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Wringing in the new

December 31, 2009

If one looks at a site like Bloomberg this morning, this last day of 2009, the headlines all seem to point to those green shoots of revived prosperity. Jobless claims decline less, stocks and commodities on the rise, rally, recovery, sis boom bah! Send up the fireworks! Pop the corks!

Shhh, don’t mind those CIA agents wiped out on a US base in Afghanistan. Don’t worry about the US plotting airstrikes in Yemen to appease the neo-cons. Don’t mind all those millions living on food stamps and those huddled freezing in shelters and on street corners. Pay no mind to the potholes, the frayed power lines, the empty office buildings and classrooms full of desperation and anguish.

Still, we’ve survived the economic phase of shock and awe somewhat intact. We’ve found and documented some excellent analysis and writing by colleagues around the internets, helping to keep the links in the spiderwoman’s web connected. This decline and fall of the American experiment in empire may take a while, so we may as well take it easy and keep watching it through the periscope of our cephalo pod and share our salty perspective.

2010, beginning a new decade. It wrings in like a wet dishrag after mopping up a mess on the floor made by melting arctic glaciers. I expect there is a chance that science will bring some interesting developments even as the politicians fail to utilize it in policy. I expect that some interesting people will plant seeds of great potential here and there around the world even as their ideas are either badly exploited or summarily ignored.

In short, life goes on and I do look forward in spite of all the hideous gloom both behind and floating ahead on the horizon. Even in the gloom there are sparks, moments of inspiration as well as surreal hilarity.

54 Comments leave one →
  1. cometman permalink*
    December 31, 2009 10:04 am

    Very nice post. Yeah, the monstrous empire won’t go down quietly that’s for sure. It will lumber around for a while lashing out blindly and inflicting lots of casualties.

    Set aside the mixed up myths from the clip above and remember that it was Odysseus who brought down the Cyclops using guile by telling the monster his name was “Outis”, meaning “nobody”. The oligarchs in the US don’t even know who they’re fighting right now, just some vague notion of “terrorism”. I suspect that it will be Outis who brings this empire to its knees eventually too as it swings wildly at everything and eventually reaches the point of exhaustion.

    • Stemella permalink*
      December 31, 2009 12:04 pm

      Excellent analogy and a great movie for inspiration to animators everywhere.

  2. cometman permalink*
    December 31, 2009 10:34 am

    Here’s a little more old before we wring in the new. Your comment about Limbaugh earlier made me remember how people like him should be properly eulogized when the time comes. A walk down memory lane as Hunter S Thompson pays his regards to Tricky Dick – He Was a Crook.

    If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

    These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern — but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.

    Here’s Zappa with the Swedish chef version of “Dickie’s Such an Asshole”.

    On the album version from the late 80s he updates the song a bit for Reagan. If he were still around I’m sure he add a nod to W, Rush and all the other republican assholes he warned about too.

    No quarter for bad men. They wouldn’t give it to you :)

    • artemis54 permalink
      December 31, 2009 12:41 pm

      Mercy – how did I miss that Thompson eulogy (dyslogy)? Where are our new Thompsons – and David Levines?

      As for 2009, perhaps it will look less disastrous from a more distant perspective. Right now it is hard not to say good riddance and bad cess to a year and a decade from hell.

      • cometman permalink*
        December 31, 2009 1:01 pm

        I read that one when it came out and it’s been etched in my brain ever since. Makes me smile just thinking about it :)

        I’m with you – good riddance to a rotten decade.

  3. cometman permalink*
    December 31, 2009 10:52 am

    Check out this fun site I just found – The Zappa Wiki Jawaka!

    • Stemella permalink*
      December 31, 2009 12:13 pm

      It’s a mutherlode!

      and you are absolutely correct about not giving quarter for bad men. We still have a chance to do the right thing by Dickus Cheney, associatesand Cane Toad Inc. when their times come. I know that Frank is immortal through his music and Gonzo through his diatribes, but there are many times I wish they were still around to “eulogize” the assholes of the current times. Nobody did it better in my lifetime.

      • cometman permalink*
        December 31, 2009 12:57 pm

        I miss both of those guys quite a bit too. Nobody will ever be quite the same as Hunter S but Matt Taibbi has done a pretty good job in the last couple years following in his footsteps at Rolling Stone. In the music sphere I can’t think of anyone who comes remotely close to Frank. He’d be having a field day right now. But at least we’ve still got Dweezil and Zappa plays Zappa. Haven’t had the chance to see them myself yet but I will sometime in the next decade.

        Here’s Penn Gillette talking about it.

        And here’s them playing. Maybe I already posted this one but it’s a great song so here it is again.

  4. artemis54 permalink
    December 31, 2009 12:47 pm

    Re Rush and eulogies:

    My aunt who got all the Irish, red hair, tongue and all, used to say of certain figures she despised that they’d only lasted this long because the devil wouldn’t have ’em.

  5. sisdevore permalink
    January 1, 2010 12:48 pm

    I almost bought calamari the other day. but then I remembered the squid.

  6. cometman permalink*
    January 3, 2010 9:22 am

    Encouraging news. Researchers have made a breakthrough in figuring out what causes the cancer in Tazmanian devils that is currently threatening them with extinction.

    Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) is a transmissible cancer that affects only Tasmanian devils and was first reported in 1996. It is spread by biting and quickly kills the animals. The disease is characterised by large tumours, mostly on the face and mouth, which often spread to internal organs.

    The research collaboration, led by Australian scientists, has found that DFTD originates from cells called Schwann cells, which protect peripheral nerve fibres.

    The results have been published in the journal Science.

    Through the discovery, the team has now identified a genetic marker that could be used to accurately diagnose the perplexing cancer, which has seen the devil listed as endangered and facing extinction.

    • artemis54 permalink
      January 3, 2010 5:45 pm

      The devils were already suffering from a lack of genetic diversity that has probably greatly worsened this outbreak. With a loss of more than 80% of the population in under ten years – they’re at 20,000 and dropping – the bottleneck is tighter every day. It’s hard to see how some other epidemic won’t carry them off even if this one doesn’t.

      They’re unique enough, and charismatic enough in their anti-charismatic way, that we’ll keep them on in various ICU’s. Still, that is functional extinction. By which I mean they will no longer play any role.

  7. cometman permalink*
    January 4, 2010 6:41 am

    Here’s some more on that story I mentioned about Fannie and Freddie possibly being used as some back door bailout for bad assets. Calculated Risk says it’s really nothing.

    But Marla Singer at zerohedge is still using the news to go off on some bizarre libertarian screed. Now it isn’t the banks but the gub’mint who is solely to blame and it’s all because they had their ideological socialist blinders on and were trying to help out poor people who didn’t deserve it.

    It has become conventional wisdom, perhaps even cliche, to pin the origins of the credit crisis on the big banks or, AIG or even the practice of financial modeling. Certainly, these actors have received the most play in the media, and have now endured the focus of populist ire for more than a year. We now think that the analysis leading commentators to focus blame on these entities is fatally flawed.

    We have seen no credible data that any of the large banks or other underwriters of mortgage backed securities (“MBSs”) or collaterized debt obligations (“CDOs”) or firms like AIG selling protection on same actually misrepresented the character of underlying collateral.


    It should shock you that literally a third of the U.S. economy should become a playground for the social experiments of any political group of any party affiliation.


    To the extent Mr. Frank and his ilk self-identify as advocates for low-cost housing for those ill-able to afford it, or beset by poor credit, the last 20 years have represented the largest single wealth transfer (composed primarily of real estate and flat screen TVs) to that sector known to us. Not only that, but given the de facto nationalization of MBS portfolios (we’ll give you three guesses who have been the largest MBS buyers over the last several quarters) the GSEs and their supporters have managed to get taxpayers to pay for it all. Of course, had they simply proposed such a measure in Congress it would have been laughed from the chamber. And yet, it almost seems as if these individuals simply wrote a multi-trillion dollar check to their constituents that happened to be drawn on the United States Treasury.

    Correct me if I’m wrong here but wasn’t it Zerohedge who used the millions of hits they got on their site to promote the idea that it was the banks led by Goldman Sachs who caused this meltdown? An idea which I believe is correct since it wasn’t simply the relatively small amount of subprime mortgages going bust that caused the problem but all the trillions of dollars in securities and derivatives that were constructed and sold on top of them. Did I miss some snark here or are the people at zerohedge starting to show their nutball libertarian leanings a little more lately? Have a hard time taking them seriously when they do.

    • Stemella permalink*
      January 4, 2010 8:21 am

      They go in phases, I think, with the Austrian style Libertarianism. Take the editorializing with a big grain of salt when those phases emerge. I think it is healthy to read a number of different sources covering the same topic to try to get to the kernels of a story underneath all the different layers of ideology. And you are of course correct, they did promote the Goldiesux story.

      • cometman permalink*
        January 4, 2010 10:25 am

        I almost choked on that grain of salt when I read the article :) I just don’t see how she can say what she said without acknowledging that zerohedge has been beating on the Goldie’s like red-headed stepchildren for months now for their and other bankers’ deliberately misleading practices. Now one tidbit comes through that fits her underlying ideology and it all goes out the window. Of course we don’t really now if “Marla Singer” is one person or several so that might explain it a little.

        Anyhoo, reading multiple sources is always the best idea and I was glad to find the link to the Calculated risk article in the comment of the ZH piece. I think the Calculated Risk piece goes a little too far in the opposite direction because it is not unlikely that Freddie and Fannie will need more of a bailout based on everything I’ve read (and seen firsthand when I worked briefly processing mortgages that were sold to Freddie).

      • cometman permalink*
        January 4, 2010 10:40 am

        Wanted to talk about that ideology thing a little bit. It’s getting really tiring hearing republicans trying to blame democrats and vice versa, or private companies trying to blame the government and vice versa with everyone trying to pin a label on somebody else.

        Why is it so hard to simply look at WHO created this mess without worrying what party they belonged to or what political ideology they claim to adhere to? Because from where I sit, there were plenty of republicans and democrats, liberals and conservatives,freemarketeers, libertarians, small government and big government people and people who could sport many of these labels at the same time who were involved with creating the conditions that allowed this debacle to occur. All ideology aside, I’m pretty sure most people involved did so not because they want to fulfill the vision of a crazy battleaxe like Ayn Rand but because they wanted to rig the system to make some easy money. Ideology is always a nice cover for basic human greed and allows the bad people to claim they had nothing but the best intentions for whatever thievery and murder they cook up.

        • Stemella permalink*
          January 4, 2010 2:39 pm

          Yep, yep, follow the money. It works every time. Good old fashioned greed beats any kind of superimposed ideology when it comes to politicians. You nailed it. The trouble is that we have so few investigative journalists around who are hired to do the nitty gritty ground work of following the money. The corporate media is where some of that funny money goes, so they are less likely to hire the investigators. It seems that even the money followers are expected to do ideology (eg Taibbi and Hersh) which gives their critics cover as well.

          It is dangerous and tricky work, following the money in detail, and therefore expensive. It is a price that needs to be paid, though.

      • cometman permalink*
        January 4, 2010 12:59 pm

        Obviously I’m a little bit irked about that zerohedge article since I can’t stop posting comments about it :) But evidently it wasn’t just me. Matt Taibbi’s latest focuses on exactly the same thing and he re-iterates that there is plenty of blame to go around.

        Sometimes I’m amazed at the speed with which highly provocative information like this GSE business can be converted into distracting propaganda in this country. In the right hands Pinto’s analysis of the GSEs — just like the revelations in the past few years about practices at AIG, Moody’s, Countrywide, Goldman Sachs, the Fed, and, hell, let’s add the offices of Senator Chris Dodd — would have been a starting point for a deeper investigation into a financial system that is clearly a complex and intimate symbiosis of state and private corruption.

        For what we’ve learned in the last few years as one scandal after another spilled onto the front pages is that the bubble economies of the last two decades were not merely monstrous Ponzi schemes that destroyed trillions in wealth while making a small handful of people rich. They were also a profound expression of the fundamentally criminal nature of our political system, in which state power/largess and the private pursuit of (mostly short-term) profit were brilliantly fused in a kind of ongoing theft scheme that sought to instant-cannibalize all the wealth America had stored up during its postwar glory, in the process keeping politicians in office and bankers in beach homes while continually moving the increasingly inevitable disaster to the future.

        That is a terrible story and it is also sort of a taboo story, since we don’t really have a system of media now that is willing or even able to digest that dark and complicated truth. Instead, our media — which has always been at best an inadvertent accomplice to these messes — is basically set up to take every revelation about the underlying truth and split it down the middle, feeding half to one side of the political spectrum and one half to the other, where the actual point is then burned up in the useless smoke of a blame game.


        Everyone was involved in the mortgage scam.

        He’s right that not many are even trying to connect all the dots of this story, but at least he is. Well worth reading the whole thing.

        • Stemella permalink*
          January 4, 2010 2:53 pm

          We’re starting to see fault lines develop, where one side blames the government while another side blames Wall Street for the messes of the last two decades. The side blaming the government tends to belong to the free-marketeer class and divines in safety-net purveyors like the GSEs and in the Fed’s money-printing fundamental corruptions of the capitalist ideal, while the side blaming the bankers tends to belong to the left-liberal tradition that focuses on greed and seeming absence of community conscience among the CEO class as primary corruptors of the social contract.

          Synthesis — the government and Wall Street have functionally morphed into one and the same rather than two separate entities. Until we the sheeple can see that and break the imposed culture war divides we’ll forever be divided and conquered and as Taibbi says, “if you focus on one side and not the other, you miss the entire point.”

          Everyone was and still is involved in the mortgage scam and the larger Ponzi scheme that is the global multinational corporate economy and it and all the players are corrupt as hell. Sort of like the Matrix.

          I’m ready for my neural shunt now. ;)

  8. cometman permalink*
    January 4, 2010 7:27 am

    The Boston Globe has their complete 2009 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar available for viewing.

  9. Stemella permalink*
    January 4, 2010 8:11 am

    Happy New Year!

    Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.

    And from this article’s comments : “Dolphins say investment bankers should be treated as ‘non-human persons'”

    More proof that the dolphin should be our new overlords and not those pesky vampire squid ;)

    • cometman permalink*
      January 4, 2010 11:28 am

      Yeah but can they use coconuts to pretend they’re riding a horse like the octopus we saw a week or so ago? Any overlord worth being subjected to can do a simple Monty python skit :P

    • artemis54 permalink
      January 5, 2010 2:39 pm

      That comment thread is worth reading itself. One of the authors, Lori Marino, has even joined in.

      It is far from obvious to me that intelligence, rather than the capacity to suffer, should be the main criteria for deciding in what direction to “expand the circle.”

      Spain has racognized the human rights of the great apes.

      Torture seems worse than a quick death. Surely the hideous treatment of elephants “trained” to perform circus tricks after being taken away from their family unit qualifies as torture to an intensely social animal. To say nothing of the treatment of nonhuman primates.

      It would be a good start if we could get the Captive Primate Safety Act passed in the Senate (it was passed by the House long ago, in the wake of the chimp incident in Connecticutt). This would end the pet primate trade in the US. It is absurd that tearing primate infants from their mothers and selling them is illegal in Africa, but a thriving business in the US.

      • Stemella permalink*
        January 5, 2010 7:26 pm

        Thanks for pointing that out as I hadn’t taken the time to read the comments when I posted it. Here is Ms. Marino’s comment in full, because it is an excellent one:

        As one of the scientists mentioned in this article I would like to clarify one of the statements made. The work I’ve done on dolphin brains shows that, when relative brain size is taken into account, some dolphin species are second only to modern humans and have larger brains than chimpanzees. However, I do not think we can “declare” that dolphins are the second smartest animals on the planet on the basis of just this information. I do not want to make categorical or hierarchical statements about matters that are clearly too complex to warrant a simple interpretation. The point of our upcoming session and arguments is this. Given what we now know about dolphin brains and intelligence we need to rethink our “accepted” cultural standards of treatment – from slaughter to capture to confinement in amusement parks. The scientific evidence is clear that the suffering imposed by these activities on dolphins is on a par with what humans would suffer under the same circumstances. That is the message of the article.

  10. Stemella permalink*
    January 4, 2010 8:38 am

    I saw a good movie, a documentary, over the weekend, now on DVD, called Beautiful Losers about a loose collective of artists from the DIY skate/punk scene who got started in the 90’s. It was interesting to see how they all evolved personally and artistically.

    • cometman permalink*
      January 4, 2010 11:33 am

      Just watched the trailer and it looks pretty good. Makes me wish I had saved more of the promo posters for rock shows that used to be on every telephone pole in Seattle. There was some pretty good artwork in a lot of those.

  11. Stemella permalink*
    January 4, 2010 9:27 am

    What to expect from the military side of our Empire for the coming year from TomDispatch

    The Year of the Assassin

    We dominate the global arms trade, monopolizing almost 70% of the arms business in 2008, with Italy coming in a vanishingly distant second. We put more money into the funding of war, our armed forces, and the weaponry of war than the next 25 countries combined (and that’s without even including Iraq and Afghan war costs). We garrison the planet in a way no empire or nation in history has ever done. And we plan for the future, for “the next war” — on the ground, on the seas, and in space — in a way that is surely unique. If our two major wars of the twenty-first century in Iraq and Afghanistan are any measure, we also get less bang for our buck than any nation in recent history.

    So, let’s pause a moment as the New Year begins and take stock of ourselves as what we truly are: the preeminent war-making machine on planet Earth.

    Tom follows with ten important questions for discussing that stock taking of the war machine that is our country.

    1. How busted will the largest defense budget in history be in 2010?
    2. Will the U.S. Air Force be the final piece in the Afghan surge?
    3. How big will the American presence in Pakistan be as 2010 ends?
    4. How much smaller will the American presence in Iraq be?
    5. What will the New Year mean for the Pentagon’s base-building plans in our war zones?
    6. Will the U.S. and Israel thwart the Iranian insurgency?
    7. Will Yemen become the fourth major front in Washington’s global war?
    8. How brutal will the American way of war be in 2010?
    9. Where will the drones go in 2010?
    10. What will surprise us in 2010?

    • cometman permalink*
      January 4, 2010 11:18 am

      Sad but very likely true about what to expect in all these wars. I’m hoping the surprise will be that China cuts off the money to pay for it all. I’d rather it be the US voters who put an end to it by throwing all the bums out but that would really be a pipe dream.

  12. Stemella permalink*
    January 4, 2010 9:46 am

    This will surprise none of us here

    some of the nation’s largest banks have actually bought more risky home loans instead of getting them off their balance sheets.

    In other words, the program that was supposed to help banks dispose of these toxic assets instead made those assets so marketable that banks bought more — which has pushed Wall Street’s titans to even greater exposure to the stalled housing market. The banks apparently decided that the government’s entry into the mortgage security market was simply a guaranteed money-making opportunity.

    Per Bloomberg’s figures, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs added $2.74 billion of this kind of mortgage debt since March. The value of the debt was up 13 percent from the second quarter.

    Banks make a killing on TARP

    based on this Bloomberg story No Good Deed Goes Unpunished as Banks Seek Profits From Bailout

    The only one pretending to be surprised is the shithead elvin one who was supposed to have been overtaken by a Zamboni in Santa’s workshop over the holiday. Slacker Rudolf. What are he and his reindeer games good for, I ask?

    • cometman permalink*
      January 4, 2010 10:30 am

      Not sure if this could be related in any way to raising the cap on bailout funds for Freddie and Fannie but I do remember that we discussed here months ago that the banks would use this program to buy each others’ bad assets and then stick the government with the bill in the likely event the assets didn’t perform well. And IIRC when this possibility was pointed out by others we were told that steps were taken to make sure banks would NOT do this. Now it looks like that was just more pants-on-fire lying from Timmeh and the rest.

  13. cometman permalink*
    January 4, 2010 11:45 am

    More blaming Obama for all the wrong reasons. Here’s another jackass insinuating that Obama isn’t tough enough on “terra” or “securi-tie” or something. link

    The Republican chairman of the Bush Administration’s 9/11 Commission declared Sunday that the would-be-terrorist who tried to blow up a plane en route to Detroit “probably did us a favor.”


    “We had an administration which was not focused, as it should be, on terrorism and that’s understandable,” Kean told CNN. “They were focused on health care and global warming and the economy. That’s very understandable.

    Now I’m no fan of the TSA and its legions of uneducated minimum wage workers who are supposed to be keeping us safe by making sure they smell all of our feet. But I’ve seen a number of these types of complaints now and yet none of those using the underoo bomber incident to make political hay have bothered to explain how Obama or the intrepid TSA workers or anybody else in the US was supposed to stop a guy on a flight that originated in a fucking foreign airport. And I guess it must have escaped this cracker’s notice that Obama had been bombing the crap out of a few more countries we hadn’t declared war on yet when he was busy claiming not enough attention was being paid to teh terra.

  14. artemis54 permalink
    January 4, 2010 1:47 pm

    The Shuster & Hall comedy hour features Pat Buchanan today, comenting on the pronouncements of renowned theologian Brit Hume.

    Pat’s a stooge, and defends his coreligionist’s right to express his opinion, tries to convert Tamron on the spot, etc, but at least he has enough sense to say he doesn’t know anything about buddhism. If he did or if Hume did, they might be able to understand that not all religions revolve around redemption as Xtianity does. They are so parochial that their unspoken and un-thought out definition of religion is entirely in Christian terms.

    The next step that will not occur to them as they rake all this over and over is to invite someone on who does know something about buddhist. Maybe a buddhist? I think most would agree that Wood’s behavior is a bit short of right action.

    • cometman permalink*
      January 4, 2010 2:34 pm

      You must be talking about this story I saw earlier but hadn’t read. Definitely lots of stupid in there. Evidently Steven Seagal is a Buddhist. Couldn’t Faux have at least asked him on the show for the Buddhist perspective? He seems to be the kind of kick ass action hero guy they worship ;)

      Your comment reminds me of the sermon I suffered through years ago where the son of C Everett Koop told us that we can be certain that Xtianity is the only “real” religion because it is the only one that deals appropriately with sin SIN SIN. I always wondered why that was such a necessity.

      On a related note, I’ve been watching some of the Werner Herzog films I got for Xmas and I saw Wheel of Time over the long weekend. It wasn’t his best film but it was still very very good if you haven’t seen it.

      • artemis54 permalink
        January 4, 2010 6:40 pm

        Well, Seagal calls himself a buddhist. Some scandal there as I recall, along the lines of buying his way in. Great surprise that there are all sorts of shenanigans in the world of organized American buddhism, or maybe not even American. I wouldn’t exactly hold him as a role model – maybe he needs to come to jesus too.

      • artemis54 permalink
        January 4, 2010 6:46 pm

        Well there is a contrary view that the essence of Xtianity is the perpetual, instantaneous forgiveness of sin but that line isn’t much pursued in the pop version since it puts the onus on oneself (to forgive) rather than blathering on about other people.

  15. cometman permalink*
    January 5, 2010 10:30 am

    So I was checking out Rawstory today and I saw this story about some guy shooting up the Federal building in Las Vegas. That was the first I’d heard of it so I checked a few other places expecting to see big headlines but I didn’t see anything among the top stories on yahoo’s main page and even killing a guard or two wasn’t enough to get it on the front page of the Boston Globe or even at the top of the national news section. A guy comes onto US soil and starts shooting people up, some might even say “terrorizing” them and yet I see no calls for increased security or even accusations of terrorism. In fact, in this article I did find from yahoo, douchebag John Ensign goes out of his way to say this was NOT terrorism.

    U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., told reporters it appeared the gunman acted alone and the shooting was not a terrorist act. Ensign also has an office in the building but wasn’t there at the time. The senator said the guard who died was shot in the chest.

    In another article I saw Ensign went so far as to say that the fact that the gunman got caught meant security had been just fine. Sorry, but I can’t find the exact article I read that in. And I haven’t seen any calls for the racial profiling of people like this latest shooter. Oh wait a minute, the guy was black so maybe they figure they’ve already got that one covered.

    Obviously the story has gotten decent coverage but I just don’t see the blaring headlines and the immediate fear mongering that we saw for the underoo bomber who didn’t kill anybody.

    Wonder if the fact that the gunman was motivated by getting his social security benefits cut will get anybody’s attention? It should. This is what happens when people feel they have nothing left to lose.

  16. cometman permalink*
    January 5, 2010 11:12 am

    Good article at naked capitalism on exorbitant credit and debit card fees . This is one issue that really pisses me off. He mentions that there was a class action law suit against some of the worst practices which the plaintiffs won which I know for certain happened. The problem is that this isn’t really enough since most businesses have to accept cards if they want to stay in business but you never really know what fees will be charged for each card until the bill comes at the end of the month. And even then it isn’t clear how much was taken from each individual transaction, so most businesses just run the card and hope they don’t get screwed too badly overall. Why VISA/MC should be allowed to rake in 2-3% of every single purchase made with a card on top of the usurious interest and fees they already collect is beyond me. It’s the rest of the economy doing all the work producing and selling goods and yet these companies still rake in billions on processing fees for doing practically nothing. Thought this part was very good about how the oligarchs howl over the mere mention of a transaction tax on equity trading yet never make a peep about the corporate tax these credit/debit companies charge on millions of purchases a day.

    Now how come when any brings up Tobin taxes (small charges on every trade) as a way to pay for the bailout and discourage speculation, the financial services industry becomes utterly apoplectic. You can’t interfere in “free markets” (as if licensed and government backstopped capital markets casinos bear any resemblance to fantasized “free markets”). You’ll hurt liquidity (and who benefits from all this slushy liquidity? Higher transaction costs might make fund managers think twice before buying and selling. OMG, they might start acting like investors again! Can’t have that, now can we?). You’ll raise the cost of borrowing (please, this is a real stretch, the spreads on new issues, which is where funds are raised, are much bigger than in secondary trading or derivatives markets, where taxes like this would bite).

    Yet here in our very midst, we have a Tobin tax equivalent on a very high proportion of retail trade, in that you can think of the rapacious Visa and Mastercharge charges for debit transactions (disclosure: I’ve done a bit of work in credit cards, and trust me, the charges are egregious) as having two components: the fee they’d be able to charge if they faced some competition, and the premium they extract by controlling the market and refusing to compete on price. In terms of its effect on commerce, this premium is worse than a Tobin tax.

  17. cometman permalink*
    January 5, 2010 11:15 am

    Personal bankruptcy filings up 32% in the past year. Doubt that can bode well for all the securitized debt banks are still holding on to.

  18. cometman permalink*
    January 5, 2010 11:19 am

    Another good post from naked capitalism on the Lehman meltdown. Not too much new there but this part stuck out:

    Of course, plenty of people at Lehman, if you asked them “what happened?” would give you an answer. They’d say, “Paulson hated Fuld’s guts,” or “Fuld ran the company into the wall,” or “Mark Walsh made a bad real estate bet.”

    But while each of those statements may be true, none of them, at least to me, really answers the question: “What happened?” Or, at least, what I mean when I ask the question, which is really: “Trace for me the series of events that led a profitable investment banking and trading franchise to become so overleveraged and loaded with bad assets that, at the end, the bankruptcy specialists estimate that it had a negative net worth far in excess of $100 billion. Who OK’d the decisions that led to that outcome? How many people were privy to the bank’s disastrous situation, and what did they do once they learned of it? Who was complicit in the decisions that were made in Lehman’s final months regarding the representation of the company’s financial position to investors, regulators and trading partners, some of which (given the disparity between the firm’s published statements and ultimate worth in liquidation) surely amounted to outright fraud?

    I was pretty senior at Lehman, and yet I have no idea how to even begin to answer any of these questions.

    If senior executives profess to have no clue as to what really going on at their own companies, shouldn’t that be reason enough to show that these companies are simply to big to manage efficiently and need to be broken up?

    • cometman permalink*
      January 5, 2010 11:29 am

      On a somewhat related note, former Time Warner CEO apologizes for creating the behemoth AOL/Time Warner which didn’t turn out so well and calls on other CEOs to show some contrition for the damage they’ve done.

      Jerry Levin, who sold Time Warner for AOL shares inflated by the dotcom boom, has marked the 10th anniversary of the disastrous $164bn deal with a call for today’s corporate titans to accept responsibility for the recent financial crisis.

      From reading the article it appears the big CEOs are going to wait for somebody else to start apologizing first. Regardless, contrition is no substitute for the time in the slammer they really deserve.

      And I doubt Levin is exactly destitute now that he is only a former CEO s how sorry was Levin really after 10 years and probably millions in ill-gotten gains?

      Mr Levin seemed to admit that he had waited a long time to demonstrate the contrition he was now asking others to show. “Maybe you could say in my case it’s a little late,” he said.

      A little late? You think?????

    • Stemella permalink*
      January 5, 2010 6:41 pm

      Nah, senior executives professing to have no clue as to what really going on at their own companies is reason to give them a $2 mill salary, $25 mill in stocks and a $15 mill annual bonus for kindly looking great in an Italian suit and looking the other way while the robbers are in the basement tinkering with their financial instruments.

      That is the worst part of all is that the cluelessness and “darkness” of it all has been injected into the system for so long now there is no way Elvin and his overlords are going to shine light on it. This is as good as it is gonna get until the whole thing collapses again.

  19. cometman permalink*
    January 5, 2010 11:36 am

    The crackdown continues in Honduras –Killing Organizers in Honduras . Will anybody notice?

    • cometman permalink*
      January 5, 2010 1:08 pm

      More on the current situation in Honduras from Andrés Thomas Conteris who has been in the Brazilian embassy there for more than 100 days – From Coup-lite to Truth-lite: US Policy and Death Squad Democracy in Honduras.

      • Stemella permalink*
        January 5, 2010 6:48 pm

        No one gives a shit about Honduras. The neo-libs got what they paid for, end of story . No one even seems to care about what is happening right across the border in Mexico with full scale war between drug lords, government and civilians.

        This quote from Obama tells all one needs to know about his foreign policy positions

        “The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we’re always intervening. . . I think what that indicates is that maybe there’s some hypocrisy involved in their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations. . .”

  20. cometman permalink*
    January 5, 2010 11:41 am

    Fascinating. Astronomers have discovered the first supernova believed to have been caused by an anti-matter explosion.

    University of Notre Dame astronomer Peter Garnavich and a team of collaborators have discovered a distant star that exploded when its center became so hot that matter and anti-matter particle pairs were created. The star, dubbed Y-155, began its life around 200 times the mass of our Sun but probably became “pair-unstable” and triggered a runaway thermonuclear reaction that made it visible nearly halfway across the universe.


    Over 40 years ago scientists proposed that massive stars could become unstable through the production of matter/anti-matter particle pairs, but only recently have large-scale searches of the sky, like the ESSENCE project, permitted the discovery of these bright, but rare, events.

  21. cometman permalink*
    January 5, 2010 1:19 pm

    The fight to gut Social Security continues and it looks like Obama has been listening to the charlatans who’d like to privatize it. They’ve even managed to co-opt the whorish WAPO, which admittedly isn’t all that difficult these days.

    He’s baaack–the Wall Street billionaire who wants to loot Social Security. This time, Pete Peterson has invented his own “news network” to promote his right-wing rants about shrinking the only retirement security system available to millions of working people. Peterson styles himself as a patriot saving the nation from fiscal insolvency and has committed $1 billion to that cause (a chunk of the wealth he accumulated at Blackstone Group, the notorious corporate-takeover firm). His efforts might be dismissed as ludicrous–except money does talk in Washington, and Peterson is now buying Washington reporters to spread his dire warnings.


    With his great wealth, Peterson could have also bought a newspaper to publish his dispatches, but he did better than that. He hooked up with the Washington Post, which has agreed to “jointly produce content focusing on the budget and fiscal issues.” (This media scandal was first uncovered by economist Dean Baker.) The newspaper is thus compromising its own integrity. It’s like buying political propaganda from a Washington lobbyist, then printing it in the news columns as if it was just another news story


    A year ago, the Obama White House was playing footsie with Peterson and intended to give him a starring role in its “fiscal responsibility summit.” The Nation disrupted those plans. I wrote a fierce attack on the billionaire’s looting scheme and the true fiscal history of Social Security. The sting that really hurt was The Nation’s cover–an unfortunate photograph of Mr. Peterson in which he resembled a Mafia don. The White House abruptly downplayed its summit and dropped Peterson as keynote speaker.

    But the assault on Society Security, we knew, would come back sooner or later because many of Obama’s lieutenants are devoted to Peterson’s fiscal logic. Budget director Peter Orszag once co-authored a “reform” plan that would raise the payroll tax on young workers and cut benefits for older people near retirement. Isn’t that clever? Pinhead economists evidently think that workers won’t notice. Now the billionaire is cranking up another fight. We should finger him again, big-time, and all those who willingly collaborate in his plot.

    As a candidate, Barack Obama said all the right things about Social Security and described the modest adjustments that would solve any long-term problems. But we learned during the last year not to trust fuzzy expressions of good intentions. We need to bang on the president right now and demand explicit commitment to oppose the sleight-of-hand proferred by Peterson, Conrad, Gregg and others.

    In the current political climate where Obama can have the exact same policies as Bush but fool the rubes into thinking that they’re somehow different this time around, I fully expect he and the Democrats to take a crack at handing over Social Security to their Wall Street pimps. Will it finally be the thing that wakes people up to the fact that they’re getting screwed by everybody in DC?

    • Stemella permalink*
      January 5, 2010 7:17 pm

      Orszag has had a hard on for $ SS from the beginning. He made noises about it when he was first nominated that certainly perked up my ears.

      Sounds just like the Clinton era, doesn’t it? Passing Reagan’s legislative agenda with a wink, a lip bite, appeasing the liberals, but with a steely eye as he then proceeded to throw them all under the bus.

      Barry not so McHopington does the same with that dry Mid-Western tone and a faux populist Yes We Can! while flashing those pearlies, all the while pursuing the policies of the oligarchy, flushing the rest of us down the toilet.

      On a somewhat related note, here is a just released NYT article that discusses the budget, taxes and Orszag’s take on them.

      Promise to Trim Deficit Is Growing Harder to Keep

      With most Bush tax cuts scheduled to expire at the end of this year, some officials, including Mr. Obama’s budget director, Peter R. Orszag, suggested that instead of permanently extending the cuts for all but the richest Americans — as the president has long promised — Mr. Obama could instead propose to extend them a year or two, arguing that further action would await the recommendations of a bipartisan budget commission that leading Senate Democrats want to create.

      • cometman permalink*
        January 6, 2010 9:36 am

        How much more evidence do we need that the entire political system is broken? There is a huge budget deficit and they can’t find anything to cut in the bloated defense budget, taxing corporations at a reasonable rate isn’t feasible, so let’s just fall back on the old standby of tax cuts when facing a deficit because somehow taking in less money gets you more. Simply maddening to watch the sausage get made by these assholes.

  22. Stemella permalink*
    January 5, 2010 7:41 pm

    Here’s a wonkish opinion piece about the possibility of a Deaniac revival.

    The resurrection of Howard Dean

    I seriously doubt that Dean would run against Obama, but it would be great if DFA could juice up enough support to run some strong challenges against some of the asshole Rhamulan types in Congress. At this point partisan politics means very little to me, since the whole system is corrupt and broken, but I could still cheer a good asswhupping should it happen! ;)

    • cometman permalink*
      January 6, 2010 9:40 am

      I’d love to see Dean run again as an independent if only for the wailing and gnashing of teeth it would cause for the Democrats. He’d have my vote and I suspect millions of others too. If we can’t get rid of the two major political parties then somebody needs to at least put the fear of the deity of their choice into them.

  23. Stemella permalink*
    January 5, 2010 8:02 pm

    More from the stupid of America

    Jesus stick spuds

    The potato discovered first, by Dennis Bort of Brunswick, Ohio, on Christmas Day, was listed Tuesday on eBay with an asking bid of $1,000. The second, found by a couple in Marion, Iowa, on New Year’s Eve, was on sale with bids starting at $2.

    And this one is so tweeked it makes me laugh

    Ore. man accused of snipping bus passenger’s hair

    A prosecutor says a Portland man accused of sneakily snipping a fellow bus passenger’s hair as he sat behind her New Year’s Eve is a suspect in a number of similar incidents. Jared Weston Walter pleaded not guilty Monday in Multnomah County Circuit Court to third-degree robbery, interfering with public transit, second-degree disorderly conduct and harassment.

    During the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Chuck French said the 22-year-old is a suspect in other incidents in which women riders have either had their hair cut or glued on TriMet buses. TriMet spokeswoman Bekki Witt says three such cases have been reported in recent weeks.

    The Oregonian reports that Walter has an outstanding warrant on an assault charge in King County, Wash., in connection with a hair-gluing incident.

    • artemis54 permalink
      January 5, 2010 9:17 pm

      The spud cross is amazingly lame. Things like that pop up all the time if you sort through enough spuds. I did find one clearly from the devil once. It looked like Richard Nixon, but we lost it in the warehouse.

  24. Stemella permalink*
    January 6, 2010 8:11 am

    Is our propensity towards party politics genetically determined? Are the hardcore kumquat partisan Obamabots hardwired to be the creatures they are? Likewise are we here hardwired to be averse to partisan cultishness? These scientists think so.

    The Genetics of Political Intensity

    While interesting to contemplate, I remain skeptical of the conclusions of this study. Political Science like economics really ain’t hard science no matter how many studies and statistics they paste onto them trying to prove it.

    • cometman permalink*
      January 6, 2010 9:49 am

      I’m a little skeptical too for the same reasons.

      By their reckoning, genes are half responsible for the degree of your party commitment — unique experience counts for the other half.

      I think the unique experience probably plays a pretty large role in determining how people view the world and thus their political affiliation later in life. There is a lot of evidence that brains develop a certain way in childhood based on what input they are given and eventually the circuits become hard wired. That’s why it’s easier for small children to learn different languages by growing up in multi-lingual environment or why it’s hard to learn math at an older age if you haven’t been exposed to it in childhood. If early experiences teaches a person to be fearful and wary and maybe they are also taught not to question authorities like church and government figures, I suspect that causes them to lean towards conservatism in later life.

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