Saturday, February 15, 2014

1%: environment is destiny

johnkurman |  But Perkins as miraculously inerrant self-made man who's every word should be unquestioningly lapped up, like some child's turd dropped in a doggy dish? He just appeared fully formed out of the shining void with all powers and talents intact? Credit where credit is due, I never deny intelligence and hard work  for success, but LUCK, luck and circumstance, and social position, have to be accounted for as well.

I've been through this before, but, where did all the money come from? Hmm? The very taxpayers and progressive policies that created the basic science R&D, and all the engineers and technicians that made Perkins, and a lot of others in Silicon Valley, rich.

Because if you are going to talk about Perkins and Silicon Valley, then you have to talk about Hewlett-Packard, Stanford U, MIT, and massive government subsidies from the Defense Dep. And if you have to talk about Silicon Valley, then you got to talk about Fred Terman 
Fred Terman was the founder of Silicon Valley, if any single person can be given credit for it. He was one of the most successful American administrators of science, engineering, and higher education in the 20th century. He made the Stanford engineering department one of the best in the country and laid the foundations that would make Stanford one of the world’s preeminent research universities. He single-handedly created the university, government, private industry partnership model that still characterizes Silicon Valley in the twenty-first century. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were two of Terman’s favorite engineering students, and certainly his most successful protégés. They left behind a Global Fortune 50 company that in 2010 sold products around the world (it is Silicon Valley’s largest corporation by revenues) and multiple multi-billion dollar charitable foundations.
The history of the three is best combined, as is the partnership of Stanford University with the federal government and private industry; the Hewlett Packard Corporation (HP) provides the best example. Their friendship and admiration for each other was genuine. David Packard showed it at Terman’s Memorial Service in January 1983, in Stanford California, when he mentioned knowing Terman for more than 50 years. Packard said he enjoyed Terman’s “friendship and benefited in many ways and on many occasions from his council, his advice, and his wisdom. . . Fred Terman was an engineer’s engineer.” Terman was unique in that he loved technical theory but also loved to build useful products and companies, to see practical things get done.[6]  
Bill Hewlett showed the depth of his affection after hearing of his best friend Packard’s death in a March morning in 1996. Another friend came by to pay his condolences. The friend went into the kitchen and saw Hewlett sitting on his wheelchair by a table in the breakfast nook. Hewlett was staring into the distance; his staff watched him sitting there from the early morning into the afternoon hours, with a deep and sad look on his face.[7]
The HP history is an admirable one of two close friends building a multinational company which during their lives was one of the world’s most admired companies for both its profit growth and its employee-oriented culture.

Fred Terman Settles in California

In 1905 the Terman family moved to Southern California from the Midwest, as Terman’s father needed the warm climate to get over tuberculosis. Terman’s father took a Stanford Education School professorship in 1910, and so the family moved to the place where Fred Terman would both grow up and die. Terman went to Palo Alto High School just as Federal Telegraph Corp. (funded by Stanford President David Starr Jordan) became a major radio company in Palo Alto.

Federal Telegraph is important for both the Valley and Terman. Cy Elwell‘s company convinced the inventor Lee DeForest to leave the East Coast and come to Palo Alto to be his Chief Scientist. DeForest created the electronic amplifier (found in so many electronics devices today), but was still being persecuted and had even been sent to jail for stock fraud charges for a previously failed New York startup.  Elwell had to post bail, and California was a much more amenable place to work for a risky electronics venture. Federal Telegraph went on to have the first intercontinental radio broadcast in 1919 (Annapolis Maryland to Bordeaux France) and was one of the major radio manufacturing companies in the US. Alas, the glamour of Federal Telegraph didn’t last, as it slowly faded around a handful of products till Marconi acquired it in 1931 (two entrepreneurial employees left to found Magnavox).

Federal Telegraph was doubly important because all the neighborhood techie kids became amateur radio enthusiasts, hanging around Federal Telegraph’s labs. In fact, ham radio may have been the first Silicon Valley boom, with its low cost of entry and simple technology, and hence accessibility to a large group of technical-minded people. The inspiration of radio never left Terman environment was destiny in his case. 

Do I need to talk about Fred Terman? I just gave you the link, but, come on, without Terman building up Stanford's School of Engineering, and without HP taking a rather progressive attitude (due in no small part by Terman's influence) of "share the company’s prosperity with workers" (SOCIALISM!), Perkins could have just as easily been some nobody jerkoff. And no one would care if he violated Godwin's Law.

Friday, February 14, 2014

top drives the global political-economic suffering on the deck of the titanic...,

theatlantic |  Take one look at this graph, and you'll think you recognize the story: Yeah, yeah, yeah, the 1 percent blasts into the stratosphere while the 99 percent languishes in stagnation, moving on... 

Simple, right? Except this graph doesn't tell that story, at all. Because you see that languishing green line at the bottom? That's the 1 percent.

Now let's add labels (the income data lives here if you wanna play at home) and voila, you can see this isn't a picture of the rich and the rest. It's the 40-year history of the rich, the truly rich, and the truly filthy stinking rich—the 1 percent, the 0.1 percent, and the 0.01 percent.

the devastating effect of the blood funnel

zerohedge | At first we thought Reuters had been punk'd in its article titled "EU executive sees personal savings used to plug long-term financing gap" which disclosed the latest leaked proposal by the European Commission, but after several hours without a retraction, we realized that the story is sadly true. Sadly, because everything that we warned about in "There May Be Only Painful Ways Out Of The Crisis" back in September of 2011, and everything that the depositors and citizens of Cyprus had to live through, seems on the verge of going continental. In a nutshell, and in Reuters' own words, "the savings of the European Union's 500 million citizens could be used to fund long-term investments to boost the economy and help plug the gap left by banks since the financial crisis, an EU document says." What is left unsaid is that the "usage" will be on a purely involuntary basis, at the discretion of the "union", and can thus best be described as confiscation.

The source of this stunner is a document seen be Reuters, which describes how the EU is looking for ways to "wean" the 28-country bloc from its heavy reliance on bank financing and find other means of funding small companies, infrastructure projects and other investment. So as Europe finally admits that the ECB has failed to unclog its broken monetary pipelines for the past five years - something we highlight every month (most recently in No Waking From Draghi's Monetary Nightmare: Eurozone Credit Creation Tumbles To New All Time Low), the commissions report finally admits that "the economic and financial crisis has impaired the ability of the financial sector to channel funds to the real economy, in particular long-term investment." 

The solution? "The Commission will ask the bloc's insurance watchdog in the second half of this year for advice on a possible draft law "to mobilize more personal pension savings for long-term financing", the document said."

Mobilize, once again, is a more palatable word than, say, confiscate.
And yet this is precisely what Europe is contemplating:
Banks have complained they are hindered from lending to the economy by post-crisis rules forcing them to hold much larger safety cushions of capital and liquidity.

The document said the "appropriateness" of the EU capital and liquidity rules for long-term financing will be reviewed over the next two years, a process likely to be scrutinized in the United States and elsewhere to head off any risk of EU banks gaining an unfair advantage.
But wait: there's more! 

Inspired by the recently introduced "no risk, guaranteed return" collectivized savings instrument in the US better known as MyRA, Europe will also complete a study by the end of this year on the feasibility of introducing an EU savings account, open to individuals whose funds could be pooled and invested in small companies.

Because when corporations refuse to invest money in Capex, who will invest? Why you, dear Europeans. Whether you like it or not. 

But wait, there is still more!

Additionally, Europe is seeking to restore the primary reason why Europe's banks are as insolvent as they are: securitizations, which the persuasive salesmen and sexy saleswomen of Goldman et al sold to idiot European bankers, who in turn invested the money or widows and orphans only to see all of it disappear.

Taibbi Redux: an attempt at war with the vampire squid

rollingstone |  Congress looked serious about finance reform – until America's biggest banks unleashed an army of 2,000 paid lobbyists. It's early May in Washington, and something very weird is in the air. As Chris Dodd, Harry Reid and the rest of the compulsive dealmakers in the Senate barrel toward the finish line of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act – the massive, year-in-the-making effort to clean up the Wall Street crime swamp – word starts to spread on Capitol Hill that somebody forgot to kill the important reforms in the bill. As of the first week in May, the legislation still contains aggressive measures that could cost once- indomitable behemoths like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase tens of billions of dollars. Somehow, the bill has escaped the usual Senate-whorehouse orgy of mutual back-scratching, fine-print compromises and freeway-wide loopholes that screw any chance of meaningful change.

The real shocker is a thing known among Senate insiders as "716." This section of an amendment would force America's banking giants to either forgo their access to the public teat they receive through the Federal Reserve's discount window, or give up the insanely risky, casino-style bets they've been making on derivatives. That means no more pawning off predatory interest-rate swaps on suckers in Greece, no more gathering balls of subprime shit into incomprehensible debt deals, no more getting idiot bookies like AIG to wrap the crappy mortgages in phony insurance. In short, 716 would take a chain saw to one of Wall Street's most lucrative profit centers: Five of America's biggest banks (Goldman, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup) raked in some $30 billion in over-the-counter derivatives last year. By some estimates, more than half of JP Morgan's trading revenue between 2006 and 2008 came from such derivatives. If 716 goes through, it would be a veritable Hiroshima to the era of greed.

"When I first heard about 716, I thought, 'This is never gonna fly,'" says Adam White, a derivatives expert who has been among the most vocal advocates for reform. When I speak to him early in May, he sounds slightly befuddled, like he can't believe his good fortune. "It's funny," he says. "We keep waiting for the watering-down to take place – but we keep getting to the next hurdle, and it's still staying strong."

In the weeks leading up to the vote on the reform bill, I hear one variation or another on this same theme from Senate insiders: that the usual process of chipping away at key legislation is not taking place with its customary dispatch, despite a full-court press by Wall Street. The financial-services industry has reportedly flooded the Capitol with more than 2,000 paid lobbyists; even veteran members are stunned by the intensity of the blitz. "They're trying everything," says Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio. Wall Street's army is especially imposing given that the main (really, the only) progressive coalition working the other side of the aisle, Americans for Financial Reform, has been in existence less than a year – and has just 60 unpaid "volunteer" lobbyists working the Senate halls.

The companies with the most at stake are particularly well-connected. The lobbying campaign for Goldman Sachs, for instance, is being headed up by a former top staffer for Rep. Barney Frank, Michael Paese, who is coordinating some 14 different lobbying firms to fight on Goldman's behalf. The bank is also represented by Capitol Hill heavyweights like former House majority leader Dick Gephardt and former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein. All told, there are at least 40 ex-staffers of the Senate Banking Committee – and even one former senator, Trent Lott – lobbying on behalf of Wall Street. Until the final weeks of the reform debate, however, it seemed that all these insiders were facing the prospect of a rare defeat – and they weren't pleased. One lobbyist even complained to The Washington Post that the bill was being debated out in the open, on the Senate floor, instead of in a smoky backroom. "They've got to get this thing off the floor and into a reasonable, behind-the-scenes" discussion, he groused. "Let's have a few wise fathers sit around the table in some quiet room" to work it out.

As it neared the finish line, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act was almost unprecedentedly broad in scope, in some ways surpassing even the health care bill in size and societal impact. It would rein in $600 trillion in derivatives, create a giant new federal agency to protect financial consumers, open up the books of the Federal Reserve for the first time in history and perhaps even break up the so-called "Too Big to Fail" giants on Wall Street. The recent history of the U.S. Congress suggests that it was almost a given that they would fuck up this one real shot at slaying the dragon of corruption that has been slowly devouring not just our economy but our whole way of life over the past 20 years. Yet with just weeks left in the nearly year-long process at hammering out this huge new law, the bad guys were still on the run. Even the senators themselves seemed surprised at what assholes they weren't being. This new baby of theirs, finance reform, was going to be that one rare kid who made it out of the filth and the crime of the hood for everybody to be proud of.

Then reality set in.

Picture the Restoring American Financial Stability Act as a vast conflict being fought on multiple fronts, with the tiny but enormously influential Wall Street lobby on one side and pretty much everyone else on the planet on the other. To be precise, think World War II – with some battles won by long marches and brutal campaigns of attrition, others by blitzkrieg attacks, still more decided by espionage and clandestine movements. Time after time, at the last moment, the Wall Street axis has turned seemingly lost positions into surprise victories or, at worst, bitterly fought stalemates. The only way to accurately convey the scale of Wall Street's ingenious comeback is to sketch out all the crazy, last-minute shifts on each of the war's four major fronts.

Taibbi Redux: the five bubble history of the vampire squid

rollingstone |  From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression -- and they're about to do it again
The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates.

By now, most of us know the major players. As George Bush's last Treasury secretary, former Goldman CEO Henry Paulson was the architect of the bailout, a suspiciously self-serving plan to funnel trillions of Your Dollars to a handful of his old friends on Wall Street. Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's former Treasury secretary, spent 26 years at Goldman before becoming chairman of Citigroup — which in turn got a $300 billion taxpayer bailout from Paulson. There's John Thain, the asshole chief of Merrill Lynch who bought an $87,000 area rug for his office as his company was imploding; a former Goldman banker, Thain enjoyed a multi-billion-dollar handout from Paulson, who used billions in taxpayer funds to help Bank of America rescue Thain's sorry company. And Robert Steel, the former Goldmanite head of Wachovia, scored himself and his fellow executives $225 million in golden-parachute payments as his bank was self-destructing. There's Joshua Bolten, Bush's chief of staff during the bailout, and Mark Patterson, the current Treasury chief of staff, who was a Goldman lobbyist just a year ago, and Ed Liddy, the former Goldman director whom Paulson put in charge of bailed-out insurance giant AIG, which forked over $13 billion to Goldman after Liddy came on board. The heads of the Canadian and Italian national banks are Goldman alums, as is the head of the World Bank, the head of the New York Stock Exchange, the last two heads of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — which, incidentally, is now in charge of overseeing Goldman — not to mention …

But then, any attempt to construct a narrative around all the former Goldmanites in influential positions quickly becomes an absurd and pointless exercise, like trying to make a list of everything. What you need to know is the big picture: If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain — an extremely unfortunate loophole in the system of Western democratic capitalism, which never foresaw that in a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy.

The bank's unprecedented reach and power have enabled it to turn all of America into a giant pump-and-dump scam, manipulating whole economic sectors for years at a time, moving the dice game as this or that market collapses, and all the time gorging itself on the unseen costs that are breaking families everywhere — high gas prices, rising consumer credit rates, half-eaten pension funds, mass layoffs, future taxes to pay off bailouts. All that money that you're losing, it's going somewhere, and in both a literal and a figurative sense, Goldman Sachs is where it's going: The bank is a huge, highly sophisticated engine for converting the useful, deployed wealth of society into the least useful, most wasteful and insoluble substance on Earth — pure profit for rich individuals.

They achieve this using the same playbook over and over again. The formula is relatively simple: Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased. They've been pulling this same stunt over and over since the 1920s — and now they're preparing to do it again, creating what may be the biggest and most audacious bubble yet.

If you want to understand how we got into this financial crisis, you have to first understand where all the money went — and in order to understand that, you need to understand what Goldman has already gotten away with. It is a history exactly five bubbles long — including last year's strange and seemingly inexplicable spike in the price of oil. There were a lot of losers in each of those bubbles, and in the bailout that followed. But Goldman wasn't one of them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

if only the cathedral could stop bellyaching, get off its ass, and find something useful to do...,

physorg | "This study tests the model that the mind cares about physical features only to the extent that they suggest social relationships," explained Pietraszewski. "It shows that the reason the mind attends to race at all is to keep track of people's affiliations. When race proves not to be a factor, the alliance detection system attends to it only minimally, if at all."

"The method we used is entirely unobtrusive," said Tooby. "People don't know what you're measuring, and they couldn't control it even if they did. It shows the principles by which you're categorizing people implicitly. In and of itself, implicitly assigning people to racial categories is not racism. But if you combine the tendency to categorize by race with a negative evaluation, that is racism."

According to Tooby, when race does not predict who's on what side of an issue or who's supporting whom, the mind discards it as an element for identifying alliances. "Traditionally, the general impression people had was that when you learn to be racist, it gets deeply inscribed and sneaks out in subtle ways and it's slow to change," he explained. "One of the striking implications of this research is that the tendency to categorize by race is easy to eliminate.

"The common-sense interpretation of why you see racial categories in the world is because different kinds of people exist, and they look different from each other. Therefore, just like you pick up differences between pears and peaches, you pick up different races in the world," continued Tooby. "But at the genetic level the differences are really hard to see. It's just not the case that people of one race have a large series of genes that people from another race lack; you just don't see that."

The question then becomes why racial differences are so visually salient to people. "We see race in the world because patterns of alliance and cooperation have trained us to sort people into categories that way," he said. "And this training requires that our visual systems pick up tiny differences and amplify them until what we see matches the alliance structure of our social world. Young children are often surprised when adults describe players on their favorite team as being of a different race. They don't see it."

"This research suggests that our minds retrieve race because it predicts alliances in our social world," said Cosmides. "When other cues predict cooperative alliances better, the mind reduces its reliance on racial categories. That's why we refer to the content of your cooperation, not the color of your skin."

For years, she added, social scientists have tried unsuccessfully to identify social situations that decrease the extent to which people categorize others by race. "One of the reasons people had assumed it was so difficult is because it's supported by these perceptual differences," she said. "But we also show that when you have purely perceptual categories—like wearing red shirts versus yellow shirts—and when shirt color doesn't mean anything about coalitions or social differences, people barely pick it up, or they don't pick it up at all. You can't just say people categorize others by skin color because their visual system can't help it."

If categorizing individuals by race is a reversible product of a cognitive system specialized for detecting alliance categories, changing behavior might have more powerful effects than changing minds, the researchers said. "Many people assume you need to change how people think about racial issues to eliminate racism," Cosmides explained. "This research suggests that if cooperation across racial lines continues to increase in our society, our tendency to think about people in racial terms will fall away. Cooperation should change how people think."

why people have to periodically poleaxe potatoheads...,

royalsocietypublishing |  Centralized sanctioning institutions have been shown to emerge naturally through social learning, displace all other forms of punishment and lead to stable cooperation. However, this result provokes a number of questions. If centralized sanctioning is so successful, then why do many highly authoritarian states suffer from low levels of cooperation? Why do states with high levels of public good provision tend to rely more on citizen-driven peer punishment? Here, we consider how corruption influences the evolution of cooperation and punishment. Our model shows that the effectiveness of centralized punishment in promoting cooperation breaks down when some actors in the model are allowed to bribe centralized authorities. Counterintuitively, a weaker centralized authority is actually more effective because it allows peer punishment to restore cooperation in the presence of corruption. Our results provide an evolutionary rationale for why public goods provision rarely flourishes in polities that rely only on strong centralized institutions. Instead, cooperation requires both decentralized and centralized enforcement. These results help to explain why citizen participation is a fundamental necessity for policing the commons.

poleaxe-ready potatohead pontificating...,

yahoo | Bud Konheim has a message for all of the 99 percenters: You're luckier than you think.

Konheim, CEO and co-founder of luxury-fashion company Nicole Miller, said on CNBC's " Squawk Box " on Wednesday that Americans not in the top 1 percent would be considered wealthy in most of the world. He said the 99ers should stop complaining and understand how lucky they are.

"We've got a country that the poverty level is wealth in 99 percent of the rest of the world," he said. "So we're talking about woe is me, woe is us, woe is this." He added that "the guy that's making, oh my God, he's making $35,000 a year, why don't we try that out in India or some countries we can't even name. China, anyplace, the guy is wealthy."

Konheim's comments are sure to provoke the inequality crusaders. After all, here is the wealthy CEO of a luxury company that sells $800 sequined dresses and $250 clutches saying that people who make $35,000 a year should be grateful.

But he happens to be correct--at least if you look at only the income numbers. In the U.S., you need around $500,000 in annual income to be in the top 1 percent. Globally, income of $34,000 a year gets you in the top 1 percent, according Branko Milanovic, a World Bank economist.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

and at sites of longstanding ongoing gangsterism...,

ICH |  US Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, Nuland said: “Since the declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1991, the United States supported the Ukrainians in the development of democratic institutions and skills in promoting civil society and a good form of government - all that is necessary to achieve the objectives of Ukraine’s European. We have invested more than 5 billion dollars to help Ukraine to achieve these and other goals. ” Nuland said the United States will continue to “promote Ukraine to the future it deserves.”

We don't know who actually tapped and leaked Nuland's private call to the US ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt. It could have been the Ukrainian or Russian secret services, but, regardless, it was an inspired move to reveal it. For the disclosure, which has been posted on the internet, lays bare the subversive meddling agenda of Washington in Ukrainian internal affairs. Up to now, the Americans have been piously pretending that their involvement is one of a bystander supporting democracy from afar. 
But, thanks to the Nuland's foul-mouthed indiscretion, the truth is out. Washington, from her own admission, is acting like an agent provocateur in Ukraine's political turmoil. That is an illegal breach of international rules of sovereignty. Nuland finishes her phone call like a gangster ordering a hit on a rival, referring to incompetent European interference in Ukraine with disdain - "F...k the EU."
What we are witnessing here is the real, ugly face of American government and its uncouth contempt for international law and norms.

Next up is Wendy Sherman, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, who is also Washington's top negotiator in the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran. Sherman is another flinty-eyed female specimen of the American political class, who, like Nuland, seems to have a block of ice for a heart and a frozen Popsicle for a brain.

Again, like Nuland, Sherman aims to excel in her political career by sounding even more macho, morose and moronic than her male American peers.

Last week, Sherman was giving testimony before the US Senate foreign affairs committee on the upcoming negotiations with Iran over the interim nuclear agreement. The panel was chaired by the warmongering Democrat Senator Robert Menendez, who wants to immediately ramp up more sanctions on Iran, as well as back the Israeli regime in any preemptive military strike on the Islamic Republic.

Sherman's performance was a craven display of someone who has been brainwashed to mouth a mantra of falsehoods with no apparent ability to think for herself. It's scary that such people comprise the government of the most nuclear-armed-and-dangerous state in the world. 
Programmed Sherman accused Iran of harboring ambitions to build nuclear weapons. "We share the same goal [as the warmonger Menendez] to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." And she went on to repeat threadbare, risible allegations that Iran is supporting international terrorism. That is a disturbing indication of the low level of political intelligence possessed by the US chief negotiator.
"Iran also continues to arm and train militants in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Bahrain. And Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah continue," asserted Sherman without citing an iota of proof and instead relying on a stale-old propaganda narrative.

The number three in the US State Department went on to say of the interim nuclear deal with Iran: "What is also important to understand is that we remain in control over whether to accept the terms of a final deal or not. We have made it clear to Iran that, if it fails to live up to its commitments, or if we are unable to reach agreement on a comprehensive solution, we would ask the Congress to ramp up new sanctions."

Remember that Sherman and her State Department boss John Kerry are considered "soft on Iran" by the likes of Menendez, John McCain, Lyndsey Graham, Mark Kirk, and the other political psychopaths in Washington. So, we can tell from Sherman's callous words and mean-minded logic that the scope for genuine rapprochement between the US and Iran is extremely limited.
 Sherman finished her performance before the Senate panel with the obligatory illegal threat of war that Washington continually issues against Iran: "We retain all options to ensure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon."

time running out for egypt, iran...,

dailyimpact | Never forget that where you see rebellion, it arises from terrible privation and loss of hope. Nor forget that where you see privation and despair, you will soon see rebellion. It does not matter whether Egypt is governed by the army or the Muslim Brotherhood, by a dictator or a democrat; what matters is that the Egyptian people cannot get enough food, water or fuel. It does not matter whether Iran is governed by a cleric, a moderate or a Southern Baptist; if the people do not have enough food, water or electricity, the government will fall. And that won’t solve the problems.

It’s hard to even imagine how Egypt could find any relief from its intractable problems. Formerly oil rich, it must now import oil for its people; formerly blessed with abundant grain reserves, it must now buy 70 per cent of the wheat needed to keep its people alive. The loss of the oil income, and the new expenses, mean that the government cannot afford to keep subsidizing bread and fuel, in a country where cheap bread and fuel is the difference between subsistence and privation, between hope and despair.

The finance minister in the interim Egyptian government, Ahmed Galal, can add and subtract. One fifth of the country’s entire budget is being spent on the subsidies. Its balance-of-trade deficit, its operating deficit, and its debts to sellers of grain and oil are all growing exponentially. Its declining oil industry, its drought-plagued agriculture industry, its vanished tourist industry — none of these can offer help. The only help Egypt has received in recent years is a whopping $12 billion from the sheikdoms of Arabia, desperate that Egypt not start a trend of failing, formerly oil-rich states.

Minister Galal knows what has to happen. He is talking, ever so delicately, about reducing the subsidies on bread and petroleum. Mubarak tried it, and Mubarak is gone. Morsi found no alternative, and Morsi is gone. In a recent interview for the eternally gullible USA Today, Minister Galal murmured weasel words about moving toward “more sustainable development down the road,” and about “simultaneously [somehow] creating jobs and improving education and health care” — a very nice trick indeed, if anyone could do it.

meanwhile, back at one of many locations where we meddled extensively....,

aljazeera |  An anti-privatisation protest in the city of Tuzla has exploded into general social insurrection.

Whatever little semblance of legitimacy the constitutional order in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) may have enjoyed at the beginning of this week went up in flames on Friday night. BiH's three Presidents, two entities, one special district, ten cantons and internationally appointed High Representative - the entirety of its bloated bureaucracy - witnessed the storming of their government offices in the cities of Tuzla, Sarajevo, Zenica, Bihac and Mostar.

As a result, at least two regional governments have collapsed, in the Tuzla and Zenica-Doboj cantons. What began as a local, anti-privatisation protest on Wednesday in Tuzla had grown by Friday into a general social insurrection.

Two years ago, I wrote that a "Bosnian Spring" was this country's only hope for a brighter future. Now, the spring has come, and with it, the storms. 

For nearly twenty years, Bosnians and Herzegovinians have suffered under the administration of a vicious cabal of political oligarchs who have used ethno-nationalist rhetoric to obscure the plunder of BiH's public coffers. The official unemployment rate has remained frozen for years at around 40 percent, while the number is above  57 percent among youth. Shady privatisation schemes have dismantled what were once flourishing industries in Tuzla and Zenica, sold them off for parts, and left thousands of workers destitute, with many still owed thousands of dollars in back-pay. Pensions are miserly too; the sight of seniors digging through waste bins[Ba] is a regular one in every part of the country, while the wages of BiH's armies of bureaucrats and elected officials have only grown[Sr].

Pervasive corruption
After the general elections in 2010, it took sixteen months for a state government to be formed, one which collapsed almost immediately thereafter. Since then, on the rare occasion that Parliamentary sessions have actually been held, the members of this body have mostly concerned themselves with calling for the ouster of their political opponents. ZivkoBudimir, for instance, the president of the Federation entity, was arrested in April of last year on suspicions of corruption and bribery. He was released shortly thereafter for "lack of evidence" and has since returned to his post. As Sarajevo burnt on Friday, Budimir declared[Sr/Ba/Hr] that he would resign if the people insisted - apparently refusing to look out his window as he spoke. 

Several major elected official in BiH have been under investigation for corruption. In the Federation, the squabbling of Bosniak and Croat nationalists has immobilised government institutions. In the Republika Srpska(RS) entity, President Milorad Dodik has attempted to make himself synonymous with the Serb nation itself - hounding the few independent journalists and activists who dared challenge him

But the ethno-nationalist rhetoric of these elites betrays the realities of BiH's true political economy: accumulation through dispossession. The graffiti on the walls of the burnt out husk of the Tuzla canton government now offers a stark rebuke to these policies: "You must all resign! Death to nationalism!"

The international community has, meanwhile, allowed this sordid state of affairs to fester since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. An initial period of reform between 1996 and 2006 has all but completely ceased and since then the country has jerked from one constitutional crisis to the next. All the while, seething public anger has repeatedly threatened to boil over, as it did this past summer during the so-called "Baby Revolution".

The reasons for this rage are simple: At no point have the international architects of peace in BiH expended any serious energy to include ordinary citizens, students, workers or pensioners in the reforms which European and American diplomats insist the country requires. Instead, by engaging exclusively with members of BiH's obstructionist and recalcitrant political establishment, they have only cemented the oligarchs in their posts while the pleas and demands of ordinary citizens, students, workers and civil rights activists have been ignored.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

rotflmbao..., “the ideas we’re talking about unite people”

WaPo | It is time, Jim DeMint told his fellow conservatives, to come up with a program beyond opposing everything President Obama does.

“It’s not sufficient for conservatives to run against agendas; they must advance ideas,” the head of the Heritage Foundation advised an audience at his think tank Monday morning. “A mandate to lead without a plan, without a proposal, without original legislation, is no mandate at all.”

And so Heritage Action, the group’s political wing, convened a Conservative Policy Summit to “show Americans what a bold, forward-looking, winning conservative reform agenda looks like.”
But conference organizers must have misread “bold” as “old,” because the proposals they assembled have been collecting dust for years:

They would cut hundreds of billions of dollars from means-tested programs, including Pell grants, school lunches, Medicaid and food stamps.

They would impose a work requirement on food-stamp recipients and perhaps a drug-test requirement on all who receive any form of welfare.

They would open up the outer continental shelf, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and more federal lands to oil drilling, and they would curtail medical-malpractice lawsuits.

They would expand private-school vouchers and introduce Medicaid vouchers, while giving bigger tax breaks for health-care spending — as long as insurance plans don’t cover abortion.

They would abolish Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and cut the federal gas tax by 80 percent, leaving it to the states to fund roads and infrastructure.

They would repeal an 83-year-old law that requires the federal government to pay prevailing wages and they would look into cutting the minimum wage to $5 an hour in some places.

Oh, and they’re backing two more bills that would repeal Obamacare.

DeMint acknowledged the obvious: “Some of the ideas have been introduced before.” But Heritage chose this slate of issues — and not, say, entitlement reform — because “the ideas we’re talking about unite people.”

what's wrong with kansas and would you trust a forced cake?

time | Two years ago, a young gay couple entered a bakery in Lakewood, Colo. The men told the proprietor, Jack Phillips, that they would like a wedding cake. But when he found out it was for the two men before him, the baker refused to make it. The couple took him to court, and Phillips is currently appealing a judge’s order that he cease what the court deemed a discriminatory practice. “The cake is an iconic symbol of marriage. Everybody knows what a wedding cake means,” says Phillips’ attorney Nicolle Miller. “Colorado just simply doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages and like the public policy of Colorado, my client doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.”

But the Colorado wedding cake case is just one skirmish in the latest battle over gay rights in America. State lawmakers and private business owners are trying to win protections for individuals who want to refuse service to same-sex couples because of their moral or religious views. In the Kansas legislature, a bill expected to be debated this week would allow not only private businesses but also government employees to treat same-sex couples as personae non gratae—whether seeking a marriage license or a chicken dish for their reception. “It’s just really disappointing and dismaying that as LGBT people are gaining greater rights and equality under the law across the country, their opponents are becoming increasingly aggressive,” says Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year and recent decisions bolstering same-sex marriage in conservative strongholds like Utah and Oklahoma, the tide is unmistakably turning on marriage. One result is that communities are now faced with the reality of weddings that some residents thought—or hoped—would never be allowed. Twenty states, including Colorado, have laws protecting residents from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, but most do not. Those who would like to be able to deny service to same-sex couples argue that forcing the baker to make the wedding cake amounts to a violation of his freedom of religion and speech. “Everybody knows that the First Amendment protects you from having to violate your conscience,” says Miller. “While someone may enjoy rights [like non-discrimination protections]… it doesn’t necessarily trump the right of someone’s conscience, to abstain from something they find morally reprehensible.”

Same-sex marriage opponents also argue that there is a form of reverse discrimination going on—that their views against same-sex marriage should be tolerated and protected just like the views of people who support it. “Unfortunately, same-sex marriage advocates have increasingly treated people who believe in traditional marriage as the legal equivalent of bigots and even racists,” Frank Schubert, political director for the National Organization for Marriage, tells TIME in an email. “They brook no disagreement with their ideology and they tolerate no dissent. Therefore legislation like this in Kansas becomes necessary to assure that people are not forced to personally be part of something they cannot in good conscience support. There are plenty of people willing to serve a gay marriage ceremony without having to force everyone to do so.”

But the implications of bill in Kansas, its critics emphasize, go far beyond wedding ceremonies.

five reasons scientists should stay out of debates with creationists

thescientist | Among the most probable outcomes of this event is widespread renewed interest in debating evolution. Scientists may increasingly find themselves challenged to debate creationist evangelists, and perhaps threatened to be added to a “debate dodger” list should they hesitate. Worse yet, either because they admired Nye’s performance and wish to emulate it, or because they fault his performance and wish to surpass it, scientists may be tempted to challenge creationists to debate.

Scientists should decline such challenges and resist this temptation. Why? Decades of experience suggest that formal oral debates between scientists and creationists are by and large counterproductive—at least if the goal is to improve the public’s understanding of evolution and the nature of science, and to increase the level of support for the teaching of evolution uncompromised by religious dogma.
  1. Such debates confer unearned legitimacy on the creationist position. When a scientist debates a creationist about evolution, he or she is conveying the message that the creationist has a scientific case to make, even though creationists explicitly or implicitly prioritize scripture over science. Revealingly, creationists do not argue—nor even attempt to argue—for their views how scientists argue for their scientific positions.
  2. Such debates tend to mislead the audience about the nature of scientific practice. Scientists argue with each other, sometimes fiercely, but they do not argue in the service of a religious ideology. Rather, they argue in the service of a common goal: ascertaining how the natural world works. And they do so in venues that reward the objective assessment of evidence rather than oratorical prowess, such as research publications and professional conferences.
  3. Most debate formats allow the creationist participant to engage in the Gish gallop, so named for the late stalwart creationist debater Duane T. Gish, who was notorious for his breakneck recital of half-truths, out-of-context quotations, and quibbles, presented in such swift succession that the opposing scientist was oftens unable to track, let alone refute, every point. As a result, the audience is left with the misapprehension that the points left unrefuted by the scientific debater are valid.
  4. Such debates are often presented, explicitly or implicitly, as debates over religion, with the creationist happily assuming the role of defender of faith, God, and the Bible, and the scientist cast, willingly or unwillingly, in the opposite role. Because evolution is accepted on the basis of the overwhelming evidence by scientists of all faiths and of none, it is inaccurate and unhelpful for it to be presented as distinctively and inextricably connected with any position on religion.
  5. Such debates help to stimulate the base and swell the coffers of their creationist sponsors. What’s worse, they fuel local enthusiasm for creationism, contributing to pressure on local teachers to teach creationism or downplay evolution. A survey conducted in 2007 revealed the dismal fact that one in eight public high-school biology teachers in the United States already present creationism as scientifically credible, and that six in 10 already downplay evolution.

Monday, February 10, 2014

is atheism irrational?

NYTimes |  This is the first in a series of interviews about religion that I will conduct for The Stone. The interviewee for this installment is Alvin Plantinga, an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, a former president of both the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Philosophical Association, and the author, most recently, of “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.”
Gary Gutting: A recent survey by PhilPapers, the online philosophy index, says that 62 percent of philosophers are atheists (with another 11 percent “inclined” to the view). Do you think the philosophical literature provides critiques of theism strong enough to warrant their views? Or do you think philosophers’ atheism is due to factors other than rational analysis?

Alvin Plantinga: If 62 percent of philosophers are atheists, then the proportion of atheists among philosophers is much greater than (indeed, is nearly twice as great as) the proportion of atheists among academics generally. (I take atheism to be the belief that there is no such person as the God of the theistic religions.) Do philosophers know something here that these other academics don’t know? 

What could it be? Philosophers, as opposed to other academics, are often professionally concerned with the theistic arguments — arguments for the existence of God. My guess is that a considerable majority of philosophers, both believers and unbelievers, reject these arguments as unsound.

Still, that’s not nearly sufficient for atheism. In the British newspaper The Independent, the scientist Richard Dawkins was recently asked the following question: “If you died and arrived at the gates of heaven, what would you say to God to justify your lifelong atheism?” His response: “I’d quote Bertrand Russell: ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.

In the same way, the failure of the theistic arguments, if indeed they do fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism. Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.

defense of traditional marriage is a little like creation science...,

chicagotribune | In the battle over same-sex marriage, opponents are strongly in favor of deferring to the wisdom of our ancestors. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence uses the prevailing formula when he says, "I support traditional marriage." The Christian Coalition of America urges its friends to "Say 'I Do' to Traditional Marriage."

They have friends on the U.S. Supreme Court. In arguments over a California ban on gay marriage, Justice Samuel Alito expressed reservations about abandoning time-honored arrangements. "Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years," he said, while same-sex marriage is "newer than cellphones or the Internet."

Invoking age-old customs has not served to convince the American people, most of whom now favor letting gays wed. But then Americans have rarely rallied to the idea that we should do something just because that's what was done in the time of Henry VII or even George Washington.

Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting 18th century pamphleteer Thomas Paine's ringing declaration, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again." Beginning the world over again does not imply a slavish attachment to olden days and olden ways.

America has always been trailblazer of the future, not custodian of the past. So opposing same-sex marriage on grounds of tradition is a chancy proposition.

But this approach has another major flaw: What conservatives regard as traditional marriage is not very traditional at all. It's radically different from what prevailed a century or two centuries ago. And if you want to talk about "thousands of years," you'll find that almost everything about marriage has changed.

The Hebrew King Solomon, after all, was a dedicated polygamist, with 700 wives. Monogamy has always been the norm in Christianity, but not as part of a marriage of equals.

The 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone explained, "By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law; that is, the very being or legal existence of a woman is suspended, or at least incorporated or consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, or cover she performs everything."

Women generally couldn't enter into contracts without permission from their husbands. In legal status, they were a notch above sheep and goats. In America, it was not until well into the 19th century that states began to grant married women something resembling full property rights.

Even then, marriage had attributes that traditionalists would like to forget. Husbands who forced themselves on their wives were not guilty of rape, since they were legally entitled to sexual access. Contraception was forbidden in many states. Only in 1965 did the Supreme Court decide that such laws "violate the right of marital privacy."

pope francis intends to keep the church's educated constituents...,

WaPo | Most Catholics worldwide disagree with church teachings on divorce, abortion and contraception and are split on whether women and married men should become priests, according to a large new poll released Sunday and commissioned by the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision. On the topic of gay marriage, two-thirds of Catholics polled agree with church leaders.

Overall, however, the poll of more than 12,000 Catholics in 12 countries reveals a church dramatically divided: Between the developing world in Africa and Asia, which hews closely to doctrine on these issues, and Western countries in Europe, North America and parts of Latin America, which strongly support practices that the church teaches are immoral.

The widespread disagreement with Catholic doctrine on abortion and contraception and the hemispheric chasm lay bare the challenge for Pope Francis’s year-old papacy and the unity it has engendered.

The poll, which was done by Bendixen & Amandi International for Univision, did not include Catholics everywhere. It focused on 12 countries across the continents with some of the world’s largest Catholic populations. The countries are home to more than six of 10 Catholics globally.

“This is a balancing act. They have to hold together two increasingly divergent constituencies. The church has lost its ability to dictate what people do,” said Ronald Inglehart, founding president of the World Values Survey, an ongoing global research project.

“Right now, the less-developed world is staying true to the old world values, but it’s gradually eroding even there. [Pope Francis] doesn’t want to lose the legitimacy of the more educated people,” he added.

After his election to the papacy 11 months ago, Francis seemed to immediately grasp the significance of the divisions among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. He has chosen inclusive language, has played down the importance of following the hierarchy and has warned against the church locking itself up “in small-minded rules.” The poll reflects previous ones in finding that the vast majority of Catholics appreciate his approach.

Other faiths have seen many fissures over similar questions about doctrine, including Protestant denominations and Judaism. 

Pope Francis appears particularly eager to engage with divisions around sex, marriage and gender and has called a rare “extraordinary synod” this fall on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family.” For that, he has asked bishops to survey Catholics about their views of cohabitation, same-sex parenting and contraception, among other things.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

wall st. is and has always been a dirty extractive parasite...,

theatlantic |  I was a senior in high school, and I was staring at NBA legend Red Auerbach. He'd coached the Boston Celtics to nine championships in 10 years, won seven more as an executive, and, a bit less notably, gotten his first coaching job at our school way back when. He was 85 years old, but he lived nearby and had finally agreed to come back to be feted.
We piled into the gym and buzzed as Auerbach ascended the make-shift stage at center court. There were introductions and congratulations and then it was his turn to talk. He was old, but still sharp. He regaled us with an embellished, if not apocryphal, story about how his proudest coaching victory had come at our school. That was back in 1941, and the score had been something like 10 to 8. There was also something about yelling at the son of a senator—this was a preppy, all-boys school in Washington D.C.—for trying an around-the-back pass.

Then Auerbach turned to life lessons. "Everybody always asks me how to gain a competitive edge," he said, "and I'm always surprised because the answer is so obvious." Eighteen-year old me knew where this was going. He was going to tell us to work hard, that successful people prepare for their luck, yada, yada, yada.

"You cheat."

Our teachers looked confused, then horrified. They kept waiting for Auerbach to say he was just kidding, that of course there's no substitute for hard work. He didn't. Instead, he calmly explained that if you're playing a better fast-breaking team, you should install nets so tight that the ball gets stuck. Or if you're playing a faster baseball team, you should water the basepaths till they turn into muddy quagmires that nobody can run on. But most of all, he wanted to make sure we didn't misunderstand him. He cleared his throat, and said, "So, if you want a competitive edge, just cheat." Then he walked off stage, and the mayor's mother, who was inexplicably there, led us in a solemn rendition of America the Beautiful

That brings us to high-frequency trading (HFT) hedge funds. These funds use computer algorithms—a.k.a.: algobots—to buy and sell stocks at incredible speeds. We're talking milliseconds. The idea is to react to any market news or inefficiencies before actual humans can process them. And it's any idea that has taken over stock trading: algobots make up about half of all stock transactions in 2012 (which is actually down from its peak of 61 percent).

the psychopathocracy could not abide transparency...,

truthout | A government website (or other website) would be modified to allow the public to search using the ID of any bill (e.g. HB 492) and find (side by side for easy comparison and scrutiny) a pro and a con argument for that bill. Supporters would collaborate to write the pro argument and detractors would collaborate to write the con argument.

However, there might be a blank space for one or both arguments since providing them would be strictly voluntary. Our representatives (on either side of an issue) would be free to provide a single sentence as an argument, multiple pages, or nothing at all. But what makes these arguments special and gives them the power to reward informed truth seekers and severely punish liars (and the ill-informed) is this: They'd be dynamic; they'd be evolving works in progress - like Wikipedia articles.

Game theory predicts the arguments would quickly stabilize with fewer and fewer changes (like Wikipedia articles) - they wouldn't go on and on in a tit-for-tat fashion.

Adding to their power to reward informed truth seekers and severely punish liars (and the ill-informed), pro and con arguments would be developed/modified out in the open (on the Internet for all to scrutinize). Both sides would watch the other side's argument evolve and use this information to strategically develop/modify their (opposing) argument. At any given time, the public would see the current best pro argument and the current best con argument.

the top lives off the yield of the bottom

commondreams | Last week, more than 550 groups, representing tens of millions of individual members, signed a letter to members of Congress urging them to vote against a push by President Obama for 'fast track' authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a so-called "free trade" now under negotation between the U.S. and eleven other Pacific rim nations.

The week before that, another 50 groups launched an energized online campaign called in order to kill the TPP agreement—dubbed "NAFTA on steroids"—that they say "threatens everything you care about: democracy, jobs, the environment, and the Internet."

But if you watch the evening cable or broadcast news shows, you might not know anything about the TPP—not what it is, not why Obama says it would be good for the country, and certainly not why these hundreds of public interest groups, environmentalists, economists, and labor organizations say trade agreements like this are the source of economic and labor woes, not the solution to them.

According to a new study by Media Matters, over the last sixth months the network evening news shows—including ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS—have ignored the TPP almost completely.