Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Plotline: Over a period of 20 or 30 years, not one but five groups of British MPs and high-ranking members of the Thatcher and Blair governments took part in sexually abusing minors, going so far as to occasionally kill their victims for sport and to kill witnesses who try to go to the police. The best part is that they keep it all quiet through the Official Secrets Act. Nah. No publisher would buy such an outrageous plot, even if it were true. Which it is.
Bread Crumbs: In the five years since the Great Recession reportedly ended, the US economy is still 5% below its potential and a full 10% below the level it would have reached if the housing bust had not have happened. Hmm, think this has anything to do with the slump in oil prices?
Merry Christiemass: All it will take to permit public water systems in NJ to be privatized without a public vote is the governor's signature on a bill now on his desk. Best part of the bill is the section that lets the folks who win the right to the system to bill the customers for the price they had to pay. Then bump up prices to cover their salaries and bonuses and political contributions.
Open Wide And Say Ah-ha! Genentech has a new and more expensive drug, costing $2,000 a dose, to replace an earlier version that iss equally effective but costs only $50 a dose. So why would a doctor prescribe the more expensive version? Can you spell 'bribes'?
Big Dog: The United Nations Security Council (Uncle Sam, prop.) has rejected a resolution denouncing Israeli occupation of Palestine. How many more decades will our collective shame over the Holocaust keep indemnifying Israel for obvious violations of international law?
Market Magic: The courts have cleared the way for a Florida for-profit charter school company to take over the entire York City School District in Pennsylvania. They promise to take all the state and federal school support money plus all the local school tax funds, pay themselves handsomely and teach the little brats on the cheap. It's becoming the American way, and depends on smoke and mirrors – like so much these days.
Credentials: Republicans really hate taxes and think they should be drasticly cut or even done away with, but outright tax evasion is frowned on – as former NY congressman Michael Grimm learned when Boehner invited him to resign.
Fire Up The Hot Tub: 2014 is the first year ever in which the temperature in Anchorage did not go below zero even once. The average has been 25 sub-zero days every year.
Trust, But Verify: Americans by and large support their local police, but 86% of us would like them to wear always-on video cams and 87% think having an independent investigation into incidents in which unarmed individuals are killed by the police. Even the black ones.
One-Legged Stool: All that good news for the customer at the gas pump isn't going over so well in places like Alaska, where oil revenue is supposed to cover 90% of the budget, Texas, where the bloom is off the oil shale, and North Dakota. Fill 'er up.
Famous Lost Words: “We’re looking at a Greece problem -- the euro crisis is over,” Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London.j
Posted by Charles Kingsley Michaelson, III at 7:54 AM
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
"An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it. … It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.” Pope Francis.
Better Luck Next Time: German officials say that a USB stick belonging to an aide of Angela Merkel had been infected with malware that has been linked to the NSA and Britain's GCHQ electronic spy agencies.
Half A Loaf: Whle the Senate report shed some light on the CIA's torture of at least 119 'detainees', it did not cover those who were 'rendered' by the agency and delivered to countries such as Libya and Egypt to be tortured, nor does it touch on torture carried out by the US military all around the globe. If all that torture was so vital to our triumphs in Iraq and Afghanistan, how come we're not having a big victory parade to celebrate – after 13 years - the end of the longest war in our history? Y'know, march the terrorists in chains, down the mall and around the monuments?
Christmas, Present: Having done about all the damage it can do to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has begun air strikes in Somalia.
Brace Yourself: Come next week people who do not believe in climate change or taxes on the rich, much less evolution, and have but a nodding acquaintance with reality will be taking over much of the government. They will cut taxes to raise government revenue and cut social support systems to free the poor from government interference in their lives. They will take rapid strides to prevent future voter fraud – even though only 31 actual cases have been discovered in the last billion votes cast. It'll probably involve issuing each of us individual identity documents, to protect our freedom and track our votes. They also think torture works, so just shut up and go along.
Dreamtime: Close your eyes and imagine the US with nearly twice today's population; at the current rate (0.7% growth per year) that will before the end of the century. Makes other forms of doom seem mild, doesn't it?
Quoted: “We will need writers who can remember freedom.” Ursula K. LeGuin
Various Hopes: In Spain, where the government has stiff fines for 'unauthorized protests' against the government, there is an encouraging rise in populist movements that want to overthrow the two-party system. In Greece the parliament rejected the 'compromise' candidate for president
Jackpot: A man who was filming Baton Rouge cops making an arrest was choked and slammed to the ground. Lawsuit to follow. Remember, keep your cell-phone ready, with your lawyer's number taped to it.
Fear of Flying: A Fox host speculated that the reason Asian passenger aircraft keep falling out of the sky is not terrorists – they only operate in good weather according to a CNN expert – but because they use the metric system and that just doesn't measure up.
Posted by Charles Kingsley Michaelson, III at 8:00 AM
Monday, December 29, 2014
Empire Strikes Back: The US has been stockpiling military arms and equipment pulled from the failed war in Afghanistan in depots in Kuwait, in anticipation of an urgent need for the dogs of war in Iraq this spring. The US is also preparing to increase the number of
Ledger: The US “war on terror” has cost over $1.6 trillion so far, including the $1 billion it has cost to kill “over 1,100 militants” in Syria. For extra credit, define “militants”.
Only Human: Along with acknowledging that the NSA had illegally spied on Americans for over a decade, it verified that its employees rather regularly spied on their spouses and girlfriends. And there is, it seems no way to get them to stop the spying. Ireland, rather optimistically, says that US courts must get Irish permission before viewing emails stored on servers in Dublin, even if the NSA has already stolen them. Facebook, too, has been reading your mail. And – best for last – it seems that hackers can take control of your car through all those lovely little computer thingies built into them these days.
Modern World: Two Saudi women have been remanded to the nations terrorist court, charged with driving a vehicle. In Mauritania a man has been sentenced to death for apostasy after “speaking lightly of the Prophet.”
Aw, Shucks: Turns out that the dastardly North Koreans did not hack Sony to protect Kim's honor, rather a self-righteous bunch of blackmailers called The Lizard Squad most likely did the deed with info gathered from an insider.
Coping Mechanism: Instead of quantitative easing to address Russia's flailing economy, Putin has put a cap on the price of vodka. It won't help the economy, but it'll give 'em something to do in the bread lines.
Handicapping: The German finance minister says that any new Greek government will have to abide by all the agreements the previous hand-picked bunch signed, and the current Greek Prime Minister thinks it would be “best for the country” to do away with democracy and elections and all that stuff that might get in the way of Berlin draining the last few ounces of ouzo from the country.
About Time: Iran has been field testing a “suicide drone”. A poor man's cruise missile, the drone is designed to plunge into its targets and explode.
Brace Yourself: It seems that politicians do not always tell the truth, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Pacts are not about free trade. They are secret pacts designed to neuter those pesky national and state-level laws that might inconvenience the looters.
Unclear On The Concept: The increasingly bizarre and out-of-touch President Recep Erdoğan claims that Turkey is the world leader in freedom of the press. Well, the world leader in incarcerating journalists anyway, including some who were jailed this week. He also wishes Europe would stop criticizing him. The school kid who was imprisoned for “insulting Erdoğan” has been released pending trial. On another day Erdogan described birth control use as ‘treason’ . The puppet parliament is considering a bill to let the government shut down the internet at will.
Gross, Very Gross: Great Britain passed France to become the world's fifth largest economy by including the imputed earnings of prostitutes and drug dealers.
Headline Writers' Award: "Baby Jesus stolen, replaced with real pig's head."
Posted by Charles Kingsley Michaelson, III at 7:36 AM
Thursday, December 25, 2014
Consequences linger, coloring memories.
The Fundamentals: A seasonal history lesson: According to the book of Matthew, Jesus was born in 4 BC. Luke holds out for 6 AD. John doesn't adhere to any of the timelines described by Matthew, Mark or Luke in tracing the Messiah's life. To add to the confusion, the genealogies of the Christ child as portrayed by Matthew and Luke are completely different.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Dear Santa: In terms of child poverty, the United States ranks 36th out of the 41 wealthiest nations. There are 2.5 million homeless children in the US, an all-time high. 65% of US children live in a home that receives aid from the federal government. 45% of US children belong to low income families. 45% of African-American children in the US live in “areas of concentrated poverty” (slums). The average American is 40% poorer today than before the recession, and 20% of US households will be able to eat Christmas dinner thanks to food stamps, about that many more courtesy of various food banks and charities.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
One can be poor in time as well as money, the one causing the other.
The Grinch Who Stole Everything: Various of the Usual Suspects are negotiating a Trade In Services Agreement (TISA), which will significantly affect your life in a wide variety of ways. No, you have not heard of it. Or if you have, you have no idea what they are planning on. And you will not know what gets decided until five years after the treaty goes into effect. By mutual agreement (which does not include you and me) the negotiations are secret. And – by terms of the treaty – the provisions of the treat will remain secret for five years. No, it will not be debated and passed on by the Congress in open session.
Back In The Saddle Again: US Special Forces have inflicted “heavy casualties” on ISIS while “advising” Iraqi soldiers repelling an attack in western Anbar province.
Where's Kemal? Where's The Army? Watching Recep Erdogan drag Turkey back to the middle ages with dreams of a rekindled Ottoman Empire based in Koranic fundamentalism is disheartening. For years he has been imprisoning journalists who dared to not kiss his hem, and of late he's taken to rounding up TV personalities who dare mention the rampant corruption of his regime. Of late it has been the slow imposition of sharia precepts on the schools. Now Turkey has decided that while doctors must give all patients the care and treatment they have a right to, Cesarean birth is not a right. They're only women, let'em suffer. Better that the mother should die.
Under The Tree: The US is shipping 10 Apache attack helicopters to Egypt for the dictatorship to use in putting down civil unrest.
Being Israel: One of the advantages Israel has over other nations is a dispensation from Yahweh to ignore international laws and rulings that it finds inconvenient. The latest is a UN demand that Israel pay Lebanon $850 million in damages stemming from a 2006 airstrike that caused an immense oil spill. Don't bother to mention war crimes, Palestinian rights or international nuclear weapons laws. They've got a hall pass from God.
Home For Christmas: The US has shipped 'home' four Afghan prisoners who survived interrogation and ten years of living in cages in Guantanamo before it was discovered that they were not the worst of the worst, but merely collateral damage. And collaterally damaged.
Tradition: Once again the US is seeking to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela.
Say/Do: Pakistan, revolted by the barbarity of recent militant attacks, has begun hanging captured militants in revenge for their uncivilized actions.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Now Playing: Why amid all of the fawning interviews with Dick Chaney and his henchmen was there not a single interview with one of the victims?
Counting Down: According to BofA, "the world has become addicted to central bank stimulus.” It sees over 50% of the entire world''s GDP as an artifact propped up by central bankers' zero interest rates, and the same is true, it says, of over 80% of global stock prices. About 1.5 billion people already are faced with negative interest rates on their savings. All this, and more, according to BofA, “is evidence of a 1930's-style depression.” Just wait until the wise men try to put the trillions raised by QE back in the box. It'll be fun, and nobody knows if it can be done.
Just Because: Obama says the Sony hack was not “an act of war” by North Korean any more than ongoing US cyber attacks on North Korea, Iran and pretty much the rest of the world are.
Tanks For The Memory: The Republicans, ever vigilant to trim the government budget of wasteful social spending, included $120 million in the new defense budget to buy tanks the Army has repeatedly said it does not want and does not need. But the factory that makes them is in Lima, Ohio and the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee is headed by Mike Turner, Republican Representative from... Ohio.
Dance Card: In a tantalizingly vague announcement, Qatar assured the Egyptian military
Sucker Punched: Now as the markets are tottering under oil's assault, the American consumer expects the good times to last for at least eight more years. Well, not quite “the good times”, but they do think the long recovery won't become an actual recession. They are also leaving cookies and milk out for Santa.
Santa Baby: The White House and Pentagon have asked
Layaway: So far the US has pretty much wasted $1 billion on air strikes against ISIS.
Saturday, December 20, 2014
“Taking care not to leave permanent marks doesn't mean it's not torture, it just means you're trying to make sure you don't get caught.” Kevin Drum
Hum Along: “Where have all the profits gone? Gone to corporate buybacks, everyone...”
More Than The Temperature's Rising: NOAA says that perhaps 'proof positive' of climate change would be US coastal cities routinely seeing more than 30 days each year of the ocean flooding their streets. Annapolis; Wilmington, and Washington, D.C., are already there. Baltimore, Atlantic City and at least six others will experience that level by 2020. And by 2050 nearly every US coastal city will have such “routine” flooding. Not storm driven waves, but 30 or more days a year of 'alta acqua'. Long before the end of the century it will be every day in most of those cities, not just twice a month.
Truth Will Out? British police view claims that (former?) Members of Parliament were part of a ring of pedophiles who raped and murdered young boys as “credible and true.” Maybe one of these days this investigation will gain some traction. And some public anger.
Front and Center: Reader/Commenter Blissex, noting that nearly every demographic group in the US is willing to accept torture as somehow justified/justifiable, suggests that as long as we the upright white citizens are not at risk of being tortured and the victims are people we do not care about – insignificant to our lives, disposable in terms of our economy, dark skinned, or believing in the wrong god, then torture is okay. Because “better safe than sorry”, “it might work”, “they made us do it”. And we also don't care about the innocents who die from “targeted drone attacks” and random air strikes. After all “you can't make an omlette without breaking some eggs.” Our self respect is collateral damage.
Appeasement: Both Romney and Obama say that Sony should have called the hackers' bluff and released 'The Interview'. Wonder what they would have said if a few theaters had been blown up?
Even More, Even Worse; The slaughter and disposal of the 43 Mexican students “was planned, executed, and supervised by Mexico’s federal police” to quash the political activism of students from Ayotozinapa's teacher training college. What are the odds that a US governmental agency was involved in some way?
Take That! A bill pending in Missouri will require women to get permission from the presumptive father before getting an abortion.
Curveball: What if the concept of “the business cycle” is as ephemeral as the current recovery? Or rather, what if the so-called recovery portion of the current business cycle is proof that there's no such thing as a 'cycle'? What if the long undulating upward long-term growth trend was attributable to something other than karma? Like the consumption of cheap and accessible fossil fuels that are now neither quite so accessible and nor so cheap causing things to fall apart?
Posted by Charles Kingsley Michaelson, III at 8:09 AM
Friday, December 19, 2014
Trends continue until they don't.
The Other Guy Did It: Vladimir has told all the little Ivans that the big bad wolves in the US and Europe are jealous and have conspired to thrust the Russian economy into a recession that could last at least two years. He is not all wrong, either. But never fear, Putin will persecute enough journalists and gays to make everything all right. Very far right..
On The Record: The inequality gap between the rich and the rest in the US today is the widest in history; worse than in apartheid South Africa, or in slaveholding Colonial America, and twice as wide as in the Roman slaveholding empire.
One Out Of Two Is Close Enough For Government Work: The Times says North Korea was behind the Sony hack, while Wired says “the evidence is flimsy” for such a pronouncement. The US, citing 'national security' promises a 'proportional' response against China, Iran or Russia or some other country that annoys Obama. Besides, when did the quality of evidence matter to the Times or the Government?
Forward Edge of the Battle Area: US troops on the ground in Iraq have clashed with ISIS fighters attempting to overrun the US base. Hundreds of US troops are now deployed in Iraq’s Anbar province and more are headed to Iraq in a couple of weeks.
Datum: Caterpillar's global sales have now fallen for 24 consecutive months during 'the recovery', which is 25% longer than it suffered during the Great Recession.
They Knew: As far back as 2009, the CIA knew and tried to warn the administration that assassinating “high-value” terrorist targets (mostly via drones) does little good and “boosts support for terror groups.” Didn't keep Barak from continuing and intensifying the program, and the problems.
Mummies The Word: A recently discovered ancient burial site in Egypt contains tens of thousands of mummified remains – perhaps more than a million.
Shacking Up: Credit derivative gamblers have bet some $25 billion on how long Radio Shack can keep tottering on the brink of bankruptcy before plunging into the abyss. But those who will profit more by a longer deathspiral are cheating – they're helping keep the company afloat – not in hopes of making it a going concern, but in order to make more from its demise. Ah, capitalism.
Scales of Justice: The EU's highest court has ruled that fat people are victims of a disability and enjoy all the protections and benefits that the lame, the halt and the blind receive. Wait till folks in Middle America hear the good news.
Then I Sat Down At The Piano: The Fed has stopped using any of the traditional statistical benchmarks because the economy is not improving anywhere near the way the numbers claim. So now, in place of relying on unreliable data, the oracles will simply make pronouncements. You know, like Alan used to do.
Go Away, Y'bother'n Me: The Swiss, trying to keep the money fleeing the ruble collapse from damaging the franc, are going to start charging customers 0.25% for the privilege of holding cash in Swiss banks.
Posted by Charles Kingsley Michaelson, III at 7:53 AM
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Ever wonder what God is doing right now?
Glass Houses: US politicians and pundit should take a break from the premature celebration of the ruble's collapse and try to figure out how much damage low oil prices are goingto do here at home - it's not just their problem. Could Russia eventually default? Yes. Would it have an even worse impact on the world's economy than Lehman's collapse? You bet. Would an economic collapse unseat Putin? No, not for a couple of years at least, and in the interim he'll be even more nationalistic, aggressive and dangerous. The Russian people want a strong leader, and a few missed meals will be a small price to pay for what they see as Russia regaining its place in the world.
Stocking Stuffer: Religion aside, studies can find no empirical evidence that suggests that the private sector is any more efficient than public undertakings.
Bankruptcy: Iraq, pleading poverty, has asked Kuwait if it could defer making scheduled reparation payments for the oil facilities Saddam destroyed before the US destroyed Iraq. Why does current day Iraq have to pay for the crap that Saddam did?
Gobblization: Economic research suggests that buying all that stuff from Walmart has sent 3.2 million US jobs to China. When they ship all those conexes back to China they fill 'em with jobs, our jobs.
Just Because: Marco Rubio (Wannabe-FL), in an effort to draw publicity and keep the South Miami Cuban vote) has promised to block Obama's efforts to normalize US/Cuban relations, which have been frozen for twenty more years than Rubio's been alive. To no good end. Both, actually, the embargo and Rubio.
Entrails: November's CPI fell 0.3% m/m, but fell only(?) 0.1% if you didn't drive to the grocery store. This is the largest decline since Dec 2008. So much for any rate hike from the Fed anytime soon. Housing permits issued last month fell 5.2% and housing starts fell 1.6% m/m.
Union Cards: NY Gov. Andrew (I'm Not Mario) Cuomo has notified about a thousand state employees that they are managers or hold 'confidential' positions and thus can no longer belong to the public employees union, because the union doesn't always agree with him.
Essay Question: Why are commodity prices falling? For extra credit, define “bubble.”
Impact Wrench: Texas has been home to 40% of all the new jobs created since June 2009. In 2013, the city of Houston had more housing starts than all of California. Much of this is due directly to oil. Now oil's impact is likely to be more negative than positive, with lower employment and the negative effects that'll have in the state. We've seen this movie before and we know how it ends. The oil-rig count is already dropping, and it will continue to drop as long as oil stays below $60. Yes, US oil production may rise a bit next year as projects that are 50-60% done now are completed, but after that production and new drilling will both begin to fall, and then employment and construction and all the consumer stuff based on the oil fields will crater and investors will flee the oil patch. Saudi Arabia is betting on it.
Be Of Good Cheer: The number of first-year law students in the US is at a 40-year low. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
Posted by Charles Kingsley Michaelson, III at 7:09 AM
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Currencies vary, but everybody pays.
The March of Civilization: ISIS has executed 150 Iraqi women for refusing to marry ISIS fighters and continues to crucify, behead and stone to death Iraqi children. The Taliban have slaughtered over 140 children at a school in Peshawar because the don't want little girls to go to school. In Yemen a car bomb killed 25 people, including 15 school children. Mexican authorities “ ‘knew about attack on [the 43] students as it happened,” did nothing to stop it, and have covered it up since.
Just So Stories: The US hanged Japanese officers for waterboarding prisoners.
Contagion: The economic sanctions and the fall in the price of oil have bitten Russia on the ass, with vengence. The state raised interest rates to 17% in an attempt to stop the downward spiral, but it only encouraged the vultures to push the value of the ruble even lower. It's now lost about 50% of its value in six months. Russians who have foreign currency denominated mortgages are drowning. Those who have any cash on hand are buying up anything and everything as prices spiral out of control. The stock market, naturally, is crashing. “Catastrophe” is a good description. It'll be good tomorrow, too. Obama, always a reasonble fellow, will sign the legislation imposing even more economic sanctions on Russia and supplying weaponry to Ukraine. His Special Forces troops are conducting “urban training” in downtown Dallas.
Lessons Learned: Half of American thinks torturing people, some innocent, some not, was a good idea, that it saved American lives, and would do it again. Propaganda works.
Under The Bed: The inflation monster that the right has warned us about for years as they whittled away at government services is not only in is in hiding, it's disappeared down the drain as investors disregard any chance of inflation returning for years, maybe decades. But don't expect the specter to go away – David Koch, for example, whines “I’m very worried that if the budget is not balanced that inflation could occur and
Price Tags: A review of British operations in Afghanistan's Helmand province noted that “of all the thousands of civilians and combatants” killed or wounded “not a single al-Qaida operative or international terrorist” who could conceivably have threatened the UK was killed or captured.
Fine Print: If Richard Bruce Cheney, a former acting President of the United States, is so sure those 'enhanced interrogation techniques' were not torture, why doesn't he let us waterboard and rectal feed him for a week or two, daily, at noon, on live TV?
Best Headline: Paul Krugman's 'Putin On The Fritz'
Posted by Charles Kingsley Michaelson, III at 7:27 AM