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Observations (and occasional brash opining) on science, computers, books, music and other shiny things that catch my mind's eye. There's a home page with ostensibly more permanent stuff. This is intended to be more functional than decorative. I neither intend nor want to surf on the bleeding edge, keep it real, redefine journalism or attract nyphomaniacal groupies (well, maybe a wee bit of the latter). The occasional cheap laugh, raised eyebrow or provocation of interest are all I'll plead guilty to in the matter of intent. Bene qui latuit bene vixit.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

CHANGE OF ADDRESS
Look over
here. We're apparently back for a while.
posted by Steven Baum 11/12/2006 11:35:13 AM | link

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

ROBERTSON DAVIES THE LIBRETTIST
A
Ben Viccari article from 1999 informs me that damned clever and entertaining canuck Robertson Davies was also a one-time librettist.
...
As the musical world knew by opening night, Davies had chosen for his subject a classic, ribald Roman work by Apuleius, one of history's first novels, written about A.D. 170. It was a subject he had contemplated for more than 40 years. The libretto he completed before his death in 1997 recounts the tale of a self-absorbed hedonist, Lucius (Kevin Anderson) who in his endless search for pleasure seeks to learn forbidden occult arts. He is transformed into an ass and suffers ill treatment and humiliation at the hands of human beings including captivity at the hands of a band of brigands. Finally repentant, he returns to human form.

Audiences who came to the premiere expecting an opera that lacked in tonality and harmony were agreeably surprised to find the Peters' music indeed highly accessible and Robertson's libretto witty and amusing. And the production was outstanding. As director of the opera, Bradshaw had selected Colin Graham who has staged many outstanding modern opera productions including all of Britten's work. From the moment the curtain rose, the stage was filled with constant motion as more than 50 performers recreated a market place in ancient Carthage of almost 2,000 years ago. Deployed on a set consisting mainly of two flights of marble stairs, and acting out a variety of situations, including some torrid (and convincing) lovemaking and a ballet based on the legend of Cupid and Psyche, they moved up and down the stairs with fluidity.

There were superb performances by the entire cast including Kevin Anderson, Rebecca Caine as Fotis the slave girl, and Theodore Baerg as the storyteller. Judith Forst, in the duel role of the sorceress Pamphilea and the bandit leader's mother Antiope, dominated every scene in which she appeared. Always a mezzo-soprano with effective dramatic skills, her acting was matched by the other principals.

The fact of the music's accessibility seems to have bothered some critics. Were they disappointed they couldn't flourish their elitism by bestowing their intellectual largesse on the "peasants" who flock to I Pagliacci and Madama Butterfly and seem to have enjoyed The Golden Ass just as well as the old war horses? Galled by having to declare that the music was as accessible as Sondheim's and Bernstein's? They should have known better, since the composer himself had already been vocal on the subject.
...


posted by Steven Baum 1/26/2005 02:07:57 PM | link

LOST IN SPACE
John Naughton has some interesting observations about the effect of cellphones and portable music players on social spaces. I was in my teens when the Sony Walkman first appeared, and when I got one (well, a clone thereof) I wore it outside a few times, but could never get past a strong feeling of sensual claustrophobia it gave me. Eventually I also obtained a portable CD player which offered less high-frequency hissing and the same claustrophobic feeling. I can and do still use them indoors on occasion, but when I'm out o' doors I remain tune free (as well as cellphone free).
I almost ran over a student the other day. He was walking casually down the middle of a leafy suburban street in Cambridge. As I approached I assumed he would hear me and move onto the pavement. It would have been rude to have tooted the horn, so I didn't. But he didn't move, and only became aware of me as I braked to a halt right behind him.

Was the lad deaf? Not at all. But inserted firmly in both his ears were the distinctive white buds of iPod headphones. He had been walking peacefully, wrapped in a portable, personal bubble of sound. Physically, he was out in the open air. Birds were singing. The sun shone and the wind sighed in the trees. But he might as well have have been in a soundproofed basement. He was the living, breathing embodiment of the philosopher Martin Heidegger's observation that technology is the art of arranging the world so that we don't have to experience it.
...


posted by Steven Baum 1/26/2005 01:57:13 PM | link

YOUR GENRE SUCKS
David Thorpe applies the scientific method to the various popular music subgenres that annoy us all.
...
American Indie Rock

Well, first of all, I’d better head the “but indie’s not a genre!” nerds off at the pass: shut up, you. Don’t pretend not to know exactly what I’m talking about when I say “indie rock.” It means white kids with guitars playing slapdash lo-fi pop songs about spatulas. You know, Sebadoh, Guided by Voices, Pavement, et al. Sure, there are plenty of musical approaches within the American indie rock scene (some bands sound like broken vacuum cleaners trying to suck up The Beach Boys and some sound like broken vacuum cleaners trying to suck up The Kinks), but they’re all just differently-textured turds in the same befouled milkshake. There are a thousand indie labels churning out the same clamorous bullshit, and ten thousand indie bands stabbing at their guitar pickups with screwdrivers to get them to make that perfect irritating hum. There are a million brain-dead hipsters trying to one-up each other with their advance knowledge of the latest group of shaggy unemployables to get signed to Sex Blister Records by virtue of their super-ironic Casiotone sound and their unimpeachable haircuts.
...


posted by Steven Baum 1/26/2005 01:45:30 PM | link

THAD JONES/MEL LEWIS ON MOSAIC
Since this sucker is long out of print from the marvelous
Mosaic label (although it can be occasionally spotted on ebay for around $300), and since I'm feeling quite the scofflaw today, here's the first disc of the 5 volume Thad Jones/Mel Lewis "Complete Solid State Recordings" Mosaic set ripped at 256 kpbs. There are those who consider these recordings the apotheosis of jazz big band music, although Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Stan Kenton and a few others might also be in that particular hunt.
posted by Steven Baum 1/26/2005 11:04:30 AM | link

LIBERVENTIONISM
Max is so good today I'm going to have to
steal from him again. But to be fair, I'm only pilfering his stuff because I'm much lazier and less talented than he. Also, I've made a blood oath that all the rounds are on me should we ever frequent the same watering hole. By the way, the original is preferable seeing how the laziness thing prevents me from including his text linkages.
The response to the President's speech at my regular stops in libertarian Blogdonia (the anti-imperialist, conservative region of the Blogosphere) is surprisingly muted. After all, this was one flame-thrower of a pitch for Empire. I expect phonies like Pat Buchanan to roll over for the GOP. But we see the escalating corruption of conservative wisdom and libertarian ideals by jingoism.

The way liberty works in Bushworld is that any nation designated as friendly (read pliable) is struggling towards democracy, no matter how barren and repressive its internal political culture. (Exhibit A: "Bandar Bush.") Any such nation with an actual election, no matter how flaky, has achieved freedom. Any election that doesn't go our way (e.g., Washington state, Haiti, Venezuela) merits a do-over, or worse. Just like in the U.S. House of Representatives, when future felon Tom DeLay needs a vote, he keeps calling the roll until all the cows come home.

Some are describing the Bush wave as "democratic Trotskyism." Ha ha. This is cute but in its own way bespeaks denial. Trotsky is deader than a doornail, while Wolfie is standing strong at DoD. Could it be more plain that liberventionism springs from the machinations of Crony Capital? You don't see the AFL-CIO or the ADA up there with Bush, spinning tales of the next six liberation campaigns. One should not evade the likelihood that corruption in foreign policy is associated with the same on the domestic side, about which more below.

It will happen like this: a new tipping point giving rise to some kind of generic terrorist threat with nuclear/biological overtones. We won't be treated to an excess of specifics. Have we ever? A provocation could stir the drink. In effect, the U.S. attacks and describes the roiled posture of the target nation as the new, imminent danger. Don't call it conspiracy. It's a simple plan, and an old practice.

But even the war on terror is insufficient to sustain the drive towards Empire, since of course there has been precious little terrorism inside the U.S. since 9-11. Where are the ten thousand terror cells, rilly? For guidance, we observe the neo-con Id, on display in Charles Krauthammer's column in today's Post.

Terrorism notwithstanding, what's really in store is the Yellow Peril: the expansionism of the People's Republic of China, with Russia as a junior partner. To meet this challenge, we will need many more boots on the ground (kids, do you feel a breeze?) and dollars down the toilet. Paradoxically, no small numer of these dollars will be borrowed from . . . the PRC. But let's not run aground on paradox.

The ongoing pollution of domestic policy by foreign policy can be observed on that same page, in Robert Bork's defense of Bushist/Patriot Act intrusions on individual liberty.

Back to the Bush speech, intellectual slop about liberation around the world lends itself to non sequiturs of equivalent banality (see George "Outdoor Furniture" Will) about the Ownership Society, made possible by the destruction of Social Insurance. Regulation by the State would be replaced by the oppression of crony capitalists suffering the indulgence of . . . the State. Your financial liberation lies in the fine print of the prospectuses of Wall Street brokerages. We fear God will not be in those details.

Fear liberty.


posted by Steven Baum 1/26/2005 10:34:03 AM | link

THE PRIVATIZATION FLIM-FLAM
Max Sawicky addresses the privatization thing in his inimitable style.
...
A basic assumption in the debate about Social Security is that everyone should be invested in equities, or private sector assets in general. We beg to differ. Most people -- meaning those whose ability to accumulate wealth is limited -- need title to low-risk assets. This means pension plans with defined benefits, wherein the risk lies with the party better able to shoulder it -- the employer. Such employers need to be properly regulated to ensure responsible fiduciary behavior. The trends have been in the other direction. For people who want to save for bequests, there are already tax-favored vehicles available.

Most people won't beat the market. Neither can most highly-paid fund managers. You pay them extra for a sub-market rate of return. Pick individual stocks? Forget it. You're playing against people with much better information, and the time to make the best use of it. "Control over your own money" is jive.
...


posted by Steven Baum 1/26/2005 10:10:58 AM | link

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

BHOPAL AT 20
Matt Taibbi writes a piece about Bhopal that doesn't mostly deal with how Americans have gotten over the trauma of 7000 dead Indians and tens of thousands more scarred and in pain for the rest of their shortened lives.
...
U.S. reporters repeatedly hammered three themes in the press.

The first was that the Indian anger over the accident was an overemotional response by an ill-informed peasant population that simply could not accept that industrial accidents, though regrettable, are the inevitable price of progress. Times reporter William Broad put it most succinctly, noting that many of the Bhopal victims would not even have been alive to be killed had it not been for corporate citizens like UCC:

So too, experts argue, the tragedy in India has to be seen in its wider context.

"Of those people killed, half would not have been alive today if it weren't for that plant and the modern health standards made possible by wide use of pesticides,'' said Dr. Melvin Kranzberg...

The second theme was that the accident only happened because the Indians were incompetent. Here's how the house editorial at the Times put it on Dec. 9:

Part of the explanation may be a difference in culture. India's scientists are as good as any, but not all Indian workers have the same familiarity with machinery as Americans.

It should be noted that UCC later commissioned a study by the firm Arthur Little that concluded the accident had been caused by a deliberate act of sabotage by an Indian worker. Though the company did not name the worker, and never offered any evidence proving that a dog actually ate its homework, this was the position the company would ultimately take and stick to. The Indian government's response to the same study ("We are not impressed") got less ink.

The third theme in the press that week? That the real villains of the story were the American lawyers who were flying to India to organize class-action suits against UCC. Papers like the Post and the Times suddenly became victim advocates once the prospect of Melvin Belli taking 30 percent of a future settlement became a real possibility. Post columnist Richard Cohen took the extraordinary position that the lawyers were the real neo-colonialists in this tale:

This is ambulance chasing on a global scale, a new type of colonialism. If only the British had settled for a third of the profits, the sun might never have set on their empire.

Bhopal quickly faded from American newspapers. It has not faded so successfully in the actual city of Bhopal. Without being a melodramatic environmentalist—we know how that turns off American readers—it should be noted that 20 years after the disaster, there has still been no real cleanup of the Bhopal site, and in particular no cleanup of the city's water supply. Neither UCC nor its new parent company Dow has coughed up a dime for water-supply cleanup. The Indian government in 1997 did spend money on a few cans of red paint to mark 250 wells that were contaminated, but since most of the area's residents have no place else to get water, the wells are still used. Neither UCC nor Dow has ever formally accepted responsibility for the accident. Little of a very small $470 million settlement—arranged between the court and UCC, without consulting the victims—has actually been paid out.

What was so disgusting about the Bhopal story, and what continues to be disgusting, was not just that it happened, but that the story played out the way it did here in the States.

At least 7000 people died in the first week at Bhopal. Tens of thousands more subsequent deaths were directly attributed to the accident. More than 100,000 were injured. In the States this phrase—"100,000 injured"—was usually confined to just that phrase. Readers were seldom told that this meant thousands of people left with such serious respiratory problems that they cannot leave their homes or work (or, significantly, walk to an uncontaminated well). They were not told that Bhopal residents who were little girls in 1984 went on to live long, painful lives of blurred vision, chest pains and constant vaginal discharges. Little boys, for some reason, had a different reaction than the girls; they frequently failed to grow and remained miniature people their whole lives.

Fully grown men under five feet tall are not uncommon in Bhopal.

That the safety procedures were different in Bhopal than they were in the West Virginia plant was often noted in American news articles, but usually noted offhand. The extent to which this was true has rarely ever been mentioned in this country—not even last week, after Amnesty International released a report detailing the differences between the two UCC plants.

There is not enough space to be comprehensive, but here are a few bullet points:

• The Bhopal plant had no emergency "scrubbers" to render harmless any leaking gases. The U.S. plant did.

• There was no computerized monitoring of instruments in Bhopal. There was in West Virginia.

• The U.S. plant used inert chloroform for its cooling system; in Bhopal, they used brine, more dangerous and reactive with the liquid MIC.

• West Virginia had a refrigeration unit that was always on. Bhopal, in a cost-cutting move, had turned off its refrigeration unit the previous June. (They turned off refrigeration units in India!)

• UCC didn't even have an emergency plan with the city of Bhopal, had no system for informing the public, no emergency liaison. All of these things, in West Virginia, it had.

And so on; this list could go on for another page.

UCC ignored dozens of warnings—not general warnings about general safety lapses, but specific warnings about the specific problem that would ultimately occur. Two years before, a team of its own American technicians classified 10 major potential hazards at the plant, including what ultimately happened: a leak of MIC from its storage tanks.

But UCC did nothing, because UCC didn't give a fuck. It didn't have to. Even the worst-case scenario wasn't so bad. It's not like you'll have to replace the city's water supply if the plant explodes. It isn't Connecticut, for Christ's sake. Might as well go cheap, and hope everything works out. And if not...


posted by Steven Baum 1/25/2005 01:58:07 PM | link

THE 50 MOST LOATHSOME
Via
Cheek, we find the heartwarming vitriol that is the Beast 50 Most Loathsome People in America list.
...
45. John McCain

Crimes: Survived years of torture in Vietnam only to become a bend over buddy for a sheltered rich dunce. McCain could have bolstered his largely unearned air of credibility this year had he stood against Bush, but instead chose to show us all that that no principle is too fundamental to humanity to be overlooked in the name of party loyalty. We can only hope that they’ve got something on him, something big.
...
41. Everyone who got together to watch the final episode of “Friends”

Crimes: Allowing a trivial sitcom about living in New York, made for people who’ve never been anywhere near New York, to become a focal point in their shallow, meaningless lives. Watching TV together is not a bonding experience; it is a distancing experience, a way in which people can cohabit a room without actually having to engage each other or connect personally. Whoever’s ultimately responsible for the “watch ‘Friends’ or the terrorists win” meme should have a special room reserved for him in the bad section of hell.
...
30. Jim Lehrer

Crimes: The nauseating host of the “liberal” PBS program “The News Hour” never hesitates to show his fealty to our business and government overlords. When independent journalist Christian Parenti appeared on “News Hour” upon his return from Iraq, he had the temerity to link the instability in Iraq to America’s failure to implement even half-hearted reconstruction. “There still isn't adequate electricity…there wasn't adequate water. Where is all the money that’s going to Halliburton and Bechtel to rebuild this country, where is it ending up? And I think that is one of the most important, fundamental causes of instability, the corruption around the contracting with these Bush-connected firms in Iraq…” Two days later, the spineless Leher apologized to his viewers for Parenti’s informed, reasonable opinion, telling us the “…discussion about Iraq ended up not being as balanced as is our standard practice. While unintentional, it was indeed our mistake and we regret it.” Balanced. There’s that word again. Leher has never apologized for any of the lunatic horseshit coming out of administration apologists on a daily basis.
...
24. Ronald Reagan

Crimes: The greatest monster in recent American history. Reagan’s excruciating sanctification during his agonizingly protracted funeral was enough to make anyone with knowledge of his true legacy blow up a radio tower. Newspaper columnists performed astonishing feats of selective memory in canonizing Reagan, disregarding any inconvenient evidence of supporting terrorism, ripping off taxpayers for outrageous defense programs, or introducing crack cocaine to America, because we need our heroes.
...
3. You

Crimes: You gaze idly at the carnage around you, sigh, and go calmly back to your coffee and your People magazine. You can’t stop buying useless crap, though you’re drowning in a deepening pool of debt. You think you’re an activist because you bitch all day on the internet, but you reelect the same gangsters at a 99% rate. You consider yourself informed because you waste a significant portion of your life watching the same three news stories cycle over and over again on your gargantuan, aerodynamic television set while you eat processed food. You really thought everything would be okay if Kerry won. Not only do you believe in an invisible man who magically farted out the universe, you also excoriate and marginalize those who disagree. You have a poorer understanding of your country’s foreign policy history than a third world peasant, but you can’t wait to see what Julia Roberts will be wearing at the Oscars. You cheer as Ukrainians challenge an election based on exit poll data, but keep waiting around for someone else to fix your problems. You can’t think, you can’t organize and you won’t act. This is all your fault.
...


posted by Steven Baum 1/25/2005 01:17:58 PM | link

ANOTHER SIDE OF FOOTBALL
ESPN's starting a five-part
series about Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers center whose 17 year career in the NFL basically beat the life out of him, e.g.
"Desperate for a few moments of peace from the acute pain, repeatedly stunning himself, sometimes a dozen times, into unconsciousness with a black Taser gun. "The only way he could get to sleep," said Garrett."

posted by Steven Baum 1/25/2005 09:51:38 AM | link

Monday, January 24, 2005

A GRIM FUTURE
John Emerson sees a future of continued marginalization - with no real limits as to what the cabal can and will do to suppress their political opponents, i.e. "traitors" - as the cabal continues in its 50-year-plan to spread "freedom" and "liberty" throughout the galaxy.
...
In a recent New Yorker piece, Seymour Hersh has reported that the Bush administration plans to begin air attacks and covert actions against Iran this year, with the goal of toppling the Islamic regime. Bush himself has made it clear that he believes that the voters have given him a blank check, and that his critics (left, right, and center) are now irrelevant. I think that we can count on these attacks as a done deal. (The "Salvador option" we recently heard about might also still happen, though it might very well have just been a smokescreen. Even the Social Security reform he's been talking about might just have been intended to distract us from his big international plans.)

These new attacks are presumably just the second stage in the multi-nation plan Wolfowitz spoke about right before the war. In other words, we can plan to be at war for five to twenty years.

The Army and Guard are already being pushed to the limit. Thus, there will have to be a draft. But in order for there to be a draft, anti-war groups and spokesmen will have to be marginalized and crushed. So those of us who are anti-war should prepare to be called traitors and cowards with an intensity that we haven't seen so far. Ann Coulter is soon going to go completely mainstream.

As long as the wars are going reasonably well, they will be almost impossible to oppose. A lot of so-called moderates decided last November 2 to take another chance on Bush, and if they change their minds now it won't make a damn bit of difference. A big chunk of the Democratic Party will try to curry favor by supporting the new wars, too, but that won't do anyone any good either. The Democratic hawks won't be able to bring the whole party with them -- and anyway, why would the voters want to switch hawks in midstream? Bush is going to be in the driver's seat for some time.

As soon as the Iran phase starts, all of our criticisms of what happened before will be forgotten (if they haven't been already.) This is what Suskind's source meant when he talked about "creating reality". By using the power of the Commander in Chief to completely change the ball game, Bush is going to make a big chunk of recent political discussion permanently inoperative.

I always hated the complacency of the people who smirkingly bragged about being "reality-based". They missed the point of what had been said. Democrats figure out what past reality was like, and assume that future reality will be pretty much the same. Republicans figure out how future reality will be different from past reality, and then ask themselves what they can do to change and exploit this new reality. And they win that way.

I don't think that anyone in the Democratic Party (or the left blogosphere) is at all prepared for what's coming next. What I see now is people doing and saying the things that they should have been doing and saying in 2000.

As for me, I'm getting ready to hear myself being called a traitor by more and more, louder and louder voices during the next several years.
...


posted by Steven Baum 1/24/2005 05:26:14 PM | link

THE PRIVATIZATION GAMBIT
The Decembrist explains the machinations within the GOP concerning the White House's social security privatization blitzkrieg. The responses are also worth a read.
The best minds of my generation profess to being mystified by why House Ways and Means Chair Bill Thomas would declare Social Security privatization a "dead horse."

It's twisted, but not impossible to figure out. Here's the key section from the Washington Post article citing Thomas's remarks:

"Every breath that's spent on discussing that plan [the Bush privatization plan] is an attempt to lay a political ground war for the next election," Thomas said. "Save those breaths. Talk about what we need to do now that the president's plan is on the table so that we can address, in a legislative way, a solution on a bill the president could sign. That would be, I think, a positive gesture.

What Thomas was saying is exactly the point I've been trying to make: that the Bush/DeLay goal is not primarily to privatize Social Security, although they would be happy to do that if they can. Rather, the goal is to create a political dynamic over the next one to two years in which the Republicans appear the party of opportunity, ownership, dynamism, and forward thinking, while the Democrats appear to be the defenders of old, boring, inadequate safety net programs. As Gingrich said, going for the biggest privatization of Social Security has the biggest political payoff, but only if it doesn't actually become law. (If it were to become law, the global financial markets would write off our debt and we would go begging to the IMF, not an event that is likely to redound to the benefit of the party in power.)

I had some doubts about this when I made this argument a week ago, drawing on White House "resident thinker" Peter Wehner's memo to conservatives. But Thomas's comments leave no doubt. He is a prickly, stubborn, unpleasant man, but I happen to know one thing about him: He likes to legislate, not play political games. That's why he so often antagonizes his colleagues. And what he is saying here is that he knows full well that the Social Security proposal is a political game. Like Wehner, he's trying to pull them back to the zone where they might pass something. But just as Wehner's argument seemed desperate, so does Thomas's. This is not about legislating. It's about positioning. (If it all works out so well that they get Social Security privatization, that's a bonus.) And failing to recognize that game -- or at least the strong possibility that it is a game -- is a fatal mistake. Liberals might "win" on Social Security by defeating privatization, but we might easily lose the very different war of ideas.

The problem for the White House is not that they will lose the legislation. They were prepared for that. The problem is that they can't even get to the starting point of credibility on their legislation, even befor they offer it. If they can't get to the debate they want, they will lose control of the agenda, and it will disintegrate into a bunch of nutty and hugely embarassing ideas like Thomas's plan to "gender-adjust" Social Security to reduce benefits for women because they live longer. (Putting all this together, Social Security is, according to Republicans, unfair to African-Americans because they die young and too generous to widows because they live too long.) If you can remember not to panic about any of this actually becoming law, it will be highly entertaining.

This sorry game is over. The challenge for Democrats is now to drag it out, to inflict maximum pain, to drag this out at least as long as the Clinton health care debacle was drawn out.


posted by Steven Baum 1/24/2005 05:06:20 PM | link

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A MIDDLE EAST PREDICTION
Ran HaCohen (probably a self-loathing Jew rather than an anti-semite) first tells us what sorts of Palestinian leaders are acceptable and unacceptable.
...
Israel can live with only two kinds of Palestinian leaders. It can live with a puppet who accepts Israel's sovereignty over the Palestinian territories (we may give him some "autonomy" in return), who is ready to give up 60 percent of the West Bank for Israeli settlements and apartheid walls (we may temporarily remove a checkpoint or two in return), who is willing to forget the Palestinian refugees (we may not insist on his conversion to Judaism in return). Israel has made several attempts to find or tame such a Palestinian poodle, but so far failed.

Alternatively, Israel can live with a fanatic, terrorist Palestinian scarecrow, with a murderous, uncompromising hardliner. The settlers often say it aloud: we prefer the Islamic Jihad, who want to throw us all to the sea. It is very easy to deal with such a leader, both nationally and internationally.

What we cannot live with is a moderate, sane Palestinian leader who wants peace in return for his people's lands, rights, and freedom. A leader who speaks good English and does not dress like bin Laden, who does not want to throw us to the sea but insists that Jerusalem is also a Palestinian city. Such a leader exposes Israel's rejectionism, and there lies the great danger of Abu Mazen. We cannot convince the world that we are the eternal peace-loving victims when a majority (54 percent) of Palestinians living in the occupied territories, as polls show, support a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 lines, with border corrections and no massive return of refugees (Ha'aretz, Jan. 18, 2005). Because if this is the case, it becomes obvious that the only obstacle to peace is Israel's rejectionism, its refusal to make peace along these internationally accepted lines.
...

He then supplies a short-term prediction.
...
Portraying Abu Mazen as a terrorist is going to take some time, though; but Israel is impatient, it wants to act now. The dangers of peace are best coped with by the army: Israel has done this several times before, using the army to ignite the scene just when a cease-fire was at hand, most notably when it re-occupied the West Bank in "Operation Defensive Shield" (2002), the biggest military operation in the territories since 1967, just one day after the Arab League had adopted the Saudi Peace Initiative, acknowledging Israel's right to live in peace once it ended the occupation.

We are now in a similar situation. A big military operation can divert attention from "the new era," from the pressure to cease-fire; it can unify the masses behind our brave soldiers, and, above all, help Sharon postpone indefinitely his vague promises to dismantle Gaza settlements – a "plan" that, as Tanya Reinhart convincingly argues, he has little intention to carry out. So expect a large-scale operation in Gaza, soon. The immediate excuse – missile attacks on Israel – does not really matter: Abu Mazen, so the argument goes, does not stop the missiles, so we are forced to send the army to stop them; at the same time, the army itself admits it has no means to stop the missiles. So we are sending the army to do what it cannot do, because Abu Mazen does not do it either. After all, occupation is not about logic – it's about breaking bones.
...


posted by Steven Baum 1/19/2005 10:42:36 AM | link

OUR NATIONAL GUARDIAN
Russ Baker writes about the story that unfortunately died. A Trojan horse bought by CBS does not exonerate the child of privilege's murky National Guard record, especially given how he's so willing to sacrifice those from the other side of the tracks.
After Monday’s bloodletting at CBS, Karl Rove and company must have broken out the champagne. Within the past six months, George Bush’s political strategists have scored the trifecta of adroit crisis management. An ostensibly independent yet clearly White House-allied organization, the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth, destroyed Democratic nominee John Kerry’s most salient asset, his Vietnam service record, by raising unsubstantiated doubts about Kerry’s previously unquestioned heroism. They diverted attention from the mysteries of their own candidate’s wartime record. And they managed to take down the most journalistically active television news organization, thereby sending a chill through other news outfits that might have debated how aggressive to be in exploring the past of a man with one of the most opaque resumes in presidential history.

The hullabaloo over CBS News’s overzealous use of documents whose authenticity is in doubt -- and CBS management’s actions to punish those involved -- only serves to obscure a far bigger question: Where was George, who has gone on to promulgate a precedent-shattering, hugely risky doctrine of pre-emptive war, when his nation called on him to fulfill his own military obligations?

Like CBS’s staffers and journalists from many media outlets, I explored Bush’s National Guard service extensively during the election campaign. What I found were gaps upon puzzles upon misstatements upon nondisclosures.

Certain facts are clear: As a young man at Yale, George Bush vocally supported the Vietnam War and criticized others who failed to serve, then got himself into a safe unit for the sons of the privileged, in the Texas Air National Guard. We also know that, for reasons yet unclear, he failed to complete the final two years of a six-year military obligation to fly jets, for which taxpayers had spent a good part of a million dollars training him.

-Bush claims that he left his unit prematurely in order to accept a high-level opportunity in campaign management in Alabama. But campaign colleagues described his work as grunt-level make-work, marked by a predilection to show up in the afternoon hours and to brag about carousing the night before. In addition, the widow of the Alabama campaign manager, who was a close friend of Bush’s father, told me that Bush was only in Alabama because the senior Bush had begged her husband to hire his son in order to get him out of some kind of trouble back in Texas.

-According to the widow of the flyer brought in to replace Bush in the Texas Air Guard, his commanding officer, Jerry Killian(who died in 1984) had explained to her and her husband that Bush had left the unit abruptly because of problems flying his plane -- and Killian had suspected that alcohol abuse had something to do with it. (Bush has admitted to past alcohol problems but not offered specifics relating to his military service.) More than one of his flying comrades indicated that Bush’s behavior became suddenly erratic several years into his time with the Guard.

(The questioned CBS documents were memos purportedly generated by Killian; his own reputation is unblemished.}

-Bush has said on repeated occasions that he continued to fulfill his military obligation while in Alabama, but high-profile efforts to substantiate that, including the offer of reward monies, have turned up no corroboration. And Bush’s former ghostwriter told me that Bush admitted to him in 1999 that he had done no service at all in Alabama, claiming to be “excused.”

One thing is certain about the CBS documents: If they are not real, then they were prepared by someone who had enough inside information to make them look almost real, but who also knew enough to include a few small telltale signs that might point to their inauthenticity – clues that might be overlooked by a news organization racing to put out an important, timely story under competitive pressures.

It’s striking that the critique of the documents appeared on the Internet just hours after CBS aired them, and that the person claiming to be a document expert turned out to be an attorney with strong GOP connections who had no such credentials. How was this man able so quickly to produce his critique, and how did the story grow so quickly to overtake the basic questions about the president’s own murky past performance? Did Rove’s well-documented history of aggressive last-minute campaign ploys have anything to do with this episode? And why, despite all the questions, has Bush never offered a detailed accounting of his doings in those missing years? That’s a news story no one yet has tackled.

Without excusing serious errors on CBS’s part, an even more important question remains: Why have we decided that the transgressions of a news organization -- that, at worst, overshot on a legitimate story – are more important than a thorough examination of the personal character of our Commander in Chief, presiding over a highly controversial war in Iraq and having no hesitation to expose others – including large numbers of Texas Guardsmen -- to mortal risk when he himself may have even failed to complete a safe military obligation of his own?


posted by Steven Baum 1/19/2005 10:37:57 AM | link

PBS AND ADM
Edward Shanahan (via Undernews) writes about the continuing intimate connection between corporate crook and welfare queen ADM and the increasingly irrelevent PBS.
The title of the book is "The Informant" and the story is about a criminal global corporation, a delusional employee who, at great personal peril, blows the whistle on his employer, and such familiar but shadowy organizations as the CIA, FBI, and Justice Department.

"The Informant," written by New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald, is not a novel, but a true-crime thriller about the long-running international price-fixing scheme orchestrated by the Archer Daniels Midland Co., which resulted in the theft of millions and millions of dollars from consumers around the world.

We know Archer Daniels Midland Company, as ADM, self professed "supermarket to the world," from its high profile institutional advertising, much of it on public broadcasting,. including repeated daily promotional spots on Five College radio (WFCR) and Springfield public television's Channel 57.

In its advertising spots, ADM prefers to be linked to news programs, particularly the much admired News Hour with Jim Lehrer, viewed nightly by the so-called egg-head audience, which is made up of many of the nation's policy makers.

ADM's preference for being linked to news programs is enhanced by its hired pitchman, David Brinkley, formerly one of the brightest stars in television's news firmament. Each night's spot suggests that a selfless Archer Daniels Midland Co. not only can single-handedly feed the world, but cure cancer at the same time, if it weren't for outside impediments: "It's just politics," Brinkley laments.

Odd that ADM should be so passionate about underwriting Jim Lehrer and local news segments, because as Eichenwald documents in his riveting book, ADM's entire corporate history and culture has been dedicated to secrecy, illegal business activities, and bribes and payoffs to politicians. Eichenwald relates how Dwayne Andreas, head of ADM, walked into the White House in 1972 with $100,000 in one-hundred dollar bills, which was deposited with Richard Nixon's personal secretary and "was kept in a White House safe for the months until Watergate led Nixon to decide it should be returned."

"The Informant" draws a detailed picture of a rogue corporation whose expressed position was that "our competitors are our friends, our customers are our enemies." The book traces in painstaking but precise detail the government investigation of ADM's price-fixing activities that began in 1992 and resulted in the company pleading guilty and paying a fine of $100 million. In addition in 1999, three of ADM's top executives, including Mark Whitaker, the psychotic informant who brought the company and himself down, were sentenced to prison for their role in the worldwide price-fixing scheme.

And yet the myth continues to be broadcast to millions of listeners and viewers each day that ADM is a friend to the world's people, and as evidence of its goodness it enables us to listen to the important news of the day by its generous "underwriting" or corporate sponsorship.

Shame on public broadcasting. Shame on Jim Lehrer. Shame on local public radio and public television outlets for condoning the tainted, corrupt sources of the money, or pretending that ADM is just lending its support because of its commitment to an improved civic life for our nation.

Read Kurt Eichenwald's book, "the Informant" and you will not only cringe, but seethe with anger everytime you hear that phrase "supermarket to the world" and wonder how preachy public broadcasters can be so hypocritical.


posted by Steven Baum 1/19/2005 10:28:13 AM | link

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Max Sawicky supplies the quote of the week in a steel cage chainsaw death match in the War Street Journal Online.
"To conservatives, social democracy is a crisis."

posted by Steven Baum 1/18/2005 05:29:56 PM | link

GUESS WHO'S RUNNING THE PENTAGON?
It appears that the neocon takeover of the Pentagon is nearly complete, given their
response to Seymour Hersh's article about their current machinations vis a vis Iran. We've gone from extra-Pentagon blowhards calling critics of necon war-mongering anti-semitic (or, of course, self-loathing Jews), to official Pentagon spokesbrayers doing the same. The significant question is: At this rate, how long will it be until every significant post in the Pentagon is occupied by a chicken-hawk who soils himself every time he hears a car backfire? Note the usual "denial that's not really a denial" quality, i.e. that which makes Clinton's "what do you mean by 'is'" seem positively amateurish.
Pentagon officials on Monday lashed out at a US magazine report which claimed they were preparing for possible strikes on Iran by carrying out secret reconnaissance missions inside the country, saying the article contained "fantastic claims" about programmes that do not exist.

The article, written by veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh for The New Yorker magazine, claims that President George W. Bush plans to drastically expand the war on terrorism, and has already signed executive orders authorising secret commando operations against terrorist targets in as many as ten middle eastern and south Asian nations, including Iran.

The Iranian operation, which the article claims has been underway since last summer, intends to identify as many three dozen Iranian military or nuclear sites for US missile attacks or commando raids.

Lawrence DiRita, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, said in a statement on Monday that many of the facts upon which the story is based are inaccurate. Neither he nor Dan Bartlett, the White House spokesman, commented directly on the commando operations claim, however.

"Mr Hirsch's sources feed him with rumour, innuendo, and assertions about meetings that never happened, programmes that do not exist, and statements by officials that were never made," the Mr DiRita said.

It is rare for the Pentagon to issue such a long and detailed response to a single news account; Mr DiRita's two-page statement includes four specific refutations of claims made in the piece, including an alleged post-election meeting between Donald Rumsfeld and the joint chiefs of staff in which the defence secretary claimed the 2004 US election was a referendum on aggressive action in the Middle East.

It is also rare that defence officials single out a specific journalist for such vitriol. In one part of his statement, Mr DiRita appears to accuse Mr Hersh of anti-Semitism. Mr Hersh reported that Douglas Feith, the number three civilian at the Pentagon, has worked with Israeli military planners to find targets in Iran, a claim the Pentagon said built on "the soft bigotry of some conspiracy theorists". Mr Feith is Jewish. The Pentagon said not such contacts exist.

Despite the denials, European diplomats, who are currently engaged in negotiations with Iran to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions, were startled by the report, saying that in private discussions US officials have strongly backed the European initiative.

"No one can say if this is correct or incorrect," said one European Union diplomat. "The US administration has never shared any information like this with us. On the contrary, in our last meetings, it has supported EU policy on Iran."

Among the allegations specifically refuted by the Pentagon is a claim that two senior Pentagon officials - one military and one civilian - have been inserted into the chain of command for commando operations. "His assertion is outrageous, and constitutionally specious."


posted by Steven Baum 1/18/2005 05:20:16 PM | link

KING
While I've apparently reached my dotage lately and am no longer able to supply my own bile, I can still recognize and appreciate a good fix when I see it. Here's one from the
Rude Pundit.
...
By this point, King had expanded his fight to include all poverty and the Vietnam War. By this point, he had advocated for guaranteed income. Now, what the fuck do you think King would say about a debate over whether or not we can afford Social Security in its current form? And do you think torture would even be up for discussion?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all like to create our fantasy MLKs. Yeah, he was a philanderer and a man who loved dirty jokes. But the Rude Pundit once talked to a friend of King's from Birmingham, and he told the Rude Pundit all about how King would take off the suit and come alone to the local barbershop, how he would hang around all afternoon, sharing, no preaching, not pretending, just sitting there on Eighth Street, like anyone else, until he went to preach at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

And that's why King would fuck Bush's shit up, and the reason why Democrats oughta take a look at King beyond his having had a dream and his having been to the mountaintop and his having been assassinated. Because King knew - he fucking knew - that one thing that made him a leader of the disenfranchised is that he spoke their language. Even as those around him believed (and some still believe) that King made a mistake in his expansion of his movement, King knew that no one is truly free until we all are free. He had to bring whites into the movement on a broad basis or the fight was never going to end. He had to undercut the trump card of the powerful in their ability to divide the underclasses, and that meant owning the rhetorical God to the point that whenever God is mentioned, the automatic association is with the civil rights, economic justice, and anti-war movements (think of how successful the right is in the use of the word "Christian"). Look at the speech up there. King is not conditional here - he says, "when you are right, God will fight your battle."

The thing is that as Democrats scramble like rutting hedgehogs on the last day of the forest fuckfest to find someone, anyone who will represent them to "the people," they'd be wise to look at how King used "God" in his speeches. See, in the Sister Pollard story, "God" for King represents the poor, the beaten, the disenfranchised, and if that God is on your side, then how can the powerful win? If someone could genuinely lasso that rhetoric and have the balls to use God against Bush in very clear, unambiguous, loud tones, then the right will be thrown into disarray - what will they have if they don't have God? Bush? Oh, fuck, they'll be running into the streets of D.C., screaming, coming up with new gods to worship. There will be blood orgies at the Watergate the likes of which that town hasn't seen since Ronald Reagan smeared himself with pig feces and demanded the cherries of a dozen College Republican girls be popped in front of him as he masturbated slowly, deliberately, eyes glazed over with mad power and semi-deified glory.

Last year, there was a near riot when President Bush dared to lay a wreath on King's grave. This year, he'll be in a far, far more controlled environment, the Kennedy Center, where the noisy, violent life of King will be reduced to a consummable, pleasant hum.


posted by Steven Baum 1/18/2005 05:11:15 PM | link

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

FACTS ABOUT VOTING
Via
No Capital we discover Angry Girl's 20 Amazing Facts About Voting in the USA.
  1. 80% of all votes in America are counted by only two companies: Diebold and ES&S.

    http://www.onlinejournal.com/evoting/042804Landes/042804landes.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diebold

  2. There is no federal agency with regulatory authority or oversight of the U.S. voting machine industry.

    http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0916-04.htm
    http://www.onlinejournal.com/evoting/042804Landes/042804landes.html

  3. The vice-president of Diebold and the president of ES&S are brothers.

    http://www.americanfreepress.net/html/private_company.html
    http://www.onlinejournal.com/evoting/042804Landes/042804landes.html

  4. The chairman and CEO of Diebold is a major Bush campaign organizer and donor who wrote in 2003 that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/07/28/sunday/main632436.shtml
    http://www.wishtv.com/Global/story.asp?S=1647886

  5. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel used to be chairman of ES&S. He became Senator based on votes counted by ES&S machines.

    http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/columns/2004/03/03_200.html
    http://www.onlinejournal.com/evoting/031004Fitrakis/031004fitrakis.html

  6. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, long-connected with the Bush family, was recently caught lying about his ownership of ES&S by the Senate Ethics Committee.

    http://www.blackboxvoting.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=26
    http://www.hillnews.com/news/012903/hagel.aspx
    http://www.onlisareinsradar.com/archives/000896.php

  7. Senator Chuck Hagel was on a short list of George W. Bush's vice-presidential candidates.

    http://www.businessweek.com/2000/00_28/b3689130.htm
    http://theindependent.com/stories/052700/new_hagel27.html

  8. ES&S is the largest voting machine manufacturer in the U.S. and counts almost 60% of all U.S. votes.

    http://www.essvote.com/HTML/about/about.html
    http://www.onlinejournal.com/evoting/042804Landes/042804landes.html

  9. Diebold's new touch screen voting machines have no paper trail of any votes. In other words, there is no way to verify that the data coming out of the machine is the same as what was legitimately put in by voters.

    http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0225-05.htm
    http://www.itworld.com/Tech/2987/041020evotestates/pfindex.html

  10. Diebold also makes ATMs, checkout scanners, and ticket machines, all of which log each transaction and can generate a paper trail.

    http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0225-05.htm
    http://www.diebold.com/solutions/default.htm

  11. Diebold is based in Ohio.

    http://www.diebold.com/aboutus/ataglance/default.htm

  12. Diebold employed 5 convicted felons as consultants and developers to help write the central compiler computer code that counted 50% of the votes in 30 states.

    http://www.wired.com/news/evote/0,2645,61640,00.html
    http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/10/301469.shtml

  13. Jeff Dean was Senior Vice-President of General Election Systems when it was bought by Diebold. Even though he had been convicted of 23 counts of felony theft in the first degree, Jeff Dean was retained as a consultant by Diebold and was largely responsible for programming the optical scanning software now used in most of the United States.

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0312/S00191.htm
    http://www.chuckherrin.com/HackthevoteFAQ.htm#how
    http://www.blackboxvoting.org/bbv_chapter-8.pdf

  14. Diebold consultant Jeff Dean was convicted of planting back doors in his software and using a "high degree of sophistication" to evade detection over a period of 2 years.

    http://www.chuckherrin.com/HackthevoteFAQ.htm#how
    http://www.blackboxvoting.org/bbv_chapter-8.pdf

  15. None of the international election observers were allowed in the polls in Ohio.

    http://www.globalexchange.org/update/press/2638.html
    http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2004/10/26/loc_elexoh.html

  16. California banned the use of Diebold machines because the security was so bad. Despite Diebold's claims that the audit logs could not be hacked, a chimpanzee was able to do it! (See the movie here .)

    http://wired.com/news/evote/0,2645,63298,00.html
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4874190

  17. 30% of all U.S. votes are carried out on unverifiable touch screen voting machines with no paper trail.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/07/28/sunday/main632436.shtml

  18. All -- not some -- but all the voting machine errors detected and reported in Florida went in favor of Bush or Republican candidates.

    http://www.wired.com/news/evote/0,2645,65757,00.html
    http://www.yuricareport.com/ElectionAftermath04/ThreeResearchStudiesBushIsOut.htm
    http://www.rise4news.net/extravotes.html
    http://www.ilcaonline.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=950
    http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0411/S00227.htm

  19. The governor of the state of Florida, Jeb Bush, is the President's brother.

    http://www.tallahassee.com/mld/tallahassee/news/local/7628725.htm
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A10544-2004Oct29.html

  20. Serious voting anomalies in Florida -- again always favoring Bush -- have been mathematically demonstrated and experts are recommending further investigation.

    http://www.yuricareport.com/ElectionAftermath04/ThreeResearchStudiesBushIsOut.htm
    http://www.computerworld.com/governmenttopics/government/policy/story/0,10801,97614,00.html
    http://www.americanfreepress.net/html/tens_of_thousands.html
    http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/1106-30.htm
    http://www.consortiumnews.com/2004/110904.html
    http://uscountvotes.org/


posted by Steven Baum 1/4/2005 09:25:19 AM | link

Monday, January 03, 2005

INSIDERS SELLING
So
what are the insiders doing in the stock market these days? To put it bluntly, the same insiders who want you to buy their stock are selling their stock at levels last observed when the Internet bubble burst in 2000.
Executives at United States companies sold stock last year at levels not seen since the bursting of the Internet bubble in 2000.

Executive stock sales — known as insider sales — rose 20 percent in 2004 through Dec. 24, while purchases by insiders grew 13 percent to $2.11 billion, according to Washington Service, a company that tracks such transactions.

Overall, insider sales amounted to $51.3 billion last year, according to the report. It was the higest level since 2000, when executives sold $80.1 billion of stock.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates topped the list, selling 81.8 million Microsoft shares for $2.21 billion, Bloomberg News reported.

"CEOs are not enthusiastic about company shares," Michael Painchaud, director of research for Market Profile Theorems, a company that researches insider sales for institutional investors, told Bloomberg. "The attitude of insiders can give clues as to the shape of the year ahead. The clues don't look good for equities in 2005."

As stock prices soared in the fourth quarter, insider sales picked up. November sales by insiders, for example, were the highest since August 2000.

In November, executives sold $46 worth of stock for every $1 purchased, Bloomberg reported, citing Thomson Financial.

A rise in insider sales are generally considered bearish for the markets, and earnings for companies in the Standard & Poors are expected to rise 10.5 percent in 2005, compared to a 19 percent rise last year, according to Thomson Financial. A group of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect the S&P 500 to rise on average 2.5 percent in 2005.

In addition to Gates, two other big-time sellers were Dell head Michael Dell and Oracle chief Larry Ellison.

Dell, whose company's stock rose 24 percent in 2004, sold 32 million shares for $1.18 billion, according to the report.

Ellison, meanwhile, sold 87 million shares for $1.03 billion. Dell rose about 5 percent last year.

"Stock ownership is the most clear indication of the CEO's investment judgement on his firm," Charles Stutenroth, a money manager at Fort Washington Investment Advisors, told Bloomberg. "Insider purchases are a strong signal of the investment potential for a company."

Are we seeing another pump and dump operation?
In 2000 and 2002, as the US financial markets tanked, investors lost trillions of dollars in equity as stock prices plunged and investment portfolios - many connected to pension funds - lost trillions of dollars in value. What was documented in both cases was that senior executives at many of the twenty or more companies involved (WorldCom, Enron, Adelphia, Merck, Global Crossing, to name a few) had engaged in a tactic called "pump and dump" just before the stock prices collapsed. Stock prices are pumped up by the executives and key insiders who then sell at the peak before everyone else gets reamed.

In a pump and dump operation, those who can influence stock prices issue glowing reports which cause investors to put their hard-earned dollars into a stock right before it collapses. This is a wealth transfer from poor or middle class folks to the absurdly wealthy. Immediately prior to the stock's collapse, the guys on top cash out and then the price plummets. The bad guys have the cash and the little investors and pension funds have nearly worthless or severely devalued paper.
...


posted by Steven Baum 1/3/2005 02:46:30 PM | link

Friday, December 31, 2004

VOLUNTEERS OF AMERICA
Dave Lindorff spots another example of a sexy new trend in corporate America: volunteer labor. Wal-Mart's been doing it for years, a bank tried to get off-work employees to stop by and spruce up the areas around their teller machines, and who knows what else is happening in the cabal's America? But you can't argue with the impeccable logic behind it: If the invisible hand is truly as wondrous as we all know it is, then why should the evil gummint mandate any compensation - much less a minimum wage - for services performed by the proles for their betters? It might get a little tricky when the proles have maxed out all 20 credit cards and can no longer afford to buy the goods and services they're selling to each other, but I'm sure the invisible hand can solve that, too, although I suspect it'll be holding a really big gun by then.
US Air, the nation's seventh largest airline, currently in a bankruptcy designed to allow it to break all its previous union contracts and eliminate its pension program, has come up with a new idea that is sure to sweep Bush USA.

The new idea: Working for free for your boss!

US Air management, perhaps taking a cue from the Bush Administration's success in getting National Guard and Reserve troops to "volunteer" for extra tours of duty in Iraq, has asked that its workers who are not scheduled to work over the New Year holiday weekend volunteer to come to work off the clock to greet passengers, help them with their bags and offer advice and directions.

What a cool idea!

It'll save the company from the horrible PR disaster it suffered when it screwed up royally over the Christmas weekend, canceling over 150 flights and leaving thousands of Christmas travelers stranded in airports overnight and in some cases for days, hundreds and thousands of miles from their families.

It will also save the company from having to pay overtime to add extra workers to cover the extra volume of travelers.

One can imagine how this idea might catch on all over the country, particularly as executives traveling on US Air first class experience the grand vision of all those friendly volunteer workers helping them get onto their flights.

Next we can expect to see municipal transit authorities asking transit workers to do volunteer shifts on the holidays to cover peak riderships, cops being asked to do volunteer gigs during campaign visits by luminaries like the president or the pope, teenagers being asked to do volunteer time behind the counter at McDonalds and Carvels during kids' birthday party events, and maybe teachers asked to stay on over the summer to teach summer school for free.

In the new "ownership" society of Bushland, it's all about owners, see, and clearly, the owners of American companies need help. They have been running their businesses into the ground for decades, disinvesting domestically and shipping work and skilled jobs overseas. Now, an increasingly financially strapped American workforce is unable to do the kind of massive buying and consuming that kept the whole Ponzi scheme afloat for the last few decades, margins are getting squeezed and those companies need help. Bankruptcy courts can help. They allow the companies to screw the bondholders, suppliers and workers by ducking out of all, or most of their obligations. But there has still been this sticky problem of paying the workers. So far, the courts have not okayed the idea of indentured servitude or slavery, so they are still stuck with these big payroll costs.
...


posted by Steven Baum 12/31/2004 03:05:38 PM | link

ANOTHER IMF SUCCESS STORY
Max Sawicky explains how Argentina pulled out of economic hell by ignoring the IMF and neoliberalism.
I’m about to tell you everything I know about development economics. It isn’t much. My claim is that it consists not of many things, but of a few big things. I feel some confirmation in a story on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, quoting my friend Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, above the fold. The upshot is that the Argentine government told the International Monetary Fund – and by extension the U.S. Gov – to go pound salt.

Argentina was a model IMF client, implementing budget austerity, privatization, and anti-inflation measures. These proved to be an economic catastrophe for the country. Rather than allow itself to swirl around the toilet bowl, the public rose up and installed a populist regime that defaulted on the country's debts to foreign creditors and stimulated the internal economy. Lo and behold, foreign investment did not collapse and the economy revived. A similar debt overhang is strangling many developing countries.

So what are the big things? You can defy the IMF and live to tell about it. In fact, to live you may have to defy the U.S./Euro centers of parasitic finance.

Evidence of economic growth in the developing world hinges on outstanding performance in India and the Peoples Republic of China. Such results are often cited as support for so-called free trade. Aside from the often hideous conditions of work in these nations, it should be noted that neither economic system is an exemplar of laissez-faire thinking. Both sport large, activist public sectors. In the same vein, the Asian tigers' spectacular past growth was superintended by dirigiste governments.

Big thing number two: neo-liberal economic doctrine is not the secret of economic development. To be sure, trade aided development, but trade was not necessarily a sufficient condition for development.

Among the responders is Kevin Carson, who contributes the following interesting bit.
With the effects of neoliberalism on the Third and Fourth worlds, it's not surprising that we've seen a succession of phenomena like Chavez's Venezuela, Lula's Brazil, and the spectacular events in Argentina.

It's only a matter of time, IMO, until several such countries decide to stage a *joint* repudiation of their debt and withdrawal from the Bretton Woods agencies. When they do so, perhaps they will organize a *genuine* free trade system among themselves. Such a system might include:

1) Abrogating all intellectual property laws, which violate free market principles and lock TNCs into permanent control of modern production technology;

2) Ending all use of tax money or public debt to finance public infrastructure projects on which the profitability of Western-owned production facilities depends. Instead, everything financed on a cost-basis with user fees to the corporations using it;

3) Ending all collusion with domestic feudal landlords and Western agribusiness companies, and giving the land back to the tillers who are its rightful owners;

4) Ending all legal restrictions on the self-organization of credit, and perhaps the replacement of the dollar and Euro by some form of LETS or mutual credit as the basis of international trade.

5) Ending all authoritarian controls on the right of labor to organize independent unions.


posted by Steven Baum 12/31/2004 02:40:21 PM | link

TOP 10 WAR PROFITEERS OF 2004
The
Center for Corporate Policy has released the Top 10 War Profiteers of 2004 list.
...
The Professional Services Council, a trade association representing some of the Iraq contractors, says much of the blame can be placed upon "a growing politicization of government procurement," as well as the distance between the procurement planners sitting in Washington and contractors in the field.

They have a point. The lack of accountability, reports the Project on Government Oversight in a recent report, can be attributed to the gutting of acquisition workforce and oversight personnel, mandated by Congress starting in the mid-1990s, at a time when the Pentagon began to hand out large open-ended (Indefinite-Delivery/Indefinite-Quantity) contracts to well-connected firms including Bechtel and Halliburton. The result is layer upon layer of subcontracts, with little transparency and reduced government oversight.

Ironically, the contracting agencies' solution has been to outsource much of the oversight process itself. While the CPA's audit staff was cut by nearly half during 2004, for example, AID and other agencies were hiring contractors to oversee other contractors with whom they already had ongoing contractual relationships, according to this report released by Henry Waxman, D-California, and Senate Democrats.

U.S. firms are not the only ones to complain about how difficult it has been to get in on the action. (Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Virginia, told to a Washington Post reporter that a company in his district was told by Pentagon officials that "if they want the money they really have to go though Halliburton.") Even the administration's closest Iraqi allies have been critical.

Last February, for example, Rend Rahim Francke, the U.S.-appointed Iraq Governing Council's representative in Washington, openly criticized the CPA for passing over Iraqi firms when awarding billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts. Iraqi firms, she said, could easily have done the work more cheaply and quickly. In December, AID claimed at least 100,000 Iraqis were currently employed in U.S.-funded reconstruction projects, a figure it expects will grow.

The CPA's rush to impose new economic rules - especially the announced intention to rapidly privatize 200 state-owned enterprises, has also done considerable damage to the confidence and trust that Iraqis have had. Critics say the CPA's Orders were clearly designed to benefit foreign investors more than the Iraqi people, and constitute a virtual blueprint for economic colonialism.

CPA Order 39, for example, would essentially privatize Iraq's 200 state-owned industries. The order allows for "national treatment" of foreign investors (i.e. no preferences for local bidders and investors), who can also own 100 percent of any privatized business with unrestricted, tax-free remittance of all profits.

A leaked memo written by British attorney general Lord Goldsmith acknowledges that the CPA may have outstepped its own legitimate authority in issuing the orders, warning Prime Minister Tony Blair that 'major structural economic reforms would not be authorized by international law.' "
...


posted by Steven Baum 12/31/2004 01:23:27 PM | link

Friday, December 17, 2004

DIGITAL PHOTO EFFECT
Now
here's something that resonates with someone possessing 13,000 books, 1600 vinyl albums, 700 cassette tapes, 1300 CDs, 150 DVDs and close to a terabyte of stuff about which we'll skip the details. So what do I do? I've estimated that if I consume all my available media options just once apiece and spend 8 hours per day doing so, I'll have to make it to 130 years of age. What the hell - sounds like a good goal...well, at least that latter bit.
...
I'm finding that the "digital photo effect" is starting to make its way into my music and video experiences as well. What's the DPE? My ability to produce and acquire has far outstripped my ability to consume. Produce from my own digital camera. Acquire from friends, family, Flickr, etc. This has a couple of ramifications:

  1. I feel behind all the time.
  2. Because there is so much to consume, I don't enjoy each individual photo as much as I did when they were physical prints. I click through fast.
  3. Because of 1 and 2, sometimes I don't even bother.
Back in the day, I'd get a CD and I'd listen to it. A lot. A CD was a considered purchase - if I was going to make the effort to go to the store and spend my hard earned money on it, it was going to be worth it. In the car, at the gym, at work, at home - I'd listen to it everywhere. The first few listens usually couldn't be at work, because I'd be listening. Once my brain knew the album, then it could become soundtrack to whatever else I was working on.

Now, the time between when I think that I might be interested in hearing, say, the new Bjork album and when I can actually have it is minutes. Transaction cost can be as low as free (depending on if I use something like iTunes or something like BitTorrent). Assuming I used BitTorrent, it's cost me nothing and taken me no time, so there's no inherent pressure to listen to it. Repeat this a bunch of times, and all of a sudden, my hard drive is full of music that I've never heard, and the DPE starts to kick in. So what do I do? I listen to the same old albums over and over (lately Akufen), because I know I like them and that they won't disturb me while working. Most of the time these happen to be albums that I've ripped myself, after having listened to the CDs a lot. So having more music available has made me seek the comfort of what I already know. Do I just need more time so that I can "catch up"? Do I need a mobility solution so that I can leverage non-PC time? Do I need a curator like Activaire? Do I need to raise my transaction costs so that I feel a need to get my money's worth?

The same scenario applies to video, except that consumption is even harder, because you have to dedicate time/attention to it.

Another interesting question is whether the new way people process digital media is changing the way they process physical media as well. Now that they're used to racing through hundreds of digital photos, do they also race through physical ones?


posted by Steven Baum 12/17/2004 10:03:56 AM | link

Friday, December 03, 2004

COUNTERINSURGENCY OPERATIONS REPORT
The folks at
VHeadline are publishing a classified military document about U.S. counterinsurgency operations.
VHeadline.com editor & publisher Roy S. Carson writes: As a matter of public concern, especially where it relates to continuing belligerent United States of America interference in Venezuela's domestic political affairs and its not-so-covert support for anti-democratic forces within Venezuela weeking to overthrow the legitimate government of President Hugo Chavez Frias, VHeadline.com Venezuela today responsibly publishes (without permission) a top secret US Army document distributed to top Washington D.C. officials only last month in which United States' Counterinsurgency Operations are described in the form of a manual.
...
In an introduction, the document, which is available here in its 182-page entirety as a PDF file, informs its readers that "The American way of war includes mass, power, and the use of sophisticated smart weapons. However, large main force engagements that characterized conflict in World War II, Korea, and Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom in the Middle East have become the exceptions in American warfare. Since the American Revolution, the Army has conducted stability operations, which have included counter-insurgency operations. Over the past half-century alone, the Army gained considerable experience in fighting insurgents in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Philippines), Latin America (Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua), Africa (Somalia), Southwest Asia (Afghanistan), and now the Middle East (Iraq).
...

posted by Steven Baum 12/3/2004 09:57:31 AM | link


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