Tag: Naked Capitalism

Running on empty!

Is it just me?

It is my usual pattern to awake around 5am, sit upright in bed and browse the latest news on my tablet computer. Jean sleeps on most times next to me.

Thus it was last Friday morning that I am sitting in bed reading the latest goings on around the world.

But, unusually, that morning’s wanderings left a bleak mark on me. See if you feel the same way when I share the stories that I read.

From Naked Capitalism.

The Tragedy of the Soma Mine-Workers: A Crime of Peripheral Capitalism Unleashed

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Yves Smith

Yves here. This post explains how the horrific mine explosion in Western Turkey, which has officially claimed nearly 300 lives as the death count continues to rise, was not an accident but the direct result of privatization and circumvention of safety standards. And unlike the West, where industrial and mining accidents are met with short-term sympathy but little if any real change in working conditions, protests have broken out, not just in the mine town of Soma but also in major cities. As Mark Ames has pointed out, American has airbrushed out much of the history of labor’s struggles for safe workplaces and better pay. Violence against efforts to organize workers was common. Henry Ford had a private army of thugs for just this purpose. The tragedy in Turkey should serve as a reminder of what has been won, and how fragile those gains are.

By Erinç Yeldan, Dean of the faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Yasar University and an executive directors of the International Development Economics Associates. Cross posted from Triple Crisis

One of the greatest work-crimes in mining industry occurred in Soma, a little mining village in Western Turkey. At noon-time on Tuesday, May 13, according to witnesses, an electrical fault triggered a transformer to explode causing a large fire in the mine, releasing carbon monoxide and gaseous fumes. (The official cause of the “accident” was still unknown, at this writing, after nearly 30 hours.) Around 800 miners were trapped 2 km underground and 4 km from the exit. At this point, the death toll has already reached 245, with reports of another 100 workers remaining in the mine, yet unreached.

Turkey has possibly the worst safety record in terms of mining accidents and explosions in Europe and the third worst in the world. Since the right-wing Justice and Development Party (AKP) assumed power in 2002, and up to 2011, a 40% increase in work-related accidents has been reported. The death toll from these accidents reached more than 11,000.

(Read the rest here.)

From the BBC News website:

In just over five years Britain will have run out of oil, coal and gas, researchers have warned.

A report by the Global Sustainability Institute said shortages would increase dependency on Norway, Qatar and Russia.

There should be a “Europe-wide drive” towards wind, tidal, solar and other sources of renewable power, the institute’s Prof Victor Anderson said.

The government says complete energy independence is unnecessary, says BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin.

The report says Russia has more than 50 years of oil, more than 100 years of gas and more than 500 years of coal left, on current consumption.

‘Decisive action’

By contrast, Britain has just 5.2 years of oil, 4.5 years of coal and three years of its own gas remaining.

France fares even worse, according to the report, with less than year to go before it runs out of all three fossil fuels.

(Read the rest here)

Again from Naked Capitalism:

UK Survey Finds High Levels of Depression and Desperation Among the Young

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Yves Smith

If you’ve been keeping half an eye on economic news, the UK has of late been looking pretty spiffy relative to its advanced economy peers, with 2014 growth forecast at 3%. Even though unemployment in the UK is at its lowest level in five years, the young and the long-term unemployed haven’t benefitted to the same degree.

One issue that doesn’t get the attention that it merits is the destructive psychological impact of being out of work. Work doesn’t just provide money, as critical as that is. It provides a way of organizing your time, social interaction, and a place in society, even if that place is not really where you’d like to be. Being unanchored is extremely taxing. Recall that the Japanese get people to quit by giving them a desk and nothing to do. The lack of legitimacy, the implicit shaming of being isolated is sufficiently punitive as to induce workers to give up their pay and being able to tell their families they have a job.

The BBC reports on the results of a survey by the Prince’s Trust called the Macquarie Youth Index, which is based on a survey of roughly 2200 16 to 25 year olds. 13% were what the survey called Neet: not in employment, education, or training.

I will return to the terrible implications of this report after I declare a past interest.  Before I left England in 2008, I was an active volunteer with the Prince’s Trust. My years of being associated with the Trust taught me that helping young persons discover their strengths, enable them to maintain and defend a positive self-image, and offer them real hope for their future lives, was and is the most important role of society; without doubt!

Now back to that report:

The survey found high levels of suicidal thoughts and self harm among this group, and high levels of stress among the young generally. Key excerpts from the article:

The report found 9% of all respondents agreed with the statement: “I have nothing to live for”…

Among those respondents classified as Neet, the percentage of those agreeing with the statement rose to 21%.

The research found that long-term unemployed young people were more than twice as likely as their peers to have been prescribed anti-depressants.

One in three (32%) had contemplated suicide, while one in four (24%) had self-harmed.

The report found 40% of jobless young people had faced symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks, as a direct result of unemployment.

Three quarters of long-term unemployed young people (72%) did not have someone to confide in, the study found.

Martina Milburn, chief executive of the Prince’s Trust, said: “Unemployment is proven to cause devastating, long-lasting mental health problems among young people.

(Read the full report here and the BBC report here.)

Then there was the report from the NASA study team that key glaciers in West Antarctica are in an irreversible retreat. First seen by me on the BBC News website, from where the following photograph was taken.

Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay.
Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay.

To really understand the message that Planet Earth is sending out to us humans, I would recommend reading Antarctica’s Glaciers Disintegrating over on Patrice Ayme’s blog.  Here’s how Patrice finishes that essay:

We imparted acceleration to the biosphere. We are pushing the biosphere around. And we know that the force we are applying is only augmenting. That means the acceleration, and even more the speed of the change, is going to get worse quick. That’s basic dynamics, first quarter of undergraduate physics.

Of course, neither the leaders of France, Great Britain, or the USA has taken such a course: they are basically ignoramuses at the helm (and Angela Merkel, who knows plenty of physics, made a risky bet she seems to be losing).

Clearly, we should instead apply the brakes to the maximum (instead of flooring the accelerator). What would be the price of this cautious? None, for common people: hard work to de-carbonize the world economy would require dozens of millions to be employed that way, in the West alone.

That, of course, is a scary thought for plutocrats, who much prefer us unemployed, impotent, and despondent.

Patrice Aymé

All of this is sending out a message. The message that if we are not very, very careful this could be the end-game for human civilisation on this Planet.

But do you know what really puzzles me?

It’s that this message is increasingly one that meets with nods of approval and words of agreement from more and more people that one sees going about one’s normal life.  Perhaps, because there’s more and more reporting from a wider and wider range of sources. Like The Permaculture Research Institute website recently publishing This Collapse is a ‘Crisis of Bigness’.  Like Grist publishing Walmart is the last place Obama should be making a clean energy speech.

Like Ian Welsh publishing Equal Rights to Profit from Impoverishing People and Causing a Great Extinction Event. Like Patrice in an essay last Friday about the way in which Main Stream Media is Manipulated. Viz:

Main Stream Media (MSM) has been the instrument of control of the People ever since there were oligarchies. It used to be about temples and priests, now it’s more about controlling papers, radio, TV, and the Internet.

and later on:

This crudeness, and vigilance of censorship by the owners [of the New York Times], is why the Obamas, Clintons, Krugmans, and Stiglitzs have to be careful. After all, they are just employees enjoying the perks of the system. Yes, they don’t own it. Ownership is everything. If the servants want to keep on thriving, those “leaders” will have to please the owners. So they “lead” where the real owners are willing us all, the herd, to be led.

Patrice rounds his essay off, thus:

The plutocracy focuses on direct control of the world imperial system, and that means controlling the giants (especially the three military leaders of the West). This is where the propaganda is the thickest.

The New York Times is considered to be the “newspaper of record” in the USA. However, the bottom line is that this is the third century during which it is owned and controlled by a particular family. How can these two elements be compatible? Why is that particular family “of record”?

Even in the Middle Ages, the most absolute kings there were, those of France, actually owned relatively little property. Francois I himself may have worn expensive clothes, but Italian bankers paid for his trips around France. Francois I did not own the media of the time.

What we have now is different. We have an ascending plutocracy that tries to grab the minds ever more. What Putin is doing in Russia is just a particular case, part of a whole.

Hopefully, people will see through this, and get their news from somewhere else than plutocratically owned media, thus bankrupting the MSM (the Internet can support journalists directly: see the successful Mediapart in France).

But I haven’t answered my earlier rhetorical question.  “But do you know what really puzzles me?” Implying that a growing number of people sense there is a problem with today’s world.

That question will be answered tomorrow. Do please return.

I just want to throw up!

Apologies for feeling very dispirited!

Normally, there’s always a selection of bits and pieces in my LfD Blog folder from which to construct a new post.

But yesterday afternoon as I trawled a number of articles and blog sites I ended up feeling sick to the back teeth. Disgusted about the inequalities and injustices that seem to be in the news just now. (I use the word ‘news’ liberally!)

It started with me reading, even before I was out of bed, the latest essay from George Monbiot entitled The Shooting Party.

As the food queues lengthen, the government is giving our money to the super-rich.

Then I went back to re-read an essay from Patrice Ayme that came out on the 22nd called USA: Rich Plutos, Poor People.  Here’s a snippet from there:

Plutocracy is a redistribution of wealth, power, income, from We The People to a small minority of controlling parasites. Plutocracy paralyzes the minds with a warped case of inverted decency. Plutocracy is neither optimal for the society, nor the economy.

Plutocracy affects the USA more than Europe, and the minds, even more than the stomachs. The fact that average Americans feel that they are much better off than in the rest of the world reinforces the plutocratization of the USA. Including astounding tolerance for the amazingly corrupt so called Supreme Court (Supremely plutocratic!).

On to another of Patrice’s essays.  Or more specifically to a comment left by Eugen to a post from Patrice published yesterday.

I would like to share with you my thought about the major defaults of the economic system called “Market economy” or “Capitalism”, or in the language of this blog, the moral deficiency of the system run by Plutocracy.

The major problem of the contemporary economic system on the macro level is that it enabled on one hand to pour into the economy too much financial liquidity at times of boom and overheated economy, by investing too much money in wrong and too expensive assets, and on the other hand at times of bust, when the economy needs liquidity to sustain employment, the system is rather greedy with helping investments in the same assets for even very reduced price. This system a-priory has to cause bust and boom, situations.

The economist since the great depression of 1929-1933 which had disastrous consequences learned from the lesson, and since then the governments and the central banks took as their major task in economy (and be the price whatever it takes), to act as anti bust and boom instrument. This is why they made the economic stimulus of trillions that saved the banks and financial system from total collapse (luckily the collapse came during the time of republican presidency and they couldn’t resist this decision), and the quantitative easing that poured liquidity of government money into the economy as alternative to the private money from banks who stopped to borrow.

So if it is so easy to solve the economic crisis situations, what is the problem? Let the economy run on the waves of bust and boom, and whenever the bust comes the government interferes, and at the times of booms let the boys play and enjoy themselves. If economics would be only about mathematical formulas, probably it could work, but the truth is all the economic decisions have their moral-political aspects. [Ed. My emphasis] And here lies the problem.

Because it is morally and politically very hard to neglect the principle of punish those who do wrong and give tribute to those who has done good. And this is actually what happens when the government comes to rescue the “credit boomers”, the bankers who created a distorted financial system, that channeled the financial and material resources to wrong places to invest in wrong assets, and when the D day came, they did not have to pay the price for their wrong doings. The same happened to those who took the loans, without to ask themselves if and when are they going to pay them back.

These Financiers and their creditors, who get loans of other peoples’ money enjoy free lunch twice. Once when they give and get these loans with knowledge that it will never be repaid, and second time when they enjoy the debt reduction, when the governments come to rescue them.

On the other hand those who use the wealth generated at times of boom to accumulate reserves for the bad times have to pay twice. First time when they restrain their activities during the times of prosperity and reduce by it their profits, second time at times of bust, when still they have to fulfill all their obligations, and get no praise for their responsible behavior in the times of boom.

Of course this system of Boom and Bust causes with each wave a major shift of wealth from one sector to the other, and generally from the decent and responsible entrepreneurs to the irresponsible gamblers, who happen to make bid on other people’s money.

This is one of the reasons why the pension systems are all in deficit, the wages stagnate while the profits and mainly the rewards of corporate managers of publicly traded companies surge.

Isn’t this just unfair?

Then I forget how I ended up on the Animal Spirits blogsite.  But I did.  To read a short essay Sanctions salami tactics.

Sanctions salami tactics

Plutocrats have a certain grudging respect for one another. Naturally, they would like to put each other out of business unless it impacted their own business adversely. So I conclude that Obama’s sanctions are an attempt to isolate Putin from his plutocratic supporters (although perhaps supporters is too strong a word; Putin keeps his plutocrats on a pretty tight leash, just ask Mikhail Khodorkovsky).

But what if under the table the West is inviting Putin’s plutocrats to join them, where the grass is greener and you don’t have old Vlad busting your chops. We’re not going to mention that we’re going to give you a haircut on the way, but are you really ready for the rebirth of the Soviet Union? The London bankers must certainly be for it.

On the other hand, you have the Chinese promising big business… but China’s biggest real estate investor is unloading everything as China replicates the Western real estate bubble and collapse….

It’s tough being a Russian plutocrat these days. It’s tough being a plutocrat anywhere, really, with all this talk that plutocrats are *too* wealthy (and are actually mass murdering their fellow humans with their insatiable greed by hording wealth and depriving others of health care, education and jobs).

Come to America! Come to the UK! Plutocrats rule! This is the subtext of what the Russian plutocrats are hearing.

Finally, an essay published on Naked Capitalism had me reaching for the bowl. It was by Rob Johnson on the Breakdown of Democracy.  Read it.  It included this video.

Published on Apr 26, 2014
Rob Johnson: The influx of additional campaign finance dollars and central bank policies have contributed to the destruction of democratic institutions

That was enough for me.

Couldn’t take any more. Certainly wasn’t feeling inspired and creative.  Just wanted to go out and find a horse to kiss.

Sanity is a warm, loving horse!
Sanity is a warm, loving horse!

Sorry! Hopefully back to being more positively creative tomorrow!

Trust, truth and community, Pt. One.

Reflections on our present world.

Today, and the next two days, I want to offer you three essays under the theme of Trust, truth and community.

As is so often the case, there was a series of outwardly unconnected experiences that seemed, well to my eyes anyway, to speak to a theme.  You will have to wait until Friday to judge whether or not you agree with me!

Trust

This first essay was motivated by two disparate events: One very local and one as far removed from being local as one could imagine.

But first, what do we mean by trust? Roget’s Thesaurus defines the word (in part):

trust noun

Absolute certainty in the trustworthiness of another: belief, confidence, dependence, faith, reliance.

You will recall that just over three weeks ago, we welcomed two horses to our pastures; Ranger and Ben.  Both horses had previously been treated badly by humans, especially Ben who had been starved and beaten by his ex-owners.

In the early days, Ben was very cautious of any sudden movement by me and would back away from any contact from me other than being offered a food treat.

But in just three weeks, Ben has gone a huge way towards trusting Jean and me.

Taken yesterday afternoon.
Taken yesterday afternoon.

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My face is closer than three inches to Ben's nose.
My face is closer than three inches to Ben’s nose.

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Both Ben and Ranger in the background are now very comfortable with Jean and me.
Both Ben and Ranger in the background are now very comfortable with Jean and me.

Now, I don’t know about you, but my guess is that if a human had experienced the degree of cruelty from the hands of another person that these horses had, it would take very much longer than three weeks for that human victim to regain the same level of trust that Ben and Ranger now offer. Indeed, many persons would harbour anger and distrust forever.

That was the local example of trust

Now to the ‘non-local’ example of trust. It involves PayPal.

Not so long ago, Wolf Richter, he of the Testosterone Pit blogsite, published an essay about PayPal’s recently revised privacy policy.  Or as Wolf called it: I Just Got PayPal’s New Absolutely-No-Privacy-Ever Policy

You must read it in full, especially if you are a PayPal user.  Thanks to Wolf, I can offer you his opening paragraphs:

I Just Got PayPal’s New Absolutely-No-Privacy-Ever Policy

TUESDAY, APRIL 1, 2014 AT 1:00AM
Sunday, when people had other things to do and weren’t supposed to pay attention, PayPal sent its account holders an innocuous-sounding email with the artfully bland title, “Notice of Policy Updates.” PayPal didn’t want people to read it – lest they come away thinking that the NSA, which runs the most expansive spying dragnet in history, is by comparison a group of choirboys.

The email started with corporate blah-blah-blah on privacy, that PayPal was “constantly” changing things “to give you more of what you want and improve your experience using us.”

Do read the rest of the essay here. Here’s a comment from a reader of Wolf’s essay, republished with Wolf’s permission:

Concerning: I Just Got PayPal’s New Absolutely-No-Privacy-Ever Policy

I will relate an experience I had regarding Pay Pal that I believe has some relevance to your blog on Pay Pal’s privacy policy.

I am a retired old geezer living in NY State. About 4 years ago I looked at Ebay’s bidding process to place a bid on an item I wanted. However I discovered that I could not make such a bid without subscribing to pay pal. I provided pay pal with the information it required and made my bid. My bid was exceeded by other bids and I did not get the item. My credit card was not used at that time and I never used Ebay or pay pal after that.

Because I did not respond to ongoing emails from the 2 companies I believed that I had no further connection to either of them and that my single failed bid was the end of our relationship.

Then about 2-3 years ago I received a couple of emails from Best Buy: one thanking me for opening a new account, and the other thanking me for purchasing an expensive electronic item.

When I opened up that new Best Buy account I discovered that my address was stated to be in California in care of a person named Pham Pham and that the credit card that was used was one that had recently expired although the number was still in use on a subsequently issued card. I checked all my credit cards online and found that the charge was not pending. I also took some other measures to protect myself. Within hours I received another email from Best Buy cancelling the order because payment was not made by my credit card company.

This incident took a strange turn a couple of days later. Initially I had no idea as to the source of the credit information leak. But then 2-3 days afterwards I received an email from Pay Pal requesting an update of the credit card information in my Pay Pal account. Pay Pal’s email request for updated credit information so soon after the online theft attempt may be just a coincidence, but in my mind there is an undisclosed connection. Of course I have not complied with Pay Pay’s requests. To this day no company has informed me that their accounts were hacked and that my credit information was stolen.

If, when you have read Wolf’s report in full, you feel, as I do, that the time has come to cut the relationship with PayPal then go for it.  Because only a customer base that is ‘voting with their feet’ will deliver the message.

What is that message?

Simply, if organisations want to be trusted by their customers, those organisations must behave with integrity.  Now I am not accusing PayPal of a lack of integrity but it goes beyond that.  It goes to operating with a genuine sensitivity for what is correct. PayPal’s privacy policy is anything but that.  There are parts of their ‘new’ policy that stink of gross insensitivity to their feelings for their customers. Read it in full courtesy of Wolf Richter

Oh, want to know how to close a PayPal account?

To close your Payflow account:

If your partner is PayPal, VeriSign or CyberCash contact PayPal Merchant support at 1-888-883-9770 or via email at payflow-support@paypal.com. Be sure to include your login ID.

If your partner is with a Payflow partner, reseller, or merchant bank you will need to contact the partner, reseller, or bank directly to close your Payflow account.

For additional information, contact PayPal Merchant support at 1-888-883-9770 or via email at payflow-support@paypal.com.

Note: Once your Payflow account is terminated, you cannot access the PayPal Manager or any account data. If you need access to this data, you will be charged a fee.

If you are trying to close your PayPal account and not a Payflow account do the following:
Log in to your PayPal account.
Click Profile at the top of the page.
Click Close Account in the Account Information column and follow the steps listed.

My PayPal account was closed at 15:10 PDT yesterday.

Perhaps PayPal should take note of how humans witness trust offered by our dear animals!

Not of immediate concern!

Milky Way galaxy heading for a collision – in about 4,000,000,000 years!

As with huge numbers of others who come to this blog, the night sky has always been of incredible fascination to me.  To reinforce that fact, one of the favourite posts on Learning from Dogs for the last three years has been The night sky above published back on the 27th March, 2011.  If you haven’t read it, do pop across and do so as the title is misleading in terms of the post.

Thus it was unavoidable not to pick up on an item recently referred to by Naked Capitalism that had been published by the EarthSky blog.  This particular item was called Night sky as Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies merge.  It began thus:

As seen on Cosmos … the collision and merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda galaxy 4 billion years from now.

The video below illustrates what NASA scientists announced in 2012 – and what the Cosmos TV series featured in 2014 – that the nearby Andromeda galaxy will collide and merge with our Milky Way galaxy 4 billion years from now. The video (from the Hubble Space Telescope news center) is from a series of photo illustrations, showing the predicted merger between our two titan spiral galaxies, as seen in Earth’s sky. Will Earth as a planet survive long enough to see this? A word about that at the end of this post.

The video lost a lot for me by not carrying a commentary.  But no problem as one was found that did have a ‘voice-over’.  However, the article photographs were stunning.  For example:

merger-milky-way-andromeda-NASA-e1395662599173
This series of photo illustrations shows the predicted merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Via NASA; ESA; Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI; T. Hallas, and A. Mellinger

A description of what’s happening in the images above:

First Row, Left: Present day.
First Row, Right: In 2 billion years the disk of the approaching Andromeda galaxy is noticeably larger.
Second Row, Left: In 3.75 billion years Andromeda fills the field of view.
Second Row, Right: In 3.85 billion years the sky is ablaze with new star formation.
Third Row, Left: In 3.9 billion years, star formation continues.
Third Row, Right: In 4 billion years Andromeda is tidally stretched and the Milky Way becomes warped.
Fourth Row, Left: In 5.1 billion years the cores of the Milky Way and Andromeda appear as a pair of bright lobes.
Fourth Row, Right: In 7 billion years the merged galaxies form a huge elliptical galaxy, its bright core dominating the nighttime sky.

The sequence is inspired by dynamical computer modeling of the inevitable future collision between the two galaxies.

Further on in the article one reads:

This illustration shows the collision paths of our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy. The galaxies are moving toward each other under the inexorable pull of gravity between them. Also shown is a smaller galaxy, Triangulum, which may be part of the smashup. Via NASA; ESA; A. Feild and R. van der Marel, STScI.
This illustration shows the collision paths of our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy. The galaxies are moving toward each other under the inexorable pull of gravity between them. Also shown is a smaller galaxy, Triangulum, which may be part of the smashup. Via NASA; ESA; A. Feild and R. van der Marel, STScI.

Will Earth survive long enough to see this merger of galaxies, as depicted in the video above? Earth as a planet might, but life on Earth – probably not. Astronomers say that the luminosity, or intrinsic brightness, of our sun will steadily increase over the next 4 billion years. As the sun’s luminosity increases, the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth will also increase. It’s possible that – around 4 billion years from now – the increase in the Earth’s surface temperature will cause a runaway greenhouse effect, perhaps similar to that going on now on the planet next door, Venus, whose surface is hot enough to melt lead. No one expects to find life on Venus. Likewise, life on Earth will probably not exist 4 billion years from now. What’s more, our sun is expected to become a red giant star eventually. A probable fate of the Earth is absorption by the sun in about 7.5 billion years, after our sun has entered the red giant phase and expanded to cross Earth’s current orbit.

Anyhow, I mentioned that I found a better video on YouTube than the one included in the original article, and that is now presented.

Rather puts the grunt and grind of daily life into perspective! 😉

Picture parade thirty-six.

The final set of pieces of wisdom.

The two previous sets may be linked to via here.  Bob D., who sent them to me, will be delighted with the number of comments and ‘Likes’.  Fittingly, it’s dear Capt. Bob’s birthday today!

RD14

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RD15

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RD16

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RD17

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RD18

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RD19

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RD20

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RD21

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RD22

ooOOoo

Going to close today’s picture parade by adding a couple of pictures recently seen on Naked Capitalism.  Each day Yves inserts an ‘antidote du jour’ and in the last week two of them were so wonderful that they just had to be shared with you.

NK2

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NK1

ooOOoo

You all have a great week!

Picture parade thirty.

We interrupt your life to bring you a moment of beauty, part two.

Last week I published the first set of pictures sent across by John Hurlburt.  Here is the second set (but do look at the postscript).

John11

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John12

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John13

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John14

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JH15

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JH16

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John17

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John18

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John19

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John20

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Now a bonus.

I was reading Naked Capitalism earlier on Saturday and came across the link to a story in Huffington Post about a young man who jumped into a swollen river in Bangladesh to rescue a young fawn in danger of being swept away to it’s death.  This how that story opens:

Courageous Teen Risks His Life To Save Drowning Baby Deer

This is pretty incredible.

A wildlife photographer visiting Noakhali, Bangladesh, was able to witness — and document — an amazingly courageous teen risk his own life to save a drowning fawn, Caters News Service reports.

The boy waded into the fast current of a surging, swollen river in Noakhali, holding the deer above his head, even as he, himself, disappeared beneath the water at times.

The link in the last sentence takes you to the article as it appeared in The Daily Mail newspaper (online version).

Two of the photographs from that article.

PIC FROM HASIB WAHAB / CATERS NEWS (Pictured: DEER RETURNED SAFELY) - A brave boy fearlessly risked his own life - to save a helpless baby deer from drowning. The boy, believed to be in his early teens, defiantly held the young fawn in one hand above his head as he plunged through the surging river. During the ordeal onlookers were unsure whether the boy was going to appear again. When he finally made it to the other side the locals cheered as the deer was reunited with its family. The incident took place in Noakhali, Bangladesh, when the young fawn became separated from its family during torrential rain and fast-rising floods.
PIC FROM HASIB WAHAB / CATERS NEWS (Pictured: DEER RETURNED SAFELY) – A brave boy fearlessly risked his own life – to save a helpless baby deer from drowning. The boy, believed to be in his early teens, defiantly held the young fawn in one hand above his head as he plunged through the surging river. During the ordeal onlookers were unsure whether the boy was going to appear again. When he finally made it to the other side the locals cheered as the deer was reunited with its family. The incident took place in Noakhali, Bangladesh, when the young fawn became separated from its family during torrential rain and fast-rising floods.

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PIC FROM HASIB WAHAB / CATERS NEWS (Pictured: DEER) - A brave boy fearlessly risked his own life - to save a helpless baby deer from drowning. The boy, believed to be in his early teens, defiantly held the young fawn in one hand above his head as he plunged through the surging river. During the ordeal onlookers were unsure whether the boy was going to appear again. When he finally made it to the other side the locals cheered as the deer was reunited with its family. The incident took place in Noakhali, Bangladesh, when the young fawn became separated from its family during torrential rain and fast-rising floods.
PIC FROM HASIB WAHAB / CATERS NEWS (Pictured: DEER)

Here’s that article in The Daily Mail newspaper.

OK, I know I have a tendency to get a little sentimental but here’s my closing thought.  That is that while there are people in the world such as young Belal who will not hesitate to rescue a vulnerable creature then there’s hope for all of mankind.

Synchronicity of minds, part one.

A collection of essays and ideas that unite in a common theme.

Back in those times before dogs became the domesticated friends of man, the leader of the pack, the alpha female, had two key pack roles.  One of them was having first pick of the males, for mating purposes, and the other was knowing when their territory was no longer conducive to her pack’s interests.  When that happened the ‘boss lady’ was the one to signal that the pack had to find another, more beneficial, homestead.

While mankind is in desperate need of learning so many of the qualities of dogs the one example that is beyond us is finding a new homestead. This planet is the only homestead we have.

This basic and fundamental concept seems to be missing from the minds of leaders and power-brokers.  Missing big time!

Coincidentally, over recent days there have been three essays from three different authors that scream out the madness, to put it nicely, of the way of our world just now. Let me dip into those three essays.

First, to a recent essay from Tom Engelhardt over at TomDispatch.

American Jihad 2014 
The New Fundamentalists 
By Tom Engelhardt

In a 1950s civics textbook of mine, I can remember a Martian landing on Main Street, U.S.A., to be instructed in the glories of our political system.  You know, our tripartite government, checks and balances, miraculous set of rights, and vibrant democracy.  There was, Americans then thought, much to be proud of, and so for that generation of children, many Martians were instructed in the American way of life.  These days, I suspect, not so many.

Still, I wondered just what lessons might be offered to such a Martian crash-landing in Washington as 2014 begins.  Certainly checks, balances, rights, and democracy wouldn’t top any New Year’s list.  Since my childhood, in fact, that tripartite government has grown a fourth part, a national security state that is remarkably unchecked and unbalanced.  In recent times, that labyrinthine structure of intelligence agencies morphing into war-fighting outfits, the U.S. military (with its own secret military, the special operations forces, gestating inside it), and the Department of Homeland Security, a monster conglomeration of agencies that is an actual “defense department,” as well as a vast contingent of weapons makers, contractors, and profiteers bolstered by an army of lobbyists, has never stopped growing.  It has won the undying fealty of Congress, embraced the power of the presidency, made itself into a jobs program for the American people, and been largely free to do as it pleased with almost unlimited taxpayer dollars.

The expansion of Washington’s national security state — let’s call it the NSS — to gargantuan proportions has historically met little opposition.  In the wake of the Edward Snowdenrevelations, however, some resistance has arisen, especially when it comes to the “right” of one part of the NSS to turn the world into a listening post and gather, in particular, American communications of every sort.  The debate about this — invariably framed within the boundaries of whether or not we should have more security or more privacy and how exactly to balance the two — has been reasonably vigorous.  The problem is: it doesn’t begin to get at the real nature of the NSS or the problems it poses.

If I were to instruct that stray Martian lost in the nation’s capital, I might choose another framework entirely for my lesson.  After all, the focus of the NSS, which has like an incubus grown to monumental proportions inside the body of the political system, would seem distinctly monomaniacal, if only we could step outside our normal way of thinking for a moment.  At a cost of nearly a trillion dollars a year, its main global enemy consists of thousands of lightly armed jihadis and wannabe jihadis scattered mainly across the backlands of the planet.  They are capable of causing genuine damage — though far less to the United States than numerous other countries — but not of shaking our way of life.  And yet for the leaders, bureaucrats, corporate cronies, rank and file, and acolytes of the NSS, it’s a focus that can never be intense enough on behalf of a system that can never grow large enough or be well funded enough.

It’s a long, deeply thoughtful essay that deserves your full read.  This is how it closes:

After 12 long years in Afghanistan and an Obama era surge in that country, the latest grim National Intelligence Estimate from the U.S. intelligence community suggests that no matter what Washington now does, the likelihood is that things there will only go from bad enough to far worse.  Years of a drone campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula hasstrengthened that organization; an air intervention in Libya led to chaos, a dead ambassador, and a growing al-Qaeda movement in northern Africa — and so it repetitively goes.

Similarly, intelligence officials brag of terrorist plots — 54 of them! — that have been broken up thanks in whole or in part to the National Security Agency’s metadata sweeps of U.S. phone calls; it also claims that, given the need of secrecy, only four of them can be made public.  (The claims of success on even those four, when examined by journalists, have proved less than impressive.)  Meanwhile, the presidential task force charged with reviewing the NSA revelations, which had access to a far wider range of insider information, came to aneven more startling conclusion: not one instance could be found in which that metadata the NSA was storing in bulk had thwarted a terrorist plot. “Our review,” the panel wrote, “suggests that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of section 215 telephony meta-data was not essential to preventing attacks.” (And keep in mind that, based on what we do know about such terror plots, a surprising number of them were planned or sparked or made possible by FBI-inspired plants.)

In fact, claims of success against such plots couldn’t be more faith-based, relying as they generally do on the word of intelligence officials who have proven themselves untrustworthy or on the impossible-to-prove-or-disprove claim that if such a system didn’t exist, far worse would have happened.  That version of a success story is well summarized in the claim that “we didn’t have another 9/11.”

In other words, in bang-for-the-buck practical terms, Washington’s national security state should be viewed as a remarkable failure.  And yet, in faith-based terms, it couldn’t be a greater success.  Its false gods are largely accepted by acclamation and regularly worshiped in Washington and beyond.  As the funding continues to pour in, the NSS has transformed itself into something like a shadow government in that city, while precluding from all serious discussion the possibility of its own future dismantlement or of what could replace it.  It has made other options ephemeral and more immediate dangers than terrorism to the health and wellbeing of Americans seem, at best, secondary.  It has pumped fear into the American soul.  It is a religion of state power.

No Martian could mistake it for anything else.

Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

Now let’s move from the USA to the UK.  George Monbiot penned an essay on the 6th January about the growing loss of freedoms in my old home country.  He opens:

Dead Zone

January 6, 2014

A shocking new bill threatens to make this country feel like a giant shopping mall.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 7th January 2014

Until the late 19th Century, much of our city space was owned by private landlords. Squares were gated, streets were controlled by turnpikes. The great unwashed, many of whom had been expelled from the countryside by acts of enclosure, were also excluded from desirable parts of town.

Social reformers and democratic movements tore down the barriers, and public space became a right, not a privilege. But social exclusion follows inequality as night follows day, and now, with little public debate, our city centres are again being privatised or semi-privatised. They are being turned by the companies that run them into soulless, cheerless, pasteurised piazzas, in which plastic policemen harry anyone loitering without intent to shop.

Streetlife in these places is reduced to a trance-world of consumerism, of conformity and atomisation, in which nothing unpredictable or disconcerting happens, a world made safe for selling mountains of pointless junk to tranquilised shoppers. Spontaneous gatherings of any other kind – unruly, exuberant, open-ended, oppositional – are banned. Young, homeless and eccentric people are, in the eyes of those upholding this dead-eyed, sanitised version of public order, guilty until proven innocent.

Then a few paragraphs later, the essay continues:

The existing rules are bad enough. Introduced by the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, anti-social behavour orders (Asbos) have criminalised an apparently endless range of activities, subjecting thousands – mostly young and poor – to bespoke laws. They have been used to enforce a kind of caste prohibition: personalised rules which prevent the untouchables from intruding into the lives of others.

You get an Asbo for behaving in a manner deemed by a magistrate as likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to other people. Under this injunction, the proscribed behaviour becomes a criminal offence. Asbos have been granted which forbid the carrying of condoms by a prostitute, homeless alcoholics from possessing alcohol in a public place, a soup kitchen from giving food to the poor, a young man from walking down any road other than his own, children from playing football in the street. They were used to ban peaceful protests against the Olympic clearances.

Inevitably, over half the people subject to Asbos break them. As Liberty says, these injunctions “set the young, vulnerable or mentally ill up to fail”, and fast-track them into the criminal justice system. They allow the courts to imprison people for offences which are not otherwise imprisonable. One homeless young man was sentenced to five years in jail for begging: an offence for which no custodial sentence exists. Asbos permit the police and courts to create their own laws and their own penal codes.

All this is about to get much worse. Tomorrow the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill reaches its report stage (close to the end of the process) in the House of Lords. It is remarkable how little fuss has been made about it, and how little we know of what is about to hit us.

The bill would permit injunctions against anyone of 10 or above who “has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.” It would replace Asbos with Ipnas (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance), which would not only forbid certain forms of behaviour, but also force the recipient to discharge positive obligations. In other words, they can impose a kind of community service on people who have committed no crime, which could, the law proposes, remain in force for the rest of their lives.

The bill also introduces Public Space Protection Orders, which can prevent either everybody or particular kinds of people from doing certain things in certain places. It creates new dispersal powers, which can be used by the police to exclude people from an area (there is no size limit), whether or not they have done anything wrong.

Please read the original essay in full as well as refer to background links that were included in that original.  I will offer the closing paragraphs.

The Home Office minister, Norman Baker, once a defender of civil liberties, now the architect of the most oppressive bill pushed through any recent parliament, claims that the amendments he offered in December will “reassure people that basic liberties will not be affected”(11). But Liberty describes them as “a little bit of window-dressing: nothing substantial has changed.”(12)

The new injunctions and the new dispersal orders create a system in which the authorities can prevent anyone from doing more or less anything. But they won’t be deployed against anyone. Advertisers, who cause plenty of nuisance and annoyance, have nothing to fear; nor do opera lovers hogging the pavements of Covent Garden. Annoyance and nuisance are what young people cause; they are inflicted by oddballs, the underclass, those who dispute the claims of power.

These laws will be used to stamp out plurality and difference, to douse the exuberance of youth, to pursue children for the crime of being young and together in a public place, to help turn this nation into a money-making monoculture, controlled, homogenised, lifeless, strifeless and bland. For a government which represents the old and the rich, that must sound like paradise.

www.monbiot.com

The last of the three essays was about Europe, being an essay on Naked Capitalism two days ago.

Written by Don Quijones, a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain who also publishes the blog Raging Bull-Shit, the essay was originally posted at Testosterone Pit.

Death By A Thousand Cuts: The Silent Assassination Of European Democracy

As is gradually dawning on more and more people across the old continent, the European Union is riddled with fatal flaws and defects. Chief among them is the single currency which, rather than serving as the Union’s springboard to global dominance, could well be its ultimate undoing.

Another huge problem with the EU is its acute lack of transparency. Staggering as it may seem, in the last 20 years the Union has not passed a single audit. Indeed, so opaque is the state of its finances that in 2002 Marta Andreasen, the first ever professional accountant to serve as the Commission’s Chief Accountant, refused to sign off the organization’s 2001 accounts, citing concerns that the EU’s accounting system was “open to fraud.” After taking her concerns public, Andreasen was suspended and then later sacked by the Commission.

However, by far the EU’s greatest — and certainly most dangerous — structural flaw is its gaping democratic deficit. To paraphrase Nigel Farage, the stridently anti-EU British MEP, not only is the EU undemocratic, it is fundamentally anti-democratic.

Yet again, the essay must be read in full.  As with the others, I will include the closing paragraphs:

Of course none of this would be possible if it weren’t for the abject failure of modern nation-state democracy — not only in Europe, but across the globe. As Mair wrote in the first paragraph of his book, although the political parties themselves remain, “they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.”

The European elites have masterfully exploited this crisis of representative democracy and the resultant voter disaffection and apathy to enshrine a new system of rule by bureaucrats, bankers, technocrats and lobbyists (as I reported in Full Steam Ahead For the EU Gravy Train, Brussels is home to the second biggest lobby industry in the world, just behind Washington). If anything, we can expect this trend to accelerate in 2014 as the Eurocrats seek to consolidate their power grab through the imposition of EU-wide banking and fiscal union. Once that’s done, the quest for the holy grail of full-blown political union will begin in earnest.

Whether the EU is able to pull of this ultimate coup de grace in its decades-long coup d’état will depend on two vital factors: its ability to continue preventing economic reality from impacting the financial markets; and the willingness of hundreds of millions of European people to be herded and corralled into a new age of technocracy.

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the abject failure of modern nation-state democracy — not only in Europe, but across the globe.

Don Quijones wrote that with a focus on Europe.  But also a recognition that right across the world the rights and safeguards of everyday citizens are being dangerously undermined.  I will return tomorrow with Part Two and an insight into the growing power of those everyday citizens.

 

Different ways of looking at life.

A fascinating essay by Corey Robin

Like me, I suspect you haven’t come across this author before.  The connection for me was made by a link in Thursdays selection of Links from Naked Capitalism. It was “Socialism: Converting Hysterical Misery into Ordinary Unhappiness for a Hundred Years Corey Robin (martha r). Today’s must read.”

I was intrigued and went across to Corey Robin’s website to read the article. On the website I learnt a little more:

Corey Robin
Corey Robin – Photo by Sasha Maslov

I teach political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. I’m the author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin and Fear: The History of a Political Idea. My articles have appeared in the New York TimesHarper’s, the London Review of Books, and elsewhere. I also blog at Crooked Timber and Jacobin. I am currently working on a book about the political theory of the free market.

I live in Brooklyn with my wife, daughter, and too many cats.

So to the essay.

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Socialism: Converting Hysterical Misery into Ordinary Unhappiness for a Hundred Years

In yesterday’s New York Times, Robert Pear reports on a little known fact about Obamacare: the insurance packages available on the federal exchange have very high deductibles. Enticed by the low premiums, people find out that they’re screwed on the deductibles, and the co-pays, the out-of-network charges, and all the different words and ways the insurance companies have come up with to hide the fact that you’re paying through the nose.

For policies offered in the federal exchange, as in many states, the annual deductible often tops $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple.

Insurers devised the new policies on the assumption that consumers would pick a plan based mainly on price, as reflected in the premium. But insurance plans with lower premiums generally have higher deductibles.

In El Paso, Tex., for example, for a husband and wife both age 35, one of the cheapest plans on the federal exchange, offered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, has a premium less than $300 a month, but the annual deductible is more than $12,000. For a 45-year-old couple seeking insurance on the federal exchange in Saginaw, Mich., a policy with a premium of $515 a month has a deductible of $10,000.

In Santa Cruz, Calif., where the exchange is run by the state, Robert Aaron, a self-employed 56-year-old engineer, said he was looking for a low-cost plan. The best one he could find had a premium of $488 a month. But the annual deductible was $5,000, and that, he said, “sounds really high.”

By contrast, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average deductible in employer-sponsored health plans is $1,135.

It’s true that if you’re a family of three, making up to $48,825 (or, if you’re an individual, making up to $28,725), you’ll be eligible for the subsidies. Those can be quite substantive at the lower ends of the income ladder. But as you start nearing those upper limits (which really aren’t that high; below the median family income, in fact), the subsidies start dwindling. Leaving individuals and families with quite a bill, as even this post, which is generally bullish on Obamacare, acknowledges.

Aside from the numbers, what I’m always struck by in these discussions is just how complicated Obamacare is. Even if we accept all the premises of its defenders, the number of steps, details, caveats, and qualifications that are required to defend it, is in itself a massive political problem. As we’re now seeing.

More important than the politics, that byzantine complexity is a symptom of what the ordinary citizen has to confront when she tries to get health insurance for herself or her family. As anyone who has even good insurance knows, navigating that world of numbers and forms and phone calls can be a daunting proposition. It requires inordinate time, doggedness, savvy, intelligence, and manipulative charm (lest you find yourself on the wrong end of a disgruntled telephone operator). Obamacare fits right in with that world and multiplies it.

I’m not interested in arguing here over what was possible with health care reform and what wasn’t; we’ve had that debate a thousand times. But I thought it might be useful to re-up part of this post I did, when I first started blogging, on how much time and energy our capitalist world requires us to waste, and what a left approach to the economy might have to say about all that. It is this world of everyday experience—what it’s like to try and get basic goods for yourself and/or your family—that I wish the left (both liberals and leftists) was more in touch with.

The post is in keeping with an idea I’ve had about socialism and the welfare state for several years now. Cribbing from Freud, and drawing from my own anti-utopian utopianism, I think the point of socialism is to convert hysterical misery into ordinary unhappiness. God, that would be so great.

• • • • • •

There is a deeper, more substantive, case to be made for a left approach to the economy. In the neoliberal utopia, all of us are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of each and every facet of our economic lives. That, in fact, is the openly declared goal: once we are made more cognizant of our money, where it comes from and where it goes, neoliberals believe we’ll be more responsible in spending and investing it. Of course, rich people have accountants, lawyers, personal assistants, and others to do this for them, so the argument doesn’t apply to them, but that’s another story for another day.

The dream is that we’d all have our gazillion individual accounts—one for retirement, one for sickness, one for unemployment, one for the kids, and so on, each connected to our employment, so that we understand that everything good in life depends upon our boss (and not the government)—and every day we’d check in to see how they’re doing, what needs attending to, what can be better invested elsewhere. It’s as if, in the neoliberal dream, we’re all retirees in Boca, with nothing better to do than to check in with our broker, except of course that we’re not. Indeed, if Republicans (and some Democrats) had their way, we’d never retire at all.

In real (or at least our preferred) life, we do have other, better things to do. We have books to read, children to raise, friends to meet, loved ones to care for, amusements to enjoy, drinks to drink, walks to take, webs to surf, couches to lie on, games to play, movies to see, protests to make, movements to build, marches to march, and more. Most days, we don’t have time to do any of that. We’re working way too many hours for too little pay, and in the remaining few hours (minutes) we have, after the kids are asleep, the dishes are washed, and the laundry is done, we have to haggle with insurance companies about doctor’s bills, deal with school officials needing forms signed, and more.

What’s so astounding about Romney’s proposal—and the neoliberal worldview more generally—is that it would just add to this immense, and incredibly shitty, hassle of everyday life. One more account to keep track of, one more bell to answer. Why would anyone want to live like that? I sure as hell don’t know, but I think that’s the goal of the neoliberals: not just so that we’re more responsible with our money, but also so that we’re more consumed by it: so that we don’t have time for anything else. Especially anything, like politics, that would upset the social order as it is.

…We saw a version of it during the debate on Obama’s healthcare plan. I distinctly remember, though now I can’t find it, one of those healthcare whiz kids—maybe it was Ezra Klein—tittering on about the nifty economics and cool visuals of Obama’s plan: how you could go to the web, check out the exchange, compare this little interstice of one plan with that little interstice of another, and how great it all was because it was just so fucking complicated.

I thought to myself: you’re either very young or an academic. And since I’m an academic, and could only experience vertigo upon looking at all those blasted graphs and charts, I decided whoever it was, was very young. Only someone in their 20s—whipsmart enough to master an inordinately complicated law without having to make real use of it—could look up at that Everest of words and numbers and say: Yes! There’s freedom!

That’s what the neoliberal view reduces us to: men and women so confronted by the hassle of everyday life that we’re either forced to master it, like the wunderkinder of the blogosphere, or become its slaves. We’re either athletes of the market or the support staff who tend to the race.

That’s not what the left wants. We want to give people the chance to do something else with their lives, something besides merely tending to it, without having to take a 30-year detour on Wall Street to get there. The way to do that is not to immerse people even more in the ways and means of the market, but to give them time and space to get out of it. That’s what a good welfare state, real social democracy, does: rather than being consumed by life, it allows you to make your life. Freely. One less bell to answer, not one more.

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Heads I win: Tails you lose!

How the foreclosure crisis was a boon for the super wealthy.

For some time now, must be quite a few years, I have subscribed to Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism blog.  I do so for a number of reasons.

Thus it was that a few days ago I read with a mixture of anger and disgust an article about the consequences of the foreclosure crisis on the wealthy.  Within a few hours of me requesting by email permission to republish that article on Learning from Dogs came the reply from Yves granting such permission.

Try not to get too angry!

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SUNDAY, OCTOBER 6, 2013

How the Foreclosure Crisis Made the Rich Even Richer

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It’s a welcome departure to see Adam Davidson’s weekly column in the New York Times, which usually puts a happy face on how the 1% are winning the class war in America, have a guest writer look at the other side of the story.

Catherine Rampell has a short but compelling piece on how the foreclosure crisis was wealth transfer from lower and middle income families to the rich. Her points are simple: the typical person who lost their home wasn’t a greedhead who bought too much house or refied to buy flat panel TVs and go on cruises (if you hang out with mortgage types, you’ll get a big dose of profligate consumer urban legend). The people who were like that (and there were some) for the most part were in subprime loans that reset in 2007 and 2008 and were in the early wave of foreclosures. The people who’ve lost their homes in later foreclosures were overwhelmingly people who had the bad fortune to buy late in the housing bubble (so when the bust hit, they had negative equity and couldn’t use lower rates to refi into cheaper payments) and took economic hits as a direct result of the crisis (hours cuts and job losses; other people who were hurt were in the more typical “shit happens” categories, like suffering medical problems, with their situation made much worse by their inability to sell or refinance their home).

Rampell’s contribution is to look at the phenomenon of investors, both big and small, and how they’ve bought properties at foreclosure and then flipped them. Separately, Josh Rosner recently released the astonishing statistic: that sales of owner-occupied properties showed only a 1% gain in the last 12 months. The gains that have been driving the indexes were all in investor owned properties. Some flipped to other investors. In hot markets, local investors have been doing “mini-bulks,” acquiring small portfolios to sell to private equity investors, some without renovating them, others with modest fix-ups. Others sold them to homebuyers.

Rampell uses the example of a couple who believed that renting was throwing away their money, and had the bad luck to buy a moderately-priced fixer-upper in early 2007. Each wage earner saw their income drop and unable to get a loan modification, they lost their home. Their $309,000 Seattle home went to an investor for $155,000 in the summer of 2011. That investor just sold it to a homeowner for $290,000, not far below what the hapless couple paid for it. But the new buyer paid all cash.

Rampell tells us:

Of the 87,062 foreclosures in the last five years that were bought by corporate investors and have been flipped, about a quarter were sold for at least $100,000 more than what the investor originally paid, according to [an online real estate listings site] Redfin (Although it’s impossible to know how much investors spent on upgrades or renovations.)….

The boom-bust-flip phenomenon is just one of the most obvious ways that research suggests the financial crisis has benefited the upper class while brutalizing the middle class. Rents have risen at twice the pace of the overall cost-of-living index, partly because middle-class families can’t get the credit they need to buy. That means “landlords can raise rents with impunity,” says Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin. And according to a report by David Autor, the M.I.T. economist, job losses during and after the recession were concentrated in midskilled and midwage jobs, like white-collar sales, office and administrative jobs; and blue-collar production, craft, repair and operative jobs. Employment for higher-skilled workers, on the other hand, has grown substantially.

There is a second way foreclosures have served as a wealth transfer to the capitalist classes. Foreclosures don’t necessarily result in evictions. Banks often leave properties in a “zombie” state, starting foreclosures but not completing them, leaving the owner who thought he was foreclosed on still on the hook for property taxes. Another variant which is much less damaging is to leave the homeowner in place. I recently met an investor who is acquiring homes in Atlanta. The day after he buys a house, he goes to introduce himself to the former homeowner to see if he can work out a deal to keep them in place as tenant. In the overwhelming majority of cases, he can. “They were paying $1100 on their mortgage and the bank wouldn’t give them a mod. I’ll let them rent for $700, which is way above what they’d have gotten if they wrote the principal down to the price at which I bought the house. And I tell the tenants I’d be happy to sell the home to them.” We didn’t discuss details, but it sounded as if he’d be willing to structure rent to own deals (where part of the rent would go to a down payment on the house).

He was clear that his business depended on what he saw as value destroying behavior by banks. He described how he’d recently bought a home and when he went for his usual visit to the house, a well-dressed black man met him and invited him in, saying he’d be out in 30 days and assumed it wasn’t a problem. The new owner saw the house was in impeccable shape. He chatted with the owner a bit and found out he was a bodybuilder with a high-end training business. He asked the homeowner: “You look like you take good care of yourself and the house. You’d been paying on time. What happened?”

The trainer told him that he’d bought the house at the peak of the cycle for $160,000. The house was clearly now worth way less. He tried to get the bank to modify it to a principal balance of $100,000. The bank wouldn’t consider it. “So I bought a house which is comparable to this one for $50,000 and gave this one up.”

In this case, the homeowner had enough cash to arbitrage himself. The investor told me he’d bought the foreclosed home for $40,000. Had the bank cut a deal for $100,000 (and who knows, the homeowner might have accepted a higher number), it would have come out way ahead. But that also assumes that the bank owned the mortgage. It’s pretty much a given that the bank was a servicer, and as we’ve seen again and again, servicers don’t have the incentives or the infrastructure to do mods. So investor in the mortgages lose, homeowners lose. The winners are the banks as inefficient looters (the money they skim off the servicing is chump change relative to the damage done by negligent and predatory servicing) and the investors who profit by picking up the pieces. This is isn’t a well-functioning economic system, it’s rentier capitalism. And it’s looking more and more like a doomsday machine for what remains of the middle class.

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Can’t add anything polite to this!  Except, to say it’s a very long way from integrity!

Rethinking privacy?

Is the need for privacy a by-product of large society?

The other day, thanks to Naked Capitalism‘s regular set of web-links, I became aware of the website Popular Resistance.  To be exact, Naked Capitalism had linked to an article entitled, “New Intel Chips Contain Back-Door Processor, Hackable Even When Computer is Turned Off.

Regular readers of this place may well recall my decision to ditch Windows OS and buy a new Apple Mac Mini articulated in a post earlier in the month, Closing my Windows.  Here’s a brief extract from that post.

Muttering about this to friends who know a lot more about computing than I raised my awareness that the privacy and security of one’s computer was no longer to be assumed.  Then just recently, I read online,

A Special Surveillance Chip

According to leaked internal documents from the German Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BSI) that Die Zeit obtained, IT experts figured out that Windows 8, the touch-screen enabled, super-duper, but sales-challenged Microsoft operating system is outright dangerous for data security. It allows Microsoft to control the computer remotely through a built-in backdoor. Keys to that backdoor are likely accessible to the NSA – and in an unintended ironic twist, perhaps even to the Chinese.

Then a few paragraphs later:

It would be easy for Microsoft or chip manufacturers to pass the backdoor keys to the NSA and allow it to control those computers. NO, Microsoft would never do that, we protest. Alas, Microsoft, as we have learned from the constant flow of revelations, informs the US government of security holes in its products well before it issues fixes so that government agencies can take advantage of the holes and get what they’re looking for.

Now I’m using Windows 7 so imagine my angst when I then read:

Another document claims that Windows 8 with TPM 2.0 is “already” no longer usable. But Windows 7 can “be operated safely until 2020.” After that other solutions would have to be found for the IT systems of the Administration.

That did it for me – time to move on from Windows.

OK, on to today’s thought.  The Popular Resistance article explained:

New Intel-Based PC’s Permanently Hackable

So you think no one can access your data because your computer is turned off. Heck it’s more than turned off, you even took the main hard drive out, and only the backup disk is inside. There is no operating system installed at all. So you KNOW you are safe.

Frank from across the street is an alternative operating systems hobbyist, and he has tons of computers. He has Free BSD on a couple, his own compilation of Linux on another, a Mac for the wife, and even has Solaris on yet another. Frank knows systems security, so he cannot be hacked . . . or so he thinks.

The government does not like Frank much, because they LOVE to look at everything. Privacy is a crime don’t you know, and it looks like Frank’s luck with privacy is about to run out.

The new Intel Core vPro processors contain a new remote access feature which allows 100 percent remote access to a PC 100 percent of the time, even if the computer is turned off. Core vPro processors contain a second physical processor embedded within the main processor which has it’s own operating system embedded on the chip itself. As long as the power supply is available and and in working condition, it can be woken up by the Core vPro processor, which runs on the system’s phantom power and is able to quietly turn individual hardware components on and access anything on them.

The author of the article, Jim Stone, later describing:

Accessing any PC anywhere, no matter what operating system is installed, even if it is physically disconnected from the internet. You see, Core vPro processors work in conjunction with Intel’s new Anti Theft 3.0, which put 3g connectivity into every Intel CPU after the Sandy Bridge version of the I3/5/7 processors. Users do not get to know about that 3g connection, but it IS there.

(The full article may be read here.)

Naturally, I huffed and puffed as I read the article.  However, later on came the thought that maybe this is a great journey of ‘ever-diminishing-returns’, as in this journey of ‘us’ versus ‘The State’.  A journey that misses something very fundamental.

This is what I mean.

I’m proposing that the drive for privacy is an inevitable by-product of the country that we live in being seeing as one huge society.  That in that huge society, we can only maintain our own unique individuality through a degree of privacy.  Otherwise, we are nothing more than an irrelevant tiny part in the big scheme of things.

But if one reflects on how smaller societies function; from local communities down to families, then that need for privacy is greatly reduced.  Because in those smaller communities, we are seen as an individual with all the associated hues of our own individual personality.  We get to know others, and those others get to know us, as individuals – that’s how communities function.  Then a much more important value comes into play; that of trust.  It’s my impression that we only properly engage with those that we trust.  Again, how communities function!

I continued to play with these thoughts.  Even putting the issue of privacy to one side, the range of benefits that flow from our local communities is over-whelming.  All the big issues facing humanity today can only be dealt with effectively at the local level;  the community level.

Coincidentally, echoed in an email from long-standing friend, Dan Gomez, in connection with a completely different topic.  He said:

Federal government is primarily for defense. Most other government can be pushed to local politicians.

…..

People need to be free and think free.  They need to hope. In too many countries around the world, there is little hope for a better life. People need to learn to be accountable and solve their own problems, first at local levels.

So, perhaps, worrying about our privacy and the increasing invasion of that privacy misses the point.

Because if in the next few years, a couple of decades at most, we do not adopt the core principles of a caring, sharing world; the lessening of a greedy, materialistic, me-me-me world, then I fear greatly for not only all of humanity but for the very future of the planet as an oasis of life circling a rather insignificant star in a very lonely cosmos.

So park privacy to one side.  See it as a symptom of these broken ‘focus-on-self’ times and look forward to a new caring, sharing world made up of countless conscious and mindful societies.  Embracing the values of animal societies, even to embrace the most successful species of animal ever; the dog. (As measured from the perspective of the dog’s association with man.)  Not only far back into ancient history but right now in these strange and troubling times. Embracing what millions of dog lovers across the world experience every day; the integrity of the dog.

Local societies and local communities are the only social structures where integrity makes sense, and can be seen to make sense.  Where the values of that society bring people together.  Where these qualities that we see in our dogs are mutually reinforcing.  I’m speaking of unconditional love, loyalty, stillness, play, openness, faithfulness, valuing the present, forgiveness, happiness, meditation, and sensitivity; all in that wrapper of integrity.

Think about it!  Do you ever see a dog worrying about privacy!

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