not the world itself.

We can all agree with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who thousands of years ago wrote: "You could not discover the limits of soul, not even if you traveled down every road. Such is the depth of its form."

The Daily "Near You?"

Pune, Maharashtra, India. Thanks for stopping by.

"The Breton Fisherman's Prayer: On Destroying What We Love"

"The Breton Fisherman's Prayer: 
On Destroying What We Love"
by Robert C. Koehler

“Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

"The Arctic ice is melting at a record pace this summer — just one more measurable phenomenon indicating that extraordinary change in the global ecosystem is in progress. As the ice melts, and the vast polar reflecting surface diminishes, the planet absorbs more and more of the sun’s energy and... grows warmer. More ice melts.

So what? Sitting at my desk in Chicago, I was tempted to opt out of caring about this — trend Republican, you might say. Put it on the back, ahem, burner. It takes a leap of consciousness to align my own well-being with the fate of the Arctic ice, the ocean, the Inuits, the polar bears.

I’ve lived my life pretty much within the gated community of the American middle class, sheltered, more or less, not just from poverty but from the challenges of weather and basic physical survival. I have lived within the bubble of a functioning economy and have been able to take the ecosystem that surrounds it for granted. No elders or teachers out of my childhood ever guided me toward awareness that I have a direct relationship with that ecosystem, and that I can act toward it either with reverence or abusive indifference. Indeed, the economy that sustained me was based on abusive indifference, which, ipso facto, was a good thing. We were winning, exercising the human mandate to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Oh limited world view! I understand it all too well. So what if the Arctic ice cover is turning, in the words of a research scientist with the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, into “a giant slushie”? So what if human beings, endlessly spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, are largely responsible? I can understand the inability to care about this. It’s simply beyond reckoning. “There are no comparisons to be made,” George Monbiot writes this week in The Guardian/UK. The melting Arctic ice “is not like war or plague or a stockmarket crash. We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening.”

“Oh God, thy sea is so great . . .” At some point, as I pondered all this, a memory ripped loose from my boyhood. I thought about the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer, inscribed on a wall plaque. It hung on the wall of a cottage on Lake Erie, owned by friends of my parents, which we visited every summer. The piercing simplicity of the prayer’s surrender, not to some theological abstraction but to the vast encircling natural world, beguiled and unnerved me. I wanted there to be more — something instructional, perhaps — but that was it. It hung in my heart like a Zen koan. It defined reverence.

I fear that, if we lack at least a trace of this reverence, we will remain trapped within the gated community of human dominion — trapped within the sure thing of our technology, even as the sureness vanishes.

And the hurricane-haunted Republican National Convention convenes in Tampa. “The Republican platform slated for approval at the party’s convention,” writes Ben Geman in The Hill, “includes expanded offshore oil-and-gas development, opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling rigs and thwarting Environmental Protection Agency climate change regulations.” Such a platform is no less arrogant than the Russian energy giant Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Pechora Sea, which Greenpeace activists occupied for 15 hours last week, enduring, among other things, water cannon blasts that almost swept them into the frigid waters. “And so I write to you today,” explained Kumi Naidoo after the occupation had ended, “not as the executive director of Greenpeace International, but as one of a team of activists who stood up to say No to a Russian oil giant determined to destroy our fragile Arctic.”

What’s fragile are the complex environmental conditions that make life — human and otherwise — possible. To recognize this fragility is to recognize our own fragility. Perhaps, in a technological sense, we have “outgrown” the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer. The ocean is no longer so vast that we can’t cross it in a few hours. But our ability to do so has come at a serious cost, environmentally and, perhaps, spiritually.

The largest economic and political institutions we have thus far created — nations, multinational corporations — regard climate change primarily as opportunity. Suddenly they have access to a previously hidden part of the planet, to drill, fish, mine and otherwise exploit. In our pursuit of dominion over the seas and the heavens, have we lost the ability to love the planet that has sustained us? Do we love only our control over it?”

"The Climate Breakdown Is Right Here, Right Now"

 "The Climate Breakdown Is Right Here, Right Now"
By George Monbiot

"We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening. There are no comparisons to be made. This is not like war or plague or a stockmarket crash. We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening. What we are seeing, here and now, is the transformation of the atmospheric physics of this planet. Three weeks before the likely minimum, the melting of Arctic sea ice has already broken the record set in 2007. The daily rate of loss is now 50% higher than it was that year. The daily sense of loss – of the world we loved and knew – cannot be quantified so easily.

The Arctic has been warming roughly twice as quickly as the rest of the northern hemisphere. This is partly because climate breakdown there is self-perpetuating. As the ice melts, for example, exposing the darker sea beneath, heat which would previously have been reflected back into space is absorbed. This great dissolution, of ice and certainties, is happening so much faster than most climate scientists predicted that, one of them reports, “it feels as if everything I’ve learned has become obsolete.” In its last assessment, published in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that “in some projections, Arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century.” These were the most extreme forecasts in the panel’s range. Some scientists now forecast that the disappearance of Arctic sea ice in late summer could occur in this decade or the next.

As I’ve warned repeatedly, but to little effect, the IPCC’s assessments tend to be conservative. This is unsurprising when you see how many people have to approve them before they are published. There have been a few occasions – such as its estimate of the speed at which glaciers would be lost in the Himalayas – on which the panel has overstated the case. But it looks as if these will be greatly outnumbered by the occasions on which the panel has understated it.

The melting disperses another belief: that the temperate parts of the world – where most of the rich nations are located – will be hit last and least, while the poorer nations will be hit first and worst. New knowledge of the way in which the destruction of the Arctic sea ice affects northern Europe and North America suggests that this is no longer true. A paper published earlier this year in Geophysical Research Letters shows that Arctic warming is likely to be responsible for the extremes now hammering the once-temperate nations.

The north polar jet stream is an air current several hundred kilometres wide, travelling eastwards around the hemisphere. It functions as a barrier, separating the cold, wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Many of the variations in our weather are caused by great travelling meanders – or Rossby waves – in the jet stream. Arctic heating, the paper shows, both slows the Rossby waves and makes them steeper and wider. Instead of moving on rapidly, the weather gets stuck. Regions to the south of the stalled meander wait for weeks or months for rain; regions to the north (or underneath it) wait for weeks or months for a break from the rain. Instead of a benign succession of sunshine and showers, we get droughts or floods. During the winter a slow, steep meander can connect us directly to the polar weather, dragging severe ice and snow far to the south of its usual range. This mechanism goes a long way towards explaining the shift to sustained – and therefore extreme – weather patterns around the northern hemisphere.

I have no idea what is coming to Europe and North America this winter and next summer, in the wake of the record ice melt, but it’s unlikely to be pleasant. Please note that this record represents a loss of around 30% of Arctic sea ice, against the long-term average. When that climbs to 50 or 70 or 90%, the impacts are likely to be worse.

Our governments do nothing. Having abandoned any pretence of responding to the environmental crisis during the earth summit in June, now they stare stupidly as the ice on which we stand dissolves. Nothing – or worse than nothing. Their one unequivocal response to the melting has been to facilitate the capture of the oil and fish it exposes.

The companies which caused this disaster are scrambling to profit from it. On Sunday, Shell requested an extension to its exploratory drilling period in the Chukchi Sea, off the north-west coast of Alaska. This would push its operations hard against the moment when the ice re-forms and any spills they cause are locked in. The Russian oil company Gazprom is using the great melt to try to drill in the Pechora Sea, north-east of Murmansk. After turning its Arctic lands in the Komi Republic into the Niger Delta of the north (repeated oil spills are left unremediated in the tundra), Russia wants to extend this industry into one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems, where ice, storms and darkness make decontamination almost impossible.

As I write, activists from Greenpeace, whom I regard as heroes, are chained to Gazprom’s supply vessel, preventing the rig from operating. These people are stepping in where all governments have failed. David Cameron, who still claims to lead the greenest government ever, is no longer hugging huskies. In June he struck an agreement with the Norwegian prime minister “to enable sustainable development of Arctic energy.” Sustainable development, of course, means drilling for oil.

Is this how our children will see it: that we destroyed the benign conditions which made our world of wonders possible, then used the opportunity to amplify the damage? All of us, of course, can claim to have acted with other aims in mind, or not to have acted at all, as the other immediacies of life seemed more important. But – unless we respond at last – the results follow as surely as if we had sought to engineer them.

Stupidity, greed, passivity? Just as comparisons evaporate, so do these words. The ice, that solid platform on which, we now discover, so much rested, melts into air. Our pretensions to peace, prosperity and progress are likely to follow. “And like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve.”

"A Good Question..."

"In the end, we return to the question, just how much do you love truth? Do you really love truth or are you just curious? Do you love it enough to rebuild your understanding to conform to a reality that doesn't fit your current beliefs, and doesn't feel 120% happy? Do you love truth enough to continue seeking even when it hurts, when it reveals aspects of yourself (or human society, or the universe) that are shocking, complex and disturbing, or humbling, glorious and amazing - or even, when truth is far beyond human mind itself? Just how much do we love truth? It's a good question to ask ourselves, I think."
- Scott Mandelker

"How It Really Is"

Karl Denninger, "Oh Really, Mr. Reptilian Republican?"

"Oh Really, Mr. Reptilian Republican?"
 by Karl Denninger

"Last night was a spooge-fest at the RNC; one of the more-common lies was Ryan's: “Before the math and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this  nation’s economic problems,” Ryan said. “And I’m going to level with you. We  don’t have that much time. But if we are serious, and smart, and we lead, we can  do this.”

Oh really Paul? Paul Ryan, for those who have been living in a cave for the last couple of years, has put forward two separate "budgets" that are nothing more than mythical claims just as are Obama's Unicorn-laden promises.  The premise that we can somehow magically return to 5% GDP growth on a sequential basis for 30 years when the last 30 was all powered by debt expansion rather than production is a pure farce.

Never mind that an unbroken 30 year real expansion is fantasy-land material anyway; it presumes no recessions, no policy mistakes, no business cycles and no outside forces that might get in the way.  It is thus the sort of thing that only exists in the movies - or in Lyin' Ryan's mind.

The lies came especially-thick when it came to Medicare: “The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it,” he  said. “So our opponents can consider themselves on notice. In this election, on  this issue, the usual posturing on the left isn’t going to work.”

That would be nice but there was no promise to cage the medical industry - literally, behind bars, once they refuse to stop their monopolist behavior after the legal exemptions they enjoy today are removed.  Oh, yeah, I almost forgot - there was no promise to remove those exemptions either.

That's because Ryan and Romney won't remove them. See, Romney's litany is not that of Capitalism in the true sense - that is, innovating and proving through that innovation increased productivity and thus an improved standard of living.  Instead Romney is an utter expert in the abuse of leverage - loading up an entity with debt and taking his skim off the top then leaving someone else with the bill to be paid. In this he's a perfect match with the behavior of our Feral Government over the last 30 years, but unfortunately we're in the position as a nation of one of those over-indebted companies that is about to blow and Romney doesn't have time to add in more debt and take his skim first, as Bain did all too many times.

In simple mathematical terms there are two issues that define our budget problem - Medical Spending and Defense. We cannot simply dismantle defense and walk away, because if we do our oil supplies will be threatened or cut off, and without being energy independent first we risk catastrophic economic collapse. But we also cannot continue to pretend that Medicare and Medicaid can be "fixed" as government programs without dealing with the abusive monopolist practices of the medical industry, all of which would collapse in literal minutes due to the forces of competition without government laws to both protect the behavior and apply the boot to your neck as the health-care consumer.

Nobody on the left or right - or for that matter on the Libertarian side - will bring these issues into the political debate. Nobody. You haven't heard it from Obama, Romney or Gary Johnson but you can't get past the arithmetic. The "can-kicking" and lies told to the American public, the scaring of seniors and the use of the cudgel of government for the benefit of the skimmers and scammers in the medical, energy and defense industries is an outrage.

When you think of Solyndra, one of the naked scams of our time, you are seeing just the tip of the iceberg.  Just underneath the surface of the water are the reasons that having a baby in the hospital costs $10,000, when on an inflation adjusted basis from 1963 to today it should cost just over $1,000.

The Oklahoma Medical Center I wrote on recently is proof-positive of the size and mendacity of the distortions in the system today.  Prices that are 1/5th of the common charge found in the "we bury the cost of people with no money and then add a monstrous monopoly-driven profit" medical system are common, and that surgery center obviously is making a profit or it wouldn't exist!

Think about it folks - if you currently have so-called "health insurance" the reason you have it, and demand it from your employer (or from "Medicare") is that you believe you can't afford to simply pay cash for your medical care. The reason you can't afford to pay cash is that the medical industry has used its lobbying power to demand protections from government, enforced with government's guns, that allow them to screw you and everyone else, driving the cost you pay for a reasonable level of care to 500% of what it would be in a free market economic system for health services. That's theft and fraud and we simply can't afford it - the medical monster has been growing at more than 9% annually for three decades and at this point it is threatening to consume the entire federal budget and then the entire economy!  That obviously cannot happen but what can, and will happen is that our economy will collapse if this exponential growth is not stopped - here and now.

We as a nation and people either take this on here and now at the root level or we're done.  The entire world economic system is teetering on the precipice of too much leverage, too much debt, too much malinvestment and too many lies.  China is slowing down precipitously, Japan is slowing precipitously, Europe is on the edge of collapse and we're whistling while we saunter along with our nose turned up and our head held high as the DOW stands at 13,000, the S&P at 1,400 and Apple goes for over $670/share. Exactly as we did in 2006, sauntering madly toward the cliff of 2007 and 2008 ignoring the fact that the over-levered housing industry was crumbling right under our feet. Except this time it's not the housing industry.  It's government budgets at both state and Federal level, and not just here in the United States but world-wide.

Time is running out all right, but Romney/Ryan have no more vision or willingness to take this on than Obama - or Johnson - do. As such I hope you're ready for what's coming while you stare at the ass of an Elephant, Donkey, or those who are selling gay marriage and dope-smoking as the "face" of their candidacy when you consider who to "vote" for. And yeah, those are your so-called "choices."

Satire: "Ryan Launches Campaign Theme of Lying About Everything"

  "Ryan Launches Campaign Theme of Lying About Everything"
by Andy Borowitz

TAMPA (The Borowitz Report)— "In his speech to the Republican National Convention last night, Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan test-drove what the Romney-Ryan campaign says will be a major theme for the 2012 Republican campaign: “lying about everything.” “The question was, how many whoppers could you pack into one speech?” the campaign adviser Tracy Klugian said. “All I can say is, when Fox News accuses a Republican of lying, you know you’ve witnessed something historic.”

Mr. Ryan pronounced himself pleased with his performance, noting that he only strayed into the truth when he recited the names of his wife and children. “That won’t happen again,” he laughed. “Call it opening-night jitters.”

As for Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, he said he was working “around the clock” to add additional lies to his speech tonight: “I’m no Paul Ryan, but, darn it, I’m going to do my best.”
"The Paul Ryan Speech: Five Hypocrisies"
by Ryan Lizza

"My quick take on Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night is that it is awfully difficult to criticize President Obama when you’ve spent the last fourteen years in Washington dealing with many of the same issues. In five significant cases, Ryan’s attacks on the President were breathtakingly hypocritical.

1. Ryan said Obama failed to save a General Motors plant in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin: Here’s what Ryan said: "President Barack Obama came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two. Those were very tough days, and any fair measure of his record has to take that into account. My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that G.M. plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you. . . this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."

Actually, Obama’s speech in Janesville happened in February 2008. In June of that same year, G.M. announced the plant would close. Most of it was shuttered in December; it continued producing medium-duty trucks until June 2009, when that, too, stopped, in accordance with the plan announced in 2008. While it’s ludicrous to criticize a politician for a plant closing that predated his time in office, Ryan himself stands accused of not helping to save the factory.

As I reported recently, when I asked pro-Ryan Republican John Beckord, the leader of the local Janesville business-development organization, if there was some project where Ryan’s anti-government views conflicted with the needs of local business, he hesitated before saying, “I suppose there could have been a full-court press to just cobble together as much federal money as possible on our behalf to make it irresistible for G.M. to keep this plant open.”

2. Ryan pilloried Obama’s stimulus bill: "The first troubling sign came with the stimulus. It was President Obama’s first and best shot at fixing the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under one-party rule. It cost eight hundred and thirty-one billion dollars—the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government. It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs, and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal. What did the taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt. That money wasn’t just spent and wasted—it was borrowed, spent, and wasted."

But as has by now been well documented, Ryan lobbied for stimulus money for his district. Furthermore, as I reported, the major economic success stories in Janesville—a business incubator, a new medical manufacturer, and a new highway project that will benefit local warehousing businesses—are all linked to federal money, including money from Obama’s 2009 stimulus.

3. Ryan criticized Obama for cutting seven hundred billion dollars from Medicare: "You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health-care takeover, even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn’t have enough money. They needed more. They needed hundreds of billions more. So, they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it."

Ryan’s famous budget plan, the Path to Prosperity, repealed every aspect of Obamacare except the changes to Medicare. (Also, it’s not entirely accurate to say that the money was “funneled.”)

4. Ryan hit Obama for arguing that it was his message and not his policy that failed: "President Obama was asked not long ago to reflect on any mistakes he might have made. He said, well, “I haven’t communicated enough.” He said his job is to “tell a story to the American people”—as if that’s the whole problem here? He needs to talk more, and we need to be better listeners?"

Here’s the section from my piece in the magazine about Ryan’s response when I asked him why his Social Security reform plan failed in 2005: “The Administration did a bad job of selling it,” he told me. Bush had campaigned on national-security issues, only to pitch Social Security reform after reëlection. “And … thud,” Ryan said. “You’ve got to prepare the country for these things. You can’t just spring it on them after you win.” The lesson: “Don’t let the engineers run the marketing department.”

5. Finally, Ryan attacked Obama for ignoring the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles debt commission: "He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing."

Guess who the leading Republican budget wonk on that commission was? Yes, Paul Ryan. When “the urgent report” came up for a vote, Ryan voted against it. Ryan started this race with a reputation for honesty. He’s on his way to losing it."

The Economy: "The Hurricane Whisperer"

"The Hurricane Whisperer"
by Joel Bowman

“A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing.”
- Alexander Hamilton

“A man in debt is so far a slave.” 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Gold, virtually unchanged: $1,655 an ounce. Dow, virtually unchanged: 13,107 points. Oil, virtually unchanged: $95 a barrel. Investors should have taken yesterday off…spent some time with the kids…worked on their swing…or whittled away the hours on Praia do Camilo with a good book. Markets aren’t going anywhere, Fellow Reckoner…not without the say-so from the Feds. “Everyone is waiting,” writes Bill Bonner. “They want to know what will happen when the Fed gets together tomorrow. Will there be an open-ended commitment to QE - as much as you want, when you want it - or will there be nothing at all?”

The Powers that Be are hunkered down in Jackson Hole for their annual international central banking symposium, a jaw-gabbing event where the world’s “brightest” economists get together to come up with the world’s dumbest “solutions”…solutions to problems largely caused by their last round of “solutions.” The Feds use a number of complicated instruments to determine which way the economic breeze is blowing, almost all of them baloney. Then they imagine that, after holding their windsocks out in the hurricane, they can command the gales to blow in any direction they so desire. And what’s more, people actually believe them!

Growth rates, ostensibly their primary focus, are slowing in the US, down from a limpish 2% rate for the first quarter to a decidedly flaccid 1.7% in the second. And that, after unprecedented amounts of economic “stimulus.” A more modest man might feel a twinge of embarrassment, perhaps even the onset of “performance anxiety.” But Bernanke is not that man. He has pledged, in the face of demonstrable impotence, to do “whatever it takes” to get the economy…“up.”

Alas, the employment situation, another Fed Fetish, has softened too, with official unemployment still above 8%. Factor in discouraged non-workers and those forced to take part-time jobs and we’re looking at closer to 15%. John Williams at ShadowStats, who computes the figures the “old way,” pre Clintonian fiddling, puts the rate at almost 23%…nearly 1 in 4. But unemployment today is nothing compared to what it might be tomorrow. According to the August report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “From April to July 2012, the number of employed youth 16 to 24 years old rose 2.1 million to 19.5 million.”

The BLS was quick to couch its statement, however, explaining that: “The youth labor force (16- to 24-year-olds working or actively looking for work) grows sharply between April and July each year. During these months, large numbers of high school and college students search for or take summer jobs, and many graduates enter the labor market to look for or begin permanent employment.”

Even so, the number of unemployed youth increased by 90,000 from the same period in 2011. The generation unlucky enough to find itself graduating today is far worse off than its predecessors. Confirmed the BLS, “The labor force participation rate for all youth - the proportion of the population 16 to 24 years old working or looking for work - was 60.5 percent in July [...] 17.0 percentage points below the peak rate for that month in 1989 (77.5 percent).”
Politicians to Youth: You’re Screwed! Today, one quarter of employed youths show up to work in the hospitality sector, which includes scraping coffee residue from Starbucks’ grinders and sweeping peanut shells from barroom floors. Another 20% work retail. It’s honest work, to be sure…but it’s not the kind of Mad Men-like middle-management positions promised to them at the beginning of their studies. More to the point, it’s not nearly enough to cover enormous and growing student loan repayments hanging around their necks.

According to a new research study published by the Young Invincibles, a national youth advocacy group, average debt held by students at time of graduation has increased by an astounding 46% since 2000. “Moreover,” the study reveals, “total outstanding debt held by the public has skyrocketed 511% over the past decade.”

And it’s not only the youth straining under this huge and expanding debt burden. Incredibly, people over 60 carry a total of $2.2 million in student loans that are more than 90 days in arrears, prompting the federal government to reduce benefit payments on Social Security checks for 115,000 retirees. Where will those dependent on Social Security find the spare change to repay these debts, you ask? Our guess is, they won’t. But these sexagenarians are merely the first zephyr of the coming tempest. Their $2.2 million overdue is tuppence when one considers the overall size of outstanding student loans, a debt bubble that has now, at more than $1 trillion and counting, come to eclipse even outstanding credit card debt in the US.

“The US Department of Education has become the Countrywide of student lending,” Dan Amoss, editor of Strategic Short Report, warned in these pages recently. “After a lending binge started in 2009, it now holds a massive $452 billion portfolio of student loan receivables, according to Federal Reserve data. This so-called ‘asset’ will become a liability by next year… “Like Countrywide,” Dan continued, “the government is not honestly accounting for its portfolio risks. This $452 billion portfolio doesn’t even include a few hundred billion more in guaranteed student loans. The chief accountant of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote a report dated December 2011 on the federal government’s accounting deficiencies: ‘The deficiencies, for the most part, involved credit subsidy estimation and related financial reporting processes.’ In other words, accounting for below-market loan interest rate subsidies is complex, and the government is not adequately disclosing the risks it is taking.”

Borrowers lured in by artificially manipulated rates? Government intervention distorting markets? Policies aimed at assisting people blowing up right in their faces? We’re shocked, Fellow Reckoner. No, we’re FLABBERGASTED! And now, all eyes are on the Fed Chairman to mend the situation. What is poor ol’ Ben “The Hurricane Whisperer” Bernanke to do?

“Destiny is demography,” Auguste Comte once declared. The French philosopher made another important observation too. “The dead governs the living,” he said. Graduating students have zombie politicians to thank for their dismal lot. In their case, it’s the undead calling the shots.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Have you ever seen the Pleiades star cluster? Perhaps the most famous star cluster on the sky, the Pleiades can be seen without binoculars from even the depths of a light-polluted city. Also known as the Seven Sisters and M45, the Pleiades is one of the brightest and closest open clusters. Hurtling through a cosmic dust cloud a mere 400 light-years away, the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster is well-known for its striking blue reflection nebulae. 
 Click image for larger size.
This remarkable wide-field (3 degree) image of the region shows the famous star cluster near the center, while highlighting lesser known dusty reflection nebulas nearby, across an area that would span over 20 light-years. In this case, the sister stars and cosmic dust clouds are not related, they just happen to be passing through the same region of space.”

The Poet: Mary Oliver, "Evidence"


"Where do I live?
 If I had no address, as many people do not,
 I could nevertheless say that I lived in the same town as the lilies of the field,
 and the still waters.

Spring, and all through the neighborhood now there are
strong men tending flowers.

Beauty without purpose is beauty without virtue.
But all beautiful things, inherently, have this function -
to excite the viewers toward sublime thought.
Glory to the world, that good teacher.

Among the swans there is none called the least,
 or the greatest.

I believe in kindness. Also in mischief.
 Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.

As for the body, it is solid and strong and curious and full of detail;
 it wants to polish itself; it wants to love another body;
it is the only vessel in the world that can hold,
 in a mix of power and sweetness:
words, song, gesture, passion, ideas,
ingenuity, devotion, merriment, vanity, and virtue.

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

- Mary Oliver

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for! To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless- of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer: That you are here - that life exists, and that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
- "Dead Poets Society"