Thursday, February 28, 2013

Deep Purple's Version of "Hey Joe"

Last summer I went on a mini-binge of Deep Purple, at least of the first two albums, Shades of Deep Purple and The Book of Taliesyn. I like Vanilla Fudge, and that's who Deep Purple is channeling here with their version of "Hey Joe":

But nothing can outdo Vanilla Fudge's cover of a song originally recorded by the The Supremes, "You Keep Me Hangin' On":

Neo-Dixiecrat Push to Scrap Section 5

This is the key paragraph from Adam Liptak's story today about Wednesday's arguments on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the Supreme Court:
Should the court strike down the law’s central provision, it would be easier for lawmakers in the nine states [now covered by a federal preclearance requirement] to enact the kind of laws Republicans in several states have recently advocated, including tighter identification standards. It would also give those states more flexibility to move polling places and redraw legislative districts.
The conservative justices indicated by their questions that they were in favor of scrapping Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The problem that they're grappling with is how to turn a neo-Dixiecrat GOP into a majority party. Their first bold move was the fast-tracked Citizens United ruling equating money with speech. Conservatives were frightened by the amount of money Obama raised in small amounts online during the 2008 campaign. But the Super PACs, which resulted from Citizens United, spectacularly underperformed for the neo-Dixiecrat GOP in 2012. Large swaths of the citizenry are immune to attack ads. Certain kinds of people have to be kept from voting. There are various ways to do this -- identification requirements, moving polling locations and limiting their hours of operation -- which were tried by Republican-controlled states. But the Department of Justice intervened in those states covered by Section 5 and told them to stop. This from today's unsigned editorial in the New York Times, Congress’s Power to Protect the Vote:
Congress found that, in general, the problems of voting discrimination were much worse in the covered areas than elsewhere in the United States. A recent study by Morgan Kousser of the California Institute of Technology confirms that: “five-sixths or more of the cases of proven election discrimination from 1957 through 2013 have taken place in jurisdictions subject to Section 5 oversight.” The Justice Department used Section 5 last year to block and change discriminatory voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, for example, and to block a discriminatory Florida law that limited early voting.
If the conservative majority votes in a bloc to strike down Section 5 it would do so on the basis that the formula used to determine covered jurisdictions is out of date. Congress would be tasked with updating the formula. This, as Liptak points out, will not happen; hence, a de facto ban:
Should the court strike down the coverage formula when it decides the case, Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96, Congress would be free to take a fresh look at what jurisdictions should be covered. But Congress seems unlikely to be able to agree on a new set of criteria, given the current partisan divide, meaning the part of the law requiring federal pre-approval of election changes would effectively disappear.
This is Republican road map for neo-Dixiecrat domination: massive amounts of corporate cash, a gerrymandered permanent majority in Congress and restrictive voting laws.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Help!' + "Helpless"

Priming the pump for Friday evening's rumination on Hippies vs. Punks, I heard two gems from the Age of Aquarius tonight. First, from their debut album, Shades of Deep Purple (1968), a Deep Purple cover of the Lennon-McCartney classic "Help!" A perfect match for how I was feeling prior to my run -- a dispiriting day of untermensching at work followed by a walk home where I contemplated three-plus years of flying solo. Yes, three-plus years of zero intimacy. Fortunately, I can run, and I can listen music (which Schopenhauer called pure spirit). So by the time "Help!" appeared on the playlist I was headed for the backstretch and rushing with endorphins. Check out the Hammond organ sound of the great Jon Lord (who died last summer); that's the sound of Fred, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Scooby-Doo -- the Mystery Gang; the sound of many a Saturday night at the suburban community center in Nixonian America:

Then, when the run was done and the rain was pouring down and steam was rising off my corpus and I was stretching my legs on the steps at the entrance to my apartment building, "Helpless" off the Hippie Holy Grail album, Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. If one could distill the essence of the Hippie it would be nostalgia -- an insatiable appetite for childhood's return, for a Rousseauian state of nature:

The Austerity War

We're in the middle of a war. The war is between capital and labor. But what's strange about this war is that capital has lost faith in capitalism, at least the kind of modern capitalism of Keynesian economics as practiced in the twentieth century. How else to explain this lust for austerity, for steep cuts in government spending, while there is still high unemployment and low and slow growth? The only thing that makes sense is that the 1%, the plutocrats who control the Republican Party, no longer believe that capitalism can deliver high and persistent growth; so they're engaged in a smash and grab. The idea is to destroy the post-war Keynesian capitalist system as soon as possible and suck up all the resources; then hope that twenty-first-century technology can lock everything down in a way that was not possible for the robber barons of the nineteenth century.

Let's recall the last two years. First, we had the debt-ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011. Markets crashed, Standard and Poor's downgraded U.S. debt, and Obama signed off on huge government spending reductions while kicking the can of additional cuts down the road. Then in the fall of 2011 you had a big push back in the form of Occupy Wall Street which spread around the globe before sputtering out in the winter, giving way to the 2012 presidential campaign. Obama ran as a stalwart defender of post-war social democracy, and he won a historic election. He took that win into negotiations with the GOP on the fiscal cliff  and came away with a win; not a resounding victory, but a win. The 10% across-the-board reductions in federal spending that are a hold over from the summer 2011 debt-ceiling standoff got delayed until now. And that's where we are.

Binyamin Applebaum does a nice job in a frontpage story today of explaining how significant our current embrace of austerity is:
The federal government, the nation’s largest consumer and investor, is cutting back at a pace exceeded in the last half-century only by the military demobilizations after the Vietnam War and the cold war. 
And the turn toward austerity is set to accelerate on Friday if the mandatory federal spending cuts known as sequestration start to take effect as scheduled. Those cuts would join an earlier round of deficit reduction measures passed in 2011 and the wind-down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that already have reduced the federal government’s contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product by almost 7 percent in the last two years. 
The cuts may be felt more deeply because state and local governments — which expanded rapidly during earlier rounds of federal reductions in the 1970s and the 1990s, offsetting much of the impact — have also been cutting back. 
Federal, state and local governments now employ 500,000 fewer workers than they did on the eve of the recession in 2007, the longest and deepest decline in total government employment since the aftermath of World War II.
Yesterday in Senate hearings Bernanke had to defend the Federal Reserve's policy of quantitative easing against sniping from some Fed officials and Republicans. This from a story by Binyamin Applebaum that appears on the business page today:
Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors, wrote that the testimony amounted to a “robust defense” of the aggressive efforts by the Federal Open Market Committee that “gives no ground to those within and without the F.O.M.C. who think asset purchases will soon need to be curtailed.” 
The reception on Capitol Hill was frostier, as several Republican senators challenged Mr. Bernanke’s assertion that the purchases were producing clear economic benefits, and questioned the potential costs. Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, drew Mr. Bernanke into an unusually sharp exchange. 
Mr. Corker, asserting that low interest rates were “throwing seniors under the bus,” by reducing returns on some kinds of investments, asked Mr. Bernanke, “Do you all ever talk about the longer-term degrading effect of these policies?” 
“One thing we talk about is unemployment,” Mr. Bernanke responded. He added that the best way to increase interest rates was to increase growth. 
Mr. Corker then accused Mr. Bernanke of insufficient concern about potential inflation, saying, “I don’t think there’s any question that you would be the biggest dove since World War II,” using the term “dove” to denote a Fed official who is more concerned about unemployment than higher inflation. 
Mr. Bernanke, clearly piqued, responded, “You call me a dove, but my inflation record is the best of any chairman in the postwar period.”
And for a flavor of the direction that we are headed in check out the postmortem on Italy's election by Liz Alderman and Jack Ewing:
Few experts anticipated the depth of anger displayed by Italian voters over the austerity that Mr. Monti, the technocrat beloved by other European leaders but resented at home for pushing tax increases and spending cuts, represented. The electorate chose two men convicted of crimes — Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Grillo — over the one Italian leader in whom the rest of Europe had put great faith. 
Mr. Monti initially resisted Ms. Merkel’s harsh austerity prescription, warning that it would stifle growth. But he nonetheless pushed a number of measures that reflected the Merkelian view that prudent finances were the fastest way to reduce Italy’s staggering debt and restore its reputation with international investors. In the end, Ms. Merkel’s embrace played a big part in Mr. Monti’s undoing. 
“The fact that Merkel was so involved and interested in our elections — her support was very negative for Monti’s fate,” said Tito Boeri, an economist at Bocconi University. “There is no doubt that in the Italian campaigns and vote there was a clear message against Europe.” 
Since the euro zone crisis began in 2010, European voters have generally shown remarkable forbearance in the face of recession, soaring unemployment, tax increases and cutbacks in government services. Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece and, last week, Cyprus chose centrist governments that offered the best chance of staying in the euro zone. 
Italy may just be being Italy. But this latest vote may be a sign that Europeans are reaching the limit of their patience. Experts said the developments here served as a warning that a new round of economically driven political turmoil could confront the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and France’s president, François Hollande. Both have grudgingly adopted austerity to keep the euro crisis at bay, despite recessions and rising unemployment. 
Italy, for its part, is mired in a recession that so far has lasted a year and a half. The economy is expected to contract further before improving — largely, many Italians say, because of a host of tax increases and spending cuts that Mr. Monti put in place. 
And like other countries, Italy is finding that austerity is making it harder, rather than easier, to stoke the growth needed to reduce the mountain of debt that set off the euro zone’s crisis in the first place. Its gross debt is expected to peak above 128 percent of gross domestic product this year — the highest level in the euro zone after Greece, and up from 126 percent last year.
Either austerity goes or the euro zone starts to disintegrate. There is more electoral freedom in Europe's multi-party parliamentary system than we have here. Syriza is likely to win the next election in Greece. In the United States, Obama has to step up. If he does not, if he becomes Clintonian in his second term, we'll see a big push for a third party that will equal or surpass the Nader-LaDuke challenge of 2000.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Alter Ego

Earlier I said here that the ego is poison. It is, but it's a necessary poison. It is the will-to-live of the self-conscious animal. Too much of it leads to constant conflict; too little, the same. Then there is the alter ego, which we usually associate with psychiatric disorders, comic book superheroes or creative types. Since self-consciousness is necessarily never unitary, maybe we should move the alter ego from the margin to the center of our understanding.

Austerity Suffers Defeat at the Polls in Italy

It's hard to believe that the results of Italy's election yesterday caused a 200-point drop in the Dow, as is being reported in a story today by Rachel Donadio, "Split Vote in Italy Brings Political Deadlock." This outcome, underperformance by the Democratic Party of Pier Luigi Bersani along with continuing support for Berlusconi's People of Liberty Party, has been predicted for months. The wild card was the Five Star Movement of comedian (and blogger!) Beppe Grillo. And, as Donadio writes,
The outstanding success of the elections was the Five-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo, which led a grass-roots and Web-based campaign and won more votes than any other party, with about 25 percent of the ballot. The group drew support from a powerful protest vote as Italians from both right and left — and the wealthier north and poorer south — were drawn to Mr. Grillo’s opposition to austerity measures and appeal to oust the existing political order. It has indicated that it is not inclined to form a governing alliance with Mr. Bersani or Mr. Berlusconi.
The big loser? Mario Monti, who Paul Krugman referred to in his column yesterday, "Austerity, Italian-Style," as "the proconsul installed by Germany to enforce fiscal austerity on an already ailing economy." According to Donadio,
The election offered a stinging defeat for Mr. Monti, the caretaker prime minister, a newly minted politician whose lackluster civic movement appeared to win around 10 percent in both houses. “Grillo had a devastating success; the rest of the situation is very unclear,” said Stefano Folli, a political columnist for the daily business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. 
“No doubt Italy has an imperfect political culture, but this election, I think, is the logical consequence of pursuing policies that have dramatically worsened the economic and social picture in Italy,” said Simon Tilford, the chief economist of the Center for European Reform, a London research institute. 
“People have been warning that if they adhere to this policy there will be a political cost, there will be backlash,” he added. “It couldn’t have taken place in a more pivotal country.”
We don't often get an outbreak of democracy. And without a doubt the grand coalition of Bersani and Berlusconi will be a disappointment. But Beppe Grillo's political movement is a hopeful development. Austerity will not be beaten back with one election, but it lost a battle yesterday in Italy.

Richard Wolff's Appearance on Public Broadcast

Naked capitalism has a post this morning about Richard Wolff's appearance on Bill Moyer's show last Friday. After watching the Moyers interview of Wolff online this past Saturday I too thought that we've crossed some sort of line. We are now talking openly -- because the facts at this point are overwhelming and irrefutable -- that capitalism is failing. We are naming the system, and along with it, its endemic corruption; its redistribution of wealth upwards to the 1%; its immiseration of working people. Capitalism used to get by on the argument that it did the best job of creating growth; that, yes, the wealthy do very well but so do working people. This argument can no longer be made, as the latest numbers from Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez show. A rising tide now only lifts the boats of the 1%. The rest of us are paddling furiously to stay afloat.

American Double's The Bolcomb Project

I woke up this morning at 2:30 AM. One of the benefits of running is that it tends to maximize sleep. I sleep deeply for five hours and then I'm up. So while the rest of the apartment building was wrapped in slumber I decided to read yesterday's paper and listen to American Double's two-disk recording of William Bolcom's complete works for violin and piano titled The Bolcom Project. Though not always easy to ingest in the small hours, I had the radiator pumping out heat next to me and I was in bed drifting in and out of sleep. I thought about what it is that we do when we pass by a house that we once lived in and we stop and take a look. What are we looking for?

Monday, February 25, 2013

"Funkier Than a Mosquito's Tweeter" + "Gangsta Lean"

Another Monday in paradise. At least the days are starting to accelerate now that the light is returning. You would think that it would work the other way; that with the days lengthening time would stretch out. But I find that the closer we get to spring the more quickly days peel off the calendar.

Tonight it was light for almost the entirety of my run; dusk gave way to night only at the end. Soon I'll be running after work without a reflective vest, which is always a nice change.

Two great songs from tonight. First on the walk home from work, accompanying a beautiful, clear evening with setting sun, "Funkier than a Mosquito's Tweeter (Jazzeem's All Styles Remix)" from Remixed and Reimagined (Nina Simone Album):

Then on the run, one of my favorites from that great Austin band The Gourds, "Gangsta Lean." It's hard not to feel good listening to this one; and to top it off, it came on the iPod right as I crested a hill and headed for the downslope:

Grand Bargain Sought

Friday the sequester kicks in. Republicans aren't budging, though some in their caucus are grumbling about the Pentagon cuts. A good place to start the work week is Robert Pear's story this morning, "As Governors Meet, White House Warns Cuts Would Hurt States"; it runs down the basic math of the sequester:
On Friday, the administration said, $85 billion in cuts will automatically begin to take effect, with many domestic programs facing reductions of 9 percent and some military programs being reduced by 13 percent in the remaining seven months of the federal fiscal year.
“There are constraints to what an agency can do in taking this across-the-board $85 billion cut,” Mr. Werfel [the controller of President Obama’s budget office] said. “The way the law is written, it has to be taken from a percentage cut from every program, project and activity.”
Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, which created the latest version of the sequester, some programs, like Medicaid and food stamps, are exempt from the automatic cuts, and cuts in Medicare payments cannot exceed 2 percent. 
Social Security benefits would not be cut. But the White House said that the automatic budget cuts would force the agency to “curtail service to the public,” and that the backlog of Social Security disability claims would increase.
The Obama administration is outlining what these cuts actually mean: loss of education funding in Ohio; vaccines in Georgia; services for victims of domestic violence in Pennsylvania; etc. Republicans are crying foul; they're asserting all the doom and gloom is a public relations stunt designed to scare. But if you're a Republican what else can you say since you are unwilling to put corporate tax loopholes on the table?

But what's really troubling is Richard Stevenson's article from this past Saturday. What has not been mentioned much in the sequester coverage is what Obama is willing to give up:
Even as President Obama lashes out at Republicans over the automatic spending cuts that take effect next week, he is simultaneously sending them a strikingly different message: he is still interested in a big deficit-reduction deal and as evidence of his good faith has left on the table proposed Medicare and Social Security cuts that liberals hate.
His aides point to Mr. Obama’s continued willingness to swallow, over the intensifying objections of most of the left side of his party, a new way of calculating inflation adjustments for Social Security benefits that would reduce the growth of payments – in effect, a benefit cut. And Mr. Obama has alluded repeatedly to his willingness to re-engage with Republicans based on his last offer for $400 billion in Medicare cuts, made during the negotiations in December over the so-called fiscal cliff; that’s a level that gives heartburn to some Democrats in Congress who see no need to compromise at this point.
As the citizenry goes back to sleep after the election last November followed by the high stakes fiscal cliff negotiations in December, Obama's proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare are flying under the radar. Here's the take from a post this morning on naked capitalism:
The only logical inference that can be drawn is that Obama remains committed to inflicting the “Grand Bargain” (really, the Grand Betrayal) on the Nation in his quest for a “legacy” and continues to believe that the Sequester provides him the essential leverage he feels he needs to coerce Senate progressives to adopt austerity, make deep cuts in vital social programs, and to begin to unravel the safety net. Obama’s newest budget offer includes cuts to the safety net and provides that 2/3 of the austerity inflicted would consist of spending cuts instead of tax increases. When that package is one’s starting position the end result of any deal will be far worse.
In any event, there is a clear answer to how to help our Nation. Both Parties should agree tomorrow to do a clean deal eliminating the Sequester without any conditions. By doing so, Obama would demonstrate that he had no desire to inflict the Grand Betrayal.
This is also Krugman's position: just repeal the sequester. But, according to today's frontpage story by Jonathan Weisman and Ashley Parker, the sequester is going forward, not so much for the reason stated by Republicans, that it is a strategy to bring Obama to the table willing to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare (because we know from the Stevenson story that Obama is already there); no, the sequester is going forward for purely political reasons. According to Weisman and Parker,
With so many rank-and-file Republicans adamant that they would rather see the cuts stand than raise any taxes, Speaker John A. Boehner finds himself in a bind. Three times this year — on the tax deal to resolve the fiscal cliff, on a measure to suspend the debt ceiling and on a package of Hurricane Sandy relief — he has let legislation pass the House against the votes of a majority of Republicans. In 2011, Republicans accepted caps on military spending as well. 
Each time, the speaker has promised to stand his ground on the next showdown with the president. That showdown comes this week. 
Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas, an Iraq War veteran with combat experience and a rising Republican star, said that the speaker was in a “very tough position” in one-on-one negotiations with the president, and that the opportunity for a grand bargain was gone.
Republicans must feel as if they have lost the upper hand with Obama in the recent fiscal cliff and debt ceiling negotiations. Never mind the results of last November's election. But given Obama's willingness to sell the working class down the river in search of a grand bargain, I'd say the House GOP is doing all of us a favor.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #9

I remember two things from the collection of letters that chronicle my life in New York City after my wife and I first arrived there at the end of the 1980's. One is contained in the letter below, number nine from the aforementioned collection, a description of a fight I had at Old Town Bar (if you Google it you can see the glass doors through which my adversary and I crashed).

Old Town Bar was part of the video montage that opened the old Late Night with David Letterman show on NBC after Carson. This was a pre-Internet America where most people watched the same television shows, at least at 11:30 PM, and that was The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Letterman, airing after midnight, attracted a younger, more male audience. I remember being out and about midweek late at night drunk in my university days and wherever I stopped off, whatever buddy's apartment, Late Night with David Letterman would be on the TV; it was part of the collective collegiate consciousness.

If truth be told, I think the bartender took a disliking to me, as described below, because he could read my mind. I was bouncing around in my head the idea of walking out on my bill, something which I don't recall ever having done before or since. I must have been feeling surly. I had stayed on too long. It turned out that I didn't have to pay for any of my drinks anyway. Because of the fight.

In college I became a street fighter and barroom brawler, and it was not entirely owing to alcohol. The first real street fight I was in I was attacked by some guy coming out of Larry Blake's on Telegraph. He was drunk and grabbed me by the hair and tried to force me to my knees. I was a freshman; I didn't even drink then; I wasn't doing anything but walking down the street with some friends minding my own business. I saw red and knocked him to the ground and was contemplating my next move -- slamming his head on the pavement or throwing punches to his face -- when a passerby intervened.

A proclivity for brawling followed me to New York City. I kept track of my won-loss record like a young Sugar Ray on his way up the rankings. At this point I had nothing but what I considered wins under my belt. But eventually one loses one's edge. The explosiveness and rage wane. I started to lose. (Later, I developed a taste for losing.) Beggars Banquet was on my turntable a lot at this time:

Autumn 1989 
Shit, we're neglecting each other. It's been almost two months since September 11th (the date of the mistakenly conceived party, black Monday). What's up? I figure you're busy generating class plans and grading papers. For my part I'm pretty much doing the sane old thing. I have cut back on my drinking though. Ashley served me with an ultimatum: either I stop drinking or I leave. She wasn't foolin'. So I cut a deal. I agreed to eliminate all my social drinking and in return I will be able drink at home twice a week, with an option every third week to add an extra day of libation. The reason she came down so hard on me was because of this fight I got in at a bar. I really fucked up my ankle, to the point that I was hobbling around on crutches for five days. It wasn't busted, just ligament damage. As for the fight, it was a real joke. I was watching game 2 of the American League Championship Series and I had had three or four irish whiskies and four or five beers when the bartender refused to serve me. He ordered me out of his bar. I told him to fuck off. I told him to fuck off because he was a malevolent sonofabitch and I wasn't doing anything disorderly; shit, my speech wasn't even slurred. Once I told him to fuck off this young tough came swirling from behind the counter at the other end of the bar (I don't know if he was a bouncer or another bartender). He was yelling at me about how he was going to kick my ass. I told him to step forth and get on with it. So we blasted through a glass door. Little diamonds giggled on the sidewalk cement. Now at some point during the fracas I slipped completely off my feet. When I got back up I couldn't plant off my left leg; it felt like I had a water bed in there. It didn't take me long to figure out what had happened: my goddamn shoes had let me down. You see game 2 was a day game so I had taken a late lunch from work and gone to a bar. I was in work clothes, in a tweed coat, tie, and wingtips; -- those same goddamn wingtips that we had had a discussion about the last time you were here. I remember the discussion quite well. We were in the bedroom sitting on the bed and I asked you why my shoes had a small metal triangle on the bottom of the heel. You said it was a heel guard; that most shoes had rubber or plastic heel guards but that older shoes (or some such explanation like that) came with a steel heel guard. I asked you what a heel guard was for. "Protects the leather, " you said. "Otherwise the leather will wear down and you'll have to get it replaced." You expressed admiration for them because the heel appeared to be solid leather. I told you that I had got them at a Goodwill in Ashland for $2. I also said that the steel heel guard made it very slippery whenever I walked on a smooth surface. Anyway, imagine that; imagine the prescience of that moment -- it was that heel guard, it was that goddamn metal tap that yanked my feet up to the clouds and left me lying flat on my ass, my legs splayed like a centerfold cutie. The young tough plopped right down on top of me, and he had me. I asked him to give me the best that he had, to give it to me in the face. But the crowd elbowed through the broken glass doorway and gave me time to get to my feet. But like I said, when I got to my feet I realized that I was operating with only one leg. I gave it another go, but nothing was there. All of which was a real shame because I knew I was better than him. You see, I knew that I had him. It was when we had first swung out onto the street during the rain of glass. -- I got a good look at his eyes and he was scared, and I wasn't. -- I'd been around before, or somewhere close by, and I knew what I was doing. And right then I knew that I had him, and I told him as much. I told him that I was better than he was, and then his eyes dilated and filled up with so much fear that all I could see was black.
It was exactly at that moment that I slipped, exactly at the moment that I knew in my heart of hearts that I had fought a good fight and was just a beer commercial away from chalking up another victory in the war against banality and insensitivity and the idea that somebody can beat up on somebody else whenever they want. But I slipped. I slipped like it had all been planned by a Greek god or a Greek playwright or a Hollywood screenwriter, like I wasn't really there duking it out but Andrew McCarthy -- Andrew McCarthy up on the screen in an afternoon cineplex, Phoenix, AZ: a seventeen year-old Jewish girl grinding her ass into a foam-cushioned seat and scrunching up her neck, biting bottom lip and clutching fat chest, which just goes to show you that passion is felt everywhere, and that a barroom brawl is just as meaningful and as meaningless as little girls and money spent.
Like I said, after that fall my left leg was no good.. And even though I had the heart to keep it going and I wanted to keep it going, I was beat. The guy definitely could have dusted me at that point. And that's what I think I wanted. Right then I knew I could've taken good punches and laughed 'em off. And that's what would've given me the victory: I could've shown then what lightweights they all were -- all of them -- all those middle-aged debilitating bar cronies, all those bullshit pretty girls in red lipstick; I could've taken their best shots -- all 'em put together -- and not been fazed one bit. As it turned out, I had to walk away from the  hubbub, but not without informing everybody on the sidewalk that it was my goddamn wingtips that were to blame.I kept pointing down at them. I felt like a big shaven lion, gray and bristly. Before leaving I reiterated that my face was better than any blow that could be delivered. There were no takers. So I hobbled off the wrong way to the subway.
My first loss ever. And in such a fashion. Oh man, it hurt. When I woke up the next day my ankle was the size of a football. I hopped my way up to the emergency room on Broadway. I went to radiology and got an X-ray. Good news -- no break.
One month later, it's not quite back to new. I can't run on it, but it's good enough. Anyway, getting back to the original story, that's why Ashley demanded that I stop drinking: because she was scared (deeply I guess) by the whole brawl incident, even though, really, the whole thing, like I said, was nothing -- Cracker Jacks and M&M's.
Before I sign off here I want to say a few things. First, there's nothing that smells better than the smell of drinking a beer. Second, there's nothing that'll break your heart faster than meeting a guy who's your age and who's a nerd, but at the same time a good guy -- a guy who is completely out of step and missing the point but at the same time a guy who is completely honest with his energy and goddamn energetic to boot. Am I making sense? It's probably what the Philistines thought about Jesus -- too much energy and too goofy and he doesn't know how to keep his voice down on the subway so all the people going home from work don't have to be disturbed. I can't help but think that there's something essential and right about a person like that. Third, this morning on the subway platform a homeless junkie black man tried to stand up from his slumbers on the subway bench. He teetered, pitched forward, and then landed on all fours, skinning his hands on the smelly pavement.

Flight + Skyfall + Argo

The last three Saturday evenings I have taken in a big Hollywood movie via Amazon Instant Video. I find that it is a good way to end the week. The three movies the last three Saturday nights are:
  1. Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Denzel Washington
  2. Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes, starring Daniel Craig
  3. Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck
All three came in at over two hours. Skyfall was so long I had to watch it in two sittings. And during Flight I found myself looking at my watch. The best of these three is definitely Argo, a tribute to CIA honor and integrity that goes a little way towards acknowledging American rot and hubris. It would have been nice to have a nuanced portrayal of an Iranian Islamic revolutionary, but no such luck. All in all though a fine Hollywood film that allows Jimmy Carter to take a little voice-over bow as the credits roll.

I had seen favorable reviews of Skyfall saying that Sam Mendes was taking the Bond franchise to a higher, more emotionally-complicated level. Don't believe it. Daniel Craig is just as flat as he ever is. Javier Bardem is interesting to look at but his villainous character is a joke, straight out of the funny papers. This movie is the worst of the three.

Flight has some good scenes, such as the coked-out, hungover "morning after" opening in the airport hotel. And Denzel, who I always appreciate, is good. But the movie could have done without the whole "whore with the heart of gold" subplot; it would have been more effective had it stayed in Bad Lieutenant mode throughout.

Watching a webcast of the Sweet Spot this past Friday I learned the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Picture is Argo, though A.O. Scott thinks both Amour and Zero Dark Thirty are better choices.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Glum Economic Forecast for Europe

Floyd Norris' usual page-three Business Day "Off the Charts" column is a good one today:
FOR the first time since 2009, the economies of major developed countries are shrinking. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of 34 countries, said this week that the combined gross domestic product of its members declined at an annual rate of 0.6 percent in the final three months of 2012. It was a sign of just how far the global economy has weakened since 2010, when it appeared that the recovery was gathering strength.
It is unusual for downturns to be so widespread that they produce declines in the combined economies of the O.E.C.D. countries, which include all the major developed nations. Since 1962, when the O.E.C.D. statistics were first released, there have been only 13 quarters when that happened. The first three were in 1974 and 1975, during the worldwide recession brought on by the shock of soaring oil prices. There were four more in the early 1980s, during the double-dip American recession, one in 2001 and four in 2008 and 2009, during the credit crisis. 
On Friday, the European Commission issued a glum forecast, saying the 27 countries in the European Union would see economic growth this year of just 0.1 percent, while the euro zone economies would shrink by 0.3 percent. If the O.E.C.D. estimates are correct, each of those forecasts would represent an improvement from 2012. During the four quarters of 2012, the O.E.C.D. estimated, the economies of the entire European Union declined by 0.6 percent, while the euro zone economies were down 0.9 percent.
Why the shrinkage? Austerity. The lack of government spending. Something you would think that our leadership would be cognizant of as the sequester kicks in:
The recent weakness is unusual in that there has been no countercyclical support from governments in many of the countries when the economy weakened. 
Historically, it has been very unusual for government consumption to decline, but that has become common in many countries, including the United States. During the first decade of this century, there was not a single quarter where such consumption was lower in the United States or the euro zone than it had been a year earlier. But since then, that has become the norm, not the exception, in both regions. In the United States, federal, state and local government budgets have been squeezed, while in Europe, austerity has become the byword in many countries.
To get a sense of how bad things are in Europe, check out James Kanter's "Dismal Data and Gloomy Forecasts From Europe":
In the euro zone, the European Commission also forecast that unemployment would continue to rise this year, to 12.2 percent, up from 11.4 percent in 2012.

In Spain, the commission said it expected joblessness to hit 26.9 percent, up from 25 percent last year. In Greece, the forecast was for unemployment to leap to 27 percent from 24.7 percent a year earlier. 
Even in buoyant Germany, which is expected to grow this year by 0.5 percent, unemployment was seen nudging up slightly this year, to 5.7 percent, from 5.5 percent in 2012. 
The grim figures add fuel to a furious debate over whether an insistence on austerity is creating a self-perpetuating cycle where state spending cuts diminish demand, weakening tax revenue and further straining government finances.
This is the direction we're headed as soon as the sequester kicks in.

A Visit to Bruce & Brandon Lee's Gravesite

Bruce Lee's body lies buried in my neighborhood. His grave site, beside his son Brandon's, is in Lake View Cemetery next to Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill.

For the first few years after I swore off women I would make a special trip up to the cemetery on the Fourth of July to pay my respect. I didn't last year for some reason. The Bruce Lee explosion happened when I was a kid in grade school. He was a big hero of mine. I don't know how many times I went to see Enter the Dragon when it was released shortly after his death in 1973.

I went out this morning to do my four-mile run. I've been saving the longer, 7.8-mile Lake Union Loop run for Sunday now that the football season is over. But this morning I had to break off the run early. I was just out of gas; that, and too much strong coffee. I cut over to 15th Avenue East via the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery (another great place in my neighborhood) enjoying Erykah Badu's "Fall in Love (Your Funeral)":

I trotted up the bike path on 15th and decided to enter Lake View Cemetery. No one was about. Following Badu, by happenstance of the alphabetical sort of song titles, was King Crimson's "Fallen Angel":

It took a little bit of time to find the grave sites, but I eventually did. It's difficult because there are several spots as you move up the hill to the west that look similar to where Bruce and Brandon are buried. Always on Bruce's grave are pennies and flowers. I paid my respect to father and son, which is always a farewell to my childhood, and then took off back down the hill. After returning to my apartment building, during the warm-down stretch on the front steps, Sly and the Family Stone's "Family Affair" played:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: Krishna Crashes, Free Bird Soars

It's 1975. The last hurrah of the Hippies. Krishna Consciousness is on the way out after George Harrison is savaged in the press for his Dark Horse album, released in December 1974, and the accompanying calamitous tour with Ravi Shankar. Fortunately for the Hippies at the same time George and Ravi are crashing and burning the boys in Lynyrd Skynyrd are flying high. When I saw this performance of  "Free Bird" last winter, after checking out from my branch library a DVD of the Old Grey Whistle Test, I was catapulted back to the days of rugby shirts, puka shell necklaces, adidas Viennas and drawstring pants. Note the athleticism of the band; these Southern boys are dripping with testosterone:

But Skynyrd Hippieness is merely formal. As soon as those locks are shorn the Hippie is gone. The end is fast approaching. The Punks are coming.

The Sequester

The column inches are beginning to pile up on the latest budget standoff. It's the sequester this time. It has been over four weeks since the Boehner-led House voted to raise the debt ceiling on January 23. So we've been spared for a month, allowing us to concentrate on other matters.

If you're just starting to dip back in a good place to start is today's lead unsigned editorial in the New York Times, "Why Taxes Have To Go Up." The answer? The lasting damage of the Bush tax cuts and an aging population:
Contrary to Mr. Boehner’s “spending problem” claim, much of the deficit in the next 10 years can be chalked up to chronic revenue shortfalls from the Bush-era tax cuts, which were only partly undone in the fiscal-cliff deal earlier this year. (Wars and a recession also contributed.) It stands to reason that a deficit caused partly by inadequate revenue must be corrected in part by new taxes. And the only way to raise taxes now without harming the recovery is to impose them on high-income filers, for whom a tax increase is unlikely to cut into spending. 
Raising taxes at the top is neither punitive nor gratuitous. It is a needed step, both to achieve near-term budget goals and to lay the foundation for a healthy budget in the future. As the economy strengthens and the population ages, more taxes will be needed from further down the income scale, both to meet foreseeable commitments, especially health care, as well as unforeseeable developments, from wars to technological challenges. But there will never be a consensus for more taxes from the middle class without imposing higher taxes on wealthy Americans, who have enjoyed low taxes for a long time.
In today's offering, "Sequester Of Fools," Krugman says that Congress should repeal the sequester:
The right policy would be to forget about the whole thing. America doesn’t face a deficit crisis, nor will it face such a crisis anytime soon. Meanwhile, we have a weak economy that is recovering far too slowly from the recession that began in 2007. And, as Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, recently emphasized, one main reason for the sluggish recovery is that government spending has been far weaker in this business cycle than in the past. We should be spending more, not less, until we’re close to full employment; the sequester is exactly what the doctor didn’t order.
And he warns against the false equivalence being peddled in the media (for a fine example one can cast his glance to the left of the opinion page and read David Brooks' column, "The D.C. Dubstep"). Krugman says,
As always, many pundits want to portray the deadlock over the sequester as a situation in which both sides are at fault, and in which both should give ground. But there’s really no symmetry here. A middle-of-the-road solution would presumably involve a mix of spending cuts and tax increases; well, that’s what Democrats are proposing, while Republicans are adamant that it should be cuts only. And given that the proposed Republican cuts would be even worse than those set to happen under the sequester, it’s hard to see why Democrats should negotiate at all, as opposed to just letting the sequester happen.
This is a political problem the source of which is Republican intransigence. Why do we have this problem? To find the answer all one has to do is consult the reporting of the excellent Jonathan Weisman. In a story yesterday, "GOP Resisting Obama on Tax Increase," Weisman, as always, lets his readers know that Republicans don't feel they need to compromise because they are politically invulnerable due to gerrymandering:
But House Republicans say they are feeling invulnerable in the current clash. Not only can they point to last year’s bills to replace the cuts, but redistricting has made most of them immune to political threats and entreaties. For many representing conservative districts where the president holds little sway, an attack by Mr. Obama is a badge of honor, senior Republican House aides say.
This is the neo-Dixiecrat GOP, a rump party holed up in the House of Representatives with majority status for the foreseeable future thanks to a radical Supreme Court hellbent on shredding all campaign finance law.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Earl Gray" + "EastWind/Faith"

To get a jump on tomorrow night's "Hippies vs. Punks Fridays" I happened to listen to two songs on my walk home from work that capture the titanic clash and cultural shift in the 1970's and early 1980's. In this case the timeline isn't compact because Kiln House was recorded and released in 1970, while What Makes a Man Start Fires? was recorded the summer of 1982 and released January 1983 (my freshman year at the university). But I'm getting ahead myself.

First,"Earl Gray," by Danny Kirwan of a post-Peter Green Fleetwood Mac:

A song ahead of its time I would say; it prefigures the mid-1970's California sound of Buckingham Nicks and The Eagles ascendant. Towards the end of "Earl Gray" one can even hear Explosions in the Sky. I like it; I think it's a good song. Christgau gave Kiln House an A-minus. But there's no Krishna Consciousness or rock revolution; no emancipatory lunge for social justice. It's just a pretty song.

Then, since I'm listening to songs alphabetically on my iPod touch, comes the Minutemen's "East Wind/Faith" off what What Makes a Man Starts Fires? and it just kicks ass. The first half of the two-minute song is a George Hurley percussion solo; then D. Boon's high-treble guitar kicks in, followed by Watt's bass; then the singing:
And don't forget that time
Is still ticking
Run through halls
Pass doors
Like lines
White lines on the freeway
Stop like a roulette ball
Reach fr the door
There's a drawer
Hope fr hope is really a prayer
Hope fr hope is really a prayer
A complete contrast to the instrumental "Earl Gray." The Punks, in this case, wipe out the Hippies.

I can't find  "East Wind/Faith" on YouTube, only the complete What Makes a Man Starts Fires? album:

Joe Nocera's Oil Sands Sophistry

Before it vanishes forever from public memory, which hopefully will be soon, a few words of reproach for Joe Nocera's Tuesday column, How Not to Fix Climate Change. In it Nocera dismisses James Hansen, Bill McKibben, their campaign of civil disobedience designed to pressure Obama to block the Kelystone XL pipeline, even the idea that producing oil from tar sands would have much of an impact on the environment. As Nocera says, "And the climate change effects of tar sands oil are, all in all, pretty small."

The "pretty small" hyperlink included in the column online is to a Congressional Research Services report by Richard K. Lattanzio, "Canadian Oil Sands: Life-Cycle Assessments of Greenhouse Gas Emissions." A quick read of the report's summary reveals that, contrary to Nocera's assertion, the greenhouse gas emissions related to the production of oil from tar sands are not "pretty small":
A number of key studies in recent literature have expressed findings that the GHG [greenhouse gases] emissions intensities of Canadian oil sands crudes may be higher than those of other crudes imported, refined, and consumed in the United States. The studies identify two main reasons for the increase: (1) oil sands are heavier and more viscous than lighter crude oil types on average, and thus require more energy- and resource-intensive activities to extract; and (2) oil sands are compositionally deficient in hydrogen, and have a higher carbon, sulfur, and heavy metal content than lighter crude oil types on average, and thus require more processing to yield consumable fuels by U.S. standards.
And from the "Selected Findings from the Primary Published Studies" portion of the report here are two of the bullet points Lattanzio makes:
  • discounting the final consumption phase of the life-cycle assessment (which can contribute up to 70%-80% of Well-to-Wheel emissions), Well-to-Tank (i.e., “production”) GHG emissions are, on average, 72%-111% higher for Canadian oil sands crude than for the weighted average of transportation fuels sold or distributed in the United States;
  • the estimated effect of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on the U.S. GHG footprint would be an increase of 3 million to 21 million metric tons of GHG emissions annually (equal to the annual GHG emissions from the combustion of fuels in approximately 588,000 to 4,061,000 passenger vehicles).
Apparently Nocera didn't read the report; or if he did, he doesn't think that adding the greenhouse-gas equivalent of several million automobiles to the road is a big deal. Which brings us to the tendentious nature of Nocera's column. For how can his readers know if pouring extra greenhouse gas into the atmosphere is a big or a small deal if he never lets on what the climate scientists are saying? To read Nocera one would think that climate change is analogous to the federal budget deficit, a theoretical problem becoming potentially hazardous decades down the road. But then again we can't say for sure because he never tells us what he thinks climate change is and what is at stake if global temperature continues to rise.

For an excellent synopsis of what we're talking about when we talk about climate change, check out this month's Monthly Review and the "Review of the Month" by John Bellamy Foster, "James Hansen and the Climate-Change Exit Strategy." Here are the first two paragraphs:
The world at present is fast approaching a climate cliff. Science tells us that an increase in global average temperature of 2°C (3.6° F) constitutes the planetary tipping point with respect to climate change, leading to irreversible changes beyond human control. A 2°C rise is sufficient to melt a significant portion of the world’s ice due to feedbacks that will hasten the melting. It will thus set the course to an ice-free world. Sea level will rise. Numerous islands will be threatened along with coastal regions throughout the globe. Extreme weather events (droughts, storms, floods) will be far more common. The paleoclimatic record shows that an increase in global average temperature of several degrees means that 50 percent or more of all species—plants and animals—will be driven to extinction. Global food crops will be negatively affected. For example, a 2011 report of the National Resource Council indicates that the U.S. corn (maize) crop, which accounts for 40 percent of the world’s total, will experience a 25 percent decline in average yield with a 2°C rise in temperature. 
A 2°C increase in global average temperature is associated with the emission of about one trillion metric tons of cumulative carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution. A total of 566 billion metric tons of carbon have already been added to the atmosphere due to fossil fuel combustion, cement production, and land cover change since 1750. This sets up a carbon budget—the remaining tons of carbon that can be released without reaching the trillion metric ton mark—of less than 500 billion metric tons. Based on the record of emission rates over the last two decades it is estimated by climate scientists at Oxford University (associated with the website that we will emit the one-trillionth metric ton in twenty-eight years (this reflects a recent recalibration of the methodology resulting in a two-year reduction in the estimated timeline). We could, it is calculated, avoid emitting the trillionth ton if we were to decrease carbon emissions from this point on by about 2.4 percent a year. A truly safe response would require a drop in carbon emissions at more than twice that rate. The longer we wait the steeper the reductions will need to be.
While McKibben and company rallied against Keystone XL in D.C. this past Sunday, the story making the rounds is that Obama was golfing in Florida with key players in the Texas oil and gas industry. Nocera probably would see nothing wrong with this. And maybe there is an explanation that isn't malign. Nonetheless I feel compelled to end this morning's post with Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain (Alternate Mix)":

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

CIA Drone Base in the Land of Mecca and Medina

In case you missed it, because it was easy to do, last Tuesday there was a great piece written by Tom Engelhardt and posted on his web site,  Titled "Dumb and Dumber: A Secret CIA Drone Base, a Blowback World, and Why Washington Has No Learning Curve," it tells how the media at the behest of the Obama administration sat for over a year on the story that a secret CIA drone facility had been established on Saudi Arabian soil:
Last Tuesday [two weeks ago, February 5], the Washington Post published a piece by Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung about a reportorial discovery which that paper, along with other news outlets (including the New York Times), had by “an informal arrangement” agreed to suppress (and not even very well) at the request of the Obama administration. More than a year later, and only because the Times was breaking the story on the same day (buried in a long investigative piece on drone strikes), the Post finally put the news on record. It was half-buried in a piece about the then-upcoming Brennan hearings. Until that moment, its editors had done their patriotic duty, urged on by the CIA and the White House, and kept the news from the public. Never mind, that the project was so outright loony, given our history, that they should have felt the obligation to publish it instantly with screaming front-page headlines and a lead editorial demanding an explanation.
According to the Post, approximately two years ago, the CIA got permission from the Saudi government to build one of its growing empire of drone bases in a distant desert region of that kingdom. The purpose was to pursue an already ongoing air war in neighboring Yemen against al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. 
The first drone mission from that base seems to have taken off on September 30, 2011, and killed American citizen and al-Qaeda supporter Anwar al-Awlaki. Many more lethal missions have evidently been flown from it since, most or all directed at Yemen in a campaign that notoriously seems to be creating more angry Yemenis and terror recruits than it’s killing. So that’s the story you waited an extra year to hear from our watchdog press (though for news jockeys, the existence of the base was indeed mentioned in the interim by numerous media outlets).
Engelhardt then proceeds to provide an excellent thumbnail sketch -- his article is worth reading just for this -- of our involvement with Osama bin Laden in bloodying the Soviet Union after its invasion of Afghanistan; and from there our first war with Saddam Hussein that led to a U.S. military presence in the Muslim holy land of Mecca and Medina; thereby creating the main rationale for al-Queda's 9/11 attack. One notable accomplishment of Bush's 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq is that it led to the withdrawal of combat troops from Saudi Arabia. But now, after enormous amounts of blood and treasure, we're back. As Engelhardt says,
And so we reach this moment and the news of that two-year-old secret Saudi drone base. You might ask yourself, given the previous history of U.S. bases in that country, why the CIA or any administration would entertain the idea of opening a new U.S. outpost there. Evidently, it’s the equivalent of catnip for cats; they just couldn’t help themselves. 
We don’t, of course, know whether they blanked out on recent history or simply dismissed it out of hand, but we do know that once again garrisoning Saudi Arabia seemed too alluring to resist. Without a Saudi base, how could they conveniently strike al-Qaeda wannabes in a neighboring land they were already attacking from the air? And if they weren't to concentrate every last bit of drone power on taking out al-Qaeda types (and civilians) in Yemen, one of the more resource-poor and poverty-stricken places on the planet? Why, the next thing you know, al-Qaeda might indeed be ruling a Middle Eastern Caliphate. And after that, who knows? The world? 
Honestly, could there have been a stupider gamble to take (again)? This is the sort of thing that helps you understand why conspiracy theories get started -- because people in the everyday world just can’t accept that, in Washington, dumb and then dumber is the order of the day. 
When it comes to that “secret” Saudi base, if truth be told, it does look like a conspiracy -- of stupidity. After all, the CIA pushed for and built that base; the White House clearly accepted it as a fine idea. An informal network of key media sources agreed that it really wasn’t worth the bother to tell the American people just how stupidly their government was acting. (The managing editor of the New York Times explained its suppression by labeling the story nothing more than "a footnote.") And last week, at the public part of the Brennan nomination hearings, none of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to provide the CIA and the rest of the U.S. Intelligence Community with what little oversight they get, thought it appropriate to ask a single question about the Saudi base, then in the news. 
The story was once again buried. Silence reigned. If, in the future, blowback does occur, thanks to the decision to build and use that base, Americans won’t make the connection. How could they? 
It all sounds so familiar to me. Doesn’t it to you? Shouldn’t it to Washington?
To get a feeling why the Obama administration is engaging in what seems so obviously a retrograde geopolitical move read yesterday's article by Robert Worth on the current state of affairs in Yemen. To summarize quickly, it's a mess. If not a "failed state," in national security parlance, then certainly a state close to coming apart. The south, which as recently as 1990 was its own state, is moving towards independence.
Some progress has been made. A military campaign last year recaptured several southern towns from the jihadist militants who had controlled them for more than a year. But most of the fighters seem to have melted back into the population, and in the wake of the military’s withdrawal, large areas of the south remain a checkerboard of mysterious armed groups with no government presence. 
Meanwhile, Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate has adopted a new tactic: a ruthless campaign of assassinations that has left 74 military and intelligence officers dead since the start of last year, according to Interior Ministry officials. Almost all of the killings have been carried out by masked gunmen on motorcycles — often with pistols equipped with silencers — and only a few suspects have been arrested.
The new president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is weak. He's a southerner who is reviled in the south; a man without an independent base of support in a tribal society. On top of all of this -- a weak chief executive, a secessionist movement, a surging al-Qaeda -- there is a burgeoning proxy sectarian war:
Another rising threat is the growth of an increasingly violent and sectarian confrontation between two of Yemen’s largest political groups. One of those groups, known as the Houthi movement, is led by radical adherents of a variant of Shiite Islam and has been accused of receiving support from Iran. Its followers have clashed repeatedly with youths from Islah, Yemen’s main Sunni Islamist party and the local equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood. 
This conflict has taken on aspects of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia — which supports Islah — and Iran, with troubling Sunni-Shiite overtones. The Houthis have grown increasingly strident, holding vast public rallies modeled after those of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement. The two groups regularly malign each other in sectarian terms — a new occurrence in Yemen — and on several occasions, rallies have devolved into rock-throwing and even gun battles between members of the two camps.
So all the ingredients are there for a failed state and anarchy and chaos. And you can tell what the Obama administration is thinking, since its answer to all sources of turbulence in the Muslim world is the drone, "Let's get a base close to Yemen so we can bomb it when it all goes to hell." What are the lessons of history compared to a clear flight path for a bombing run?

While not totally apposite here, why not Roots Manuva meets Wrongtom on "Jah Warriors"?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Dis Mois La Verite"

There is a perilous moment of the day when I come home and I've got to gear up and go right back out into the cold and dark and get my four-mile run in for the night. Sometimes I'm beat. I've got nothing, like tonight. And in a millisecond of weakness I'll throw in the towel in my mind. That's it; I'm done. I'm not going out tonight. But then somehow, after this complete internal capitulation, I collect myself, gear up, stretch, and head out. It's bizarre. It's going from one pole to the other very quickly. I can only compare to some sort of simulation of spontaneous reincarnation, a transmigration of the soul. A few minutes later I'm out on the road, digging in and feeling fine.

Rather than a selection from John Adams here, why not a song I heard this afternoon on my lunch break when the sun was shining, "Dis Mois La Verite" by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou?

DOJ's Shift to Guilty Pleas Over Fines, Substance or PR?

Now that Presidents' Day is done the long march to Memorial Day begins. Five-day week after five-day week through the remainder of February, March, April and almost all of May before the arrival of another three-day-weekend holiday oasis. Stamina is required, and some sort of goal-orientation that lifts one's eyes from the dizzying repetition of the rat race.

The first day of the long march does not begin encouragingly. I'm thinking of the top-of-the-fold business page story by Ben Protess titled "Prosecutors, Shifting Strategy, Build New Wall Street Cases." The gist of the article is that Justice Department prosecutors are now going to seek guilty pleas from the big banks rather than the business-as-usual fines and nominal reforms. But as Protess points out this new strategy is likely another DOJ attempt to save face:
But critics question whether the new strategy amounts to a symbolic reprimand rather than a sweeping rebuke. So far, the Justice Department has extracted guilty pleas only from remote subsidiaries of big foreign banks, a move that has inflicted reputational damage but little else. 
The new strategy first materialized in recent settlements with UBS and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which were accused of manipulating interest rates to bolster profit. As part of a broader deal, the banks’ Japanese subsidiaries pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud.
A post this morning on naked capitalism, which includes the key portion of the Frontline transcript of Martin Smith's pummeling of a defensive Lanny Breuer, argues that the Department of Justice is engaged in a hollow public relations campaign:
The officialdom honestly seems to have persuaded themselves that indicting a foreign subsidiary and getting a guilty plea is a meaningful concession. Help me. That is what is so disheartening about dealing with an (at best) captured prosecutors. Their idea of what is reasonable is so distorted that is is painfully obvious that there is no reason to expect any change in behavior.
The problem for government prosecutors, as Protess points out, is "Too big to fail":
For one, banking regulators are likely to sound alarms about the economy. HSBC avoided charges in a money laundering case last year after concerns arose that an indictment could put the bank out of business. In the first interest rate-rigging case, prosecutors briefly considered criminal charges against an arm of Barclays, but they hesitated given the bank’s cooperation and its importance to the financial system, two people close to the case said.
Hovering in the background is what happened to Arthur Andersen after it was convicted in 2002; it went out of business. The job loss was numbered at 28,000. Thus, going after foreign subsidiaries is a compromise, a political expediency:
“Extracting a guilty plea from a wholly owned subsidiary finally enables the Justice Department to look tough on financial institutions while sparing them from the corporate death penalty,” said Evan T. Barr, a former federal prosecutor who now defends white-collar cases as a partner at Steptoe & Johnson.
After UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland what comes next? Deutsche Bank, apparently by the end of the year. Then, hopefully, it's on to Great Satan, Citigroup. But --
American regulators may warn that extending the campaign to Citigroup would threaten the company’s stock and prompt an exodus of clients. Japan’s regulators, some feeling upstaged by the recent actions, might raise similar concerns. Citigroup’s lawyers will also push back, people involved in the case said, citing the bank’s cooperation with investigators and emphasizing that wrongdoing never reached upper levels of management. The bank fired the trader recently charged by the Justice Department.
Yesterday, preparing for the approaching work week by ironing shirts, I listened to a Hayden song, "Did I Wake Up Beside You?" that I was unfamiliar with. There are some "Southern Man"-esque guitar parts toward the end of the song:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Max Roach + The Head and the Heart

I listened to several Max Roach albums this Presidents' Day morning, including We Insist! a couple times. Here's "Freedom Day" with Abbey Lincoln on vocals, Booker Little on trumpet:

But this afternoon I've been stuck on Seattle band The Head and the Heart. I'm a sucker for the Maureen Tucker-esque sweet-girl vocals of Charity Rose Thielen on 'Winter Song":

Keystone XL

Obama faces a momentous decision on the Keystone Pipeline System. It's his call to make and not Congress' since it in involves an international boundary. Climate-change experts like James Hansen are quite clear -- if we go ahead with large-scale production of oil from the tar sands in Alberta, which Keystone makes economically possible, our goose is cooked; there will be no way to avoid the planetary tipping point of a 2-degree-Celsius increase in global average temperature.

Bill McKibben's has been doing a lot of organizing around Keystone for a couple of years now. Yesterday there was a big rally at the Washington Monument to say no to the Keystone XL.

For an establishment perspective that definitely tilts toward the oil industry and Canada's Conservative government led by Alberta-centric Prime Minister Stephen Harper read today's article by John M. Broder, Clifford Krause and Ian Austen. But before you do that, check out Michael Klare's latest readable and informative piece on

I've read Michael Klare's Resource Wars and Blood and Oil (I've got Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet but haven't read it yet); and I always read what he has posted on The guy is usually right. He was right about Africa becoming a hot spot of Pentagon activity. And he was right about the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute, as well as the Spratly Islands dispute. So he's someone worth reading.

And what he says is that if Keystone XL is blocked it'll be a death blow to the Canadian tar sands industry. At the end of the Broder et al. story there is a quote from a Shell Canada official saying that it's not the only option. But it really is. According to Klare,
A presidential thumbs-down and resulting failure to build Keystone XL, however, could have lasting and severe consequences for tar-sands production. After all, no other export link is likely to be completed in the near-term. The other three most widely discussed options -- the Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, British Columbia, an expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver, British Columbia, and a plan to use existing, conventional-oil conduits to carry tar-sands oil across Quebec, Vermont, and New Hampshire to Portland, Maine -- already face intense opposition, with initial construction at best still years in the future.
The Northern Gateway project, proposed by Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, would stretch from Bruderheim in northern Alberta to Kitimat, a port on Charlotte Sound and the Pacific. If completed, it would allow the export of tar-sands oil to Asia, where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sees a significant future market (even though few Asian refineries could now process the stuff). But unlike oil-friendly Alberta, British Columbia has a strong pro-environmental bias and many senior provincial officials have expressed fierce opposition to the project. Moreover, under the country’s constitution, native peoples over whose land the pipeline would have to travel must be consulted on the project -- and most tribal communities are adamantly opposed to its construction.
Another proposed conduit -- an expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver -- presents the same set of obstacles and, like the Northern Gateway project, has aroused strong opposition in Vancouver. 
This leaves the third option, a plan to pump tar-sands oil to Ontario and Quebec and then employ an existing pipeline now used for oil imports. It connects to a terminal in Casco Bay, near Portland, Maine, where the Albertan crude would begin the long trip by ship to those refineries on the Gulf Coast. Although no official action has yet been taken to allow the use of the U.S. conduit for this purpose, anti-pipeline protests have already erupted in Portland, including one on January 26th that attracted more than 1,400 people. 
With no other pipelines in the offing, tar sands producers are increasing their reliance on deliveries by rail. This is producing boom times for some long-haul freight carriers, but will never prove sufficient to move the millions of barrels in added daily output expected from projects now coming on line. 
The conclusion is obvious: without Keystone XL, the price of tar-sands oil will remain substantially lower than conventional oil (as well as unconventional oil extracted from shale formations in the United States), discouraging future investment and dimming the prospects for increased output. In other words, as Bill McKibben hopes, much of it will stay in the ground.
Obama has the Canadian government, the oil industry and the Building Trades unions on one side versus Climate scientists and the environmental movement on the other. The decision Obama makes will show if he plans on being a supra-historical figure in his second term. Based on his first term, one would have to say no; that he will side with industry. Obama rocks the boat only gently; he works well within the status quo, which is the globalized neoliberal "greed is good" race to the bottom, science be damned. But there is the possibility of an "Obama unchained" in his second term. He's a smart guy. He has to know, based on the science, that if he okays a pipeline for the dirtiest, most carbon-rich form of oil destined for refineries owned by the Bircher Koch brothers that he has made the wrong choice.