Saturday, June 29, 2013

SAR #13180

Secrecy is but another word for fear. Jeremy Bentham.

Example: Former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright has been named by the Justice department as their target in an investigation of the leaking of information about the Stuxnet computer malware the US used to disable about 1000 Iranian centrifuges. The Iranians knew we had done it, but the public wasn't supposed to know. The timing may be intended as an object lesson for any who might be thinking about pulling a Snowden.

Ready Or Not: The EPA, convinced that you are Roundup-Ready, has raised the amount of Monsanto's Roundup (the herbicide glyphosate) to be allowed in food. What, you haven’t been genetically altered to tolerate Monsanto's poisons? Are you sure?

To Market, To Market: Republicans want to cut food stamps from the Farm Bill so that does what it should, funnel money to big farms and corporate agriculture. Food stamps then can be trashed separately. Don't worry about agribusiness – it makes its money from growing ethanol and feeding animals, not from delivering veggies to the poor.

Rant: When the truth is vilified, hunted, gagged and jailed, then the State has chosen to go to war with the nation. We are at war.

Profits/People: India's low-cost generic pharmaceuticals have significantly lowered drug costs in developing countries around the globe. Its generics also cut into Pfizer's profits. So you can understand why the US is working to pressure India into letting the poor of the world die.

Inside Straight: Analysis of trades in stocks most likely to be affected by various (US sponsored) third-world coups strongly suggests that insiders knew about the pending overthrows and invested appropriately. Or inappropriately, depending on your view of insider trading. Wonder how many stock tips the average NSA intercept folks take home every day...

Summer In The City: Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, in cities and towns across the country, are taking to the streets in hopes of driving President Morsi from office. The Muslim Brotherhood, backed by the Army and security forces (ie, thugs) are taking to the same streets to further the dialogue.

The Crime & The Criminals: Remember, the crime is invading the privacy of over 300 million Americans, the criminals are the NSA and the Administration, and Edward Snowden's 'crime' is confirming what we already knew.

Spot Quiz: “Why Is the Obama Administration Suddenly So Interested in African Farms?”  If 'because US banks and corporations stand to make huge profits' isn't part of your answer, you'll have to stay after school. At overtime rates.

Urgency: One of the reasons the Let's-Kill-Social-Security-and-Medicare movement continues to press their agenda even though the vast majority of voters don't want these programs cut and even though the deficit projections have dropped dramatically is that today one in six voters directly benefits from these programs, in 2030 – when Doom is usually predicted – one in four will. And trying to kill the program then, even if the unlikely disaster they are predicting shows up, will not be possible.

Explicate: How can a "secret body of law" be the law in a democracy? When did “Because I said so" become a legal justification for immorality?

Read His Lips: The President of the World Bank notes that “the power of civil society and the power of citizens to rise up is unlike anything we’ve seen in history.” Of course the World Bank's mucking with various economies had nothing to do with the increase in global unrest.

Dumb & Dumber: North Carolina, pulling ahead of Texas in the stupidity games, has disqualified the state from receiving federal funding for the long-term unemployed, lowered the maximum weekly benefit from $535 to $350 and cut legibility from 6 months to as little as three. About 170,000 North Carolinians will lose a total of $700 million in federal funds, while protecting the ideological purity of their politicians.

Semper Fi: Turns out PFC Bradley Manning Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins, who has served 6 years for his role in the murder of an Iraqi civilian, had his civil rights violated when he was held in solitary confinement for seven days... The Iraqi's death was upheld by the court.

The Parting Shot:


Friday, June 28, 2013

SAR #13179

Eventually everything breaks.

Sheltered: 30-year fixed-rate mortgages zoomed from 3.93% last week to 4.46% this week – the highest rate in 2 years and the largest week-to-week jump in over 15 years. Even with the long run of low prices and low mortgage rates, home ownership rates have fallen for eight consecutive years. Maybe the ongoing decade-long decrease in household income has something to do with it. But that doesn't stop the flippers who are trying to beat the next pop of the walking-dead housing “recovery”.

Yes, But: A survey shows that over half of Americans 'disapprove of Obamacare.” These folks have no more idea what “Obamacare” is (or will be) than they had last year when they went around telling the government to keep its hands off Social Security.

Friends In High Places: The CFTC has filed criminal charges against Jon Corzine for playing fast and lose with over a billion dollars of customer money – most of which eventually came wandering home. The Justice Department has already ruled that he will do no jail time; after all, he is a former Goldmanite, Governor and Washington biggie. And Democratic fundraiser. Another charade to go through in order to pretend there's equality. Somewhere.

Quoted: “Economists mainly make it up”

La Dolce: Italy's second largest bank fears that the country “is likely to need” a bailout from the EU/ECB/IMF by the end of the year as the country's economy continues to deteriorate and credit problems spread to its larger corporations. The country is also vulnerable to economic contagion from Argentina and Slovenia – its close trading partners – both of which are 'worrisome'.

Some Are More Equal: In his felony trial for writing an anti-bank message in a water-soluble chalk on a bank's wall, the defendant may not mention: “the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.” Corporations, say a big bank, can buy politicians, but that's protected speech, right?

Quoted: “Behind each financial crisis lurks a 'political bubble' — a set [of] political biases that foster market behaviors leading to financial instability. Rather than tilting against risky behavior, in political bubbles politicians and regulators aid, abet, and amplify the risks created in financial markets.  These biases are deeply embedded in the constellation of ideology, institutions, and interests that define the American political system.”

Rear Guard Action: The Republicans claim they will (click your heels) be able to enact a nationwide ban of same-sex marriage. Exactly which nation was unclear.

Today in Privacy: Know those cameras that picture your car as it runs a red light? Reads the license and sends you a bill? Well, nothing says that the picture/license reader can't take a picture of every car that goes through the intersection. And nothing says these can't be store in a computer file. Ditto for that dash-camera in the police car. And you thought it was just your phone's location was being tracked. Call your local police and ask to see your snapshots.

Third Time 'Round: Congress is happily doing nothing to avoid yet another financial cliff, this one the apparently unresolvable fight looming over the budget – or lack thereof – this fall. The no-compromise nutters of the far right of the right wing, coupled with Democrats becoming less and less inclined to cut off another arm, suggest that last weeks Farm Bill debacle is likely to be repeated come budget time.

Essay Prompt: “We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.” That's Justice (sic) Antonin Scalia. 500 words or less, beginning with a definition of 'consistency' and including a comparison of the legislative history of DOMA and the Voting Rights Act. Usual prize.

Contamination: At the secret (well, secret to you and me but not to the 600 corporations who are negotiating the treaty for you) TPP meetings, the chief US negotiator is Islam Siddique, a former Monsanto lobbyist. Bearing in mind the earlier triumphs of NAFTA, what could go wrong?

The Parting Shot:



Thursday, June 27, 2013

SAR #13178

Letting a thousand flowers bloom only really works if you then cut down the flowers that turn out to be really ugly.” Matthew Yglesias

Hopetemism: Obama's Climate Change speech was... well, a speech. It had some good stuff (bashing coal and climate skeptics) some bad (fracking, nukes, XL pipeline) no surprises and a whole lot left out: blood, sweat and tears - or in this case, a rapid reduction in fossil fuel use no matter what the fuel, a rapid and far-reaching reduction in energy use and waste, and turning the country away from the automobile-based mistake we have become. Most of all, it was a speech. Expect the Republicans to snipe at every Executive action and to prevent every step requiring congressional approval. Expect lots more talk and pretty much no action. Most of all, expect 4ºC to 6ºC by 2100, the disappearance of Arctic Ice and a fair melt on Greenland, higher seas and more sever weather. And Republican obstructionism, did I mention the Republican obstructionism?  And Big Coal's deep pockets?

Entrails: Russia is evacuating the last of its personnel from Damascus, out of concern for their safety. From which we infer...

Mixed Bag: GDP was revised, downward of course, from 2.4% annualized to 1.8%, mostly because consumers - 78% of whom don't have enough savings to make it through a medical emergency or a job loss - didn't go far enough in debt and didn't get a raise and many of them didn't get a job. The stock market, gleeful at the bad news which means the free money frenzy will continue, went up, of course. And existing house prices were reportedly up 11.6% y/y, even though existing wages are not. In fact, wages continue to fall (in real terms) at a frightening pace.

Blame The Victim: The Egyptian government blames the country's ongoing fuel shortage (and food shortage and so on) on the people, who want to drive their cars (and eat, and so on). Oh, ditto for jobs and civil rights and such.

Now Playing: Are we watching a remake of The Terminal, with Edward Snowden in the Tom Hanks role, or some version of Edward and Goliath with Ecuador as The Mouse that Roared. It is sad that the spotlight is on Snowden, and not the assault on law and order (not to mention privacy) perpetrated for a decade or more by No Such Agency. To the question “How many Americans does the NSA spy on?” the only possible answer is to ask “How many Americans are there?” The whole shebang suggests that while the US government spends tens of billions of dollars to intercept nearly all communications (along with its junior partner, the UK), it still can't figure out much. Greatly wasted dollars, thank goodness.

Ah, There's The Rub: Are you annoyed at how right Paul Krugman has been?

Skunk, Stripes: It turns out that Mario Draghi, currently head of the ECB (in which role he lead the charge on Greece for its fudging its debt reports) and formerly director of the Bank of Italy and before that a senior member of Goldman Sachs, cooked Italy's books far more drastically than the folks in Athens had. When will we stop being disgusted at the venality and essential immorality of damn near everyone above the mail clerk in any and all financial organizations?

Typecast: According to the IMF, "fiscal consolidation has typically had significant distributional effects by raising inequality, decreasing wage income shares and increasing long-term unemployment." By golly, and they were trying so hard to raise up the poor...

Confusion: The Supreme's knocked down the silly Defense of Marriage Act (Yeah, Supremes!) but gutted the Voting Rights Act (Boo, Supremes!). Now we will be treated to a decades-long pointless rear-guard action on same-sex marriage by the Rs (look for the same tactics that have been spent in beating back abortion rights) and a rapid descent into all sorts of voter suppression tactics, starting in Texas – also by the usual suspects. The Supreme Court does not so much decide things as stir them up.

Fairness Doctrine: I still don't see the excitement over the IRS at least pretending to investigate the charitable nature of organizations claiming tax exemptions. Why are the Republicans so upset that at least a few government employees were doing their job?

All Ye Need Know: Former self-portrait artist Anthony Weiner is leading all other Democratic candidates in the race to become mayor of NYC. Or not.

The Parting Shot:


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

SAR #13170

Time is not on our side.


Gone fishin'.

Will be back Tuesday next.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

SAR #13169

Global capitalism is on track to become less global.

Planning Ahead: Philadelphia has chosen to close 23 schools and lay of thousands of school employees in order to fund a $400 million prison that will house 4000. The City of Brotherly love, being prepared. The mayor wants to privatize the entire school system and merge it with the private prison network.

The Rest Of The Story: The Bakken Booster's Club points out that North Dakota’s Bakken produced record amounts of oil in April - 727,149 barrels a day, up 1.2% m/m and up 33% y/y. What is not mentioned is that in the last six months an additional 822 producing wells were required to increase production by 43,291 bbl/d. Each successful new well added 52 bbl/d to production. In the six months ended 11/12, each new well added 140 bbl/d, and before that it was 148 and prior to that each new producer added 214 bbl/day to the total output. Notice a trend? Drilling more, getting less...

Observed: “U.S. policy for the past 30 years has been aggressively dedicated to shifting income share away from the poor and middle class and into the pockets of the already rich.”

Against All Odds: Bernanke, from behind the curtain, continues to claim that the Fed can back out of the enormous heap of bonds that QE has vacuumed up without upsetting the applecart. He apparently did not notice the beating Treasuries took when just the rumor of possible “tapering” of the Fed's QE purchases made the rounds last week. Either he is simply in denial, or he doesn't plan to stick around to see how this turns out.

Pass The Sun Block: Summertime temperatures in the mid and high northern latitudes over the past few years “are unprecedented in the past 600 years” both in magnitude and in frequency. “The summers of 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2011 were warmer than those of all prior years back to 1400.”

The Difference Between Gold And Paper Money: Paper money has value only because most people expect most other people to accept it in exchange for goods and services. Ditto for gold. There is no thing – found in nature or created by man – that has value independent of the value humans attach to it. There is no pristine money. Money, be it paper or gold works as money as long as most people keep the faith. And not much longer.

Stirred, Not Shaken: A comprehensive survey of Antarctic ice shelves found that over half of their ice loss results from melting from below as the ocean warms, not ice calving (icebergs falling off) nor a rise in air temperature.

Teaching Point: In 2009, the British set up fake internet cafes to intercept communications from attendees and reporters covering the G20 summit. No warrant needed.

The Parting Shot:


Prairie Rose, Rosa setigera

Monday, June 17, 2013

SAR #13168

“...and life could use some mercy now.”  Mary Gauthier

Focus Grouped: After the polls were done and showed that the American people did not think getting involved in Syria's civil war was a good idea unless Assad used chemical weapons on his people, guess what? Even though the decision to provide arms to the rebels was reached several weeks ago, the announcement had to wait until sufficient PR noise had been generated to justify $50 million a day. For starters. News stories cite “heavy pressure" on Obama to do what the Zionist from AIPAC want, but do not identify where or who the pressure came from.

Inquiring Mind: If publishing X is “aiding and abetting the enemy”, doesn't the validity of the charge hinge on proving that the enemy didn't already know X? The definition of enemy is also at question here, for it should not identify the same cohort that the word citizen does. The emperor, the clothes and all that.

Apples/Oranges: The IMF, forecasting US GDP growth to be a miserable 1.9% this year, has urged that the US repeal the sweeping spending cuts it claims have cost the US GDP at least 1.75 percentage points so far, and recommended that the Federal Reserve continue QE through at least the end of the year. It also cut its projection for next year's US GDP to 2.7%. Obviously they do not mistake Washington for Athens. They also warned of the boogeyman said the long period of low interest rates could someday have unintended consequences. Like rapid inflation. All of this was met by a big silence in Washington.

Security: Being wealthy in America means you don’t come across anyone who isn’t, except the servants.

No Hard Feelings, It's Just Business: Turkey's PM Erdogan defended ordering riot police to forcibly evict thousands of anti-government protesters from Istanbul's Taksim Square, saying it was his 'duty' to crush dissent. The bulldozers and tear gas were optional. Targeting the doctors who treat injured protesters worked out so well for Mubarak, Erdogan is copying the tactic.

Surrender: Notice that the public conversation has changed from curbing CO2 emissions and keeping global warming to 2ºC to the various ways civilization and society can adapt to a much warmer world with non-stop episodes of violent weather. We've gone from denial to embrace without passing through understanding.

A House Is Not A Home: The y/y increase in real estate sales is accounted for by institutional investors buying houses for investment/speculation, not ordinary families buying homes. If institutional investors' purchases are backed out of the data, the number of home purchases actually declined. The demand for investment houses is driving up prices by reducing available inventory. Everybody, especially those promoting the investment angle, ignores the shadow inventory.

Happy Talk: Almost all public discussion of global climate change assumes (often without explicit acknowledgment) that carbon emissions will peak by 2020 at the latest. Studying the actual emissions globally suggests no such thing; there is no basis in the real world for such a belief, no evidence to suggest such a curtailment is underway or even possible, much less probable. All these low-emissions scenarios are based on the assumption that the Chinese and Indians are going to slip quietly back into the stone age. They are not. If things fall apart under a 2ºC scenario, how much worse would it be when it turns out to be 4ºC? And 4°C is looking less and less like a maximum and more and more like a minimum we'll pass before 2100. And it will keep rising after that, for decades, centuries.

Another Brick In The Wall: The US still puts more children and teenagers in juvenile detention than any other developed nation. This does far more harm than good. Throwing a kid in jail reduces his or her chance of graduating from high school, and dramatically increases the odds of graduating to more serious crimes. Seems pretty obvious, but now some research has been done and the numbers support common sense for once. But it won't change anything, we gotta punish 'em, right?

Porn O'Graph: Got fruits and vegs?

The Parting Shot:


Queen Ann's Lace, Daucus carota

Saturday, June 15, 2013

SAR #13166

Instead of doing the simple, obvious thing... we turn to politics.

Amen: The idea that climate change will be sufficiently undeniable and sufficiently harsh to ever spur the public to demand effective action by the world's governments is implausible. Climate change will continue with little effective effort made to mitigate its impact, what small effort we make will come from an absolute necessity to adapt in the face of geophysic and/or economic catastrophe. And when such a calamitous situation arises, it will be too late. Nothing we can do now can prevent the climate disasters of the next 50 years – they are already “baked in”. And as those 50 years draw to a close, 7+ billion humans will still be burning whatever they can to provide for their short-term needs. To expect otherwise is to ignore the essence of human existence. Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Priorities: I'd trust those who say we can't afford Social Security if they also said we can't afford the Defense budget. The problems are not economic, they are political. We have the communal will to kill, but not to heal and nurture. And we ought to think about that before we go blundering off to another Great Adventure in the Middle East.

Food Fight: The Senate's version of the Farm Bill would trim $4 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade, and the Republican House is calling for a $20 billion cut. No one is arguing that the people who will get cut don't need to eat, but the claim is we cannot afford to feed them. Imagine, the richest nation the world has ever seen cannot afford to feed its unemployed, its homeless, its citizens. But in 2011 the top 1 percent of Americans had a combined income of about $1.4 trillion, not counting capital gains. Let's count the capital gains and then let's raise their tax rate by 1/7th of 1%. That alone would cover the food stamps and leave lots left over to create a few jobs.

What If.... The recovery has progressed to the point we have only 3 unemployed workers for every job opening... If there are masses of unemployed workers and lots of slack in the economy, wouldn't giving the unmonied some money drive up demand and create a few jobs without any increase in inflation?

Bad And Badder: An epidemic of coffee-rust disease in Central America threatens the incomes of hundreds of thousands of farmers and workers and the morning Java of millions of coffee addicts in the developed world with crop losses approaching 50%. And we call it 'java' because an outbreak of a similar rust in 19th century Sri Lanka lead to the planting new coffee plantations in Indonesia. On the Island of Java.

Payday Loans: The interest rate on student loans is set to double on July 1st, to 6.8%. The government is charging banks 0.75% for funds (the discount rate). The banks ruined the economy, the students may just save it. Do the banks really need to double their profits on the close to $1 trillion in student loans? What's wrong with this picture?

Status Quo: The world's nations have repeatedly agreed we must cut our CO2 emissions enough to limit global warming to 2ºC or less by 2100. They have also tacitly agreed to pretend they were cutting their emissions, and not to notice that we are happily on our way to at least 4º of warming... and that well before 2100.

Well, Sure... “There is no clear evidence that the growth in the scale and complexity of the financial system in the rich developed world over the last 20 to 30 years has driven increased growth or stability... The financial sector’s gains have been more in the form of economic rents — basically something for nothing — than the return to greater economic value."

Porn O'Graph: Pull up a chair...

The Parting Shot:


Venus Looking Glass, Triodanis perfoliata

Friday, June 14, 2013

SAR #13165

In a rational world... wait, anybody seen one of those lately?

In The Affirmative: Asked specifically if e-mails were being 'vacuumed' by the government, NSA chief Alexander declined to answer for fear of revealing too much. That would be a “Yes."

Surprise! The Supremes unanimously – unanimously! – ruled that human genes cannot be patented. The logic used would imply that no gene sequences may be patented because those seeking the patent did not create our genes.

Nation Of Laws, Less: In the process of arresting protesters, Turkish police rounded up at least 50 lawyers. This is not new, 9 lawyers arrested in January for representing clients the government doesn't like, are still in jail. No charges, no legal actions.

Twelfth of Never: When will the government stop lying to the people?

Disorderly Conduct: The World Bank, worried that China will undergo a sharp slowdown, is forecasting GDP growth to slow to 7.7% - the lowest in 14 years, leading to a disorderly unwinding...

Better Men: A strong embrace of laissez-faire free-markets ideology is linked to the rejection of established science regarding climate science, evolution, the HIV basis for AIDS or tobacco causes cancer. Those who reject climate change are also more likely to accept conspiracy theories. Rejecting reality seems a pre-condition for embracing bare-knuckled capitalism.

Quoted: “[T]he sequestration policy is doing exactly what it was intended to do: it’s hurting the nation’s economy and taking benefits from American families that need them. Worse, the sequester is undermining the country for no reason ”

Inquiring Minds: If housing is undergoing this terrific resurgence in sales and prices and the bands are playing and children throwing flowers and there's sunshine everywhere, why are the banks laying off people at about the same pace as they did back in 2009?

Patience/Virtue: Glyphosate, “the major component of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide” could “trigger . . . debilitating diseases like gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s” . Could; guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Math Class: Arctic permafrost soils contain “about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth’s soils” and they are warming “faster than Arctic air temperatures.” Speed kills.

Preposition Proposition: Texas' Gov. Goodhair decreed that the First Amendment does not provide freedom from religion, only freedom of. Chose whatever you want (as long it is a version of Christianity), but you gotta have one or suffer in silence.

Porn O'Graph: David vs. Goliath.

The Parting Shot:


Weed, unloved.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

SAR #13164

I've always wanted to be part of a grand experiment, just not this one.

For The Morale Of Some Of The Troops: The Senate, under the leadership of Carl Levin (D-MI) has decided that rape by fellow soldiers and superiors is good for the morale of the troops and that the victims should shut up and let the Chain of Command continue to ignore the problem. Military sexual assaults are at an all time high. Prosecutions are at an all time low. What's the problem?

Wanted: If Snowden is to be painted a villain, it must be assumed that the information he provided has done a measure of demonstrable harm - which would be plausible if our enemies had no idea that NSA was tracking their communications. Which isn't.

Equality: Under Obama, the leveling of the nation's economic horizon has accelerated to the point than now at least 50% of the population is “considered poor or low-income.”

Correcting the Record:Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) held forth on the Senate floor for nearly 13 minutes. In Spanish. It is being marked as “the first time a senator had addressed the legislative body entirely in a foreign language.” Although just how foreign Spanish is these days is debatable.

Dueling Headlines: The IEA says the world is heading for a glut of refined petroleum products, while OPEC reports boosting its production to a seven month high and another office of the IEA predicts that the demand for OPEC crude will fall. Questions?

Oldie/Goodie: The attraction of austerity is that it fits a well known story line: living well is not a part of God's plan and must be punished. Excessive good times – a boom in say, housing – must be 'paid for' by suffering, preferably by the downtrodden so as not to inconvenience the owners. But an economy is not a morality play (assuming having the poor suffer for the sins of the rich is somehow moral) . Recessions are not inevitable, recessions happen when, for whatever reason, demand dries up. The cure, of course, is to increase demand.

Doom: BP reports that coal is the world's fastest growing source of global warming fossil fuel.

Check The Rigging: No, it's not a sailboat, it's the economy, silly. We are all simply dumbfounded that it has taken this long for the powers that be to get around to “consider opening a probe” into the decade-long manipulation of foreign-exchange rates. The culprits are the usual bunch of leading financial institutions. What? You thought Tommy down at the Grab and Run was doing it?

Factoid: At least half of American children are expected to be on food stamps before they are 18, assuming the Republicans stop whittling away at the program.

Chosing Sides: There is a real scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, simple observation has shown that austerity does not work and stimulus does, and nearly all the developed nations operate successful universal health care systems for their peoples. These are not liberal issues, there is no issue to them; these are observable realities. That the conservative right denies them says volumes about their contact with reality, but reality continues to ignore their ideology. So should we.

Impartiality: A study funded by Google has found that moving computer services to The Cloud would save a lot of energy. Raise you hand if you didn't know that Google is a major provider of cloud computing.

The Parting Shot:


Maypop/Passion Flower, Passiflora incarnata

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

SAR #13163

With the next downturn in sight, the recovery better hurry up and get here.

Half-wittedly: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he answered questions from senators in the "least untruthful manner" in March, when he said NSA did not "collect any type of data at all on ... Americans". Clapper said the 'misunderstanding' stem from semantic confusion over the definition of 'no', which to him includes various shades of 'yes.' What he meant was that the agency does not 'wittingly' or 'voyeuristically' collect American communications. His definition of 'collect' is a collectable, too.

Your Results May Vary: Senators Wyden (D-OR and Udall (D-CO) are convinced “that the Patriot Act Congress voted on [by Congress] is different in material ways than the one the Obama administration is implementing.”

Check: Of the 166 men incarcerated at Guantanamo, the government thought it might be able to prosecute 36 of them. The courts thought differently; now fewer than 20 will face charges because even after holding them for years, torturing them now and then, and eavesdropping on their lawyers, the military still cannot come up with any charges for what appears to be a group of relative innocents.

Metadata Illustrated: Or how the British were able to pre-emptively render Paul Revere. Wow, social network analysis... who knew?

Inversion Layer: Are the criminals supposed to be running the place? Why are people like PFC Manning who provided evidence of war crimes on trial, and not the criminals? If we lived in a just society, Snowden wouldn't have to be in hiding.

Ignorance Is Bliss: Conservatives are attacking Obama for complying with a court order mandating the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraceptives because these pills will somehow empower men who want to abuse women, embolden pedophiles and cause an increase in rape. Somehow.

Proportion: In 2001, terrorists killed about 3,000 people in the US. In the same year, nearly 30,000 were killed by firearms. In the decade since then Muslim terrorists have killed about 30 US citizens within the US. During that same decade abut 360,000 Americans have been killed by firearms. Why do we accept electronic monitoring 24/7 to stop the terrorists, but cannot accept the mildest monitoring or regulation of those who are far more likely – 10 thousand times more likely – to kill us?

Money Quote: “Wall Street is rooting for [unemployment] to get ever so slightly worse, hoping to stave off any decrease in the Fed’s bond buying programs."

Stuporstitious: While the wind has gone from Austerity's sails, economies drift along fatalistically, their captains stuck in a stupor where nothing seems possible and fate must have its way. Inertia passes for policy. The unemployed and impoverished do not vote, do not count, have no lobbyists, and at best serve to swell a progress. It is the new normal, and if things don't change, they will.

Asked & Answered: Is the FISA court that approves NSA activities just a toothless rubber-stamp organization, or does it keep them honest and protect our privacy? Yes. And no.

Cost/Benefits: The US Green Building Council has proposed Congress adopt national building standards that give credit to builders who avoid using harmful chemicals in their buildings. The companies that manufacture these harmful chemicals that produce health risks are, of course, against making buildings safer for people.

Distances: If you are concerned, upset, outraged (pick all that apply) over the revelations of NSA spying on you, just wait until the next Republican president takes office. “The Bush administration was not some kind of historical aberration that will never be seen again.”

Sometimes The Map Is The Territory: Go to the maps, scroll down to the last two - Reliance on food stamps (by percentage of the population) and Percent of population over 25 without a high school diploma. They could have saved space – it's the same chart with different titles. All of them are. Poverty, Income, Inequality, Ignorance. You could throw in Religious Fundamentalism, Gun Fetishes, and so on...

The Parting Shot:


Wild onion/garlic.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

SAR #13162

"I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things." Edward Snowden

Reminder: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” US Constitution, Amendment IV of the Bill of Rights (Before NSA 'rethought' it.)

No Confidence: The IMF/ECB/EU pauperization of Greece has been so effective that when the Greeks put their natural gas system up for bids – as part of the privatization required by their overlords – no one wanted it. There is no economy, thus no demand for the gas, and the residential customers have no money. No one wants a monopoly that makes no profit.

The Important Story: Sure, the NSA kerfuffle is fascinating, but in the long term it won't matter. What does is that the barely tolerable global temperature rise of 2ºC by the end of this century is no longer possible. We're looking at 2ºC and more by mid-century and 5ºC or more by 2100. That matters. And is pretty much unavoidable, because we're human and self centered and don't care any more about global warming than we do about the government spying on us.

Interpretations Vary: Turkish PM Erdogan, facing ever larger demonstrations against him and his party's rule, says that "Those who do not respect this nation's party in power will pay a price.” Definitions of democracy are often problematic. Ask Barak.

Safe: The Supreme Court has given those who ordered torture – both military officers and their civilian superiors - blanket immunity from being sued by the survivors, if any. Nuremberg? What'ca mean, Nuremberg?

Cart, Horse: The NY Senate, noting that “too many people in our society have lost the respect they need to have for a police officer" has made it a felony to annoy a cop. Now if they can do something to get the cops to give citizen the respect they deserve, too.

The Better Part Of Valor: Rather than face charges in the United States, NSA leaker Snowden has fled to Hong Kong, hoping to be safe from extradition and protected from rendition. [Iceland may be a better bet.] He has learned from history: Daniel Ellsberg willingly surrendered, was granted bail and – after the Supreme Court had declared warrantless wiretapping unconstitutional and refused to block publication of the Pentagon Papers – had the charges against him dropped. Bradley Manning has spent 3 years in jail awaiting a show trial. None of the civilian whistleblowers targeted by Obama's administration have made it to trial – the government threatens them with draconian sentences, then accepts a plea bargain for lesser charges and lighter jail time. Aaron Swartz, forced into such a choice, chose suicide. Open government has come to mean the government opens up and swallows its critics. In secrecy.

Liberal, Educated: There is something wrong with an education system that stresses testable facts while deadening the desire to understand. Knowing 'facts' and knowing something about the subject are worlds apart. Forcing memorization forces people to stop wondering. Teaching 'facts' teaches compliance, which should not be the goal of education.

Only Human: Some of the finer arguments for unbridled capitalism drove from Virginia to Moore, Oklahoma in order to loot the tornado wrecked community of its copper wire and scrap metal.

Inevitable: Pests targeted by GMO crops (Bt corn and Bt cotton) are becoming resistant to Monsanto's magic mucking with the gene pool. Of 13 major pest species, five have become resistant, another is well on the way, and four more are beginning to show resistance.

Ah, Good Ones: “If the NSA Trusted Edward Snowden With Our Data, Why Should We Trust the NSA?” “I’ve seen this all before–and have an FBI file to show for it.”  NSA knows a lot more about what we're doing than we do about what they're doing.

Porn O'Graph: Peak Oil consumption?

The Parting Shot:


Firewheel Gaillardia pulchella

Monday, June 10, 2013

SAR #13161

Turns out the walls do have ears.

Faint Praise: Obama says that recording every piece of electronic communication- phone calls, emails, internet use, texts, and credit card swipes is "a modest encroachment" on privacy. Being force-fed in Guantanamo qualifies as "a mild encroachment" and there are 12,500 US citizens in solitary confinement. It's not that things could be worse, it's that they are.

Clip & Save: According to French president Francois Hollande, “the crisis in Europe is over.” Would somebody please let Greeks and Spaniards know...

De Rigueur: The National Surveillance Agency has asked for a criminal investigation into leaks about secret programs it says don't exist or if they do it's legal, mostly and besides, they collected those 20 trillion phone calls and emails for our own good. Thank goodness, Snowden chose to out himself, so we can switch immediately to crucifying the tattle-tale anc continue to pretend that the Great Noo-noo doesn't exist. Stay tuned, there's likely to be more...

Housing: Vcant houses are being kept off the market in order to mask the size of the overhanging supply. In Florida (for example) there are 350,000 foreclosures lost in legal limbo for years, and 600,000 more will be joining them. Fannie, Freddie and the FHA hold about 200,000 foreclosed properties and have more than 1.4 million that are more than 90 days delinquent. There are 12.6 million vacant houses in the US and 1.5 million more that are underwater. Another 6 million will be foreclosed over the next five years. As for the current 'boom', private mortgage banks have laid off 25 to 50% of their operations staff. The purported 12.6% y/y increase in house prices was engineered by the same folks who crashed the financial system in the first place Their endgame is to make us all into serfs by throwing people out of their houses and then renting them the same place.

Clarification: According to the Director of National Intelligence, “PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program,” Those programs are known by other names.

Shadows: Hedge Funds now own as much of the stock market as they did just before the 2008 crash and are holding only 4.3% of their assets in cash – which ties the peak back in 2007. Keep in mind that hedge funds as a group have not beat the market in most of the last decade and maybe they are wrong again this time.

Bits And Pieces: It turns out that NSA currently collects about 3 billion pieces of data a month within the US on US citizens. But that's only about 3% of its total take, which means that we're pretty boring.

Round & Round: Why would someone pay $250 to rent a $60 tire for 18 months? Because they literally owe their souls to soulless sharks who claim "We see tremendous opportunity serving people...”

Porn O'Graph: What's for lunch?

The Parting Shot:


Deptford Pink Dianthus armeria

Saturday, June 8, 2013

SAR #13159

Investors who make money in the market credit their personal brilliance; those who lose money blame the market. These are the same people on different days.

Take Two, They're Small: The May jobs report claimed there were 175,000 jobs added – more than half of them in service jobs in retail, restaurants, hotels, home health-care, temporary-help placements and summer jobs in amusement parks- all paying below-average wages. Manufacturing jobs fell for the fourth month in a row. There were 7.9 million people working part-time in May for economic reasons. Positions paying $13.83 an hour or less make up 58 % of new jobs during the 'recovery'. In the first quarter of 2013, average hourly wages in the US experienced their largest drop since 2009. Even though real GDP growth is 15.4% below the trend of past recoveries, Wall Street saw this all this as pure gravy, pushing the Dow up over 200 points.

A Rose By Any Other Name: Obama assures the nation that “nobody is listening to your phone calls.” That's the computer's name, 'Nobody'. He also claims to have found “the right balance between security and privacy.” Which well could be little of one and none of the other. National Intelligence Director James Clapper insists that “NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails”. Nope. Not pruriently, either. Just save 'em for later, in case...

Easy Way Out: Turkish PM Erdogan insists that the protests “end immediately” and assures all that “No power but Allah can stop Turkey's rise." The old 'God's on our side' claim.

Plastic: Usually an increase in consumer credit is a sign of a strengthening economy, but 94% of April's increase in consumer debt was not revolving credit (running up the credit card on discretionary items) but was on cars and diplomas - $10.4 billion. It is hard to tell which is more harmful to any putative recovery - paying for a car for 5 years or being saddled with an undischargeable student loan for ever.

Alone Again: Even though the US government keeps 12,400 of its citizens in solitary confinement, locked in tiny cells 23 hours a day, it has not assessed the impact this long-term isolation is having on the inmates. Ignorance is bliss.

Strippers: The Republican-controlled Ohio Senate passed a budget bill with an amendment that essentially defunds Planned Parenthood, prohibits public hospitals from having patient transfer agreements with abortion clinics (which must have such agreements) and strip doctors who work at an abortion clinic from having rights to practice at public hospitals. Are there coat-hanger franchises still available in Ohio?

Wider Is Better: China has signed a $40 billion contract with Nicaragua giving it a 100-year concession to build an alternative to the Panama Canal. Bully.

Now You Sieze It: A precious metals broker with 20 years experience reports that there is an ongoing miss-match between the serial numbers and weights listed on client accounts and the actual metals when delivered. This might suggest to the skeptical that the metals listed as being in client accounts are not really there and that when a request for production is made the broker-dealers have to scurry about finding plausible replacements. (Remember back when Morgan Stanley got busted for charging storage fees on non-existent bullion?) This particular broker suspects that “most of the metals have been removed from the US...” but what's he know?

Porn O'Graph: Another Octopus.

The Parting Shot:


Lanceleaf Coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata

Friday, June 7, 2013

SAR #13158

Rome, too, was once the center of the world.

Too Late, The Sky's Already Fallen: The only news in the latest news about the NSA's ubiquitous surveillance is that from time to time they use warrants. The demand for info from Verizon is but a continuation of a program dating back to at least 2006, and is a descendent of a program initiated under the Bush regime in 2002. Their protestation about not getting the content doesn't ring true, in that they've been getting every bit of every land-line call for a decade or more and collects and stores essentially every phone call, email, text message, Facebook posting, web-page visit and every credit card purchase and any other piece of electronic information about every American. If you didn't know this, it was because you didn't want to know.

Turkey, Stuffed: The Turkish 'occupy' movement is made up of the middle class, not the poor, and has not suffered enough deaths and injuries to succeed. The protest are about PM Erdogan's overreach and abuse of power and not an Islamist/secularist clash (although it ought to be). Perhaps enough foreign investors will get nervous and force Erdogan to slow down both his Islamification and his enrichment of his cronies. But it seems unlikely.

Fine Print; The current record for drone kills is held by a former Air Force drone operator who took part in missions that led to the deaths of 1,626. Exactly; they keep score.

Funny That: The administration would like us to rise up in indignant protests because the Chinese hacked into the Obama and McCain campaign computers... and forget all about what the NSA has been up to for ten years.

The Spoiled Of War: Are you still getting used to owning a $750 million embassy in Baghdad? That was just the up-front cost (not counting the $2 or so trillion we spent clearing the site). The upkeep is going to run $400 million a year for the first five years. It'd be cheaper to figure Iraq will throw us out by then and pocket the money.

Asked & Obvious: Why is this recovery unlike the others? Maybe because it is remarkably recovery-free.

Words and Deeds: "Saying we are a Christian nation does not make it true: just look at our homeless children, starvation, poverty, the death penalty, racism, ageism, sexism, or so much hypocrisy. We are, in fact, a savage and brutal nation resoundingly despised around the world for our incessant war mongering...”

Chutzpah: Saudi Prince Alwaleed was so emasculated by Forbes reporting his wealth at only $20 billion when it is really $9.6 billion more, that he is suing them for public humiliation.

All Over But The Foot Dragging: A Pew survey shows that everybody but Republican politicians, Baptist preachers, Boy Scout executives, His Holiness and some guys in the piney woods down south agree that same-sex marriage equality is inevitable. So is the 40-year rear-guard delaying action that the Southern states will drag us through.

Porn O'Graph: An IMF/ECB aide de mémoire.

The Parting Shot:


Lathyrus latifolius Sweet Pea

Thursday, June 6, 2013

SAR #13157

Democracy was not designed with the brain dead in mind.

Legally, Sort of: While it has long been thought that the NSA had the ability to collect any bit of electronic communication it wants, for some reason it long ago went to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for the power to demand phone companies (specifically Verizon, but who knows...) provide records about millions of customers' calls. Not content, it seems at least under this warrant, but who, when and where.

Who, Me? While proclaiming it hasn't grown that strain of wheat in a decade, Monsanto admits that it is still field testing GMO wheat. It claims that the new trials are “an entirely different event”. These can't spread, either.

Noted, Sadly: 125 Reservists are undergoing a month of training in Texas before being deployed to Guantanamo to help force feed the hunger-striking political prisoners.

Simpleton Math: Turns out the 157 White House visits by the head of the IRS were not really visits, they were clearances to visit. He did, apparently, treck over to the EOB quite frequently, meeting with the white House Office of Health Reform. Suspiciously, he did visit Obama on eleven occasions. At most. Maybe only five

Conscience Money: Making the workplaces where your jeans are sewn safer would add 4% to their cost, you up for that?

Is There An Echo In Here? Recycling part of a speech by his predecessor, newly elected Pakistani PM Sharif has declared that forcing the US to end its use of drones in Pakistani airspace is a primary goal. Of course like Pakistanis under drone attack, the PM's promise was dead on arrival.

Real Tale: Euro-area retail sales fell -1.1% y/y. So we'll have to apply some more austerity.

Let Me Count The Ways: Here's a list of 18 signs that suggest not all our economic problems are behind us. This is a civil matter; preponderance of the evidence is all that's required.

Bottom Line: Not a single one of the Patriotic Nut Organizations was kept from organizing by the IRS review of their 501(c)(4) applications, nor silenced in any way. The review was undertaken to ascertain if the American taxpayer should subsidize their political ranting.

Can You Hear Me Now? A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's demand that the Administration make Plan B emergency contraceptive pills available without any restrictions, including age. By next week. The judge said the government's foot-dragging has come close to being criminal.

Multiple Choice: Who Won the Iraq War? 1) Iraqi Shia, 2) Blackwater and friends. 3) Iran, 4) Iraqi Sunni, 5) China, 6)The Usual Suspects. Or 7) the US taxpayer.

Shadow Boxing: Some US Senators have drafted legislation that would end Fannie and Freddie and create an government re-insurer of mortgage securities to assume the risks associated with bundling, blending and chopping up batches of mortgages, especially the ones that should never have been made. There is so much gravy involved that this effort will slither around for years before the goodies are all split up.

The Parting Shot:


Bachelor's button, Centaurea cyanus.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

SAR #13156

The revolution is over, and Gordon Gekko won.

Fog Of Revolution: It is become clear that the nerve gas sarin has been used in the conflict in Syria. What isn't clear is which side, if not both, used it. The brutality continues to escalate, with child soldiers dying regularly, non-combatants targeted, and now Shia from Iraq are joining to fight with the Syrian government forces.

Incompetence: Evidence suggests that the IRS persecution of right wing groups was so poorly supervised that at least 75% of the political groups singled out for special attention were not opposed to Obama. Even Senator Graham (R-SC) admits “there is no evidence that the White House directed the IRS to target conservatives.” Typical democrats, they can't even organize a fake conspiracy.

GI Bill's Benefits: The Joint Chiefs trooped up to Capitol Hill to claim that - contrary to available evidence - they should be left to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military with "reasonable recommendations" that would leave commanders the ability to continue to pervert justice. They maintain that any change in their ability to consider a rapists service record when letting them off lightly would undermine their authority —a view shared by Sen. Inhofe (Denialist-OK) who thinks women don't belong in the military except as camp followers anyway. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) believes that the “hormone level created by nature” was to blame for rapes and thus male soldiers are only doing what comes naturally.

Question: If the recession ended four years ago, what's going on now?

Chrysler Imperial: Chrysler has refused to comply with a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) request that it recall 2.7 million 2002 – 2007 Jeeps because it does not believe the fuel systems are defective even tho they occasionally burst into flames after rear-end collisions. Their risk management estimates suggest paying a few lawsuits would cost less than actually fixing the problem.

Headlines: A member of SEAL Team 6 has 'come out' as a transgendered ‘Warrior Princess’. In Colorado a bull moose fell has been caught making indecent advances on a – very realistic - statue of a bull moose. 

Judgment Day: The House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice approved a nationwide ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. The vote was 6 to 4, the six being Republican males. Never mind that it is blatantly unconstitutional under Row v Wade and every similar law has been overturned in the courts. These are Republicans and they believe the Constitution means whatever they want it to.

A Pinch or Two of Salt: When you read that the housing market is recovering, keep in mind that the 'recovery' is greatly the result of speculators fat on QE gobbling up thousands of houses in the hopes of making a profit by renting them out and then making a killing by selling them once they've bought enough to drive the prices up. Ordinary folks are not allowed to bid on the tens of thousands of houses being sold off by the government. The GSE's will sell off 20,000 houses in June alone. In some of the most depressed markets these bulk sales are  enough to drive up prices and give the appearance of a revival. Blackstone , for example, owns 26,000, Colony Capital has 10,000 and so on. The investors are required to rent the properties for a period of time, to prevent immediate flipping and flooding of the market. It's the GSE's way of washing their hands and their consciences at the same time. So now it is not only banks and servicers who are keeping homes off the market to keep from depressing prices, these speculative investors are contributing to the illusion of tight inventories by either renting them out or – nearly as often – letting them sit empty, in hopes of driving up prices. This strategy is not looking like it will be a winner. The consumer is not back, the nightmare is not over. And the most recent economic data suggests more problems ahead, not sunshine. We’ve been here before.

The Parting Shot:


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

SAR #13155

Human events unfold within a limited set of possibilities... Jarred Shanahan

Orientation: Let's first remember that Turkey is a NATO ally. And it has never forgotten the Ottoman Empire. Nearly half the country is Westernized. Nearly.

Schadenfreude: Germany, which has drawn a strange vicarious pleasure from watching the Mediterranean EU nations crumble, is slowly harvesting the inevitable rewards. According to the IMF, German GDP will grow by just 0.3% this year – if they're lucky. That's what happens when you bankrupt your customers; they don't buy your goods.

Good News/Bad News: The Good News is that US manufacturing makes up only 12% of the US economy. The Bad News is that that 12% is shrinking. That's okay, we're a service economy and can get by taking in each other's laundry. For a while longer.

Option Play: A German think tank thinks now would be a good time to adopt a new climate goal, because the 2ºC goal has become unrealistic and unachievable, and has lost even its symbolic value. Analysis shows that even if the signatory nations actually intended to meet the goals set forth in UN negotiations – which none do – those targets are insufficient to keep the temperature rise to 2ºC . Only the most drastic steps, taken now, have any possibility of limiting global warming to 4ºC by 2100, and there is absolutely no possibility of such steps being taken.

Open Wide: The IMF has concluded that oil production will decline and that the demand – or at least desire – for oil will not. But the limiting factor to production (and use) is not oil in the ground. There's lots of that in a variety of awkward places and awkward forms. The sad fact is that we cannot afford to extract it. The non-OPEC marginal cost of production was $104.50 a barrel in 2012, up 13% over 2011. And western economies cannot afford that, much less the inevitable increases the costs of extraction. Expect this to eventually become part of the next financial crash.

It's A PIP! Public-Private Infrastructure Partnerships is the current terminology to hide privatization - handing taxpayer money and public assets over to private investors. The sales pitch is that private entrepreneurs can operate things at a profit better than governments can just breaking even. It always results in lower pay for the employees, poorer service to the community and a more rapid deterioration of the infrastructure. Always. It is, not incidentally, another way Republicans have found to chip away at public service unions.

Nuance:Maxoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, says that the central government in Baghdad must accept “a new form of relations” with Iraqi Kurdistan. Mainly as an independent nation, one suspects.

Clarification: When politicians, mainly Republicans, talk about converting a federal program (usually one of the social safety nets) into a block grant, what they intend to do is to take the current spending, reduce it by a sizeable amount and divide it out to the states by some mostly mysterious formula. The states then theoretically use the money for the same, or vaguely similar programs. The main thing to remember is that the amount of money set aside will initially be less, and it will never be increased. As time goes by, at the state level the money will be diverted to pet projects and favored communities, while inflation diminishes the effective amount available. All of which is a long and roundabout way of killing social programs.

The Parting Shot:


Just add trout.