Thanks to Charles Smith at Of Two Minds for bringing this to my attention.
The Shock Doctrine is a new short film by Alfonso Cuarón (the Director of Children of Men) based on the new book by Naomi Klein regarding how leaders in power use shock techniques to control entire populations.
"Only a crisis -- real or perceived -- produces real change." -- Milton Friedman
As the short film says: "Information is shock resistance. Arm yourself."
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Thanks to Charles Smith at Of Two Minds for bringing this to my attention.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The Kasparov Revolution.
World chess champion Garry Kasparov is leading the political opposition against Vladimir Putin's government. It may be his hardest match ever. Steve Kroft reports. Click on the link above to watch the video.
You would think that in our day and age that such a statement would not have to be made.
The simplest explanation to understanding the Brotherhood of Mankind as a seminal Christian concept would be found in the most quoted verse in the Gospels:
For God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.The Living Bible translation.
There are two words I want to focus on: world (kosmos) and anyone. These words indicated that the message presented by Jesus was meant to be universal. The fact that the effect of these words were not incorporated into Christian practice for much of its history does not vitiate the plain original meaning of what he said.
The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40)
The fact that an Ethiopian Eunuch was one of the first to be converted tells me that people of an African heritage were never supposed to be treated as a lesser group. The concept of the Love of God was pointedly universal in its application. As Christians, the followers of Christ's teaching were to be an example for the whole world of this simple message.
I am sure there are many more examples that could be used, but these two stuck out at me as glaring examples of how Christians should never support any kind of discrimination or bigotry based on race, ethnicity or nationality (as well as other forms of discrimination and prejudice which can be found in the broader message of love and obedience to Christ's message).
In a day and age when certain political figures and groups try to divide us based on our racial, ethnic or national heritages, it is important for Christians in particular to reject any such attempts and to work against such divisive actions.
Monday, September 24, 2007
In addition to being especially submissive to established authority, Altemeyer's research revealed that those he calls right-wing authoritarians also show "general aggressiveness" towards others, when such behavior is "perceived to be sanctioned" by established authorities. Finally, these people are always highly compliant with the social conventions endorsed by society and established authorities. These basic traits, submissiveness to authority and conventionality, are the essence of those Altemeyer describes as right-wing authoritarians. If these traits are not present in some significant (albeit varying) degree, he does not consider the subject to be a right-wing authoritarian. However, these people can, and often do, consistently reveal they have many other interesting traits as well.
Based on Altemeyer's study, as well as those of other social psychologists, I prepared a list of the additional traits that these personalities, both men and women who test high as right-wing authoritarians, often evidence: highly religious, moderate to little education, trust untrustworthy authorities, prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own), mean-spirited, narrow-minded, intolerant, bullying, zealous, dogmatic, uncritical toward their chosen authority, hypocritical, inconsistent and contradictory, prone to panic easily, highly self-righteous, moralistic, strict disciplinarian, severely punitive, demands loyalty and returns it, little self-awareness, usually politically and economically conservative/Republican.
The Leaders: Social Dominators
People who test high as social dominators are also economically conservative and have little tolerance for equality. They consistently agree when asked about statements such as the following: "Some people are just more worthy than others"; "This country would be better off if we cared less about how equal all people were"; and "To get ahead in life, it is sometimes necessary to step on others." In addition, they will respond in the negative to the proposition that "All humans should be treated equally." (In fact, they are given many more questions when tested; I am merely providing a very small sample.)
Again, I have prepared a listing of the traits revealed in the testing of these remarkably manipulative and cunning personalities, who are typically men: dominating, opposes equality, desirous of personal power, amoral, intimidating and bullying, faintly hedonistic, vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheats to win, highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic), mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, tells others what they want to hear, takes advantage of "suckers," specializes in creating false images to sell self, may or may not be religious, usually politically and economically conservative/Republican.
These lists of traits for both right-wing authoritarian followers, and social dominating authoritarian leaders, should be understood as not necessarily describing every person who falls into the type. While many have all the traits, not all will have all, or even most, of them. Most people who test high as authoritarians, whether followers or leaders, have some of these traits, however.
What struck me at first was a sense that many of these qualities seemed to be similar to that of a psychopath or sociopath ("amoral," "pitiless"). John Dean says he calls people who exhibit all of these traits Conservatives Without Conscience. That may be fitting because we often call people who are amoral and have no conscience as sociopaths. However, I admit I may be overreading this.
I've mentioned Altmeyer's work before. But I am still digesting this commentary. However, John Dean's column is worth a read. You can find his prior columns here.
As reported by CNN Money, many middle class taxpayers might get hit with an unexpected tax bill next year.
David Lifson, president of the New York State Society of CPAs, tells clients who could be candidates to sock away 1 percent to 2 percent of their gross income, so that if it turns out they do have to pay AMT in April, they'll have the extra cash on hand. If they don't, he said, then they'll at least have some enforced savings.
Broadly speaking, you might be at risk of having to pay AMT if more than one of these situations apply:
* You live in a high-tax state. State and local income taxes are not deductible under AMT as they are under the regular federal income tax code.
* You have kids. Personal exemptions are disallowed under the AMT.
* You take a lot of miscellaneous deductions, including unreimbursed business expenses. They, too, are disallowed under the AMT.
* Your household gross income exceeds $100,000.
Jeanguenat and enrolled agent Marc Standig are telling clients to do what small things they can to minimize their tax bite, such as maxing out their contributions to tax-advantaged retirement plans and tax deductible IRAs.
For those who may be AMT candidates, Lifson and Standig also advise boosting tax withholdings on their paychecks if they have a lot of other income - such as dividends or a big bonus - that have few or no withholdings but which they will owe tax on come April 15. That way, they may avoid underpayment penalties.
This is another aspect of inflation that many people may not realize. However, the tax rate on capital gains (which is the kind of tax that Warren Buffet pays) stays at the same low rate.
Most of the sites I explored to explain an inflationary depression turned out to be right-wing conspiratorial sites or Christian "the end is near" kind of sites (that often were also right-wing in their rhetoric). But I found a site written by David Petch that didn't come across as extremist or conspiratorial. Here is a some of what he wrote:
The US was the world’s power when it was the world’s largest exporter of oil and manufacturing center. Since the end of WWII, the US global output has declined from 50% to an estimated 20-22%. Dollars flow to sources of manufacturing, which now is the domain of China and India. The US economy has been rolling along with the aid of other countries purchasing US debt instruments to fund the current account deficit. Removal of this additional money and the US faces a sudden negative influx of capital. When this situation arises the US government has 2 choices:
Deflation, which would absolutely collapse the entire US economy to a functional level of less than 20% of the population.
Monetary inflation to cover the bills so that the economy hobbles along.
The important item to remember is that ALL global economies are linked and any country that expands its own currency will automatically cause monetary expansion of any country it does trade with. China has nearly 1 trillion US dollars in its reserve, but what if they lost 1 trillion with internal loans to cancel their reserves? They simply print a trillion of their own currency and buy more US debt. This perpetuates the cycle in which we exist, so until the consumer goes into the bunker, this facade will continue.
Once the consumer retreats and the bad loans begin to hit the banks, governments will have to bail out a multitude of companies to keep the economy running. Remember that if the debt is mopped up with mad money, then it matches and raises any money that evaporated, hence inflation. On this basis, it is nearly impossible to consider any form of deflation until the inflationary cycle is over.
War cycles are always inflationary and countries tend to go off of gold standards to ensure supplies and oil are not limiting to try and ensure victory. This has been the case for many currencies of the past 200 years and will continue into the future. Interestingly, Portugal, England, Spain and France during the 1500's to the 1700's were able to grow their economies by stealing gold from the South American countries during their global conquest phases. Their gold was basically free, which was able to feed their fleets and government purchases etc. With the abolishment of slavery and loss of control of the "New World" from feuds with other European countries and the locals, this form of a gold-backed currency system for funding wars and growth no longer exists. Stealing from other countries for nothing was a form of printing money except it came from the ground and went to European banks with no purchase of cash required. Today, instead of robbing countries of gold and silver, banks print money to allow credit expansion for citizens to go into debt to have a household containing the latest gadgets. Money today is basically digital, a total 360 going from physical to money transferred electronically.
Any attempt to implement a purely digital economy never could and never will exist. People would return to bartering and ignore the electronic money system, which would negatively affect government revenues. This would collapse economies, so I would hazard a guess this system would never fully be implemented. Most transactions nowadays are electronic but there always is the basic need to transfer money between individuals. Another reason to own gold and silver: the government can not trace it.
As I stated earlier, the amount of money circulating in the globe is expanding and just because the US is going through hard times does not remove inflation from the global scene. The scenario of an inflationary depression is what I would expect and is worse than a deflationary depression. During an inflationary depression the price of food and goods rises above many households’ range of affordability.
In the end, there will be a deflationary collapse following the current period of inflation and it will be due to a zero velocity of money compounded with plummeting manufacturing output. At this point in the future, owning cash and bullion will be important.
I don't know anything about David Petch's politics. But the explanation in Diatribes of Deflationists: Why They Are Still Wrong Pt. 2 comes across as a reasonable explanation of how an inflationary depression could happen.
The blog Sudden Debt has a good explanation of our current macroeconomic problems in the post Rocks, Hard Places and Pricing Models.
One great aspect of this post is that it defines commonly used acronyms and abbreviations on economic blogs and in news reports. Sadly, these abbreviations are rarely spelled out for ordinary readers and are thrown around by news reports, bloggers and commenters without definition or explanation. Here they are, with thanks to blogger Hellasious:
ABCP: Asset-backed commercial paper
BIS: Bank for International Settlements
CDO: Collateralized debt obligations
CDS: Credit default swaps
CLO: Collateralized loan obligations
GFM: Global financial meltdown
ISDA: International Swaps and Derivatives Association
LBO: Leveraged buy-out
SIFMA: Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association
SIV: Structured Investment Vehicle
Here is a small snippet from his post:
American monetary policy and financial markets have been caught between a rock (huge debt) and a hard place (fundamental economic dislocations) for a considerable time; the effects have been visible since at least 2000, when the burst of the dotcom bubble necessitated sharp interest rate cuts and the strong dollar policy was abandoned by the Bush administration. The events of 9/11 further accelerated the rate cuts, to protect the US economy from the potential threats of a deflationary spiral.
Many blame Alan Greenspan for the current credit/asset bubble, unjustly in my opinion. The Fed was not responsible for the gutting of the American industrial base and the resulting explosion of the current account deficit, nor the deep neo-conservative tax cuts that ballooned debt. Finally, the Fed was certainly not responsible for the ruinous Iraq war. All the Fed could do was to combat the effects of these deeply misguided political choices with the blunt instrument of short-term interest rates. What was even worse, even this instrument became increasingly ineffective because the explosive rise of credit derivatives (CDSs), short-circuited monetary policy and kept driving long rates lower, even as the Fed was trying to push them higher (this "conundrum" was frequently mentioned by Greenspan). But this post is not an apologia for the past Fed Chairman. He can defend his own record while making a fortune as a best-selling author.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Since I am on the western edge of Cajun Country, I guess it is only fitting that I use a Mark Heard song that uses a Cajun style.
Rise from the Ruins
Nobody asks to be born
Nobody wishes to die
Everybody whiles away the interim time
Sworn to rise from the ruins by and by
The engines are droning with progress
The pistons are pounding out time
And it’s you and me caught in this juggernaut jaunt
Left to rise from the ruins down the line
We will roll like an old Chevrolet
The road to ruin is something to see
Hang on to the wheel
For the highway to hell needs chauffers
For the powers that be
Go and tell all your friends and relations
Go and say what ain’t easy to say
Go and give them some hope
That we might rock this boat
And rise from the ruins one day
Ever try to carry water in a basket
Ever try to carry fire in your hand
Ever try to take on the weight of the everyday freight
Til you find that you’re too weak to stand
Why so pale and wan, fond lover
Why so downcast and desperately sad
We can walk, we can talk
We ain’t yet pillars of salt
And we will rise from the ruins while we can
Written by Mark Heard © 1990 Ideola Music
You can listen to the song here at Rhapsody.com.
The song is found on the CD Dry Bones Dance
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Brandon Heath is a new Christian artist whose songs are starting to fill the airwaves of contemporary Christian stations. His soft-pop songs have broad appeal among the Christian audiences that listen to such stations. The featured song today is from his first release Don't Get Comfortable. This song could apply to any number of us as we get older. It could certainly apply to me.
Brandon Heath: I'm Not Who I Was
There are several museums packed into a very small area in downtown Houston. The Houston Museum District has something for everyone, it seems.
This sculpture and another one just like it greets you at the entrance the the Museum of Fine Arts.
One of the entrances to the Museum of Natural Science
Outside this entrance you can spin a large 5000 pound granite globe suspended on a thin film of water.
At the other entrance is a nice fountain.
Across the street is a statue of Sam Houston. And if you go straight ahead from this picture you find...
A large park. If you turn around instead and walk straight ahead, you will run into...
another group of fountains. But don't get run over by the...
the train that stops in the Museum District.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Here is a quote from Paul Krugman's commentary today in the New York Times entitled Health Care Hopes
As Ezra Klein of The American Prospect cruelly but accurately puts it: “The Republican vision is for a world in which the sick and dying get to deduct some of the cost of health insurance that they don’t have — and can’t get — on their taxes.”
This is actually a less funny version of Stephen Colbert's take on the issue in response to President Bush's State of the Union Address.
But the G.O.P. nominee, whoever he is, won’t be trying to persuade the public of the merits of his own plan. Instead, he’ll try to scare the dwindling fraction of Americans who still have good health insurance by claiming that the Democrats will take it away.
The smear-and-fear campaign has already started. The Democratic plans all bear a strong resemblance to the health care plan that Mitt Romney signed into law as governor of Massachusetts, differing mainly in offering Americans additional choices. But that didn’t stop Mr. Romney from denouncing the Clinton plan as “European-style socialized medicine.” And Fred Thompson claims that the Clinton plan denies choice — which it actually offers in abundance — and relies on “punishment” instead.
These attacks probably won’t be effective enough to prevent a Democrat from winning next year. But that won’t be the end of the story: even if the Democrats take the White House and expand their Congressional majorities, the insurance and drug lobbies will try to bully them into backing down on their campaign promises.
But Krugman succinctly gives a voice to why I am reticent to support Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary:
That’s why the long delay before Senator Clinton announced her health care plan made supporters of universal care, myself included, so nervous — a nervousness that is not completely assuaged by the fact that she finally did deliver. It’s good to know that whoever gets the Democratic nomination will run on a very good health care plan. What remains is the question of whether he or she will have the determination to turn that plan into reality.
You can see the ranking here.
Okay, I'm only #16, but at least I'm on the list!
Thursday, September 20, 2007
The 1930s Great Depression was a deflationary depression. I have heard talk that the next Great Depression will be an inflationary depression. I heard this (and discussed it) many months before the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates (with the subsequent market movement toward protection against inflation).
Now I am once again trying to get my mind around this idea and trying to understand how an inflationary depression would potentially play out. From what I have read, Ben Bernanke was a student who studied the Great Depression and is trying to prevent it from happening again. The question is: will the cure end up being worse than the disease? Can reducing interest rates prevent a severe economic downturn while still maintaining international currency stability?
Fellow Okie Blogger Redstater posted a comment to my post from February 1st Robin Meyers: He just doesn't get it.
In it, I agreed with Robin Meyers' statement:
We must remember, he said, "that the best health-care decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors." The only trouble with this standard applause line is that the only way to get insurance companies and HMOs out of the picture is to make the payer a nonprofit entity, like the government, so that health-care "providers" don't make more money by being health-care "deniers."
To which Redstater posted a comment:
Have ANY of you known of ANYONE, ANYWHERE in the US that has been denied treatment for anything serious?
Illegal aliens with no job, no insurance and no money get free emergency room treatment... and beyond. Those that cannot afford to go can go anyway... what world are liberals living in?
Have you seen socialized healthcare in Canada or England?
Have YOU ever BEEN to the Department of motor vehicle?
If so, you wouldn't want the same people running your doctors office.
Robin Meyers is a shill for the democrat party from the pulpit "pulpit pundit" and the perfect spokesman for the so-called "New Christian Left" (Woody Guthrie-ism)
I am going to take the questions out of order because I want to draw upon my own personal experience first:
Have you seen socialized healthcare in Canada or England?
1) Yes, I have been to England (Queen's College, Oxford University, Oxford, England) and have been treated there for both an injury and an illness. I can tell you from personal experience that the treatment was prompt and adequate. Because I was an uninsured American, I had to pay for my treatment, but even as a starving college student, I was able to afford the cost (the doctor's visit was about $25 then, still less than half what my own doctor would have cost here: at the time, about $60), the prescription drugs cost $5 then.
I still remember the doctor's shock at 1) my concern that I wouldn't be able to afford the cost; and 2) that I would not get adequate treatment; and 3) how expensive a doctor's visit cost in the U.S. She could not understand how Americans would allow people to go without care. Even then the number of Americans without health insurance was staggeringly high.
I have never had the fortune to visit Canada. But let me just say that I have yet to meet a single Canadian who wants to abolish their Medicare system. Not one. And I ask every Canadian I come into contact with if they favor abolishing their national healthcare system. You should hear their responses. They say things like: "Not on your life!" or "Are you crazy?" I think that by itself speaks volumes about how "bad" the Canadian healthcare system is compared to the U.S. They are (so far) uniformly flabbergasted that Americans believe they want to abolish their healthcare system in favor of ours.
Have YOU ever BEEN to the Department of motor vehicle?
Yes. What's the problem? I have been there several times regarding some issue or another and left within 30 minutes almost every time.
Have ANY of you known of ANYONE, ANYWHERE in the US that has been denied treatment for anything serious?
Yes. I heard stories all the time while doing bankruptcy cases. People were denied treatment due to lack of insurance or inability to pay. You can also watch Michael Moore's movie SiCKO if you want to see several examples.
Illegal aliens with no job, no insurance and no money get free emergency room treatment... and beyond. Those that cannot afford to go can go anyway... what world are liberals living in?
Well, actually, they probably get billed for the services but just don't pay (especially due to the inability to pay). The cost then gets passed on to everyone else. But that isn't just an "illegal alien" problem; there are many Americans in the same boat. In my opinion it is better to have everyone pay up front for everyone's care. I think it is right thing to do.
I don't think anyone should ever be denied access to best feasible health care because of the inability to pay. I think that it should be guaranteed as a human right. We have the technology and ability to provide everyone in the U.S. with adequate care. Therefore we should do it because it is the right thing to do.
And do you really want people to go to the emergency room for the common cold? That's supposed to be for emergencies. But because we restrict medical care based on the ability to pay, those are the crazy kinds of situations we get.
And how about if they were to come down with smallpox? Would you rather they forego treatment and spread it everywhere? How about a more realistic example: tuberculosis? Highly infectious and sometimes very difficult to treat. Would you rather they infect others by turning them away from the doctor's office or emergency room? The real reason they are treated is that medical professionals know that by not treating them others can be harmed, things can become worse for the patient and there is that whole Hippocratic Oath issue.
There are real people out there who are suffering. Human beings just like you. They need help. They need our help. I think the best way to help them is by creating a complete medical care system that provides needed care to everyone...whenever they need it.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
I don't normally like to make comments about celebrity tabloid news, but one news item I heard on the radio this morning caught my attention. The interview that Thomas Riccio gave to the LA Times doesn't help O.J. Simpson's case:
He told the Los Angeles Times he arranged the meeting after receiving a phone call about a month ago from a person who claimed to have personal items -- including footballs, awards and photos -- that had belonged to Simpson and wanted to sell them.
"Simpson was supposed to show up, identify the items and tell the men to either give the stuff back or he would call the police," Riccio told the newspaper. (emphasis mine)
Let me see if I get this straight: Simpson allegedly was going to threaten someone with criminal prosecution if they "didn't give him his stuff back."
Someone needs to explain to O.J. Simpson the legal definition of extortion:
The obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right.
Elements of Offense
Virtually all extortion statutes require that a threat must be made to the person or property of the victim. Threats to harm the victim's friends or relatives may also be included. It is not necessary for a threat to involve physical injury. It may be sufficient to threaten to accuse another person of a crime or to expose a secret that would result in public embarrassment or ridicule. The threat does not have to relate to an unlawful act.
So, if Thomas Riccio was telling the truth to the LA Times about what Simpson's intent was prior to the actual incident, Simpson might have gotten into legal trouble anyway.
This is an example of why you don't engage in vigilante justice.
Having said that, I think I know the real reason why Simpson didn't just call the police: had he done so, news undoubtedly would have gotten out as to the whereabouts of his personal assets -- which then would have alerted the Goldmans and would probably would have been seized to pay the civil judgment against Mr. Simpson.
This is pure speculation on my part, but it makes sense to me. In his attempt to keep assets from the Goldmans, he apparently had to do business with some shady people. I don't doubt that some of them took advantage of his precarious situation; but it was somewhat a dilemma of his own making.
Now the Goldmans know where the assets are and will undoubtedly start legal action to recover these assets and Mr. Simpson is finding himself in a lot of legal hot water to boot.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Congress on Wednesday the government will hit the current debt ceiling on Oct. 1.
He sought quick action to increase the limit, saying it was essential to protect the "full faith and credit" of the country, especially at a time of financial market turmoil.
The limit is $8.965 trillion. Unless Congress votes to raise it, the country would be unable to borrow more money to keep the government operating and to pay debt obligations coming due.
Actually having tax rates reflect what government services we have decided we need would be such a terrible thing, don't you know. According to the neoconservatives, borrowing and spending (and paying interest on the resulting debt) is far preferable to, you know, actually paying for it responsibly. Now if we could just get the Democrats to get a spine and stand up to the fiscally irresponsible neoconservatives, maybe we could actually have real discussion on what this country can really afford.
The real reason the neoconservative Republicans want to keep raising the national debt is to eliminate social spending through the Starve the Beast plan.
It really comes down to a values question of "guns vs. butter." I am curious if anyone has ever studied the return on investment of foreign entanglements where we try to acquire natural resources through military engagement vs. taking that same money and plowing it into America's infrastructure and alleviation of social ills. I think that we promote too much conflict in this world. There is too much spending on "guns" and not enough on "butter."
Moral Hazard: The risk that a party to a transaction. . .has an incentive to take unusual risks in a desperate attempt to earn a profit before the contract settles.
I think that is very risk that the Federal Reserve took yesterday when it decided to lower its rate on a key short-term interest rate by half of a percentage point Tuesday to 4.75%. A bubble was created in the credit market which contributed to asset inflation in the housing sector. Obviously (to me, anyway), the fact that the markets immediately saw an increase in the price of gold, oil, metals and other commodities indicates that traders expect the Fed's action to lead to inflation in commodity prices -- particularly gold and oil. Oil is currently priced in dollars and gold is often bought as a hedge against inflation.
So where does one go to buy insurance against the moral hazard of bailing out speculative investors and financial institutions that made what they knew were bad loans?
Monday, September 17, 2007
It wasn't that long ago that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a conference suggesting that the Holocaust never happened. How things have apparently changed in Iran so quickly.
From Iranian TV shows Holocaust movie at Talking Points Memo:
Yet the series titled "Zero Degree Turn" is clearly sympathetic to the Jews' plight during World War II. It shows men, women and children with yellow stars on their clothes being taken forcibly out of their homes and loaded into trucks by Nazi soldiers.
"Where are they taking them?" the horrified hero, a young Iranian diplomat who works at the Iranian Embassy in Paris, asks someone in a crowd of onlookers.
"The Fascists are taking the Jews to the concentration camps," the man says. The hero, named Habib Parsa, then begins giving Iranian passports to Jews to allow them to flee occupied France to then-Palestine.
Though the Habib character is fictional, it is based on a true story of diplomats in the Iranian Embassy in Paris in the 1940s who gave out about 500 Iranian passports for Jews to use to escape.
The show's appearance now may reflect an attempt by Iran's leadership to moderate its image as anti-Semitic and to underline a distinction that Iranian officials often make _ that their conflict is with Israel, not with the Jewish people.
The show is reportedly wildly popular among the Iranian public and people are watching the state-run show instead of watching satellite TV.
It raises a lot of questions given the Bush White House's insinuations of intentions to attack Iran.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
This song was originally written as a memorial anthem about lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong's father, a jazz musician and minor league baseball catcher, who died of lung cancer when Billie Joe was only ten years old. The song -- as all great songs are -- are written with many interpretations. The song has expanded its meaning beyond the death of Billie Joe's father to represent feelings about the war in Iraq (which is what the video seems to show), as an anthem for Katrina victims and as an ode to those who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Actually, now that we are in the month of September, I would like to pass along an interesting historical fact that was brought to my attention several years ago: many wars and conflicts start in September. The reason being, I was informed, was that September was the month when crops were starting to ripen and become ready to harvest. Therefore, if one tribe wanted to wipe out a rival tribe -- or simply steal their food -- the time to bring an attack would be September.
So, I think a lot of Americans feel this song speaks to them at this time in our history. They would just assume that September pass by as quickly as possible.
I will probably come back to Green Day's music at a later time, but I think this song needs to stand on its own.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Here is my first installment of photos I took while sightseeing around the Gulf Coast of Texas. I took these pictures during my Labor Day weekend travels to Kemah, Texas.
This is the Captain Kidd "pirate ship" sailboat.
This is the first scene I saw when we got out near the open water: a sunken sailboat. Yeah, that made me feel safer!
This a helicopter that flew over our vessel. It was a lot closer than the picture probably shows.
A nice scene on the Kemah boardwalk. You have to go into a little cubbyhole to take this photo.
Here is a street performer I watched on the Kemah boardwalk. He was so good, I gave him a donation.
A nice fountain at one of the entrances to the Kemah boardwalk.
This little pond is where children could drive toy boats around inside of it.
One thing I didn't take a picture of was the speedboat that I rode after the Captain Kidd. That speedboat is called "The Beast." Prepare to get soaking wet if you take that ride. You'll almost get dry from the wind when you are going at high speed. Some guys might take the ride just to watch the dancing girls on the boat. The boat is run by Joe's Crab Shack, I think, which is right next to it.
There is also a small amusement park on the boardwalk. You can find more information about it, here.
By the way, if you would like to eat at a nice Japanese restaurant, I recommend the Ichibon Japanese Seafood in Kemah.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I started this blog September 1, 2006. Now it is over one year old and I am up for another award -- this one probably more prestigious -- and I am curious as to what my readers think were my best posts over the last year. I would like to showcase my best posts for voters in the upcoming Okie Blog Awards. I can think of a few (Seven Years of Bad Luck, Social Security as a National Pension System, the Seasons of Life, Four Corrupting Influences), but what do you -- my regular readers -- say?
Last night I survived my first hurricane. Hurricane Humberto was only supposed to be a tropical storm, but it picked up power very quickly and strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane. I don't want to find out what a Category 2 will do. The eye of the hurricane passed right by here. The good news is that I ended up on the left side of the eye, which is less damaging than the right side. My RV seems to have escaped relatively unscathed. However, many of my neighbors were not so lucky.
I have to admit, it was downright scary to be inside an RV during a hurricane where the winds were near their top speeds next to the hurricane's eye. We heard this morning that they had clocked winds in excess of 100 mph. I was awakened with a lot of shaking and rocking back and forth at about 2am and could not get back to sleep until after 5am.
When I got up this morning, I joked to my neighbors that we get more warning time of impending tornadoes than they do of sudden hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. And they pass over and leave quicker. And their path of destruction is a lot smaller area.
My post Eye of the Storm was a little bit of a inside hint of where I was headed. I didn't fully expect that I would actually end up right under the eye of an actual storm.
From the article Housing seer says there's worse to come:
So, with subprime mortgage losses and credit woes now the No. 1 topic in the markets, what does the former Goldman Sachs investment banker see next for the housing market and the U.S. economy?
Well, if you thought things were bad now, just wait. Think bank failures, recession, soaring default rates, home prices plunging by at least one-third and layoffs rippling across the economy. The unwinding could take five to seven years before the housing market hits bottom, he says.
As a former Wall Street insider, Mr. Talbott has a better appreciation than most for how large financial institutions operate. And what he senses now is a massive effort to conceal the extent of the toxic sludge buried beneath some of the biggest names in the business.
"Everybody is hiding and not disclosing losses," he says. "They're all winking and nodding at each other because they've all got this stuff on their books."
With 40 per cent of some banks' assets invested in residential mortgages, they won't be able to conceal their losses forever. Faced with rising defaults, banks are already pulling back on lending. The lack of credit, in turn, will exert a major drag on the economy, which for years has been fuelled by easy money. That's why Mr. Talbott says a recession in the next 12 to 18 months is a certainty.
The subprime meltdown has been described as a liquidity squeeze, which makes it sound like a temporary problem that can be cured with an injection of cash. But the problem is far more serious, he says.
"Giving a bank more cash doesn't solve the problem. What they're sitting on is huge losses and they can't recognize those losses without endangering their entire book equity and threatening bankruptcy and threatening a run on the banks."
I don't know if things will get that bad, but it's a potential scenario. I suspect this very scenario that could happen is what is worrying many Americans.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
From Jonathan Chait at the TPM Book Club:
Class War and the Big Con
Some of the debate in the blogs last week focused on whether, or to what degree, leading Republicans actually believe the arguments they make on behalf of tax cuts, such as the common claim (made by leading Republicans everywhere, starting with President Bush) that tax cuts have caused revenues to grow. I think many of them do believe it. But the extent to which they believe it is fairly beside the point. The wealthy interests who favor tax cuts, and other pro-rich items, aren’t motivated by supply-side ideology. While they may believe that tax cuts help the economy, their deeper belief is that every dollar they have, including the dollars they inherited, is a reflection of their success and a measure of their virtue. So, in this sense, supply-side ideology simply plays the same role that Social Darwinism did a century ago and that economic orthodoxy did seventy years ago.
Or maybe they are just different justifications for the same mindset. I have argued before that we are starting to see a return of Social Darwinism as an accepted idea. I'm not convinced it has died out. I suspect it is more that Social Darwinism is being downplayed to some extent in favor of a new repackaged argument that rich=moral. Social Darwinism has at its core a belief that those who have attained wealth and status have done so due to their moral or genetic superiority.
It has even taken root in Christianity. If you look at the "Gospel of Wealth" being preached in conservative churches, you can see what I mean. I have seen people in conservative churches told that they are just not rich because they are not right with God.
I don't want to get too far off of the main subject, but certainly wealth does not equate in any way with moral superiority. "All great wealth starts with a crime" as we lawyers would say. In the Christian context, there is this from the Epistle of James:
2:1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
2:2 For if there comes into your assembly a man with a gold ring, in fine apparel, and there also comes in a poor man in shabby clothing,
2:3 And you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say to him, Sit here in a good place; and say to the poor man, Stand there, or sit here beside my footstool:
2:4 Have you not then discriminated among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
2:5 Listen, my beloved brethren, Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?
2:6 But you have despised the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you, and drag you into court?
2:7 Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name by which you have been called?
2:8 If you fulfill the royal law, according to the scripture, You shall love your neighbour as yourself, you do well,
2:9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
2:10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble at one point, is guilty of breaking it all.
I think too many Christian leaders are skipping over these type of texts in both the Gospels and the other writings in the New Testament.
Anyway, back to the main subject: I found this quote at The New Republic's excerpt from Chait's book.
From 1947 to 1973, the U.S. economy grew at a rate of nearly 4 percent a year--a massive boom, fueling rapid growth in living standards across the board. During most of that period, from 1947 until 1964, the highest tax rate hovered around 91 percent. For the rest of the time, it was still a hefty 70 percent. Yet the economy flourished anyway. None of this is to say that those high tax rates caused the postwar boom. On the contrary, the economy probably expanded despite, rather than because of, those high rates. Almost no contemporary economist would endorse jacking up rates that high again. But the point is that, whatever negative effect such high tax rates have, it's relatively minor.
First, what needs to pointed out was that this referred, I think, to income tax rates. But the super-rich make much of their income from investments (i.e. passive income). Even if these were tax rates on capital gains, this would be taxation 1) only on the highest earners; and 2) on income not drawn from labor. The principle that we once had is that we want to encourage people to produce and contribute to the betterment of society and the economy. We don't want "trust fund babies" who don't have to work because their talents and abilities will have a tendency to go wasted. And as successive generations are born into wealth, they will have less appreciation for the benefits that their ancestor's labors brought to the betterment of their community.
Kids that come from wealthy homes already have lots of assets to draw from. Taking from the wealthy to help provide an equal access in the areas of health care and education -- just to name two services -- is only fair...especially given how beneficial those services are for the advancement of the economy and social well-being. There is a certain point where having too much wealth has a detrimental effect on productivity and social progress (political conservatives certainly never talk about this aspect of the acquisition of wealth). Proper use of the tax code can encourage talented and capable people to keep producing and innovating precisely because they want more.
Now, I'll grant -- for the sake of argument -- Arthur Laffer's central argument that there is a point where tax rates become so confiscatory that tax revenues will start to drop due to the negative effects it has on investment and labor; but we're certainly not there now. Furthermore, deficit spending (read: national government credit card) will crimp investment just as much; as the national debt (and its concomitant interest payments) is simply deferred taxation. Having the federal government file bankruptcy is just unthinkable. And lack of access to health care will lead to less productivity due to untreated illnesses or injuries (and, specifically, illnesses can sometimes spread due to their non-treatment -- leading to further drops in productivity). So exactly how do we benefit from denying access to health care based on ability to pay again?
To sum up, higher tax rates (than what we have currently) and implemented in the right places, can actually have a beneficial effect for society.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Thank you to whoever it was that nominated me for Best Commentary in the 2007 Okie Blogger Awards. I am humbled by your kindness. I have been visiting some of the other nominees blogs, and I am quite impressed with the quality of the commentary I am finding.
Whoever wins the award will be quite deserving, I'm sure.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Back on April 15, I did a Sunday Music for DC Talk. Today's Sunday Music I bring you one of the three members of DC Talk after they all embarked on successful solo careers. Toby McKeehan (aka TobyMac) is probably the most successful of the three, but they have all produced good music on their own. In future installments, I will bring you videos from Kevin Max and Michael Tait.
I couldn't find an official video for the first song Burn for You, so I had to settle for one that used the version that I liked but the sound is not so good because it is a bootleg concert copy -- but that is the sort of thing you get on YouTube.
The song is from the CD Welcome to Diverse City (Diversity. Get it?). I think it is a good thing that a popular Christian artist is spreading the Christian message of inclusiveness and racial harmony in his music and videos because I am discovering that the fight for acceptance of racial equality is not yet over. (I don't want to get too detailed, but racial animosity still permeates certain pockets in this part of the country.)
Burn for You
This is the song that is popular on Christian radio right now.
Made To Love You
The last song shows how he combines social commentary with true compassionate Christianity. While this one is one of his older songs, at least it is the official video, so the quality is excellent.
From each of the CDs respectively:
Friday, September 07, 2007
Conservatives love to argue against national healthcare on moral hazard grounds; but somehow we taxpayers and the Federal Reserve are supposed supposed to bail out educated, smart, wealthy and powerful people when they take they know -- or should know -- are excessively risky financial instruments.
Here is a snippet from Robert Reich's excellent post:
When it comes to risky behavior in the market, America has a double standard. We’re told that economic risk-taking as the key to entrepreneurial success, but when big entrepreneurs take big risks that fail it’s amazing how often they get bailed out. Indeed, the history of modern American business is littered with federal bailouts, loan guarantees, and no-questions-asked reorganizations. Some are well known, such as the Chrylser bailout of 1979, the savings and loan bailout of 1989, and the airline bailout of 2001. Most occur in the relative dark, such as the 1998 bailout of giant hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management (courtesy of former Fed chair Alan Greenspan), the not infrequent bailouts of under-funded corporate pension plans by the government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, price supports for big agribusinesses facing market downturns, or the current bailout of Wall Street being engineered by Ben Bernanke’s Fed. Behind every one of these bailouts are CEOs or financial executives who were rescued from their bad bets.
Mr. Reich has a new book out called Supercapitalism.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Back in April, I posted a video by Bill Maher arguing that we should celebrate Earth Day every day. In his monologue, he recounted the news story at the time that honeybee colonies were disappearing for some unknown cause. Well, it appears that the cause has been discovered:
(Fortune) -- Scientists investigating the recent disappearance of U.S. honeybees have linked a little-known virus to the die-off, suggesting that a novel infection capable of wiping out hives has spread widely among America's bees. The researchers also reported circumstantial evidence that the virus may have been introduced to the U.S. via bees imported from Australia.
As reported last month in Fortune, the disappearing bee syndrome, dubbed colony collapse disorder, or CCD, threatens many commercial beekeepers with ruinous losses. That in turn could cause major problems for U.S. growers, who rely on honeybees to pollinate nearly a hundred fruit and vegetable crops. Without trucked-in hives to blanket flowering plants with bees, farmers' yields of everything from apples to melons to zucchinis would plummet. The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture has estimated that CCD has the potential to cause a $15 billion direct loss of crop production and $75 billion in indirect losses.
The scientists, whose study was published online today by the journal Science, stressed that they haven't proved CCD is caused by the viral suspect, Israeli acute paralysis virus, or IAPV. (Its name reflects IAPV's discovery by Israeli researchers, not its place of origin, which is unknown.) The fact that the virus is usually found in colonies devastated by CCD may merely mean that it is a symptom rather than a root cause; just as rare infections often hit immune-suppressed AIDS patients, bees may get infected by IAPV when an unknown factor hammers their immune systems, precipitating CCD.
The researchers also detected IAPV in apparently healthy honeybees from Australia, where no cases of CCD have been reported. That suggests that even if the virus is a key culprit, it doesn't destroy colonies by itself. Instead, it may act as a kind of last straw that triggers the collapse of hives stressed by other things that have set up bees for killer infections in the U.S.
Although a rare virus has been pinpointed as the culprit, the suspicion (as the story points out) is that it is merely the trigger. The main cause is still suspected to be something environmental. The best evidence still says that our lifestyles are harmful to the environment. The time has come to count the external costs of maintaining our disposable society. The honeybees -- and, by extension, our own existence -- depends on it.
Hat tip to Calculated Risk
Read this story from the Chicago Tribune and see if you don't agree that that there is some serious need of judicial and congressional intervention to prevent these types of abuses. Here is part of it:
PITTSBURGH - For Donna and Steve Love, the plan seemed perfect.
Priced out of the Boston-area housing market, where 2-bedroom homes can cost about $500,000, the working-class couple thought it was time to head to a more affordable market.
They chose Pittsburgh. They liked the city, thought they could get jobs there and were sure they could afford a home without having to win the lottery.
After finding their home -- a $59,000, 3-bedroom, brick row house near the city's downtown that they paid for with a subprime loan -- they moved in June of 2006 and tried to settle into their new life.
But within a year, they were facing foreclosure, their relationship was strained to the near-breaking point and their emotions were in tatters as they tried to hold onto their home.
"Sometimes I feel like I have post-traumatic stress disorder," said Donna Love, 46.
Their story has been repeated thousands of times this year alone, as the subprime mortgage market, made up of loans to consumers with a higher default risk, continues its dramatic collapse.
The Loves qualified as subprime candidates because of their income level and because Steve Love, 30, had so little prior credit history.
"I believe in paying in cash," said Steve, who worked as a night manager at a CVS pharmacy near Boston, a job he expected to replicate by transferring to a Pittsburgh CVS store.
In March 2006, they reached what they thought were final terms for the loan: $5,000 down, a 7.75 percent interest rate, fixed for two years and then adjustable for the remaining 28 years, with a cap of 14.75 percent.
The $429 mortgage payments would be higher than they expected, but still within their budget -- equal to less than one week of Steve's salary with CVS. Plus, it was still cheaper than their $700-a-month rent in a suburb of Boston.
Then, on April 20, two weeks before the May 3 closing date, they said they got mortgage documents in the mail with a letter that said they should sign all the papers and return them as soon as possible.
But they quickly noticed the final contract listed a higher interest rate of 12.125 percent, with a cap of 19.125 percent. That pushed the monthly mortgage payments up more than $200 to $692 a month.
"We both said, 'Oh my God!' and started reading page by page," recalled Steve Love.
They called Countrywide and talked to several representatives who told them "that the fluctuating market went up and investors had asked for a higher percentage rate on the loans, and this was the best they could do," he said.
Other problems surface
"We weren't sure if we would ever find another property we'd agree on. We'd already rented our apartment. We'd resigned our jobs. We were afraid of losing our $1,000 deposit [on the home]. There was just a huge fear factor there," Donna Love said.
The couple decided to go ahead with the loan, figuring they could refinance in six months.
The lenders do this because of these people's commitments, they are without adequate bargaining power. This problem is playing out (pardon the pun) countrywide. We need to get some serious oversight and remedies and quick.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Image taken from Despair.com.
More problems. My electricity went out on my RV. It turned out that it was just a shorted wire that was easily fixed once I took the RV to the shop. The internet connection here is still inconsistent, so posting has been difficult. OK, these are minor problems, considering all I have been through.
I took a sailing trip (I Kidd you not) and then took a speedboat ride in Galveston Bay on Saturday. I went to a couple of museums and a Chinese Garden that had miniature replicas of China's Terracotta Army and Forbidden City, as well as a guided tour explaining Chinese history on Sunday and Monday. I'll try to get some pictures up soon.
I was going to go swim in the Gulf of Mexico until I saw a news report while eating breakfast that showed thousands of fish getting washed up on the beach due to an unknown cause. I heard that the water here is dirty partly due to the pollution dumped into the Mississippi River, which then gets washed up on the beaches here. It's enough to galvanize you to action for environmental causes.
What did you all do this weekend? Anything interesting?