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Shell Game

August 23, 2009

Think the stock market on the rise means things are really getting better? Think again.

Think the housing market is showing signs of a real recovery? Think again.

Think the latest unemployment figures mean fewer people are out of work? Think again.

It’s all a shell game and unless you’re already a multimillionaire, the little red ball is never going to wind up in front of you.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. cometman permalink*
    August 23, 2009 1:58 pm

    Ha! Via Glen Greenwald I ran across this post from I.F. Stone’s granddaughter recounting her dressing down of Joke Line at a recent cookout they both attended.

    I was standing at the cookout minding my own business when Klein started pontificating for the rubes on how “surprising” and “shocking” it was that Grassley, of all people, should have come out and endorsed the “death panels” lie. I walked up and said “why are you surprised?” [edited to remove typo] to which he, in best pundit debater fashion (never allow yourself to admit you were just posing!), shot back “who says I’m surprised?” I said “well, you did. You just started your lecture saying “Its surprising.”” Its not surprising, the republicans have nothing left to lose and nothing left to gain at this point outside of pleasing the crazy base and attacking Obama and the dems.”

    We were off and running.

    Nice to see that the apples really don’t fall far from the tree and old I.F. isn’t the only one in the family with a set of stones :)

  2. cometman permalink*
    August 23, 2009 4:05 pm

    More on the shell game.

  3. cometman permalink*
    August 24, 2009 8:12 am

    Now the government is playing a little three card monte with social security checks. Now you see them. Now you don’t.

    The trustees who oversee Social Security are projecting there won’t be a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the next two years. That hasn’t happened since automatic increases were adopted in 1975.

    By law, Social Security benefits cannot go down. Nevertheless, monthly payments would drop for millions of people in the Medicare prescription drug program because the premiums, which often are deducted from Social Security payments, are scheduled to go up slightly.

    And why are there no cost of living adjustments? Because the government has determined that there was no inflation!

    Cost of living adjustments are pegged to inflation, which has been negative this year, largely because energy prices are below 2008 levels.

    So speculators drive the price of oil up to all time highs (because god forbid anybody regulate them and stop them from stealing from the rest of us), and then when it falls back a little there is no cost of living adjustment even though the price is still higher than it was in the years prior to 2008. Anyone who has taken a trip to the grocery store lately can tell you that there has been inflation pretty much across the board, but when you cook the numbers of the Consumer Price Index you can just substitute one product for another and claim nothing has changed. If steak goes from $5 to $8 per pound and hamburger goes from $3 to $5 per pound, well according to the government there has been zero inflation because you can still buy a beef product for $5. I imagine the accountant the government contracted out to come up with these kind of bogus figures was paid quite handsomely.

    Absolutely sickening that individual banks can get hundreds of billions of dollars in government handouts and trillions industry wide, and yet people who worked their whole lives and paid into the social security system can’t get an extra few bucks a month at a time when the money is desperately needed, especially by those on fixed incomes.

    Our priorities in this country are to the point of being unconscionable.

  4. cometman permalink*
    August 24, 2009 10:43 am

    A scathing critique here of Obama’s education policy, which not only keeps No Child Left Behind in place but seeks to expand on it and to further privatize our educational system. Worth reading the whole article as it has a lengthy discussion of fan of privatization and military schools and also the current Sec of Education, Arne Duncan. Here’s a snippet.

    The Obama education policy differs little from the Bush administration’s policy of hitching student and teacher performance to what many in the educational community and beyond call inauthentic assessments that actually force teachers to teach to the test and do little to encourage critical thinking or collaborative problem solving. Nor does the Obama policy seem to differ much in setting goals for the rapid expansion of charter school networks and non-profit and for-profit ‘providers’ to run them.

    Where it is more far-reaching than the Bush educational plan, however, is in its commitment to expand the charter school market by forcing all the states in the nation to pass legislation for the creation of charter schools. It also goes further down the road of ‘choice’ by requiring all states to remove all caps on charter start-ups, and then have them unleash some variation of the Diverse Provider Strategy model, a network of retail charter and contract schools accountable and wedded to a system of ‘measureable outcomes’ derived from standardized tests mandated under No Child Left Behind. Add to all of this the fact that Obama has said he might be in favor of private vouchers, his adamant commitment to merit pay based on performance on standardized tests, his suspicion of tenure and seniority and one would think that teacher’s unions would be aghast.

    This part made me want to puke:

    Duncan urged the union to join the Obama administration’s push to build support for a new wave of school reform as Congress prepares to reauthorize the 2002 No Child Left Behind law. Seated at the convention on a stool on a stage alongside Duncan was Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT; both of them sported a button on their shirts with the words, “Trust us; we’ll work with you”.

    A fucking button saying “Trust us”?!?!?!?!?!?! After these assholes have ignored all the educators who despise the NCLB program and would like to see it abolished? Just trust the guy in a suit rather than the thousands of teachers who may have some idea of how to teach kids properly? What fucking planet are these people on?

    This empire of ours cannot come crashing down soon enough. Time to wipe the slate clean and start over.

  5. cometman permalink*
    August 24, 2009 12:48 pm

    Fire breathing righteous indignation. Fuck the pop psychology that says we should all learn how to be happy and if we can’t then it’s our own fault for not trying. How is an intelligent person supposed to be “happy” when faced with the screw job foisted on all of us by the corporate leeches/government every single day? If you ask me, a hell of a lot more people need to start getting mad for the right reasons. Here are a few good rants.

    #1 This Isn’t Reform, It’s robbery

    The current health care debate in Congress has nothing to do with death panels or public options or socialized medicine. The real debate, the only one that counts, is how much money our blood-sucking insurance, pharmaceutical and for-profit health services are going to be able to siphon off from new health care legislation. The proposed plans rattling around Congress all ensure that the profits for these corporations will increase and the misery for ordinary Americans will be compounded. The corporate state, enabled by both Democrats and Republicans, is yet again cannibalizing the Treasury. It is yet again pushing Americans, especially the poor and the working class, into levels of despair and rage that will continue to fuel the violent, proto-fascist movements leaping up around the edges of American society. And the traditional watchdogs—those in public office, the press and citizens groups—are as useless as the perfumed fops of another era who busied their days with court intrigue at Versailles.

    #2 On the Myth of Free Markets

    Large corporations are able to exercise extraordinary political influence through campaign contributions, lobbying, and control of the media. By these means, they are able to have legislation enacted that favors themselves over the public: trillions of dollars sluiced to themselves through “bailouts;” guarantees against having to actually compete; differential tax rates on capital versus labor; environmental regulations that go un-enforced; etc. This, of course, only further accelerates the concentration of private wealth and political power into narrow hands with the consequent further erosion of democracy.

    How do we balance the democratic rights of individual citizens and the economic rights of small consumers when political and economic giants stride the landscape, concerned only with their own self-aggrandizement and almost inevitably hostile to the interests of the larger public?

    In the case of an oligopolized media fomenting ignorance, hatred, and resentment in the place of knowledge, discourse, and deliberation, how can we even know what we need to know to operate a civilized country? There can be neither informed consumer choice in economic affairs nor consent of the governed in political. And that is precisely the intent.

    #3 My Country, Misery

    So much is wrong in American politics today – genuinely more so, I think, than in the past. So many are culpable. Congress is more worthless than ever, and that’s really saying something. The Democratic Party has thrilled the biology community by creating a whole new class of invertebrates, utterly worthless in office, and wholly undeserving of the title of opposition party when not. The mass media has become the most despicable collection of whores to power imaginable. Whatever sense there once was – from the original notions of the Founders up through the era of Cronkite – of the media serving the public interest as critical watchdogs over government has long since transmogrified into just another profit center on corporate balance sheets.

    But even more fundamentally, something has changed at the level of political culture. Something is broken at the level of human decency. The toxic combination of rampant American individualism, right-wing successes in framing public attitudes in all the sickest and most corrosive ways, a litany of false prophets preaching bogus religious salvation through even more deceitful notions of political morality, and the gravitational pull from the declining trajectory of an empire that has most assuredly now passed its sell-by date – all of this has conspired to produce a monstrous polity lurching about the global landscape without a heart or a conscience, and eating itself from within for the very same reasons.

    Worse still, as time marches on, fewer and fewer will remain who remember that it wasn’t forever thus.

    That last bit can’t be emphasized enough. We’ve already brought up one or two generations who have never known anything else and we aren’t doing such a bang up job in this country educating people on its history (or anything else for that matter). What happens when nobody remembers that not everyone shopped at Mal Wart and Rupert Murdoch wasn’t always around to tell everybody what to think?

    • cometman permalink*
      August 24, 2009 1:30 pm

      And an even better rant from James Howard Kunstler at Clusterfuck Nation – Financial Crisis Called Off.

      Whew, what a relief! Everybody from Ben Bernanke and a Who’s Who of banking poobahs schmoozing it up in the heady vapors of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to the dull scribes at The New York Times, toiling in their MC Escher hall of mirrors, to poor dim James Surowiecki over at The New Yorker, to – wonder of wonders! – the Green Shoots claque at the cable networks, to the assorted quants, grinds, nerds, pimps, factotums, catamites, and cretins in every office from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to the International Monetary Fund – every man-Jack and woman-Jill around the levers of power and opinion weighed in last week with glad tidings that the world’s capital finance system survived what turned out to be a mere protracted bout of heartburn and has been reborn as the Miracle Bull economy. Our worries over. If you believe their bullshit. Which I don’t.

      Good stuff. Read the whole thing.

  6. cometman permalink*
    August 25, 2009 7:42 am

    Son of a bitch. Obama wants to keep Bernanke as Fed chief.

    President Barack Obama announced Tuesday he wants to keep Ben Bernanke on as Fed chairman, saying he shepherded America through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

    “Ben approached a financial system on the verge of collapse with calm and wisdom; with bold action and out-of-the-box thinking that has helped put the brakes on our economic freefall,” said Obama, with Bernanke standing by his side. “Almost none of the decisions he or any of us made have been easy.”

    WTF!??!?!? He shepherded us through huh? Does this mean the crisis is over? That’s funny because I’ve seen no evidence whatsoever that things are better for anybody except the fucking bankers. And “out-of-the-box thinking”? Really? How hard was it to pick an astronomical number out of a hat, which is what the Fed did when coming up with that $700 + billion figure, and then having Obama twist arms to get it handed over with no questions asked? Sounds a lot more like extortion than some kind of brilliant financial thinking.

    Guess this means that Goldman can expect more goldmine and the rest of us can expect the shaft once again.

  7. cometman permalink*
    August 25, 2009 7:55 am

    If you are trying to figure out how long it will be before the house of cards constructed by Bernanke and Geithner comes crashing down and when you should go short, maybe you should ask an econophysicist from Zurich. Interesting stuff.

    Last month, we looked at a prediction that the Shanghai Composite stock market index was about to crash. The forecast was made by a team lead by the econophysicist Didier Sornette at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, who has made a study of economic bubbles and how they burst.

    His thinking is that bubbles are the result of some kind of feedback mechanism that creates faster-than-exponential growth. This kind of growth rate is straightforward to measure, and so bubbles should be easy to identify.

    In July, he and his buddies pointed out that the Shanghai Composite stock market index was following exactly this kind of trend. But they also made an extraordinary prediction. They said that this bubble would burst between July 17 and 27.

    That’s a very specific prediction of the kind that economists almost never make. How they came to their conclusion wasn’t clear, and I, for one, was very skeptical. In fact, I bet he was wrong and promised him an arXivblog T-shirt and baseball cap if the market proved otherwise.

    So I kept an eye on the index, and on July 27 noted that it was still going strong. In fact, between July 17 and 27, the index rose by 251 points, or about 8 percent. So much for the crash.

    Then something strange happened. On August 4, the market hit a peak of 3,471, and then it dropped. Dramatically. By August 19. it had fallen to 2,786, a drop of about 20 percent.

  8. cometman permalink*
    August 25, 2009 1:52 pm

    Haha!!! Check out the pic via Cephalopodcast -Squids Are Friends, Not Food. Click the link near the bottom of the post and you can have your very own squid-themed “Don’t Taste Me Bro” T shirt.

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