Saturday, February 14, 2009

Michael Munk on "We Are All Socialists Now"

The shorter take - "hardly." The more complete take:

Why do the media keep saying the banking system isn't working "normally?"

It is and the banks are.

In a capitalist system, banks function to make money for their owners, not to provide capital for economic growth and jobs. When they think a loan applicant isn't likely to pay it back, they don't make the loan.

In a recession, the "credit worthy" applicant pool shrinks at the same time bank assets decline with over-valued "funny money" speculation. And they have to foreclose on less valuable security put up by previously "credit worthy" but now defaulting customers.

This is as it should be in a capitalist system: earn money when your risk pays off; eat it when it doesn't.

Of course, in the actual political economy of capitalism, the suffering of the victims of what capitalist economists call the "business cycle," can persuade politicians to blame banks and speculators that in good times they celebrate for their role in producing "prosperity" through a "free market."

And that's what TARP I and II are all about.

We socialists (who only wish Newsweek was right) should be telling anyone who will listen that capitalist institutions have functioned as they are expected to. That means the system has failed the people and ought to be replaced. If taxpayers eventually bail it out again this time, its fundamental tendency toward stagnation and crisis will face us in the future.

Well, I do like zombie movies

Never could get into Jane Austen's work. Maybe books like Pride and Prejudice just needed a few zombies here and there to spice things up. If nothing else, I'm curious to see how well the Victorian-era novel can be adapted to the somewhat apocalyptic vibe of our particular era (a vibe that has given birth to and maintained the success of the zombie films, from George Romero's series of films to I am Legend).

Hell, I've a friend who's a pop culture researcher who will definitely get a kick out of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, assuming he hasn't heard of it already.

New name, same goon squad

Blackwater changes its name to Xe (h/t The Aristocrats). There are enough of us with sufficiently long memories to make certain that the corporation formerly known as Blackwater never escapes its history.

Happy Valentine's Day

Consider it a greeting with a message. Image courtesy of The Oil Drum.

It could be the solar energy capitol of the North American continent

Massive desert solar 'colonies' hope to solve energy crisis

Imagine large-scale solar-power plants being built across the Sonoran Desert, along with power lines up to 300 feet high, to export the sun's power to the rest of the West.

That's the ambition of an idea the Western Governors Association and the federal government are studying -- to make Arizona a solar-energy "colony" for 11 other states, two Canadian provinces and Baja California.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bush Aide: Leahy Truth Commission Is ‘Terribly Dangerous’ Idea, Possibly ‘Deadly’

Reading between the lines, it's only terribly dangerous to Bu$hCo's efforts to avoid prosecution for war crimes and possibly deadly to those goons' already faint chances of salvaging any shred of their credibility.

Funding for high speed rail in stimulus bill

I've been pretty sour on the stimulus bill - probably for different reasons than right-wing skeptics - but I will acknowledge one good facet of the legislation. Namely, I'm pleased to see some tangible funding for actual high-speed rail projects. As we face a future in which oil is harder to come by and considerably more expensive (don't get too complacent about the current oil prices!), it is critical that the US invests in transit that can be powered by other energy sources. I gathered that one of the projects involves a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Hopefully we'll see many more such lines spring up. One benefit would be the elimination of short air flights between nearby metropolitan areas (yes, people actually fly from Los Angeles to Las Vegas - something that always struck me as a bit nuts), or the need to drive for hours on the crowded I-15 freeway (something that may become less attractive once oil and gasoline prices go back up).

This is a start. Next is getting the powers that be to invest in overhauling the remainder of the US rail system in preparation for life in a post-peak oil world.

Taser stories worth passing along:

In Canada, The RCMP is shocked (shocked I tell ya!) that Tasers can be lethal. Of course, the illusion of nonlethality continues to lead to what can diplomatically be described as misuse - they're often used on people who are physically and mentally quite vulnerable, such as recently against a mentally challenged 14 year old girl. I've noticed that in my own little corner of the planet, the Guymon PD has become a bit Taser-happy lately - no deaths so far, though I suspect that is more a matter of luck.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Need I say more

Right Wing Sweeps Israel; Racialist Avigdor Lieberman Kingmaker; Two State Solution Dead, Challenge to Obama

My mom always said

When you say things like "I can't" or "we can't" what you mean is "I won't" or "we won't." I think that would be an apt summary of Obama's remarks about the Swedish approach to economic meltdown. The sense I get is that we're experiencing yet another example of how what was billed as "change" during last year's electoral cycle was nothing more in practice than "it'll do."

Penn Gillette asks, is dissent still patriotic?

This is something I would especially suggest that the pwoggles listen to if for no other reason to remind them that the crapola that the Bushies subjected us to during his reign of terra still stinks when they try it with those of us who are critical of Obama.

For somewhat different reasons than Gillette, I've been quite cognizant of and appalled by the similarities between the Bush II and Obama regimes on matters such as the "war on terra" (and the continued bombing of human beings in Iraq and Afghanistan), neoliberal economics, torture, support for other rogue nations such as Israel, etc. Periodically I get told to lighten up, and about the only thing I can say in response is "hell no!" I refuse to consider public officeholders to be sacred cows; I refuse to be a team player. If it was wrong under Bush II, it is still wrong when Obama and his cronies do it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Economy and self-concept

Not only have many individuals taken a financial hit in recent months, but many have taken a psychological hit as well:

The deepening recession is exacting punishment for a psychological vice that masquerades as virtue for many working people: the unmitigated identification of self with occupation, accomplishment and professional status. This tendency can induce outright panic as more and more people fear loss of employment.

"It's like having your entire investment in one stock, and that stock is your job," says Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York. "You're going to be extremely anxious about losing that job, and depressed if you do."

Over-identification with work is one of many culprits in the epidemic of recession-related anxiety and depression that mental-health providers are reporting. Fear of losing one's house or failing to find another job are likely bigger contributors. But unlike those problems, the identity dilemma is within the individual's power to address, requiring no lender mercy or stroke of job-hunting fortune. One approach can require mental exercises, lifestyle alterations and a new set of acquaintances. But the science behind cognitive behavioral therapy, a psychotherapeutic approach that aims to change self-destructive thinking and behavior, suggests that that work can bring long-lasting rewards.

Reminds me of something Dmitry Orlov wrote a few years ago:
Certain types of mainstream economic behavior are not prudent on a personal level, and are also counterproductive to bridging the Collapse Gap. Any behavior that might result in continued economic growth and prosperity is counterproductive: the higher you jump, the harder you land. It is traumatic to go from having a big retirement fund to having no retirement fund because of a market crash. It is also traumatic to go from a high income to little or no income. If, on top of that, you have kept yourself incredibly busy, and suddenly have nothing to do, then you will really be in rough shape.

Economic collapse is about the worst possible time for someone to suffer a nervous breakdown, yet this is what often happens. The people who are most at risk psychologically are successful middle-aged men. When their career is suddenly over, their savings are gone, and their property worthless, much of their sense of self-worth is gone as well. They tend to drink themselves to death and commit suicide in disproportionate numbers. Since they tend to be the most experienced and capable people, this is a staggering loss to society.

If the economy, and your place within it, is really important to you, you will be really hurt when it goes away. You can cultivate an attitude of studied indifference, but it has to be more than just a conceit. You have to develop the lifestyle and the habits and the physical stamina to back it up. It takes a lot of creativity and effort to put together a fulfilling existence on the margins of society. After the collapse, these margins may turn out to be some of the best places to live.
In other words, stay out of debt, get used to living on a less-than-steady income, get away from the whole workaholic scene (instead maximize free time - think of that valuable time spent with the kids, etc., instead), minimize participation in the current economy. Don't identify too heavily with your vocation, and don't contribute to the present system any more than is absolutely necessary for survival.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Justice anyone?

Avedon Carol sez:

Although it's certainly a good thing that DNA analysis is now available to help exonerate the innocent (often after their lives have already been ruined with years or even decades in prison), but even without DNA evidence it's obvious that many innocent people are still in jail and the system has been set up to make it harder for those people to find justice. Tuli asks, "Is the Prison Industry really that powerful?" Actually, it is, but this goes back deeper, to a segment of the population that is so focused on revenge that it doesn't care what happens to the innocent along the way.

It would very helpful if the Rockefeller laws were repealed, and also the Adam Walsh Act. Also, apparently, Gitmo Conditions Have Worsened Since Inauguration, and someone actually won an acquittal with the evil twin defense.

When the Supreme Court struck down local gun bans, it opened the door to a whole raft of big Constitutional questions.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Re-creating '68

Interesting article in The Independent (h/t P U L S E). The change I believe in is occurring on the streets rather than in presidential palaces and board rooms.

Cartoon time

My guess:

The answer to the following question - So, US Liberal Bloggers, do you really want US torture investigated? - is most probably NO. Why? Think of why movement conservative bloggers generally had no interest on investigating US torture - it came down to cheering on and rooting for the home team (in this case, the Donkle).

When in doubt, blame the Internet

Contra John Hawkins, I've thought that American discourse was ruder and cruder well before the Internet became readily accessible. The only thing that's changed is the medium. Prior to the Internet, one could call into the local talk radio shows, shout at the loudmouth talk show host, who would then hang up on you and shout back. I'd say that one unexplored avenue for understanding our current cultural plight in the US is that of the increased trend toward hyperindividualism that has been on-going for several decades.