Daily Archive: 08/12/2011

Aug 12 2011

This Week In The Dream Antilles

A week of economic fear.  And fighting in England’s streets.  An anxious week.  Your Bloguero heard  (do not ask how) that sometimes chefs lose their sense of taste.  This is called “ageusia.”  And writers, if they are similarly afflicted by a professional malady, what might they lose? What a disturbing thought. Alas, your Bloguero is relieved to state that he was wrong to propose the analogy: the loss does not come from tasting too many of one’s own concoctions. Not at all.  It is neurological.  It has other causes.  Completely.  Regardless, and if you will excuse his beginning this essay with these worrisome inner thoughts, your Bloguero will offer an excuse explanation. This Friday he is tired of reading is own written words.  And he fears the consequences to his remaining sanity of continues to spew them. What will he lose if he presses on?  He’s not going to find out. No way.  He will take the weekend off.  He will begin again next week, after the Ides of August.

But not to fear. Or be disappointed. This essay is not about to peter out and become wordless because of your Bloguero’s hypochondria. No. Your Bloguero has found remarkable words of Eduardo Galeano for you to contemplate:


On the shores of another sea, an old potter retires.

His eyes cloud over, his hands tremble, the hour to say goodbye has arrived. Then the ceremony of initiation begins: the old potter offers the young potter his best piece.  As tradition dictates among the Indians of northwest America, the outgoing artist gives his masterwork to the incoming one.

And the young potter doesn’t keep that perfect vase to contemplate or admire: he smashes it on the ground, breaks it into a thousand pieces, picks up the pieces, and incorporates them into his own clay.

Walking Words (1993).

Isn’t that wonderful?

This Week In The Dream Antilles is usually a weekly digest. Sometimes, like now, it is not actually a digest of essays posted in the past week at The Dream Antilles.  For that you have to visit The Dream Antilles. Please leave a comment so that your Bloguero will know that you stopped by. Or, even easier, just click the “Encouragement jar”. Your Bloguero likes to know you’ve visited.

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cross posted from The Dream Antilles

Aug 12 2011

The Wisdom of Willie Sutton

You know, the math is the math regardless of what Karl Rove and neoliberal economists say.  Willie Sutton was right.

Where the money is

by John Quiggin, Crooked Timber

on July 25, 2011

My analysis is quite simple and follows the apocryphal statement attributed to Willie Sutton. The wealth that has accrued to those in the top 1 per cent of the US income distribution is so massive that any serious policy program must begin by clawing it back.



In both policy and political terms, nothing can be achieved under these circumstances, except at the expense of the top 1 per cent. This is a contingent, but inescapable fact about massively unequal, and economically stagnant, societies like the US in 2010. By contrast, in a society like that of the 1950s and 1960s, where most people could plausibly regard themselves as middle class and where middle class incomes were steadily rising, the big questions could be put in terms of the mix of public goods and private income that was best for the representative middle class citizen. The question of how much (more) to tax the very rich was secondary – their share of national income was already at an all time low.



One thing the Tea Party has shown is that, in the current dire state of the US, there are few penalties for abandoning moderation. What the US needs at this point is someone willing to advocate a return to the economic institutions that made America great – 90 per cent top marginal tax rates, strong trade unions, weak banks and imprisonment for malefactors of great wealth.

It seems to me that a good place to start would be a primary challenge to Obama (Bernie Sanders suggested this, and he’d be a good candidate I think). It would be impossible for the media to ignore completely, and might get enough votes to shift the Overton window. Whether such a challenge could form the basis of a mass movement, I don’t really know, but it seems to be worth a try.

I came across John Quiggan in this piece by Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism substituting for Glenn Greenwald at Salon.

Yves continues-

(T)he fares (verb definitions) of the have versus the have-nots continue to diverge. A new survey found that 64% of the public doesn’t have enough funds on hand to cope with a $1000 emergency. Wages are falling for 90% of the population. And disabuse yourself of the idea that the rich might decide to bestow their largesse on the rest of us. Various studies have found that upper class individuals are less empathetic and altruistic than lower status individuals.

This outcome is not accidental. Taxes on top earners are the lowest in three generations. Yet their complaints about the prospect of an increase to a level that is still awfully low by recent historical standards is remarkable.

Given that this rise in wealth has been accompanied by an increase in the power of those at the top, is there any hope for achieving a more just society? Bizarrely, the self interest of the upper crust argues in favor of it. Profoundly unequal societies are bad for everyone, including the rich.



You might argue: Why do these results matter to rich people, who can live in gated compounds? If you’ve visited some rich areas in Latin America, particularly when times generally are bad, marksmen on the roofs of houses are a norm. Living in fear of your physical safety is not a pretty existence.

Japan, which made a conscious decision to impose the costs of its post bubble hangover on all members of society to preserve stability, has gotten through its lost two decades with remarkable grace. The US seems to be implementing the polar opposite playbook, and there are good reasons to think the outcome of this experiment will be ugly indeed.

Memories of 1789 aside,  I would argue that even among the top 400 there will be winners and losers.  The $600 to $700 Trillion notional value of financial derivatives represents over 10 years of the entire World’s output.

Now some analysists see this as a reason to invest in Gold which I find absolutely nutty since Gold’s perceived value except as a non-corroding conductor and a maleable metal for personal adornment is nothing but hype and nostalgia for an economic system that was obsolete 120 years ago and produced exactly the same bad outcomes and inequality of the present one.

What I see instead is that “notions” of value are are about to change and those left without a seat when the music stops are going to take a 100% haircut on their spreadsheet electrons.

And who are they?  The top 20% who own more than 91% of it (38% just by the top 1%).

As Willy said, you have to go where the money is.

Yves again-

It’s easy to see how “big status differences” alone have an impact. The wider income differentials are, the less people mix across income lines, and the more opportunties there are for stratification within income groups. Thus a decline in income can easily put one in the position of suddenly not being able to participate fully or at all in one’s former social cohort (what do you give up, the country club membership? the kids’ private schools? the charities on which you give enough to be on special committees?). And lose enough of these activities that have a steep cost of entry but are part of your social life, and you lose a lot of your supposed friends. Making new friends over the age of 35 is not easy.

So a perceived threat to one’s income is much more serious business to the well-off than it might seem to those on the other side of the looking glass. Loss of social position is a fraught business indeed.

Or to quote Jim Morrison-

Five to one, baby.  One in five.  No one here gets out alive.  Now you get yours, baby, I’ll get mine.  Gonna make it baby, if we try.

The old get old and the young get stronger.  May take a week and it may take longer.  They got the guns but we got the numbers.  Gonna win, yeah, we’re takin’ over.  Come on!

Aug 12 2011

Health Care Law Mandate Ruled Unconstitutional

This afternoon the individual mandate of the Affordable Health Care Act has been found unconstitutional. A three panel court of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Florida upheld a lower court ruling that had held the entire ACA to be unconstitutional. The ruling determined that individuals cannot be forced to purchase expensive private health care insurance from birth to death or face penalties. The court allowed the rest of the law to stand.

   – It is immaterial whether we perceive Congress to be regulating inactivity or a financial decision to forego insurance. Under any framing, the regulated conduct is defined by the absence of both commerce or even the “the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities”-the broad definition of economics in Raich… To connect this conduct to interstate commerce would require a “but-for causal chain” that the Supreme Court has rejected, as it would allow Congress to regulate anything.

   – In sum, the individual mandate is breathtaking in its expansive scope. It regulates those who have not entered the health care market at all. It regulates those who have entered the health care market, but have not entered the insurance market (and have no intention of doing so). It is over inclusive in when it regulates:it conflates those who presently consume health care with those who will not consume health care for many years into the future. The government’s position amounts to an argument that the mere fact of an individual’s existence substantially affects interstate commerce, and therefore Congress may regulate them at every point of their life.

In June, the 6th Circuit in Ohio had ruled that the mandate was constitutional for Congress to mandate Americans buy health care insurance. As David Kurtz at TPM makes a couple of very important points:

  • usually these suits are only ever get heard before a three judge panel but because of the legal significance of this case the entire court may decide to hear the case. Either way this will in all probability be fought out in the Supreme Court.
  • Because of the conflicting rulings between legal authorities, it is more likely than not that the case will get decided by the Supreme Court

Florida et al v. Dept. Of Health & Human Services et al

Aug 12 2011

Third Way Electoral Victory!

Obama reelect numbers soften, poll says

By Scott Clement, The Washington Post

Posted at 04:54 PM ET, 08/11/2011

More than four in 10 Americans say they “definitely will not” support Obama in 2012, while fewer than half as many, just two in 10, are certain to back the president for reelection. The number of “definite” Obama voters marks a low in polls since November 2009 and has dropped four percentage points since a Post-ABC poll in June, and eight points since April.



Support for Obama has softened considerably on the left: In the new poll, 31 percent of liberals say they are certain to vote for Obama next year, down from 46 percent in June. One in five liberals says they “definitely will not” vote for him, while a 43 percent plurality says they’ll considering casting a ballot for Obama.

Obama’s 2008 election was fueled by winning majorities of key swing groups, including political independents, women and voters under age 50. But with 15 months left before Election Day, more than three times as many independents say they “definitely will not” vote for Obama in 2012 as say they “definitely will” – 45 percent versus 14 percent. And among women and those under 50, more say they’ll definitely oppose than definitely support Obama next year.

Gee, do you think that could be related in any way to this?

Consumer Sentiment Drops to Lowest Level in 3 Decades

Reuters

Published: Friday, 12 Aug 2011 | 10:01 AM ET

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s preliminary August reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment came in at 54.9, the lowest since May 1980, down from 63.7 in July. It was well below the the median forecast of 63.0 among economists polled by Reuters.

High unemployment, stagnant wages and the protracted debate over raising the U.S. government debt ceiling spooked consumers,polled before the downgrade of U.S. sovereign debt by Standard &Poor’s.



The survey’s gauge of consumer expectations slipped to 45.7, also the lowest since May of 1980, from July’s 56.0 and below a predicted reading of 55.3.

The Obama administration received poor ratings from 61 percent of respondents, the worst showing among all prior heads of state.



Bad times in the economy were expected by 75 percent of all consumers in early August, just below the all-time peak of 82 percent in 1980.

The survey’s barometer of current economic conditions was 69.3 in August, down versus 75.8 in July and below a forecast of 74.3.

Aug 12 2011

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Paul Krugman: The Hijacked Crisis  

Has market turmoil left you feeling afraid? Well, it should. Clearly, the economic crisis that began in 2008 is by no means over.

But there’s another emotion you should feel: anger. For what we’re seeing now is what happens when influential people exploit a crisis rather than try to solve it.

For more than a year and a half – ever since President Obama chose to make deficits, not jobs, the central focus of the 2010 State of the Union address – we’ve had a public conversation that has been dominated by budget concerns, while almost ignoring unemployment. The supposedly urgent need to reduce deficits has so dominated the discourse that on Monday, in the midst of a market panic, Mr. Obama devoted most of his remarks to the deficit rather than to the clear and present danger of renewed recession.

New York Times Editorial: A Scalpel, Not an Ax, for Medicaid

Many states are struggling to balance their budgets by curbing spending on Medicaid, a joint state-federal program that provides health insurance for the poor and disabled. They have little choice because Medicaid is one of their biggest, fastest-growing expenses. The risk is that injudicious cuts could harm their most vulnerable citizens.

A lawsuit, which the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear in the coming term, will determine whether there is any recourse for Medicaid beneficiaries who may have less access to health care because of such cuts. Beneficiaries need the right to sue – and to negotiate legal settlements – so that they can force states to consider whether reducing provider payments will limit access to care.

Joe Conason: Franken Calls for Oversight of Ratings Agencies

With world markets suddenly sagging under the weight of the Standard & Poor’s Aug. 5 downgrade of Treasury bonds, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is disturbed by the monopolistic power of the ratings agencies-and still determined to curb their abuses, as he tried to do last year with an amendment to the Dodd-Frank banking reform bill.

In an exclusive Monday interview for The National Memo, the Minnesota Democrat said that the misconduct of the ratings agencies led directly to the economic catastrophe that S&P’s rating decision has made even worse. Franken wondered aloud why his proposed reforms of the ratings industry should still be subject to “study” rather than action by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

David Sirota: Collateral Damage in the War on Anonymity

From warrantless wiretapping to ever-present surveillance cameras, our world is right now in the midst of a long war on anonymity.

In the media and political arenas, we’ve seen paparazzi culture famously fetishize the outing of anonymous iconoclasts, from Watergate’s Deep Throat (Mark Felt) to a top CIA agent working on weapons of mass destruction (Valerie Plame). Likewise, in our communities, we now know that we are almost always being monitored in highly trafficked parks, malls, airports and stadiums-and as Slate recently reported, we may soon have apps on all of our smartphones that let us identify random faces in a crowd.

Eugene Robinson: Washington Deserves America’s Disapproval

It’s sobering that three-fourths of Americans, according to a new Washington Post poll, have little or no confidence in our elected leaders to solve the nation’s economic problems. At this point, though, it’s hardly surprising.

If anything, we should be shocked and alarmed that 26 percent of our fellow citizens apparently believe the president and Congress are going to make it all better. Are they not paying attention? Or are they delusional?

The manic-depressive swings we’ve seen in the stock market all week just serve to heighten the general anxiety, like the soundtrack of a horror film. Seesaw gains or losses of hundreds of points on the Dow tend to mask the overall trend, which is downward-and also distract attention from the fact that markets in Europe and Asia are heading in the same direction. The world is trillions of dollars poorer than it was just a couple of weeks ago.

Trillions, by the way, are the new billions.

Bill Boyarsky: America Is a Spark Away From Riots of Its Own

As President Barack Obama tried to calm a United States facing the threat of financial disaster, riots raged across the Atlantic in London and other British cities. Could it happen here, as our nation adopts British-style austerity and suffers through worsening unemployment? It certainly could, just as it has in the past.

As a reporter and then a columnist for the Los Angeles Times 20 years ago I covered the genesis, the explosion and the aftermath of the Los Angeles riot of 1992, described by author Lou Cannon as “the nation’s deadliest race riot since the Civil War.”

Aug 12 2011

On This Day In History August 12

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on image to enlarge

August 12 is the 224th day of the year (225th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 141 days remaining until the end of the year.

It is the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. It is also known as the “Glorious Twelfth” in the UK, as it marks the traditional start of the grouse shooting season.

On this day in 1990, fossil hunter Susan Hendrickson discovers three huge bones jutting out of a cliff near Faith, South Dakota. They turn out to be part of the largest-ever Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, a 65 million-year-old specimen dubbed Sue, after its discoverer.

Amazingly, Sue’s skeleton was over 90 percent complete, and the bones were extremely well-preserved. Hendrickson’s employer, the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, paid $5,000 to the land owner, Maurice Williams, for the right to excavate the dinosaur skeleton, which was cleaned and transported to the company headquarters in Hill City. The institute’s president, Peter Larson, announced plans to build a non-profit museum to display Sue along with other fossils of the Cretaceous period.

Preparation and display

The Field Museum hired a specialized moving company, with experience in transporting delicate items, to move the bones to Chicago. The truck arrived at the museum in October 1997. Two new research laboratories funded by McDonalds were created and staffed by Field Museum preparators whose job was to slowly and carefully remove all the rock, or “matrix” from the bones. One preparation lab was at Field Museum itself, the other was at the newly opened Animal Kingdom in Disney World in Orlando. Millions of visitors observed the preparation of Sue’s bones through glass windows in both labs. Footage of the work was also put on the museum’s website. Several of the fossil’s bones had never been discovered, so preparators produced models of the missing bones from plastic to complete the exhibit. The modeled bones were colored in a reddish hue so that visitors could observe which bones were real and which bones were plastic. The preparators also poured molds of each bone. All the molds were sent to a company outside Toronto to be cast in hollow plastic. Field Museum kept one set of disarticulated casts in its research collection. The other sets were incorporated into mounted cast skeletons. One set of the casts was sent to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida to be presented for public display. Two other mounted casts were placed into a traveling tour that was sponsored by the McDonald’s Corporation.

Once the preparators finished removing the matrix from each bone, it was sent to the museum’s photographer who made high-quality photographs. From there, the museum’s paleontologists began the study of the skeleton. In addition to photographing and studying each bone, the research staff also arranged for CT scanning of select bones. The skull was too large to fit into a medical CT scanner, so Boeing’s Rocketdyne laboratory in California agreed to let the museum use their CT scanner that was normally used to inspect space shuttle parts.

Bone damage

Close examination of the bones revealed that Sue was 28 years old when she died, making her the oldest T. rex known. During her life this carnivore received several injuries and suffered from numerous pathologies. An injury to the right shoulder region of Sue resulted in a damaged shoulder blade, a torn tendon in the right arm, and three broken ribs. This damage subsequently healed (though one rib healed into two separate pieces), indicating Sue survived the incident. The left fibula is twice the diameter of the right one, likely a result of infection. Original reports of this bone being broken were contradicted by the CT scans which showed no fracture. Multiple holes in the front of the skull were originally thought to be bite marks by some, but subsequent study found these to be areas of infection instead, possibly from an infestation of an ancestral form of Trichomonas gallinae, a protozoan parasite that infests birds. Damage to the back end of the skull was interpreted early on as a fatal bite wound. Subsequent study by Field Museum paleontologists found no bite marks. The distortion and breakage seen in some of the bones in the back of the skull was likely caused by post-mortem trampling. Some of the tail vertebra are fused in a pattern typical of arthritis due to injury. The animal is also believed to have suffered from gout. In addition, there is extra bone in some of the tail vertebrae likely caused by the stresses brought on by Sue’s great size. Sue did not die as a result of any of these injuries; her cause of death is not known.

Display

After the bones were prepared, photographed and studied, they were sent to New Jersey where work began on making the mount. This work consists of bending steel to support each bone safely and to display the entire skeleton articulated as it was in life. The real skull was not incorporated into the mount as subsequent study would be difficult with the head 13 feet off the ground. Parts of the skull had been crushed and broken, and thus appeared distorted. The museum made a cast of the skull, and altered this cast to remove the distortions, thus approximating what the original undistorted skull may have looked like. The cast skull was also lighter, allowing it to be displayed on the mount without the use of a steel upright under the head. The original skull is exhibited in a case that can be opened to allow researchers access for study. When the whole skeleton was assembled, it was forty feet (twelve meters) long from nose to tail, and twelve feet (four meters) tall at the hips.

Aug 12 2011

Mullah Rick Perry To Toss His Turban Into The Presidential Ring

Fresh off his prayer event, The Response, Gov. Rick Perry will announce his candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination in South Carolina at the third annual RedState conference in Charleston. A lot of attention has been given to Perry’s connection to the event and Rachel Maddow in an extensive piece exposed the hate message that many of the so-called Christians were spreading as the crowds prayed and cheered.

One of the sponsors is a little known bizarre, evangelical group, the American Apostolic Reformation. Al Jazeera notes the AAR’s similarity to the Taliban. The group has been around awhile and was first noticed in the 2008 campaign when one of its most prominent practitioners, Kenyan witch-hunter Thomas Muthee, anointed Sarah Palin. AAR has bragged on line about destroying ancient Native American artifacts much like the Taliban did in Afghanistan with the destructions of the two colossal images of the Buddha in Bamiyan province in early 2001. The ultimate goal is to replace secular democracy, both in America and around the world, with a Christian theocracy, an ideology known as “dominionism”, striking similar to the Taliban and radical Islam. And this is the group that social conservative, religious zealot Rick Perry embraces.

In a long article, the Texas Observer describes them as “Rick Perry’s army of God”:

The new prophets and apostles believe Christians–certain Christians–are destined to not just take “dominion” over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of what they term the “Seven Mountains” of society, including the media and the arts and entertainment world. They believe they’re intended to lord over it all. As a first step, they’re leading an “army of God” to commandeer civilian government.

On a lighter note, Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC,  Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, has produced its first two campaign ads in Iowa  targeting “Rick Parry”.

Aug 12 2011

Countdown with Keith Olbermann

If you do not get Current TV you can watch Keith here:

Watch live video from CURRENT TV LIVE Countdown Olbermann on www.justin.tv

Aug 12 2011

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 US exports skid, widening US trade gap

By Veronica Smith, AFP

4 hrs ago

US exports fell for the second straight month in June despite a weaker dollar, as soft foreign markets undermined a key driver of the economic recovery, government data showed Thursday.

Slower exports helped expand the country’s foreign trade deficit to $53.1 billion, the widest shortfall in more than two and a half years, despite easing oil prices and government efforts to close the gap, the Commerce Department said.

The trade gap was much bigger than expected by most analysts, who penciled in an average estimate of $48.0 billion, on a seasonally adjusted basis.