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      Ian described the proposed EU sanctions on Russia as “not shabby”, but while they are somewhat more serious sanctions than heretofore it’s only somewhat. The most serious ones are the ones on Russia’s financial institutions. Yes it’ll raise costs but will hurt London and Frankfurt including reputationally. It will also have the effect of encouraging [...] […]
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We have now entered the realm of the fiasco

I learned about real fiascos in Italy.  A fiasco is a bottle that you cook beans in.  You put the beans and water in the bottle and sit it in the warm embers of your fireplace before you go to bed.  If everything goes right, those beans will be tender and delicious in the morning.  But beans are full of gas producing and nitrogen containing compounds so they tend to be unstable when they’re cooked under pressure.  So, you could come downstairs to find that your fiasco has blown up all over the place and you now have a mess to clean up.

In other words, fiascos are more likely to occur when you leave the bottle unattended.

On Nov 1, 2013, This American Life reprised one of my favorite episodes on Fiascos.  The funniest act in the episode is about what happens when an untested director reaches beyond her modest abilities to stage a Julie Taymor-esque version of Peter Pan complete with flying apparatus.  It’s hysterical but also illuminating.  You get the stages of a fiasco in the making from this act.  At first, the audience is bemused and forgiving.  Then the mistakes keep piling up and the audience progresses from sympathizing with the actors to ridicule.  Then they start getting involved.  The play completely breaks down and the audience is fully engaged in demolition.  At some point the audience recognizes that they are no longer watching a play.  They are watching a fiasco.

I think we are at the ridicule stage right now with Obamacare.  We are rapidly reaching the point of no return with this play.  We may get a reaction to Obamacare that was completely absent with HAMP but what the heck, why not revisit HAMP too, while we’re at it?

Some of us knew the Democrats were working with an untended mess of explosive beans but did they listen?  No.  They did not.  There are really no good options right now.  Just watch it explode and be ready on the other side with some game changing plan.  I’m going to bet that the fiasco is going to generate enough public anger that there will be a slim chink of an opportunity to get something passed.

Go big.  Like a public option.  Make it administered by a non-profit insurance company like Blue Cross.  Pour the subsidies into it.  Make sure providers in the area can’t lock public option participants out and tell everyone you’re working on a permanent fix.

The problem is the for profit insurance companies and the politicians who cooperated with them. Let’s stop forcing this fiasco on the uninsured, the poor and the sick.

And check out Fiasco! on This American Life for one of the funniest episodes they’ve ever broadcast.

Movie Recommendation: Sleepwalk With Me

Last week, after much nagging, pleading, begging, Puss-in-Boots eyes, I gave in to Brook at took her to see Mike Birbiglia’s first film debut, Sleepwalk With Me.  The film was produced in collaboration with Ira Glass of This American Life.  It’s about how Mike’s fear of commitment turned into a sleep disorder*.  If you’re a regular listener of This American Life, you’re probably already familiar with Mike’s story and I’m not going to spoil it for the rest of you.

The film had a problem getting into theaters.  It’s an independent film and didn’t have the kind of distribution system that would get it a lot of publicity.  So Ira called on his listeners to pester theaters in their local area to pick it up.  Brook did her part.  She contacted theaters in the area but they weren’t interested.  Last week, it was playing at 45 theaters nationwide and the only one in NJ was in Montclair, about 45 miles from here.  If you are familiar with Central NJ, you will understand why I didn’t want to drive 45 miles on a dark and rainy night to see a movie by some novice director.

But it turned out to be pretty good.  There are some genuinely hilarious moments but also some touching ones.  It’s sweet.  You can take the whole family.  There wasn’t any gratuitous swearing or nudity, and what goes on in the bedroom scenes isn’t sexy.  Carol Kane is in it, which for me, is one of the main reasons to go.  If you remember her portrayal of Simka Gravis from Taxi you’ll remember why she’s so funny.  But all of the performances are pretty good.  There are several regulars from the DailyShow.  You’ll sympathize with Lauren Ambrose who plays Mike’s girlfriend Abby.

So, anyway, last week, the whining was incessant.  Brook HAD to see this movie.  This American Life is a bit of a cult thing with her and her friends.  I looked up the reviews and they were pretty favorable.  Roger Ebert says Birbiglia could be the next Woody Allen.  I tried to reason with her that if it was really that good it would get picked up by other theaters.  But she made it sound like if it didn’t take her, it would be MY fault that it was a commercial failure and would have to wait for it to be released on video.  What the heck, it’s only my one and only car and I’m lousy driving at night, in the rain, 45 miles on Rt287 to Montclair where I’ve never been before.  What could go wrong?  Thankfully, nothing.  I liked it.

It looks like other people liked it too because it has now been picked up by 125 theaters nationwide, including 2 that are 10 miles from our house.    Check the This American Life website for a list of theaters nationwide.

No, don’t thank me, Mike and Ira.  The kid is a just an obsessed fangirl but the movie is surprisingly good for filmmakers who didn’t know what the heck they were doing.  And good luck with the next film. Someone should really do a movie based on David Sedaris’ book Naked.  {{hint, hint}}

Here’s the trailer:

* I used to have sleep problems too when I was in my twenties.  Lots of night terrors, sleepwalking and sleeptalking.  On one occasion, I saw some dark thing climb out of a vase of roses, jumped out of my bed screaming, and pulled the door of my room open without moving my foot out of the way.  Yep, ripped my toenails right off.  Not recommended.  Now, I just sleep with the light on.  True story.

The Ring of Gyges or Why Study the Classics at UVA or Why anti-Regulators are full of $#*!

About 2500 years ago, the philosopher Plato told a story that even the most dedicated Fox News viewer can understand.  Here it is in text form:

According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where, among other marvels, he beheld a hollow brazen horse, having doors, at which he stooping and looking in saw a dead body of stature, as appeared to him, more than human, and having nothing on but a gold ring; this he took from the finger of the dead and reascended.

Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king; into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and again touching the ring he turned the collet outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the ring, and always with the same result–when he turned the collet inwards he became invisible, when outwards he reappeared.Whereupon he contrived to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court; where as soon as he arrived he seduced the queen, and with her help conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom.

Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point.

And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.

The Greeks go on to say that King Croesus, you know, the guy who had more money than God, was a descendent of Gyges.

Now, the more zealous whip kissers out there will ask why even bring up this stupid story.  I mean, it’s not even in the Bible, right?  I have no way of knowing for sure but I suspect that Jesus would have gotten around to it eventually but his career was cut short by the anti-Occupy forces of the Roman Empire.  You know how it goes, some rowdy bunch of activists for social justice and equality who sleep outdoors and make noisy spectacles of themselves in public places and carry out unpermitted marches into Jerusalem are reported to the authorities for disrupting the peace, keeping everyone up at night, and making everyone uncomfortable and, before you know it, someone gets crucified and the whole group scatters.  So many parables, so little time.  Still, Jesus was totally into shepherds so I think he was leading up to it.

The Ring of Gyges story is pretty easy to understand and there is a reason why we call stuff like this “the classics”.  The classics never go out of style and say something that is universally true.  So, let me give you my spin on this and why the Ring of Gyges should be invoked whenever some politician starts using the evils of “regulation” to persuade others to vote for him.

The power that the ring gives the user is the ability to do what he wants without accountability.  Gyges gets away with murder and seduction and theft because no one can see him.  In other words, shit just happens. Mistakes are made.  We don’t know who.  Maybe Gyges did it, maybe someone else did it.  We can’t hold anyone responsible because no one is able to see or use indirect methods of seeing who did what.  That is, there is no way to measure who went in and out of the palace that doesn’t rely on our own eyes.  There’s no safeguarding person watching over the treasury who has the power to see through the ring’s power and detect Gyges robbing the bank.

The moral of the story is if there’s nobody watching, no justice system in place that is able to hold you accountable, and even the most honest and ethical person can become corrupted.  It is human nature to desire things and if there is no way to hold you accountable for taking what you desire, then you might as well take it.  In fact, you’re going to look like a fool if you have access to unlimited power and the things you desire and don’t take full advantage of it and the power you have over others.  If you don’t have access to the ring, well, you’re just a fricking loser.  Keep that in mind when you listen to this act from a This American Life episode called “Crybabies” about Happy Hour on Wall Street. Try to ignore the fact that Adam Davidson is reporting. The piece is actually quite good and illustrates the power of the ring of Gyges perfectly:

Wall Street: Money Never Weeps

Plato couldn’t have written that act any better.  Isn’t your blood boiling?  Don’t you want to hurt those bankers?  I know I do.  I think, who the f^*$ do those assholes think they are?  Oh, yeah, they’re the guys (and they’re almost always guys.  Women rarely get away with behaving badly.) who think they don’t have to answer to anyone.  They can do pretty much whatever the hell they want because no one can do a thing about it.  And they attribute their success to their smartness.  They’re just smarter than you losers who work at a regular job.  But that’s not why they’re so amazingly successful.  No.  They’re so successful because we have removed just about all the regulation from the financial industry.  There’s no oversight.

Oversight-1.a : watchful and responsible care b : regulatory supervision <congressional oversight>

In other words, those bankers are invisible to the justice system.  They can do what they want because no one can see what they’re doing.  No one can see what they’re doing because they keep telling everyone that regulation is bad.  They convince voters that regulation is bad by focusing the voters’ attention on the plight of small business owners.  And it probably is bad for small business owners.  But the effect of deregulation virtually never benefits small business owners.  It almost always benefits the guys at the top with the ring.  And the more money they get with their rings, like Croesus, the more money they can spend on advertising and Fox News and bribing politicians to make sure that no oversight is ever imposed on them.  Remember Elizabeth Warren?  She was supposed to head up a new oversight commission for the consumer financial products.  But the bankers wouldn’t have any oversight so Obama never appointed her.  Therefore, they can do whatever they want to consumers without oversight.

This is the real story of Elizabeth Warren and what she stands for.  She should be using that against Scott Brown.

And here is the most recent manifestation of the power of the ring of Gyges as explained by Matt Taibbi and Eliot Spitzer with regard to the fraud that Goldman-Sachs perpetrated on unsuspecting pension fund managers.  Goldman-Sachs is negotiating its way out of prosecution with the consent of our US attorney generals.  Matt says:

I was trying not to be too obvious in making the point that Spitzer is an example of the kind of guy you would want looking at that Goldman case. Not only did I not want to look like a suck-up, but I wasn’t sure how, “As you know, Eliot, a prosecutor is supposed to be kind of a dick!” would go over. Because I would have meant it in the most complimentary way possible. And it has nothing to do with politics. If you read James Stewart’s Den of Thieves you can see that Rudy Giuliani had some of the same key qualities. A good prosecutor should look down the barrel of a bunch of millionaire lawyers at Davis Polk or White and Case and feel turned on by the challenge of combat. Making a deal with any devil should burn him at the core, keep him awake at night.

But that’s exactly who Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer haven’t been, exactly who Bob Khuzami at the SEC hasn’t been. Instead of being fighters, they’ve been dealmakers and plea-bargainers. They’ve dealt out every major financial scandal, from Abacus to the Muni-bid-rigging cases (they prosecuted a few low-level guys at GE but let the big players at the big banks skate) to the Citigroup fraud settlement that was so bad a judge threw it back at the govenment’s face. In that latter case, amazingly, the govenment is now fighting not for its constituents, but for its right to give out crappy deals to repeat-offender banks without judicial review.

I’m not surprised that the Obama administration’s justice department has been reluctant to use regulation to its benefit and prosecute the criminals with the full force of the law.  It was evident early on (April 2009, to be exact) that this was the approach that Obama would use when it came to Wall Street.  All of the “oversight” would come in the way of ad hoc deals, each company getting a custom made solution that allowed them to skirt the law and get away with a slap on the wrist.  That’s because Obama doesn’t have any principles that he isn’t willing to bargain away on the negotiating table and he always starts his bidding on terms that are heavily favorable to the other side.  It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

It goes without saying that you don’t have to be of any particular political persuasion to be incensed that the banking industry is getting away with murder and theft without any oversight.  It goes without saying but for some reason, I feel compelled to say it anyway.

Just because people on the left are the most vocal and angry and disappointed and irate about the fact that the financial industry is going unpunished doesn’t mean they are wrong.  Just because a bunch of Occupiers are calling attention to the financial industry and how the fact that it is not accountable screws all of us doesn’t mean that they’re bad people.

What I wonder is why it is that so many people on the right are focusing all of their attention on abortion and gay rights and how unemployed and poor people are unconscionable deadbeats but giving the real parasites in the finance industry a pass.  And I can only come to two possible conclusions: 1. The people on the right are easily lead and gullible and respond well to authoritarian messaging because it is all over the place or 2. It’s because they hope to *be* part of that privileged group of power ring owners in the future so that they can have all of their desires met without accountability.

Now, I will be the first one to mock the left for their crazy ass beliefs about GMO crops and homeopathy and nuclear energy and that the pharma industry is trying to poison them (because they’re not and anyway, it’s just another way for the trial lawyers to sink their fangs into the money stream. The left has its own unaccountability problem.)  But if you’re on the right or leaning right, or used to be a Democrat but are so pissed off about what Obama and the DNC did in 2008 that you’re letting your anger blind you to what these criminals on Wall Street are doing now, then you need to do some soul searching and get to the bottom of your orneriness because it’s really not helping.

It’s the right that relies on religion to keep everyone in line with threats of hellfire if you’re sexually active and not married.  You can always count on the religious to condemn everyone who doesn’t believe strictly in the Judeo-Christian version of the ten commandments.  They have a holy fit if you’re an atheist.  But they seem to be perfectly Ok with giving Wall Street a pass.  It’s like, “there’s nothing we can do.  They’re evil and we’re scared of them because they have all the power to make our lives miserable.”  Bullshit, of course there’s something you can do.  Stop voting for the politicians who keep asking for fewer regulations.  It doesn’t get any simpler than that.  Unfortunately, they’re also the politicians who hide behind religion or pander to religious people.  Show me a religious politician and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t believe in regulation.  That’s all there is to it.  They want to let the criminals operate without boundaries.

If these wealthy, unaccountable assholes continue to do what they’re doing without oversight, they’re going to bring the entire world’s financial system down.  That’s what happens when you can’t stop yourself from taking whatever you want and no one else has to power to interfere.

It doesn’t matter if you are on the right or the left, everything you own, everything you planned, your health, your retirement, your entire future, is at risk.

What’ll I do when you are far away…

David Rakoff, November 27, 1964 – August 9, 2012.

David died yesterday after a long battle with cancer.  Brook and I became devotees of David through his This American Life acts.  The last time we saw him was in May at the This American Life simulcast when he said goodbye, gracefully.

Here is that act, from This American Life, The Invisible Made Visible:

A Taste of the Invisible Made Visible.

Brooke and I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see the This American Life production of the Invisible Made Visible.  It was a two hour extravaganza of humor, stories, interactive music, dancing and, well, I’m not sure how you would characterize this:

Ya’know, I can totally see this, for some reason.

After the program, there was about an hour of Q&A.  Part of this program is already available in podcast form here.  But if you want to see what we saw, you’re going to have to wait for the DVD.  Definitely worth it.  Expect it around pledge time.  ;-)

The kid was a starry eyed fangirl around Ira Glass, who generously gave us tickets to the performance.  Afterwards, she got to talk with him and he recommended a site for teenaged girls that his wife had recently discovered and was promoting called rookiemag.com.  Then they posed for pictures.  My camera was acting really strangely whenever I tried to get a shot of Glass.  For some reason, my hand got in the way or his aura gave off too much glare.  I’m telling you, it was unnatural, if you get my meaning.  But I did manage to get a of good one when he said to Brooke, “Ok, let’s pose for a serious one.”  Here it is:

One other thing:

David Rakoff, We Love You.

Thanks, Ira!

About six years ago, I got the kid hooked on This American Life.  It wasn’t hard.  A few David Sedaris pieces acted as gateway episodes.  Or maybe it was the epic fail Peter Pan story from the Fiasco episode.  Who knows?  Eventually, she devoured every single episode like she couldn’t get enough.  I know she downloads the newest podcast as soon as it’s available.  Sometimes, we have to listen to it during dinner.

So, she was really disappointed when TAL scheduled some simulcasts during her online English class- twice.  The kid got her friend P. hooked on TAL recently and P. was able to go.  P. came back excited about it and told the kid all of the gory details.  The kid was a little pissed.  There is no bigger fan of TAL in NJ and she missed it.  So, she fired off a flaming email to Ira Glass, accusing him of deliberately scheduling the simulcast when she couldn’t make it.

He fired one back to her and said, “Sorry” and yes, he did deliberately schedule it when she wasn’t available.  Then he offered her tickets to a live performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  So, off we go today so the kid can get her fix.

Thanks, Ira!

Saturday: The Retraction

I’m posting what turned out to be a lengthy comment to a post that lizpolaris wrote on Correntewire about the retraction Ira Glass was compelled to issue on a recent This American Life’s episode.  The episode featured a writer, Mike Daisey, who is performing a traveling monologue about his trip to China to investigate Foxconn, the factory that makes Apple products.  You can listen to the original episode here and the retraction here.

lizpolaris’s post puts Glass squarely in the duped journalist category, typical of NPR journalists over the past 10 years.  This has not been my experience after years and years of listening to Glass.  To the contrary, I find him to be a very responsible journalist.  In fact, I hear genuine skepticism in many of his shows.  For example, I don’t think Obama fooled him for a second.  Glass doesn’t come right out and say it, because that’s not his job, but he’s dropped a sufficient number of clues over the past several years.  Anyway, my point is, he’s reliable and rarely given to repeating lefty positions without thinking.  My daughter who just turned 16, has been listening faithfully to This American Life for the past 4 years and it’s one of the rare radio shows I approve of with few reservations.  Glass and his production team are one of the best around.

That doesn’t mean they’re perfect or don’t make mistakes.  This is one of those mistakes and it’s painful to listen to the retraction.  You can tell that Glass is upset, even though in the original episode, his natural skepticism already alerted this listener to feel that Daisey was “embellishing” at best.

Lizpolaris also seems to give a pass to Mike Daisey for his monologue show about Foxconn, the subject of the original episode and the retraction.  Glass should have known that Daisey wasn’t obligated to tell the truth, she says.  He’s an entertainer, sort of like Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer, I guess.  The degree to which you excuse Mike Daisey’s lying on stage probably correlates to the degree to which you believe Apple and Foxconn are evil bastards.  Mebbe they are, mebbe they aren’t.  But whether they are or not, the truth is not served by an “entertainer” reinforcing the confirmation bias of his audience by telling them heartwrenching stories that turn out to be lies.

So, here’s my comment, which expresses my frustration at my own side of the political spectrum for accepting tabloid style “true stories” because they fit its worldview and how that tends to make some lefties less credible and, ultimately, less helpful to the people who need their informed advocacy:

Wait, are you blaming Glass?

Because that would be really weird if you haven’t listened to the original Apple story broadcast.

Daisy initially comes off as totally believable. He says he personally went to China and spoke to Foxconn employees. He tells all kinds of fantastic stories about the grueling conditions they work under. Then, Glass, to his credit, which you failed to mention, goes back to Apple and asks for a response. They don’t want to be interviewed on the radio but they provide him with information from their own inspections and admit that they had problems with the way that Foxconn was running the plant. There was definitely some fact checking about what Mike Daisey was saying and he was caught bending the truth in several places.

All in all, the original episode was very well produced and my impression of Daisey, *from that episode*, was that he had a strong confirmation bias that didn’t always gem with the truth. Glass did a very good job of figuring out what the facts were and how much of what Daisey said was factual.

Now, TAL comes out of Chicago Public Radio, not NPR. I’m not sure if CPR is part of Public Radio International but I do know that TAL has a partnership with NPR for Planet Money. So, there’s an incestuous relationship there but it’s not like TAL is an offshoot of All Things Considered.

Finally, I actually think that Ira Glass is doing a good thing here. He’s acting like a real journalist. He was proactive about checking his facts the first time and the first episode demonstrated his skepticism pretty well. He did *not* just accept Mike Daisey’s version of the story without question. He followed up. But that wasn’t good enough for Glass. He himself was not satisfied with his own work. If only more journalists would do this and risk looking foolish for not completely writing Daisey off.

But the biggest problem with your post is the problem I have with a lot of lefty positions (and I consider myself a lefty). It is not good enough to simply have a position on nuclear energy or labor in china or vaccines or genetically modified crops. Facts matter. They matter quite a bit. If you don’t have evidence to back up your claims or you just make shit up because it sells tickets and appeals to a particular point of view, that’s just plain bad. It’s disreputable, it’s unethical, it’s misleading and it is damaging to your credibility. It becomes a matter of faith. We just know they’re bad, we don’t need facts. How is that better than the right wing religious nuts?

For example, big pharma looks at the ignorant, uninformed ravings of the left when they write about stuff they know nothing about, and big pharma is fully justified in writing them off. The left comes off as unhinged because it is.What they believe from charlatans and lawyers, is not based on facts they have gathered without a preconceived notion. If you want to take on big pharma, you should ask people who worked there about big pharma because when you are armed with the facts and know where big pharma’s real weaknesses are, you can be a much more effective activist. [I've read a lot of tirades about big pharma that are fantasies but for some reason, the left steadfastly refused to interview the people who clarify their misperceptions.  To them. Big pharma is evil so the left can say anything it wants.  It doesn't matter if it's true.] I have looked at what lefties think of pharma and can tell you that you will never make a dent in their armor with the approach you’re taking because it’s mostly imagination fueled anger.

And in Daisey’s case, it’s particularly bad when you take your show on the road and try to pass it off as a fact to unsuspecting audience members who go to your gig seeking reinforcement of their point of view. You can bet that most of the people in that audience went to Daisey’s show prepared to absolutely LOATHE everything Apple does with a white hot passion.

(BTW, one of the things Glass points out during the original episode is that Apple is not the only company who contracts with Foxconn. Every major American hardware company does it. You have to wonder why it is that Apple, who has been inspecting Foxconn and insisted on changes, is singled out. Didja ask yourself that? My own theory is that there’s a tinge of envy here. Apple products are expensive and not everyone can afford them. Therefore, Apple must be taken down a notch.)

Daisey has actually damaged the case against Foxconn because now that we know he bends the truth to entertain his audience, nothing he says is credible. And Foxconn’s employees deserve better than this. They deserve a true activist and advocate, not a business man who is further exploiting their lives for his own personal gain.

So, here you have a conman putting on a medicine show and telling gullible people what they want to hear and using their religion against them and during the show, it’s *not* clear that Daisey isn’t being honest. That it’s all entertainment. And Glass is going to this guy and saying, “I’ve found out that you’re not being honest with me or your audience and I want you to come clean because you made us look like fools.” and for some reason that makes Glass look bad to you? How does that work? It’s not logical at all.
More likely, Glass suspected after he talked to Apple that Daisey was playing fast and loose with the truth (that’s sure what is sounded like to me) and after the first episode, he drilled down and put Daisey on the spot.

It is not Ok to mislead your audience. This is what Glass is saying. It wasn’t right for Glass to not do all of his homework thoroughly and it’s especially not right for Daisey to make his audience accept his point of view without question by passing it off as a fact based on what he claims is a personal trip to China for the purposes of an in-depth investigation.

Glass is doing you a favor. His reputation doesn’t suffer a bit. He’s going out of his way to be a proxy for you, the gullible listener, and showing what you must do to find the truth and hold people accountable for it.

This American Life walks into a bar…

What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine too. See how that works? Wahhh!

…on Wall Street. What they hear and record there will make you so angry you’ll want to march to lower Manhattan and have it out with the most arrogant assholes in the country, possibly the world.

The podcast version, titled Crybabies, is a must listen. The good stuff is in the introduction and the first act. To summarize the WATB’s lament on Wall Street: they are soooo put upon, they get blamed for everything they do. But the truth is, as THEY see it,  they are simply smarter than you. They’re smarter than 95% of Americans who were too stupid to not suck off the taxpayer teat when they had a chance.

Yup, that’s really what they think. If you are a hard working American, no matter what your education level is, and you were laid off as a result of the high rolling ways of these selfish jerks, well it’s because you had the DNA to encode for a conscience and they didn’t and the environmental stress called for cold blooded killers and they won. They WON, you suckers. So don’t pick on them for being greedy. Their feelings will get hurt.

You have to listen to it to really experience the contempt these bastards have for the rest of us. Get your whetstone ready and sharpen your pitchforks.

By the way, the Wall Street bar scene was narrated by Adam Davidson.  Yes, THAT Adam Davidson who couldn’t understand why Elizabeth Warren was obsessed with struggling middle class Americans when the *serious* people were trying to save the only thing that really counted- the banks.  Do you get it now, Adam?  You’re not in their league.  They think you’re a stupid sucker.  You work for Public Radio, fergawdsakes.

Host Ira Glass analyzes the Delaware Senate campaign of Christine O’Donnell and explains why the Democrats self-pitying whining about the mean Republicans isn’t working.  We seem to be on he same wavelength.  Democrats are pathetic.

One of the best podcasts I’ve heard in a long while.  Don’t miss it.

Renewal of Research Tax Credit: What’s that you say, Lassie? The barn door’s open and the horse is gone?!

Today, the New York Times is reporting that Obama is planning to pitch making the Research Tax Credit permanent:

As part of his pre-election push to spur the slumping economy and his party, President Obama this week will ask Congress to increase and permanently extend a popular but costly tax credit for businesses’ research expenses, and to pay for it by closing other corporate tax breaks, according to administration officials.

Mr. Obama is planning to outline the $100 billion proposal on Wednesday in a speech in Cleveland on the economy. The White House chose the venue partly to draw a contrast with a recent economic address there by Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader who would probably become House speaker should his party win a majority in November.

I had no idea there was a tax credit for research or that it had expired in 2009.  I thought the reason that all my friends and colleagues were getting the ax was because the guys with executive hair were following each other like lemmings to Massachusetts to roam the halls of MIT in search of “get-rich-quick!” schemes. (This American Life, Million Dollar Idea, Act One, Going Up!)

But now I see it’s really because our executive in chief was so busy accepting Nobel Prizes prematurely for work his Secretary of State is actually doing that the news that scientists with technical expertise and the right kind of training for the 21st century were losing their jobs just kinda flew under the radar.

And now that we’ve *almost* lost a generation of chemists to Chindia, with the limit approaching minus infinity that those jobs are ever coming back, NOW Obama decides to renew the tax credit.  I don’t know how it’s all going to be put back together now that it’s been torn apart.  It takes years of experience to understand the nature of our work.  There are no shortcuts for good science.  But those years have been interrupted constantly by mergers and acquisitions and consultants and Fear, Uncertainty and Dread and the expiration of a $100 billion tax credit that would have multiplied itself several times over in the hands of salaried scientists.

It’s better than nothing but it doesn’t replace a deep and abiding committment to real innovation and research.

Which we don’t have.

Hmmm, maybe the Democrats are realizing that they need all of those newly emancipated R&D wage slaves after all…

Sunday: Bad Bank

Take the red pill and go down the rabbit hole

Take the red pill and go down the rabbit hole

Knowledge is power, Conflucians.  When it comes to the economy, I feel like a novice.   Playing with money never interested me.  It was enough to diversify my options in my 401K and leave it at that, although, I had a sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind that I should learn what it was they were up to.  But I opted for a degree in chemistry, not finance.  The truth is, it isn’t possible to know everything about everything.  There are limits to how much time out of our very busy lives we can dedicate to learning someone else’s area of expertise.  That has always been the danger of the 401K, IRA and pie-in-the-sky Grover Norquistesque wetdream of private Social Security accounts:  We’re busy and we have to trust people to handle our money responbsibly.   Needless to say, they’ve really let us down and now we are faced with the sometimes overwhelming task of learning the rules of  this high-stakes financial risk game.

The past several months have left me feeling a bit like Neo in the Matrix after they pulled his headplug and the world is revealed as it truly is.  I should have taken the blue pill.  What I see is not pretty.  I see a lot of shallow CEOs, oblivious to the fates of the people whose money they are entrusted with, determined to protect their lifestyles at any cost.  I see traders, addicted to adrenaline, looking for fixes and laying our nest eggs on the line for the rush of a big payoff.  I see corporations walking away from their future obligations because the people who work for them put their faith in them and deferred their compensation for promises that were never meant to be kept.  I see a government that was bought and paid for by these people and who will sacrifice the working class to pay its debt to its backers.  I see a Whole Foods Nation that doesn’t realize that it entered the ranks of the working class a couple decades ago in the era of Reagan’s “voodoo economics”.

You can’t be too careful these days.  If you want to know how to protect yourself from the predators who, in the end, are really no better than the common thugs who rob you at gunpoint, you’ve got to learn how to avoid the financial dark alleys. I’m so glad that we have Dakinikat to help explain stuff like “moral hazard” and “collateralized debt obligations”.  We have Paul Krugman, NakedCapitalism and Baseline Scenario who are keeping their ears to the ground and interpreting the entrails for us.  And we also have Planet Money and This American Life who are teaming up to break down the complex so we all get it.  Tonight, their joint project called Bad Bank airs on NPR and PRI stations at the This American Life regular time slot.  You can catch the podcast here or check your local NPR station.  The feed from WNYC starts at 4:00PM EST.  I urge everyone who has a mental black hole where their finance center should be to tune in for Bad Bank.

It’s time they stopped playing us for suckers.

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