Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cancun and climate change

So it is November 2010 and we see another example of "we don't know what to do so let's have a convention" on the very serious topic of climate change.  This time the ultra-concerned are flying to the lovely resort of Cancun Mexico.

Don't get me wrong, I have been convinced by the science of global warming since 1988.  It, and it's sister problem Peak Oil, are easily the two most serious problems facing humanity.  But the idea that some folks with laptops, powerpoint presentations, and an ocean view are going to somehow address these problems is literally beyond insane.

Why do we know this to be true?  Well, look at Ireland.  Let us assume that they have a comprehensive plan to reduce their carbon footprint by 90% and erect a new infrastructure powered by renewables.  Let us also assume this plan will cost roughly 100 billion Euros.  Oops!  That money has just been spent bailing out crooked banks.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ireland--like watching a slave auction

The tragedy that is about to befall Ireland--and by extension the rest of Europe--is absolutely inevitable unless there is a major rethinking about how debt is managed.  It must be remembered that bankruptcy laws and other restrictions on the moneylenders over the years have been enacted in response to outrages like we are seeing in Ireland.
The Chains of Capital are Only as Strong as the Weakest Link
Ireland and the House of Cards

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Meanwhile, back in the real economy

While the banksters mount their assaults on sovereign nations, it is easy to forget that even at its worst, these Predations are only a distraction from the much bigger problems like securing the energy supply.  The implication here is that even if we could get folks back to work doing something, that "accomplishment" would trigger an oil price hike that would choke off any economic recovery.
Peak Oil Is Officially Set To Starve The Economy

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ireland vs the banksters

The crooks who are currently destroying Ireland have a very similar MO to the folks who attacked Iceland.  Only Ireland, so far as I know, is not calling for a new constitution.

A guy who is something of an expert on banks and their ridiculous assumptions, the infamous Nick Leeson thinks Ireland should just default.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Democracy vs the banksters in Iceland

One of the rarer birds in creation is the progressive Lutheran clergyman.  Obviously there have been some over the years--most recently during the efforts to unseat communism during the days of DDR.  One of the most interesting was this 19th century Danish bishop by the name of Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig.  According to Wikipedia, "Grundtvig and his followers are credited with being very influential in the formulation of modern Danish national consciousness. It was steeped in the national literature and supported by deep spirituality."

Grundtvig was a teacher who became a passionate reformer.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

In many ways, Thanksgiving is the purest of the holidays.  No matter what your religious heritage, learning gratitude is essential to becoming a civilized being.

In our house when I was a child, we were expected to be able to answer the question "What are you thankful for" in a ritual that came before we ate.  Over the years, I have settled on one answer, "I am thankful that skilled people grow my food."

This is a picture of my grandfather and his brothers threshing wheat in Wilson County Kansas in late summer 1940.  Skill, hard work, AND organization brought in the harvest.

This is what the harvest looked like last fall in Minnesota.  7720 views the last I looked.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

As the banksters crush Ireland

This story is getting old.  A bunch of crazy bankers who did not think the laws of financial gravity applied to them made some seriously bad bets and now they must either eat their losses or else get someone else to cover for them.

So the socialization of losses begins.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More thoughts on the Chevy Volt

Officially, I don't have a position (yet) on the Chevy Volt.  Even as a kid, I was never a GM guy (long story and trust me, my brother has more than made up for it by buying GM religiously over the years).  But the idea that you would have essentially an electric car that had an on-board recharging system sounded like a good idea to me.  After all, the best way to increase the efficiency of an internal combustion engine is to run it at a constant speed.  If the IC engine in a car was mostly there to recharge batteries, it could be pretty small AND you could run it at a constant speed.  So even though this was GM, I HAVE been watching Volt pretty closely.

Well now that Volt is about to appear in showrooms, we are seeing the reviews.  Two are quite interesting.  First we have a review by David Pogue of the New York Times.  As a long-time Mac person, I have read Pogue a lot over the years because he has been NYT's goto guy on all things Apple.  So even though he is not a car guy, Pogue is probably qualified to write as someone who really understands electronics AND new product introductions.
November 11, 2010, 1:28 PM
The Volt Recharges My Batteries
David Pogue 
I’ve been fascinated by the Chevy Volt since the day I heard about the concept.
Which is this: it’s an electric car without the short range of electric cars.
Usually, when your electric car’s battery dies, you’re dead on the road. You have no choice but to tow it, or wait hours for it to recharge.
General Motors’ concept is to equip the Volt with a tiny gas-powered generator that can power the electric motor even after the battery’s dead. It’s sort of like a reverse Prius: instead of having a gasoline-fed car assisted by a battery, it’s an electric car assisted by gasoline.
It’s a huge gamble and a huge challenge. Three years ago, I interviewed Bob Lutz, General Motors’ vice president of product development, about how difficult the Volt project was. Especially developing a battery that can last 10 years (it’s warrantied for eight), work in blazing heat and freezing cold and have enough capacity to power the car for 40 miles a day on electricity alone. (That, says G.M., covers the driving needs of 82 percent of Americans.) more
And then there is Motor Trend--one of those testosterone-laden car magazines that usually have orgasms over 200 mph sports cars--especially red ones that look good on the cover.  They have a "Car of the Year" award that is highly coveted by the car company's marketing departments--mostly because the award is bestowed for mostly objective reasons.
2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year: Chevrolet Volt

Worse than evil--utterly useless

Folks often get lost in the minutia of the never-ending scams the banksters seem to invent.  And you have got to hand it to these crooks--a credit-default swap really IS an amazing way for the clever to separate money from the credulous.  But the real question is rarely asked--does the money business serve any useful purpose?  And the reason this question is rarely asked is because the answer is almost always NO!  Remember, the following is from the New Yorker.
What Good Is Wall Street?
Much of what investment bankers do is socially worthless.
by John Cassidy

Monday, November 22, 2010

Displacing old technology with new is VERY difficult

And here we see some of the problems the new electric cars will face. It's yet another reminder how wonderful petroleum is.
5 Reasons Electric Cars Will Disappoint
Rick Newman
2011 Nissan Leaf
They're cool. That's for sure.
The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt could turn out to be the most innovative mass-produced cars in a century. By taking some or all of their power from a household electrical outlet, they offer the first real glimpse of transportation that doesn't rely on petroleum—and could even crest the magical 100-miles-per-gallon threshold, once the official electricity-to-gasoline conversions are complete. Even better, the two electrics offer something new without the ugly packaging that has doomed futuremobiles in the past. They're cute, actually.
The Leaf is a perky five-passenger hatchback with sporty handling that can go about 100 miles on an eight-hour charge. The Volt, a bit edgier, is a four-passenger hatch that can go about 40 miles on a charge, with a gas engine that kicks in after that. Both offer a comfortable interior, futuristic controls, and do-gooder credibility. Together, these first-generation electrics set worthy standards for competing models from Toyota, Ford, Smart, and even Chinese manufacturers to meet or beat as they arrive over the next few years.
Now for the bad news: Hardly anybody will buy one, and for a good long while most car buyers will consider electric vehicles to be a great purchase—for somebody else to make. more

The problem with historical illiterates in high places

I tend to shock people when I say that I didn't vote for Obama because he tended to screw up his history.  Paul Krugman provides another interesting reason why not knowing history is turning Obama into such an abject failure.
FDR, Reagan, and Obama
November 21, 2010, 2:07 AM 
Some readers may recall that back during the Democratic primary Barack Obama shocked many progressives by praising Ronald Reagan as someone who brought America a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.” I was among those who found this deeply troubling — because the idea that Reagan brought a transfomation in American dynamism is a right-wing myth, not borne out by the facts. (There was a surge in productivity and innovation — but it happened in the 90s, under Clinton, not under Reagan).
All the usual suspects pooh-poohed these concerns; it was ridiculous, they said, to think of Obama as a captive of right-wing mythology.
But are you so sure about that now?
And here’s this, from Thomas Ferguson: Obama saying
We didn’t actually, I think, do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did, which was basically wait for six months until the thing had gotten so bad that it became an easier sell politically because we thought that was irresponsible. We had to act quickly.
As Ferguson explains, this is a right-wing smear. What actually happened was that during the interregnum between the 1932 election and the1933 inauguration — which was much longer then, because the inauguration didn’t take place until March — Herbert Hoover tried to rope FDR into maintaining his policies, including rigid adherence to the gold standard and fiscal austerity. FDR declined to be part of this.
But Obama buys the right-wing smear. more

Chalmers Johnson R.I.P.

This is a man whose very existence I cursed during the days of the struggles against the Vietnam War.  At the time, he was an arrogant prick who claimed that because we protesters hadn't had extensive experience in Asia working for the C.I.A., we were unqualified to have legitimate opinions on the subject.

Well, in his book Blowback, he wrote an extensive introduction as to why we got it right and he got it wrong--and then proceeds to write the trilogy for which he will be remembered that corrects the record.  As I often say, it's the folks with the capacity and willingness to evolve that are the most interesting.  I have written about him before.
Chalmers Johnson

Friday, November 19, 2010

G20 Seoul Korea--the gathering of the Predators

There is a depressing sameness to these gatherings that has destroyed any motivation to write about Seoul 2010.  Finance types gather to carve up the world and their trained lapdogs in the economics "profession" scramble to write absurd praises to the wisdom of the markets, the virtue of naked greed, and the evils of trade unions, blah, blah, blah.  Predicting this outcome was like predicting dawn.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Predators really ARE evil

There are times when the Predator Classes look almost harmless.  After all, they provide us with royal families, investment banks, soldiers all dolled up in useless uniforms, professional sports, churches, armies of lawyers, and much of the rest of the trappings of what we call civilization.

So once in a while, we need a reminders of just how dangerous and how much damage the Predators can do.  Taibbi gets it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quantitative Easing

I have been meaning to write on the subject of quantitative easing (QE) for some time but have not because this is a HUGE topic and I hate getting it wrong.  But here goes...

QE is the name given to the process whereby the Fed injects money into the economy by purchasing assets like stocks and bonds.  The difference between this method and the usual method is that money is "created" without increasing debt.  As can be imagined, the investor classes hate QE because it undermines the essential rates of usury.  And so it is almost never employed and the protests are loud and organized whenever it is.

But here's the deal, mechanisms to create money without simultaneously creating debt has quite an enviable track record in stimulating economic activity.  Marriner Eccles was quite fascinated with his QE powers and used them to extricate the USA from the Great Depression and fight WW II.

Interestingly, Paul Krugman is such a fan of QE that he thinks we should be talking in terms of $10 trillion.  Since I think we should be spending in the neighborhood of $2 trillion per year to solve the problems caused by the end of the Age of Petroleum, I like it when economists talk about trillions of QE.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hedges confirms a suspicion

Like many other folks who went through the educational system in USA, I spent my time wondering how folks who were so aggressively ignorant came to run our schools.

Part of my problem came from the simple fact that most of my rural schools were underfunded in important ways.  K-6 was spent in a school run by Mennonites in an experiment in ecumenicism my father claimed was worth it no matter how loudly we children would protest.

The good part was that the Mennonites were education junkies who also believed that an elementary education could be sufficient for most adult members of their society.  The idea that a graduate of their elementary school could not read, write gracefully, or do arithmetic was so unthinkable as to be labeled evil.  And because Mennonites can be found in unusual places around the world, they taught an international perspective that is quite unusual for the typical USA student.

The bad part is that this international perspective was the perspective of a tiny element of Protestant Christianity.  Ironically, because Mennonites are so clannish that joining their tribe is neigh unto impossible, it makes the whole missionary venture pretty pointless.  Even so, because I had a serious crush on a missionary daughter in sixth grade, I got to know quite a bit more about the Belgian Congo than even a serious student of National Geographic would have.

The high schools I attended were in tiny rural towns.  The lifer teachers were the hopeless incompetents who never got a better job offer.  Occasionally, young teachers fresh out of college would provide some respite from the normal mediocrity but they didn't last more than two years before moving on.

Quite honestly, there wasn't a day before I left for the University of Minnesota that I didn't go to school fully expecting to know more about any given subject, and be better prepared, than my teachers.  But the U was going to change that--or so I hoped.  The mighty U was so loved and lavishly funded that the problem of "learning" from folks who didn't know their subject just had to be in my past!

Well not so fast!  The spring of my freshman year saw the assassinations of M. L. King and Bobby Kennedy.  We young Democrats got all excited about the battle between Eugene McCarthy (YEA) and Hubert Humphrey (Dump the Hump).  This was especially interesting because these two were our Senators--the wounds of that political battle were still visible 25 years later.

And so I soon discovered that my university education was going to be quite political.  Only, my professors were remarkably silent about the big events of the day.  I sat through four weeks of lectures on War and Peace the same quarter as the Tet Offensive and my professor couldn't find it in his heart to bring up the Battle of Hue.  How could this possibly be?

It took me many years to figure it out but when I did, the answer was amazingly clear.  Just like the organized ignorance of my childhood was brought to me by the intellectual left-behinds, so my University education was this mish-mash of incoherence brought to me by the folks who were left over after the purges of McCarthyism.

So in today's Truthdig, Chris Hedges writes about some of the talent we lost to political repression.  Because we were taught by the sort of people who could make a Sarah Palin happy, we boomers are damn lucky we can pick our noses.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chris Hedges on the death of liberalism

The guy is trying to sell a book.  He talks about the historical decline of the liberal institutions in USA.  Since he dates the beginning of this decline to the USA entry into World War I, I am inclined to give him a lot of credibility because that is how I read history as well.  BOTH of my grandfathers--who were quite unalike as men--refused to cooperate with their draft boards during WW I--one for religious reasons, the other for political ones.  Hedges talks about how they shut down the magazine "An Appeal to Reason."  My grandfather subscribed to that too.

Good stuff!

The energy problems encapsulated

The biggest frustration I have whenever I try to explain why something like Peak Oil is such a threat to civilization is that folks usually do not understand the processes that are necessary to produce something new.

And why should they believe the introduction of new products is difficult?  If anything, the biggest problem most have is that they are overwhelmed by new products that show up every day clamoring for their attention.  "How difficult can it be to find and switch to a new energy source?" such folks wonder.  "After all, I have switched between cooking with electricity and natural gas several times in my life."

At that point, I am usually reduced to helpless sputtering.  First of all, switching between methods of cooking is perhaps the easiest conversion possible.  And even that isn't so easy--even IF both electricity and natural gas are already hooked up to your dwelling.  A project to replace an electric stove with a gas-fired one will involve running a gas pipe from your furnace room to the kitchen--a job best handled by a licensed pro.  Holes will have to be cut in walls and floors, etc.  The fussy cook could easily spend $3500 even before the stove was purchased.  At that point, most folks will just say, "Screw it, I'll just keep cooking with electricity."

This also points out my Rule #1 of energy consumption--because it is SO hard to change the energy usage of something once it is built, the MOST important considerations comes at the design phase.  (A longer version of this argument can be found here.  It's my best thinking on the subject of energy efficiency.)

And yet...we are going to have to do exactly that which we would rather avoid.  The problems we have concerning our reliance on oil are not explained by a psychobabble term like "addiction."  We need oil because we built our society to run on 87 octane gasoline and #2 Diesel fuel.  And changing that reality will be orders of magnitude more difficult than running a natural gas pipe to the kitchen.

In fact, someone has actually calculated the size of the problem facing a society built for 87 octane gasoline.  I am willing to bet these guys aren't very far off.
It Will Take 131 Years To Replace Oil, And We've Only Got 10

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Is it getting bad enough yet?

As someone who personally gave up on street protests in April of 1970, I have mixed feeling about taking to the streets.  On the other hand, when nothing changes through elections and other institutional methods, what else is there?

So really, when do Americans begin to riot?
The Nouveau Poor
Recession Shadows America's Middle Class

Friday, November 12, 2010

Casting bread on the water

When I was growing up, I must have heard at least three dozen sermons on the following text:
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.  Ecclesiastes 11:1.
This passage was a favorite of both my rural Lutheran preacher father and the Mennonites who educated me.  And while there were minor variations on what exactly this verse meant, there was wide agreement that it was a call to use one's God-given gifts (talents, time, resources, and labor)--the "bread"--in the service of the wider community.  The point was if you cast your "bread" without asking for a reward, you would discover that your "bread" would return anyway in wonderful and unexpected ways. (This idea is quite similar to Buddhist concept of Karma.) And so communities are built, one generous and selfless act after another.

For me, this blog is in many ways about the purest example extant of casting bread on the waters I can think of.  It is a LOT of work.  It required a lifetime of research and investigation to be able to write coherently on the topics I write about.  I know I have readers because of Google analytics but almost all of them are "lurkers" so feedback is minimal.  And I am not being paid for my efforts.

But last Tuesday, some "bread" floated back into view.  I got a wonderful email from a long-time "hero" of mine by the name of Amory Lovins.  Even though Lovins is a couple of years older than I, our lives and thinking have traveled along remarkably similar paths.  For example, while we both discovered that high energy efficiency was desirable for housing, my efforts were directed at what could be done with the existing housing stock while Lovins was off building a no-holds-barred demonstration project that employed as many energy-efficient ideas as he could put in one building.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The real economy, fall 2010 (Minnesota)

Under some orders from the significant other, I went for a drive in the countryside of the Minnesota River watershed last Monday.  For November, it was a gorgeous day.  Except for the mighty rains in late September, is has been warm and dry for weeks--perfect for drying out the grains in the field.

After several years of economics that drove some farmers to bankruptcy, the Producers on Minnesota's corn belt are facing the incredibly rare circumstances of a HUGE crop combined with high prices.  I talked with one young farm kid who was grinning like he had won the lottery.

The Lake Crystal Coop pictured in my video serves eight locations and its members cultivate over 500,000 acres of land.  They have built that ginormous Medelia fertilizer plant in the video.

I have two old friends who are making a documentary about (among other things) the problems of nitrogen run-off in the Minnesota basin--which leads to problems in the Mississippi and eventually the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.  Since the farmers would prefer that NONE of the nitrogen they spread on their fields would be lost to run-off and are actually pretty careful about such matters, it is obvious that there must be enormous amounts of nitrogen spread on the fields if mere run-off can kill the life in a significant areas of the Gulf.

This video is about the agricultural infrastructure that traffics in massive amounts of fertilizer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Oh no! we didn't see this coming

The Riksbank (Nobel) prize hasn't even been awarded yet and the winning Britwit is already sounding off on how nations need to cut off benefits to the unemployed.  I wrote October 11, 2010 about this year's winners.  First from the "winners" statement and my reaction.

Thinking about money (again)

The problem that folks are not able to work to solve necessary problems because we cannot "afford" it eventually leads back to the questions about the nature of money.  Understand, these questions have been raised before--especially by Producer Class giants like Thomas Edison.
Thomas Edison on Government Created Debt-Free Money
In December 1921, the American industrialist Henry Ford and the inventor Thomas Edison visited the Muscle Shoals nitrate and water power projects near Florence, Alabama. They used the opportunity to articulate at length upon their alternative money theories, which were published in 2 reports which appeared in The New York Times on December 4, 1921 and December 6, 1921.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Scale matters

Matt Taibbi has written a new book on Wall Street so naturally, he is making the promotion circuit.  Damien Hoffman of the Wall Street Cheat Sheet (isn't that name just SO Predator Class?) asked Taibbi possibly the most interesting question of all--why are the teabaggers so willing to work against their own interests?

I think about this question a lot too because I have been defending regulated capitalism for over 30 years now.  Trust me on this, swimming against the tides of economic orthodoxy has been a struggle but here's my "elevator speech" on why you simply MUST strictly regulate the organs of capitalism like the financial business.

1) Regulated capitalism ALWAYS outperforms deregulated capitalism because it creates the space that allows the honest businessperson to thrive.  Honest businesspeople make better products and provide better services than crooks.

2) Regulation, unfortunately, can become an end in itself.  There ARE bad rules that get in the way of honest interactions between people.  Perfect example in today's Swedish Local.  Imagine being a taxpayer and knowing your taxes are going to pay for THIS:
Sweden mulls sex ethics rules for overseas staff
The Swedish government plans to invest 10 million kronor ($1.49 million) to enable state agencies to develop clearer ethical guidelines for staff working overseas in order to curb the buying of sexual services and improper sexual relations.
3) The difference between necessary regulation and goofy regulation is scale.  The bigger the organization and the more people its actions affect, the more it should be regulated.  Individuals and small organizations should be subject to minimal regulation.  (I have a longer version of this argument here.)
Matt Taibbi: Wall Street Has Seduced America With Randian Pseudo-Libertarianism

Monday, November 8, 2010

Greider on "free" trade

Of all the ideas used to crash the living standards of the American Middle Class--especially those in production--NOTHING has worked better than the notion of "free" trade.

Now the "free" traders are discovering that the opposition to their "wonderful" idea is as dug in as it was when folks like us tried to derail NAFTA (see my response back when).

And Greider is spot on (again).  He hasn't gotten much wrong since I first started reading his stuff in the early 1980s (The Education of David Stockman).
The End of Free-Trade Globalization

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Goodbye banksters

This last election has left me reeling.  I am not sure what I find more shocking--the fact that the Republicans seem to determined to nominate and elect drooling morons or that the Democrats are so pathetic they cannot handily beat such creatures.

Me, I am taking a cue from my buddy the Wege who has claimed he will stop blogging about politics.  Since this blog was never meant to be about politics itself, a decision to drop politics should be pretty easy for me.  But since my discussions about economics often fall into the category of "political economy" is isn't as easy as it would first appear.  I may have no problem ignoring the nuts and bolts of politics and elections, but I cannot ignore the reality that politics is often intimately intertwined with economics.  Obama and the Obamabots forgot this reality in the last election and got their hats handed to them.

But what I do promise is that I am going to concentrate on the real problems facing the real economy--and let the fight over which moneychangers broke which laws to someone else.

I am also going to try to paint a better picture of what the economy could look like if a more enlightened political economy took hold.

Let's start by restating the biggest problem of them all--climate change.  The solution to this problem is obvious--we humans are going to have to do without our favorite invention of all time--FIRE!
Climate change: How do we know?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Watchable election analysis

Cenk Unger, Glen Greenwald, and Dylan Ratigan

The election changed almost nothing

The same people who believe the same damn things are still in charge of everything important.  For example, the global economy still sucks.
The Shipping Glut Is So Bad Globally That Ships Are Now Sailing Slower Than 19th Century Clippers Just To Keep Busy

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Moving on

For quite a while, one of my favorite blogs has been this aggregation called Norwegianity.  The blog's creator calls himself the "Wege" and is this almost perfect example of the guys I grew up with.  Most importantly, he is an Iowa farm kid.  My father was a preacher but the folks in our churches were always rural so I got to know quite a few boys like Wege as a child.

Farm kids at their best are amazing.  Because of their lives and locations, they get to witness hundreds of biological processes up close so tend to be very grounded.  Every farm kid I knew had real jobs by the time they were in first grade so they understand hard work.  Because farms are isolated, the best of them wind up extraordinarily well read--the Wege once claimed he went through a period in life where he was reading 150 books a year.  I have NO problem believing him.

When I started blogging, the Wege provided me with a template for how I wanted to do it.  He blogged every day--farmers never get a day off, ya know.  He was grounded in the reality that teaches "if you want crops at harvest time, you must plant in the spring."  And his wide-ranging reading had taught him that there are a LOT of interesting parts that make up the whole.

Yesterday, the Wege claimed he was quitting--at least he claims he will not blog any more about politics in USA.  After watching the Democrats piss away their incredible mandate of 2008, I can understand his frustration and rage.  But more importantly, I believe the Wege is on to something very interesting--the possibility that politics isn't the problem but merely the symptom.  Think about it--on paper Obama was the second coming of Franklin Roosevelt.  In practice, he was George W. Bush in blackface--a Harvard Law Review editor who fumbled every opportunity he faced.  Obama has been SO inept, it started looking like he was dropping the ball on purpose.

Of course, the problem of the best and the brightest doing incredibly stupid and evil things is not new.  It's why Halberstam wrote his book, after all.  In this view of the world, Obama isn't W. in blackface, he's Robert McNamara--screwing up the world with his pinched Harvard worldview.

And Obama is, unfortunately, not the only example of a Democrat who can say all the right things but underneath, is really REALLY screwed up.  Here in Minnesota, we have perhaps an even better example (at least I can understand it better.)  In the DFL primary for governor, we had a guy who--on paper--should have been my absolutely perfect candidate.  His name is Matt Entenza.  And the reason I liked him was he understood that building a society powered by renewables required hard work, a LOT of money, and leaders with a clear vision.  He said so in his political ads.

Matt did not stand a chance of becoming the DFL nominee.  Not only had he committed the unpardonable sin of suggesting that doing right by the environment was going to require more than folks rolling a fat one and proclaiming their heartfelt concerns for mother earth, he was widely known as Mr. Lois Quam.

Ms. Quam is just an extreme example of another sort of person from my childhood--the hyper-accomplished Norwegian Lutheran preacher's daughter.  I have a sister who played Bach for a wedding when she was nine--trust me, I know women like Quam.  She was the kind of woman my parents sent me to Bible Camp to meet.

Ms. Quam has made a LARGE pile of money in life--millions came from exercising some stock options granted her while working for United Health.  What she did was, from all accounts, perfectly legal.  But at a time when the rest of the country is literally going bankrupt because USA medicine is so ridiculously over-priced, a person who made a killing with a paper maneuver in the medical-industrial complex will never be looked at as a paragon of virtue.

And Quam SHOULD have known better.  The Lutherans who settled the upper midwest built and ran hospitals.  (In Minneapolis, they even built one called Lutheran Deaconess--a deaconess is this rare nun-like creature no one has seen for decades.)  The idea was to provide quality help for the sick who were usually poor because they were sick.  The idea that someone should make millions profiting off the misfortunes of others was once for a Lutheran, literally unthinkable.  It is certainly NOT what the Lutherans had in mind when they opened their hearts and wallets to build those hospitals.

So the interesting questions are: how did a black community organizer become so reactionary, he makes Herbert Hoover or Richard Nixon look progressive? or, how did a little-miss-perfect Lutheran preacher's daughter become so wicked she thought it perfectly fine to rip off the sick?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Predators' Boneyard: A Conversation with James Kenneth Galbraith

“Veblen was a forerunner of what I hope will be the development of economic thought; the understanding that principles that underlie biological systems are the same principles that underlie all living systems. The concepts of hierarchies and controlled and uncontrolled predatory conduct are universal. And so when we encounter a doctrine of harmonization, of the smoothly functioning realization of the interests of all, the great and the small, which is textbook market economics, people should recognize that this is sand being thrown in their faces—that this cannot possibly be a realistic representation of the world in which we actually live. Take it as an analytic principle that one has to look at the behavior of the great with a cold eye.”
—James Kenneth Galbraith, interview with The Straddler, March 14, 2010

By way of introduction
In mid March, The Straddler met with James Kenneth Galbraith in midtown Manhattan to seek his perspective on recent events—and the way in which orthodox modes of thought, and ingrained habits of behavior, affected the response to the collapse of 2008.

Galbraith holds the Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr., Chair in Government/Business Relations at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin. A Senior Scholar of the Levy Economics Institute, he also directs the University of Texas Inequality Project and is chair of Economists for Peace and Security, a professional association. He previously served on the staff of the U.S. Congress as executive director of the Joint Economic Committee.

In his most recent book, The Predator State (2008), Galbraith mounts a sustained attack on the “legitimating myth” that has delineated the parameters of permissible debate surrounding economic activity in the United States since the ascent of an ideology that saw itself comfortably ensconced in the seats of power with the election to the presidency of Ronald Reagan. At its core, Galbraith argues, this myth presents us with a Manichean narrative in which we are urged to believe, with Panglossian certainty, that “the market,” divinely efficient, delivers the best of all possible outcomes to all, in contradistinction to “the state” or “the government,” which, in the elegant simplicity of Ronald Reagan’s famous formulation, “is the problem.”

Some of the best material is near the end; READ MORE.

Ending the Age of Petroleum will NOT be easy

The biggest problem, of course, is that no one actually has a clear picture of how this will happen.  The "easy" part is the substitution for fixed-site electrical generation.  Actually, not so easy.  We are now seeing a shake-out in the wind industry.
Winds of Change
Big Firms Gain Ground in Ballooning Wind Power Market

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The rule of law--election day 2010

Elections trigger a flood of memories.  When I was very young, my parents would sit up late into the night listening to election returns on the radio.  I remember when my mother suspected that my father had voted for Eisenhower in 1956--she was so disgusted she fumed about it for days.

And this is Minnesota.  If we don't lead the nation in voter turnout, we'll be very close to the top.  Our political history is so colorful, we once had the top two candidates for president from the Democratic Party in the same year (1968 Humphrey McCarthy).

My grandfather (mother's side) was part of that history.  After immigrating from Sweden in 1899, he worked in a foundry in Chicago until 1921 when he opted to try farming in central Minnesota.  Terrible timing.  The Great Depression may have started in 1929 but the agricultural depression started in 1921.  There was NO Roaring 20s in rural Minnesota--the work was backbreaking, the winters bitterly cold, and the long dark winter nights were lit by expensive kerosine.  My grandmother grew so homesick for Sweden, she would weep about it often.  My mother and uncle couldn't go to high school because of the expense.

As the Depression ground on, my grandfather turned to political organizing.  As a trade unionist from Chicago trying to make a living farming, he was a natural fit for the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, although he had his misgivings.  "There are probably two groups less alike than farmers and factory workers--the only thing they have in common is that they are being robbed by the same people."

He had some political success when the Farmer-Labor Party elected a Swede named Floyd Bjornstjerne Olson as Governor during the Depression.  But my grandmother died suddenly in 1935 during a monster heat wave.  The reason given was that she was felled by a botched gall bladder removal.  But the real reason, I suspect, is that she simply could not go on--the struggles of life had defeated her.

These days, I keep wondering about the whole idea of failed immigration–is it really possible to think and act as a Nordic person and thrive in North America? Think about who we are. In every meaningful measure from life expectancy to quality educations, from care for the sick to meaningful cooperation with the environment, the Nordic countries routinely top all the lists. How are Nordic people like us supposed to exist in a country run by folks who believe Jesus was a warmonger who would have supported capital punishment (among MANY other absurdities).  And so a people who once were so advanced in boat-building and other Producer arts that they had an empire that stretched from Canada to Constantinople, have been reduced to comic-book characters like Kirk Douglas’ “Vikings” or the kindly dunces who attend the Lake Wobegone Lutheran Church.

The secret to Nordic societies is that they actually believe in democracy.  They believe that societies work best if everyone follows the rules. And, if everyone is going to follow the rules, those rules had damn well better be carefully crafted.  And if you want good rules, you better have widespread participation in the rule-making.  You must have active, professionally-run parties, you need the highest-quality journalism, and you need schools that are rigorous because you know there really are things worth knowing.

I believe that describes my belief set when it come to governance.  Yet it clearly does NOT describe the USA.  Our political parties are run by hacks, our journalism is almost comically incompetent when it isn't outright lying, and our schools crank out self-important grads who know absolutely nothing of importance.  We are not ready to govern ourselves--we barely can be bothered to vote.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A reminder on how serious the bankster problem really is

Those of us who actually know real bankers often find it hard to believe just how dangerous this one business can be to all the rest of the business and industry in a country.
How A Gang Of Predatory Lenders And Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America — And Spawned A Global Crisis