Flimsy Sanity: November 2008

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Friday, November 28, 2008

Some Great Quotes

Using blogger for a file cabinet of things one wants to keep is great because of the ability to run a search and retrieve it. A few quotes I've run across and want to keep are these:

"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one...People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news." - A. J. Liebling

"To most of us nothing is so invisible as an unpleasant truth. Though it is held before our eyes, pushed under our noses, rammed down our throats - we know it not". - Eric Hoffer

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle" - George Orwell

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."- Hunter Thompson

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread". -Anatole France

"Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you're stupid. Did you hear that? -stupid." -Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, 1965

"No matter how paranoid or conspiracy-minded you are, what the government is actually doing is worse than you imagine."-William Blum

"Behind every great fortune lies a great crime" - Balzac

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Amazon's Evil Cousin

"How Modern Liberals Think"

I was rewatching the TED Jonathan Haidt talk on the difference between liberals and conservatives. He said the conservatives want to preserve and the liberals want to destroy, which I thought was an incredible conclusion for an academic, but I agreed with him that both sides think they are right and neither side listens to the other. A comment on the TED talk linked this video, so I watched about half of it but the hate spewed here was overpowering. We have some common ground of course - both sides agree that the other side will destroy America. Actually, the way things are going we will implode from the greed of our haves and havemores and our "kiss up, kick down" society will probably fight each other for what is left and the meanest most organized dogs will win. Osama must be laughing in his cave.

This right wing darling says liberals hate America and he draws the analogy of a man standing by and watching his wife (who he claims to hate) get beat up. If the analogy would have been more accurate, he would have said that after the wife gets beat up, the perp (cop talk) shoots himself but still the husband goes out and throws a grenade at the town where the man formerly lived.

Cost of Counterterrorism

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Economics of Innocent Fraud by J.K. Galbraith

The problem is that work is a radically different experience for different people. For many - and this is the common circumstance - it is compelled by the most basic command of life: It is what human beings must do, even suffer, to have a livelihood and its diverse components. It provides life's enjoyments and against its grave discomforts or something worse. Though often repetitive, exhausting, without any mental challenge, it is endured to have the necessities and some of the pleasures of living. Also a certain community repute. Enjoyment of life comes when working hours or the workweek is over. Then and then only is there escape from fatigue, boredom, the discipline of the machine, that of the workplace generally or of the managerial authority. It is frequently said that work is enjoyed; that common assertion is mostly applied to the feelings of others. The good worker is much celebrated; the celebration comes extensively from those who have escaped similar exertion, who are safely above the physical effort.

Here is the paradox. The word 'work' embraces equally those for whom it is exhausting, boring, disagreeable, and those for whom it is a clear pleasure with no sense of the obligatory. There may be a satisfactory feeling of personal importance or the acknowledged superiority of having others under one's command. 'Work' describes both what is compelled and what is the source of the prestige and pay that others seek ardently and enjoy. Already fraud is evident in having the same word for both circumstances.

But that is not all. Those who most enjoy work - and this should be emphasised - are all but universally the best paid. This is accepted. Low wage scales are for those in repetitive, tedious, painful toil. Those who least need compensation for their effort, could best survive without it, are paid the most. The wages, or more precisely their salaries, bonuses and stock options, are the most munificent at the top, where work is a pleasure. This evokes no seriously adverse response. Nor until recently did the inflated compensation and extensive perquisites of functional or nonfunctional executives lead to critical comment. That the most generous pay should be for those most enjoying their work has been fully accepted.

A synopsis from an Amazon review:
The "innocent" frauds that Galbraith calls to our attention are actually not all that innocent. What he means by "innocent" is that for the perpetrators, there is "no sense of guilt or responsibility" as though the fraudulent were children. Indeed from the perspective of Professor Galbraith's extensive experience and learning, many of the people who run our economies and our political systems are children. At any rate, there is a somewhat lofty and even grandfatherly tone to this treatise.

The first "fraud" is the use of the euphemistic "market economy" instead of the slightly stained "capitalism" to describe the present economic system. (By the way, Galbraith does not number his frauds. I do it for the sake of keeping them straight in my mind.)

The second is the fact that in the modern corporation, ownership--that is, the stockholders--have little to no authority while the professional managers call all the shots including setting their own compensation (fraud #7). Galbraith attributes this to the fact that corporations have become so vast and complex that the relatively unsophisticated ownership cannot really understand how to run the enterprise and so must yield to management.

Fraud number three is one that interests me a lot. Galbraith writes, "Reference to the market system as a benign alternative to capitalism is a bland, meaningless disguise of the deeper corporate reality--of producer power extending to influence over, even control of, consumer demand." (p. 7) This really is one of the most pressing problems of our time because the corporate power, through its ability to influence and control its legions of employees and the media, also has "influence over, even control of" who runs for office and who is elected in national and state governments. Indeed, in fraud #8 Galbraith notes that "A large, vital and expanding part of what is called the public sector is for all practical effect in the private sector." (p. 34) He specifically identifies the "defense" industry as being largely controlled by defense contractors in the private sector. Elsewhere in the essay, Galbraith refers to "the control of consumer choice and sovereignty" indicating that he understands that the control extends to the electorate. (p. 13)

Fraud number four is the way we hypocritically value "work." For some it is toil and for others it is a pleasure and indeed largely the reason for living, and yet how differently we are compensated, with those who need it least often getting the most in financial reward.

Fraud five refers to the corporate bureaucracy. While corporate people sneer at government agencies as being bureaucratic, large corporations have become just as bloated or even more so. (Chapter V: "The Corporation as Bureaucracy.")

Fraud #6 is the phony celebration of small businesses and family farms in the political rhetoric. Galbraith comments, "For the small retailer, Wal-Mart awaits. For the family farm, there are the massive grain and fruit enterprise and the modern large-scale meat producer." (p. 25)

Fraud #9 (I've mentioned numbers 7 and 8 above) is the fraud of economic predictions. Galbraith observes: "The financial world sustains a large, active, well-rewarded community based on compelled but seemingly sophisticated ignorance" (i.e., stockbrokers, stock analysts and other financial prognosticators). He adds, "...those...who tell of the future financial performance of an industry or firm, given the unpredictable but controlling influence of the larger economy, do not know and normally do not know that they do not know." (p. 40)

Finally there is the quaint fraud of the actions of the Federal Reserve Board, which Galbraith claims have no real effect on the economy.

Again, the blog being used as file cabinet. Sounds like a great book by one of my favorite people and a definite interlibrary loan candidate. A much better book than this snoozer or Joe the Plumber's new book unless he writes a sequel about how the government shouldn't pry into private business per his current lawsuit (dare we hope for a precedent?).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Scientology Celebrity Center Death

Man attacks Scientology Celebrity Center with swords and is killed. Article says the swordsman had a former relation with Scientology, whatever that means. According to this site Scientology often uses sword symbolism, particularly in association with recruitment and in their elite inner organization called the Sea Organization.

Who Will Eat?

Rich countries launch great land grab to safeguard food supply

Rich governments and corporations are triggering alarm for the poor as they buy up the rights to millions of hectares of agricultural land in developing countries in an effort to secure their own long-term food supplies.

The head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, has warned that the controversial rise in land deals could create a form of "neo-colonialism", with poor states producing food for the rich at the expense of their own hungry people.

And in a Multinational Monitor article on the ten worst corporations, author Robert Weissman names Cargill as one of the worst, though I don't understand why he didn't include ADM:

The world's food system is broken. Or, more accurately, the giant food companies and their allies in the U.S. and other rich country governments, and at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, broke it.

Thirty years ago, most developing countries produced enough food to feed themselves [CHECK]. Now, 70 percent are net food importers.

Thirty years ago, most developing countries had in place mechanisms aimed at maintaining a relatively constant price for food commodities. Tariffs on imports protected local farmers from fluctuations in global food prices. Government-run grain purchasing boards paid above-market prices for farm goods when prices were low, and required farmers to sell below-market when prices were high. The idea was to give farmers some certainty over price, and to keep food affordable for consumers. Governments also provided a wide set of support services for farmers, giving them advice on new crop and growing technologies and, in some countries, helping set up cooperative structures.

This was not a perfect system by any means, but it looks pretty good in retrospect.

Over the last three decades, the system was completely abandoned, in country after country. It was replaced by a multinational-dominated, globally integrated food system, in which the World Bank and other institutions coerced countries into opening their markets to cheap food imports from rich countries and re-orienting their agricultural systems to grow food for rich consumers abroad. Proponents said the new system was a "free market" approach, but in reality it traded one set of government interventions for another - a new set of rules that gave enhanced power to a handful of global grain trading companies like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, as well as to seed and fertilizer corporations.

"For this food regime to work," Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, told the U.S. House Financial Services Committee at a May hearing, "existing marketing boards and support structures needed to be dismantled. In a range of countries, this meant that the state bodies that had been supported and built by the World Bank were dismantled by the World Bank. The rationale behind the dismantling of these institutions was to clear the path for private sector involvement in these sectors, on the understanding that the private sector would be more efficient and less wasteful than the public sector."

"The result of these interventions and conditions," explained Patel, "was to accelerate the decline of developing country agriculture. One of the most striking consequences of liberalization has been the phenomenon of ‘import surges.' These happen when tariffs on cheaper, and often subsidized, agricultural products are lowered, and a host country is then flooded with those goods. There is often a corresponding decline in domestic production. In Senegal, for example, tariff reduction led to an import surge in tomato paste, with a 15-fold increase in imports, and a halving of domestic production. Similar stories might be told of Chile, which saw a three-fold surge in imports of vegetable oil, and a halving of domestic production. In Ghana in 1998, local rice production accounted for over 80 percent of domestic consumption. By 2003, that figure was less than 20 percent."

The decline of developing country agriculture means that developing countries are dependent on the vagaries of the global market. When prices spike - as they did in late 2007 and through the beginning of 2008 - countries and poor consumers are at the mercy of the global market and the giant trading companies that dominate it. In the first quarter of 2008, the price of rice in Asia doubled, and commodity prices overall rose 40 percent. People in rich countries felt this pinch, but the problem was much more severe in the developing world. Not only do consumers in poor countries have less money, they spend a much higher proportion of their household budget on food - often half or more - and they buy much less processed food, so commodity increases affect them much more directly. In poor countries, higher prices don't just pinch, they mean people go hungry. Food riots broke out around the world in early 2008.

But not everyone was feeling pain. For Cargill, spiking prices was an opportunity to get rich. In the second quarter of 2008, the company reported profits of more than $1 billion, with profits from continuing operations soaring 18 percent from the previous year. Cargill's 2007 profits totaled more than $2.3 billion, up more than a third from 2006.

In a competitive market, would a grain-trading middleman make super-profits? Or would rising prices crimp the middleman's profit margin?

Well, the global grain trade is not competitive.

In an August speech, Cargill CEO Greg Page posed the question, "So, isn't Cargill exploiting the food situation to make money?" Here is how he responded:

"I would give you four pieces of information about why our earnings have gone up dramatically.

1. The demand for food has gone up. The demand for our facilities has gone up, and we are running virtually all of our facilities worldwide at total capacity. As we utilize our capacity more effectively, clearly we do better.
2. Fertilizer prices rose, and we are owners of a large fertilizer company. That has been the single largest factor in Cargill's earnings.
3. The volatility in the grain industry - much of it created by governments - was an opportunity for a trading company like Cargill to make money.
4. Finally, in this era of high prices, Cargill over the last two years has invested $15.5 billion additional dollars into the world food system. Some was to carry all these high-priced inventories. We also wanted to be sure that we were there for farmers who needed the working capital to operate in this much more expensive environment. Clearly, our owners expected some return on that $15.5 billion. Cargill had an opportunity to make more money in this environment, and I think that is something that we need to be very forthright about."

OK, Mr. Page, that's all very interesting. The question was, "So, isn't Cargill exploiting the food situation to make money?" It sounds like your answer is, "yes."

The Government You Deserve?

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nader Put Back on the Shelf

I am afraid everything he ever said will still be true 4 years from now. Going back to my old name until the next round of lies and promises.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lame Duck Follies

Administration Protects Bush Appointees by Converting Positions to Career Civil Service Jobs - washingtonpost.com

The transfer of political appointees into permanent federal positions, called "burrowing" by career officials, creates security for those employees, and at least initially will deprive the incoming Obama administration of the chance to install its preferred appointees in some key jobs.

Back from the grave to see everything is still the same

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bail Out GM?

GM Must Re-Make the Mass Transit System it Murdered

By Harvey Wasserman

In a 1922 memo that will live in infamy, GM President Alfred P. Sloan established a unit aimed at dumping electrified mass transit in favor of gas-burning cars, trucks and buses.

Just one American family in 10 then owned an automobile. Instead, we loved our 44,000 miles of passenger rail routes managed by 1,200 companies employing 300,000 Americans who ran 15 billion annual trips generating an income of $1 billion. According to Snell, “virtually every city and town in America of more than 2,500 people had its own electric rail system.”

But GM lost $65 million in 1921. So Sloan enlisted Standard Oil (now Exxon), Philips Petroleum, glass and rubber companies and an army of financiers and politicians to kill mass transit.

FDR forced Detroit to manufacture the tanks, planes and guns that won World War 2 (try buying a 1944 Chevrolet!). Now let a reinvented GM make the “weapons” to win the climate war and energy independence.

It demands re-tooling and re-training. But GM’s special role in history must now evolve into using its infrastructure to restore the mass transit system—and ecological balance—it has helped destroy.

The Israeli Mob Recycles

Bottle recycling adds up to a $5 million-a-year industry, according to estimates by police and environmental groups. Police say criminals sell restaurants protection in exchange for empties, which leave no paper trail and offer crime families a relatively legitimate source of income.

Israeli mob boss killed in car bombing

Roy Zimmerman

News Roundup

Obama election spurs race crimes around country

"The principle is very simple," said BJ Gallagher, a sociologist and co-author of the diversity book "A Peacock in the Land of Penguins." "If I can't hurt the person I'm angry at, then I'll vent my anger on a substitute, i.e., someone of the same race."

Hollywood out of step with American morals: poll
Sixty-one percent of those surveyed said that religious values in America are "under attack," and 59% agreed that "the people who run the TV networks and the major movie studios do not share the religious and moral values of most Americans."

Money is the motive. Hollywood makes movies that they hope will make money and many genres are guaranteed like slashers while documentaries seldom pay. Religions that inflame fear and loathing and claim persecution make more money than those teaching peace and love. Same motives, different venues.


'Meh': Apathetic expression enters dictionary

"Meh" was selected by Collins after it asked people to submit words they use in conversation that are not in the dictionary. Other suggestions included jargonaut, a fan of jargon; frenemy, an enemy disguised as a friend; and huggles, a hybrid of hugs and snuggles.

Jargonaut gets my vote, who hasn't been a victim of these bullshitters. Frenemy is a great, useful word; although I wish there was one for disloyal family but maybe that is too rare to need a special word; "huggles" is stupid like "humungous" and I hope it disappears. "Meh" is annoying, but "whatever" is more irksome, so I will stick with it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

If You Have the Stomach for It

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Don't worry I can get you a job as a dog groomer"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is this Insane?

How are bail-out operations currently financed in North America and Europe? The State gives good money to the banks and insurance companies on the verge of bankruptcy, either as recapitalisation or through the purchase of their toxic assets. What do the bailed-out institutions do with this money? They mainly buy safe assets to replace the toxic ones in the balance sheets. And what are the safest assets on the current market? Public debt securities issued by the governments of industrialised countries (treasury bonds issued in the US, in Germany, in France, in Belgium, you name it).

This is called looping the loop. The States give out money to private financial institutions (Fortis, Dexia, ING, French, British, US banks,...). To support this move they issue treasury bonds to which these same banks and insurance companies subscribe, while remaining private (since the States did not demand that the capital they injected give them any right to make decisions or even to be included in the voting process) and deriving new profits from lending out the money they have just received from the States to these same States while of course demanding maximum return.

Financing the Bailout:
A Holy Union for a Deuce of a Swindle By Eric Toussaint

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

Country First?

Bloomberg.com: Worldwide
The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn't require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return.

A Quiet Windfall For U.S. Banks
The financial world was fixated on Capitol Hill as Congress battled over the Bush administration's request for a $700 billion bailout of the banking industry. In the midst of this late-September drama, the Treasury Department issued a five-sentence notice that attracted almost no public attention.

But corporate tax lawyers quickly realized the enormous implications of the document: Administration officials had just given American banks a windfall of as much as $140 billion.

The change to Section 382 of the tax code -- a provision that limited a kind of tax shelter arising in corporate mergers -- came after a two-decade effort by conservative economists and Republican administration officials to eliminate or overhaul the law, which is so little-known that even influential tax experts sometimes draw a blank at its mention. Until the financial meltdown, its opponents thought it would be nearly impossible to revamp the section because this would look like a corporate giveaway, according to lobbyists.

Section 382 of the tax code was created by Congress in 1986 to end what it considered an abuse of the tax system: companies sheltering their profits from taxation by acquiring shell companies whose only real value was the losses on their books. The firms would then use the acquired company's losses to offset their gains and avoid paying taxes.

"It's just like after September 11. Back then no one wanted to be seen as not patriotic, and now no one wants to be seen as not doing all they can to save the financial system," said Lee A. Sheppard, a tax attorney who is a contributing editor at the trade publication Tax Analysts. "We're left now with congressional Democrats that have spines like overcooked spaghetti. So who is going to stop the Treasury secretary from doing whatever he wants?"

Bush's friends are pushing other gifts for each other before Bush slinks off to Texas or Paraguay or wherever he has his loot:
According to Christopher Brauchli:

* political appointees at the Department of Labor were drafting a rule that would make it more difficult to “regulate workers’ on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins.”
* Food and Drug Administration issued a draft assessment that concluded that the 100 studies performed by government scientists and university laboratories found health concerns associated with bisphenol A (BPA) were in error. BPA is the chemical found in can linings and baby bottles.
*the Interior Department released a new environmental impact statement changing a 1983 regulation that protects water quality from the waste generated by mountain top mining.
*the EPA is considering rules loosening pollution controls on power plants. The new rules will enable older power plants to continue functioning without upgrading their equipment since their pollution emission will be based on hourly rates of emissions instead of annual emissions.

And from the New York Times November 3 editorial, So Little Time, So Much Damage:
*Attorney General Michael Mukasey rushed out new guidelines for the F.B.I. that permit agents to use chillingly intrusive techniques to collect information on Americans even where there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
*Mr. Bush’s secretary of the interior, Dirk Kempthorne, has recently carved out significant exceptions to regulations requiring expert scientific review of any federal project that might harm endangered or threatened species (one consequence will be to relieve the agency of the need to assess the impact of global warming on at-risk species).
*Interior also is awaiting E.P.A.’s concurrence on a proposal that would make it easier for mining companies to dump toxic mine wastes in valleys and streams.And while no rules changes are at issue, the interior department also has been rushing to open up millions of acres of pristine federal land to oil and gas exploration. We fear that, in coming weeks, Mr. Kempthorne will open up even more acreage to the commercial development of oil shale, a hugely expensive and environmentally risky process that even the oil companies seem in no hurry to begin. He should not.
*Soon after the election, Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, is expected to issue new regulations aimed at further limiting women’s access to abortion, contraceptives and information about their reproductive health care options...Existing law allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion. These changes would extend the so-called right to refuse to a wide range of health care workers and activities including abortion referrals, unbiased counseling and provision of birth control pills or emergency contraception, even for rape victims.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What's Old is New Again

"We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; now we know that it is bad economics;" - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Saturday, November 08, 2008

My Opinion on the Puppy

Actually, I don't care, but I worry that it is the only promise that Obama made that will be kept. His votes as Senator promised more of the same but the world was just so elated to get rid of the Republicans, they projected wonderful things onto Obama. Everything good has always percolated up, not been handed down, but we'll see. I'm not holding my breath. Americans will probably never make up their own minds and reject the media propaganda. I cannot believe that the third parties did so poorly when the choice between "business as usual" and "real change" were never so clear.

At the turn of the last century, Eugene Debs, the great Socialist Party leader from Terre Haute, Ind., told a group of workers in Chicago, "If I could lead you into the Promised Land, I would not do it, because someone else would come along and lead you out."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Talk To Action | Reclaiming Citizenship, History, and Faith

Talk To Action | Reclaiming Citizenship, History, and Faith

As the top leader of the New Apostolic Reformation, which extensive evidence suggests is Sarah Palin's chosen religious and political movement, C. Peter Wagner proclaimed, on June 21, 2006, that "God has declared through His prophets that the wealth of the wicked will be released to the Kingdom of God," and Wagner declared, threateningly, "the enemies' camp will be plundered."

Sarah Palin endorser Bishop Thomas Muthee, in a speech he gave before blessing and anointing Sarah Palin as a political leader, on October 16, 2005 at the Wasilla Assembly of God, laid out the same New Apostolic Reformation agenda, on how "God's kingdom" needed to "infiltrate" seven sectors of society. Muthee listed most of them: business and finance, schools and education, media and entertainment, politics and government.

Muthee also stated "The Bible says the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous. Sarah Palin was in the audience. Minutes later, she was anointed, and blessed, with the laying on of hands.

Thomas Muthee is a top leader in C. Peter Wagner's movement, an internationally known celebrity in the New Apostolic Reformation and a personal friend of Wagner.

The New Apostolic Reformation is not a small movement: an apostle of C. Peter Wagner, one of the 500 apostles in Wagner's International Coalition of Apostles, owns what will be one of the tallest buildings in the world, the Jakarta Tower. One of the NAR's branches is successfully supplanting the Catholic Church in Brazil. The movement holds international conferences on advancing Christian hegemony in the business sector.

At the end of this post I've added the nine minute video in which Thomas Muthee urges "infiltration" of key sectors of society and then blesses and anoints Sarah Palin as a political leader.