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Monday: Rambling around

First of all: What Lambert Said.

Secondly, I found this story through an email message headlined, “Ayn Rand on the Public Dole” — which I think is a wildly dangerous joke (it doesn’t appear in the story.) Yes, we all know that Rand sneered at the very idea of a country feeling responsibility for it’s citizens. I’m sure she would have laughed her head off at the very idea of “It takes a village” … So what? The notion that people who are on Social Security are on the dole should stay as dead as she is.

Still, the irony is sweet:

Her books provided wide-ranging parables of “parasites,” “looters” and “moochers” using the levers of government to steal the fruits of her heroes’ labor. In the real world, however, Rand herself received Social Security payments and Medicare benefits under the name of Ann O’Connor (her husband was Frank O’Connor).


Cow Most Sacred: Why Military Spending Remains Untouchable

In defense circles, “cutting” the Pentagon budget has once again become a topic of conversation. Americans should not confuse that talk with reality. Any cuts exacted will at most reduce the rate of growth. The essential facts remain: U.S. military outlays today equal that of every other nation on the planet combined, a situation without precedent in modern history.

. . .

What are Americans getting for their money? Sadly, not much. Despite extraordinary expenditures (not to mention exertions and sacrifices by U.S. forces), the return on investment is, to be generous, unimpressive. The chief lesson to emerge from the battlefields of the post-9/11 era is this: the Pentagon possesses next to no ability to translate “military supremacy” into meaningful victory.


Lambert is live-blogging the live-stream Al Jazeera’s live stream — and their blog. He’s on his 4th post now. It’s a good way to catch up on what’s going on in Egypt if you can’t be tied to your own PC.

This post at Naked Capitalism discusses the looting and government thugs.

Guest Post: Is the Egyptian Government Using Agents Provocateur to Justify a Crack Down On the Protesters?

Al Jazeera reported today:

[Al Jazeera reporter] Ayman Mohyeldin reports that eyewitnesses have said “party thugs” associated with the Egyptian regime’s Central Security Services – in plainclothes but bearing government-issued weapons – have been looting in Cairo. Ayman says the reports started off as isolated accounts but are now growing in number.

The Telegraph reports:

“Thugs” going around on motorcycles looting shops and houses, according to Al Jazeera. They say they are getting more and more reports of looting. More worryingly, one group of looters who were captured by citizens in the upmarket Cairo district of Heliopolis turned out to have ID cards identifying them as members of the regime security forces.

There’s much more — many links and a historical discussion of the practice.


Medicare for Everyone — That’s how I’d do it. Without universal health care for everyone, ideas like this are a complete waste of time:

White House to launch job-creating start-up effort

Senior officials are to launch a national campaign called “Startup America,” which will encourage private sector investment in startups and small firms, accelerate research and address barriers to success for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Officials are to announce that President Barack Obama will propose making permanent the elimination of capital gains taxes on key investments in small businesses, a White House official said.

Oh, and by all means, keep lowering those pesky business taxes.

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Sunday, Knitting up a Storm

Alpaca and Silk Saroyan

I’m still working on finishing my daughter’s sweater, my sister in law’s scarf (photo above) and the Knitting Guild’s, Basics, Basics, Basics class. And I’m starting to feel kind of panicked.  If I don’t get these UFOs (UnFinished Objects) — how am I ever going to get to all the other lovely scarves that are calling my name?

And what about my original knitting theory: that if I’m knitting, I’m not eating?

Why Diets Make You Fatter — And What to Do About It

In this experiment, a group of dieters and a group of nondieters were given the task of comparing ice cream flavors. Participants in each group were divided into three subgroups. Before getting the ice cream, the first subgroup was asked to drink two milkshakes, the second subgroup was asked to drink one milkshake, and the third subgroup wasn’t given any milkshakes. Next, the researchers offered the groups three flavors of ice cream and asked the participants to rate the flavors, eating as much ice cream as they desired.

The results revealed that the nondieters ate as you might expect: those who hadn’t consumed any milkshakes ate the most ice cream, those who’d consumed one milkshake ate less ice cream, and those who’d consumed two milkshakes ate the least. The dieters, by contrast, reacted in the opposite way. Those who were offered no milkshakes before the taste test ate small amounts of ice cream, those who drank one shake ate more ice cream, and those who’d consumed two milkshakes ate the most ice cream!

The dieters, however, reacted in the opposite way — the more milkshakes they consumed, the more ice cream they ate. Why did they lose the capacity to regulate their intake? According to the researchers, this “counterregulation” occurs because a milkshake preload disinhibits a dieter’s usually inhibited or restrained eating, almost like a switch: “I’ve blown it anyway, so I might as well keep eating before I go back on my diet.” This is an almost irresistible incentive to go on eating well past physical fullness.

That is supposed to be news? Come on — The part I don’t get is how they got a bunch of “dieters” to participate in an all-you-can-eat-ice cream experiment!

Here in Kansas City the news is all about the huge storm that’s coming. Thanks to Susie Madrak, I now know that it’s another mega-storm — Take a look at that graphic. OMG. Enough is enough. Isn’t it?

Ah, well. More time for knitting, I guess.

Saturday: Stuff

Hi guys.  I’m still here but extremely busy this week.  Check back in a few days for more posts.

The wildfire sweeping North Africa and now spreading to Yemen reminds me of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the downfall of the Soviet Union.  Exciting times.

Good wishes to the Egyptians in their struggle against corruption.  May it be accomplished with as little bloodshed as possible.

You can follow it here on Al Jazeera.

 

Before there was email…

Robert Clive sells the Indians some mortgage backed securities

Atrios had a post yesterday about an article in The Atlantic about the lying bastards mortgage executives at Bear Stearns.  As early as 2005, they knew that the mortgage backed securities they were selling were worthless, going so far as to call one of them “a sack of shit” in an email.

Surely, SURELY, this kind of careless, ruthless, greedy, fraudulent behavior is not unique to the 20th century.  But it’s hard to find a smoking email that demonstrates the crass opportunism and outright theft, resulting in a bonanza for the money makers and shit sandwiches for the little guy.

Oddly enough, at least one such piece of correspondence does exist.  Brooke brought it to my attention because the archaic language and formalities were driving her to distraction and she asked me to help her figure out what it meant.  Such innocence.  Even teenagers don’t know graft, corruption, bigotry and exploitation when they read it.

The document in question was a letter from Robert Clive (1725-1774), representative of the British East India Company.  to William Pitt, Representative of the British government.  Clive was a military guy in service to the Company who had just whupped the ass of one of the last Moghul emperors of India at the Battle of Plassey (my high school history is sketchy.  I missed this in the three high schools I went to.  Go figure.  The long and the short of it is that the Moghul emperors had gotten soft and let their viziers run things.  Although the Brits were ridiculously outnumbered, they made some local allies and overthrew the emperor.  Then, Clive started kicking the tires on the country he just won, after being confined for a century in a little corner.  He was writing to Pitt about a business opportunity.  You can go read it yourself but I will attempt to translate it into modern Wall Street financier email speak:

To: William Pitt

From: Robert Clive

Subject: Private IPO on India

Hi Bill, howz it going?  Hot as hell down here.  I know you want to be kept in the loop and you won’t believe this shit here in India.  Dude, you know I don’t lie (well, not to you) and you will not believe the market here.  I checked it out myself.

I kicked ass and took names at Plassey.  Everyone knows my name these days.  The Company is in great shape but I’m looking to the future and there’s a fortune to be made here.  I’m not shitting you.  The Company is holding things together for the moment.  I had to get them to send more guys here. But I could use your help.  I don’t think there will be any trouble and from the looks of the idiots who live here, it won’t be long before we own the whole damn country.  The local we put in charge after Plassey is a slippery dude.  He’s dicking around with his own guys.  Zero loyalty.  His kid is a son of a bitch asshole.  No one likes him.  So, we won’t need the whole fucking army.  Just a couple thousand Blackwater guys should keep things under wraps.  Can you hook me up with Eric Prince?

I don’t think the natives will go native.  (That’s a joke, son)  The Moghul dude has let the place go to Haiti.  If your stuff isn’t tied down, someone’s going to run off with it and there’s nobody running the show.  Fuck, they can steal your fucking house and there’s nothing you can do about it.  The cops are are always at the tea shop.  It’s like the fucking Wild West.  What’s theirs is theirs and what’s yours is theirs.  If you visit, make sure you GPS your laptop.  Anyway, the COO says the head honcho will go away if we can collect the money the other governors are supposed to send.  But the COO and I have come to a little agreement that the Company will pay it instead and in return we’ll govern the stupid fuckers.   What does the Company know about governing?  Shit if I know.  But look what those American idiots did when they elected that Obama guy.  I mean, what did *he* know about running a country?  But it doesn’t really matter. After the Moghul dude, we look like fucking angels.  As long as we’re the new sheriff in town and enforcing the law, we’re golden.

But the Company can’t do this alone.  That’s why I’m emailing you with this opportunity.  Can you get a meeting with your home office?  If the government wants to move in and run this show, I guarantee the Moghul won’t care as long as we continue to keep him in the manner to which he has become accustomed. (Where did I read that?  Maybe it was Pride, Prejudice and Zombies)  The rest we can split for ourselves.  The natives are sitting on a silver mine and don’t even know it.  We just help ourselves. And if the Moghul is happy, we get an exclusive.  It’s like a private IPO on India, dude.  The whole fucking subcontinent and we can totally lock out France and Holland and the rest of Europe.

The Company is chasing the Frogs out of Deccan as I’m typing this.  This is the big one, Bill.  I’m getting hard just thinking about it.  So, let me know when you can jump in.

Yadayadayada,

Bob

PS.  Send me some raw steak.  All they eat is rabbit food down here.  I’m going to puke if I have to eat another samosa.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Which periodically repeats itself.  The secret email we should be looking for was titled, “Private IPO for America” and was written some time in 2007.

In the wake

From last night’s state of the union address, it sounds like Barry got a personal coach.  Remember that meeting he had with the Big Dawg after the thumping the Democrats took last November?  The one where he had to figure out how he was going to eek out another stimulus package and extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class?  I’m guessing it went a little like this:

BC: Whooo-weeee! You really fucked up. Fucked up good.
BO: {{rolling eyes}} So, can you help me sell this thing? And listen, I don’t have a lot of time, Michelle’s got some girl scout christmas party or something.
BC: Yessiree, that stimulus package was a *dawg*. What did Christina Roemer tell you?
BO: Do we really need to go over this? It’s in the past and I just want to move…
BC: {{louder and sterner}} What did Christina Roemer tell you?
BO: $1.2 trillion but…
BC: $1.2 trillion. And you had majorities in the Senate and the House. A *filibuster* proof majority in the senate. I never had that.
BO: It wasn’t that easy. Ben Nelson and Joe Lie…
BC: Know what? Excuses are like assholes; everyone’s got one.
BO: {{silently fuming}}
BC: I don’t know Barry. I spent the fall workin’ my tail off for you and the Democrats but I’m tellin’ you. People out there are ticked off.
BO: Yes and…
BC: And now you’re going to have to deal with Republicans in Congress. Shit, Barry, you can’t handle this job when you’ve got everything going for you. What are going to do when they’re probin’ your underwear drawer? You think Michelle’s got no sense of humor now, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Wait until your first congressional hearing.
BO: Can we just get on with it? We haven’t got time.
BC: Oh, I have all the time in the world. You’re the one with the ticking clock. We’re going to do this MY way from now on, you follow?
BO: {{nods}}
BC: You do exactly what I tell you. Because you’re forcing me to go out there and defend this piece of shit. From now on, when I say “jump!”, you say, “how high?” Got that?
BO: {{nods and rolls eyes}}
BC: Don’t you look at me in that tone of voice. I’ll just get up and leave you here. I’ve got people in Haiti who need me more than you do.
BO: {{Grinds teeth}} Ok. What do you want me to do?
BC: Grab a pencil and a piece of paper and write this down…

And so Barry wrote.  It probably sounded just like that SOTU.

There are a few problems though.  Like, where is the money going to come from now that he’s given Republicans everything they ever wanted.  And that math and science education would sound a lot more convincing if the R&D industry hadn’t just laid off more than 100,000 jobs in the last year or so.  Also, I kind of resent the notion that American scientists are not as good as our Chinese counterparts.  Chinese scientists are pretty good, don’t get me wrong.  They work hard and they never complain.  But they’re not better than we are.  They’re about the same.  I’ve known excellent, innovative, dedicated Americans scientists out there.  A lot of them are unemployed right now.  There are just a whole lot more Chinese and Indian scientists in Asia who will work for peanuts.  No science fair frenzy is going to change the ruthlessness of business.

So, that part of his SOTU was stupid.  You just might not know it if you haven’t actually worked in the R&D industry and are witnessing the devastation.  I mean, what middle class person who grew up after Sputnik wants to hear that our scientific infrastructure is being decimated by the machinations of the finance industry and poor labor laws?  Better to blame it all on teachers, who through no fault of their own, were not trained to be crack math and science geeks.  Not that teachers should get a free pass.

The rest of it was a pipe dream.  Sounds good.  Until you realize that this is Barry and those critters out there are Republicans.  So many opportunities have been missed in the past two years that this is all very anticlimactic.  It would take a politician a lot more skillful than Barry to carry this off.

One thing that did stand out to me though is that he steered away from cultural issues, especially those pertaining to women.  He did mention DADT, that his administration was dragged into, kicking and screaming.  But women weren’t on his radar.  At all.  We’re the biggest invisible majority  in the country.  Before the midterm, we heard a lot about Lilly Ledbetter, which while being a step in the right direction, was not anything like a paycheck fairness law.  Also, no mention of the conscience rule, which makes me wonder if it will be one of the rules that gets eliminated when Barry reviews the rule books.

What I did hear between the lines is that corporations are going to get a tax break, because, by golly, they still pay too much, even if they pay nothing at all.  And there’s going to be more deregulation because, well, I have no idea why.  It’s always been my belief that the corporations are not necessarily the bad guys here.  They wouldn’t be able to get away with so much bad behavior if the rules weren’t so lax.  But here we are, loosing more up.  Is Obama also going to deregulate stuff for working people and unions?  I mean, fair is fair.  And we haven’t even talked about tax reform, which I suspect will come in the form of dropping the mortgage interest deduction for the promise of something else that is new and shiny.

I can’t put my finger on it but something smells really evil here.  Barry talked about strengthening Social Security and not forcing people to put all of their money on the stock market, which sounds nice at first.  But couple that with deregulation and tax reform and what if we’re looking at dropping the employer contribution to social security?  Oh, sure, you can still have your contributions fully funded.  You just have to do it yourself.  Now, you have a choice!  You can make up the difference in the employer side contributions of social security or you can put that money in a 401K.  Doesn’t that sort of achieve the whole social security privatization goal that Republicans have lusted after without technically destroying social security?  If you’re older, you make up the diff in social security; if you’re younger, Wall Street it is!

I hope I’m wrong.

So, to recap: Barry taking notes from Bill.  Cleaning up his act and dropping the endless prepositional phrases.  He cut out the buzzwords when he saw that we were on to him.  Has been paying attention to what is important to Americans but can’t pull any of it off without simultaneously sticking it to us with more breaks to big business.

Well good luck with that.

As for Ryan, please, PLEASE, stop telling me how much better he was or better he was than you thought.  The guy has the hair and smarmy sincerity of a television evangelist straight off the 700 Club.  Basically his message was fear.  That’s because his target audience is older, conservative voters on fixed incomes.  He chided us for being soft and wanting to retire someday.  Nothing is free and we younguns are going to have to toughen up and build some character or we’re going to drag the old people into the gutter.  Is that what we want???

Divide and conquer.  We’ve seen this before people.  Spare me the nauseating adulation for Ryan.  He’s as transparent as a jellyfish but without the warmth.

SOTU Live Blog: Spotting the buzzwords

"Michelle's Mai Tai was this big. No lie"

Hi there, sports fans.  It’s that once a year event again.  No, not the Superbowl, although, the Steelers are going again and this is a Packers free zone.

It’s the SOTU address.  Oh, joy.  When it comes to post SOTU critiques, we can expect the kool aide mainliners to sound a lot like Matt Bai did yesterday when he wrote about how Obama had to reach out to the online community.  (Warning: the following excerpt is nauseating.  Reader discretion is advised):

Mr. Obama is probably the most talented writer to occupy the office in the television age  (presumably, Matt is very young); his political career was made possible, in large part, by the candid memoir he wrote as a younger man. So it is hard to understand why he hasn’t tried to use that talent the way Kennedy capitalized on his personal charm.

You can easily imagine Mr. Obama sitting in front of a keyboard at the end of a long day, briefly reflecting on the oddity of a personal encounter or on the meaning of some overlooked event, or perhaps describing what it is like to stand in the well of Congress and deliver the State of the Union address. It could be that in order to expand the reach and persuasiveness of the modern presidency, Mr. Obama simply needs to be his online self — not so much a blogger as a memoirist in chief, walking us through history in real time.

It always feels better after you purge.  Do it now before the speech.

So, on with the show!  This year, I would like to invite corporate minions to chime in whenever they hear a potential consultant crafted buzzword.

Let’s try to not get petty.  Yes, Michelle is an amazon but do you know how hard it is to get clothes made for an amazon?  I’m only 5’9″ and a size 10 and let me tell you, nothing fits.  It sucks.  But I digress.

Let’s do this thing! Ready, set, buzzzz.

Tuesday: So low you could step on it

Even if the Journal’s darker account is more accurate, the executioner’s hand has been stayed for the moment. That’s a victory for the American people, who oppose these cuts by large majorities across the political spectrum.

It’s a victory for sound economic thinking. Social Security doesn’t contribute to the deficit, and retirement benefits get recirculated into the general economy. That contributes to job creation and growth.

And it’s a victory for progressives who mobilized and acted quickly to forestall any such move by the president in this speech, as had been rumored for quite some time.

It could also be a political victory for Democrats, if the Post depiction is accurate. Dems would then be able, in Lori Montgomery’s words, to “draw a stark line between the White House and key Republicans in Congress.”

And what is this great victory? OMG … your heart will swell with pride!

No Social Security Cuts in the State of the Union?

Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post just wrote an article entitled “Obama won’t endorse raising retirement age or reducing Social Security benefits,” where she reports that the State of the Union speech will not include any suggestions for cutting retirement benefits.

Although the story does go on to say that the State of the Union will likely include President Obama’s traditional call to “put everything on the table.”  So let’s not make ourselves too comfortable.