thousand mile journey

The youth in the UK and the US have been relatively late to the year of disenchantment; Moreover, one of the accusations against them has been the lack of a program, or set of coherent demands. Yet people forget this is the generation of the class-less society, for the parents had been convinced to shed such categorizations, which in effect has mostly led to directionless reactions.

Since mass movements are akin to alchemy, in the absence of external support, it's difficult to see them before they run their curse. Marking the points along the way can be a useful, when honest, exercise. The first point, raised by Jeffrey Sachs, is followed by quasi-anonymous views that stand in for the vox populi.

Jeffrey Sachs presents his latest book, The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity, on Charlie Rose's Show. You may want to pay attention to two dimensions in Sachs' view, which resonate with prior views I expressed on this blog:
1) Structural problem, or a) the mismatch between our skills supply and the demand of an economy to support our lifestyles;
2) Values problem, e.g., the common view on taxation not as a condition for civilization, but symptom of free-riders and/or government waste.

Surely, from the height of one's ivory tower, the commoner hears little about institutions mistakenly, if not criminally, entrusted with our money supply that have become too big to fail, a Tobin tax on financial speculation, or a qualified statement about the need for investment in scientific and technical education--yup, not all education is created equal.  To place one close to Sachs, the discipline of economics should admit its limits and give up relax the status of dogma or ideology.

Couple Sachs' views with the following:



The price of arrogance
bennett "Mark"

Sachs basically wants to transform the US into Sweden. He
dresses up this call for social & economic transformation as a matter of
"morality" and "virtue". Over and over he makes his case
in an openly dishonest way. As of the United States had been Sweden in the
past, had somehow lost his way and needed to come back to that system. He
tells us that high taxation is equal to "good citizenship" and
"civilization". Or in other words that anyone who doesn't want a
country where half of national income is spent by the government is somehow a
selfish barbarian. Its the basic dishonesty of the man and his arguments as
presented in the book that makes it so bad. I could live with a book which
called for moving to a different economic system. But its a different matter
when a educated man confuses his own political desires with
"morality" and "virtue". When people start dressing up
their personal political goals as the sole embodiment of virtue, they have
crossed the line. If an author says "we should make the US look more
like Sweden", thats fine. But when that author tells us that any other
government model than that of Sweden is immoral, thats not acceptable.

Worst of all, Sachs is one of those people who believes in the paterialistic
saving of the "common man" by the rich. Normal people are simply
too stupid to know what is good for them. Therefore the rich should decide
for them and the rich should take up the cause of "fixing" America
in the name of the poor.

He tells us that throwing R&D is the magic solution to every problem. He
tells us, for example, that if we had just continued Jimmy Carter's energy
R&D, America's energy system today would look radically different. But
when you get beyond the empty phrases of "R&D" and look at what
Carter's program actually consisted of, its not so nice. Carter's program was
at its heart a program to shift the US to coal. And anyone who thinks that
transforming coal into liquid fuel or building coal slurry pipelines would
have been a step forward in American energy policy is crazy. And no amount of
"research" into solar power can overcome the basic problems of cost
and inconsistant power generation.

People like Sachs believe that science is "magic" and that throwing
money at R&D can change the laws of nature. But it is not so. We live in
a world that is resource interdependent. Jimmy Carter's energy programs were
based on the idea that science could make it 1950 again and deny the reality
that America was part of the world rather than a standalone fortress.
Carter's dream of an America run on coal was foolishness that was rightfully
abandoned. And its also worth pointing out that the so-called countries of
civilized virtue didn't themselves take it up in a way that led anywhere.

The only way to improve America is to fix the problems of America. Trying to
turn the United States into Sweden or Germany isn't a viable solution. What
that means is looking at the institutional problems of America and asking
hard questions about them. For example, that means asking WHY the costs of
higher education in the united states are going up rather than just throwing
more government money at the problem. That means asking WHY its impossible to
get health care outside of an insurance plan regardless of how much money a
person has. Why does it cost proportionally so much more today for simply
medical procedures (take a broken arm) than it used to? Why do those costs
seem to have nothing to do with the cost of the service delivered?

What people in the United States need to do is to stop talking about fixing
problems by throwing money at them and start fixing what is broken in
American institutions by asking hard questions. The sort of easy answers
(copy Sweden) that fill this book will ultimately lead nowhere.

An Eloquent Plea for

Tiger CK

In the Price of Civilization Jeffrey Sachs makes a
powerful call for significant changes in the way the U.S. government manages
the economy. According to Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia
University, Washington has not devised policies that meet the challenge of
globalization. Rather than investing in education and infrastructure, as many
Asian countries have during the last twenty years, they have resorted to
popular short-term stimulus measures such as cutting taxes and reducing interest
rates. These problems have been exacerbated by lobbyists whose influence over
Republicans and Democrats has made meaningful change impossible.

Sachs argues that the best solution for these problems is for Washington to
move toward a "mixed economy" in which a more effective government
plays a larger role in regulating businesses. He believes that the current
problems in the American economy are structural and not short-term. With the
Republicans and Democrats both seeking solutions that will prop up the economy
for a year or two rather than address the structural issues, the United
States is on the wrong course and not likely to return to the levels of
prosperity it previously enjoyed. These problems can only be solved if the
government makes a long-term commitment to investing in industry in part by
raising taxes on the wealthy and reducing the growing gap between the rich
and poor.

Sachs's bold argument is not likely to be welcome by either Democrats or
Republicans. One Republican congressman (Paul Ryan) has already published a
scathing review of the book in the Wall Street Journal more or less equating
Sachs's proposals with socialism. But I think Americans fed up with
Washington and its inability to solve the current crisis will find many of
Sachs's arguments very compelling. The majority of Americans do wish that the
government could be reclaimed form corporate lobbyists and the people
empowered and they recognize that politicians on boths ides of the spectrum
are part of the problem.

Is Sachs right? I don't agree with him on everything but I do think he makes
many valid points especially on the shortsightedness of our politicians and
the methods that they are now using to attack our economic problems. I am not
completely sold on Sachs's mixed economy solutions, however. I believe the
key to economic policy is not whether we lean toward laissez-fair or a mixed
economy. In fact, both of these have been successful in certain situations
and may be part of the solutions. The key is that our economic policy be
smart and farsighted. In this sense, Sachs's book is at least a step in the
right direction.


There is an abundance of jobs out there, the problem is, Americans can't fill them!

The rapid advance in technology that facilitates and enhances our everyday lives has also rapidly eliminated many job positions that are no longer needed, or can be accomplished by far fewer hands. It's the biggest irony of our time in that we both benefit from technology but at the same time we are hurt by it because we are not prepared for it.

Americans do not focus on the right things. What's generally important to Americans is not what's important to the new job market. The emphasis should be on math, science and technology, etc.. But instead too many of our students major in things that don't build anything; things that don't improve anything; things that don't result in inventions for the future, or forward our understanding of the world we live in.

We have a whole generation growing up motivated and inundated by crime shows/news 24/7. They would rather work in a crime lab than for NASA! They don't want to be astronauts or mathematicians, but instead CSI forensic examiners and ambulance chasing lawyers. I'm not trying to disparage these positions, but we've got enough people performing these tasks and we don't need more of them, we need less.

Living in a culture that emphasizes all the wrong things, I'm not hopeful of a change anytime soon. The only thing we can do is continue to draw talent from other parts of the world to fill positions that we at the moment are not capable of filling. Sad, because we have the potential, but our culture says something different.

To briefly return to our militant youth, they are a symptom many are looking to pin to a cause now.   However, from the above views, one can see there are no shortcuts.  Some day, in the future, it may be said that the thousand mile journey started with/in a blog.

The Greenback Effect - WARREN BUFFETT

Via Flickr:
Warren Buffett now says that the backlash from the huge spending that made the recovery possible maybe just around the corner. Writing an Op-ed piece in New York Times, he says: In nature, every action has consequences, a phenomenon called the butterfly effect.

Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.

When are we told it's bad?

Well in advance? Optimistic.
Not a day too early? Cautious.
A day later? Clever; It may OVER by then.

Congressman Ron Paul compares our debt ceiling Bunraku with the following situation:
This is akin to a family "saving" $100,000 in expenses by deciding not to buy a Lamborghini, and instead getting a fully loaded Mercedes, when really their budget dictates that they need to stick with their perfectly serviceable Honda[...]  Our revenues currently stand at approximately $2.2 trillion a year and are likely to remain stagnant as the recession continues. Our outlays are $3.7 trillion and projected to grow every year. Yet we only have to go back to 2004 for federal outlays of $2.2 trillion, and the government was far from small that year. If we simply returned to that year's spending levels, which would hardly be austere, we would have a balanced budget right now. If we held the line on spending, and the economy actually did grow as estimated, the budget would balance on its own by 2015 with no cuts whatsoever. We pay 35 percent more for our military today than we did 10 years ago, for the exact same capabilities. The same could be said for the rest of the government. Why has our budget doubled in 10 years?
Now, who's the audience?  Surely US.  Outside the US, there might be those who'd still point out how responsible we are even when evidence suggested otherwise.  Yet I have a feeling that the monied outsiders are not buying in and, to get a bit speculative about it, I'd not be all surprised if Mr. Murdoch followed his doctor's advice and took up residency in some warmer and humid climate, as in HK if you get my drift.

Here in the US we are well on our way to the structural adjustment I keep talking about, e.g., here, yet the latest Bunraku play in discussion shows that the burden won't be share equally, which can make the situation very volatile.  The progressive left has been administered its 'leave politics for the lowly!'  signal, now it's the turn of the Tea Party folk to be sent packing.  Also here, as no bubble is in sight, the hope might well be that portions of the rest of the world would be become so much worse, and the more their difficulties are denominated in dollars the better, that we couldn't look so bad in comparison.  So there you have a type of OVER.  There could be many other types of OVER, but the fabricants of reality and money must have become so sure of their craft and our confusion that they are banking it all on the first kind of OVER.  For the individuals not associated with these schemes there is only one way to see the light, get back to the fundamentals!  Yup, those we've been conditioned to scorn.  In case you don't know where to start, pick up any wise text that had been written more than, say, 100 years ago.  Then, after internalizing some of that stuff, join conversations, talk back!      

Ron Paul for President, 2008, originally uploaded by jshj.

What do you see outside?

Francis Bacon, Study for Bullfight No 2 (1969)
I think that man now realizes that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play the game without reason. [...] You see, all art  has now become completely a game by which man distracts himself (Bacon-Sylvester, Interviews, pp. 28,29).

I have signaled the descent of our western system, based on economic liberalism and democracy projected to global proportions, since before its 2008 Crisis.  After three years, during which governments have saved the capitalists by imposing austerity on the populace, we are semi-officially in a 'Small Depression' according to Paul Krugman.  The ordering belief must be that in a world distracted from facts, the capitalists are the only ones to be trusted to {harness, muster, unleash, ...} {creativity, innovation, renewal, growth...}; indeed, capitalists are always selected according to their being best able to align self-interest with action, the best indicator of a well-running capitalist engine, that is.  Stimulating the economy by placing money in the hands of the populace, yours and mine, mostly increases the trade deficit--I have written this too.  Problem is that capitalists are known to buy imports too, unless they park the money in some unproductive niche. 

So, what's a government to do anymore?  A cynical may say that those populating governments are merely interested in preserving class privileges while subsidizing a nice show.  While that is true, can you think of a way out?

For example, the French and Italians citizens thought that by electing economically-liberal demagogues, growth would be assured.  I am skeptical Berlusconi or Sarkozy fulfilled any of their electoral promises.  I am equally skeptical of Cameron's prospects in the UK.

Could it be that we need to take a half-step back from globalization?  Taxing the incentive out of the financial speculation can certainly help.  This addresses in part the flexibility of capital, and the question becomes, how flexible ought capital to be?  For example, Simon Johnson, MIT professor and former Chief Economist of IMF, is not the only to suggest a tax on “excess leverage;" Tobin taxes are also quick to come to mind.   Then, shouldn't we reconsider the French idea for a reduced work load for all, thus being able to employ more?  Yes, we must also get adjusted to the idea that floating is better than sinking, while not as fun as swimming.  In the end, I don't care much about the extent to which these ideas are in agreement with one's standard of free-market capitalism, for I remind you, what we've had so far hasn't been free-market capitalism either. Don't you also find it problematic that each time one tries to argue for active management of the situation, the capitalist (ventriloquist)  counters that due to the complexity of the system, the self-adjustment capability of the markets, free of regulation and taxes, is better than any one's fallible mind? 

In any case, the above ideas are neither of the left, nor of the right.  They are about the art of living and reflecting upon it not long thereafter. 

It's most regrettable what happened in Oslo.  I have a feeling that just blaming Anders Behring Breivik is not going to deter forever another symptom of our common disease.  Breivik seems to have been against multiculturalism, whatever that meant in his case beyond being anti-Muslim immigration as a new form of Marxist internationalism--I know, it's a mouthful and I could use some European help to unpack it.

Shock and/or incomprehension, ensuing the massive destruction inflicted by World War I on so many, was not enough to prevent fascism or Nazism from coalescing as reaction to the dissolution of the world order, perceived then by the former as the result of the centrifugal forces of communism and/or international finance.   

As wise people have always said, and the demagogues exploited to i/a-mmoral ends, humans need to believe in something greater than, say, self-interest.  That something had better be based on moral law.  Replacing sacred religion with the secular religion of self-interest, briefly introduced as part of a moral code based on natural law by Adam Smith,  has not worked too well.  As for how religion is observed in the US, let me just say, per out tax code and all that, it's big business for a minority and of whatever comfort for most--read this last statement in terms of effectiveness.

Through my Window(s), I see Tauoromachia.  

What do these youth know and the world hasn't figured out yet?
Do the police know whom they are con/fronting, as in interfacing?
Is democracy the legitimate monopoly of power?  What makes it no longer so?
When humanism is lost, do we regress to homo homini lupus?  How do we come back?

Crepuscular Murdoch or a falling media empire?

Keith Rupert Murdoch, AC, KSG ( born 11 March 1931) is an Australian-American media mogul and the Chairman, and CEO of News Corporation.Murdoch's first permanent foray into TV was in the USA, where he created Fox Broadcasting Company in 1986. In the 2000s, he became a leading investor in satellite television, the film industry and the Internet, and purchased a leading American newspaper, The Wall Street Journal.

Rupert Murdoch was listed three times in the Time 100 as one among the most influential people in the world. He is ranked 13th most powerful person in the world in the 2010 Forbes' The World's Most Powerful People list. With a net worth of US$6.3 billion, he is ranked 117th wealthiest person in the world.

The resizing of the Murdoch media empire has just started. I think it's been payback time for a while, at least since Obama won the presidential election. While the circus took place on stage, with Obama and the other characters following their scripts, life was dandy. As the Conservatives switched places with the Progressives (recall those 8 too many years under Bush the lesser), the former needed some pacifying device; Murdoch obliged, everything looked under control while the stage and scripts were outside (Golem-like) surprise.

However, I think that some powerful figures must have gotten a bit nervous by media fueled chaotic phenomenon known as the Tea Party movement. I mean, they calmed Ron Paul down, someone who had built a credible image about fighting financial elites, and couldn't get some junior Congresspeople to toe the line? Ha, nobody should forget the Alexander Hamilton financial chapter in the history of the nation! That is, no mortal of the realm questions the financial logic.

So, I wonder where things went amiss and what Murdoch's contribution might have been.  I suspect you cannot have good Americans think they may get Congress to listen to them on such arcane matters as kicking the financial can down the road.  Could it be that Murdoch either switched masters or thought dangerously for one as if in defiance of old age?

Be that as it may, but what do you do when you've had a finger on all digital pulse?  You start by turning Murdoch in to the British, let it go down with his base here, and finally administer justice.

The most influential man in America
Are we to witness a crepuscular Murdoch or a falling media empire?  Are they going total war here?  If it's the end of the person, we shall conclude that some people don't know how to age.  Otherwise, I leave it to you, my reader(s) to figure the details of the next rise from the ashes of this media Phoenix...

re-newed public consciousness needed

piglets!, originally uploaded by swissrolli.

...are these the capitalists sucking the government, or the many taxes sucking capitalism?

Here's what Greg, from Brooklyn NY, a NYTimes reader, wrote back recently:

Democracies cannot last, because eventually the majority realizes that it can vote itself a stipend. That is where we're headed--any politician who promises to provide lavish services while cutting taxes wins in a landslide, despite the basic idiocy of that position. Eventually we will end up like Greece. Just as Greece is gradually becoming an economic colony of the EU (specifically Germany, or German banks) we will soon be an economic colony of China, to which we owe more money that we can ever possibly pay. The only alternative is to tighten our belts, pay more taxes, and accept more limited services. But we won't. The American Century is over, and with it our way of life.
It's painful, some argue that even long necessary, but we are getting there.

Consummerism: Interpreting the Signs

Day 24: Interpreting the Signs, originally uploaded by susanvg.

Via Flickr:
Stop - Female shoppers.
Stop Shopping.
Stop excessive Consummerism.
Stop - woman in high heels carrying too many bags crossing the street. Making meaning.


Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The United Nations General Assembly ratified Article 25 on Dec. 10, 1948.

Paradigm Shift

Stephen Walt looks at 9 centrifugal developments rearranging the world now.  Here they are in short line versions, italicized, followed by my comments:

1. The financial crisis has put the Eurozone under unprecedented stress, and the European Union's future looks increasingly bleak.

We've made EUro-pe a gift it couldn't resist, the Greek crisis.  I'm not sure about the Germans' role in this, nor the French capitulation from pulling its traditionally pro-European levers.  Are the Germans finally setting themselves free of the post-WWII system of checks and balances, or they've learned how to play the IMF to their advantage?

2. NATO looks more and more obsolescent.

 The money has run out at the underwriting center of the alliance, while the rest have grown entitled to its benefits.

3. The Arab world is in upheaval, and seems likely to remain unsettled for years.

I wrote here that things were entering the territory of luck. I wrote elsewhere that I saw the whole thing as a measure of our despair.

4. In fact, the "Arab spring" has done nothing to improve the U.S. image in the region.

The departure of Mubarak has put many on notice, they are nervous about it and closing ranks.  Thus, we pay more for gas at the pump.  Sure, it's got nothing to do with current supply-demand, but the smell of gunpowder in the oil lands.  The Chinese are watching.

5. There may be a mounting power struggle in Iran, but its slow march toward a latent nuclear capability continues. 

Wishful thinking--Clinton should have taken the Iranian hand when we were offered; as of now, we've got no leverage with the alternative power structures there.

6. The Afghan War will end -- but not soon -- and we will leave behind a dysfunctional country, a nuclear-armed Pakistan, and a lot of people who will either be angry for us for what we did or angry at us for what we failed to do.

Not knowing when to enter, what to do, and when the get out of wars is a sign of a dysfunctional military policy.  The tail wags the dog, or the military action is the best diversion each time the honchos on Wall Street and in DC run out of options.

7. Japan -- which is still the world's third largest economy -- has suffered nearly two decades of economic stagnation and a costly nuclear disaster.

Japan is going its way, they must be looking for that way as we speak.  They must have loved us so much that only their inertia is keeping that door from kicking our rear ends.  Common values?  Let's call that for short, the world order of the dollar.   

8. China continues to rack up impressive rates of economic growth -- despite some signs of strain -- and it has avoided the foreign policy sinkholes that Washington has specialized in for the past two decades.

China operates with different scales.  We have not developed a sense for how they think, nor who they are.  Which is quite the opposite viewed from their end.  The game is theirs, and many a US friend is looking up, openly or not, for the day they can play China against the US for a better place at the table.  How things are going to be sorted out in Libya is likely to be the answer of the world to come. 

We have the first post WWII generation to make it into the White House and the executive offices around the country to thank for this.  Small-world minded, deluded by the "world is flat" platitudes, overconfident, and self-important.  They  wasted most of the hard work, lessons of history, good will of the world and other national intrinsic assets, all built over many decades since the 1930s.

9. As these various problems mount, America's political institutions seem increasingly paralyzed.

This is the symptom of a country that stopped learning because the feedback supposed to help us correct and improve had been distorted by the imaginary mind games our elites indulged themselves and led everybody else into.  For example, recall the idea circulated early during our Iraq invasion in the Bush administration, reality doesn't matter, what we say it is becomes reality.  This was rather the expression of how detached we've become from reality, not some play on words by those funny academics feeding Bush options.

Walt opens his thoughts with Yates' poem:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

For the full text on each one of the above, follow the pointer to Walt's blog with Foreign Policy.

The many lives of an idea(list)

In the spring of 2008, I raised the following question/topic on LinkedIn:

...too much money got into the hands of too many people too fast?

Considering all current and near-future dramatic developments (e.g. environment, prices, trust in financial markets, etc.) could one argue that the world is trying to heal a disease whose symptoms include "too much money got into the hands of too many people too fast?"
People kind of got the idea, but not exactly--follow the above link to see for yourself.  Had I raised the same question today, probably the answers would be different.  But this is not the main point, for I've gotten used to waiting until people pass corners so they see what I sometimes talk about.  The main point is how this little episode illustrates again what Keynes said:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood...
Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.
Case in point, I've just discovered this:
In a 1930 essay titled “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” John Maynard Keynes ridiculed economists for having a high opinion of themselves and their work. As the Great Depression engulfed the world, Keynes looked back at historic rates of economic growth, arguing that the real problem people would face in the future was not poverty but the moral quandary of how to live in a society of such abundance and wealth that work would cease to be necessary. The “economic problem,” as he put it, was technical, unimportant in the larger scheme of things. “If economists,” he wrote, “could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that would be splendid!” (source: The Nation)
I could have described the problem I saw also in moral terms, yet I must have chosen to operate with the discursive tools of the time and place;  LinkedIn being a professional network, moral argument does not weigh as much as money--I wonder if anything changed  In essence, I stumbled upon the footprints of a defunct economist.


Obama's put option

NYTimes has a piece on the weak economic recovery:

Economy’s Woes Shift the Focus of Budget
Recent signs that the economic recovery is flagging have introduced a new tension into the bipartisan budget negotiations.

The general assumption, which I have not shared, is that the money handed to banksters was meant to stimulate economic recovery to pre-2008 levels.  I argued here that our non-bubble economy has shrunk and people become unskilled to the point that the trillions spent by Bush and Obama could only be intended to prop the status qvo ante. Why are people looking for reversing a trend? Because they were told so.  Like in the past, except that our money is increasingly perceived as mostly backed by paper, by those who push gold above $15oo or switch from dollars to other currencies.

After the .com bubble there has been little in terms of sustainable economy that could use stimulus. Let's not forget, bubble money went into the real-estate and war economies. This had taken place while the effects of offshoring were masked by cheap (also subsidized) imports.

Some wake up now and ask for stimulus, yet others in the world have been awake, at least since the crisis in 2008. The latter are not willing to finance us anymore, hence the difficulty of dancing round the deficit vs. stimulus opposite poles.

I think those who fight deficits aim at accomplishing several things, of which one is ignored in the current debate: the external credibility of our system. I'm afraid that's been eroded and we are only seeing how people take calculated steps away from US. The recent Libyan episode is but an incomplete exception, which may itself prove to be temporary.

So, while I can understand why there isn't and won't be a stimulus, I cannot understand why
  1. People expect more stimulus, though it takes one to learn; 
  2. People like Krugman call for more stimulus, since he's a learned man;
  3. The burden is not equally shared. By this, I mean the absence of higher taxation at the top, as in progressive tax.  A VAT system, excluding those items that the lower income people depend on, may also be an option.
What are we afraid of? That everybody with money is going to start learning Chinese? I'm more apprehensive about Geithner's keeping his job, for he is Obama's put option on the status qvo.

A version of this has been posted at the NYTimes blog.

The Power of Stories

A recent NYTimes article informs us about the Chinese plan to redirect massive amounts of water to their dry north from their wet south.  Here are two reader comments that show how stories can be points of contact or rather insulators between individuals, their experiences, values, and beliefs:


Sandy Lewis
Lewis Family Farm, Essex, New York (20 votes)

Edward Wong's account of China's Army Corps equivalent offers many lessons. LA is one. There are hundreds of others.

When man seeks to conquer his environment, duck. Mother Nature wins, sooner or later.

No dam will last forever. No canal will last. Nothing man builds will outlast Mother Nature.

When we oppose the forces of nature, we defy logic. It is so much easier to work with nature - and allow the natural order of things.

Many feel organic farming is a passing fad, a joke, simply silly. Well, it's cheaper, it's better, it's more tasty, and it's healthy for the soils, rivers, estuaries, oceans and atmosphere. And it's smarter by far.

The chemical giants have their need, the children have theirs.

Similarly, drought in China is but the message.

Hubris is expensive stuff. Always fails, sooner or later.

China is old, China is young, China is a despotic dictatorship, corrupt top down.

The Chinese people do not vote. The Chinese people are cannon fodder for the ruling class.

This is totalitarianism. The scale of things in China dwarfs all others.

The scale of the failure in China will dwarf all others.

There is no question where this stuff will end.

There is only the question of when.

End it will - in disaster.

Mankind needs to learn, again and again. It's almost as if there is no memory, no inherent logic.

Animals know more that we.

Seattle, WA (6 votes)

Your facile and percussive claims about mother nature don't change the way the world works. Your little paragraphs remind me of the things a child might throw around because he can't have more candy: they're not only futile, but embarrassing. Let me explain how the world works. I'll use the nice, simple sentences of which you and your ilk are fond:

We use science to make plants grow better. Science lets us grow more food on the same amount of land.

Without science, we would have less food. The remaining food would be a lot more expensive. We would use a lot more land to grow food. Land that is used for growing food can't be forests or parks or wetlands for migrating songbirds.

Organic farming makes farmers till the soil to get rid of weeds. Tilling makes the topsoil easier to wash away. The topsoil can't be replaced. Half of Iowa is already gone. Plants need topsoil to grow. Without topsoil, there is no food. Starvation is not good for children and other living things.

We need water. We know how to bring water from places with more than enough to places that do not have enough. That is a good thing. When water goes from a high place to a low place, we get free electricity by building a dam. Dams need to be fixed once a while. They work fine if we take care of them. If people like you let us.

You believe that mother nature a nice old lady would provide for us if we just talk to her. But actually, she's fierce. It's taken thousands of years to tame her. You don't appreciate that because you live in an age when we've thoroughly subdued nature. Hubris is substituting your confidence for evidence. Nature worship qualifies.

I hope the Chinese water project is a success. We should pay attention to what they're doing. We're going to need to build projects like theirs ourselves soon. Our cities don't run on antibiotic-free heirloom free-range chickens. The water mains don't need massages and soft world music. They need water.

Science is the only thing that stands between chatting with friends in warm houses and shivering in the dark while wondering what we did to make an angry god punish us with lightning. Using reason to make our lives better is not evil. It's not bad. Technology is wonderful.

What's the Solomonic way out of this conundrum? I'm afraid it's one own's experience, for we rarely exhibit signs of learning.  Nothing wrong with experience in itself, except that it's costly. 

reassurance makes strength or good excuse to skip town?

While the US Congress was overjoyed with a visit meant to reassure about the  Israeli-American friendship, our own president was addressing the British Parliament with the following:

“It is wrong to conclude that the rise of countries like China, India and Brazil means the end of American and European leadership.  Even as more nations take on the responsibilities of global leadership, our alliance will remain indispensable.”

Moreover, president Obama stated that the United States and Britain remained “indispensable” nations for peace and stability and the “greatest catalysts for global action” in a time of war, terrorism and economic insecurity.

Equally reassuring, indeed. 

Except that Germany and Japan are drawn into different orbits, while the Chinese are growing more nervous, if not assertive, by the day.  Not to mention that the Brits see things differently as far as: a) tackling the economic crisis, b) military budgets, c) Libyan priorities, or d) the upcoming September vote at the UN when the Arab League intends to propose the recognition of the Palestinian state.   

What's going on here, had we been liked and respected only as long as we could pay our way, or we've departed too much from what others saw and liked about us?  

Do we even know or remember what it was?  How we got there or how we lost it?

DSK facing... American Americanism?

Vince Boston from San Mateo, California comments on NYTimes:

Bonjour, mon ami's ! It is I, ze great sophisticated and elegant Dominque Strauss-Kahn, who always selects ze perfect wine. Oui, I had a bit of fun with a mere what? What else are ze chambermaids there for? Ze problem is ze puritanical Americans...not moi ! I merely do what I and my fellow government bankers have been doing for years, and it is ME who is supposedly ze problem? I reject your puritanical American Americanism !

Me and my fellow $3,000/night international government bankers spend all day long raping poor countries on behalf of rich countries. When we tire of that, we switch to raping the working class inside each country on behalf of the ruling class who went to the right schools and have the right last names. After all, I am ze most ridiculous of all ze politicians in ze entire world, a stalwart leader of ze French “Socialist” Party.

Why, ever since I was born with my nursemaid feeding me Dom Perignon in my baby bottle, I have dedicated my life to helping the struggling working classes…like ze hotel maid last night. She was struggling…does she not realize I was helping her in her fight against ze rich exploitive well-connected ruling class ? Ungrateful wench !

What could be more natural for me and my good banking fellows than to switch to raping hotel maids at ze end of a long tiring work day ? I do whatever I want whenever I want to whoever I want ! Yes, yes, you may, how you say, succeed in locking me up in one of your puritanical puritan prisons. But it matters little. There are 50, 100, 1,000 more international government bankers waiting to take my place and continue with our sacred, important "work". It is truly a calling, not merely a “job”.

It could be that this man is sick and his known dependency was exploited by the professional handlers of the victim(?).

Indeed, growing popularity in France was construed as a risk not only for L’américain, our ever obliging friend at Élysée Palace, but also to US capitalism itself–see DSK’s murmurs about the need for an international alternative to the dollar based on the IMF's special drawing rights, or about increased state-level financial regulation.

Another interesting question that comes into focus is if DSK was indeed the best face of the (French) Left. The vanishing of the working class in the west (read, post-industrial economy myth temporarily sustained by off-shoring / delocalization) has made reaction to the anti-popular excesses of capitalism very difficult.

Fukushima, mon amour: Letter to the Readers of the Capitalism Saga

CapitalismCapitalism is itself an artifact, based on a fiction. Sooner or later, it runs out. Some of its plot elements are property, law, innovation, technology, obstinate individualism, entrepreneurship, growth, greed, corporate personhood, market as deus ex machina... We identify many of these as natural; in fact they have become second nature, but who's drawing this distinction anymore?

The social ordering role of grand narratives can be hardly overstated.  The Capitalism story has been so transformational a force that even a communitarian country like Japan could muster only 50 volunteers to risk their lives in limiting the scope of the fast spreading nuclear damage at Fukushima, not to mention how many weeks it had taken.*  Contrasting this to the Soviet response at Chernobyl, where 0ver 300 thousand people had been mobilized to contain the damage, is better left for the ethicist.** 

Besides filling the western world with stuff, capitalism has managed to achieve something even more remarkable, it puts the story from the opening paragraph between most and the real owners/handlers. In other words, capitalism has no customer support department, yet the few own and re-write it with legitimacy, if not impunity.  What has gone missing?  To name just one, the state as that entity greater than the sum of individuals in a country.  Indeed, where was the state after Katrina, BP oil spill, or at Fukushima, when corporate or natural disasters hit?  Please, don't confuse our political representatives for the state!  They use whatever is left out the state, i.e. the monopoly of violence, to legitimately hang on their side of POWER.  I also hope the reader won't think the state stood behind the big bank(er)s, for the same representatives put us, or the Irish, in that situation.  

To return to the main epic, a country like the US has been addressing the intrinsic limits of capitalism by hard work, of its own and then of the scores of immigrants, chance, or by externalizing its problems. We have had many an advantage at our disposal that a place like Japan or Germany could only dream of.

Japanese capitalism reached its limits a while back. Sitting on a big pile of money and running on inertia might have seemed as heroic. Then something like Fukushima happens in short sequence from the 2008 Crisis and the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Not to mention all the petro-wars.

What's the meaning of this? For each his own. While Germany interrupted the operations at several nuclear power plants, Japan has signaled that it would not increase its reliance on nuclear energy as once planned. Closer to home, I expect Obama will pass the immigration law, but am apprehensive it's going to be another political hack and not necessarily a solution to our problems. One of our solvable problems, by virtue of a redesigned immigration system, would be the math education: grant work visa to math teachers and fill our classrooms with people whose knowledge and IQ would otherwise qualify them for running... banks.

Japan, I anticipate, will be the first one to turn the page away from Capitalism. Or at least away from its ferociously anti-civilization aspects--read, consumerism, growth... As for the energy problem, it should be rephrased as opportunity: stargazing will be again possible even in a Tokyo neighborhood.

* With this occasion, I've come to better understand the Japanese communitarian values, which in the west are seen mostly with indulgence.  It must have been many a natural disaster that fused this people into what it is.
** Thinking that the international community, for the past 10 years, has not come up with the estimated billion dollars needed to consolidate the leaking and fast aging cover of the Chernobyl blown up reactor is even more indicative of the values ordering our world. 

Enjoy Capitalism

the view from our end

P050111PS-0210, originally uploaded by The White House.

Via Flickr:
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Seated, from left, are: Brigadier General Marshall B. “Brad” Webb, Assistant Commanding General, Joint Special Operations Command; Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Standing, from left, are: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Tony Binken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; Audrey Tomason Director for Counterterrorism; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Dr Helen Caldicott: The Earth is in the Intensive Care Unit

Via Flickr:
See the "Dr Helen Caldicott: The Earth is in the Intensive Care Unit" video

This week we devote the entire episode to Dr. Helen Caldicott, one of the founders of Physicians For Social Responsibility (PSR). In this piece, edited by PepperSpray's Patricia Boiko, Dr. Caldicott talks of the nuclear issues and the health of the earth from the perspective of a healer/physician. PepperSpray collective members kept her in the viewfinder during on-air radio interviews in Seattle and accompanied her to the Washington meeting of PSR where she was the keynote speaker. Physicians for Social Responsibility an organization of 23,000 doctors committed to educating their colleagues and the public about the dangers of nuclear power, nuclear weapons and nuclear war. www.psr.orgAfter being instrumental in the formation of PSR in the US, Dr. Caldecott helped start similar medical organizations in many other countries. The international umbrella group (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. She also founded the Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament, now Women's Action for New Directions (WAND) in the US in 1980.  Other professions took up the challenge of "social responsibility," and the 1980s and 90s saw an array of organizations such as Computer Professionals For Social Responsibility, each with their own focus.http://www.cpsr.orgBooks by Helen Caldicott referenced in the video:Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex in Heaven: The Arms Race in Outer Space"Indymedia Presents" is a weekly public access program produced on behalf of the Seattle Independent Media Center (IMC) by PepperSpray Productions... now also a weekly podcast available at:http://indymediapresents.blip.tv Access producers, community screeners, and IMCs
are encouraged to screen or air "Indymedia Presents." To obtain the show on a regular basis, please contact us at Free Speech Websites:Independent Media Center NewsRealhttp://www.newsreal.indymedia.orgFree Speech TV:http://www.freespeech.orgDemocracy Now!http://www.democracynow.orgThis video was originally shared on by Pepperspray Productions with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.

Unsafe at Any Dose
Sydney, Australia

SIX weeks ago, when I first heard about the reactor damage at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, I knew the prognosis: If any of the containment vessels or fuel pools exploded, it would mean millions of new cases of cancer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Many advocates of nuclear power would deny this. During the 25th anniversary last week of the Chernobyl disaster, some commentators asserted that few people died in the aftermath, and that there have been relatively few genetic abnormalities in survivors’ offspring. It’s an easy leap from there to arguments about the safety of nuclear energy compared to alternatives like coal, and optimistic predictions about the health of the people living near Fukushima.

But this is dangerously ill informed and short-sighted; if anyone knows better, it’s doctors like me. There’s great debate about the number of fatalities following Chernobyl; the International Atomic Energy Agency has predicted that there will be only about 4,000 deaths from cancer, but a 2009 report published by the New York Academy of Sciences says that almost one million people have already perished from cancer and other diseases. The high doses of radiation caused so many miscarriages that we will never know the number of genetically damaged fetuses that did not come to term. (And both Belarus and Ukraine have group homes full of deformed children.)

Nuclear accidents never cease. We’re decades if not generations away from seeing the full effects of the radioactive emissions from Chernobyl.

As we know from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it takes years to get cancer. Leukemia takes only 5 to 10 years to emerge, but solid cancers take 15 to 60. Furthermore, most radiation-induced mutations are recessive; it can take many generations for two recessive genes to combine to form a child with a particular disease, like my specialty, cystic fibrosis. We can’t possibly imagine how many cancers and other diseases will be caused in the far future by the radioactive isotopes emitted by Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Doctors understand these dangers. We work hard to try to save the life of a child dying of leukemia. We work hard to try to save the life of a woman dying of metastatic breast cancer. And yet the medical dictum says that for incurable diseases, the only recourse is prevention. There’s no group better prepared than doctors to stand up to the physicists of the nuclear industry.

Still, physicists talk convincingly about “permissible doses” of radiation. They consistently ignore internal emitters — radioactive elements from nuclear power plants or weapons tests that are ingested or inhaled into the body, giving very high doses to small volumes of cells. They focus instead on generally less harmful external radiation from sources outside the body, whether from isotopes emitted from nuclear power plants, medical X-rays, cosmic radiation or background radiation that is naturally present in our environment.

However, doctors know that there is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation, and that radiation is cumulative. The mutations caused in cells by this radiation are generally deleterious. We all carry several hundred genes for disease: cystic fibrosis, diabetes, phenylketonuria, muscular dystrophy. There are now more than 2,600 genetic diseases on record, any one of which may be caused by a radiation-induced mutation, and many of which we’re bound to see more of, because we are artificially increasing background levels of radiation.

For many years now, physicists employed by the nuclear industry have been outperforming doctors, at least in politics and the news media. Since the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, physicists have had easy access to Congress. They had harnessed the energy inside the center of the sun, and later physicists, whether lobbying for nuclear weapons or nuclear energy, had the same power. They walk into Congress and Congress virtually prostrates itself. Their technological advancements are there for all to see; the harm will become apparent only decades later.

Doctors, by contrast, have fewer dates with Congress, and much less access on nuclear issues. We don’t typically go around discussing the latent period of carcinogenesis and the amazing advances made in understanding radiobiology. But as a result, we do an inadequate job of explaining the long-term dangers of radiation to policymakers and the public.

When patients come to us with cancer, we deem it rude to inquire if they lived downwind of Three Mile Island in the 1980s or might have eaten Hershey’s chocolate made with milk from cows that grazed in irradiated pastures nearby. We tend to treat the disaster after the fact, instead of fighting to stop it from happening in the first place. Doctors need to confront the nuclear industry.

Nuclear power is neither clean, nor sustainable, nor an alternative to fossil fuels — in fact, it adds substantially to global warming. Solar, wind and geothermal energy, along with conservation, can meet our energy needs.

At the beginning, we had no sense that radiation induced cancer. Marie Curie and her daughter didn’t know that the radioactive materials they handled would kill them. But it didn’t take long for the early nuclear physicists in the Manhattan Project to recognize the toxicity of radioactive elements. I knew many of them quite well. They had hoped that peaceful nuclear energy would absolve their guilt over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it has only extended it.

Physicists had the knowledge to begin the nuclear age. Physicians have the knowledge, credibility and legitimacy to end it.

Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, is the author of “Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer.”

I wish all of US LUCK!

There are no spontaneous revolutions. Popular anger needs coordination, channeling, resources.

No outsider would have dared trouble the waters in a place like Egypt.  The US would have eventually found out and the whole thing become a casus belli.

The security apparatus in a place like Egypt could have put down any manifestation in a matter of hours.  The Egyptian Army must have been in.

If all goes well, Capitalism gets a new lease on life, long live democracy for capital!

Meanwhile, the West should hold together, yet the US will re-discover (the virtues of) nylon.

Officially, I am happier

This is a time we'll remember.  It's taken history a little over 20 years to re-expose the cracks in our world system, just as they were before the cold war froze themapt metaphor indeed.  Except that this time, it takes the news much less to reach that many more.   

In November we had Wikileaks/Cablegate, now we have Tunisia and Egypt, episodes of violence of one type or another.  They all challenge the status qvo, which has its own defenders.  For one, there are the current elites, who'd been able to stage a smooth show until the 2008 Crisis, or until the most recent onset of the crisis in 2008.  Up until 2008, genetically modified food and cheap Chinese imports had kept the hoi polloi climbing the pyramid of growth in this or that market, the up and coming could still find a place at the lower tables, whereas the true elites were taxing the addiction of democracies to credit financed pyramidal-growth.

The underlined text is the least exposed, topmost, yet more interesting, part of a 3-layered machinery whereby to each his own.  The low strata provide the labor and standing army in exchange for a chance at The American Dream, the idea that tomorrow ought to be better than today, given that you play by the rules, regardless of the initial conditions.  It's a social compact of sorts to which most still subscribe to, in form if not in spirit.  In other parts of the world with comparable per capita/GDP metrics, the compact is not framed in such probabilistic terms but actual indemnification--this also goes by the name of welfare state, a creation of contractual parties enlightened by experience.  So until 2008, the American Dream had been in sight for many, though people in places like Ohio may take exception--for them, the Crisis started in 2000-2001.  We were conditioned to measure our betterment in terms of stuff acquired on credit, but that's part of the status qvo ante.  When the magic behind credit is questioned, we all look at a house of cards.

What was the top stratum doing?  They have privatized just about everything, including war, the means to persuade the elected few and, most importantly, the money supply.  Some could argue that The Fed has been private since its inception, for how else to keep the democratically elected populist from printing more money?  To which I'd say, there used to be rules restricting self-serving abuse by the money handlers themselves.  Also, more or less functioning markets were supposed to operate and keep the whole financial industry efficient, if not effective, at allocating the money resource in the economy.  To return to privatizing everything, it increases liquidity, reduces waste, generates commissions; what's not to like about it?  Indeed, it puts The American Dream on the market autopilot.  Except that for whatever reasons, and they vary from human nature to the late stage of our capitalism, the money handlers have gone far beyond taxing our addiction for cheap credit into generating virtual capital, orders of magnitude in excess to the real economies of the world combined, and transactions for their own sake.  In other words, increased money supply and transactions leading to more commissions--if measured by the banksters' bonuses alone, quite an expensive addiction to have.  So, those private entities that were supposed to keep the democratic government fiscally honest must have hijacked the game along the way.  Never mind the role of the state, read something about regulatory capture and the cycle is complete.

To open a parenthesis, the 2008 Crisis has reached even those whose money supply has not been privatized.  Indeed, they needed growth for an aging population just about as much as we needed for our pyramids, so they had to join in while the music was playing.  Who doesn't find it ironic that in Ireland, for example, the population has to suffer because of imprudent private banks' lending practices and not because of some over-generous welfare scheme?  These are all details, which the little people may someday put together into a call to action, unless real reform is undertaken.  So far, we've been headed where the theorists of socio-economics have told as for about 160 years.  Can capitalism regenerate itself?  Better yet, what will it morph into?      

As I wrote here in the past, downward adjustment is on the books for us.  Obama's recently calling for increased competitiveness means that our individual incomes would go down and we can kiss goodbye whatever is left of the welfare state; let's just forget about the alternative of all turning into neurosurgeons or microprocessor designers.(*)  An oil crisis brought about by street movements in the Arab world can be a good external diversion to spring the whole west back into action on behalf of capitalism and value$.(**)  Indeed, how do you defy the cycle if not by some expansion?  If the financial expansion has run its course, what's left?  We should also keep in mind the lesson of the late British Empire, at twilight military expansionism speeds things up instead of allowing the belligerent to choose solutions.  We cannot bankroll Pax Americana far into the 21 century. 

Yes, I am all for supporting the consequences of our pyramidal dreams, meaning downward corrections and/or inflation, but so far I find the idea of justice lacking in the process.  Reform ought to be real and aimed at the practices of the top layer, just as much if not more than the base.  Otherwise, officially I am told that 2011 will have been already better!


(*) Lawrence Summers, former Obama's officially economy expert, has given an interview about the way he sees the future; here's an excerpt from NYTimes
The key to higher employment, he said, is increasing the demand for the goods and services produced by American companies. “You don’t hire more waiters unless the waiters you have in your restaurants have more work than they can handle,” he said. “There’s a continuing shortage of demand, and that’s the root cause of unemployment. It’s the root cause of low-capacity utilization…What you need to do is have more output with more people, and the way you have more output with more people is you need people who want to buy that output, and that’s why it comes back to demand.”
This should give us all an indication of what competitive means to our leaders, waiter-level incomes/benefits.  As well, we won't come out of unemployment unless willing to get such jobs. That may well be so for us, what about THEM?  THOSE who restart the economy of waiters-based models.
(**) The events in Tunisia and Egypt are most puzzling.  I don't believe in street movements beyond drama and opportunity (lost or made).   The west has grown too dependent on oil in its own terms, to which the US added dollar-denominated trade.  The standing question of the moment is cui prodest, or what's behind?  As for the role of (internet) technology in democratizing, allow me to take exception.  Moreover, the voting experiment in Palestine yielded populist-Islamics, not the garden variety politician our elite has been so effective at co-opting.  

As for the "value$" in question, truth be told, the might dollar has turned us oblivious to many of our deficiencies--see for example the reflex call for money each time we are faced with a problem--thus we stopped learning.  The west has gone along, more or less (see the 1971 decoupling of the dollar from gold), for all kinds of reasons, e.g., red scare, security clients, markets, etc.  All in all, there has been no one to fundamentally question what we were doing.  I would not take this as guarantee for future behavior.    

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