Saturday, July 18, 2009

An interesting take on an old DK classic

Camille performing "Too Drunk to Fuck":



H/T to RickB of Ten Percent, who has this to say:
And remember alcohol abuse is very bad for you whereas fucking is a very healthy activity, so make your choices wisely!
Indeed. As far as Camille's performance, well, let's just say that I'm now intrigued. I've heard other covers of that tune that were pretty derivative - Camille adroitly avoids that trap, making the song hers. Too bad we can't play this on US radio (save for satellite I suppose) - too much of our culture still has too many hangups when it comes to language and sex.

Recovery in name only

When and if the Great Recession is proclaimed officially "over" it will still feel like a recession for everyone except those reaping profits on Wall Street. Unless you're a trader or a commodities speculator, life will continue to suck.

Walter Cronkite's voice will be sorely missed

His tenure on the CBS Evening News was the high-water mark for that particular news show. I always thought he retired too soon. When I was a kid, I found him an inspiring figure, a voice of reason. Such individuals seem constantly in short supply.

You can read his obit here.

Willful Ignorance: A Slight Return

The "birthers" are yet another group that engages in willful ignorance. The rational thing to do when confronted with a mountain of contrary evidence is to abandon a debunked belief. At this point even a cursory glance at such places as factcheck.org or snopes.com should put the kibosh on the urban legend that Obama is not a US citizen (and since a similar rumor was spreading about McCain last year, the same sites will share evidence debunking that myth as well). The birthers have had their legal actions laughed out of court. There is no there there. Rational people at that point would accept that maybe they were wrong. These are not rational people. Regrettably, when confronted with a mountain of contrary evidence, birthers (in much the same vein as other religious or political cultists) take that as "proof" that they are right.

Tarantino's Jukebox

Ever wonder about Quentin Tarantino's choice of music for such classics as Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill? Here's a chance to get inside his mind (h/t Avedon).

Always good to know what you're up against

Ensign's "C Street House" Owned By Group Touting Plans For Christian World Control (h/t Cookie Jill at skippy the bush kangaroo):

In a 2008 promotional video, "Reclaiming 7 Mountains of Culture", Loren Cunningham describes a vision he shared along with the late Campus Crusade For Christ founder Bill Bright and late Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer, in which Christian fundamentalists could achieve world domination by taking over key sectors of society such as business, government, media, and education.

Francis Schaeffer is widely credited as one of the most influential theologians of the 20th Century Christian right. Among the myriad ministries of Bill Bright's behemoth Campus Crusade For Christ is the Washington D.C. ministry Christian Embassy that targets Pentagon leaders for evangelizing.

The C Street House is run by a secretive Washington ministry known as The Family, or The Fellowship. Over the past year and a half, The Family has gradually come to public attention, mainly due to journalist and Harpers editor Jeff Sharlet's ground breaking book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. The Family runs the yearly National Prayer Breakfast and maintains a network of Capital Hill prayer groups which have enjoyed the participation of both top GOP but also top Democratic Party Congress and Senate members.

The Family runs but does not own the C Street House. According to a June 26th, 2009 Washington Post story, by Manuel Roig-Franzia, "The Political Enclave That Dare Not Speak Its Name: The Sanford and Ensign Scandals Open a Door On Previously Secretive 'C Street' Spiritual Haven", the C Street House is owned by a "little-known organization called Youth With a Mission of Washington DC."

Here's the video:




As I've probably mentioned before, it's a good idea to keep an eye on these evangelical organizations. Bruce Wilson's research is invaluable in that regard.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The good life 2.0

From the article in the Scottish Left Review (h/t The Oil Drum):
We urgently need to take an evolutionary leap in the way we do things and to design systems from the bottom up in ways that fit this planet’s carrying capacity and we need to do this together, as communities. Web 2.0 is the term that has come to signify the new upgraded internet, which is community based, interactive and user-driven. As the current crisis is too overwhelming for individuals to face alone, I want to propose a ‘Good Life 2.0’ - a response to the challenges of our times based on an upgrade for the 21st century of the ideas of the 1970’s self-sufficiency movement and the values of community plus everything we have learned in the thirty years that have passed.

Do you remember The Good Life, the popular 1970s television sit-com based on the notion of getting out of the rat race and being self-sufficient in suburbia. This was launched just after the first oil shock and amid one of the UK’s worst economic downturns. It was based on the writings of John Seymour, the father of self-sufficiency. His books give a comprehensive introduction to the ‘Good Life’, covering everything from growing your own crops, animal husbandry, wine making, bee keeping, building, renewable energy, and much more. John gained considerable experience living a self-sufficient life, first in Suffolk, then Pembrokeshire, and then Ireland where he established the School of Self-Sufficiency in Co. Wexford. He also travelled around the world and wrote and made films exposing the unsustainability of the global industrial food system. Sadly on the 14th of September 2004 John Seymour died aged 90.

Over the last five years of his life I had an opportunity to spend time with John. We campaigned together to stop the planting of genetically engineered sugar beet, which culminated with seven of us in a New Ross court-house. But that’s another story.

Surprisingly John once told me that he was actually wrong about self-sufficiency. On a visit to his small-holding in Wexford, John shared with me his conclusion that it would be too difficult to sustain the noble effort of living off-grid and providing for all your own needs on your own land. Self sufficiency wasn’t enough. His new thinking was co-sufficiency, self-reliant local communities that could provide the social relationships essential for facing an uncertain future. Seymour predicted that we would need strong connected communities that could work together to meet their needs and make the transition to a post-industrial economy not dependent on fossil fuel.

If Tom and Margo of The Good Life were striving to be self-sufficient now, they would probably have started a community garden or joined their local Transition group and be engaged in the building of food and energy security with their neighbours. That’s The Good Life 2.0,a community approach to building local resilience because, as Richard Heinberg writes in his book ‘Powerdown’, “personal survival depends on community survival”.

By the way, I remember the British sitcom, The Good Life. The series (one of many British comedies that my father turned me on to) was every bit as thought-provoking as it was hilarious. In the US, the series appeared on PBS stations under the title, The Good Neighbors. The series was actually one of those moments in which a pop culture artifact actually had some instructional value. The Goods struggles to live off the grid, and their interactions with suburban neighbors who were none too keen to have the Goods pursuing such a way of life amidst a burgeoning consumer culture made for plenty of laughs. And yet, there seemed to be some lessons that emerged. The notion of self-sufficiency may be a bit much (although the Goods did manage to make their particular set of choices work out for the most part), but given our inclination to be social creatures, co-sufficiency seems considerably more reasonable. The series also lent to some optimism that sustained interaction with those pursuing an alternative way of life could lead others to, if not change their own lifestyles, at least begin the uncomfortable task of challenging their own assumptions. That, is precisely what more of us need to do as a society as we run up against some very tangible limits on available natural resources.

Speaking of anniversaries

Yesterday marked what would have been Ian Curtis' 53rd birthday (thanks to BLCKDGRD for the reminder). Joy Division was a great band. The band's first LP, Unknown Pleasures (released originally in 1979) still sounds quite fresh.

The Fucking Moon







Image courtesy of Crooks and Liars. Tune by Evolution Control Committee from their 2003 album, Plagiarhythm Nation. It's hard to believe that 40 years have passed since the Apollo 11 moon landing took place (well, actually, yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the beginning of that voyage - the actual landing occurred a few days later). As noted elsewhere, memories of the televised image of the various moon landings from the late 1960s and early 1970s make up my earliest memories. I may be skeptical of human-led missions of this sort at this juncture, but all the same will make note of the accomplishment. It was certainly symbolic of a time when anything seemed possible.

Interview with Fatima Bhutto

Check it out (h/t Newshoggers).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Buzz wants to go back to the future

In Buzz Aldrin's column, Time to Boldly Go Once More, the argument is made to once more make the case to colonize Mars, with the Moon perhaps as a starting point. Good idea? Maybe not so much:
Space is a very hostile place for carbon based life forms. I'm not just talking about hard vacuum and cold temperatures.
  • Weightlessness:

    The most significant adverse effects of long-term weightlessness are muscle atrophy and deterioration of the spaceflight osteopenia. These effects can be minimized through a regimen of exercise. Other significant effects include fluid redistribution, a slowing of the cardiovascular system, decreased production of red blood cells balance disorders, and a weakening of the immune system. Lesser symptoms include loss of body mass, nasal congestion, sleep disturbance, excess flatulence, and puffiness of the face. These effects begin to reverse quickly upon return to the Earth.

  • Solar and Cosmic Radiation:

    When the Sun flares, it produces x-rays, gamma-rays, and energetic particles. The energetic particles are the worst, but they are delayed compared to the X rays and gamma-rays, so you have some warning that they are coming. This gives you time to get into a 'storm shelter', a well-shielded area that you can live in for a few days until the particles die down. A good place for a storm shelter would be in the center of the ship, surrounded by the water tanks. If you don't have a storm shelter (e.g. if you are out moonwalking in just your suit) a bad solar flare can kill you by radiation sickness.

    The hard radiation (particles and x/gamma rays) from the non-flaring Sun is small compared to the galactic cosmic ray exposure. These particles come from deep space more or less continuously. Small amounts of shielding can cut out the majority of this, but the remainder will give you a somewhat increased risk of cancer. Using very conservative rules of thumb, a week in space's cosmic ray environment will shorten your life expectancy by about a day (statistically--it is very unlikely to give you cancer, but if it does, it will shorten your life by more than a day). Since space is inherently dangerous at the present state of the art, cancer due to cosmic rays is relatively small additional risk.

As you can see there are many obstacles that must be overcome before we can even consider space travel far from earth. The best place to solve these problems is in Earth's orbit. Instead of a trip to Mars the resources should be invested in the International Space Station and new platforms. That should also include capturing space objects for raw materials and volatiles for manufacturing in space.

We should continue to send robotic missions to Mars and beyond so we will have as much knowledge as possible if and when we are ready for a manned mission.

There was an almost wistful escapism in Aldrin's column - this notion that we humans could escape the planet we've ravaged and somehow occupy another planet in my kids' lifetime. I just don't see it happening. As fond as I am of the old Apollo missions (televised images of those moon landings form some of my earliest memories) and of science fiction, I'd rather us focus our monetary and natural resources on making our home planet more livable (an undertaking that should prove sufficiently daunting as it is). In the meantime, keep the International Space Station in good working order, send robotic missions to planets in our solar system, and continue to add to our knowledge base when and if human-led missions become feasible.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A worthwhile idea

Global march on Gaza – satyagrahis wanted:
...the question of whether any of Gandhi’s teachings can be usefully applied in Palestine is a serious one that merits careful consideration. In a fascinating essay (and talk) based on an extensive reading of Gandhi’s writings, Norman Finkelstein concludes that the application of satyagraha – that is, a mass campaign of non-violent civil resistance – could yield tangible results in the occupied territories.

His argument is detailed and nuanced, and I won’t attempt to summarise it all here. Its central claim is that the Palestinian struggle against the occupation fulfills the conditions Gandhi suggests are required for non-violent resistance to succeed. Non-violence relies on the accumulation of ‘moral force’ to “quicken the conscience” of the wider population and even of the oppressor him/herself by confronting violence unarmed, often enduring terrible suffering as a result. However, for non-violence to work this “innocence of means” is not enough – there must be “innocence of ends” as well. That is, a movement’s objective, and not just its methods, must be perceived as legitimate for non-violence to work:

“Were the ‘pro-life’ half of the American population to engage in civil disobedience or even a fast unto the death, the ‘pro-choice’ half would hardly be converted by such a spectacle. For, it is not suffering alone that touches but suffering in the pursuit of a legitimate goal. The recognition of the legitimacy of such a goal presumes however a preexisting consensus according to which what the victim seeks he justly deserves. Gandhi accordingly referred to the victim’s ‘innocence.’ It is innocence in a double sense: of means—the victim’s suffering results from unilateral violence inflicted by others—and of ends—the victim seeks a right that cannot in good conscience be denied because it jibes with the ‘normal moral sense of the world’; the more incontrovertible the ends, the more self-suffering as a means will resonate with ‘enlightened public opinion.’”

In the case of Palestine, this ‘legitimacy of ends’ exists, indeed to a remarkable degree. For over 30 years there has been a virtually unanimous international consensus on how to resolve the conflict, as Finkelstein and others have extensively documented. The Palestinians’ central demands command the overwhelming support of the most representative political body in the world, the highest judicial body in the world and the international human rights community (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and so forth), and enjoy extensive popular support throughout the world. Given this broad legitimacy and given the failure of violent resistance to secure any of the Palestinians’ political goals it would be wise, Finkelstein argues, to pursue a strategy of non-violent resistance instead.

In discussing a planned global march on Gaza next January 1, Heathlander goes on to say:

In my view this tactic stands a good chance of success, if enough people get involved. The reasons are twofold.

Firstly, the suffering being inflicted upon the civilian population of Gaza is so immense, so palpably unnecessary and cruel, that when presented with the facts reasonable people will find it impossible to support.

In Gaza we have seen 1.5 million people “intentionally reduced to abject destitution”. We have participated in the calculated manufacture of an “unprecedented … humanitarian implosion” [.pdf] that has pushed an entire society to the brink of survival. Today over 70% of Gazans live in poverty, 40% in deep poverty. 96% of the population now depends on international food aid for mere survival. Almost all the factories have shut down, with many key industries totally decimated. The official unemployment rate is approaching 50% (some have put the figure at 70%) and 90% of economic activity is devoted to smuggling. Chronic malnutrition is soaring, with malnutrition-induced stunted growth affecting 10% of all children in Gaza, rising to 30% in some areas. Some 46% of Gazan children suffer from acute anaemia. There is a constant “shortage of basic medicines”, while millions of litres of raw sewage are pumped daily into the Mediterranean, where children swim and play, because Israeli border restrictions mean Gaza’s authorities are unable to treat it. Around 10% of the population was still, as of April, without tap water. In the course of its invasion earlier this year Israel destroyed thousands of houses, hundreds of businesses and the bulk of Gaza’s agricultural industry (as well as 80% of its crops). Thousands of families are still living in tents because Israel has refused to allow any reconstruction to take place. Some people have resorted to building houses from mud, or living in cemetaries.

The Red Cross reports that “[t]hose worst affected” by the siege “are likely to be children, who make up more than half of Gaza’s population”.

As a result of all this – and this is the second point – the ‘legitimacy of ends’ required by Gandhi is there. The Gaza closure [.pdf] has been almost unanimously condemned as a violation of international law. The UN special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories has called it a “crime against humanity”; his predecessor likewise concluded [.doc] that it “violates a whole range of obligations under both human rights law and humanitarian law” and constitutes “a gross form of collective punishment”. UN agencies and human rights organisations have unanimously condemned [.pdf] the siege as “collective punishment”, “illegal under international humanitarian law”, “an unmitigated violation of international humanitarian law” [.doc], “illegal, improper, and immoral”. Various senior officials and respected public figures have decried Israel’s “assault on human dignity” – the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for example, has branded it an “abomination”, while former President Jimmy Carter has criticised the international community for its complicity in this “terrible human rights crime”, doing nothing or worse while “the citizens of Gaza are being treated more like animals than human beings”. Even the Quartet, G8 and the EU (which has described Israel’s policies as “collective punishment”) have called for the blockade to be lifted.

In short, Israel’s siege has almost no defenders. The goal of the march – to end the siege – is almost universally viewed as a legitimate one. As Finkelstein observes, the marchers will not be breaking the law, they will be enforcing it.

I think it's worth revisiting the existence of nonviolent action in Gaza - a phenomenon that rarely gets mentioned. I have occasionally made note of individuals and groups who have essentially followed Gandhi's, MLK's, and Cesar Chavez's path in their struggle against Israeli occupation. For example, about four and a half years ago, I found some interesting reporting on Gaza activists who were nonviolently resisting the Israeli equivalent of a Berlin Wall:

check out how Palestinian villagers have been resisting Israeli efforts to ghettoize Palestinians with a wall that's reminiscent of both the Berlin Wall of the Cold War era and South Africa's Apartheid - The Third Intifada: 'Yes to Peace, No to the Wall'.

To appreciate the breathtaking magnanimity expressed by this short slogan, one needs to remember its context. Imagine: a foreign army occupies your village for decades, reduces you to subjects without any rights, arrests you arbitrarily, savagely tortures the arrested, and, on top of it all, sends mighty bulldozers to erect a gigantic wall on your land, locking you up as in a cage. And your reaction? Peaceful demonstrations, shouting "No to the Wall" – but "Yes to Peace," to peace with your very oppressor and dispossessor.

[...]

It is in this period, in places like Budrus, that people like Mr. Murar – who had participated in the first Intifada and had been jailed and brutally tortured by Israel – reached the conclusions that resistance to the Wall should be led and organized first of all by Palestinians themselves; that waiting quietly for courts and verdicts was not enough; and, above all, that nonviolent demonstrations were the best weapon of the weaker side. He believes this for moral reasons, but also because nothing could harm the Palestinian interest more than violence, immediately exploited by Israel to distract public attention from the Palestinian plight and to accelerate the construction project behind the thick screen of "fighting off terrorism." A'ed Murar calls it the Third Intifada: the Intifada against the Wall.

Since the Palestinian Authority offered no real strategy or help in the villagers' struggle, they had only themselves to rely on – aided by Israeli and international supporters, like Ta'ayush, International Solidarity Movement, or Anarchists against the Wall. The Third Intifada is a popular uprising: in villages like Budrus, party affiliation and other differences are put aside, and the whole village marches together time after time to demonstrate against the Israeli bulldozers. Footage taken in several such demonstration shows the utter embarrassment of the Israeli soldiers, armed to the teeth against unarmed men, women, and children, who can stand for hours just a few meters away from them singing and shouting without any violence at all. If at last a single stone is thrown, the soldiers seem to be truly relieved: they immediately employ their heavy truncheons, shoot tear-gas and rubber-covered bullets at the crowd, and make violent arrests. But the resistance is not in vain: when a whole village stands together day after day, even the cruelest army must have second thoughts. So far, the demonstrations in Budrus managed to save the biggest plantation of the village from Israel's bulldozers.

Crucial Stage

The construction of the Wall, says Algazi, seems to have reached a crucial period. Following the verdicts from The Hague and Jerusalem, the Israeli establishment made a pause and took some time to reorganize and elaborate a new route and new strategies; these are now ready, and the construction of the Wall is about to resume in full speed. Signals and threats conveyed to inhabitants in Budrus make it clear that Israel is not going to give up easily on their land and water. The number of soldiers sent to demonstrations in villages like Budrus has been reduced, to increase the soldiers' insecurity and ease their finger on the trigger, and villagers are warned that if they do not capitulate this time, live ammunition may be used.

This nonviolent popular struggle is hardly reported in mainstream press. One needs to refer to alternative media to read about it. The idea of nonviolent Palestinian resistance sharply contradicts the stereotype of Palestinians as a "nation of suicide-bombers"; reporting peaceful Palestinian demonstrations is highly undesirable in official Israel's eyes. For all those reasons, this is a struggle very worthy of both public interest and support: The future of Israel/Palestine will be decided here, on the ground, rather than in press conferences in Washington or coalition intrigues in Jerusalem.
I also found the work of Naim Ateek of great interest:
What makes someone like Ateek so threatening to the status quo is his steadfast refusal to play the role assigned to him, and in fact vocally exhorts his peers to do likewise. He neither meekly accepts his status as a "defeated" and "inferior" person, nor does he fight the organizational and structural violence perpetrated on him and his peers with violence - although doing so would be understandable given the circumstances. The potential for an organized nonviolent resistance would present the Israeli government and its apologists with a conundrum: violently crack down and risk whatever good will might still be extended to it by the US, or stand down and lose authority. It's damn difficult to frame a resistance movement as "savage" and "terroristic" if its members are refusing to fire a shot. I'm not exactly a pacifist (I do see nonviolence as the preferred route and violent resistance as strictly a last-resort), but see plenty of potential for what Ateek advocates to work. Nonviolent resistance gives its practitioners a moral high ground, in the process placing the practices and policies of their oppressors in sharp relief. One could argue that moral high ground doesn't buy much if you end up six feet under. Indeed, the main reason for shying away from such resistance would be fear of death. However, one could readily counter that oppression kills and that merely accepting oppression will not prevent death, but actually accelerate individual and social death. There is precious little to lose, and so much to be gained.
A few months later:
When dealing with a genocidal regime hellbent on destroying a people or peoples, one might ask if nonviolent resistance could work. I'll keep repeating that nonviolent resistance can and should be part of our arsenal, and that it is relevant wherever there is oppression. Check out the good folks at the Albert Einstein Institute. While you're at it, an acquaintance of mine completed a nice series of diaries back in 2006 that go into various facets of nonviolent resistance (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), including a rather thorough debunking of the misconceptions that many have with regard to nonviolence (based primarily on the work of Gene Sharp). Naturally, it is worthwhile to check into the work of one of Sharp's protégés, Robert Helvey, while you're at it. I'm fond of referring to the Zapatistas from time to time, largely because their insurgency - although initially fought with guns - has relied primarily on nonviolent action (Subcomandante Marcos has stated from time to time that "our words are our weapons"). The neoliberal mindset that produced such catastrophes as NAFTA have been no less genocidal (especially in terms of social death) than what is going on in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli government. That the Zapatistas have had some success in attaining a level of autonomy - albeit fragile - lends some weight to the notion that one can fight with palabras (i.e. words), fight without so much as firing a rifle or rocket launcher, and still have a positive impact. Hopefully our friends in Gaza have been following the Zapatista movement and gained some ideas that can be tweaked to fit their specific situation. One thing about nonviolent approaches is that its practitioners have to prepare themselves for the long haul - this isn't an immediate gratification approach to fighting for social change. Then again, if one really thinks about it, there really aren't any immediate gratification friendly options available even for those who prefer more violent means. Either way, the bad guys are going to do what they do best - intimidate, coerce, kill. After all, they have a lot to lose.
That is not to mention the work that Rachel Corrie was doing with the International Solidarity Movement (an example of humanitarian intervention that I find acceptable precisely because it is nonmilitaristic), or the work of the Free Gaza Movement (with whom Cynthia McKinney is arguably its best known activist). Stay tuned for more news on the upcoming march....

Say hello to

350.org.

Quotable

In a way she's America's Jörg Haider.
That gem came from a commenter, Charles, referring to Sarah Palin over at FiveThirtyEight. It might be useful to take a refresher course on Jörg Haider's political views. Indeed there are some definite similarities between the two in terms of politics, and (for different reasons) in propensity to self-destruct.

In a way, the GOP is very similar to the sorts of right-wing nationalist parties you run into in places like Austria. I'm sure there are some differences, but in general you'll probably find a combination of wealthy elitists (the so-called "country club set") and a relatively impoverished cohort who are comfortable with provincial and jingoistic sentiments. The latter are the "base" without whom the elitists cannot hold on to their power and of course loot, as I've certainly hinted at before, many moons ago:
Another theme worth repeating is the apparent tacit support of the ruling elites as the extremists do their grunt work for them. Racial hatred in this country gets plenty of play among so-called mainstream conservatives and populists - just spend some time reading or listening to the likes of Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, or Pat Buchanan who come by syndicated columns, book deals, and talk show hosting gigs with relative ease and you'll quickly know what I'm getting at.
The "base" itself can be characterized as paranoid. I had my say on a series of dispatches on willful ignorance, which was on display in full force during last year's electoral silly season. As David Neiwert duly notes, the paranoid style of politics in America has merely continued unabated in the aftermath of last year's election, with some potentially (and in some cases actual) deadly consequences.

CIA death squad story has legs

Actually there is a pretty good run-down of some of the various stories by The Moderate Voice. Consider this a follow-up to something I highlighted last March regarding a Seymour Hersh scoop. It's getting harder and harder for Obama to sweep the past under the rug.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One way to curb speculation

Threaten regulation, and the firms responsible for much of the volatility in oil and natural gas as of late will flee like so many roaches at the sight of a can of Raid (old commercial reference). The ones who are left will hopefully behave themselves a bit better.

H/t The Oil Drum.

Monday, July 13, 2009

So scam artists Goldman Sachs are now recording blowout profits

after receiving quite a bit of bailout money. Glenn Greenwald gives a guided tour of the events preceding the most recent news, and then adds:

Other than those individuals whose life purpose is to serve as reverent apologists and servile defenders for the most powerful financial elites, is there anyone who would be willing to claim with a straight face that the last event is unrelated to all the ones that preceded it? Add to that all the Serious consensus-talk about how the country can't afford health care reform and how Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid must be cut because they're too expensive, and the picture couldn't be clearer.

Read the above-excerpted paragraph from Simon Johnson describing how, in his experience, fundamentally corrupt emerging-market nations respond to financial crises ("at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government. . . . Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk -- at least until the riots grow too large"). That "until" provision never seems to be triggered, which is why, as Johnson points out, the behavior continues unabated.

UPDATE: Several commenters add a crucial point: back in September, the Federal Reserve allowed Goldman (and a few other surviving institutions) to convert from an investment bank into a bank holding company. The Wall St. Journal claimed at the time that the move meant the firm would "come under the close supervision of national bank regulators, subjecting them to new capital requirements, additional oversight, and far less profitability than they have historically enjoyed." A mere nine months later, Goldman boasts of "blowout profits." So much for "less profitability." As for allegedly greater regulations and capital restrictions, they freely admitted from the start: "'We don't believe we'll have to get out of any businesses,' says Lucas van Praag, a Goldman spokesman. Adds Morgan Stanley's Mark Lake, 'There will not be much in terms of divestitures'."

But what the conversion did allow was access to lending from the Federal Reserve. Since then, the Fed has increased its balance sheet by $2 trillion while steadfastly refusing to disclose the beneficiaries of that credit. Thus, even aside from the bailout money it directly received and the billions in bailout money which it indirectly received (through AIG), Goldman has had access to massive amounts of Fed lending in order to fuel its bulging profits. That unimaginably enormous (though entirely secret) lending is, in part, what is behind the Ron Paul-sponsored bill to audit the Fed -- a bill that is now co-sponsored by a majority of House members from across the political spectrum (progressive, conservative and everything in between), yet which continues to be blocked by Congressional leaders from receiving a floor vote.

It's quite a scam. Those of us whose taxes were used to pay for it got hosed.

Today, Albert Ayler would have been 73

Here's part of an interview with Don Cherry on Albert Ayler, recorded in 1971:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Musical Interlude:

"Xtal" by Aphex Twin:



There's something about that track that I can't put to words really. "Xtal" is for whatever reason a tune I find strangely comforting. My first encounter with the music of Aphex Twin was in 1991, I believe. There was this Los Angeles-based commercial radio station that devoted itself primarily to electronic and industrial music (with some goth thrown in for good measure). For the life of me, I can't remember the station's call letters (maybe someone reading this with the requisite knowledge will jog my failing memory). It lasted only a year or so. Still it was quite nice getting to hear the likes of Laibach, Cabaret Voltaire, Coil, and Orb broadcast through a consistently strong signal while commuting between Pasadena or Northridge and Fullerton. The Aphex Twin tune I heard on that station was called "Didgeridoo".



Been a fan ever since. My favorite album was released in 1995 (Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2). The first track (known as "Cliffs") drew me in. The next video from a modern classical combo called Alarm Will Sound, who perform the tune as an acoustic piece.



There's always been a place in my heart for ambient and minimalist musics since I first encountered the likes of Eno and Steve Reich as a teen.