Amazing show of solidarity

So it looks like Republicans in the Senate just pulled the plug on the American auto industry. Unless Bush steps in and uses TARP funds to keep GM afloat the left owns the country for the next eight years, but at a terrible price. Billions in payments to suppliers are coming due in next few weeks, so not only will GM have to file for bankruptcy, so will many of their suppliers. Chrysler will go next. And, as soon as suppliers start going under, Ford will go down amplifying the effect. The transplants will have to layoff thousands as well, since they depend on the same suppliers. The domino effect begins now, and it's going to go fast. As I've mentioned before, just in time production where suppliers deliver precise amounts of product directly to assembly workers on the line (in place at all auto manufacturers) means there is no wiggle room for error. Just in time is a high risk, high reward strategy. One key supplier goes under and everything shuts down.

I am, however, extremely glad that the UAW didn't cave to Republican demands that they sell out the million+ retirees, which would have been the only way to bring wages in line at transplant and Big Three plants. It would have set precedent for all future concession discussions, selling out all manufacturing workers. So, two amazing shows of solidarity this week: UAW shows solidarity with all manufacturing workers by refusing to accept Republican demands for immediate concessions, and Republic Windows and Doors workers win their sit-down strike/plant occupation as Bank of America and JPMorgan agree to ensure they get their due severance. Together with this delicious morsel: anger at banks increasing, and Obama's vocal support for Republic workers, means a long eight years for the right.


Blago goes down - sniff.

Big news today that Blago was arrested for trying to sell his "golden" authority to appoint Obama's replacement in the Senate. He also allegedly refused a lifeline to the Tribune Co. unless they fired critical editorial staff. At least the first allegation is caught on tape. None of the allegations are surprising--haven't heard a kind word said about him since he was first elected. But, is he really that stupid? And is he to blame for the Tribune Co. bankruptcy?

The earliest comments on Chi Trib today were of the vein: If he were a Republican, everyone would be up in arms about his arrest. Since he's a Democrat, no one says anything. Whatever. But one of the response comments claimed the arrest was payback for ordering the state not to do business with Bank of America for their role in the sudden closure of Republic Windows and Doors. The Republic Windows and Doors workers are staging a sit-in/plant occupation since the plant did not give fair notice and is not compensating workers as required by law. Details can be found at pilsenprole. I certainly hope the state of IL continues to refuse to do business with Bank of America, but this video from yesterday shows a pretty cynical ploy on the governor's behalf to tie his fortune to that of workers battered by Wall Street. Would he have been there if it didn't provide the perfect photo op for his "fight the power" attempt to influence public opinion? Was it at all successful? Just a thought.


The myth of the $70/hour auto worker

Keith Olbermann, at 1:42, names Andrew Ross Sorkin of NYT Worst Person in the World for inventing the myth of the $70/hour auto-worker. Short version: add all Big Three liabilities, including retiree pensions and benefits, current benefits including health care, and actual wages, then divide by current worker/hours. Ta Da!

Eric Boehlert at MediaMatters also deconstructs the myth, excerpted here, at length:
It's been one week since New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote that at General Motors, "the average worker was paid about $70 an hour, including health care and pension costs."

The nugget was part of a column in which Sorkin argued that the government should not bail out the ailing Big Three automakers and that they instead should embrace bankruptcy.

Sorkin's point was that labor costs were out of control -- workers enjoyed "gold-plated benefits" -- and that during bankruptcy, the auto companies could address those runaway wages.

As I mentioned, it's been one week since the column appeared, which seems like plenty of time for Sorkin and the Times to correct the misleading $70-an-hour claim. But to date, there's been no clarification from the newspaper of record or from Sorkin himself.

And he isn't alone. Appearing on NPR last week, Times senior business correspondent Micheline Maynard told listeners that the "hourly wage" of Detroit's union autoworkers had been driven up "towards $80 an hour."

Somebody at the Times needs to clarify the record, because the average United Auto Workers member is not paid $80 an hour. Or even $70. Not even close. Yet (thanks to the Times?) the issue has become a central talking point in the unfolding national debate about the future of America's automotive industry.

Indeed, that $70-an-hour meme, actively promoted by the anti-union conservative media, has ricocheted around the traditional press as well as the political landscape, where it was picked up by congressional critics last week during hearings and used to argue against aiding GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
. . .
Question: Is the press just being sloppy on this issue of supposedly pampered autoworkers, or are there other elements in play? Because honestly, I've had trouble escaping the not-very-subtle elitist, get-a-load-of-this tone that has run through the media's misinformation on the topic; i.e., "These autoworkers get paid that?!"

Answer: No, they don't, so please stop reporting it. (And why has the press been so reticent to note that Big Three autoworkers recently made significant concessions to management?)

And it's funny, because I don't remember hearing much coverage in the press about AIG workers' six- and seven-figure salaries when the U.S. government announced it was bailing out the insurance giant. And I haven't seen or heard a single press reference to the annual salaries pocketed by Citigroup employees, even though the government has moved in quickly to bail the banking giant out of a hole its executives dug.

As Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) pointed out during congressional hearings last week, "There is apparently a cultural condition that's more ready to accept aid to a white-collar industry than the blue-collar industry, and that has to be confronted."

That cultural condition seems to extend to, and be embraced by, today's white-collar press corps.

Make no mistake: The $70-an-hour claim represents a classic case of conservative misinformation. It's also a very dangerous one. The falsehood about autoworkers is being spread at a crucial time, when a make-or-break public debate is taking place, a debate that could affect millions of American workers.
. . .
What that $70 figure (or $73) actually represents is what it costs GM in total labor expenses, on an hourly basis, to manufacture autos.

Do you see that there's a big distinction? General Motors doles out $70 an hour in overall labor costs to manufacture cars. But individual employees don't get paid $70 an hour to make cars. (The discrepancy between costs and wages is explained by additional benefits, pension fees, and health-care costs GM pays out to current and retired employees.)

Simply put, GM's labor costs are not synonymous with hourly wages earned by UAW employees. Many in the press have casually used the two interchangeably. But they're not.

Felix Salmon at Portfolio did perhaps the best job explaining the misinformation at play:

The average GM assembly-line worker makes about $28 per hour in wages, and I can assure you that GM is not paying $42 an hour in health insurance and pension plan contributions. Rather, the $70 per hour figure (or $73 an hour, or whatever) is a ridiculous number obtained by adding up GM's total labor, health, and pension costs, and then dividing by the total number of hours worked. In other words, it includes all the healthcare and retirement costs of retired workers. [emphasis in original]

Indeed, according to this Associated Press report, a chunk of GM's $70-an-hour labor costs goes toward paying current retirees' pensions and health-care coverage. In other words, that's money that's not going to end up in the pocket of any autoworker when he cashes his paycheck this week. That's money GM has to set aside in order to pay off costs associated with workers already in retirement. That money has absolutely nothing to do with calculating the hourly wage of a full-time UAW employee today. None.

So, no, UAW workers don't make $70 an hour even if you factor in benefits, because a portion of those benefits are going to people who retired years ago.

Nonetheless, that formulation (wages+benefits=$70 an hour) has been widespread. That's what Sorkin did in his Times column: "The average worker was paid about $70 an hour, including health care and pension costs."

Not only is that inaccurate, but there's also a problem in terms of perception. It's true that autoworkers don't earn annual salaries and that when calculating hourly wages, the cost of benefits paid directly to the worker can be included. But some media outlets have been so casual and sloppy in presenting the facts that news consumers are left with the false impression that GM workers pocket $70 an hour. That's not true, and it seems some in the press are doing very little to correct that misperception.

For instance, BusinessWeek also used the same convoluted language: "Older UAW members make more than $70 per hour in combined wages and benefits." Dallas Morning News columnist Cheryl Hall did it, too: "GM's average worker makes $78.21 an hour in wages and benefits."

Why does the press use that convoluted equation when calculating how much autoworkers supposedly make?

I have a hunch it's because that $70 an hour is a real eyepopper. It makes a very deep impression within the space of just a few words.
. . .
How much money GM's workers make is certainly relevant when discussing the unfolding automotive crisis. But the press should stop confusing the issue, and tainting the perceptions of news consumers, by casually suggesting that $70-an-hour labor costs represent what UAW workers pocket every 60 minutes.

That's misleading and dishonest.

And that's why it's still not too late for Sorkin and the Times to correct the record.


Help Stop Execution of Farzad Kamangar

This morning I received news that jailed Iranian teacher union activist
I received email from Labourstart today calling on people to help stop execution of Farzad Kamangar. Labourstart's servers appear slammed, so I found Education International also has a page to support Farzad K. and added widget at top right of page. Come on! It will take under a minute to write in your name and e-mail and hit the send button.
Email from Labourstart:

Farzad Kamangar may be hanged within the next few hours.

According to the Education International, he has been taken from his
cell in Tehran's Evin prison in preparation for execution. The guards
have told him he is about to be executed and they are making fun of him,
calling him a martyr.

We need your help and we need it right now.

Send off your message to the Iranian president:


Pass on the this message to everyone you know who might support this

We may only have a few hours left.

I know that I can count on your help. Thank you.


The Money Hole: $4.3 Trillion and Counting

Tonight on Rachel Maddow:
According to CNBC, US Govt has commited $4.3 trillion to fixing economic crisis. Barry Ritholtz, author of Bailout Nation, has calculated the bailout is more expensive than all of the following, combined and adjusted for inflation:
The Marshall Plan + The Louisiana Purchase + The Race to the Moon + The Savings & Loan Crisis + The Korean War + The New Deal + The Iraq War + The Vietnam War + The Lifetime Budget of Nasa

In The Know: Should The Government Stop Dumping Money Into A Giant Hole?


Calling Garzon

Bush has begun the barrage of coming pardons, and one of the Washington parlor games is speculation as to whether or not he will issue a blanket preemptive pardon to an entire class of cronies that engaged in war crimes and other illegal activities under his administration. The preemptive pardon would shield all the happy-go-lucky water boarders who are starting to sweat the coming transfer of power. Obama has sent signals that his administration will not prosecute Bush's torturing minions:
Robert Litt, a former top Clinton administration Justice Department prosecutor, said Obama should focus on moving forward with anti-torture policy instead of looking back.

"Both for policy and political reasons, it would not be beneficial to spend a lot of time hauling people up before Congress or before grand juries and going over what went on," Litt said at a Brookings Institution discussion about Obama's legal policy. "To as great of an extent we can say, the last eight years are over, now we can move forward - that would be beneficial both to the country and the president, politically". . .

Asked this weekend during a Vermont Public Radio interview if Bush administration officials would face war crimes, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy flatly said, "In the United States, no."
Senator Leahy's comments reminded me that, pardon or no pardon, prosecution or no prosecution in the US, none of that entire class of criminals will be travelling abroad any time soon. Or ever. It's only a matter of time before charges are filed against both the masterminds and tools of war crimes in Iraq. Writing in 2007:
In an opinion piece in the newspaper El Pais, published on the fourth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon said the war was "one of the most sordid and unjustifiable episodes in recent human history".

"We should look more deeply into the possible criminal responsibility of the people who are, or were, responsible for this war and see whether there is sufficient evidence to make them answer for it," Garzon wrote.

"There is enough of an argument in 650,000 deaths for this investigation and inquiry to start without more delay," he said.
Garzon, who became famous in 1999 when he tried to extradite Pinochet from Britain and try him for crimes against humanity, was particularly critical of the former Spanish government, a major backer of the Iraq invasion.

"Those who joined the U.S. president in the war against Iraq have as much or more responsibility than him because, despite having doubts and biased information, they put themselves in the hands of the aggressor to carry out an ignoble act of death and destruction that continues to this day," he said.
Garzon, famous for his efforts to bring Pinochet to justice, has caused tyrants across the globe to think twice before booking their holiday plans:
On October 17, 1998, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London at the judge's request.
Garzon accused Pinochet of genocide, terrorism and torture, based on testimony from the Spanish families of people who had disappeared in Chile.

The British government eventually refused to extradite him to Spain, citing health reasons.

But the move was not in vain. The human rights organisation Amnesty International said the arrest had a "domino effect".
"The attempt to bring Augusto Pinochet to justice has been of great international importance in the struggle to end impunity for crimes against humanity," it said.

This was especially true in Latin America, where the governments of Chile, Argentina and Guatemala decided to investigate crimes against ex-dictators.

Judge Garzon has nursed a movement born in the Nuremberg war trials and which continued with war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, the International Criminal Court and the recognition of universal jurisprudence by countries such as Belgium, Germany and Canada.

The Spanish judiciary has itself confirmed the "Garzon doctrine" by recognising the principle of "universal competence" under which courts can hears cases of genocide and crimes against humanity wherever they occur and whatever the nationality of the defendant.

Spanish courts have accepted 11 cases involving crimes against humanity, genocide or torture in Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Tibet, Guatemala, the Western Sahara and Rwanda.
With or without the International Criminal Court, as soon as one of these war criminals puts their guard down, they're going down.


Auto redux

I'm happy to see Big Three scrutinized (heard of jet-pooling?), but what about this double standard of throwing money without a plan at Wall Street--where banks only have to fill out a two page application form--while refusing to bail out a key manufacturing industry. Wall Street is using billions in bailout funds to pay their bonuses, while 3 million manufacturing jobs will go down the drain. Excluding the few who voted against the big bailout, the organized opposition to the bailout sees and is seizing a tremendous opportunity to destroy the unionized manufacturing sector.

Pat Buchanan, obviously interested in preserving America's manufacturing base, made this point today on Morning Joe. The death of manufacturing will destroy the middle class. The industry has already lost millions of jobs that have been replaced by Walmart service jobs. Is this not a clear example of class warfare? The cost to the economy will be high, but just think of the disciplined labor force!


Defend the UAW

To hear the talking-heads tell it, the source of the Big Three's problems is job security and a living wage. The UAW is taking a beating in the press over the proposed auto bailout, and this meme has infected way too many people. Most news segments I've seen on CNN and MSNBC have included attacks blaming the UAW. Do a twitter search on UAW, and you find a torrent of anti-UAW postings.

This is a very dangerous slope we're on. The right sees a chance to destroy the very concept of job security and it's making huge gains in dominating the political discussion. Instead of people saying auto-workers deserve job security, they're saying, "we don't have job security, why should they?" As the UAW goes, so will the rest of the industrial unions. Economists like Jeffrey Sachs are worried that if the govt. doesn't help the Big Three we're going to lose our domestic manufacturing base. I'm worried that we're going to see all manufacturing jobs go the way of hamburger-flipping, with disastrous consequences for the middle class and income inequality.

Non-union manufacturing plants already pay higher entry-level wages than their union counterparts as a result of UAW concessions, and are actually putting downward pressure on non-union wages. The entry-level hourly wage at a union plant is $14, compared to $16 at a non-union plant. The only thing left for them to give away is what remains of their health coverage and pensions. What the public is demanding is that auto-workers who have given their lives to the Big-Three lose their jobs, lose their benefits, and retire to the poor-house.

Recent contractions in demand have already led to massive job-losses, on top of the negotiated job-losses over the past two decades that have made the industry insanely-productive. The UAW has accepted changes in manufacturing and management practices that have drastically reduced the number of unionized auto workers (a majority of the American industry is non-union), and have made working in an auto-plant unbearably stressful.

One of the reasons the Big Three is on verge of collapse is due to these concessions. They operate on a "just in time" system, meaning that parts arrive from suppliers exactly when they are needed at the assembly line so that there is little wasted storage space, materials, or labor time. During the last big GM strike, the UAW was able to strike one supplier and bring most of the company to a halt as a result. Now, if that same supplier is unable to obtain financing to maintain operations, the end result is the same (and GM is in the same financing boat meaning it can't lend cash to help the supplier stay afloat either).

All of these concessions have certainly made the Big Three more "competitive," so all that is left is to jettison the several billion in legacy costs--meaning health care and pensions for current and future retirees. Most if not all of the Big Three's foreign competitors come from countries with significantly stronger social safety nets, including single-payer health care. If you really want to make the auto industry competitive, don't force it into a bankruptcy it will never recover from, nationalize the legacy costs instead. It's a no-brainer. Most people support universal health coverage. How about calling for that, instead of just calling for the heads of auto-workers? If you think the economy is in trouble now, just wait until you fire the only secure workforce the country has left.

The UAW has made plenty of mistakes, including supporting the Big Three's efforts to avoid emission controls, but most of their mistakes have entailed offering too many concessions, not too few. If the popular mood is to put the UAW up against the wall, the country will only succeed in shooting itself in the foot.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]



I can't recall the last time I got a good night's sleep. But I do drink a lot of coffee, so that is possibly not a fabrication.
According to scientists, the brain is a consummate liar, a bullshit artist of the first order. To remember is to fabricate.

Why is memory so inherently dishonest? To make a long story short, it's now pretty clear that the act of remembering a memory changes the structure of the memory itself. (This is known as memory reconsolidation; Freud called it Nachtraglichkeit, or "retroactivity".) My favorite analogy is that, while we used to think of episodic memory as a "save" function in the brain (the hippocampus is the hard drive) we now know that every memory is really a "save as". To recall is to create a new file, and instantly overwrite what came before.

Obviously, this has big implications for the veracity of memory. It shows us that every time we remember anything, the memory is altered in the absence of the original stimulus, becoming less about what you remember and more about you. So the purely objective memory is the one memory you will never know. And the more you remember a memory, repeating it to yourself and others, the less honest that memory becomes . . . a bad night of sleep can make you even more dishonest than usual. While it's long been known that we make many of our memories while dreaming - this is why it's so important to get a good night sleep after studying for a test - it turns out that sleep deprivation causes us to make up memories.

[German] scientists conducted a rather sadistic experiment, forcing people to stay awake for up to 44 hours at a time. The end result? The insomniacs were much more likely to develop false memories. (As Freud pointed out, the most dangerous aspect of false memories is that they feel true.) The good news, though, is that there's a cheap and easy cure for such unintentional lies. When people drank a cup of coffee just before they recalled the memories, the dishonesty disappeared. Caffeine is a truth serum.


Sex, red and blue

I'm done with punditry for a bit, but allow me this last jab: if you thought our current gang of thieves could be trusted to disperse a $trillion, hope the crack was tasty.

Jessica Palmer at Bioephemera has a little post on red sex vs. blue sex.
She quotes Margaret Talbot writing in New Yorker:
Social liberals in the country's "blue states" tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter's pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in "red states" generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn't choose to have an abortion.
If only the twain could meet. Pregnant girls should not be ostracized, and rational sex education should be the norm (irrational sex education is on every channel and form of media). Stupid caves. I have no illusions about teenage sex -- pleaze -- but if there is an innate reason for the imbalance in those two mirror-image attitudes, I do prefer the red sex attitude.


One more thumb down: No to RFK, Jr.

Scienceblogs is giving a thumbs down to Robert Kennedy, Jr. as candidate for EPA. Dr. Offit's Autism's False Prophets devotes a chapter to the role RFK, Jr. has played in flaming the anti-vaccine hysteria. The incriminating item is here. Revere at Effect Measure makes the case:
his uninformed championing of the vaccination/autism case speaks poorly for his commitment to relying on scientific evidence
Revere approvingly quotes Wired's Keim:
His environmental track record is excellent, but he's clung to the vaccines-causing-autism hypothesis long after large-scale epidemiological studies have discredited it as anything but a statistically insignificant cause. America doesn't need more political officials who skew science to fit personal beliefs.
More important, his ignorance has caused thousands of parents to panic and endangered the lives of countless children. (s/t DarkSyde)

I'm running out of thumbs here.

On a positive note, it feels really weird not being embarrassed to be an American. (s/t J.G.)

More on Summers

Here's the full text of an email I received this morning. The body of text is excerpted fromhere:


Larry Summers is on the Obama short list for appointment to Secretary of the Treasury.

Such an appointment would be a grave mistake, and at best, a slap in the face to Mexico and those who struggle for economic justice on both sides of the border.

Summers, while serving as Under Secretary of the Treasury in 1995, engineered the destruction of Mexico’s economy through forced increase of interest rates to unmanageable levels - business & farm loans went from 11% to 56%, credit card rates from 7% to 61%, home loans from 5% to 75%, car loans from 7% to 91%. The result was massive human suffering and the forced migration of millions of economic refugees to the United States.

Appointing Summers would signal a continuance of the greed superceding human dignity as the cornerstone of our foreign policy.

Please review the following background information of Mr Summers and ask whomever you know on the transition team to advise against selecting Summers.

In solidarity,
Peter Cervantes-Gautschi

Excerpt from “Wall Street and Immigration: Financial Services Giants Have Profited from the Beginning”, Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, December 4, 2007, Americas Policy Program, Center for International Policy (CIP):

Profiting From Hardship in Mexico

On Dec. 22, 1994 the Mexican peso was devalued over 40%. This, coupled with an increase in the U.S. prime rate enacted by the U.S. Federal Reserve, rendered Mexico nearly bankrupt largely due to dollar-denominated bond debt to Wall Street banks.8
The U.S. government got the International Monetary Fund and Canada to give Mexico money to put together a bailout package to pay its creditors, most of which were Wall Street banks. The International Monetary Fund contracted Mexico's bailout loan to the U.S. Treasury Department.9 Acting in the interest of Wall Street creditors, Peter King got Congress to adopt legislation that imposed monthly oversight on the bailout implementation by the Banking Committee.10

To get the bailout money, Mexico was required to meet stipulations that violated its own Constitution, which limited foreign ownership of the banking industry to 5% and forbade home mortgage interest rates above 7%.11 The bailout package required that foreign banks get 49% of the banking market. Limits on interest rates for all loans were eliminated to pay off Citi, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, JP Morgan, and the other foreign bond investors. Another stipulation on the bailout money required Mexico to put a cap on wages nationwide.12

Although it was a major Mexican bond creditor, JP Morgan became Mexico's financial adviser.13 An arrangement like this in the United States would have been seen as a blatantly illegal conflict of interest.

Impoverishing Mexican Families for Profit

Mexico's national bank was forced to raise the money to pay off the inflated bond debts to the foreign bond investors by dramatically increasing interest rates on the full spectrum of loans in Mexico.

Over the next two years interest rates on business and farm loans rose from an average of 11% to an average of 56%. Credit card debt interest rates went from 7% to 61%, interest rates on car loans went from 7% to 91%, and home loan interest rates rose from an average of 5% to 75%.14 In the same period the Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan, Chase Manhattan, and HSBC acquired most of Mexico's banking market.15

The impact of 1995 loan interest rate increases was more than millions of people and thousands of businesses could handle. Thousands of farms and businesses, both large and small, went bankrupt. In 1995 alone over 12,000 of Mexico's businesses filed for bankruptcy, and as economic activity came to a standstill and demand was cut, orders were canceled and plants operated at less than minimum levels. Idle capacity in many branches of the manufacturing sector increased to 70%.16 It became impossible for millions of workers to support their families by earning paychecks in their own country. Unable to earn enough to support their families, millions of workers migrated to the United States to find family wage work.17

The Wall Street banks profited handsomely. In 1998 for example, after recouping and profiting from their short-term bond investments through direct and enabled payments from the bailout package, JP Morgan and Citi owned over $4.1 billion dollars and $1.9 billion dollars respectively worth of loans in Mexico. A few years later Citi became the owner of 23.2% of the Mexican loan market through its acquisition of Banamex.18 The banking and finance sector rewarded the Republican members of the banking committees in Congress with millions of dollars in campaign contributions.19

Excerpt from a special (translated to English) commission report adopted unanimously by the Mexican Senate on September 21, 2007 :

4. A recent book complements the explanation of the excessive interest-rate increase in 1995.

The previous Support Document offered detailed information about a meeting at Los Pinos between the president of Mexico and the undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury, Larry Summers. During that meeting and against the advice of the Mexican team that was negotiating at that very moment in Washington, the decision was made to raise interest rates excessively during 1995. That information is in a memoir written by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin, now a chairman of Citigroup, a U.S. company that is the world’s largest financial institution.

In September 2007, the former president of the U.S. Federal Reserve also published his memoirs. Additional revelations appear there about the source of the decision to inordinately hike interest rates, a decision that was to the great detriment of Mexico. Alan Greenspan notes in his memoir:

That experience formed a lasting bond between Rubin, Summers, and me. . . Larry could be shrewd too: it was his idea to put such a high interest rate on the Mexico loans that the Mexicans felt compelled to pay us back early.

In other words, the Mexican government made an unacceptable deal with Undersecretary Summers, akin to what the mother country gave its colonies. Mexico was treated as if it were a country without a history, without prestige, and without institutions. In his memoir, Rubin comments that the result of his intervention in Mexico led one of his colleagues to declare triumphantly to the New York Times: "This was Bob Rubin's Bosnia. And today he got the troops out." Never should the Mexican government have accepted that extremely high and abusive interest rate.

The gravest problem was that these very high interest rates influenced the rates for other loans made to Mexico and also rigidified high levels of domestic interest rates. Beginning in March 1995, interest rates in Mexico exploded. Rates of return went positive in real terms for the next 10 years, and this contributed to the double problem of excessively costly (and almost nonexistent) financing for Mexican companies and high earnings for those who had invested in Mexican bonds, which led to the overvaluation of the peso.

In his memoir, Rubin also acknowledges that the IMF was recommending lower interest rates, but in the end, that institution accepted the excessively high proposal. However, the IMF experts could not have been unaware of the very damaging effect that those interest rates would have for the Mexican economy.

Show more discipline

Emanuel? Fine. He's an ass, but the fact the right is having fits over
this guy as Chief of Staff tells me he's a good choice. But Summers?
Isn't he a proponent of the deregulation ideology that got us into
this mess? He might be a brilliant mind, but he lacks all common
sense. He lost his last two jobs in part because of this, at Harvard
and at World Bank. At the former for thinking he could get away with
saying girls aren't too good with math, and at the latter for
proposing to make use of comparative advantage by sending dangerous
waste to the country of Africa. You might be able to point to some
contested science for both of those, but it shows a complete ignorance
of politics. Emanuel is a show of discipline, Summers is nothing but
test scores.


Frosty reception

Maybe Fox is on this bandwagon, who knows (I watch MSNBC solely to spite FOX), but Russia sent mixed signals to Obama on his victory: a tough speech on deploying missiles near Poland's border with a telegram congratulating Obama's victory. If you google "Medvedev congratulates Obama" you get a page of links with that headline, with text: "Medvedev did not congratulate Obama." As I noted in my posts on Georgia, an Obama presidency scares Russia because of the threat of Obama rallying allies to contain Russia's expansionary interests. Russia has been riding high on America hatin', and the last they need is an America love-fest.

The Russian press coverage is interesting: Nezavisimaya Gazeta has an interesting article proclaiming the victory of a velvet revolution (literally flower revolution) in the US, something associated with thorns in Russia's paw Ukraine and Georgia, while Komsomolskaya Pravda has a series of shallow articles on electing the dark-skinned guy, and then this one from their US based correspondent:
This was not my country, not my history, but I got goosebumps as soon as they started announcing the results . . . I was sitting in a bar in Omaha, Nebraska. Near me were sitting simple Americans, glued to the television, crying.


I'll hold your hand. Not!

I had totally forgotten about these guys!

Get the latest news satire and funny videos at 236.com.

s/t to my big dog JW



Obama puts a fork in it.

I'm live micro-blogging on twitter tonight. Check my tweets!

s/t nezua.


Where I endorse Obama: an ode to pragmatism

On Thursday, after I dropped my daughter off at school, I walked over to the Obama campaign office to volunteer. "Do you have anything for me to do?" "Can you sit at an information table?" "Sure." So for two hours, in 35d weather, I sat on the corner of Chestnut and 15th with Barb, a veteran volunteer. We handed out a ton of Obama buttons (suggested donations accepted), some lawn signs, signed up one lawyer volunteer, answered a few questions about the election, and served as a face for the Obama machine. Along the way we were interviewed by Indonesian TV! And a NYT reporter interviewed me as part of a spread this Sunday about "local color" along the campaign trail. The questions from both can be summed up in the sentence above: "We handed out a ton of Obama buttons . . ." All the interviewers were women, and all the cameramen were people, er, men. I haven't really volunteered that much, but I have volunteered a few times over the past two or three months, so when the Indonesian interviewer asked me how long I had been volunteering, I felt bad about saying: "I showed up this morning," so I lied and said a few months. A lie, an embellishment, or the truth? Depends on whether one is Joe six-pack, a lawyer, or a politician, I suppose.

The Obama campaign would have been just as thrilled to read I was a first-time volunteer, since they have been doing a tremendous job of getting new volunteers out. I've gotten a few calls based on voter rolls, emails from a variety of sources such as AFL, and MoveOn, not just the campaign, and I've seen volunteers from all walks of life, and a well-oiled machine. Some hiccups: a few waits, missed calls I would have expected, but all in all, clock-work. No wonder O'Reilly thinks they are Nazis. The infomercial smoothly transitioning into the last two minutes of a live speech in Florida, spending LESS on staff than McCain, mobilizing thousands of volunteers across the country, their innovative use of the web, text-messaging, twitter, etc. I know a few people who doubt the grass-roots organizing orientation of the campaign, but this morning I can walk into the Obama office and start putting together signs without knowing anyone's name or saying a word to anyone. With a sentence or two I can start making GOTV calls or grab materials to go walk my neighborhood. I think Randy Shaw says it well in Beyond the Fields:
We saw glimpses of the potential for this kind of organizing campaign in MoveOn's 2004 and 2006 volunteer operations, the Dean Campaign and even the Bush and Kerry campaigns. And there are great examples of this kind of organizing if you go back to the social movements of several decades ago. But the Obama campaign is the first in the Internet era to realize the dream of a disciplined, volunteer-driven, bottom-up-AND-top-down, distributed and massively scaleable organizing campaign. For anyone who knows how many times this has failed to happen, this is practically an apocryphal event.
s/t Miss Laura

You can really see how Obama's campaign springs from a perfected community organizing model that was promoted by Cesar Chavez and copied in neighborhoods around the country. If Obama wins, this model will signify a paradigm shift for political campaigns,one with tremendous potential for promoting social change.

But this potential has its limits. Over 20% of the country still thinks Obama is a Muslim. Heck, many Muslims think Obama is a Muslim. The power of the name, I suppose.

I was disappointed reporters just asked about what I was mechanically doing. I wasn't asked why I supported Obama, which would have been a lot harder to answer. I know people who are supporting Obama because he is a Democrat, and they are Democrats, or who would have voted for but not supported other Democrats, but who support Obama because he is black. [Racists! The gall!] I'm a little in the latter camp, but it merits explaining. I hate Democrats as Politicians. I think they're vile, lack principles, convictions, either allow themselves to be portrayed as something they are not, or lie for political gain, and have a glass jaw. They have no balls. That's what I tend to think.

I pride myself on having never voted for a Clinton. I used to think Democrats were no better, or to be exact, Republicans were no worse. I was no fan of Bush, but figured his "compassionate conservatism" and history of bipartisanship in Texas meant he would be no worse than his father and perhaps marginally worse than Clinton. Gore's uninspiring campaign and choice of Lieberman as a running mate cemented any doubts I had. I saw a constant erosion of rights under Clinton, and thought things couldn't get much worse. I considered voting for McCain if he won the nomination. I was a proud Nader voter in 2000.

Immediately, I learned that no matter how bad things are, they can always get worst. This was reinforced time after time over the next eight years. From the Supreme Court committing treason and deciding the President, to immediately eliminating the fiscal surplus, it became clear that extreme partisanship was the name of the game. And when 9-11 provided an opening, they ran with it and proceeded to destroy every established legal norm that they could, both at home and abroad, and opened the treasury to be looted by their rich, well-connected friends in one of the most sickening examples of greed maybe surpassed by the orgy of the oligarchs after the fall of the Soviet Union. We're talking about disappearing truck loads of cash. Hitchens complains we've become a banana republic, but that was the guiding principle of the administration he supported over the last eight years. At the helm of a collapsing empire, Bush and Co. tried to take down as many others with them as possible, while stealing as much as they could. No wonder Rumsfeld was able to turn a blind eye to the looting of Iraq's national treasures. That was no mistake, that was a guiding principle. For these reasons, I held my nose and supported Kerry in 2004.

Since that time, we've seen Obama throw out the political playbook, and show Democrats could fight by mobilizing people on the ground. Obama's deft handling of the caucus system was at the heart of the 50 state strategy paying off today. There are plenty of reasons not to be enamored of Obama. He is a battle-proven politician, which means that he is not bound by his ideals. The FISA sell-out demonstrated that. Although I joined the MyBarackObama group against his FISA decision and was one of the many disenchanted, I don't see how one can argue with that decision now. The last month of the campaign has been dominated by the loudest minority calling Obama a terrorist, but they had not a single piece of legislation they could point to. If they had, I do think it would have swayed the "silent" majority.

I support Obama because I have to live in this empire in decline and want to leave a better country to my child. On just about every issue, Obama is not the best, but much better than his opponent. Wealth redistribution, reigning in capitalism, following the rule of law, seeking to encourage rather than alienate allies, expanding health care, getting out of Iraq, resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, on these and more you can make an argument that Obama is somehow "selling out", but in every case his plan is better than the alternative. The country we live in leaves us the choice of incremental change, or of things continuing their downward spiral. Things can and will get worse. Much much worse. And it is not enough to point to the need for a mass movement to address these issues. The only succesful mass movement of the last eight years is the one created by Obama.

If you are a single issue voter, and your issue is support for Iran, you should vote for McCain because he will continue to isolate the US and strengthen the hand of Iran throughout the Middle East. If your single issue is Israel, you should vote for Obama because he will restore the moral authority of the United States and bring the community of nations together in support of common solutions. McCain, as with the current administration, would be unable to lead any other nation out of a burning building. If your issue is unconceived fetuses, you vote McCain. If your issue is ideological purity, you abstain or vote for a third party candidate. But my concern is tangible incremental change, so I'm voting Obama. Whatever his stance on any particular policy, you can point to him as the candidate that encourages people to believe they can change government and have a stake in deciding the path the country takes, and has actively mobilized people in a massive way towards a common goal. That's a dangerous and commendable message.

Plus he's black. That alone is outstanding in this country, and I am very excited that my daughter might not have to deal with as much of the racial baggage as previous generations. How awesome is that?

Grand Rapids, bastion of tolerance

I remember back in 1988 walking several miles uphill in the snow to attend a rally for Bush Sr on Monroe Mall. I was punked out with long unkempt hair, a motorcycle jacket, combat boots, torn jeans, and I was immediately handed a Bush sign to hold up. By accident, I held the sign upside down and an older buttoned-down gentlemen next to me said, "Better turn that right side up or you'll be confused for a Democrat." We shared a good laugh together, and I turned the sign right-side up. I was always confused by that "insider" camraderie, since outside of that rally I was pretty certain that same fellow would have demonized me.

Still, I was surprised to read McCain is pre-emptively ejecting the "student demographic" from his rallies. The Iowa State Daily reported:
Lara Elborno, a student at the University of Iowa, said she was approached by a police officer and a McCain staffer and was told she had to leave or she would be arrested for trespassing.

“It was a very confusing, very frustrating situation,” Elborno said. “I said that I had a right to be there, I wasn’t doing anything disruptive — I was sitting, waiting for the rally to start.” . . . Elborno said after seeing the people who were asked to leave, she was concerned that McCain’s staffers were profiling people on appearance to determine who might be a potential protester.

“When I started talking to them, it kind of became clear that they were kind of just telling people to leave that they thought maybe would be disruptive, but based on what? Based on how they looked,” Elborno said. “It was pretty much all young people, the college demographic.” . . . [One] girl was crying . . . and she said ‘I already voted for McCain, I’m a Republican, and they said we had to leave because we didn’t look right,’”. . . “They were handpicking these people and they had nothing to go off of, besides the way the people looked.”
I suppose McCain rallies are rather sparse so a small group of protesters could do a job heckling, but it really shows the lack of confidence within the campaign. Even though they are receiving criticism for the homogeneity of their rallies, they want to keep the crowds homogenous not for appearances' sake but to avoid a disruption that would have long media legs. Sounds like a job for Billionaires for McCain.

I was watching Morning Joe Thursday morning and they ran a schtick where the young (left-leaning conservative?) Ken-looking guy went through his neighborhood on the "Upper West Side" [does everyone know where this is? because I don't think they ever specified] wearing a McCain/Palin t-shirt and trying to give another one away. After a long string of people who refused, ignored him, or said they had no friends who were supporting McCain, he finally found one alienated couple who said they were no longer getting invited to many dinner parties. The blond (right-leaning liberal?) anchor-chick was HORRIFIED. Like, what? Go to the heart of liberalism, OH MY GOSH, you find liberals. Go to the heart of conservatism, bet you find, SHOCK, conservatives. And you betcha can make a strong argument that only educated elites are open-minded enough to pal around with people who disagree on politics. It's been years now that politics joined religion as a topic not meant for polite conversation, so shut the fuck up. I volunteered for the Obama campaign that same morning and although I was in reliably liberal central Philly, I had one guy tell me I should be put in jail. Oh, my god, I just couldn't believe it. Please.

h/t kos


Hold your nose: vote your interest

Racists for Obama?

From Sullivan's Daily Dish:

From Tim Reid for TimesOnline:
A year ago, she said, she would never have voted for Barack Obama “because he looks foreign and he looks like a terrorist”. She said that some of her friends believe he is the Antichrist.

And now? “I'm probably gonna vote for Obama. He'll bring us jobs and health care.”

From Ben Smith:

And more from Ben Smith. Please excuse the repeat:
54 year-old white male, voted Kerry '04, Bush '00, Dole '96, hunter, NASCAR fan...hard for Obama said: "I'm gonna hate him the minute I vote for him. He's gonna be a bad president. But I won't ever vote for another god-damn Republican. I want the government to take over all of Wall Street and bankers and the car companies and Wal-Mart run this county like we used to when Reagan was President."

The next was a woman, late 50s, Democrat but strongly pro-life. Loved B. and H. Clinton, loved Bush in 2000. "Well, I don't know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I'm sick of paying for health insurance at work and that's why I'm supporting Barack."

And then there's this.


The Germanicu$ Pac

A list of resources to get your disenchanted friends to vote. Vote, Germanicu$, vote! Nader, Barr, Baldwin, or Moore, just vote. That way, if McCain wins, I'll know who to blame.

Baby Killers

This is the best defense of abortion rights by far. Starts at 2:45.

On a related note, one third of currently tenured judges were appointed by Bush. Nice. For a little balance, let me state that the one "abortion right" that really pisses me off is the one stipulating that minors can get abortions without their parents' consent. As a parent, that makes me ill. I suppose you can make a strong argument when you have ass-wipes like this one secretly naming their child Sarah McCain Palin, but then the exemption should apply to all major medical decisions not just abortion.



I've heard complaints that comments weren't publishing properly, so I switched to the pop-up box format. Please do let me know if that doesn't work. I think some of the customizing affects functionality on certain web browsers, but hopefully this will do the trick.

As soon as the election is over, I'll be posting a lot more on science. Can't wait. (Sorry, just felt I needed to comment.)

When Brains Collide

It seems that every football game I've seen this season has had a player sidelined with a concussion, so it was nice to see Penn State do the right thing at a very difficult moment in the game by benching quarterback Daryll Clark. Clark was clearly unhappy with the decision, and there would have been a lot of second guessing if Ohio State would have gone on to win the game, but the team doctor made the right call. There was a lot of discussion of concussions last season, and some of the increased attention might be due to the increase in weight among players leading to more devastating crashes, but hopefully Penn State's decision will blaze a trail.

Trouble Brewing

HSBC, one of the few banks to be expanding in the midst of the crisis has a new ad campaign celebrating what? Differences? Class enemies? I'm not sure, but I doubt they've found a new respect for the little guy. If this gains them street cred, it could start a damaging trend for otherwise useful confrontational tactics. Here's two examples:

The first is a full page add I saw in NYT, which they are also running in subway stations, so a massive campaign.

Most of the comments at weapon of class instruction think HSBC hit a foul ball, equating HSBC with rat, so I think it's a good sign that only Zach seems to get it.
The rat is a symbol of unfair labor practices used by unions against bad bosses.
HSBC is using the tactics that workers use against it to sell itself as an enlightened, global brand.
I think it goes beyond that, in that HSBC, by recognizing and celebrating the power of solidarity and clout that the rat represents, deflates the power of the speech.

The other is a jarring commercial depicting loggers vs. tree-huggers posted by Wall$treet Fighter.

See? We can all get along.

Definitely read the comments:
This commercial is awesome, it's really nice to see a large bank like HSBC put out a very strong advertisement to humanize themselves in a manner that isn't cliche or timid. And HSBC is not just doing lip service by producing an environmental ad. In 2006, Time magazine declared them the greenest bank and since then, HSBC has dedicated $100 million to green intiatives aimed at fighting global warming and another $200 million in researching renewable energy
This commenter goes on to add that they aren't as good as Bank of America, but still, "good work." Other comments are even worse:
Guess I'm a sucker then for sentiment. Not that i'm changing banks or anything, but i did get a little teary . . . Is it better to adhere to one's convictions over blood or marriage... or should family always supercede personal politics? Is it possible to compromise without diluting either? I really don't know

I know capitalism is always good at coopting its enemies, but I do hope this ad campaign fails.


America hates children

The MSM attacks on Palin for charging the good people of Alaska and the McCain campaign for her children's travel expenses are emblematic of this country's true attitude towards children. There's plenty of talk about family values, but when it comes down to it the motto is children should be neither seen nor heard. And this attitude has been happily promoted by an ever-expanding (age wise) youth culture that is horrified by the inconvenience of other people's children. Children are only welcome at children-themed events, and elsewhere day care is never provided. Public meetings? Forget about it. Private meetings? Even less!

I was going to point to the attacks from liberal blogs about this, but you can see it in media sources across the spectrum. I don't think conservatives are any better on this issue, even if they might be mum on this now. Their concern for children ends at conception. It's pretty much an American cultural phenomenon. All the labor events I've attended in Mexico, or any events really, that were truly open to women had children running around and in many cases organizations paid for travel of children accompanying their mothers. The only labor events in the US I have been at that have been friendly to children have been organized by Latinos or immigrants. I might be way off on this, but I also have the impression that maquiladoras have way better day care than your average US factory. Any takers?

Books for Girls

Maybe it's just my elitist taste, but I always have trouble finding good children's books with girls as protagonists. So, for all my peeps with daughters, here's a few children's books I recommend:

Clara & Señor Frog is a cool take on a little girl who becomes an artist after her mom marries a Diego Rivera lookalike.

Sadie The Air Mail Pilot is a delightful story of perseverance in the face of all logic. Neither sleet, nor snow, nor common sense stops tenacious Sadie!

Maricastaña y el ángel is an awesomely weird tale of a little girl who learns to write, but is horrified by the prospect of her daddy humiliating a goose by taking one of its feathers, so she proceeds to deplumate an angel instead.

Julieta y su caja de colores is about a girl who learns to discover new worlds with her paint brush.

The Knuffle Bunny Too is pretty awesome, especially the midnight handoff at Grand Army Plaza. And I love how my daughter insists on me reading the applelog.

I'm lukewarm on theWinnie the Witch series, but my daughter just loves Winnie.

In general, I also dig ¿Cómo Como? and the Happy Lion series. Bonjour, Happy Lion!


Glad I hadn't had breakfast yet

This turned my stomach this morning.
Brian Williams: Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist under this definition?

Sarah Palin: (Exasperated sigh.) There’s no question that Bill Ayers by his own admittance was one who thought to destroy our U.S. Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist. There is no question there. Now others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans or facilities that it would be unacceptable to, I don’t know if you’re gonna use the word "terrorist" there.

The worse it gets, the better it gets. Pt III

Neuroscientist Peter Whybrow sees a golden opportunity to bring balance to the American Dream.
Our built-in dopamine-reward system makes instant gratification highly desirable, and the future difficult to balance with the present. This worked fine on the savanna, said Whybrow, but not the suburbs: We gorge on fatty foods and use credit cards to buy luxuries we can't actually afford. And then, overworked, underslept and overdrawn, we find ourselves anxious and depressed.

That individual weakness is reflected at the social level, in markets that have outgrown their agrarian roots and no longer constrain our excesses — resulting in the current economic crisis, in which America's unpaid bills came due with shocking speed.
But with this crisis, said Whybrow, comes the opportunity to rethink how Americans live, as individuals and as a nation, and build a country that works.

"We're primed for doing things immediately. We're poor at planning for the future, unless we get into circumstances like these, where we're forced to think cleverly about what to do next," he said. "In a way, this financial meltdown is a healthy thing for us. We'll think intuitively again. . ."

"America has always believed that it was the perfect society. When you have that mythology driving your culture, it's hard to look around and say, 'Is someone else doing it better than us?'" said Whybrow. "But you can trace the situation we're in to our evolutionary origins. Now that we find ourselves in the middle of this pseudo-abundance, we're in trouble. And the fantasy that we can restart the American dream just isn't true."

Zen-like tranquility is just around the corner.


No strike on Iran before inauguration

Jonathan Marcus at the BBC claims that plans for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities prior to Bush leaving office have been called off.
Within the Bush administration the tensions between hawks and the more pragmatic voices seem to have reached a stalemate.
Perhaps the president himself does not want to leave as his legacy a Middle East in even greater turmoil.
Accordingly Washington has made its opposition to an imminent Israeli attack against Iran crystal clear.
Indeed the recent American decision to supply Israel with an advanced early warning radar system - to be manned by Americans - is intended, paradoxically, both to strengthen Israel's defences while restricting its freedom of action, independent from Washington.

Small favors.

Of course, Uri Avnery called this one back in July.

Boeing profits down due to strike

Boeing profits down 38% due to "difficulties associated with the strike."


Elitist bastard or just plain bastard?

I used to like Carnival of the Elitist Bastards, mostly for the company they keep, but naming Mitch Albom an honorary elitist bastard? That fucking scab? And for what? For daring say an average schmo is not an ideal choice for President? Hardly seems like a bold stance against the celebration of ignorance.

On a similar note, will all you liberal media elite bastard types lay off on Palin answering third grader questions [1] ? Presumably she's speaking to third graders. Get over yourselves already. What should she say, the Vice President amounts to a warm bucket of piss?

All I wanna do is blog

A few weeks ago I saw this over at the BBC. I thought it was a little out of place for Powell, but what really struck me was this:
"It took a lot of people struggling to bring me to this point in history," Powell told the audience. "I didn't just drop out of the sky. People came from my continent in chains."

I thought, he's getting ready to endorse Obama. Of course, I didn't post that because, come on, how silly can you get? But, lo and behold, I wasn't alone.

The moral of the story: if you want to get ahead in the blogosphere, you gotta post every silly little idea that comes to your head. Otherwise, you'll never stand out from the plebitude. So, callous and stupid aside, let me say that getting Obama's white grandmother in the spotlight two weeks before the election is just what Obama needs to overcome the Angry Black Mack Truck hurling towards us. In the next ten days we are going to see a barrage of Rev. Wright's greatest hits. The McCain camp is getting us ready, since they have no choice but to respond what with Obama's negative campaigning. Any images of Obama's Kansas born and bred grandma will do wonders.

The worse it gets, the better it gets. Pt II

Fareed Zakaria on the Colbert Report celebrates the upside of the economic crisis: America will start saving again. And yet all I hear about is lowering interest rates.


Christopher refuses to agree he's wrong

I love that Hitchens is willing to go on bloggingheads with Alterman to debate if he was wrong. Although, as he says, "at least the subject is me." Many of the comments on this seem to follow the lines of, I agree with Alterman, but just really like Hitchens. Likable isn't a descriptive I would associate with Hitchens, but I guess he inspires sycophantism.

For the record, Macedonia is Greek.


Amor y Cohetes

I remember as a teen Love and Rockets was one of the few (the only?) places I felt at home. Young chicano punk/goth rockers surrounded by Spanglish, mechanics, wrestlers, and dinosaurs, permeated with an unexpressed left-working class sensibility I remembered from DF. Like seeing a young punk walk from car to car in the Metro selling copies of El Machete with the same twangy sing-song as the kids selling chiclets.

Makes sense that Hopey and Maggie are now in their forties. They must have been in their twenties when I was reading their exploits, and I could only fantasize about living on my own with a poster of Ape Sex on the wall, but I'm glad they're still around.

I came across Love & Rockets searching for an article I read today lamenting the dearth of foreign literature translated into English.
330 works of foreign literature — or a little more than 2 percent of the estimated total of 15,000 titles released — have been published in the United States so far this year.

That apparent dearth of literature in translation in the United States was the subject of controversial remarks by Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, the organization that awards the Nobel Prize, a week before the prize did not go to an American.

“The U.S. is too isolated, too insular,” Mr. Engdahl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.”

It has been a long time since I have seriously participated in the big dialogue of literature, about as long since I have read Love & Rockets. I have the collected works of Saramago, in Spanish, stacked on my shelves. Better get cracking.


Every time I post a little angel cries

It's not quite dogs with bees in their mouth and when they bark they shoot bees at you, nor is it a shark riding on an elephant's back, just trampling and eating everything they see, but damn, this fills me with an odd mixture of pity, fear, and revulsion nonetheless.


Meta Voco

Melanie Phillips at the Spectator is getting flak from PZ Myers and others for asserting that the financial crisis is rooted in the rise of militant atheism. It seems she feels that atheism somehow leads to an ethical deficit in capitalism.
I see this financial breakdown, moreover, as being not merely a moral crisis but the monetary expression of the broader degradation of our values – the erosion of duty and responsibility to others in favour of instant gratification, unlimited demands repackaged as ‘rights’ and the loss of self-discipline. And the root cause of that erosion is ‘militant atheism’ which, in junking religion, has destroyed our sense of anything beyond our material selves and the here and now and, through such hyper-individualism, paved the way for the onslaught on bedrock moral values expressed through such things as family breakdown and mass fatherlessness, educational collapse, widespread incivility, unprecedented levels of near psychopathic violent crime, epidemic drunkenness and drug abuse, the repudiation of all authority, the moral inversion of victim culture, the destruction of truth and objectivity and a corresponding rise in credulousness in the face of lies and propaganda -- and intimidation and bullying to drive this agenda into public policy.

The financial crisis was brought about essentially by a public which threw away all notions of prudence and committed itself to spending today what it could never afford to pay back tomorrow, and a banking, regulatory and political sector which ruthlessly and cynically exploited and encouraged such catastrophic irresponsibility with a criminal disregard of the ruinous consequences for the poor. The financial crisis and our social meltdown are thus combining to form a perfect cultural storm.

The assertion about militant atheism seems silly and patently false, but I think intelligent people can agree on the relatively recent rise of secularism. I would argue that it is capitalism leads to the rise of secularism as well as the breakdown of morals that Phillips laments. (And does this not fit the essence of Weber's Spirit of Capitalism: Protestant Ethic->Capitalism->Secular Work Ethic, as well as classic Marxian analysis?)

So, my question is, can either Phillips' or my position be falsified, or are both views solely a reflection of ideological stance? I'm having trouble seeing what kind of evidence would answer this question, although the depth of religious fervor in this country seems like a strike against my position.


The Dems' to lose

I was really curious to see if voters would overcome bias and vote for Obama. Unfortunately, we will never know. The Democrats could run a dead mule and they would beat McCain.

Anti-Obama focus groups are giving Republican strategists fits:
"Well, I don't know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I'm sick of paying for health insurance at work and that's why I'm supporting Barack."

"I'm gonna hate him the minute I vote for him. He's gonna be a bad president. But I won't ever vote for another god-damn Republican. I want the government to take over all of Wall Street and bankers and the car companies and Wal-Mart run this county like we used to when Reagan was President."


Gee whiz!

One of my SMS ladybugs overheard the following:
M: Buckley lost his job at National Review.
D: So he's not granfathered in? Think he saw that coming? Will the zeitgeist finally lead to a reorganization of conservative movement?
M: I think he just saw the sales potential in a "Saul on the road to Damascus" type autobiography at a time when his movement has lost its mojo.
D: Beautiful. I can see Papa grinning now.

Arteriosclerotic orthodoxy?

The Big Five

I just took Jesse Graham and Jonathan Haidt's "Moral Foundations Questionnaire" at yourmorals.org . I recommend it. Turns out I'm a lot more conservative than I thought when it comes to Loyalty and Authority, although more liberal when it comes to questions of Fairness. A little concerned about the Authority finding, but fine with all the rest. I guess I'm on the fence when it comes to Purity, and not doing Harm. My results are in green.

Here's the authors' description of the survey and results:
The scale is a measure of your reliance on and endorsement of five psychological foundations of morality that seem to be found across cultures. Each of the two parts of the scale contained four questions related to each foundation: 1) harm/care, 2) fairness/reciprocity (including issues of rights), 3) ingroup/loyalty, 4) authority/respect, and 5) purity/sanctity.

The idea behind the scale is that human morality is the result of biological and cultural evolutionary processes that made human beings very sensitive to many different (and often competing) issues. Some of these issues are about treating other individuals well (the first two foundations - harm and fairness). Other issues are about how to be a good member of a group or supporter of social order and tradition (the last three foundations). Haidt and Graham have found that political liberals generally place a higher value on the first two foundations; they are very concerned about issues of harm and fairness (including issues of inequality and exploitation). Political conservatives care about harm and fairness too, but they generally score slightly lower on those scale items. The big difference between liberals and conservatives seems to be that conservatives score slightly higher on the ingroup/loyalty foundation, and much higher on the authority/respect and purity/sanctity foundations.

This difference seems to explain many of the most contentious issues in the culture war. For example, liberals support legalizing gay marriage (to be fair and compassionate), whereas many conservatives are reluctant to change the nature of marriage and the family, basic building blocks of society. Conservatives are more likely to favor practices that increase order and respect (e.g., spanking, mandatory pledge of allegiance), whereas liberals often oppose these practices as being violent or coercive.

In the graph below, your scores on each foundation are shown in green. The scores of all liberals who have taken it on our site are shown in blue, and the scores of all conservatives are shown in red. Scores run from 0 (the lowest possible score, you completely reject that foundation) to 5 (the highest possible score, you very strongly endorse that foundation and build much of your morality on top of it).

You can download the pdf of Haidt and Graham's article, and take the survey yourself. Registration required.

Haidt, J., & Graham, J. (2007). When morality opposes justice: Conservatives have moral intuitions that liberals may not recognize. Social Justice Research, 20, p. 98-116

h/t to Roscoe for the link.



I'm speechless.
AFL-CIO joins the gun wars.

Market rallies 900 points on Krugman Nobel

Spencer had a sobering take on the rally:
The market bounced back today to almost where it was on Wednesday.

But if you look at how the various sectors did the market is not only discounting that the bailout will work, but that it will be inflationary because the market bet on energy and raw materials today, not financials.

Moreover, the market is betting that the bailout wlll cause commodity prices to rise but not consumer spending..
this is an interesting forecast.

The headline is also his.


Go Philly Hockey Moms!

When Sarah Palin dropped the ceremonial first puck at the Flyers’ opener on Saturday night at the Wachovia Center, she was greeted by resounding (almost deafening) boos.

Have to agree with commenter number 5 that Palin was nuts for taking her daughter with her onto the ice in enemy territory.

Is a hoax ever more than a hoax?

I missed this August post by Stanley Fish where he takes Alan Sokal to task. It's in the context of a recent hoax of Wine Spectator's restaurant awards. The bottom line, per Fish, is that for a hoax to be successful it has to be so elaborate that it demonstrates the hoaxer's bona-fides rather than anything intrinsic about the hoaxee. Many moons ago I wrote a critique of the entire issue of Social Text where Sokal's hoax was published and found that not all, but a few other entries in that journal could have easily been a hoax as well. I think Fish brushes aside the argument about standards a little too easily. Both hoaxes were conceived because the authors perceived an incredible lack of standards in the respective arenas: one, postmodern thought, the other foodie awards. The oracle of wiki asserts that Social Text was not a peer-reviewed journal at the time of the hoax, implying it now is. The editors at Social Text correctly note that peer-reviewed journals have also been the victims of outright fraud, and the hoax authors could have simply padded their CVs with their submissions and awards (just think of the amazing publicity for a newly opened Osteria L’Intrepido), but one hopes that these hoaxes have led to stricter standards, at least in the short term.


Mockrates is a math-challenged rat turd

Unlike his heart-throb Obama, I’m not afraid to use the same gutter tactics mock learned in his days as a member of the Nazi, er, Republican Youth. I would have called him a piece-of-shit, but felt it rude for a header. To be clear, I stand by my claims. Now, Mockrates is not literally a dropping of excreta from a sewer rat, but he will be in the not too distant future. And he has decided to channel his unavoidable future in the here and now. Always ahead of the curve, that mock.

The tortured piety of the “necessary first step”. Right, the necessary first step was to tackle a problem by screaming: CRISIS, CRISIS, CRISIS: IF YOU DON”T PASS THIS THE ECONOMY WILL COLLAPSE. Somehow, the “necessary first step” was to throw away a trillion dollars on a coin toss. The question: Will it solve anything? The answer: “I dunno, but gotta try somethin.” If past actions are any indication, the plan—or the absence of a plan—was to improve the bottom line for the fat cats. It was doomed to failure, and was advocated using the same parasitic gambling mentality that seeks to socialize risk and privatize the profit.

The right approach would have been to, as I advocated, take a deep breath and think of the best way to lessen the blows to the economy. Our “leaders” should have said, there is a crisis brewing, but we are working on crafting a strong solution to the problem. One, the markets would not have become destabilized by the clown show in Congress, and might have been settled by a strong effort to seek serious solutions. Paulson’s screams of PANIC, together with the Congressional bungling both made the economic crisis worse. Voting down a bad plan only to vote for a worse plan a few days later. Your claims that it was a necessary first step are ludicrous. It is the same as claiming that the necessary first step to a potential fire in a theatre is to scream FIRE and run for the exit. Maybe there is a fire, maybe there isn’t, but causing a stampede helps no one. And there are credible voices, even now, saying there is no fire. If this is true, our Bozo the President and Congress of Stooges caused the market instability we saw all last week. To argue that Congress couldn't have passed a better bill is a strong argument against passing any bailout bill.

I assume we won’t hear from Mockrates again for another few weeks. Just as well. This type of apologizing for negligent governmental action beneath a veneer of “learned earnestness” was part of the problem, not the solution. If the Krugmans of the world had put forward useful alternative proposals and joined in putting the screws on Congress, then they would have been forced to anger the Jewish G-d, stay in session, hold hearings, and work the time necessary to iron out an intelligent solution. The country was united in anger at the leadership in a way we rarely see. It truly was a lost opportunity.